During his podcast interview with filmmaker Casey Neistat last week, Tim Ferriss said: “I was talking to Po Bronson, a writer I admire, and I asked him what he does when he feels blocked, and he said, ‘Write about what angers you. Write about what makes you upset.’”
And I had a couple thoughts: 1) I have no ideas for my blog next week, and 2) writing about what makes me upset would be wonderfully easy.
There are all kinds of writers out there, from ones like Po Bronson who has earned the right to put the words “New York Times Bestselling Author” in front of his name, to people who spend tons of their time writing for the internet and hoping people will read what they write (like me). And although Po Bronson does not write about things in a specifically negative way, Tim Ferriss’s highlighting of that quote made me think back on what I’ve been putting out there, both on this blog and on social media, and where it all comes from.
This blog will turn five years old in a few months, and I have produced a post every single week of those almost five years with only three rules:
1) Try to be relatable. Don’t write about yourself for the sake of writing about yourself, because nobody but your mom will be interested in reading that.
2) Don’t be negative
3) If you’re going to make fun of someone, you have to make fun of “us,” not “them.” The person in the mirror has to be one of your targets or you’re just being a dick.
I made up rule #2 and rule #3 because I never for sure knew what I wanted this blog to do, but I definitely didn’t want it to be something that came up in people’s social media feeds and made them angry. I wanted to make something that made people laugh, or think, or feel something besides disagreement with each other, because there’s enough of that out there now. I’ve tried to always abide by those three rules, and have rarely slipped.
We live in an era in which anyone can be a media creator, whether it’s tweets, vlogs, blogs, Instagram photos, or Facebook statuses. If you want to find something you disagree with, you can probably find it in less than 90 seconds of internet browsing. And you can either voice your disagreement with it with it, or ignore it.
Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to the United States Congress, famously said, “You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake,” and I think it’s the same for arguing with other people: no one wins. All you succeed in is turning up the volume on your own opinion. Remember the time you spent an hour explaining to your uncle the extensive list of reasons all his political beliefs were wrong, and afterward, he changed his mind and started thinking exactly like you?
Here’s a metaphorical map of every argument ever, whether it’s about football, politics, religion, or breaches of traffic etiquette:
Person #1: fuck you
Person #2: no, fuck you
Person #1: Fuck You!
Person #2: No, Fuck You!
Person #1: FUCK YOU!
Person #2: No, FUCK YOU!
Person #1: I’m out of here.
Person #2: Me too.
Person #1: Person #2 is an idiot.
Person #2: Person #1 is an idiot.
I’ve found that if you put negative things out there, people are more likely to disagree with them. Positive things, for the most part, people either embrace (if you’re lucky), or ignore because they’re indifferent to them. I don’t know why this is. I wouldn’t consider myself a “cat person,” but if I see Wendy’s Facebook post about how much she loves cats, it’s easier for me to click “like” than it is for me to type a comment about why I prefer dogs to cats or how I had a cat scratch me really badly once when I was a kid or toxoplasmosis or something—you know what, Wendy, I’m glad you’re happy. Like. Scroll down.
Anger, of course, is not a bad thing. I’d like to think Po Bronson’s advice to “write about what makes you upset” is similar to to Henry Rollins’ idea of “the importance of being angry,” which he describes by saying, “Where I come from, I use my anger to go out and get shit done.” The key is directing that anger to make something that the world needs more of, instead of just producing more anger.
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[Photo courtesy the wonderful folks at HelloHappinessCardCo.com]