re: Jimmy Chen’s (very funny) obit for this site, and some comments made there by my friends Tadd Adcox and Rebekah Silverman, not to mention Big Other’s recent one-year anniversary, I thought I’d take some time and a post to perform some autocritique. (I grew up on the campus of the University of Scranton, among the Jesuits.)
When John invited me to write at Big Other last December, my first impulse was to decline, because I didn’t think that I’d have anything interesting to say. I’ve been reading blogs periodically since the late 90s (mainly political ones), and while I value the form for various reasons, I never thought I’d want to try doing it myself. But then John said I could write literary criticism in lieu of more traditional posts, and I recalled that I wanted to try doing some analysis of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, so I said I’d give it a go.
And I’m extremely happy that I did, because I’ve discovered that I do, in fact, have a tremendous amount to say (probably too much, in fact). And so my posting here has awakened something inside me—before this past year, I’d never written any artistic or cultural criticism—I didn’t even think I was capable of doing it. (I just wrote fiction and poetry.)
So I’m extremely grateful. That said, I’m also unhappy in multiple ways with my writing here, and I want to take the time to identify those problems, and attempt to correct them…
When I first started posting at Big Other, I wrote down three rules for myself (and these were rules that I made just for myself; I don’t want to imply that they should be rules for anyone else):
- No cheer-leading. Honest and carefully thought-through statements only.
- No just linking to stuff I liked and saying, “Hey, this is cool.” If I wanted to call something cool, I would have to try and say why, specifically. I’d also try to contextualize it somehow, because there’s just so much cool stuff out there, it’s fairly overwhelming. And who likes being overwhelmed?
- No brief posts, and no stand-alone posts. (My original idea was that everything I wrote should be part of an ongoing series.) …This one may strike some as odd, but one of the things that I don’t really like about blogging (and the present day in general) is how scattered and fragmented so much information is. I think that a general obsession with brevity (a dominant!) is one of the factors behind that, and so I made a conscious decision to write deliberately long posts, and to connect what I wrote with other writing as often as I could (both my previous posts and other writing elsewhere). My goal was to always provide context, and to slowly build developing lines of thought.
Again, I’m relatively happy with how things have gone, and I think I’ve done a decent job adhering to these self-imposed constraints. The problem, however, is that both good and bad has come from adhering to them, and in the constant going forward I want to come to terms with the bad, and overturn it.
Simply put, on many occasions over the past year, I’ve been rude, insensitive, peevish, and, yes, cranky. I’ve also been overly critical (“no cheer-leading”), overly serious (“no just saying ‘this is cool’), and, most problematically, long-winded and overbearing. As Tadd put it:
Also, it’s possible that people don’t comment so much on Big Other because of how overwhelming some of the posts are. I’m thinking of AD Jameson’s tendency to make a claim and then support it with every single piece of evidence for this claim to be found either on the internet or in the writings of Shklovsky. The thing is, he talks like that, too. It’s pretty impressive/phenomenal/terrifying.
And as Rebekah added:
The overwhelmingness of AD is overwhelming.
Tadd and Rebekah, I don’t know how critical you were intending to be, but you’re both right. And I can see how my desire to thoroughly develop thoughts and connect them, while laudable for some reasons, is at the same exact time also a form of insecurity, part of a reflexive self-defensiveness, an innate desire to always be right. And that’s no good.
(Although, guys! It’s “A D”! With a space! And without initials! …Actually, I’ve kind of given up on anyone spelling my silly fake name right; serves me right for making it up in the first place.)
I’ve actually been thinking something similar to Tadd and Rebekah for a while now, and while I rather like being impressive and phenomenal, I rather don’t like the thought of being either terrifying or overwhelming (either online or in person). I’ve sometimes wondered what I would make of my own posts were I another person reading them, and my conclusion is that they’re the kind of thing I’d probably want to write something in response to, and plan to write something in response to, and then never write anything in response to. And I certainly wouldn’t enjoy it if I did take the time to respond, and then the author (myself, of course) replied with what amounted to another extremely long post in the comments section. What a pain in the ass!
In other words, my behavior here has been violating my second rule, and the spirit of the third one, both of which I formulated specifically so as not to overwhelm people. Funny that.
In addition, I’ve at times simply been plain rude in some of my comments, in particular in responses I’ve made to commentators Mike Kitchell and Douglas Storm, and to my fellow Big Otherers Shya Scanlon, Michael Leong, and Greg Gerke. (Forgive me not linking to any examples, but I’m embarrassed.) Well, I deeply regret that, and my only (feeble) explanation is that there’s just something about the internet that pisses me off. I resent the damn thing the entire time I’m using it, even as I find it pretty useful (and enjoyable to use). And, I must confess, there are other times when I was unreasonably projecting my own personal set of rules onto others, wishing that they’d reply in the same spirit—even though I certainly don’t think that anyone else should care about those rules! (Talk about passive aggressiveness!) And, all this said, those frustrations with the internet and with blogs are my problems, and my concerns and anxieties, and they shouldn’t be anyone else’s. And so I’m sorry, Mike and Douglas and Shya and Michael and Greg, for my behavior. I do love talking with all five of you, and I appreciate your taking the time to talk with me, even when I wasn’t being pleasant.
So how to do better? I think it’s time for me to set down three new, additional (personal) rules:
- Lighten up a little. This can include many things: being more playful in what I post, experimenting more with the site itself, remembering that people often post and respond in a hasty and casual fashion (even if I myself don’t like doing that), trying to respond in a hastier and more casual fashion myself, and above all asking more questions of others, rather than just always stating what I think.
- No more super-long posts. I still plan to write very long things—I think it’s good to develop ideas, and to follow lines of thought as far as I can—but I also want to try both being more succinct, as well as breaking up what would before have been longer posts into more digestible chunks. (I can still make it all add up with links—and this way, there’s more opportunity to others to join in along the way.)
- No more rudeness! This last one is very important to me. I’ll still be critical (I’m afraid that I can’t help that), but, really, there’s no excuse for being churlish. Like our poorly departed Boxer, I must work harder.
A final note: I thought for a long time about whether I should post any of this, and there’s a way in which I do think it’s narcissistic. (I’m not fishing for compliments or reaffirmations, folks.) These are personal reflections and resolutions—can’t I just set all this down for myself, as I did my first set of guiding principles?
However, by joining “the play and fray as a regular contributor” at Big Other (as John originally put the invitation to me), I’ve joined a community, and I value that community; I value all of you as my colleagues and as my friends. And I want to respect and to help strengthen that community. And so I think it makes some sense to share my thoughts along these lines. (Does it?)
And so. Thanks again to Jimmy and Tadd and Rebekah for the feedback; and thanks again to John Madera for making all of this possible; and thanks again to Douglas and Mike and Shya and Michael and, above all, Greg. Greg, you’re too sweet for words. My most sincere love to all of you, and my most sincere love to everyone else out there in the coming year. May it be a great one.