Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Occasional Jerk

On another blog of mine, a commenter left a reassuring bit of advice to me under my post, "What is it to be an artist?". I'll quote verbatim:

Yeh. You're not a writer. Hard to imagine how you'll become one. But the first lesson you need to learn is to focus on the most basic components of your craft first -- which means sentences and fundamental grammar. Forget about those wise-ass quotations from real writers. You're a million miles from there. Walk before you run.

And my response?

Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be.

That's Kurt Vonnegut.

Doubt, Mr. Toast, is natural for any writer or artist. I'm not ashamed of my doubts about my writing; in fact, I embrace them. This seems to be difficult for people like yourself who pretend otherwise.

I know I'm a writer. Freelance writing pays my bills. I write for law firms, non-profit organizations, and companies.

The post was asking the question, "Am I an artist?"

But judging by your posts, Mr. Toast, you seem to delight in flinging venom at other writers. Such as Nigel Beale from Nota Bene Books, who happens to be writing the next article for Escape into Life.

A little more investigation about the anonymous jerk on the Internet will reveal one thing.

You're not alone. He does this to everyone.

Mr. Toast (happens to think he's a literary luminary) and enjoys, yes, downright relishes, telling people they suck at what they love to do.

I'm not going to reference his website here because he doesn't deserve the attention, but on countless posts people are leaving comments on his blog basically to tell him to fuck off.

The occasional jerk is not a new phenomenon. There were jerks before the Internet and there will be jerks after it. But cyberspace, and especially the blogosphere, does lend itself to the flourishing of these trolls.

From Communities in Cyberspace, by Peter Kollack,

Even a casual trip through cyberspace will turn up evidence of hostility, selfishness, and simple nonsense. Yes the wonder of the Internet is not that there is so much noise, but that there is any significant cooperation at all.

Having recently indoctrinated myself into Twitter, I was surprised to find out not how much vileness and stupidity there was but just the opposite. I discovered a spontaneous overflow of conviviality and mutual interest.

Twitter forms a different ecosystem than the blogosphere. Because the posts are so short, it is less a reflection of one's self (although it can be, of course) and more an interaction with the community.

I'm addicted to Twitter. I love the simultaneous conversation with hundreds of people. Amid the noise, you sense a spectacular driving force of mass communication upturning all of our notions about what it is to communicate.

The occasional jerk shows up on Twitter as well, I would imagine. But there's nothing like a blogger who insists on drawing attention to his own blog by making rude comments on other people's blogs.

He is alone in his self-hatred.

In this post, "The Blogosphere is Full of Jerks", Dave Schuler writes:

Finally, theres the jerk, the individual who contributes nothing positive to the common objective but is always ready with a put-down for those who are trying to accomplish something.

And here:

You cant remonstrate with a jerk: the jerk can always respond with more of the same. The only alternatives are to become a jerk yourself or to shut up and take it in silence.

I've only come across the occasional jerk. Mostly, however, I find people who are generous with their support, thoughtful, and interested in what I'm doing. If they're not interested in what I'm doing, they'll go to another webpage. Which works out. Not everyone shares the same interests.

What I love about Twitter is that you can find people with your same interests and follow their conversations. To me, Twitter is the best tool to find a niche group of like-minded individuals.

But I haven't met any real jerks on Twitter or anywhere else on the Web, with the exception of Mr. Toast. There is a word for that kind of behavior. Misanthropy.

I don't claim to be a brilliant writer. I used to force myself to write. I disciplined myself to sit down for five or six hours a day.

But nothing came of it because I did not have the endurance to write fiction that way. Lately I've kept myself open, and the writing seems to happen on its own. I don't need to set a schedule to write poems every day. When I have a poem inside of me, it simply comes out. The same goes for my novel.

I'm interested in the question of mass amateurism on the Web. Because I think that I may be an amateur poet, amateur blogger, amateur novelist and amateur everything else for that matter.

When we're young, we imagine becoming great. All I wanted to do was become a famous writer.

There are many excellent writers, many excellent artists. The Internet reveals the abundance of them. My own little world is put into perspective. I do have a contribution to make, but so do others. "Wow, look at what they're doing."

I tend to develop tunnel vision about my own abilities. When you're confined to your own work, whatever it happens to be, you forget about everyone else.

The webzine I edit, Escape into Life, is helping me appreciate the greatness in others around me. By writing illustration art reviews I have a chance to step outside of my narrow world and look at what others have built, what others have created.

I can't think of a better antidote to the occasional jerk: Appreciate someone.


More Essays . . .


kdelik said...

I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to appreciate you. That is excellent advice. Twitter is a great thing, but remember, the only difference between poison and medicine is the dose. If one gets addicted, it defeats the purpose of having a way to bounce around all the vital correspondence required in cyberspace in an efficient way, and quickly get back to the novel. You are a writer that does not suck! Mr. Toast should go study some more grammar rules, then he can write in his journal about how he spanked his monkey to that old Tom Cruise fantasy of his, without a single punctuation mark out of place.

Lethe said...

Wow, you said so much. You're right about the "dose". To a former addict, that resonates strongly. I'm going to rest now. I've been tweeting all night~

tashabud said...

Hi Lethe,
I read Toast's condescending comments at your other blog before reading this post. You're right; he treats everybody the same way. Have you noticed that there is no personal info on him at his blog site? Its because hes yellow. Hes such a coward to show his face. The complete anonymity gives him a false sense of power as he demeans others.

This is the profile that I put together about the kind of writer Toast is: Hes a disgruntled writer. He thinks that hes the most talented writer in the world and wonders why no one accepts his manuscripts. Hes insecure; thus, he tries to act as if hes better than everyone else. He's exerting his assumed literary authority or superiority to make up for his own inadequacies as a writer. I hope you enjoyed reading it.

Id much rather read a less perfect writing from someone who has a good soul than a perfect writing from someone who has an evil soul. Im not saying that your writing is less than perfect because I think that they are. I hope you know what Im trying to convey here.

Keep writing. I think youre a wonderful, prolific writer and artist. You're a much better person than Toast.


Merrikate said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Merrikate said...

Your remarks shine for their universal value, as what you say here about the blogosphere's ogres is thoroughly true in all daily realms of human interaction. We need to remember your words when faced with the compulsive grinches among us, and to treat them with "compassionate disregard." Bah upon the meanness -- impoverished spirit-- of poor Mr Toast and his ilk, Lethe. Of far greater value are those who romp on, true to their own inner call to create. That's Us, and We Do Rock!

Lethe said...

@Tasha You conveyed everything you said perfectly. I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes writing with a "good soul" doesn't need to be of high literary quality. I can just be human--as humans we're flawed and imperfect and that's beautiful in its own way.

@Merrikate Thanks for the encouragement. You're right about the "ogres" and the "compulsive grinches". I like how you put that.

Mark Kerstetter said...

Vonnegut is right. There are different dimensions to being a person. One is on the surface: you are what you appear to be. And you are right about the antidote to the poisonous contact of a jerk.

One thing I find interesting about your post is the difficulty many of us have judging the quality of our own work. I sometimes wonder if I'm too pleased with myself. Other times I'm deeply insecure. And other times my feelings toward a piece waver terribly. It's also very difficult to know what will resonate with a reader, and why. For these reasons the commenting structure of blogging can be very good, if the commenter has the courage to be honest while being civil (comments like "I love it!", although nice, don't help much). That said, if I didn't like your work, I wouldn't be here. I like the simplicity of your language, and at your best you're inspiring.

Lethe said...


You've been following me for a long time now, and I'm lucky to have you. You always add to the discussion and encourage me to keep blogging now matter what.


David said...


Youve recently added me to your following list and well I usually check the person who adds me.

Ive been the occasional jerk and maybe have been influenced by them in the past before becoming one. Truth is that that type of person will probably "never" register or use twitter at all because they know once twitter users become aware of their action it becomes a massive block or direct messages to him.

Of course twitter is probably one of the best tools created, not to only have fun but to read the rambling thoughts of many people and how creative (in a manner that you only have 140 characters to use) they can get at expressing themselves.

Final thoughts... man I wish I had the talent you have to write and express. Ive tried writing and practicing and due to fear of getting insulted I have stopped since I dont have any mentor. I usually just go to forums for help but for the same reason I usually try not to comment or post anything--of course my urge to practice and learn more english is increasing so.. Ill probably will be doing something about it soon.

Just for reference Im a native spanish speaker from Puerto Rico.

(allenskd > twitter)

Lethe said...


Thank you for your response and interest in my writing. My aunt and uncle live in Puerto Rico and I've been there many times. Your country is beautiful!

You don't seem like a jerk anymore . . . and I can't imagine you being one.

About the writing, keep it up and be sure to check out the forums at Escape into Life, the webzine I edit.



quinncreative said...

There are kind, funny, helpful people and there are jerks. Someone like him lurks, writes arch statements and disappears. He probably has no blog himself, no book, not much going on. But he thinks of himself as arch and witty. He may be alone in this conclusion.
My favorite cocktail version of this guy is the one who asks me, "What do you do?" and when I answer I'm a writer, he replies, "Anything I might have read?" I have a thousand wicked answers, but I always say, politely, "Could be. What do you enjoy reading?" and change the subject.

Lethe said...

You're exactly right that he is arch and thinks himself a great wit. But he does have a blog . . . and on it, you'll see people commenting on--we'll I'll let you read their comments.

But his latest remark was this (just to show you how right you are about the witty part):

"Look, I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but Andy Peterson is dead wrong. In order to be an artist someone does have to come up to you and tell you you're an artist, and not just anyone; it has to be a nine-foot tall woman with green hair and blue spangly boots that come up to her eyebrows. Until that happens, I'm afraid you'll never be an artist. Andy wouldn't know that because he obviously is not an artist.

Also, you need to learn that your feelings are worthless (not to yourself or your family and friends -- feelings are very valuable in that context). Expressing one's feelings has nothing to do with artistic value -- that's all about technique, insight, theme, beauty, and details like that, which can only come with skill. Work on the skill and give your feelings a rest. Trust me, your feelings are no different than anyone else's. It just feels that way because you're still growing up."

Enough said. This guy is as transparent as a window.

Toast said...

O my god. This is, like, a totally awesome thrill. We, the proprietors of Toast live only to validate our sad and pathetic existences by getting insulted by people who are even more sad and pathetic, but who gather together to support each other and tell one another that they're not really sad and pathetic because people like Toast are the ones that are sad and pathetic because they don't express what's really in their hearts and let the whole world see who they are because they are yellow and jealous of "creative" people like them because real creativity is not about being good at writing or anything, but about expressing what is in their not-sad and not-pathetic hearts that is wonderful and beautiful and does not suck! and anyway if Mr. Toast doesn't like us he or she should go away and stop being such a jerk!

Plus also, Quinncreative, we love your "wicked" and "creative" answer to the question about whether any living human being might have read any of your work. We'd love to hear some more of those "wicked" answers. I bet I can guess what "un-wicked" answer you don't like to give: "um, no."

Lethe said...

This guy is phenomenally boring.

Toast said...

We're keeping your attention pretty well, Lethy, but perhaps you're gifted with higher powers of concentration along with your extraordinary artistic prowess. Will you be hiring Quinncreative to run your next conference of super-luminaries? She's glad you're hosting a spot of advertising on your blog. That's what art is all about!

Me said...

He's a troll. He exists purely to upset other people on the internet and his contribution to it is on par with with banner ads that tell you that you might have won a free iPod.

Reacting to his trolling (he doesn't actually mean or even believe a word he says, he just enjoys, on some level, knowing he might have upset someone) is just what he wants, so ignore him and he'll troll off somewhere else.

Toast said...

Damn right, Me. But then you're me, so of course you're serving my purposes. Nice work ignoring me too. Practice your ignorance. Those who ignore Me are ignorant of the power of Me. Ignore Me at your peril.

sylvia ortiz said...

ehm, id just like to say that it is a known fact that people are more willing to say things over the internet that they would NEVER say in real life.

Toast said...

Thank you Sylvia, you win today's Toastie award for statement of the bleeding obvious.

JM said...

You certainly do have a contribution to make, from what I have read so far. I find your writing to be open, honest, and I appreciate it.

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