As we head into a new year, I have looked back at my Word Press logs and come up with a list of my most read stories of 2013. I’ll do them as a countdown. Imagine me using a David Letterman tone as I read these titles out.
A bit outside my normal topic range, this personal essay about my thoughts seeing Adam Ant in concert after a couple of decades or so got a boost when a couple of music sites passed it along. “Adam, I will forgive you for getting older if you will forgive me.” Adam Ant still pulls in page views.
In a sort of pet milk can effect, I’ve done a lot of free writing on the topic of writing for fee. This post combines two of my literary obsessions– getting artists paid and the problem of having only one cultural narrative on a given topic. What made this one in particular shoot up in the rankings was that it mentions the St. Louis-based writer and mega tweeter Sarah Kendzior, who retweeted it.
Writers are the people who are charged with speaking about the world. We are the journalists, the reporters, the social commentators and the fiction writers. Writers observe the world and tell us what they see. They tell us who we are as a people. If only the well-to-do can stay in the field for long then the view of who we are as a people is skewed.
Ballet and the Single Story draws on my experience working with professional dancers. It reflects on why there seems to be only one story about ballet we want to tell– the story of the obsessed, tortured artist who risks physical and emotional ruin. (The Black Swan narrative.)
The idea that dancers retire in “physical ruin” is strange to me. Athletes, too, have short careers. They have to contend with the risk of career-ending injuries. Football and boxing are more likely that ballet to do serious, permanent damage to bodies. It is the nature of a physical job that it doesn’t last a person’s whole life. But compare the health of a 45 year-old recently retired dancer or athlete to the health of a person of the same age who has spent a career sitting at a desk. Is the dancer’s body really a “ruin” compared to– well, say, the writer? My dancer partner is a decade older than me, and if anyone were asked to chose which one of us was in better shape, I can tell you they would not point to me.
There is something fascinating about narcissists. For a time after I read Lord Alfred Douglas’s correspondence with George Bernard Shaw I became fascinated with Oscar Wilde’s young love. There are many aspects of his story that intrigued me: being a young aristocrat and the end of the aristocratic era, the impossibility of the situation he found himself in– having at once to persuade the public that he had been supportive of Wilde while at the same time not showing himself to have been actually in love with him. Imagining being Lord Alfred and reading De Profundis for the first time years after Wilde’s death. This article was the first I wrote about the poet and it gets a hit at least once a day from somewhere in the world.
What I loved most about the correspondence between the far right Douglas and the far left Shaw is that it is a story you don’t hear much these days, the story of two people who disagree on everything and who continue to hold great affection for one another. I found the correspondence to be uplifting for this reason…Without falling into complete fuzzy moral relativism, the triumph of love over ideology is an important and compelling story, as compelling as the triumph of the right over the wrong.
And the number 1 post of 2013 was:
I recently learned that when Americans read the parable of the Prodigal Son and then later asked to tell the story in their own words, they forget that there was a famine in the story. Why this is and what it means for our ability to be empathetic to people with problems we have not experienced is the subject of this article. It is also a realization that has informed a great deal of my thought in the past year. What other problems are invisible to me because they are outside my experience? What do the things I overlook tell me about my cultural assumptions? I have come back to this question frequently and maybe other people have too, because this is by far my most popular post.
Like an optical illusion that reveals the existence of a vision void on the retina, this study made me aware that I have blind spots. I like to think of myself as an empathetic person, but it is clear that suffering that I have not experienced personally is not fully real to me. I can read a story and not even notice that it is there… This does not make me exceptionally blase, it makes me human. The best I can do, now that I am aware of this fact, is to do my best not to forget it. I may think I have a seamless image, but I don’t see everything.
Famine blindness has implications for how we function as a nation as well. It costs a lot of money to get a job in Congress or the White House these days. The gap between the wealth of average Americans and the people we elect to represent us is growing. The 113th Congress has become wealthier than the last, with incoming freshmen bringing in a median net worth of $1,066,515 each — about $1 million more than that of the average American.
When a factory worker who has just been laid off tells his story to a millionaire congress member, does that person actually hear all of the pertinent details of the story or does it fall into that Prodigal-Son-famine-void where the blind spot is seamlessly filled with what the listener expects to be there? What does this mean in terms of how our national social problems are addressed?