Poets & Writers always taps into what I need to hear when I need to hear it. Each time an issue makes its way to mailbox #10H, I find that it takes on all of the same questions I’ve been toiling over for quite some time. While I wish it would always give me the answers to my many questions it does give me help to explore them in a better way. Steve Almond’s “The Problem with Entitlement” in P&W’s September/October issue is a look at his MFA students who shun and even mock traditional publications and successful writers out of their fear of failure. This something I’ve addressed on Cheap Courage before.
For years I avoided calling myself a writer, joining writer’s groups, and meeting like-minded folk because I feared they would be more accomplished or better read than I am. And as painful a it is to admit here (and now), it made me kind of a snob. Or the less eloquent, a dick. In Almond’s words, I felt overmatched and assumed a posture of superiority. I was becoming a mean girl.
I was headed to an even darker place where one day I, too, would find The Best American Short Stories an atrocious collection. (I suggest picking up a copy and reading Almond’s piece. He really did come across this.) It saddened me to find that I was not alone. Usually I find joy in camaraderie of any sort but this is a group I do not want to be a apart of. I’m disappointed that I even pointed a toe in that direction but it is a problem, as Almond points out, exacerbated in recent times by the Internet.
“The Internet has… been a great aggregator of anxiety and an enabler of our worst tendencies. It has allowed us to trumpet our own opinions, to win attention by broadcasting our laziest and cruelest judgements, to grind axes in public. It has made us feel, in some perverse sense, that we are entitled to do so,” Almond writes. Even though I found a way to stop my compulsion to write off the accomplishments of others, I like to think I’ve grown up since college, Almond points out that my online habits can be contributing to the problem and in fact, making it harder for me to pull away from my less-than fabulous traits.
I’ve tried to step away from negativity and obscenely opinionated postings on my social media pages but I think I need to go one step further and cut the umbilical cord of getting excited about likes, shares, and re-posts. Even on this very blog. I get caught up in the immediate satisfaction of someone saying, “Oh, that was really good,” and moving on to the next post. Not that this is bad in itself but my goal is not to have a wildly successful blog, it’s to become a PUBLISHED essayist with a landing page for folks to find me, learn about me, and grow with me. I want other young writers to find these posts and not feel so alone or ashamed for feeling not so great thoughts. Those are my goals and Facebook likes aren’t going to get me closer to them.
“You don’t grow as a writer by writing off other people’s efforts. You grow as a writer by respecting the process.” – Steve Almond
Until next time… If you need me I’ll be busy writing essays. Something I have a lot to learn about.