This was written a week or two before I left for Finland. It’s not as relevant as it was, but it’s still relevant. Unfortunately. I’m posting it now because it will be a while before I have anything new, and because there are a few bits that I think have merit. Other than that, I just feel like sending the link to all the assholes who ignore my emails.
I used to think that, whatever else I might be, I wasn’t a bitter person. Somewhere around the time I turned forty, I began to notice that bitterness was making an appearance in my thoughts. Now I’m past the halfway hump to fifty—more dead than alive you could say—and there are distressingly frequent times when bitterness feels pretty central to my thoughts.
My only hope is that really bitter people don’t notice it when they are growing bitter; they just blame other people for their unhappiness.
I’m trying to accept that bitterness is part of the maturation process. Nothing is all bad: if it were it would have destroyed all goodness a long time ago. Bitterness is part of the flavor spectrum.
A bitter tone can be quite appealing in a writer. It’s faintly detectable in Chandler and Highsmith, and deliciously overt in Bukowski, three of my personal favorites. Maybe, like wine, human beings are made to grow a little bitter with age? Honestly, I don’t see how to avoid it. Life is a never-ending series of insults and disappointments that ensure the slow steady destruction of our illusions about ourselves.
When I was twenty, thirty, and even forty, I believed I would amount to something. I believed that someday I would be seen as a figure of historical significance. A voice to be reckoned with. I still see myself as that voice, but I’m no longer sure that I’m seeing anything besides a particularly persistent fantasy.
At this point, I ran out of wind. I keep wanting to write the words “the world.”
The world does not recognize my voice.
The world ignores my emails.
The world is indifferent to the point of contempt towards me, my life experience, and my accumulated wisdom.
But who is “the world”?
I could name names (the bitterness wants to) and they would hardly fill this page. Most of them I wouldn’t even remember. People who ignore us are quickly forgotten, unless bitterness keeps the spark of rage alive by starting a flame war or the offending person somehow makes amends for the insult.
Why should it matter if I’m ignored by people I have never met and know nothing about, people who may not even be alive for all I know? The answer is that it’s accumulative: the weariness, disgust, anger, humiliation, discouragement of a dozen, a hundred, a thousand silent expressions of contempt.
The message of every email reply that doesn’t arrive, the invisible “load” of the silence (which extends indefinitely, a snub is forever) is:
You don’t count. You are nothing. You have no value or significance. You are not even worth the time it takes to tell you to fuck off.
(As I write this, I realize it’s probably a pretty good description of how my father saw me.)
On the other end of the “snub” (which is usually imagined, because an unsent email, an unexpressed response, is no-thing), there are a thousand and one possible reasons, varying from personal catastrophe (marital breakup, cancer in the family, financial ruin) to simple (and increasingly common) over-extendedness, too many emails backed up so mine gets lost in the shuffle. (There’s also the possibility of an email that never arrives, which does happen occasionally.)
Face it, we live in times in which the once-“ordinary” protocol of manners is becoming increasingly impractical. As we use machines to increase the speed, frequency, and efficiency of our interactions, we begin to act and even think more and more like machines. The medium is the message.
This leads to a lot of bad feelings, most of which get pushed under the rug because it’s “uncool”—impractical—to address them. This doesn’t make it bad per se. But it does need to be recognized, because biological organisms can’t simply imitate machines in the hope of becoming more efficient without some serious psychological consequences.
Which wasn’t my point at all, but anyway.
My choice to see “email snubs” (unexplained silence) as a personal insult is just that—a choice. But it’s not a conscious one.
It’s not that I am so angry because the world ignores me and treats me with cold contempt. It’s more like I experience the world as cold and contemptuous because I am so goddamn angry. That rage has to find an object somehow, and what better object than faceless, often nameless strangers in unspecified locations?
As my brother used to say, If thoughts landed, no one would be left standing. (I’m quite sure there are people out there whose emails I’ve forgotten to answer. It’s never personal. And it always is.)
A little bitterness seems necessary to keep one’s self-respect alive. I’m not sure it’s worth it. I’m also not sure that bitterness isn’t really a symptom of a lack of self-respect, which is perhaps compensated for by a feeling of entitlement.
“Do you know who I am?” is the cry of a drowning man.
The other point of view is that rage fuels the engine of creativity, of which I suppose this latest is an example, however minor.