As I awoke this morning I already was thinking about what I might write today. But things didn’t go according to plan and something unexpected happened (which I’ll cover in -2). So now I’m writing about something entirely different.
While I didn’t really know this is why I’m doing this I think I started writing to solve a practical problem. I like to talk about things (actually like to listen too, all evidence to the contrary, but relatively few people have much other than drivel they talk about, which is what I don’t want to listen to (I find what’s going on in my own head more interesting, sorry)). But a good way to find yourself sitting alone in the corner to go on and on about something nobody but you is interested in. So more and more I’m finding myself silent, tired of the glazed-over looks of others as all they really do is set a quota of time they’ll indulge me and then pretend to listen.
So this is great. No one is bored since no one is out there. No one has to be nice to me and do something they don’t want. And I get to ramble on. It’s better than talking to the wall because here I get to deceive myself and think someone is really out there even though I know they’re not.
But it still bugs me. What’s so wrong with expressing ideas longer than a bumper sticker? (Or conversely what’s so interesting about tweets?) I read long books, watch long documentaries, and sometimes (rarely find) listen to people who keep my attention. In my experience the simple fact is that most people: a) don’t talk about anything except day-to-day trivia, b) can’t actually present ideas very well, certainly not a more complex theme longer than a paragraph or two, c) more simply, don’t seem to have any ideas about any subject other than day-to-day, and, d) if by chance they do go off on some topic they’re not very engaging to listen to. Of course, others would probably say all this same stuff about me and I don’t care.
I guess what I’m getting out is that I’m tired of “selling”. All of life we end up selling ourselves, to get in a college, to get job(s), to get a mate, to get friends, to get professional notice, even to our kids. We end up not doing what we want to do but what we think others will buy. And after a lifetime of that, that’s who we are – who someone else wants us to be. In my experience it’s a total myth that “be yourself” is a viable life strategy. “be what sells” is the way it works in this country (and we give our politicians grief because they pander to us, surprise, surprise). I do actually like to watch Food Network Star and Susie drives me crazy because she constantly tells the contestants to be themselves and then criticizes them soundly when they are (no, Susie, what you really mean is, be what Susie wants you to be, or not even that, be what Susie thinks she can market to the public and get ratings and money)
I’ve been involved in many activities, mostly startup businesses, that actually have some idea about what it is they want to do. The ones I like are the ones that are trying to do something new, which, by definition, means something that is not yet popular. The trouble with this is the purpose of business (at least by most people) is to make money, not create new ideas or products or services or actually do something useful or interesting. So no matter where you started gradually selling takes over the business. And selling always works best if you sell what someone else wants to buy, not something novel. So one tiny step at a time you go from doing what you want, what you think has value, to doing what someone else wants, which is usually as boring as toejam. Whatever grand dream you had is stomped out of existence by convention.
So when I bring this back down out of the clouds we learn this lesson in our personal life. Knock off those rough edges that sometimes irritate people so we can try to please all the people all the time. Get rid of those eccentric ideas because they’re too far from the mainstream to be interesting to others. And certainly dumb yourself down because nobody likes a wiseass who might speak at level above your listeners. And today in ADHD world, speak in bumper stickers (or more modern metaphor, tweets) – no one wants any sentence with more than 6 words.
In my view we’ve either all reverted to being teenagers or we never stopped being a teenager. Teenagers desperately want to be liked and measure their success in life by popularity. So you quickly learn (or fail at the popularity thing) to sell yourself, be what others want. In terms of conversation you can go buy books, which pretty much come down to: 1) listen, don’t talk, 2) ask questions (since it’s ok for the other person to ramble on), don’t talk, 3) when you see their attention drift, stop talking (whether done or not), and, 4) most of all, be brief because we believe the human brain is programmed by evolution to never be contemplative because we might miss the tiger in the bushes about to pounce on us. I am constantly amazed at how the saying “there is never time to do it right but always time to do it over” applies to conversation. Everyone is so busy trying to keep emails to 3 sentences and 11 words that we have 15 rounds of emails to finally get something real actually done. Quantity of emails is ok, quantity in emails is not. So we either learn all these things (and then are popular) or we defy them (and we’re not).
Perhaps one of the few benefits of getting old is recognizing that with little time left you don’t need to waste it all trying to please others. Sure, as old fart it’s probably even more important to attract people since it’s hard for you to be as independent, but after a lifetime of doing it, either doing it their way or suffering the consequences if you don’t, maybe at least we can say I don’t give a damn what the others think. Maybe the selling can stop.
So maybe this writing I’m doing is how I’m accomplishing that. Since no one is going to read it anyway I don’t care whether anyone likes it or not. (Self: Am I really being honest, have I escaped the bondage of needing to be popular, or is this just spin?). What triggered this thread for me is how much others who write blogs do, in fact, try to get readers as affirmation that their writing has value, and, of course, the techniques (conveniently all written down for those of us too dense to figure it out) are pretty much the same things as being popular as a teenager with a bit of net-centric twist. So I stumble on someone’s blog, find it somewhat interesting, but almost immediately also see it’s somewhat popular and then, suspicious, start seeing all that selling going on. I’ll read it anyway, but these days I hate selling and it almost entirely turns off my attention, no matter how good what you’re selling may be. I actually do want people to be themselves subject to my other restriction that they actually have something to say – then I’ll listen and stop talking.