I don’t know all the reasons a person sits down regularly and puts their thoughts, feelings, pictures, sounds out on to the internet. Not everybody does this, though many millions do. Here are a few of the small rewards that make me do it most days of the week.
By putting things up on the “internets” (one of President Dubya’s many great phrases) I exert myself, cheerfully, to make my writing fit for “publication”. I have to polish it to a certain standard before I hit “publish”. I don’t put it up for the perusal of friends and strangers until the writing is as clear and flowing as I can make it.
I read it over many times as I write, combing out sloppy, confusing writing whenever I find myself ensnared in it. When I read it again on-line, I often go back and make small changes to make every sentence as good as I can. I am exacting about saying exactly what I mean to say. My writing has improved since I’ve been putting it on-line regularly.
Before putting something on-line I have to decide if I stand behind every part of it. I’m an opinionated bastard, no question. I don’t like to argue these days, though I haven’t lost the ability — I’ll use my words if pushed against the wall– but I still need to express my point of view, what I’ve learned from six decades of ass-kickings. So that aspect of not being a damn chicken-shit bastard and actually standing behind what I sell is another important part of this almost daily ritual.
The previous sentence contains an inside reference. I get to explain it here, since there’s nobody telling me to stick to the script, and I’m free to digress, another reason I love this particular forum. I don’t like to leave the reader hanging any more than I like to be left hanging.
If you think about it, nobody should be left hanging, though most of us quite often are, almost always when it comes to the services we purchase from the grasping artificial humans called corporations, those omnipresent psychopaths that rule the global and local economy. Or by the actual workings of our idealistic and inspiring democracy, now that I think about it.
Chicken-shit bastard, then. Years ago a friend in Tennessee sent me a tape of prank calls made by a hippie who lived in a fairly rural area near Knoxville in the 1970s or 1980s. The recordings circulated widely on cassette tapes and were very popular throughout that part of the country. The creative caller is still remembered fondly by those of us who heard his witty provocations. Sadly, he died young, of a terrible disease, I think. Happily, he left us his calls to people like Ed at Ed’s Auto.
He put on a thick rural southern accent (since he knew Ed and had bought auto parts at his store) and told Ed a long, cock and bull story about how Ed needed to pay for massive repairs on his car under some far-fetched and insane theory. “Bullshit,” said Ed. “Maybe I’ll replace the damn rims, I’m not paying to rebuild your entire fucking car.” Things escalated quickly between the skillful manipulator and his carefully chosen macho southern victims. Rages were whipped up effortlessly, followed by mutual threats of catastrophic ass-whuppings.
In my favorite moment on the tape, and my father’s too — the old man had howled at the skill of this provocateur in whipping up the manful rage of his victims — the caller gently calms the irate store owner down after insanely provoking him. It’s a beautiful, human moment.
“Whell, shit…” he says soothingly “you don’t have to get all mad about it… shoot…”. They both laugh. There is almost a sigh as the store owner finally feels heard by this prick who was just mercilessly provoking him. He lets his guard down, it’s just two humans talking for a few seconds. The store owner’s relief that the insane unprovoked attack is over is palpable. You clearly hear him relax on the recording.
Then the caller starts back in, in a reasonable enough tone “well… it just seems to me like a damn chicken shit bastard ought to stand behind what he sells”. Which sets the store owner’s rage instantly back on full boil, his voice goes up an octave, impolite invitations to exchange fisticuffs are hollered and the fight is immediately back on.
So, just to recap: I ain’t no damn chicken shit bastard, if you catch my damn drift. I mean what I say and I say what I mean. I’m not here to be a damn go-go dancer for you.
There is also the pleasure of putting thoughts and feelings together, telling a story coherently, making a sometimes complicated point plainly. There is the technical satisfaction of using words to do this, and the emotional satisfaction of reading back the clear expression of something that took a lot of effort to render in words.
There is the thought, sometimes, of the words reaching the ideal reader, sitting at a computer somewhere in the world, perhaps in the middle of the night. In Kurt Vonnegut’s case it was his sister, who he always had in mind as he wrote to his eventual audience of millions of strangers.
I have no actual person in mind as I type, except maybe myself, the writing needs to be clear and interesting to me, the reader, but my mother’s face when she handed me back something I wrote and told me it was “wonderful” would not be a bad one to think of from time to time. The idea of having my thoughts and feelings reach and touch someone I’ve never met, in the form of carefully arranged words: pretty cool.
There is the fantasy aspect, one that probably motivates many bloggers, instagrammers, spammers, lunch photo sharers, facebookers, selfie snappers, snapchatters. The fantasy is that I am already a great writer, with a big reserve of interesting and important things to say, and that I’m giving away brilliant products of my disciplined imagination for free. I sometimes imagine, after posting a given piece, that certain readers are going to be moved. And that, in the end, I will sell my work widely and talk nonchalantly to people like Terry Gross and Leonard Lopate about it.
It’s a fantasy of fame, I suppose, shared by billions with computers and cellphone cameras. That this fantasy is shared by, literally, millions and millions who are not great writers, who have little, or nothing interesting to say, does nothing to dim this vision for the rest of us brilliant fantasists. For all anyone knows, many of us are right. Who’s to say in this vast, virtual marketplace of unsold ideas?
There is also the human need to talk and be heard when our feelings are stirred up. If we talk to friends, or even email them, about some of these unpleasantly stirred feelings, we can place unintended and sometimes terrible burdens on them. I recently was surprised to be put through a familiar trauma by a person of my long acquaintance who I, naively, in hindsight, considered a friend. I wrote about it endlessly here, in several iterations, before I was able to come to some rather obvious conclusions about the best course of action. It took me literally a few days, and a few thousand words here, to calm down.
Had I restricted my processing to these pages, which can be read, scanned or skipped, I’d have done a great kindness to the couple of harried friends I vented to. I’d put each of them in a tough spot– agree with the reasonableness of my hurt feelings or risk my already free-flowing anger flowing to you. It comes to this: we expect our friends to extend the benefit of the doubt to us. It’s kind of a minimum expectation of a friend, that they won’t rush forward with a sturdy rope when an angry mob gathers howling for our blood.
Sometimes a long-time friend, hurt for whatever reason, will accuse you of doing just that to them. Then it is a contest– who has really done the other wrong? The friendliest thing to do is put yourself in the other person’s situation and realize: shit, I’d have felt the same way if someone had done that to me. This realization should be followed by an apology and a promise to do better in the future.
Taking ownership of causing a friend’s hurt requires honesty, maturity and a humility not everyone always has. Sometimes it’s easier to just go: well, you complain about me, but after I didn’t keep my promise YOU NEVER RETURNED THE MISSED CALL FROM ME THAT I KNOW YOU FUCKING GOT!
The details of this kind of situation, I promise you, are always ugly. Better to process them where they can be taken in quietly or ignored, once they are set out as objectively as the writer can. So writing here has a therapeutic and practical value, sometimes, and spares friends the worst of my hurt when I am stung.
Then there is the zone I am in while composing one of these posts. The focus is on one thing, one thought. It is also something I enjoy as I work and that I do as well as I can. In this zone of concentration I do what everyone in the world does after they head off to do their chosen work. All of the daily annoyances and distractions, the many small things that conspire and are sometimes merciless in combination, disappear. The need to focus on doing good work quiets the clamor of the many tiny demons.
Whatever else I may be thinking or feeling, I need to focus my full attention on this pair of shoes that needs to be re-soled for the long-time customer who is coming in to pick them up at five. My reputation and livelihood rest on making an excellent repair and getting the comfortable old shoes back to the customer when I promised her she’d have them. She’ll be passing my shop after a shit day and her perfectly repaired shoes, delivered when I told her they would be ready, will be one good thing that will happen to her today.
Of course, here there is no shop, no customer, nothing but the things I have noted above. Which makes it more beautiful in a way, and more pure. I am fixing this invisible shoe because I love the work.