Every six months or so, i used to write these emotionally dramatic emails to all of my friends explaining how sorry i was about not responding to email, please forgive, i’m going to do better, i promise. And then, at one point, in writing that message, i shortened it to the equivalent of “i suck, i know it, it’s not getting better” and one of my dearest friends wrote back with something akin to “thank god you finally realized that cuz i’m sick of getting your apologies every few months.”
I’ve never really learned to stomach the fact that i can’t respond to everyone. I feel guilty. If you’ve been reading this blog for years, this wimpering sounds familiar because i now wimper here every six months or so. Lately, people have been getting angry at me for not being able to look at their project; others yell at me for not being able to find 15 minutes to talk to them for their news articles; still others go straight for the guilt trip. I’ve started not responding to email. I find that i’ve gotten snippy in emails and that sucks; i even read blogs about how overly curt i am. The problem is that i spend 16+ hours a day working and my #1 goal is to have a life somewhere here. I’ve started making up appointments as excuses so that i can have nights off or leave open the possibility of dinner with a friend. I’ve been home for 7 days and it’s the longest i’ve been home since i moved to LA. Anyhow, you know the exhaustion, depression, emo woe is me… that’s nothing new.
Well, last night, a dear friend of mine wrote with similar exhaustion. I didn’t get his message till this morning because i snuck out and saw a movie. In a theater! (I usually only see them on airplanes.) I wrote back with similar exhaustion and he sent me two pieces from Neal Stephenson that rang so true i wanted to cry. First, Why I am a Bad Correspondent. Second, My ongoing struggle against “continuous partial attention”. I’m nowhere near as cool as Neal but, like him, i need 4+ hours of writing time at a time. In fact, i usually need 6+. Otherwise, i get nothing done. I know this. And i’m preparing for everyone to hate me when i go underground next summer for as long as it takes me to write a dissertation and book.
At the top of Neal’s description is a quote from Umberto Eco: “I don’t even have an e-mail address. I have reached an age where my main purpose is not to receive messages.” What does it mean that i’m not even 30 and that’s my goal? I can’t help but wonder if the firehose of the Internet drowns a lot more people simply because a lot of people with good intentions can now reach them. I know that a lot of people think that i’m an uber bitch for complaining about the amount of attention that i get, but i really wish that folks could understand what a mixed blessing it is. Sure, i feel honored (and completely embarassed) by being called the high priestess. But the cost of such compliments is an inability to hang out with friends, an inability to lie on the beach staring at the stars without panicking about how i’m getting behind in work. Of course, i do make time, but often only under crisis. This week, for example, i’ve dropped the ball majorly because of making time for three beings that matter more than work.
I’m kinda concerned about the psychological costs here. I still remember the horror that i felt when i first learned that rescuers who are deemed heroes often commit suicide. Part of what happens is that they get spun into the spotlight for a brief period of time and then spit back out. Their identity is destroyed twice – first when they became a hero out of a passion that they believe in and second when their hero-ness is no longer significant. This is a form of micro-fame. You can have prolongated micro-fame (like many bloggers who are well known amongst niche audiences) or brief periods of mega-fame for a micro period (lottery winners, rescuers, people who the media spotlight). Unlike real fame, folks with micro-fame have no one to help them negotiate or handle all of the incoming attention that overwhelms their ability to cope. While that is exhausting, the rush is so exciting that you try really hard to take care of it all at first, to please everyone. In the process of coping, you take on that new role, the role of the center of attention. And then when the winds of attention shift, if you’re clinging too hard to it, you’re lost. There is no doubt that i’m affected by this (and thus, why folks are fair when they call me an uber bitch). There is part of me that loves the attention or else i would’ve walked away from this blog long ago. But i’m also trying to not get destroyed by it both in terms of exhaustion and in terms of shifting winds. Still, i’m curious both for myself and at a broader psychological level what it means that it’s so much easier to be thrown into micro-fame. This is also something that’s coming up with young people who suddenly get a surge of attention because of what they do online. I wonder what the costs of this are long-term. (Hmm… maybe that’s a post-dissertation project?)
Anyhow… in short, this is my semi-annual “i suck, i know it, it’s not getting better” message. I simply cannot get to all of the requests in my inbox so i’m super sorry. My primary focus for the next month is to finish a chapter for MacArthur, try to find teens to interview, and spend some time at home. I’m sorry that i suck cuz even if i can philosophize it, justify it, rationalize it, i still feel guilty.