Mar 12, 2014
Masturbation: The Typing Requirement
Posted on Jun 23, 2011
By Mr. Fish
This was back in the ’90s, when mail was still made out of paper and submitting one’s work to an editor involved much more legwork and menial labor than it does now. (Try explaining to anybody born after 1985 the concept of licking a stamp and he’ll look at you as if you just crapped your pants and started reminiscing about how cheap sodie pop and illegal abortions used to be.) In fact, the chore of writing, itself, was much more laborious in the past and required a greater commitment to all the many stages involved in the job of being an author.
Think about it. Before there were word processors and email and Wikipedia, there were dictionaries (I’ll wait while you take a minute to Google the word: dic·tion·ar·ies), which one had to leaf through in order to confirm word definitions and proper spelling and usage, and there were libraries which one typically had to leave the house in order to find, and there were books which had to be opened and closely examined for the purpose of corroborating facts and theories and assumptions, and there was the collecting and the collating of research data and the handwriting of notes into notebooks, then there was the returning home and the pounding on the keys of a typewriter, which included the whiting out of mistakes with a tiny paintbrush and the blowing on the paint to make it dry, and then there was the leaving again and the xeroxing of all the pages of original type and the assemblage of copies for both storage and distribution, then there was the buying of the envelopes and the paying for the double postage, which included the self-addressed stamped envelope wherein the form rejection letter would be contained, and then, as I indicated earlier, there was the licking of the stamps and the mailing—followed, of course, by the waiting for weeks, sometimes months, for a response. It was easy then to make the sloppy deduction that all the hard work inherent in the preparation of a submission translated directly to the significance of the product.
Of course it only makes sense, given the preposterous verbosity of the human animal, that most published writing is exactly as useless and uninteresting as all the unpublished writing that comes out of nonwriters as longwinded uninterrupted speech, the only difference being that, by virtue of the printed page, a writer is less likely to shut up even when the reader puts his or her hands over his or her ears. And while such immunity to outside interference may sometimes inspire the kind of fearless intelligence necessary for the writing of such books as “Native Son” and “The Catcher in the Rye,” most of the time it simply inspires the kind of fearless stupidity that imbeciles use to publish “Going Rogue: An American Life” and “The Bell Curve” and to make like-minded publications the kind of loud and wacky bullshit that enjoy the same kind of mass circulation as herpes, hula hoops and all the different mispronunciations of Sartre and Goethe.
Only when I first started reading what other people had written did I begin to realize that possessing the ability to write shouldn’t automatically demand that a person become a writer, just like being able to swallow a live mousetrap shouldn’t automatically demand that a person become an idiot. More often than not, being able to write about something has very little to do with having something worthwhile to say about it. My best friend all through college, for example, spent the first 15 years of his life learning how to draw with an attention to detail that made his pencil drawings appear as precise and realistic as photographs, only to piss away the 10 years after he graduated copying publicity stills out of music magazines of his favorite rock bands and implanting himself in the lineup. Not only should a person like that not be encouraged to believe that his art is anything more spectacular than a beautifully illustrated, albeit terrifically longwinded, suicide note that would guarantee no confusion among friends and family as to why, upon entering middle age, he decided to kill himself, but a person like that should probably have his air guitar confiscated and replaced with the Help Wanted section of the newspaper, which it was, thankfully. Now he’s a top-notch alcoholic with a mortgage and a shitty office job and absolutely nothing to live for. Ironically, minus the office job, he’s a more legitimate artist nowadays, being more like Jackson Pollack than he would’ve been had he continued doing what he was doing.
One thing to recognize about writing, too, is that the job of being a writer is populated by those who began as fans of the profession. In other words, wanting to be a writer is all that it takes for somebody to become a writer, especially when no one ever becomes a writer because he or she has to become one the same way that somebody has to become a dishwasher or a cashier or a house painter in order to pay the bills. As a result, the abilities of a writer are seldom what determine his or her talent, but rather it is his or her ability to simply wish to have talent that’s enough to qualify him or her as a recognized artist—which, by the way, is why art has come to have no more value to the public at large than money would if everyone were allowed to print it. Most writers, in fact, are no more able to write spectacularly than baseball fans would be able to play baseball spectacularly if all of them were suddenly put into uniforms and organized into a league of teams made to define the sport. Not only would such a scenario dumb down the game to the point where the truly gifted players would be unable to demonstrate what previously made them great because the pitches they’d be getting would either be rolling across the plate or sailing over the backstop, but the yardstick necessary for measuring the talented against the untalented would be nonexistence because everybody would be crammed onto the same diamond, their feet rubbing out all the chalked boundaries, the mass misconstruing the consensuality of the chaos with a deeply meaningful camaraderie.
I hope that clears everything up.
Mr. Fish’s debut collection of political cartoons, “Go Fish: How to Win Contempt and Influence People,” is now available on Truthdig.
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