Impress Less

I look at the internet, as there is nothing to do now but look at the internet, and all I see is noise. Too much noise, at that. If it’s too loud, am I too old? Yes, but only given all collectively agreed upon metrics of aging. 

The older you get, the less fuckable you become yet the more capable of embarrassment. This is, ultimately, a good thing. 

I live in Los Angeles, a godless, anomie-ridden desert where shame must be exchanged at the county line for goods and services. Los Angeles has always been this way, but only recently has the entire callow country embraced Los Angeles’s essential shamelessness. In much the same way America has become an endless series of strip malls, interchangeable chains interspersed with small businesses that will inevitably fail, the internet has rendered everyone adolescent and therefore incapable of mortification. 

In this new, connected cosmos, each experience is worth documenting, every opinion valid as the last you scrolled past. We now find ourselves in the era of ego — an existence in which stature seeking status updates are not seen as cries for help but rather as valid, important content. This desire for distinction has become so ingrained, so insidious, it has even corrupted justifiable political activism (think of how many photos of stoic looking, Mayflower-descended white women in flesh-hugging dresses and oversized hats you saw performatively posing with “Black Lives Matter” signs this past summer — I protested and donated too, but not for the purposes of augmenting my Instagram metrics. No selfies were taken at Stonewall, yet it still shifted the paradigm.)

Side Note: By no means am I implying that young people should be ashamed of their political activism. I’m merely saying they could be more, y’know, humble about it. (Boomers, however, should absolutely be ashamed of the extent to which they threw their peaceful, idealistic ideals under the bus in order to hoard wealth and, in the process, ruin the world.)

I recently watched the first three episodes of “Pretend It’s a City,” Netflix’s new Fran Lebowitz-centric series — just because I can watch all of it, and it’s one of the only shows in recent memory I have been genuinely excited about, as it is exactly what I thought it would be, Fran endlessly expounding on who-gives-a-fuck while Marty Scorsese giggles, doesn’t mean I have to watch all seven episodes in one frantic gulp. Because the more of something there is, the less it is worth. I understand that we are living in the renaissance of the docuseries, in which subject matter that would normally strain the length of an hour thirty feature is instead given six to seven hundred hours to be stared at, as the longer a subject is dragged out the more streaming hours can be monetized and therefore please shareholders. In the interest of actually appreciating what I watch, however, I choose to absorb material piecemeal. 

In it, she talks about the hubris of youth — how in her delusional, undeveloped mind, she brought a manuscript of her dreadful poetry to a publisher, assuming the powers that be would read, be enamored by, and publish it. When they ultimately sent a rejection letter, as said poetry was awful, she ultimately declared their decision was for the best because the work was, well, embarrassing, and therefore would have tainted her legacy. 

When I was young and equally delusional, I felt the need to create; I exhibited her same hubris, operating under the deception my words had worth. I made a ‘zine I took to the only (now defunct) bookstore in my hometown (shamefully excerpted below), which sold a grand total of zero copies. 

Side Note: There is, as of January 10th, 2021, a head shop across the street from another head shop in my hometown. There are zero bookstores. 

A child, I was unaware of the fact that my “art” was simply a parroting of the words of my idols. When you are young and creative, you are little more than a holding area for the thoughts of elders you will never physically encounter. This is because you have no life experience and therefore no perspective. I understand that youth is marketable — it has always sold and will continue to sell, but think about how trite the output from children is. It is, by and large, the same cliched excitations or lamentations that have been said a million times before. Rarely does a child reinvent the wheel because they don’t yet have functional knowledge of said wheel. The wheel has not yet covered them in tread marks.

When I needed external validation the most, that was when my output was the worst. Would I have accepted a book deal instead of selling zero copies of the ‘zine I printed on my grandmother's photocopier? Absolutely — that, after all, was the goal. Thank Christ no one bought it. Thank Christ the only thing I could do on dial-up internet when I was a teenager was discuss ideas my mind was too malleable to truly understand on non-archived HTML message boards. I am, fortunately, of the immediately pre-Live Journal generation; as a result, the only place my terrible teenage writing exists, which I spat out without a second thought assuming it all to be gold, is in a file folder in a cabinet I need to climb a ladder to access. Were my apartment to burn down, it would be as if it never existed. This is how it should be. 

Side note: Well, not all of my writing — when I was 16, I successfully sold an unsolicited piece to Ms. Magazine about the trials and tribulations of being a teenaged feminist. I remember a photographer hired by Ms., a man (natch), drove down from San Francisco to take photographs of me in the apricot orchard of my origin like a real writer. While I had no friends to express this delight to, I was nevertheless excited. When the piece finally ran, instead of the  accomplishment that should have accompanied my being in print, all I could focus on was the picture that ran with the piece. Christ, I thought, Do I really look that repellant? No wonder no one wants to fuck me. Progressive, right?

Yes, I was published in Ms. Magazine as a 16 year old, but no one knew it except for my high school’s gay librarian, who was duly impressed but powerless. I harbored no delusions that said publication, said validation, would make my peers bully me less. I didn’t get published for them. I got published for me, an outsider who needed to know my opinion was worthy of such. 

I feel lucky that I grew up in an era in which depression was the norm as opposed to anxiety. My idols, whom I parroted, were cognizant of the (pervasive lie of the) futility of it all. Not only must the generation next in line to mine both “grind” and “hustle,” they are expected to be omnipotent, aware of and participate in every social and cultural phenomenon. Of course the pressure of this puts them on edge. 

Because if you sit and ruminate, you might just realize you don’t have anything to say. Especially when everyone else is essentially saying the same thing. There is no time left for critical thought; reaction, the sooner the better, is imperative. Por ejemplo: people, of late, have lamented the fact that Trump being banned from Twitter is, whether you like it or not, somehow a perilous blow to free speech, to many hearts and shares. Were they to think of it critically, however, they would realize Twitter is both a private business and a free service — there is, of course, no such thing as free speech on a costless, privately owned forum. In a town square? Sure. On a website you’ve signed your agency away in order to access? No. Put down the Apple TV remote and read the terms and conditions on any website on which you’ve expressed your opinions. You have less agency than you think. 

Before I wrote this newsletter, I wrote for privately owned corporations. When my work was fucked with by editors, I’d become hostile because, to me, someone who wasn’t allowed access to a globally accessible platform until my late 20s, my words mattered. The modern media landscape is one in which quantity is valued over quality — the fastest take is the hottest. Hesitate to reflect on what you’re actually writing, what you’re actually contributing to the world, and you’re left behind. I never thought about the fact that my corporate overlords owned my output.

I’d always bristle at their edits because my legacy was at stake. Yes, it’s somewhat ridiculous to consider articles with clickbait headlines that run alongside Taco Bell ads a legacy, but we all have legacies now — a digital paper trail that will follow us to the grave and beyond, if we’re lucky.

Most people’s digital legacy is powered by the desire for clout above all else. It is no longer enough to be, to act; you must now also show and tell the world, in the hopes you receive likes and shares as payment. The last time I wrote for an online publication, the only thing that got them to concede to my requests for my article not be slashed and burned into a husk of its original self was when I threatened to not post about it on social media. A young person would not have done this. A young person would have relished the opportunity to have been heard by a wider audience. If you’ve sat and thought about what you’re saying, and you’ve deemed it worthy enough to be affixed to your legacy, the amount to which it is readily accessible is irrelevant.

I know that newsletters, of which this is one, are looked down upon, maligned by people staffed at “legitimate” publications. But I also know that the generation of these missives are the first instances in which I, an adult of sound mind, have felt truly free since I was a child spouting garbage. Unlike the work I shat out as a kid, however, each one is the product of a great deal of thought and reflection. Writing these each week is hell, but it’s a happy hell. It is devoid of compromise. It is mine. I thank you, with earnestness, for reading them. Share them or don’t. It’s all the same to me now.