Yesterday I read a long-form interview with Weird Al (one of my personal heroes), in which he told the interviewer he reads almost everything written about him — good or bad — and all of his @-replies on Twitter. He also said something really true, which is that no matter what you do, there will be people who don’t like you. If Weird Al, actual famous person and national treasure, can realize this, than so can I, non-famous rando.
You might have noticed — or not, I’m not important! — that I get my fair share of really pissed-off people commenting on my Slate stories and reaching out to me on Twitter. (Admission: I also get a smattering of nasty comments on this here blogeroo, but I moderate them all out because this is a blog-tatorship and not a blog-mocracy, and I like to keep at least one tiny corner of the Internet safe for me to peruse without bursting into tears.)
I think all people who Write For the Internet get this (except Gawker’s Caity Weaver, who is quite deservedly the most popular person on Earth) — but I think I get it juuuuuust a tad bit worse than many of my compatriots (not being sarcastic; just a tad), and I’ve got some thoughts as to why, in case anyone is interested, which you are probably not, since I am not important. But still, here goes:
- I enjoy pretending to be important. When well-meaning people say that mine is an “important” voice in the higher-ed conversation, that makes me feel good (true or not), and it empowers me to be as honest as possible when I write. Which brings me to…
- I write some controversial opinions about academia sometimes. I always express faux-shock that I get so much personal attack in response to the systemic critiques I level. Like, I didn’t attack you personally, medievalist/comp-rhet asshole #53, so why are you wasting an hour of your time writing a whole blog about how bad my choices are and how much I suck, when I never said anything about you? But here’s the thing: Academics who have enjoyed any measure of success — or, and this is important, believe they will — have, in their years of being kicked in the gut in graduate school, internalized the culture of abuse, and become the system. They identify so completely with the system I critique that when I attack the system I am attacking them personally.
- I have a bigger audience than I probably deserve, and I get to write about pretty much whatever I want, and people actually read it, and that’s not fair because my voice is not universal and I don’t speak for everyone and how did I even get to and blah blah blah blah blah blah blah sorry I fell asleep. Many academics harbor secret or not-so-secret ambitions to be ‘public intellectuals,’ who write delightful tomes for the mainstream press, in addition to their scholarly brilliance. And yet they’ve had a hard time getting their work published, probably because most academics are not trained to write for a general audience, and so regular-person editors get their stuff and go WHA? I get a fair amount of strangers emailing me to ask them for help placing an article at Slate (hint: I will almost never do this, because I do not have any power at Slate, and I can’t risk whatever wobbly cred I have over there going to the mat for a stranger), and they send me the article unsolicited and I’m like OH NO NO NO NO NONONONONO. No discernible voice, no lede, no quick 1-2-3-4 punch essay structure, a lot of looping back around, and jargon jargon jargon. I was a normal-person writer before I even thought up the dumb-ass idea of getting a PhD — for three years in the early aughts, I even had my own (print! LOL!) magazine column in New York. Writing for a general audience is just something I happened to be trained for years ago, and the specialized knowledge and experience I gained in graduate school now mean I have a “beat” I can cover with some measure of expertise. This is my roundabout way of saying that many of my detractors are probably jealous. To which I say: Go ahead and explode your academic career in public, and have most of the people you thought were your “friends” betray and abandon you completely, and be willing to say things you know will make a bunch of people mad, and then deal with how mad they get, and you, too, can probably have the wondrous accidental fourth career that I do.
- I am unapologetically, unusually sensitive to criticism, which I am fully aware is a completely wackadoodle way to be in my chosen career. But I have always been like this — I just want everyone to either like me or leave me alone, and have for my whole life. And yet I will not stop writing things that make people mad. So why do I do this if I know it is just going to hurt me (because make no mistake, it hurts me deeply, often for days on end)? Because, to put it simply, very few people write with total blunt honesty about the current problems in academia, precisely because they’re sensitive and couldn’t take the backlash, or because it would be unwise for their careers (or they believe it would be, deludedly, because they will never have the careers on whose behalf they self-censor every day). The stuff I say — again, to risk sounding like a dick — is better said than unsaid, and somebody’s got to do it, and since I did it once with “Thesis Hatement,” I might as well just keep going, since it hasn’t resulted in my utter ruin yet.
- I like attention. Except when I don’t, and promptly want everyone to leave me alone. At which point I poke my head out of my little cave and go “Wait, where is everyone? Troll? Anyone?” and it starts all over again. I’ve been a massive ham for my entire life. I do wish that I could get attention without having to subject myself to internet comments and hate-Tweets, but that is the very price of attention. And when you combine attention + sensitivity, you get me in all sorts of tiffs with people, which results in more attention, which I love until I don’t.
- I’m a woman and and adjunct. If I were a tenured male making the same points I do, I’d be lauded as a visionary. AND, it is very worth noting, if I were a person of color, I’d get it many orders of magnitude worse than I currently do. The only reason I can get away with what I do, to the extent that I do, is because I’m a middle-aged white lady.
OK. So, that’s why everybody hates me and I am an attention-hog, the end. Hooray?