I feel sorry for my English professor who wanted to put my essay up for an award! The glare I gave him and the lack of response: it was, at its best, very rude.
The fact is, I only learned it bothered him because my best friend who was fifteen years older than me got an invite to the professor’s house for dinner. My friend who had a lifetime of experience using and dealing drugs reported that the professor had called his cute, sleeping hound a beast repeatedly throughout the night and talked about how alcohol was his drug of choice while toasting his guest’s sobriety. However, my friend reported, when it came to me, the professor admitted that he just didn’t know what to say.
“I think I know what that kid’s problem is,” the professor had conceded.
I gave my favorite sociology professor the same look when he announced that my paper was one of the few 100% papers he’d ever given out.
Okay, so I am the sort who spends a lot of time trying to understand my own warped behavior. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I have taken to writing in the first place.
But the primary purpose of this essay is to review the sudden dilemmas of a writer like me who has spent his whole life sitting on his work without sending it out to be published. What does it mean to suddenly be exposed to a social media market when you are just poking your head out hoping to get a following?
Sure, I have a life-sustaining professional guise, but I have no kids, make no friends and tolerate no dinner parties. I have always worked more than full-time to stay out of the mental hospital and off the streets. I write to survive instead of dealing with my domestic responsibilities!
And suddenly I am looking out on a landscape that requires a blog and a brand. There is the implied presumption on the web that you have friends and loved ones who will become fans. Suddenly, I must make friends—lots of them—and sell in a viral manner or there is no point. The expectation is leaving me in quite a state.
Maybe you’ve heard what I have: “most writers are voracious readers!” We writers are supposed to live to write! That’s what many of the publishing outlets want us to do. “Get to know our audience and then write for them,” they imply. Essentially, the whole idea of journalism operates in this way. Outsiders go and learn about the lives of others, write, and so the public who has privilege can make little tyrannical judgments about what is deemed to be different. My question: is when we live to write in this manner and then write to publish, what happens to the reality of the rest of us? How does the masses of stories that I hear at the urban psychiatric ward where I work become so invisible?
In the social media era the practice of journalism that tells people more of what they want to hear is rampant. How can we get to hear about the kinds of facts that really matter to us and make us feel good about ourselves?
I took to writing in high school, not reading. I loved music, not books. I had no rhythm on the guitar, loved the words I was singing, and had to write a lot a lot of papers to graduate. Somehow, I tired of grading on people’s ears and found the art of word expression satisfying.
I particularly started to work on writing once my angry mother who was on the faculty of our private school, outed all my inpatient antics to her faculty friends. News spread like wild fire straight back to my bully peers who my mother then started openly supporting and defending in our family therapy sessions.
Writing became a reason to keep on living. I was at the word processor an awful lot.
When I finally resumed school, living at a friend’s house, my greatest efforts did not even bring me the grades I wanted let alone the awards that I fantasized about. In fact my best essay was turned into the school psychologist and I was formally confronted. I saw it as them threatening to kick me out of school. I still sent the essay out to colleges. It’s true, due to unrecognized dyslexia, teachers always found my spelling mistakes menacing. Perhaps they just presumed I wasn’t putting in the effort. Perhaps with my father as their manager and my mother as their reading specialist, no teacher ever knew what to do with me.
I did graduate cum laude, but I graduated believing the concept of grades was more political than based on merit. Research shows this to be a true presumption, but students aren’t supposed to think like that.
So, in choosing a college to attend, my biggest concern was to send almost all the people I knew the biggest, “fuck you,” I could muster toward their sensibilities. I moved to the ghetto with a woman who was eight years my senior and tried to enjoy life through the domestic abuse. And, so, the fuck-the-awards, creative writer was born.
There I was three-years later at the kind of school that was not the type that drew out future academics or writers. The career development computer program I took recommended a career in law enforcement. I had too many neighborhood friends at the Korean Deli where I worked insulting the vice squad behind their backs to take the consideration very seriously. As per other students, most couldn’t relate to a clearly anorectic male who would go to no parties and drink no beer.
I’d lived in the library where I diligently outlined everything I read so I could pay attention to it.
I logged so many hours, reading just wasn’t something I was going to keep up with for fun. So much for being the voracious reader and writing about writings of others!
Supporting myself through a master’s program did not give me much time to read for pleasure either. I was faking my way through master’s level work on the social work job and remember looking at the full-time students who even had time to read the paper and thinking they were entitled. The locks to my car were broken and because I had no money or time to fix them, I just entered my car through the back and crawled my way up to the driver seat. I didn’t care what the full-time students said when they laughed and tried to insult me.
While I was, by no means the only one who worked my way through at the school I went to, I was the only one who entered my car in this manner. I missed graduation because I never did get the paperwork in on time.
So, when school was out, I was done with books. I returned to a creative poetry habit and kept my internal buzz alive; but couldn’t find anyone else’s work that I appreciated. I did occasionally frequent poetry readings; but couldn’t read my poetry without quivering.
“I think writing is good for you,” said my shrink of seven years when I brought up the issue, “but that’s it! You are always so disappointed when you share your work, I think there is no need for that.”
I often found my obsessive re-writing hard to stop. I wasn’t sure it was worth it when there was no one around to check it out. But I didn’t listen to the shrink.
Eventually, that shrink encouraged my family to permanently dump me in a State Hospital. They had the police do it while I was on my way to Canada to seek asylum. A friend with a nefarious background had threatened me. I had alerted the press and was facing threats at a section eight housing authority. It was a lot of drama and three months of lock up for me. “He’s really not even college material,” she told them, “He’ll be in and out of the hospital his whole life.”
It took some time, moves, and a stint with an arranged job at an Italian delicatessen (where I learned not to whistle-blow,) to get a professional job back. Yes, it worked! I maintain a job in this corrupt country and I know how corrupt it really is.
And then there was a lot of long work days, extra shifts and additional jobs I needed to take as I vied to get my psychotherapy license and pay my way. By the time I got married, I was licensed and had earned enough for a down payment on a house.
It was then, I started to write a memoir. It took me seven years and I devoted weekends and vacations to it. I can admit I read a few memoirs along the way. But, really, writing it was just a joy. And I landed the only book contract I applied for. At last I would be a published author. Then I would bring out all my old writing out of the closet and have myself a little side career.
So fellow writers know are probably laughing about that one. Being an award-winning published author doesn’t mean much these days. It’s hard to feel good about it when almost nobody reads your work. And though I had a contract, it didn’t last. The editors turned out to be erotica-writer-ladies and, I couldn’t stand to have the facts of my experience like my sex abuse changed to fit someone else’s’ racist world view. So, I ended the contact, reclaimed my work, and self-published
So I have been faced with the same questions we all face. Do you join writer’s groups and start sharing your work and getting feedback, so you can swap likes on Facebook to look popular and loved? Do you spend hours playing with social media, so others will read your posts? Do you start making friends with people who went to school at elite universities and have large twitter following so you can access their readers? Is this possible when the very reason you write is because people have always rejected you! Is there really time for any of this when you work and commit to ten hours of writing a week.
So, here I am writing another essay for an audience of people who I don’t even know to be out there for sure on social media.
I’ll keep giving myself assignments to try to get published somewhere besides just my blog. I think an audience of working people exists out there, who might respond to my efforts to relate the things I observe. I spend my time living and that’s what I write about. But I guess I can keep going with my write-to-live attitude on social media till I find people who can relate. Nobody’s stopping me.