Another blog post about blog posts

Not to be postmodern or self-reflexive or self-conscious about the form but just to say that I’m going through a process of discovering what I love and in the process of discovering what I love I realized as I was exiting the bathroom that the reason I didn’t feel comfortable in the comments section at Salon for the whole 12 years I was writing those 2,300-odd Since You Asked advice columns was that I felt uncomfortable discussing the people who had written to me for advice, and I felt uncomfortable discussing what I had written, and I felt protective toward the people who had written to me. I felt unequal to the task of knowing fully what they ought to do and where they fit in the moral, judgmental hierarchy into which we were always placing them. Also uncomfortable about evaluating what I had written, because what I had written was written in a fire of passion that might not be professional and might not be aesthetically pure and might not be ethical if you get right down to it. There was an ethical stink about the whole thing, frankly, much as it warms my heart that people are helped by it. There is an ethical stink about it not just because the kind of help people actually really need is so hard to find, not just because a stranger on the Internet is a poor substitute for a flesh-and-blood person who cares (though yes of course words can heal at a distance, and inspire, and light up), not just because I myself am ambivalent about as a writer taking the next easiest thing that will make me money rather than doing the very hard but true thing which is to take the mainstream literary stage boldly and without apology, but mostly because, as I realize now, I was not comfortable talking about other people that I don’t know.

I do not like to gossip. Gossip makes me uncomfortable but if it were just that I wouldn’t care. It isn’t my discomfort that’s at issue. It’s why I’m uncomfortable with gossip. It feels like a kind of murder.s;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;a

? (did you see that series of semicolons? that was the result of my dozing off in this chair as I sat wondering should I even publish this. That was me falling asleep at the keyboard.)

This discomfort discussing the ills and woes of others who have written to me for advice contrasts with my perfect ease talking about random stuff that happens to me, and my whole trophy case of bullshit opinions. Like the fact that I’m unhappy about Steven Colbert taking David Letterman’s place, and that I never liked R.E.M. (they sounded like ornament; the Clash sounded like rock; even the Talking Heads sounded like they came from necessity; R.E.M. sounded like they came from abstraction, from cake decoration, from a jangly, riffy notion of what might be cool). In fact–and here is what I am just beginning to grok about this whole fucking awful blogging situation–I also have thought that my life was not interesting, and still think so, but am writing as a kind of aggression suppressed Lo these long dozen years during which I used suffering as a platform for my tap dance and literary recitation under the hot lights of an imagined Broadway, an imagined crowd beyond the pixellated footlights. That’s another thing that, say what you will, has always had a bit of ethical stink about it: My use of the pain of others, however good my intentions, however salutary the results. Surely I have done some good; surely my ability to sit for hours or days working through someone else’s complex problem, trying each avenue like moving chess pieces to see what devastating outcome was likely if, say, she told the truth or didn’t tell the truth or confronted her father or didn’t confront her father etcetera, has given the world some good things. Surely I have not been a huckster or a con, and surely out of this pact with those who are suffering I have produced some interesting, affecting and at times I’m sure, out of 2,300 columns, occasionally moving and surprising writing.

Yet for me there has always been, as I say, this ethical stink, and this air of its being provisional and not at the white-hot core of destiny. I have stumbled into things. I have riffed. I have stumbled onto stages unprepared and read spontaneously from just-written texts; I have improvised my way; I have through sheer bravado delivered what sounds like literary work but may on closer inspection prove to be ingenious facsimile. I know I am capable of these things and I am half the time secretly joking as I write, as my father was secretly joking as he entertained us with his tales, tongue literally in cheek. I am multilayered and contradictory and who isn’t? I am this and that both at the same time and who isn’t? And with this comes the guilt of the actor, the guilt of the journalist always selling someone out, the guilt of the memoirist using others’ pain for performance and backdrop and foil.

So to be always writing the column and only writing the column was like being a merchant seaman but not in the Marines; like being in the next room while the grownups decide who will be mayor.

Now I can cuss. Now I can write long sentences and not worry if they even completely grammatically hold together, though I believe they mostly do, rattling ragged into the station but still mostly not burdened with unconnected concluding gerund phrases and other not-wholly grammatical stylistic novelties that displease me. (Ha ha whose joke is that now?  Who is deliberately tearing things apart just to see how they crash?) Now I can be the person who is not that gentle and kind. Now I can say that many things displease me, including the tentativeness that passes for manners and respect, and the refusal to look me in the eye that passes for cool in Oakland.

I suppose I could be a blogger

I’m so awakened by Ifemelu in Americanah, her blogging, that after the doctor, whose first name was Tennessa, which I had never heard before, and which, when I mentioned it to the medical student who had amazingly white teeth, got me a blank and slightly fearful smile as if she did not know which way I was going with this simple acknowledgement that I had never heard the name Tennessa before (I was frankly curious to know if it would be a recognizably male or female name), I went to Peet’s for tea and they did not have gen mai cha but they had a jasmine green tea which I do not like and they had Earl Gray which I do not like so I settled on black English breakfast tea, and sat in the window at Peet’s in the Lakeshore Plaza on Sloat and continued my wonderful, energizing, effervescent enchantment with this novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called Americanah, in which Ifemelu, whose name I cannot get out of my head, comes to America and observes us. Yes, us. You and me, as we go about our sometimes charming and sometimes clueless and sometimes cluelessly cruel, rich, privileged, blank-faced, rude, hungry, entitled, brittle, righteous, Christian, needy, overly sensitive and spoiled little lives. In Yale and in Philadelphia and in New York and in Baltimore and in Connecticut. Ifemelu has not yet come to California in the book and I do not know if she will. I wish she would if she doesn’t. I would like to know what she would have to say about Valencia Street and 24th, and the Alley Cat Books, and the Google buses and our rage at the Google buses, which I am thinking I could make a piece of personal literary nonfiction out of if I rode one.

This is how I naturally write and that is why I am thinking I might just be a blogger because I am no longer a writer on salary and strangely enough “blogger” sounds more enterprising than “freelancer,” which has a doubtful air and always did because one had to first acquire an “assignment” as a “freelancer” but one can magically become a “blogger” just by blogging. A blogger is someone who blogs, to paraphrase a tautology of which I am fond and yet suspicious, because everybody knows when we say “writer” in one context we mean it as an occupation and trade, like “cook” or “shoemaker,” and there are limits to what even the most enterprising DIYer can do as far as being a shoemaker. “Do you grow your own cotton?” (Read the book if you don’t get that.)

If I were to become a blogger I would want to say something controversial and yet harmless and so I would probably say how sad I am that Steven Colbert is taking over from David Letterman, how I mourn already, and how Steven Colbert leaves me cold and has never made me laugh, and how I find him irritating and hyperactive and want to shush him and if we were at a dinner party I would leave early with some excuse.

Part of it is that I love David Letterman so much. Part of it is not wanting to see him replaced. But if he were to be replaced wouldn’t it be wonderful for him to be replaced by someone with a small ego and a folksy manner, some humility, and when I say humility I mean affect, I mean acting, I mean the persona of humility which seems to allow the rest of us to relax and laugh as the brittle and hyped-up persona of Steven Colbert does not. I mean that I have never been made to laugh by Steven Colbert. I have gaped; I have observed with detachment that he has twisted something around again; I have seen that what he says makes others laugh. But I have never laughed and I have never loved Steven Colbert and so it is sad to know that he will take over from David Letterman, whom I love and have since watching first in Paul Keister and Debora Iyall’s apartment up on Nob Hill on California Street where they had practically no furniture because she was on tour with Romeo Void and I’m not sure if they’d even had their wedding at the Art Institute yet, but there was this young, gap-toothed ironic and silly man on late at night and that was Dave.

But who else? Who is large enough in the firmament of stars (odd phrase that)?

I do not know. Perhaps you do. Perhaps you also do not find Steven Colbert funny and by mentioning it I can give you courage, like in the old days when I used to enter into the spirit of whatever your malady was and thus by example allow others to breathe more easily at their desks in highrise office buildings where they would think about their lives and read my column and commune with all the lost souls found on the Internet. Or perhaps you will pity me for missing what is so funny about him. I like to laugh. Jon Stewart makes me laugh. Edgy people make me laugh. Silly people make me laugh. He doesn’t seem edgy or silly; he seems like he wants us to know how smart he is and I’m not sure how smart he is because what he does is obvious but then so is what R.E.M. does and I never got far disliking them, either, nor did I get very far Disliking Intensely U2.

But then I thought, maybe that’s what blogging is for, to dispense possibly unpopular opinions and see what you think.

Maybe you can also tell me why so few people of the supposedly aware and tasteful set of which I am a charter member do not watch the most amazing and exciting show on television right now other than The Good Wife, which is American Idol. Am I the only one in my social group who is stunned and reduced to tears by the dream of regular folks from dirt-poor ordinariness and drabness in shared bedrooms having their dreams not of cheap stardom but of true artistry come to life in front of practiced and knowledgeable professionals? Am I the only one who is interested in what Harry Connick Jr. says because he is not only a star but a working musician with practical knowledge who thinks about practical problems of phrasing and chords and so forth?

So I do think about things other than therapy and God and why you think your husband is making you unhappy.

Oh, and one more thing. What do I notice about publication dates and review dates and marketing cycles, which I lived with in the world of music and so am hyper-alert to and somewhat dismayed by, as it means that culture runs to the tune of marketing and distribution, which we know but still find at times when we are delicate or extremely moved and perhaps vulnerable to be unsettlingly and even outrageously crass even if, as I think I admitted somewhere near the beginning of this sentence, true, but that all the reviews if you search on the name “Ifemelu” (I just wanted to see if it was, um, a super-familiar name that I just hadn’t heard because I don’t know enough about Nigeria) seemed to all happen in May 2013 when the book came out, which I know, again, is obvious and how the world works and why do I have a problem with that, but still, it’s just something I noticed that bothered me. Because the world I live in bothers me in case you didn’t notice yet. In case I’ve spent 12 years being such a nice person trying to help other people with their problems that I didn’t have time to be this other extremely bothered person who sometimes feels the whole crushing weight of the world’s crass idiocy on his shoulders and has to get down on his knees on the sidewalk just for a minute until it goes away?