I’ve really been struggling with my writing lately. Well, not superlately because I basically gave up writing (aside from work, which is also writing) for the past 2 months, but right before that. Ironically, just as I celebrated my 100th piece for the online magazine Ordinary Times the bottom dropped out and I sort of had a meltdown.
Writing – at least publicly – is not easy for me. It’s a struggle every time against various demons that descend from the woodwork to tell me how much everything I do sucks, and also against various slightly less demonic entities that constantly demand my time. Right before I went on hiatus this last time, I wrote a few things I thought were terrible, inexcusably, irredeemably, embarrassingly terrible. I found myself sinking into a frustrated despair because I have virtually no uninterrupted time to get my work to the level I prefer, and if what I write is lousy, I cannot justify the time I take from my family who needs me. It’s a conundrum because I do really and truly feel I have something unique to say if only I could get everyone to shut up long enough for me to get it down on paper.
Anyway, the other day I reread the pieces I recalled being so unacceptably dreadful and found to my surprise they’re perfectly fine. Not my bestest best work perhaps, but better than just adequate. On Glorious Bastards is actually pretty darn good, I was pleasantly surprised to discover. But it took me forfuckingever to write that and its sister piece Put Away Childish Things and that was time I really needed to spend doing real things in the real world. Again, I can’t justify the time I spend on writing if the end result is anything less than my best.
Finding out my suckiest pieces didn’t totally suck in retrospect is great, but not as great as if I could have just known that all along in my gut and not lost hope, not lost the past 2 months where I did nothing but play video games and scrub toilets, and the former a lot more than the latter. In the end, though, it wasn’t my self-doubt that did me in, it was what other people had to say about my work that killed me.
You see, I made a critical error when writing those last two posts in particular, because I wrote them for other people and not for myself. I wrote them because in my self-doubt I was questioning the types of things I liked writing about. In my self-doubt I thought if only I could write about something I knew people wanted to read, I’d surely stop secondguessing myself. So I pursued a subject (the ubiquity of male ennui in recent literature) I thought people seemed intrigued by, rather than something I was truly passionate about. What could go wrong, I thought. People are interested in this!
Long story short, the reaction of one of these people – indeed, the person who had demanded the loudest that I elucidate upon the topic in the first place – was this: “So you don’t like Bukowski. Got it.”
And encapsulated in one sentence is why I haven’t written anything to speak of for the past two months. Just that quick, a person cut me down, diminished me, reduced my innermost thoughts to complaining and hypersensitivity.
Time and again I’ve found that men online come to women in the public sphere saying things like “I really want to hear your opinion, can you explain your point of view” as a pretext to get you to open up to them so they can slam you or debunk you. I’d originally held back on talking online with this particular person (a total stranger BTW, not a friend) for exactly that reason. I felt that his request for communication was not legitimate and was simply a pretense to yell at me about how stupid I was for not liking the right books, but he assured me repeatedly he was merely curious about where I was coming from. Assured. Repeatedly.
“So you don’t like Bukowski. Got it.”
A man read what a woman had to say about something she thought was relatively important, AFTER EXPRESSING DESIRE TO HEAR THOSE THOUGHTS, and took the opportunity to remind her that no one wants to hear what she had to say. He took the opportunity to play the “bitchez be crazy” card by implying I was a moody harpy with a personal grudge against a writer who’s been dead for decades. (BTW, not even true, as anyone who actually knows me is aware, I love seedy underbellies and human flaws, it’s just that I’ve gotten sick of reading about the exact same seedy underbelly again and again.) This guy looked askance at something I’d worked very hard on, expending precious time I didn’t have, that I hadn’t even WANTED to write in the first place, and shit on it.
I’m sorry to say that I took it very much to heart and it’s taken me this long to get over it, inasmuch as I have, which I probably haven’t.
Now, I’m a pretty tough cookie and people say harsh and negative things to me all day long and it mostly rolls off. People regularly dislike things I adore, despise things I write, and are disdainful of thoughts I hold dear. I’m not a creampuff that can’t take criticism. But that wasn’t criticism, it was dismissal. In its casual dismissiveness, the comment brought home with crystal clarity how pointless having an online existence is, how no one cares about what I have to say, my silly small ambitions are ridiculous distractions that keep me from providing the maid service to which my family is entitled, that all I’m good for is wiping snotty noses and scooping cat litter boxes. It played right into that negative selftalk that I already had going on, and just happened along at a time I was already vulnerable.
The person who wrote those words so carelessly claims to be a writer himself, and I assume that means he struggles like I struggle and fully understands that this isn’t an easy endeavor on a good day. Yet he went out of his way to put me in my place. It would have taken him not a second longer to write an encouraging platitude and less time still to say nothing, but he chose to insult me instead. And it wasn’t even a bad piece. He insulted me over a piece that was good.
In retrospect I realize I wrote a piece (taking time away from things I would rather have been doing and writing about, boy howdy, did it ever) in no small part because I didn’t want to give this Big Man and the Big Men like him, justification to dismiss me without also giving him the greater context so he couldn’t. It just never occurred to me that he was so invested in winning an argument I didn’t even know we were having that he didn’t actually care about the context. He was going to dismiss me either way. It was predestined going in. I could have written the most genius, brilliant, stunningly insightful essay in the history of humankind and the response would have been the same.
I wrote about what it feels like to be a woman being constantly told to read literature written by men and for men where women are afterthoughts and playthings and I got “So you don’t like Bukowski? Got it.” in return. It’s fucking flabbergasting.
It’s been said many times before that comments online are rarely about anything than the commenter’s own self-aggrandizement. They’re picking a fight or preaching their gospel. They’re meeting their own needs, and I very much expect that was the case here. Big Man probably enjoyed the game where he watched a woman write furiously about a topic upon his request, and then passive-aggressively insulted her work with just enough clueless deniability to get away with it. Or maybe he didn’t at all and he was just so self-centered, so entitled, that he thought he had the God-given right to repeatedly demand to hear what a woman was thinking and once she gave in, to pass judgement upon her opinion as if he was some sort of a moral or artistic authority. Regardless, it was all about him, and anything I may have experienced as a result was collateral damage.
None of that takes away from me. I wrote a good piece – a couple of them, matter of fact – that I’m proud of. For me to stop writing because someone acted like an asshole online is self-defeating and only completes the job he set out to do – to shut me up. So here I am, back again, as irritating as ever, ready for more.
I’m happy to report, one of my very first pieces back, Square Peg, Round Hole: Veronica Mars Season 4 was picked up by both WordPress and Google Chrome Reader for promotion and has thus far been read by more than 10,000 people.
Oh Internet, you’re such a confusing mixture of discouragement and encouragement.
A lot of men entirely aside from Charles Bukowski exist to diminish and reduce women, to keep them in their place. They thrive on it. Many men prefer small and quiet women, not big and noisy ones, and prefer that even in random strangers that they don’t even know because unruly women cause them discomfort.
But I don’t like being kept in my place. I’m too big to fit there. I just needed a couple months to remember that.