Tuesday, June 19, 2012

GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT

But what do they want?

What do you want?

I didn't start this blog to attract an audience. I needed to regain strength in my left hand, to relearn how to type. I needed to get some of the weight of the stroke off my heart and head.

I needed to write a letter about what was happening.

Harv, a colleague at the Paragraph Factory, asked me today how many people were reading the blog when I started this series of posts on May 13. A few hundred, I told him, and that was about right; I think that first post drew just a nick over 300 hits. I figured that would be the extent of it, at best.

In the time between then and now a few things happened. I figured out to whom this letter was addressedI started focusing on what I was trying to say and why I felt compelled to say it. Candidly, I still don't know the answer to those last two statements, but I'm getting closer with every sentence.

In the meantime, I discovered there were people reading what in many ways is a private letter.

It's an embarrassingly absurd number now, about 70 times what it was when I started just six weeks ago. Amazon Addie theorized early on that people were drawn to the idea of a train wreck, the possibility that I'm going to become overwhelmed by life's events and go off the rails — and lucky you would be there to witness it.

On his blog, the writer JC Wilson called me a "badass with a mask, whose life is unraveling" — another allusion to the potential for a public train wreck, and a description I do not deny. I just don't think "unraveling" is necessarily a bad thing; you can make something new and better out of existing fabric, but only after taking apart the old garment.

(Wilson is also the man who introduced me to the monomyth and helped cast all of this in the light of an epic journey: "Your life, my friend, is literature alive. It is a story." Part of that story is the possibility of a tragic ending. This isn't a movie. Heroes often fail.)

I'm not a hero, just an imperfect protagonist, displaying my flaws in a very public setting. Today director Melissa mentioned the erratic nature of the posts on this blog — "sometimes you're up and then the next thing I know, you're back down." Guilty as charged. It's the hazard of writing in real time, without much reflection or self-editing. I can't afford myself the luxury of too much pondering; if I wait and wonder and worry, I won't write.

In the same way, I can't think too much about the number of people reading these words. If I do I will falter, and part of the journey through this odd new world involves writing about it with an honesty that's sometimes brutally blunt.

In my old world — as a newspaper columnist, as a magazine editor, as a talk-radio host — I was all about calculating my words to draw an audience. I gave the people what they wanted, like the best red-meat whores in the business:
The Roman promoters really did things right.
They needed a show that would clearly excite.
The attendance was sparse so they put on a fight.
Threw the Christians to the lions, sold out every night.
Nowadays — no offense to you — I really don't care what the people want. This whole crusade is not a charade. It's not a planned adventure (trust me, I had better things to do on May 5 than have a stroke, and I can't say it's been the salad days ever since).

Because it's not planned I don't know how it's going to end. Maybe Addie and JC are right and this story will culminate with a bang, a la HST. I certainly hope not. Really. I'd rather be happy.

Here's what I do know: this letter's not finished.

2 comments:

Kathryn said...

Darling, stop worrying about People (the capital P entity) and start focusing on Person (a similarly capital P entity, but with fewer suitcases to lug around).

There are people in your life whom you value. Who's opinions are valuable. But People? People are not invested in you. People are glancing your direction only until Big Brother comes back on the air, or until the Bachelorette 8 decides to accept yet another tongue in her mouth. People have baggage. People have agendas. Some are well meaning, of course but some not so much. So fuck 'em.

You would likely say you HAVE been focusing on Person. Working hard to kick that limp in the stones, to wake all the parts of gray matter that are still logy after the stroke. But I know old habits die hard and you're a consumate multi-tasker. For all your efforts to get your Person healthy and back to 110%, another part of your big brain is inwardly still fretting about People.

Squirrel this thought away under (More) Advice For Which I Didn't Actually Ask. It's time to train Person to look at People as clinically as they look at you. Let your soft, squishy, beautiful frets be for people who hold you close to their own hearts, and for the cat and words. I think when you regularly differentiate between the two...between People (the clinical cocksuckers who run toward the train wreck with popcorn and snacks) and people (the ones who run toward the wreck to apply bandages and bourbon).... You'll feel more freedom.

RON DAVIS said...

This, dear Kathryn, is beautiful and perfect advice, and it won't be squirreled away in any filing cabinet. I need to tattoo it on my forehead so I see it every time I look in the mirror. Thank you.