At Easter, I traded email with my father about the poetry of song-writing. I write about that stuff, of course — less than I might, but publicly. I write everything very publicly, but my father has seen almost none of that. This public life of mine means nothing at all to my family.
My mother died at Christmas. She was one of my favorite people in the world, the one person besides my wife that I would call just for fun, just to tease and torment her with the thrust and parry of talking for the sheer joy of talking. And yet my mother died without knowing anything fundamental about me. And poetry or not, that seems likely to be the case for my father, too.
That’s not an expression of dismay, it’s just funny. I have my Cathleen, the incomparable love of my life, because of my writing. I hear from brilliant strangers all over the world, some of whom are very careful students of the things I’ve written. And yet I’m sure my mother knew nothing about that part of my life, and I have no idea at all what my father knows or doesn’t know.
Surely I am my own worst enemy, in this and every other regard. I have never trusted the reader, and that includes my own parents. When I write, I know I will be happy with the work I do. My happiness is why I do it. But I also know that I will get no reward, or next to none, from the people who read my work, and it’s good odds that one or more trolls will try to punish me for having dared to speak up.
I don’t mind any of this. It’s just so much weather, as full of moment as any gust of wind. This work starts and ends with me. You just happen to be here, that’s all. But I have always wanted to trust the reader, to put him beside me in the car, as my guest, instead of always keeping him at a distance, isolating him in back as a passenger.
Man Alive! is a year old today. The style of that book and of this blog is based in the insistence that you can be trusted to ride in my car without making me regret bringing you along. (See how the focus went from the general to the particular to the grittily-granular just like that, right down to just you and me?) I don’t know that I’m actually trusting of you, even now, but this way of writing for you (to you? at you?) is better than I’ve ever done before.
I know from my email that this style is working with some folks. But I also know that if people engage any part of Man Alive! in public, the reaction will almost always come in the form of ugly, dominance-seeking display behavior. More wind. Except for the waste of my time, I don’t care. But I don’t want for people to scourge themselves in acts of public self-destruction even if they never lay a glove on me. I want for everyone to do better, even people who behave atrociously.
In February, a Youtube blogger known as thecriticalg recorded an audio-visual version of the Willie story How To Slay Dragons. The clip has only been viewed around 300 times, but still I’m flattered. That’s a great story, one of the best I’ve ever done, and I’m delighted if it finds even one more mind to occupy forevermore.
But that’s the annual report for the first anniversary of the publication of Man Alive! — FreeTheAnimal.com, The 21 Convention and thecriticalg. I had thought that the book might take the world by storm in 500 days, but that seems unlikely with less than 150 of those days left.
And yet thousands of people all over the world have read the book. I have mail from many of them, checks from a few. With every day that passes, Man Alive! finds new readers. How much have their minds been changed? Hide and watch. But compared to this day last year, thousands more people — perhaps tens of thousands more — are better able to spot the lies they are told by professional demagogues. I rate that a win.
The truth is, I am the only reader I will ever trust fully, because I am the only reader I can count on to think beyond what I have written. I want to trust you that way, too, but I don’t have to. I think you have to trust your self that much, but that’s not my business. I’m grateful to you, no matter what, come what does, for having read this far.
There is more to come…