when you’re the shiny new thing for sale

kyoto japan“The only thing you’ve got in this world is what you can sell.”
Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

There she goes in her threadbare Willy Loman suit, hocking her life like it’s a vacuum cleaner she’s desperate to unload. The clock ticks, tick tock, tick tock, and she’s got quotas to fill. So she tells one story after another, cuts herself open so her insides match her outsides, exposed, barbed, until someone writes and says, how do you take yourself so seriously, so publicly? Another writes: your book would’ve been better had you loved your mother. Still another: He’s your father. Just call him already. She could hear them heave their collective sigh when they type their comments because isn’t the solution obvious? Before, there was only the one life she had to bear, now it’s the multitudes, the peanut-crunching motley lot, who give her instructions on how to live her life. Kind of like the housewife tearing through the appliance manual, reading aloud the instructions for use, word for word, to the saleswoman who came knocking at her door. This is how you hold the vacuum cleaner. This is how you turn it on.

Since when does lying yourself out to bear become an invitation to parent, fix, and solve? It seems as if everyone’s become Lucy from the Peanuts comic strip, erecting their “The Doctor Is In” lemonade stands, solving problems for a nickel.

Last year, she torches the suits and hurls appliances out of three-story windows. I’m done with all that, she says with an ample hand rub, confident, semi-confident, not confident, perhaps catatonic. Instead, she spends her days living her life in perpetual rewind, thinking about a time when it wasn’t as horrible as it is now. Make no mistake, it was always horrible, but back then it was sufficiently tolerable. Her life is a colossal mess of pain. Instead of offering compassion, asking what they can do, the peanut crunchers are relentless with their desire to repair. Their collective voice overpowers hers. Spouting platitudes neatly arranged on Pinterest boards, they shout: Be positive! Be strong! Don’t be so negative! Get over it!

She wonders if it’s possible to throw strangers off third-story virtual windows. Someone writes: When will she stop writing about her mother? Like, get over it. Because there’s a limit to how much of her sadness and grief others are willing to bear. There goes that clock again, tick tock, tick tock. The time allotted for her depression is running out. Time for a new state, a new emotion. Time to be someone other than what she is or how she feels. But don’t worry — they’ll be there for her when her sadness is in the past tense. When she’s the comeback kid, all toothy smiles and donning new suits. Their collective sigh is palpable. The thank god she’s normal again.

She wrote to make sense of the world. She wrote because the act of writing, and sharing what she had written, made her feel less alone. There’s something powerful about the company of strangers in the moments when you need it most. She read poems and blog posts on the Internet and nodded through tears because someone else felt exactly as she had. Never did she dare interrupt the private, primal aspect of that space because publishing isn’t synonymous with intimacy. It isn’t an invitation to come into someone’s house and rearrange all the furniture. So, for a time, she didn’t write or wrote things that only a few people read. She receded. And in that withdrawal, she discovered a different kind of catharsis, the feeling that aspects of her life were hers and hers alone, not some kind of Sizzler buffet where everyone felt entitled to their piece, where it was a given that you’d take your tray, share, and shuffle along.

This year, people remind her that she has a book coming out so…start dusting off those suits because people don’t buy a book, not really, not completely, they’re also buying the author and the story they’re pitching. Not everyone can be Elena Ferrante. Not everyone has the luxury of saying, read my book if you want and deal with it on your own terms, but I don’t come with proof of purchase. She scrolls through her blog, which has gathered a considerable amount of dust and shakes her head no. She looks at her Instagram because she likes sharing pictures and smaller aspects of her life, but people write that they miss the kind of person she used to be, one who gave of themselves so often, so publicly. Soon she develops an allergy to living part of her life online because that’s what’s required of her if people want to read her book. If her agent wants to sell another one.

Lately, she’s got a heavy case of nostalgia. She longs for the days when the Internet was a black void of Geocitiess pages, where you wrote and the audience was smaller and the comments a less pithy. When people didn’t expect that in exchange for them giving you their attention, they had the right to walk into your home and rummage through the cupboards. I don’t like these cookies, why don’t you buy these instead, they offer. But don’t eat too many of them (suggestive wink!). She considers this age of attention and ownership, and thinks that if this is what’s required (one barter for another), she’s reticent to share at all.

Instead, she thinks about dead bolting all the doors.

book buff

why I closed shop on comments on this space

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo
Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

What happened to listening and engaging with people? What happened to “how are you?” I remember when people used to complain about people tweeting what they had for breakfast. Perhaps they still do complain. That never bothered me though. At least their breakfast didn’t want something from me.Annie of Ethical Thinker

I don’t want new friends. That may strike you as a bit cold, but it’s honest. I’ve spent the great deal of my life focused on personal velocity, acceleration, volume and quantity, and I’m at a place where I have what I need. I want for nothing more. Years ago I took a workshop taught by Nathan Englander, and during office hours he would sit with two copies of my short story. One version was clean and the other was a massacre of red ink. Over time he taught me to be economic with my writing–how to find one word that could do the work of three. Make the line work harder, he taught, and I’ve since applied this axiom to all aspects of my life. I’m surgical about the people who inhabit my life and I’ve no desire to pander or please the smart set, or be “famous” or “popular.” And while I realize that one can’t live in complete solitude (especially as I plan to move to the unfamiliar), I plan to befriend a few rather than entertain the masses. I don’t mind traveling or being alone; I prefer my own company. I’ve had all the fanfare and confetti in my 20s. Now, I crave the minimal and the quiet.

Some might find this intimidating while I view it as a means of keeping myself honest.

Over the past year I’ve started to feel the tension that comes with more people discovering your work. I wrote some pieces that garnered a modicum of attention and I started to feel noise occupying previously empty spaces. I received demands of friendship and attention from strangers. I received a deluge of requests: Can you read/edit/help me publish this? Can you help me with this? Can you link to this? Can you promote this? Can you do this? Can you meet me for this? Can you connect me to this? Socially, we’ve been conditioned to help, to give away pieces of ourselves in service to others at the expense of ourselves. If I say refuse, I’m the “bad guy”, but no one ever considers that the invasion of one’s life and time as inappropriate social behavior. I don’t exist to service strangers.

Putting myself out into the world has allowed me to meet some truly wonderful and courageous people. I’ve made great acquaintances around the globe, have found online spaces where I want to spend time, and I’ve exposed myself to cultures and ways of thinking I never would have otherwise encountered. I’m grateful for this. Yet I sometimes feel that the noise–the persistent clamour, the questions, the look at me!–subsumes the beauty I’ve accumulated. A handful of people have come here for insightful, passionate discussion while others leave links in hopes that people here will go elsewhere. People don’t read, they skim. People don’t connect at a visceral level, they self-promote. People tell me this writing intimidates them without having to do any of the work to move past their discomfort. People feel as if they are entitled to access to my life, time, and contacts, simply because I publish words on this space. People (even friends) feel as if they can give me unsolicited advice even when I haven’t asked for it or needed it. People often listen as a means for waiting for their turn to speak (or type, as it were). People add my email address to mailing and press lists even when I emphatically state that I do not want to be pitched or contacted for promotional/commercial purposes (I thought you might be interested in…you thought wrong). I want to forge real, meaningful friendships. Have honest conversations. Love, and be loved, deeply.

Within the next few months I have to make decisions. I’m uprooting my life (and cat) and moving west. I’m starting another book and editing a second one without any guarantee that anyone will read my work. I have to figure out a work structure that will help me pay the bills. I have to learn how to drive a car. I have to say goodbye to people whom I love. I’ve a lot to navigate and I need my world quiet.

I may not be making the right decision in shuttering comments here (temporarily) but I’m doing my best to quell the noise.

the gathering kind