I have been re-reading Plainsong by Kent Haruf in preparation for a meeting of the book group I'm in. I understand this was on our President's summer reading list, too. It's a lovely book that shows people being both mean and decent to each other, which is the way life really is, in a way that encourages us to choose and admire decency. Nice thing to read in an age where much of the culture seems to choose and admire mockery and meanness!
I've been pondering the self-absorption of writers and artists a bit, too. I am one, so it seems OK, possibly even decent, to ponder it--the risks, the strategies to avoid too much self-absorption, the evidence. Recently I joined Facebook, on the recommendation of friends, and it's a good way to stay connected and re-connect with old friends, I agree. And for several years I've belonged to an Internet writing site, where people can share and "workshop" their stories and poems, but also, more recently, keep up with each other's personal as well as professional lives in online journals and blogs. I have about a dozen people at one site with whom I stay pretty connected, and many friends at Facebook, of course, but a smaller number who regularly post a comment or a "Like." I scatter myself around and post little comments and "Likes" pretty frequently, as human connection is good! It seems decent to let my pals know I see what they are saying!
At both places, I notice the phenomenon of people who post pretty constantly, but seldom comment on the postings of others. It's the old Read me, read me, engage with me, but don't expect me to read you or engage with you thing. I should not be surpised, but somehow I am still irked. Of course, some of them are lurkers...reading but too shy or insecure or jealous or...well, what? what is it?...too something to let another person know they are there. The only catchall word I can find is "self-absorbed," so that's the way I think of it.
At work, I read a fabulous fun introduction by Ray Bradbury to a collection of 13 tales by Theodore Sturgeon, a writer he admired and that's why he was gathering the material and editing the book. The introduction was generous, very funny, and very admiring but also boiled down to the wonderfully honest admission I can summarize (and nearly directly quote) as this: You are such a good writer, I hate you. I am jealous of your talent and success, and I hate you. I have read your work all these years, and I love it, and now I am doing this. And I still hate you.
It gets at the jealousy/rivalry thing, and of course we know Bradbury doesn't really hate Sturgeon. He loves him. But that little irksome kernel of hatred is still there!
Nonetheless, Bradbury behaves decently--connects with the man, does him a service, promotes his work, writes to and about him. And really, deep inside and blazoned on the outside, and spiced with humor, loves him.
OK, let me go a teensy bit further here. I read the work of my poet friends. If they tell me about a journal they are in, I order that issue or go to that website. If they write a book, I buy it. (A few times, I've received the book as a gift, or in trade, or as a review copy, by chance, but mostly I buy it. Often, I have to save up to do so and can't buy it right away. I have mouths to feed at home.) Then I let the friend know I have read the book, or received the book, or read the individual poem. I try to convey my thanks and delight and support earnestly, honestly, and without too much gush, which might embarrass them.
I have to say I seldom receive the same courtesy or encouragement back. It sort of astonishes me. Mainly because often these same people DO respond to my communication of support with great thanks--"I'm so glad you enjoyed the book," they'll say. "It's nice to know someone is reading it." As if no other friends have let them know! Or, "You are the first one to really get what I was trying to say," which indicates that friends have commented, but not specifically or intelligently, probably not reading closely enough...or maybe at all?
So why don't these same people ever say something friendly, or encouraging, or specific back to me?!
OK, that's my moaning self-absorbed, self-pitying moment of the day. Now I'm off to make some roasted red pepper soup!