“That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald to Sheila Graham, 1938
Following yesterday’s post I’ve been thinking more and more about how we get our emotional needs met. It’s not uncommon that when kids don’t get the attention (re: connection) that they want/need, they often turn to destructive and harmful ways, such as bullying, for any attention is better than no attention. As a child who was bullied I never considered turning around to bully others, but like all kids I would act out from time to time, and be punished. I did not like the kind of attention this got me and so that did not become my strategy. Instead I turned to being a clown, doing the most ridiculous things in order to garner attention because if you can make people laugh, even if it’s laughing at you, it at least gives the appearance that they want you around.
And so I played the clown, the idiot, doing whatever ridiculous things would garner me the attention I so deeply longed for. In grade school this included eating the most ridiculous things people could come up with (which reached its climax in high school when I drink a milkshake with cigarette ashes in it) and hitting myself in the head with heavier and heavier textbooks (which reached its climax in seventh grade when I temporarily lost the ability to hear after a particularly thick stack of three books).
It wasn’t until high school English class, (bless you, Mrs. Smith), I finally got attention for something other than acting stupid – in my American literature class we had an assignment related to the Transcendentalists, where we could pick from any of a number of options. One of the suggestions was to write an essay in the style of Emerson and Thoreau, which is what I chose. Turned out I was the only person in the entire class who chose that option, and my teacher had me read it out in front of the class. The entire premise of it was that the structure of our high school was designed in such a way that it destroyed the individual. I was very proud of it, received an A+, and for the first time received attention based on and something intellectual and clever that I had done. It made me feel good, and I think that’s what I’ve been searching for ever since with my writing.
But here we are in 2022, some 25 years since I’ve written that essay, and it’s become even harder to garner that sort of attention. I pour all that I have into my stories, manage to get them published, but have to fight to get anyone to read even the shortest of short stories. I once had a long-term girlfriend who had no problem sitting down and spending hours on Twilight books (she was well into her 20s at this point), but she just couldn’t find the time to read my short story that would take all of less than 10 minutes. And this was someone who professed that she loved me! In a similar vein, some of my friends in the past have said that they read my works but, having my doubts, I write them into the next story as a character, in a way that should absolutely receive a reaction from them, but it doesn’t. On the flipside, I could post a video of me doing something absolutely stupid, and there’s a good chance that it would go viral, but put all of myself into a short story, labor over it, sweat over it, wake in the middle of the night thinking about it, go through the arduous process of finding someone to publish it, publishing it, promoting it – and only a handful of people, even those who proclaim that they believe in my work, will ever actually read it.
And so what is there left to do? Go back to playing the clown? Jerry Lewis, Jim Carrey, Robin Williams and endless other comedians had/have so much depth to them, but what most people want is just for them to act the buffoon, wanting nothing to do with them when they show themselves to be a complete person, with all the same hopes, dreams, desires, longings, and needs. In the end all we can do is keep trying to get attention/connection in a positive manner, and hoping that, in the long run, that will win out.