Since when did the community become our moral compass—our viability and ethics as writers determined so much by our team spirit? What if the community and the kind of participation it involves are actually bad for my writing, diluting my writerly identity, my ego and my id, and my subservience and surrender to the craft? What if I just want to make something? What if all this communing actually hurts the primary means by which I set out to participate and communicate—my writing itself? What do I do then? I mean, why can’t I make art in my clerestory abyss and snub the community without feeling like a snotty little brat? Why can’t I?
Despite the fact that the introvert is a romanticized figure, in practice the introvert is reviled and pitied. (And offered pharmaceutical cures for her unfortunate existential defect.) But what if the reticence of the introvert isn’t about stage fright, or isn’t just about stage fright? What about those of us who don’t want to self-narrate all the time? It’s exhausting to always be making and talking, whether in front of people or behind them, synchronously or asynchronously. Now, when every popular technology is just another doorway opening onto the ever unfolding dormitory of life—the one we’re all expected to drift up and down with casual curiosity, looking in on each other for the latest bit of gossip or distraction—not even our desks are our private domain. We’re always just a click away from leaving the workbench for the forum.
History has typically not been generous to the writerly recluse. It’s usually only a lucrative position after the fact of your success—and it works best if you’re a man—Salinger, Pynchon, Faulkner all have that esoteric aura about them that’s quite different from poor old Emily Dickinson, that self-imposed shut-in, or Flannery O’Connor, whose excursive limitations were a sad matter of physical ailment. Even Donna Tartt has to go on 12-city tours. And then there’s me. I’m not Donna, or Emily, or Flannery. I’m not getting anywhere as a young, reclusive, female writer.
This is nothing new, of course. With the Internet and social media we simply have an easier time expanding and enlarging the scope of all the old tricks. But at the same time, these platforms are marginalizing our long paragraphs and pictureless tomes even more—whether they’re online or in print. Sure our words and pictures and sound bites are freshly stocking the shelves these days, but our goods are often commodified down to pre-packaged, non-nutritive variety packs. And this development is still doing what it’s always done to art and the artist—politicizing us, making activists of us, making rhetoricians of us, making our writerly identity as much about who we are in the world of politics and community as who we are on the page.
I am grateful that there are many vibrant, engaged, brilliant people involved in the arts community who are much smarter than me and much more talented than me and much better writers than me, and who take pleasure and satisfaction in being a part of this community. For many, this inclusion is stimulating—it feeds the creative impulse, warms it with community spirit, keeps the mind and heart percolating. But it’s not right for me. I still don’t like where it’s taking me personally, the way it’s coercing me and guilting me and laying down standards and requirements for my viability, complicating my very simple ambitions with all this clutter: get your name here, network on this platform and that one, take photos, give a talk, show up.