The Boundaries and Conduits of Writing and Publishing
Exacerbated by the age of anonymity is the thing the ancients called cacoethes scribendi, the itch to write. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. wrote a poem by that title about just our age, our ability to scratch the itch and push “send” without much compunction. “If…all earth’s living tribes had nothing else to do but act as scribes, and the huge inkstand was an empty cup, still would the scribblers…call for more pens, more paper, and more ink.”
The human condition includes the need to be heard, a desperate need, really, and for many of us who can type, writing is one channel to speak that need. So we type until our thumbs are sore, and then we type some more (Hey, look Ma! I rhymed! Just like a real poet…). There are standard arguments about the unhealthy prepossession anonymity provides for scratching some itches in really filthy places, and I agree with those, but I think anonymity is the rule, has been the rule. Writing is a medium, the go-between. It creates breathing room so that the writer might have a boundary between the people involved. Even though you know who I am, and I might know who you are, personally, a text stands between me and you, creating at least a modicum of anonymity.
That is, until the prosecuting attorney inquires of you before a judge and a jury of your peers, “Did you, Mr. Duke, write this?”
Writing stuff down does create a boundary, doesn’t it? I think that’s an agreeable supposition. On the other hand, it creates a conduit to the self, and doing so might prove a regrettable act, whether what you wrote was right or wrong. Luckily, most writers are dead. I take comfort in that.
I mean, as much as I hate Aristotle for destroying Western Civilization (Oh, what could have been!), I cannot kill him, nor can I unwrite him (though given enough nukes, I might try). Plato’s Republic might be the rail Satan rides through history to deceive the youth, but I can do nothing about its existence. I can only thank God that he did not (according to his inscrutable will) compound his confounding of the Persians at Thermopylae by allowing Socrates to live one second longer. Granted, Socrates didn’t necessarily write anything, but he had ensorcelled that blasted amanuensis, making the point moot. These were consequential, and certainly worthy of violence. I am inconsequential, and only perhaps worthy of violence myself, but they can only kill me once.
As it stands now, once the send button has been depressed, though virtually, digital actualities make it so that deplatforming cannot scour from existence my attempt to be heard.
There. I have shaken off the paralysis brought on by the cacoethes scribendi. For me, I am not afraid of failure in writing. No sir, I’ve become an expert in that, and I revel in it (as I revel in failing in hunting deer). My anxiety is a fear of disapproval. Failing in writing is a common experience, so common it cannot be measured by percentile. How many of us write and fail to garner a consequential reaction? It must be infinitesimally close to 100%, right? Thus [spoken in deliberate baritone narration] the human condition: not heard. [Back to Dave’s thin tenor]. That’s okay. I still have my wife and children, my mom and my siblings, a few friends. On occasion they are polite enough to pretend to hear me. If I do the hard work of listening to them, love is thereby requited, and we all grow a little bit, and we hear each other, if only for snatches of time and words and emotive currents.
No, not fear of failure: that’s just life. Disapproval: now that’s a different thing altogether, and equally paralyzing. For example, if I were interested in retail politics, I might write something like, “Here are the things which are good, noble, and worthy about President John Riggins’s tax policy, duly passed by the party in control of the U.S. Congress.” Someone will most assuredly write, “You, sir, are evil, and let me demonstrate how it is you are actually evil.” It is that disapproval I cannot countenance. That is a rational fear, even if childish. Grow up, Dave: welcome to the world, right?
The irrational fear is like it. “How dare you, sir, pollute the world…THE WORLD…with your… scratchings! And you have the audacity to ask people to buy it!” Well, sir [deep breath], yes I have. I have now polluted the world by scratching an itch to write, and I hereby ask you to buy it. In fact, I think I have a product you might enjoy, an adventure book that puts a few characters in a stripped-down world so that they might act out their own anxieties while being chased by hordes of bad people. A few dollars opens that vibrant and exuberant exploration to you. Yes, I hereby ask you to buy it.
More than that: I hereby shake off paralysis.
Now, thank God for relative anonymity.