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February 11, 2016

the sausage is made in so many ways

So two years and change ago I had a bit of what insurers call a Life Change Event. It happens to the best of us. (And sometimes the worst.) It was hard to understand at the time, but the fact of this, that it happened to me, is utterly irrelevant to pretty nearly 100% of the 7.4 billion people on this planet. Coincidentally, I was called for jury duty immediately following this event, and ended up being a juror. An alternate juror, to be honest, but this was a criminal trial, a good old-fashioned rape/sexual assault trial in Kings County. It was the kind of case where the alternates were not released at the start of deliberations, so there was all this fascinating shit happening—with the trial, the culture of the courthouse, my fellow jurors, and not to mention that I was pretty fucking low for the entirety of it, thanks to the Life Change Event.

And I had a pretty good relationship with an editor of a website at the time, and partly on a whim and partly just to, talk about myself, I shot an email saying something like, "Hey, how many pitches a month do you get that are all like, I'm on jury duty and learning weird things about myself, etc.? Ha ha." And keep in mind that back then, the heady days of 2013, the "learning something about yourself" thing was not yet a punchline in online publishing. (Nor was, "Here's what happened next." We were innocent then, and young.) And I was expecting a response that was more or less, "Yeah, ha ha." Which it was.

In retrospect, the whim was that the editor would respond more along the lines of, "Well hey that sounds like an awesome thing and why aren't you typing instead of reading this?" I share with my generation a general pro-circumspection stance, but part of me did it so that I would have the excuse to talk about myself, so that I could say that it was not my idea, someone else's fault. I wanted to be that person who assumes that the person's personal troubles are somehow news, I wanted all the faves and the shares, and I certainly wanted a bunch of sympathy leavened with compliments. I wanted to confuse the reasons why one writes things for other people to read with how one feeds and waters a bunch of people to make them like you and want to be your friend.

Ultimately I'm lucky that the editor is smarter than I am, that they most likely saw right through me, patted me on my head and sent me on my way. I'm lucky because however tempting it is to be Mr Can't You See Me Suffer (long story, happy to tell it), it's just not a good look. And those who have gone before us and achieved moderate to better-than-moderate fame having done so have never been able to escape the gimmick. This one will always be I Slept Around A Lot and that one I Did A Lot Of Drugs, and there's I Learned How To Pick Up Girls over in the corner, with his grandfather I Learned How To Pick Up Girls Before You Were Born.

All of this is to say, gently, that the places that the essay as a form are going, and I don't want to name names or point fingers because it is the trend that I am uncomfortable with and not the writers themselves (in most part), is not a useful place. Fifteen years ago we were all wringing our hands of the concept of Living In Public, of whether we should embrace the sudden loss in privacy that technological advances brought with them, and seemingly this has somehow transmogrified into Let Me Tell You About Myself. Popular websites traffic in this, and some editors are now pumping writers for dark secrets to be shared to a reading audience imagined thirsty. Even the NY Times is pinning its hopes for the future on a subsection that writes news stories in the first person (when it's not trying to explain you to death). It's getting very cringeworthy out there.

And I should say that yes, Jaya Saxena did write about being an alternate juror a couple years ago and it's a fun and smart piece, the kind of piece that is supposed to be the exception and not the rule. It's a bit of observing the world around her and not inserting herself into the story. And in reading it we understand a bit more about that slice of the world Saxena was inhabiting, and not so more a bit more about Saxena.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:58 AM