I haven’t blogged in quite a while. It hasn’t been because I didn’t have anything to say. On the contrary it was that I have had too much to say, and have not spent the time to winnow through it. But it is something else as well. I know that more than enough has been said about the nosedive trajectory of public discourse in the last year. I have felt the pain of being angered by things that I have read and have spread some animosity myself. Like most, it has left me feeling soured on the idea of putting my thoughts out into the stratosphere. I often think about posting something, even something neutral or innocuous, and just say, “Um-nope.” I feel raw at times, afraid of finding out what people are so willing to tell me about what they really think of me.
I was talking with my niece and my cousin last night, both of whom are writers. Yes, you are, Kate. And they both expressed extreme discouragement with what has become of the literary process. It seems that like the rest of society, authors have been sucked into the world of social media and have to somehow prove they have a “fan base” or a “following” before a publisher will look at their work. Or something along those lines. They have to blog, and have a “Facebook presence” and market themselves any way they can to create interest in what they have to say.
So you don’t make a name for yourself by writing good literature, you make a name for yourself by being appealing on social media, and then a publisher will publish your book, even if it is crap. And if you have read through the bestseller list lately, you know that a large proportion of it is crap. It doesn’t take a literary genius to know that. Many books today are formulaic and boring, no more interesting than this blog probably is. There is no deft use of language, no intricate story line. What sells, and this is not the fault of the writers or publishers, is what used to be called pabulum. Look it up.
So people who are really compelling and provocative writers maybe never put pen to page, or should I say fingers to keyboard, because they feel defeated before they start. Most people don’t know how to be fascinating on Facebook. No one even really knows, except Mark Zuckerberg probably, what makes a social media site irresistible to the masses. In my estimation, it isn’t the depth of content.
So here I am, another dinosaur whining about how nobody reads or buys books anymore. It does seem really sad to me that someone like my niece, (who has such a “voice”!) could feel so discouraged before she even started. There are so many people in the world! They all have a unique story. We are brought to life by story. Story gives meaning to our existence, it lifts us above our existence, it shapes our existence. What words could ever be more magical than “Once upon a time…”? Since before we had written language, our major form of recreation was the telling of stories. And the true ones are always the best ones. They bring out the hero in us. They inspire and encourage us. They touch our deepest pain.
We need to hear from people who think and feel deeply and can tell us a story about that. We don’t need more shallow sites with people dressing up their children and taking pictures of them, pretending their lives are perfect and no one ever gets dirty or crabby or sick. That feeds a sickness in US, it doesn’t make us better, or more brave, or more kind. We don’t need another Facebook page with someone hyping themselves up, we need people who will struggle in solitude to use language to connect us to our truest and best selves. That is what the best stories do.
So let’s just write anyway. Write even if you think no one will ever read what you say. There are many of us who are dying for what you have to give us. Perhaps at some point, the pendulum will swing and we will go back to civility, disciplined thought, and a love for the printed word. It could happen. Things could slow down and get real. And we could be healed of this great sickness that we don’t call by its name. It has increased our depression, sense of isolation, envy, dissatisfaction, unrealistic expectations-and has given us so little in return. To call it “social” is ironic in the extreme. So write! And while you are at it, pick up the phone and call someone! Or meet for coffee. Or go for a walk. It may not be glamorous or perfect but it is real and true and I promise it will make you feel better.