Why do you waste so much time writing about things that aren’t controversial?
I stared at the question on my screen. It had come from a reader. An excerpt, actually. The rest of the message went downhill from there. And ended by calling me a name.
I resolved to ignore it. Easy enough to do. I don’t talk about it a lot, but I get insulted several times a day, which seems to be a standard part of writing in public for a fairly large audience (but please don’t despair, most people are neutral or nice). So that itself is no big deal. And typically I ignore messages like this one, insulting or not, since it was non sequitur and I had a thousand other things to attend to.
I’m often swamped with emails, comments, PMs, DMs, IMs, texts, chats. Between my job as a writer and my personal life, I get communicated with a lot. There’s always a lot to look at. Keep tabs on. Moderate.
Certainly more than I have time to respond to, even if I spent my time doing nothing else (which would be a miserable existence, chained to one’s devices 24/7, and also I need time to write, too, so no).
So a lot of what I encounter falls to the wayside. Especially things I find hard to read, confusing, offensive, or otherwise unhelpful.
But mysteriously, this one question persisted: Why do you waste so much time writing about things that aren’t controversial?
It kept floating up into my head at random times, unbidden. Because it was founded on a premise I found completely mystifying.
Many People Have This Idea That Only the Controversial Is Worth Writing About
“I guess the part that’s confusing to me,” I say to Justin, as we drive back from the store, “is the idea that the opposite scenario would be preferable, the norm. Like the question assumes that a person should spend their time writing about controversy. That’s not a rule or anything, but people believe that, don’t they?”
Justin nods. “They expect it of bloggers.”
“Ah,” I say. “The blogger thing again.” I’ve spent most of my life as a writer (of poems, plays, essays, news articles) and very little of it as a blogger, which is more of a recent development, a conscious decision in recent years, when urged on by friends I started to write every day in public. So I find that people often have expectations of me that go with the blogosphere that don’t even dawn on me, since that’s not the fire in which I was forged but something I joined in on waaaaay late in the game.
“Well, think about it. You’re writing online. What are the news agencies always doing? Writing about the current controversy. And most bloggers emulate that style.”
I nod. “Yeah, most of them are constantly chasing whatever thing just happened in the news. You’ll turn around and something like 80% of them are writing an essay all inspired by the same thing, giving it their own take. Looking to trend.”
“You got it,” he says. “And you don’t really do that.”
I nod. I’m the one writing about fixing a shower head while everyone else is talking about that moment’s public controversy. Between Whosawhatsit and Youknowwho. From Thatplace. You know, the people who Didthestuff.
The Rest of Your Life Needs You
Don’t get me wrong. I think there’s plenty of place for controversy in our online lives. And I get people wanting to use their personal platforms to effect change, which can involve charging headlong into controversy. You know what they say; the personal is political (and vice versa).
And I get why news agencies need to cover the controversies. It’s particularly important for them to keep telling us what’s going on. Particularly the troubling stuff, yes. Because whatever your current stance is on media bias in the modern age, it would be much worse to be left in the dark. To have no access or insight whatsoever into what the most powerful among us are up to while the rest of us are busy earning our keep.
I want to know what’s going on. Even if some of what happens in the world curdles my blood.
I want to know.
But it’s important not to let your entire life get overtaken by controversy. To make sure you have enough solid moments in your life, people with whom you can feel safe, times that help you catch your balance.
I certainly do. And I do my best not to take any of that for granted. Not to let those stabilizing forces get lost in the sea of other things vying for my attention: Struggles, strain, controversy, strife.
So I write about them. I give them my time. My anchors. My stabilizers. Everything that sustains me, nourishes me, amuses me.
Because I figure the rest of my life needs me, not just my controversy.
And I suspect the same goes for you.