I despise elitism.
That can sit alone on the line for a while.
Still, elitism naturally occurs and seems to perform an important function which I originally thought was to allow a very few to live high above the writhing dirty masses but which I’ve recently (today) come to think may actually serve to force those outside the club to try harder to reach their potential.
If the world was all fair, all egalitarian, and peaceful, maybe none of us would have reason to become better than we started out. Maybe we need something unattainable to reach for; something to want that we are told we can never have based on something as arbitrary as money in the bank or skin color or sexual orientation or social class.
For anyone who hasn’t figured this out yet: America has just as strong a class system as every other country in the world. We like to claim that our “democracy” protects us from such an inequitable division of people. It doesn’t. Just try to get in tight with the Astors if you’re a nobody from the slums of the East Bay. Even if you have wads of money to toss out the window at whim you will undoubtedly give your origins away or if you don’t they’ll know where you came from by some other means and guess what? It will matter.
I have been feeling discouraged about my writing in the last couple of weeks. Today I felt particularly low. I’ve been reading some extraordinary work by other writers and I let it get under my skin that I have never written anything half as memorable. I was going to write a post called “The great boo-hoo” in which I planned to shove myself into a black hole of self pity and self denigration. Very useful tactic for the self destructive but hardly a constructive way to improve my writing.
Then I read a post in an ongoing discussion about the struggle of bloggers and other online writers to get the respect they deserve from the print community. The most recent discussion sparked some comments from people in the traditional journalism community that caused my hackles to rise and my ire to ignite. It’s really just the usual skirmish in which the establishment is afraid that the brave new world is going to destroy everything meaningful and worthy and replace it all with complete crap and garbage.
Apparently many journalists are scornful of any writer who hasn’t gone to college for a “proper” ( meaning expensive) education and it angers them to think that lowly upstart bloggers can just press “print” and their words will go live to the whole world. What about the importance of credentials? What about the importance of having an actual establishment backing you up?
There are a lot of different kinds of writers and journalists are by no means more important than technical writers or creative non-fiction writers or novelists. I think perhaps some journalists feel a bit superior to other kinds of writers because supposedly they’re telling “the cold hard unemotional facts”. What a bunch of rubbish! Nowhere have I heard more biased crap than in newspapers and on news channels.
Listening to one kind of writer thrashing others with their diplomas and their connections and their paid gigs makes me angry. Many extremely stupid people have managed to get degrees from esteemed colleges and at least one or two of those very stupid people with fancy degrees actually became president of our country and screwed everything up more royally than I could have done.
This is all layered on top of other conversations in which established writers say that you’re not a writer until you’re published or that you’re not a writer unless someone else is willing to pay you, or until you have a note from your doctor to prove you’ve destroyed the nerves in your hand from all the word slaving you’ve been doing.
I believe most writers out there aren’t first rate. I believe this because in all fields there is a great deal of mediocrity. I don’t believe anyone can call themselves a writer just because it sounds kind of cool. There are transcendental writers, shitty writers, good writers, boring writers, writers that break all the rules and get away with it, and those who break all the rules and don’t get away with it because they aren’t good enough. There are new writers who haven’t had time to mature yet, there are old writers who used to be good but who have become hacks out of complacence or boredom. Being a writer isn’t about being good or bad, paid or not paid. Being a writer is something you are. If you’re a writer you’ll know it the minute it’s true.
It’s like being a human being. We may all be born with similar or the same potential (I’m undecided on this point) but due to a thousand different influences we may become good humans, mediocre humans, or bad humans. But we’re all still humans.
When I hear people suggesting that you can only be a legitimate writer if you can acquire the proper education and be lauded by other more established writers I want to rise up and knock down establishment. I want to prove them wrong. I want to show them all the incredible writers who didn’t go to Yale or Harvard or even community college but whose work is held up in most of those institutions as examples of excellent writing. Jane Austen comes to mind. Not good enough? Mark Twain had no formal education in writing or journalism. Is there a writer out there who would dispute his legitimacy?
What it takes to be a great writer isn’t about the education at your disposal. To any reasonably intelligent person there is a world of education available without benefit of college in the public library. Practicing your discipline every single day and striving constantly to improve and evolve is what it takes.
The underdog is my great hero.
I don’t believe print will die because of the Internet. I also think the print industry needs to recognize that just as much complete crap is pushed through newspapers and publishing houses as you can find on the Internet. Just because a person writes for a newspaper doesn’t mean they are a good writer or that their standards are better because they have the New York Times standing behind them. I’ve read the most amazingly biased untrue crap in newspapers. The same is true of online journalists and publications.
I don’t think the platform gives legitimacy, I believe that personal skill and integrity gives legitimacy and you’re just lucky or persistent (or both) if you get someone to pay you to write.
I needed to hear all the pomposity to light a fresh fire under my ass. I’m not the writer I ultimately want to be yet. Every single day I’m working at it. Every single day I work harder to reach the level of skill to fix the fickle eye to my page- to prevent the hurried reader from closing the book or leaving the site because they just have to read the rest of what I’ve written.
That’s the ultimate compliment to a writer; to force the hurried person to stop and listen, to catch some one’s imagination or their interest with such force that they feel compelled to keep reading even if their house is on fire.
Instead of dissolving into a great puddle of self doubt and hideous self pity I am using the establishment to spur me on. I am the underdog. I am paying my dues every single day I work harder at my writing than I did the day before. I pay my dues every single day I put all my time into my writing for no worldly compensation.
I still despise elitism.
But perhaps it is useful for overcoming and surpassing elitists.