I had the surreal experience of being published in McSweeney’s last week. They ran a satirical job announcement for a teaching position my friend Ben and I wrote. Here it is if you haven’t seen it. According to McSweeney’s website, this short humor piece has been shared over 30,000 times on Facebook. I think that’s about as viral as I can get. I’m like COVID but less deadly.
I’ve been grinding away as a writer for a long time. All sorts of stuff that never really moves beyond a small audience. It was very strange to see something I worked on get picked up. Very satisfying. I’m not sure how to feel about the fact that, out of all my books, academic articles, blogs, plays, and unpublished poetry, a fake job posting that makes fun of what an impossible position teachers are in got all those reads. I doubt anything I’ve written will see so much attention again. But who knows? Maybe I’ll wake up as Stephen King tomorrow. Stranger things have happened (like the summer of 2020).
You know what else I got along with some attention and validation? McSweeney’s deposited a whopping $15 into my PayPal account. I’ve finally made it, ma.
Richard Wright has a wonderful quote about writing at the end of his memoir Black Boy. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it in previous blogs. Here is what Wright is resolved to do by the end of his book:
I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all.Richard Wright, Black Boy
C’mon. That’s too good. Before this passage, Wright writes about giving up any hope for fame and fortune as a writer. He writes about giving up the idea of creating artistic perfection (he calls it unity) in his writing. Instead, he resigns himself to the messy work of hurling words into the darkness. And ends up with Black Boy, one of the best pieces of writing I’ve ever read.
Yes, publishing that short piece in McSweeney’s felt like a faint echo. Somewhere other people saw the writing I’ve been doing with Ben and, hopefully, they laughed. Kurt Vonnegut wrote that he intended for his writing to be like Tylenol. He hoped, long after he was dead, that his words would still make people laugh and, in so laughing, feel better about things. I’ve always liked that idea. And I hope the McSweeney’s piece made somebody somewhere laugh. Especially teachers as they prepare for this impossible fall. But really, regardless of the number of shares on Facebook, I’ve already resigned myself to hurling words into the darkness. Not so much for attention and validation – though I admit that faint echo felt nice last week – but because it seems like I have to. That sense of the hunger for life that Richard Wright wrote about? It gnaws in me. And writing seems a way to express or grapple with or laugh about the enormity of being alive.
Something like that.
Will I let all this fame and fortune go to my head? I hate to say it, but the $15 is already spent. Make it rain, baby. And I don’t even want to mention my friend Ben. He was a loose cannon to begin with. I bet his $15 was gone before it even arrived. On nefarious pursuits. Or tuition. He just started graduate school. All of that assumes he figured out how to create a PayPal account. I’m not sure he did.
So I don’t know. It was fun to get a story in McSweeney’s. And I’ll keep writing because that’s what I do. And hopefully I’ll get a little echo now and then. But I’ll keep going regardless.