“Your questions reveal more about yourself than my answers would reveal about me.”
For the past few months, I’ve been nursing a disillusionment with writing these articles. I mean it quite literally, in that I’ve come to realise I had romantic ideas about being an Internet Writer Guy that have fallen away in the reality of it; normally ‘disillusionment’ implies disappointment, as if I have become disgusted with the whole endeavor and sworn it off, but I assure you that’s not the case. I have far too many ideas to even consider stopping – I’m fairly certain whatever I’m going to write about Star Trek: The Next Generation will qualify as Great, and even outside that I have an overload of ideas for more essays – I’m just reframing my expectations based on what I’ve learned to forge an entirely different romantic image.
The biggest and strongest pie-in-the-sky ideal I’ve had to drop is the notion of, for lack of a better word, ‘teaching’ people. This, I know, comes largely from the fact that I have learned much by reading different perspectives and by following other people down mental rabbit holes; finding out new ways of looking at things and new ways of interpreting the world. I assume you can see why I would default to this expectation in my own writing – that I would want to get people to feel what I felt reading the writing of others. Part of the problem is that, of course, people don’t feel anything they don’t want to feel. Even aside from my interests being obscure or my position to ‘educate’ not being as secure as I’d like, most people in my experience prefer to be lecturer than lectured – to be an authority figure rather than a receptacle for someone else’s thinking. Ironically, the intent to lecture will at best lead you to people who already agree with you, even if they had to wait for you to put it into the right words for them.
The other part of the problem is that I don’t want to be a ‘teacher’. Anything I have written that was even in the vicinity of ‘educating’ in intent – whether that be trying to highlight a favourite work in the hopes of sharing it with others, impressing a specific interpretation onto a work, or explaining some interesting facts I’m aware of – has felt like a failure. It’s not just that my failure rate in impressing people with the cool rock I found is low, it’s that the effort itself is curiously unsatisfying. It’s not an inherently bad idea to shout how cool information is from the rooftops – nerds doing that about some cop show is how you got me here after all – but it’s wrong for me. I am not here to teach people things – I am here to discover things I don’t know. I prefer to surround myself with people smarter than I am and who know things I don’t. What I want to feel is the sense of reality being pulled from under me like a rug; to learn new words and new ways of looking at things. I want to create in myself what I got from those old articles, and I sift through works until I find it.
(Although I find myself remembering that, when I was reading cool articles on the internet that blew my tiny mind, I generally wasn’t confident enough to comment. Presumably there are dozens of lurkers fascinated by the things we’re talking about that will, ten years from now, go on to write articles riffing on my ideas)
The other big thing I’ve learned is that, unfortunately, good things are good and bad things are bad. For every example of some technique or idea that fails horribly, I end up finding a counterexample where it works perfectly. You tell me inhuman cardboard cutouts are bad and I point to the works of Stanley Kubrick. You tell me absolute real-world verisimilitude is necessary and I point to Twin Peaks. The only consistent effective technique with a clear explanation for why it works is dramatic structure, which is compelling for the same reason a train crash is compelling. Everything else is subject to context; impossible to define precisely when you should do it outside of whether or not it feels right. I have given up on the notion of hard-and-fast rules – even the notion of having hard-and-fast rules and even the notion of never having hard-and-fast rules – because the universe is simply too big to assume any limitations on it.
The final and perhaps most important thing I’ve learned is that writing about the world is an act of ego. It is a tremendous act of arrogance to stand apart from the world and declare that it’s one thing and not another, as if you of all the six billion people on this planet were somehow gifted the ability to see everything for what it actually is. It is an action that separates you from the rest of humanity, and it’s intoxicating, and more often than not it’s the aesthetically (and therefore morally) correct thing to do when writing an essay. It’s almost freeing, like I know I have somewhere I am not only allowed but obligated to dispense with any pretense of humility or interest in any other perspective; it’s hard to feel right taking up space where I don’t need to just for my own ego when I already have space reserved for me.
It’s distinct from an act of creation. Criticism is a fine art and it’s specifically the art of seeing what’s already there. I have always been a bad liar and a neurotic artist, and I am reaching the point where I see these are one and the same. The past couple of months, I have also found myself practically overflowing with creative projects. It’s a little bit having spent so long refining ideas about various art forms that I’m simply confident now, a little bit having both a sense of emotional peace and emotional turmoil driving me to find happiness in artistic expression, and a little bit just being bored with my relentless pursuit of Truth. After five years of trying to accurately diagnose the past in complete detail, telling flagrant and convenient lies for my own amusement feels like a subversive act. Creating art is an act of charity – to pull something from nonexistence without any specific expectation of where it will go. I was considering taking a break for a while to recharge; I have decided instead to stop trying to make criticism do what something else will do better.