Happy Bloomsday, everyone. Every year I have to marvel that a book composed almost entirely of the unfiltered train of thought from three characters found an audience, especially when you consider just how little human interaction is going on in the book. It’s a novel in the head of James Joyce about the thoughts in the heads of his three characters — and yet somehow it becomes a piece of public communications that others read and react to and create their own personalized conceptions about. And every year, people walk around Dublin reading from it and dramatizing parts. It’s a beautiful piece of humanity.
I have been thinking quite a bit lately about audience and expression, in large part because I have very little audience and I seem to have an endless amount of stuff I would like to express. It’s frustrating to me just how disinterested the world seems to be in these thoughts and words, which is a highly selfish opinion of mine. I probably admire my own thoughts too highly and devalue those who find an audience by either working harder or devoting themselves to cultivating a following.
This leads me to consider new forms of expression to get my ideas and thoughts into a wider sphere. It also leads me to direct message people who may have no interest in my thoughts or who question why they have been singled out as recipients … what is the meta-message of sending and receiving, outside of the content? To me, the meta-message is not all that interesting, I simply want an audience. But maybe I should be more mindful of the impact of saying anything at all.
Some good news — I don’t have to rely on my own thoughts on this matter, Montaigne wrote about the very subject. And here is a very long quote from Epicurus via Montaigne that basically takes me to task for caring whether anyone ever reads what I publish in any form:
Remember the man who was asked why he toiled so hard at an art which few could ever know about. “For me a few are enough; one is enough.” He spoke the truth. You and one companion are audience enough for each other; so are you for yourself. For you, let the crowd be one, and one be a crowd. It is a vile ambition to one’s retreat to want to extract glory from one’s idleness. We must do like the beasts and scuff out our tracks at the entrance to our lairs. You should no longer be considered with what the world says of your but with what you say to yourself. Withdraw into yourself, but first prepare yourself to welcome yourself there. It would be madness to entrust yourself to yourself, if you did not know how to govern yourself. There are ways of failing in solitude as in society. Make yourself into a man in whose sight you would not care to walk awry; feel shame for yourself and respect for yourself, let your mind dwell on examples of honour; until you do, always imagine that you are with Cato, Phocion and Aristides, in whose sight the very madmen would hide their faults; make them recorders of your inmost thoughts, which going astray, will be set right again out of reverence for them.
Well, if you read all that … you should know that I think it’s bullshit. On a certain level, I agree that we need to be primarily at ease with ourselves over our expression. But thoughts without form are meaningless, contradictory and at times tormenting. They often need to take a form before they can be understood and examined. So, I write. And once something is written, it is shared in some capacity.
This, for me, is where it all becomes hazy. I am an expert at helping others express themselves. These are people others want to hear from. They want to express themselves as best they can, while remaining as authentic as possible. I can use these skills to help others attain praise and be sought out for more expression. The work has its rewards, I’m not complaining.
I cannot, however, make anyone care about my own expressions. And this is my greatest frustration in life. I have little interest in literary career advancement in any traditional sense. I have no thirst for power and would almost certainly loathe celebrity if I had a taste of it. But I do want people to pay attention, to read and react to what I have to say. I don’t need the standard capitalist rewards as compensation for this achievement either, I just want an audience.
So nothing affects me more than either losing an audience or being told that I cannot say something that I desire to express. I would much rather someone express fury at me over something that I wrote than tell me I shouldn’t say it at all.
This is starting to sound too much like a recap of recent events and it is not intended that way at all. It’s more a reflection on what I have in life and what I do not. What’s the greatest gift anyone could give me? Give me a slot in some publication — print or online — where I would be asked to write 800-1000 words a day on a subject of my choice without monetary compensation, every day. People would be free to react to my work however they like, it wouldn’t bother me in the least if they hated me. I would take up that task in a heartbeat and probably toil at it until the day I died.