Friday, August 15, 2008

Attack of the Smartypants

I'll finish my three-part pseudo-treatise on men, women and their respective "knols" (knol = a unit of knowledge, according to the almighty Google) on Monday. Truth be told, and I am honest, I could use the weekend to think about it.

Today I stumbled across a blog by a writer for The Guardian, a London newspaper. The blog is on The Guardian website, so many people peek at it every day. And many people comment. And many people get pretty snide.

The bloggerette is Ms. Jean Hannah Edelstein, a transplant from New York who writes "the book blog" for The Guardian. She has some elements of style that I admire, that remind me of my own writing (or how I'd like to write someday), and she even writes on similar topics. She also says some things I don't agree with, and uses some turns of phrase I'd shy away from. But overall I like her articles.

When I scrolled down to read the comments on "Do we protest too much about where we write?" I was disturbed and felt I needed to defend Jean Hannah. Some of the readers were being a bunch of nasty smartypants!

Jean Hannah's position was doubtful about whether environment is all that important to a writer's productivity. Personally, I think it is to an extent, but my opinion is not of importance here. Some readers disagreed in a friendly manner, and others felt the need to be jerks.

Typeth "McTalbayne":

"Oh, boo hoo. Thank whatever stars watch over you that you can get out of your study/house/apartment and go other places to write. Be grateful you have legs that work, money for overpriced coffee..."

Whoa! Where did that come from? Wasn't Jean Hannah saying just that, but in a nicer way? With whom is McTalbayne disagreeing? Perhaps the previous posters. None of them demanded a room of their own, they just said they like the coffee shop. Why are some people driven to inappropraite outbursts, or to angry argument when no one wants to argue?

Some nastier posts were directed at Jean Hannah herself when she dared to write about publishers asking for refunds on advancement checks in the article Are these the final days for writer procrastination?" If you have any concept of subtlety or humor or rhetoric, you could tell that this article, as well as many others of Jean Hannah's are not meant to make any bold statement of opinion. She throws out questions and ideas, and treats them with humor and speculation. (Sort of like what I do here, but I don't write for a newspaper, so I definitely draw more conclusions, logical or not...)

The first sentence of that article: "As if writers needed to feel any more pressure to add to their performance anxiety, news from New York indicates that we won't be getting our deadlines extended indefinitely." Do the readers really think this is 100% serious? Of course it's semi-sarcastic and facetious! I like her layers of sarcasm and truth (I try to mix my own layers into more of a froth), and I can't see how anyone could misunderstand. The article is no reason to rail against Jean Hannah and make personal attacks about her own book deals.

Posteth "NaturalBornBlogger":

"...your profile says that your first book will be published in May 2009. Would you be including gems like your essay on Britney Spears? Please don't procrastinate and deprive the world of a masterpiece of chick-lit. Please don't suffer from writer's block, you are nearly there."

What what WHAT? (Say it fast like Archimedes the owl in Disney's Sword in the Stone.) Now that's mean sarcasm. What brings on this brand of nasty? Many of Jean Hannah's readers are writers themselves, and many have witty responses. Some disagree with her, and are very elegant about it. But I feel badly that she has to also deal with these loons.

Now I'm being nasty. I felt like writing about this (I have to stop feeling things so often) because I don't know if I could take the pressure and humiliation of those kinds of comments. My head would get red and tingly and then I would sulk for a day or two. Jean Hannah fields her readers' complaints and attacks with grace.

But that's why I'm here. To work on my writing, to be challenged by friendly comments, to become confident and skilled enough that I can write what I mean and defend it (also in a friendly way). I don't mind readers disagreeing with me. You can poke as much as you want at my faulty logic, my essentializing and generalizing, my misquotes. That's the spice of life! A good-spirited argument leaves all parties involved a little enlightened. But nasty people don't help anyone grow as a writer or as a human being.

Criticism of style is ok too. But eager comment posters on any site should think about what they would write to a friend, what they would write at a workshop, or better yet, what a professor would write in the margins. Nothing else is helpful. Don't be a smartypants.

Now you know why my comments are all subject to approval. Until I write for magazines and newspapers, I am only open to praise (ha ha), editorial corrections, and friendly, friendly banter.

Quoth Mandarax:

"Humor is the only test of gravity, and gravity of humor; for a subject which will not bear raillery is suspicious, and a jest which will not bear serious examination is false wit."
--Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC)

1 comment:

  1. I'm currently in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I just finished uploading pictures from the 3rd day of the trip and what should await me when I finish: another post from my favorite literary friend. Yeah, I'm also a bit short on sleep.

    I love it that you take the time to think about what you write instead of just hoping for the best. It makes your posts so clear and well-thought out.

    I usually can't stand reading comments on articles or blog posts. People can be so cruel and stupid. It gets absolutely irksome after a while.

    "Bloggerette"? Is that your own invention? I like it.

    Don't you hate the martyrs? It's similar to one-upping (couldn't resist that comparison). If I'm having a bad day, the last thing I really need to hear is, "At least you're not starving/being raped/shot at in [insert 3rd world country of choice here]". I agree to an extent, but just because I'm not experiencing something worse does that make my feelings any less valid? Does it make me a horrible person for having the occasional bad day?

    I've always been irritated by people who can't read sarcasm. I once read this person go on a huge rant after another person said, "What a jerk planet Jupiter is." There's a huge long story behind it, but you don't even really need to know that to see that it is clearly meant in jest.

    I know that the internet term for those types of posters is "troll". If any of them ever find their way to your comment section, I could eviscerate them for you. I've been in kind of a blue phase lately and I would very much like to see if I could still formulate an elegant comeback with some bite ala Dorthy Parker.

    I actually worry about the day I'm published and start getting negative reviews. My mentor has taught me how to distinguish constructive criticism from plain negativity, but rejections still hurt. That's nothing compared to having a respected critic not like your work.

    I really do wish I had some constructive criticism for you. I feel as though my comments are just an agreeable conversation. I always love learning from your blog posts. They're light but not empty. It's the way I wish English were taught in school.

    By the way, I'm going to save that final quote.

    Well, I'm off to finish off a few last things before getting a couple hours of sleep. Then it's off to Williams, Arizona and the Grand Canyon.

    As always, looking forward to the next blog post :-D



I publish all the comments, the good, the bad and the ugly. Unless I have no idea what you're saying. If you want to email me (with only good I hope), I'm at rbyrd [at] niu [dot] edu.