the importance of not being earnest

Had one of those intransigent arguments with a friend the other day. It came out of a conversation where I tried to explain my feelings about writing, how they had evolved. Honestly I thought I was describing a kind of obvious progress. I talked about how there was something strangely liberating about coming to understand one's own place or station in the grand scheme of things, and that my own place was decidedly coach class, in that I was only ever going to have a certain amount of success (meaning: no money) and enjoy very specific kinds of victories (meaning: limited, sporadic publication). And that the writing itself was changing into something detached, something that had its own internal logic, and while it remains a complete pain in the ass, it's still an exercise that I'm drawn to, and I know that is good for me, in that it gives me certain things in return, at the very least a better understanding of the world, and of myself. At the same time though there is this moving away, this detachment, and I find myself less invested, especially after the moment when the thought or idea or story has been set down, and its success (publication, no money) is out of my hands, and matters less and less. 

Really, all I was saying is that pride is no longer an issue. But my friend did not believe me. My friend got very flustered and red in the face. Because my friend is that kind of person who does not like to hear anyone say things like that. And I know this kind of person very well. A million years ago, in design school, I had a similar argument with a blonde version of this person, when I made a comment about grades -- about how, in the end, they didn't really matter, because no one would ever see your transcript, so no one should ever get too worked up about them. And this little blonde girl just went crazy, stomping around, yelling WHY ARE YOU EVEN HERE THEN? WHY ARE YOU EVEN HERE IF YOU DON'T CARE? Because all she could take in was that I didn't care -- not that I didn't care in a very specific way. And this not-caring stuff makes certain kinds of people crazy.

It's a difficult position to defend, this not-caring stuff. Because a more accurate description would be not-caring-but-still-caring. I mean, you care enough to do the work in the first place. You have an idea that you follow through with, in a sustained-thought kind of way. You care enough to edit the work, to read it to other people, to submit it for publication. And you still hold publication as a specific kind of validation. But not the only kind. It is not a goal you pin hopes on. Because you know that your story may be flawed. You know that it might be in the wrong time, in the wrong geography. You know (too well) that the submission process may be flawed, or even crooked, and that the entire publishing industry may be completely broken, and mostly incoherent. So, if the work gets rejected, you're not going to go into the garage and shoot yourself in the face. 

In fact, you might be at the point where you forgot that you submitted the work in the first place. 

But yes, sure, all of this is a bit of a mask, and for most writers it's a hard one to wear. And my friend just happens to be that kind of person who can't even look at it. To her, it's hideous, and only bad people wear it. Because you're either trying or you're not. You're either in or you're out. You either care or you don't. It's either gold or it's shit. What are you, the kind of bastard who doesn't believe in things? Like ... recycling? Because you hate the earth? Because you're a bastard? Why even get out of bed in the morning if you think the planet is already doomed? 

And for me, people like this are EXHAUSTING. Maybe I'm just getting old. All I see are the seams of things, and their gaudy labels, and all the reasons why things are compromised. But I also try to understand that those things are beside the point, because who can listen to that, and who wants to carry all that around, so please let's just get on with whatever you need to do, and stop boring the rest of us with your earnestness. 

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There is an audio version of this post here.


  1. amen, and happy new year :))

  2. ooh - you just said stuff that I'm always thinking ... and sometimes say.. but don't bother much because it always gets received badly x


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