USS Clueless - Thanks for all the fish

Stardate 20040827.2353

(Captain's log): In response to a rather peevish announcement I added to the top of this page a couple of weeks ago, to try to get people to cease sending me breathless letters about a grand breakthrough in fuel cell technology which was (not) going to revolutionize the world and was (not) going to end the war, David send me the following letter:

You said:

"I find I must be very blunt: I do not want to descend..."

But... but... Steven,

Don't you understand that it's your OBLIGATION to:

1. Entertain us

2. Put up with our endlessly repetitive and thoughtless ignorance

3. Educate us -- WITHOUT disturbing our misconceptions in any way, and

4. Endure the brickbats of our baying mobs whenever you disappoint us for any reason?

I just thought I'd clear up your obvious ignorance of this matter.

Don't thank me. I'm always glad to help.

Here's the reply I sent him.

One of the things I noticed during the last two weeks was that I had something of a feeling of relief. It's sort of like the feeling you have when you suddenly notice that your hiccups are gone, or that the throbbing headache you'd been feeling was suddenly over.

I don't actually get very much hate mail. Most of my mail is at least polite, though in some cases it approaches the indignant.

But nearly every article I write draws anywhere from 5 to 50 letters containing corrections, disagreements, comments about things I "left out" because "I didn't know", or other forms of kibitzing.

In the last two weeks, that has trailed down to nearly zero. (Not all the way, however. Yesterday I received a letter from someone who wrote 3000 words trying to refute something I posted two and a half years ago. At the end of his letter, he asked whether in light of his comments, I might now want to retract and rewrite my post. I answered thusly: "Nope.")

I'm finding that it's quite a relief not to receive a constant flow of email griping about everything I post. No matter what I write, and no matter what I say, there are always people who either think I was wrong, or think that there were things I left out and should have included. I've been putting up with that for two years, and I guess I'd gotten used to living with a low-level throbbing headache all that time.

But for the last two weeks it's been gone. And I'm not so sure I want to go back to doing the activity which caused that headache.

In one of the cases where Kevin Drum rained ridicule down on my head, last April, most of the comment thread was predictably nasty (towards me), with different commenters competing to find the most clever rhetorical dismissal.

There was one comment in that thread, from someone named "Terry Ott", which was different -- and perceptive:

Jed says..."we are living in a world of skimmers". SDB's site is not for skimmers, and it is not for commenters either. DenBeste's archives contains what I found to be a very interesting article about how and why he writes, and his rationale for running his site the way he does. It's a hobby, basically, like some people do crossword puzzles.

He writes about what interests HIM, he writes in great detail, he painstakingly explains things, he is analytical and rational (like an engineer), he is inquisitive. He is not humorous or flippant.

What DenBeste does, in my opinion, is not much different than what a painter does. He decides what he wants to paint, he lets the concept of it percolate for a while until the image starts to form, and then he sits and canvass and pours it out. In SDB's case, he paints large, serious works with lots of details, in his own style. Then he hangs it where others can see it. He is not particularly interested in criticism; like any human, he probably gets satisfaction when someone praises the piece --- but he also knows it's not for everyone.

I go to art galleries and shows sometimes. Maybe 5-10% of the works displayed catch my interest. But when something does that, I soak it in and try to understand what impact it has on me and why I am reacting to it. So it is, for me, with DenBeste's essays. I "skim" the gallery, but I devour the few individual pieces that strike a chord.

It's the difference between a tradesman doing good, honest work to fill a demand that's out there, and an craftsman/artist who is into self expression for the satisfaction it gives him. And artists can be temperamental you know.

The blogosphere is big enough for all kinds.

I don't necessarily agree with that 100% (occasionally I do write things just to be humorous) but in its essence he's right. And that's why I don't really appreciate letters from people who think they're fans and who think they're helping me by pointing out ways they think my posts could be changed so as to improve them. I don't want to improve; I wrote it the way I wanted to write it, and the result is my expression. If I wrote it the way they think I should have written it, it would no longer be my expression.

For three and a half years I've been writing, and posting my stuff here. But for the last year, my production rate has been ramping off, and one of the reasons is that I am tired of the constant carping.

I know that you're trying to be funny and to commiserate with me, and I appreciate that. My response is serious because it's a serious problem. I've actually been thinking hard about whether I want to start posting again. I suspect that I will, but the idea of just giving up on it all is not unattractive.

Since then, I've realized that I don't want to write any longer. I've been thinking about it, and I realized that I stopped enjoying it about a year ago, which is also about the time that I began to post less and less often. Several times in the last year I've tried to tell my readers what I was feeling, in hopes that it might change things, but it didn't help. I even made graphic one time and put it at the end of a post I knew was going to draw a particularly robust response:

For the last few months, each time I published a post, I mentally cringed a bit, thinking about all the kinds of letters I knew I'd get, things I could predict. You've sometimes seen me try to preempt those with DWL's.

Several times in the last three weeks I thought of something which would make a good post, and then I stopped, and said to myself, "Better not."

I've learned something interesting: if you give away ice cream, eventually a lot of people will complain about the flavors, and others will complain that you aren't also giving away syrup and whipped cream and nuts. I put together this page which contains two days worth of my email, just so you could get some idea of what it looks like. It isn't all bad; it isn't all unwelcome. Very little of it is abusive. But the majority of it is burdensome.

To slice the email a different way, here's a collection of email regarding my last article about terrorism. Again, it wasn't all unwelcome, but much of it was more burden than pleasure.

Far too much of it was from people who knew better than me what I should have written, and wanted to tell me how to rewrite it. Those are the people who have made me cease getting pleasure out of my writing.

I put off making this post because I knew what kind of email it would draw. (For example: yes, I know that the people who write to me with those kinds of comments are a small and vocal minority. But they're numerous in absolute terms, and they won't leave me alone.)

However, I've been receiving email from people worried about whether something was wrong. So I felt I owed it to my long-time readers to explain. (Thus the irony which I'll point out before Ydrumsias does: umpteen thousand words explaining why I don't want to post any more.)

Yes, there's something wrong. I'm tired. Does this mean I'll never post again? Damned if I know. But it won't be soon.

Update 20040829: How to say this?

Now that 75 people have all mailed to suggest that I not read the email, or that I take my email address offline, or that I impose some kind of email filtration, or etc, I would greatly appreciate it if no one else suggests that.

Update: In fact, I'd really appreciate it if people stopped sending suggestions of any kind.

Update 20040830: Thanks, dude. You're all heart.

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