Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Mrs. Ito and I came to the same life strategies independently.  §

So I just finished reading this. And also this.

My feelings on both are deep and complex, but I’m going to go with a theme in saying that in combination, they both caused me to think about writing—both as pieces of it, and in the first case as the thing that Ms. Ito does and has done for decades without knowing precisely why.

I do much the same thing. You are looking at my own version of Ms. Ito’s body of work. In 2005 I printed this blog out in small print, from beginning to end, and it came out to just over a thousand pages. It’s been twelve years of blogging since 2005. How many pages would it be now?

Who is ever going to read it?

Why do I write it?

I just do.

— § —

When I’m honest with myself, I look back on an entire career, an entire adult life, spent writing. At the end of the day, all I’ve ever been paid to do was write.

Books. Tutorials. Articles. Blog posts. Press releases. Ads. Papers. Theses. Dissertations.

Well, the case of the last three items, it’s not so much that they pay you to write them as that they lend you money for as long as you’re willing to continue to write them.

If I do a hard-nosed calculation on how much I’ve been paid to write, net, taking that fact into account, I’ve spent an entire lifetime writing and have earned a total of something like $100,000 for it. Ever. Across all twenty years of writing (my first book went to market in 1997).

The things I’m most proud of—this blog, some self-published works of poetry, endless informative reviews and posts around the web—have paid me exactly nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Before too long, for reasons I won’t (and can’t) go into just now, it’s possible that I will be looking once again for someone to pay me something for some genre of writing.

At the end of the day, I am, and have always been, and probably always will be, a writer.

Not so much as a matter of ambition, but as a matter of “that’s all he’s fucking good for, and he’s not terrible at it, though he’s no Pulitzer prize winner.”

— § —

Funny story, I’m not all that excited about writing for the most part.

There’s only one genre of writing that I love—writing poems. Not only are these unprofitable, they’re also (we’ve decided as a culture) unreadable and anachronistic. So they are written entirely as folly, as farces with a secret, tragic seriousness, like when you say your feelings aren’t hurt and you’re not depressed but actually you’re just waiting for everyone to leave so that you can hit the bottle.

There’s only one genre of writing that I really aspire to and would be proud of—writing fiction. Which I absolutely cannot do with any skill, have never done, and likely will never do, despite wishing that I could.

There’s one genre of writing that I spent my life working to hone—academic writing. I no longer do this because they stopped loaning me the money to do this when I finished my Ph.D., and there is no income to be generated from it, so it’s sort of a consumer luxury that you can only enjoy for the first half of your life. You buy the privilege to write and develop this skill until they won’t let you play with house money any more. Then you go home and wait for Vito to come and break your legs for not making good.

There are two genres of writing that I’m compelled to do. One is blogging. This. I don’t love it, but I can’t stop it. I’ve tried multiple times. Once in 2001, once in 2002, once in 2003, once in 2004, once in 2005, once in 2007, once in 2009, once in 2010, and once in 2014. I always come back. To the tune of thousands of pages. And I keep backups. Even though no-one will ever read any of it. The other compulsive genre is what I’ll call “online participation.” Writing what I think about an artifact—product, article, discussion, whatever—that I’ve found online, generally in some sort of comment or review system. Hell, these don’t even have my name attached to them. I’m far more prolific in these even than on my blog. There must be 10,000 pages of stuff that I’ve written, often highly “upvoted,” that is lost or will ultimately be lost to history. But I don’t attach my name to any of it because it doesn’t pay, and going public would impact my ability to get paid (see below).

Finally there’s one genre of writing that I’ve been paid to do—nonfiction to order. Here I put trade nonfiction paperbacks (wrote seven), technical articles, ads, corporate blogs, marketing websites, press releases, radio scripts, and so on. Someone tells me what to write, I write it. Since my name is attached to these, and these pay, I can’t attach my name to some of the other things that don’t pay, because the people who tell me what to write would not like to be associated with anyone that has opinions—other, that is, than the opinion that their product/topic/etc. is great. Opinions are bad for business.

— § —

Sometime I’ll make a similar post about the 200,000 photos that I keep in Lightroom (formerly in Aperture, and before that, in a series of folders on magnetic tapes maintained via shell scripts).

Two hundred thousand.

Who will look at them?

And the photos, unlike the writing, are net negative. I’ve probably earned $10,000, ever, from my photos. I’ve spent probably about twice that on equipment. (This being, incidentally, a relatively huge chunk of that previous $100k lifetime net from writing. This is called ‘precarity’ in some circles—working hard for years and years and investing continually in necessary professional and social resources with little to show for it and no security whatsoever, but knowing that if you stopped working or stopped investing, even though you can’t afford to do either in the way you always do it, you’d be sunk because you can afford stopping even less.)

Thousands and thousands of pages of anonymous writing.

Two hundred thousand photos that nobody but me knows how to access, much less will ever look at.

Sitting alone doing more of both late at night.

I am Mrs. Ito, only I am her at 42 years old.

Key difference—I still have my children. But it seems a lot of weight to put on them to mention them just now, in this context.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯