Originally published October 2, 2005; update originally posted June 8, 2009. Yes, that means this is the third time I’ve published this article in the last seven years, yet still I seem to forget the point.
(06-08-2009) Last night, I finished writing my first article for the RockBand.com ‘Zine, the section of our site where we pump out content we hope fans of our games will enjoy. (ETA: It’s now live here on AfterThought!) I’m not going to spoil anything about the article yet, but the process of writing it…man, that process got me thinking.
See, I had fun writing it. I was writing something which was entirely up my alley and doing so in a tone and voice which come very, very naturally to me. I’ve spent so much time trying to write things I didn’t especially enjoy writing because those things were The Things Writers Write – I’m mainly talking about fiction here, in all its forms and genres. But what the last month’s worth of updates on this site and the writing of that article last night have
taught me reminded me is that I’m not a fiction writer. I can do it, and occasionally do it relatively well, and I’ll probably do it again at some point, but…it’s not My Thing™.
Writing about pop culture? Totally My Thing™. Effortless, in that way that the work comes to you easily when you’re doing what you’re meant to be doing – where even the hard work doesn’t really feel like work, you know?
The sad thing is that this isn’t the first time I’ve come to this conclusion. Presented below is my post from the last time I realized this was true, way back in October 2005 (so excuse, please, the dated pop-culture references). I’m reposting/updating it here mainly as a waypoint for myself so that hopefully I don’t get so lost again…and also as ammo for you people to use to kick my ass, if necessary.
Man…feeling that buzz of doing My Thing™ was nice, I gotta say.
I’ve been thinking quite a lot the last few days about the current quote that’s over there in the sidebar right now. For those of you reading this through an RSS feed, or if you’re reading this entry after the quote’s been changed (or you’re reading it
three-and-a-half seven years after the fact – ed.), here it is:
"It's a reactive thing, like a Geiger counter; you click whenever you come close to whatever you were built to do." -- Stephen King
[caption id="attachment_131" align="alignleft" width="266"] Warning: writing about pop culture has worked its way into my bloodstream.[/caption] That's a valid analogy. When you're doing whatever it is that you're supposed to be doing, you just know. The puzzle pieces in your head click together perfectly, the picture comes into focus, however you want to say it -- you get the buzz, the feeling of the internal compasses of your mind and your heart and your actions all finding true north at the same time.
(Incidentally, I think the same is true of the people in your life. I’ve had plenty of friends that I liked perfectly well but never felt that “buzz” about. I tend to think that those friends who do give me that buzz are the people that are supposed to be in my life for some reason. It’s more than just a matter of getting on well with the buzzworthy people; it feels almost karmic to me when it happens. Sometimes the reason I’m supposed to be around that person is obvious, other times not, but I always make sure to notice when it’s there.)
Some people discover very early in life the activities which give them that special sense of This Is Right and True; some never find it at all. Some people get close but never quite make that final adjustment necessary to get it.
That last batch of people, I’m pretty sure, includes me.
See, the thing is…in the same way you just know when you’re doing That Thing You Do, you just know when you’re not, or when you’re not quite. In my case, I know I’m supposed to be writing. I’m getting more and more sure of that the more of it I do.
But what am I supposed to be writing? Ah, there’s the rub.
I have a number of writer friends (any number of whom might be reading this – feel free to pipe in, y’all) for whom this particular problem doesn’t ever seem to have surfaced. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if for many of those people, there never was any decision or exploration necessary; they write what they write because that’s what they write. They write what comes naturally. Or so it seems to me…I’d love to hear some feedback about this particular point.
For me, that process of finding what I have to say, of finding the stories that are mine to tell, has been quite a trial. And that trial’s still not done. I’m getting closer, I think, but even on the novel I’m 15,000 words into, that buzz is still elusive. It’s been there in parts; I’ve lightly detected it in those areas where I started to understand my characters and found myself with vision for where the plot was going. But I’m not really not sure writing YA fiction is My Thing. I’m not giving up, not at all, not on this particular book nor on that category of fiction as a whole, but…
I’ve been getting some strong Geiger counter readings from another writing quarter altogether.
The clicks got louder and louder this week as I read a back-and-forth email conversation between two writers I really enjoy, Bill Simmons and Chuck Klosterman.1 For those of you unfamiliar with the names, Simmons is a columnist for ESPN.com’s Page 2 section and Klosterman is a columnist for, among other places, Spin. Each of them has different specialties – Simmons primarily writes about sports, Klosterman primarily about music – but both have a wonderful appreciation for and understanding of the broader canvas of pop culture. (At this point, any of you who know me very well at all are probably nodding your heads and can see the source of those Geiger readings.)
I read this conversation between Klosterman and Simmons and I very much had that feeling of “getting it.” It wasn’t just a feeling of “I can do this”…it was a feeling of “I should be doing this.” I don’t mean specifically that I should be either a sports columnist or a music columnist, but I should be part of the cultural conversation. I’m inspired by each of those writers, actually, in the way each one weaves in elements of the greater cultural consciousness into their columns. I know that there’s a great many people who dismiss pop culture out-of-hand as lowbrow or not worthy of serious discussion,2 but neither Simmons nor Klosterman believes that. And neither do I.
Pop culture is American culture, it’s the commonality that allows us to talk to others with whom we might not share race, creed, class, sexuality or gender. Even if I don’t know your or don’t have a lot in common with you, if I discover that we both have an interest in, say, Gilmore Girls, then that’s a talking point, somewhere to begin. It’s a bond. Is it a strong bond? Is that shared interest alone enough to sustain a friendship? Or a community?
Surprisingly, it can be – as just one small example, look at the phenomenon surrounding the “Browncoats” who so loudly supported Firefly and now Serenity. That’s a fairly large, strong, devoted community (and regionalized series of sub-communities) made up of a diverse set of people whose only real tie is a love for this particular fictional universe. And it’s enough. They frequently arrange social events to bring their members together, frequently (but not always) involving screenings of Firefly.
And again, that’s just one relatively tiny example. Look around – how many times do people gather together just because they have a love for some particular aspect of our culture? How many people get together for Dave Matthews Band concerts? For Lost viewing parties? For release parties for the newest Harry Potter book? For standing in line for weeks for the newest Star Wars movie? For performances of Avenue Q or Spamalot on Broadway? Popular culture by its very definition is our culture, it’s everybody’s culture, and that fact alone makes it worthy of discussion, from the most wretched of reality TV shows to Norah Jones’ albums.
Futhermore (lest we forget that this blog is All The Time All About Me), pop culture is an area where I have something to say. Reading Simmons and Klosterman’s conversation struck that chord within my head and my heart that told me: “These are your people. This should be you.” Will writing about pop culture win me any literary prizes? Nope…but it would make me happy.
So what am I gonna do about it? Oh, hell if I know. But when I do, you will, too.
Chances are good that it will either involve this site or Moviegeekz. It looks like I have an awful lot of thinking to do over the next couple of days and weeks about just what my goals are going to be, how I’m going to get there…and about the greater cultural impact of Wedding Crashers.
- ETA 2012: Since the time I originally wrote this article, Simmons and Klosterman have collaborated to create the website Grantland, which is a wonderful melange of pop culture and sports, all with the irreverent attitude those two writers are known for. It's like they created the site just for me. ↩
- ETA 2012: ...and that's where I got the name "AfterThought" for this blog. ↩