Where have I been?
Teaching 11th grade English, traveling, spending time with my girlfriend, working a second job – but I’m not going to say that I’ve been busy. That word is used way too often these days and I’ve been trying to stop defaulting to that whenever asked how things are going. I’ve been away from writing, mostly for reasons of time. Actually, thats not entirely true. The truth is that I haven’t had much desire to write. At first it was because I was tired, but then it morphed into another attitude entirely – apathy. “I mean, who really cares?” I would think. This is a question I continue to struggle with: “Who really cares?”
I suppose I could always go with the happy Hollywood answer: “There are people that read your work and really get something from it, and if you can touch just one…” yada yada yada. We’ve all heard that one before. This answer does have truth within it, clearly – I’ve had people ask me why I haven’t been writing (OK, it was three people, but that still allows for the use of the word “people”, and that doesn’t mean more people havent’t been THINKING it). But, again, the question of “who cares” seems to always shoot down any potential answers. And that is where the internal dialogue ends, or at least it has over the last few months. After this, the whole “I have a voice and I should speak” monologue begins, and at times I could make it close to the triumphant music swell, but the wave never fully breaks, the momentum stopping before physics can render it unstoppable. “Who cares” disables the wave like a 1940’s comic book super villain’s ridiculous weapon, and then the process starts all over again. This has been my brain for months every time I have wondered if I should write something. Reading articles and blogs and interviews with writers and about writing doesn’t really help either. “Push through the wall,” one says; “There’s a story inside of you waiting to get out,” another pleads; “500 words a day, no excuses”, another one preaches, taunting you and your lack of creative longsuffering. After a while it becomes more than writers block – the blank page becomes a manifestation of those deep-seeded voices of doubt, the one that always asks, “How can you really call yourself a writer?”
So instead of pushing through and really trying to write something, you indulge your imagination in all the superfluous ephermal distractions around being a writer. If the modern world teaches anyone anything these days, it is to waste time while pretending to “work.” You read the same article about authors writing novels longhand four times in hopes of gathering some inspiration, you research the types of pens or pencils your favorite writers use, you study their methods, habits, processes, then swoon over picturess of their desks and writing nooks, imagining how much more productive you would be if you just had that setup waiting for you every day. You try out different pens, pencils, paper, mood music, notebooks, and yet no words come. After a time, you stop pretending, and the question of “Who cares” claims another victim.
The fuel is there, yet the spark has fled. I feel this happens to everyone with their numerous situations or ambitions. “Why should I try hard in school just to go get a degree I don’t really want and debt I can never repay?” “Why spend time learning or investing in something when I’m not talented enough to do anything with it?” “What is the point of talking to that girl when I already know that she’s not going to be interested?” “Why should I fight to keep my relationship going when half of them will inevitably fail anyway?” “I mean, who really cares?” Not many people, and that is the problem.
There’s a duality in our culture when it comes to caring. We are more connected than we have ever been in the history of the entire human race, yet it is so much easier to be uninvolved. Technology has turned us into passive observers of life, flipping through channels, accounts, memes, and people until we are bored with them or run into something that cannot be easily fixed, and so we check out. I have found myself falling into this trap. I’ve grown tired of people. No one specifically, just people in general. Logging into Facebook as rarely as I do has become a dreaded chore, much like having to go to Wal-Mart on a Saturday. Twitter feels like a sea of noise and opinions that I don’t care about or want to read. I’ve become aware of the trivial nature around so many of the things I have valued in the past, and the things this world has embraced without a second thought. I’ve heard students get into genuine arguments about broken Snapchat “streaks”, seen couples fight over a missed “like” on Instagram, and communication skills slither into lack of eye contact and attention spans that rival a golden retriever puppy. It makes the imagined future of disinterested human beings living lives through screens portrayed in Wall-E seem almost prophetic. Sometimes I wonder if humanity would be better off if the smartphone failed spectacularly and social media faded into the mist along with planking and those stupid Grumpy Cat memes. All of this has created a culture where we all claim to care, except Likes, Snaps, and Retweets somehow constitute action.
Caring, REALLY caring, takes work. It takes sacrifice. It requires discomfort. It demands for you to stay in the mess and fight for the good within it. It forces masks to come off and walls to come down. It asks you to willingly give someone or something the chance to hurt you, and yet stay there in front of it in spite of the risk. Who really cares? You should because really caring changes things. Really caring means you turn your back on the audience that never really cared for you in the first place. Audiences will never satisfy. Comedian Bo Burnham said “If you can live your life without an audience, you should do it.” Real friends and real relationships invite honesty and trust – audiences care only about their own desires and how you can fulfill them. You should could care about the friend who needs you to talk to them, not the strangers who put meaningless numbers next to pictures that in no way determine your real value.
Care about what really matters. Who cares about everything else?