Who Cares?

It feels as though writers spend too much time defending what they write.

The tendency is hard to escape, no matter what genre you’re writing in. The questions creep in like shadows, stoked by The New York Times Review of Books or Salon. Isn’t the novel dying? You can’t sell a short story collection, can you? Do memoirists just have lazy imaginations? Who’s going to read your poetry? There are op-ed back-and-forths and whole craft books written about similar subjects. So many characters are spent defending or discrediting art in place of creating it.

As a creative nonfiction writer and essayist, I’ve been prodded a few times to defend the source and style of my natural expression. The most stinging and public was last summer, when a reviewer described a collaboration project I’d worked on as “suburban.” I wasn’t sure what I could do with that feedback. I grew up in small towns and suburbs. If I tried to be more urban, I would be fake. Does my background discredit my right to write about what I see and know? It stung to read, and I felt embarrassed, as if my voice or perspective was inherently flawed. But after a couple weeks of sulking, I realized that there is only so much you can do when someone calls you out for being who you are. You can’t stop being too feminine, too young, too Portland, too American. You can be wise and truthful and fair and self-aware, but you can only be the best version of you.

If you don’t like being prodded like this, follow a simple rule. “Don’t read reviews or comments.” It’s a good rule if you want to avoid second-guessing yourself and becoming a hypocrite on defending your writing, as I am now. But I can’t help it. I get curious. And I need to procrastinate. Which is how I happened upon a comment attached to a friend’s post, where she linked to one of my recent PDXX Collective essays. I normally write about entertainment topics, but attempt to do so with an inquisitive, personal slant. I like to think it’s smarter than your typical Us Weekly or People feature, but that’s subjective. As it was to the commenter, who wanted to know, “Oh my god. Who the fuck cares?”

I could feel myself blushing as I quickly closed my Facebook app. If I couldn’t see it anymore, maybe the question would go away. How could I honestly argue that one should fucking care about the likes of Beyonce or Miley or Lindsay when we’re on the brink of war, and the Pacific Ocean is throbbing with radioactivity, and the economy is collapsing?

I kept re-living the scene in Girls where Lena Dunham’s Hannah has been invited to do a reading.  When describing the essay she’s planning to share to her new coffeeshop boss (the epitome of millennial cynicism, Ray), he calls her personal essay trivial and asks, “is there anything real you can write about?” He spouts off an entire list of topics more “real” than Hannah’s funny piece on hoarders and intimacy: the plight of the giant panda bear, acid rain, urban sprawl, divorce, death. Rattled into submission, she tries to write a real essay on the train, which fails miserably. By trying to conform to what someone else deems worthy of her attention, Hannah fails to shine with the piece that actually meant something to her. She couldn’t fake authenticity; none of us can. It’s why there are so many genres and styles and subjects, because there is no right way to interpret the world.

To me, celebrities are barometers for larger issues in our culture. The way the public and media react to, say, Amanda Bynes descending into deeper and deeper mental illness issues, sheds a light on how such disorders are regarded in our country. When a famous person speaks, people listen. It’s recorded, broadcast, written about. When Taylor Swift dismisses feminism, it’s reflective and influential on young girls who buy her music and dress, walk, and talk like she does. The obsession over Jennifer Aniston’s nonexistent baby pooch or Britney Spears’ weight gains and losses demonstrates the systemic fat-shaming we face from all directions. I don’t read and write about these stories because I want to escape, or I don’t want to think. I do so because I am fascinated by what they say about us, and if what it’s saying is undesirable, I want to help change it. I want our next generation to inherit less shame, less fear, less guilt about who they are.

I fucking care for the same reason I pick up the pen to write anything else, whether it’s an essay about 21st century unemployment or selling corsets in college. I have something I want to say and explore, and a story is how I get there. Whether the road winds through Hollywood or suburbia, the destination is still the same: the heart of the matter.

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105 thoughts on “Who Cares?

  1. Nobody will ever please everybody. There is always some person who doesn’t like what you write, what you say, what you wear, how you look, etc. Whenever we have the courage to make some stuff publicly available, we must be aware that it might be misinterpreted, misunderstood or ignored. As you grow older, you learn not to cry about every unpleasant reaction.

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    1. Some writers defend their writing but not all writers do that, and each writer who responds to a mean-spirited and/or negative review handles his or her response differently. Some of the defenders may respond in kind while others are polite about it and take a diplomatic approach.

      This is nothing new. Writers have been doing this for thousands of years and there is a recorded history of this behavior. Many don’t respond and some do. It all depends on the person and who they are as an individual. We all respond to criticism in our own way.

      The only difference is today if an author responds to a negative review on the internet, that response is visible for the whole world to see as long as it is there and visible.

      Maybe this explains why so many famous authors are also notorious drunks who hated their critics.

      My question is why should some reviewers and/or commenters claim they have a right to their opinion because of America’s 1st Amendment that really only offers protection from government persecution of options of the government—-and then at the same time attack authors—who probably are also all readers of other author’s books—who are only exercising their 1st Amendment rights the same as the so-called critic is doing.

      When a critic attacks an author for criticizing the critic and then the critic enlists a tribe of like-minded mostly anonymous people to gang up on that author to destroy his or her reputation and potential career as an author, who really has that so-called thin skin? Or are they not critics defending so-called reader’s rights but sociopaths who are really an Ebola virus on the Internet.

      Why couldn’t the debate stay between the one critic and the one author in one thread instead of becoming a wild-fire burning across the Internet consuming Twitter, Amazon, Goodreads, Blog, forums and other social networking sites?

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  2. I think Ethan’s comment was spot-on.

    I write for a living (journalism and NF books) and for every reader who loved my latest book, there are some breathtakingly vicious “reviews” on amazon, all anonymous of course. You find “your” audience, or you don’t. They might not be where you expect or want them to be; I have done a ton of business writing for the NYT (now, doesn’t that sound snoozy?!) but I’d really enjoyed it and they’re really well-read. Who knew? Not me.

    Keep writing and putting it out there. Women are too frequently told to shut up. Enough of that.

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  3. That “who the fuck cares?” comment drives me crazy. Because someone does care. Someone always cares. Any topic you could possibly think of off the top of your head, no matter how seemingly banal, someone in this world does care about it.
    Nevermind the fact that the commenter who supposedly doesn’t care clearly cared enough to read and leave that comment in the first place.
    Just keep doing you, no justification necessary. You’re a great writer.

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  4. Very much agreed. you must focus on who does appreciate what you have written. writing is best enjoyed and most received with an open mind but people mostly read with closed/ blurred perspectives. We write what speaks to us and what our mind is open to, and further more I can not remember the last time a closed minded commenter changed the world or views of others. keep on keeping on. do what you love and love what you do. BUT most importantly, never put down your pen. best of luck with future post

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  5. Thanks for sharing this. ‘Who cares’ is such a hard thing to hear when it’s something you likely ask yourself if you sit down to write every day. I know I feel upset whenever I get a comment that’s just vaguely about the subject; it sucks to write thousands of words on why a piece of media meant something to you and then have someone comment, ‘yeah I liked that movie but the actor sucked,’ or something else that has nothing to do with what you actually wrote. I think the best thing to do is focus only on constructive criticism. (‘Who cares’ does not apply.)

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  6. I’ve had more than a few of those awkward moments, either when someone questioned something I wrote or worse–those moments I find myself stifling the inexplicable urge to explain myself to someone who hasn’t even offered a critique. I wonder why I succumb to such things when it’s so much more enjoyable to simply write what I want to write for its own sake. I’m really glad I read this post today.

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  7. I’ve hung onto a review from a food writer for 18 years…18. He wrote about my artwork that happened to be 8′ x 18′. Large. It wasn’t a nice review. I kept thinking “what dies this you-hoo know about art? He’s a food writer?!”
    THEN, your entry here made me think. I don’t care. I live what I do and the people who pay me, well, they seem to be pretty happy.
    Whose opinion truly matters? To me? As a Christian, I do everything, in my power, for His glory. That’s it. It clicked.
    Thank you for “turning on the light”, for me.
    Truly inspirational!

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  8. I don’t normally read everyone else’s comments, b/c they tend to influence my own opinion on the article. But, I scrolled down each and every one of your reader’s comments, b/c I cared what others thought about this piece and I’m glad to say we’re all on the same page. I too, write, what others might call “fluff & stuff ” but I don’t hinge my entire world around what someone else might not like. Writing, to me, is about sharing your voice and thoughts w/others. Same as having a conversation, people challenge you about your opinions and you respond. The world is full of different opinions and that’s a good thing…b/c this world would be goddamn boring if everyone thought the same.

    No need to defend yourself…just keep doing what you love, that’s what’s important.
    ~Debbie~

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    1. Thanks! I’ve been cheating and reading as well (hey, they all show up in my email), and it’s refreshing to hear that I’m not the only one faced with these fears, and that we can all support one another in our individual journeys to be true.

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  9. i was pleasantly shocked to read your essay. I had literally just hours before been thinking, what if who you are (suburban, in your case) isn’t cool? what if the most honest your writing becomes, the less “cool” or fashionable people discover you are? I do not know if that will be my fate but reading what you wrote reminded me it simply is not relevant to becoming a good writer. thank you.

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  10. Write what you care about. Let them read what they care about. The way I see it is, if they don’t like what I write, they don’t have to read it. But if anyone wants to criticise, at least make it constructive.

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  11. What I like about this post is the way you brush up against the precipice and then thump your chest. You get me very close to saying “yeah this is supid and i shouldn’t care,” then you make me car again. well done! Go suburbs!

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  12. This piece hit home. I let fear be my guide more than my heart sometimes and I’m tired of it. Whenever I write something, I often ask myself “who the fuck cares about my life?” Fear stifles creativity and the fear of having someone attack you for who you truly are saddens me deeply to the point where I feel it in my bones. I once wrote a blog on concert etiquette and this person decided to message me anonymously on Tumblr to point out every thing he/she disagreed with all while calling me stupid in the process. Needless to say, that person proved all of my points in that blog but it’s such a shame how people use the internet to spew hatred towards others while they could be using it for a better cause.

    I will admit that I have rolled my eyes at numerous blogs (especially on Thought Catalog) but this piece reminded me that we all have something to say and that should be respected. We don’t have to agree or argue about it. As a writer, I try to inspire others even though I’m facing a flood of confusion and dark days.

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! I’m waiting for the day I can sport that badge on my blog. 🙂

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  13. Love it! Your post reminds me of a lovely quote I noticed tonight while watching Ratatouille (a cartoon movie) with my granddaughter at bedtime tonight. Here it is
    Anton Ego: In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize that only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.

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  14. “I want our next generation to inherit less shame, less fear, less guilt about who they are.”

    I agree wholeheartedly about the generation aspect and dominance of celebrity drama in mainstream media. Even writing a film review has become an exercise which reeks of elitism. I am all for random blog posts, life anecdotes or DIY posts.

    Like you said, who cares?

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  15. I’ve learned that the best thing is to ignore reviews/comments of your writing that a reader did not like—and even then we will never know if they really read it. Take all the negative criticism with a ton of salt. Some of the negative voices out there just like to hurt someone else. And in time it is pretty easy to identify the trolls and learn to ignore them.

    There is a difference between an honest negative review left by a reader who read your work and someone who is just out to cause pain.

    We can’t please everyone and taste is subjective. I’ve had readers love my work and others hate it. Fortunate for me, it seems that more readers enjoy what I publish than those that hate it.

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  16. I love this article. I’ve been worrying about whether I need to start reading up on current affairs so that I can write about something all the intelligent folk care about, but the thought depresses me. I like your style and your writing voice, you sound logical, unpretentious and human. Just really enjoyed reading it that’s all.

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  17. Thanks to everyone who has joined the conversation! It’s refreshing to know that I’m not the only writer struggling with this question. The internet can definitely be our best friend and worst enemy as a writer.

    And yes, I recognize the hypocrisy. I am reading the comments again!

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  18. I used to blog and I tried very hard to use my words to inspire or intrigue or at least make people think about things they might not think about it. I stopped blogging (and commenting or communicating in any way online) not because of the trolls and negativity, but because there was a complete lack of support and positive comments. I could have dealt with millions of haters had I felt like I was impacting just one person in a positive way, but I never found that in the virtual world.

    The problems this world faces aren’t caused by the assholes and trolls and “mean” people. They’re caused by people who sit idly by and do nothing all the while knowing they should be speaking up.

    And yes, I do see the irony in the fact that I no longer say/write anything worth reading. I guess if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

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  19. This veteran newspaper journalist who has also earned honors for her creative writing does NOT care WHAT people write as long as it is the truth and it is in proper form, including proper sentence structure and use of active, not passive, voice. My main issue with many of today’s so-called expert writers and editors is they seem to have little knowlege or concern for proper writing. For example, many writers and editors are unable to tell which is the proper sentence of the following two:
    1- My friend laughed when she slipped from the sidewalk on which she was walking.
    2- My friend laughed when she slipped from the sidewalk she was walking on.
    Too many people use the latter and not the former. Too many people use passive, not active, voice or do not even know what that means. The prominence of poor writing today makes me most sad.

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  20. Very true. There are times when I’ve written chick-lit stories, then start to feel guilty or ashamed, as though it is something to be ashamed about. And because there’s such a wide array of audiences, it just means that there’s always a story idea that someone else connects with. I like how you interpreted the sociological issues behind celebrity stories, I wouldn’t have thought of it that way.

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  21. Love this post! I think that no matter what kind of writer one is, one is tempted to put too much store in crits such as “Who the fuck cares?” These type of crits take a wide variety of forms as well, from “Why write that?” to Why write like that?” I like to write in fairly plain language. I have no desire to send readers running for a dictionary every two minutes. I’ve done this purposefully. I decided that, while I have no wish to write down to people, fancy vocabulary for pretension’s sake was not a bit of quicksand I wanted to get sucked into. Yet, all it takes is one crit about “dumbing down” writing to have me second guessing myself. For a moment. Then I get over it and write any way I damn well please! Yes, we need informative articles about the plight of the giant panda and urban sprawl, but we also need pieces that talk about the things we see and experience everyday. A work does not have to be lofty to be useful and enjoyed.

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  22. One of the hard things to learn as a writer who makes the bold choice to make their writing public is that, while many people can read the words that you write, not everyone who reads it is your audience. Your audience are those people who connect with what you write, who find that your ideas, your style, your point of view resonates with them. Keep writing what you write and those people will collect around you little by little over time. I’m not always good at remembering this myself because my heart and soul are wrapped up in what I write and a rejection of my writing feels like a rejection of me. But the best thing to do when you hear someone level a subjective rejection at your creation is simply to say “how interesting that that’s the reaction you had to what I said.” And then move forward doing what you do.

    This is all a long way of saying that I agree with what you said here and I think you did a great job with this piece!

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  23. I had a teacher who seemed to so determined to point out all of my mistakes, it stifled both my writing and my desire to write. Now, as a teacher myself, I have noticed that students notice and appreciate when you are passionate about something. There’s a writing analogy there. No, not everyone is going to care. But if you don’t write about what you’re passionate about, no one is.

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  24. I am so glad this post got Freshly Pressed. Not only do you deserve it, but it speaks to 99% of us bloggers out there, trying to find our way through life and through our writing.
    Very well written!

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  25. Love this topic (great piece!) as its exactly what I’ve been contemplating. Grappling with my own inner doubts about the book I was about to publish, which centered on the mundane details of everyday life, I was asking myself the ‘who cares’ question. Thinking about larger world issues (chemical weapons, radioactive oceans), my little realm with its challenges and triumphs didn’t seem to matter much.

    So far what I’ve concluded is that if through the mundane, we can find something profound, and express this in a way that connects us to each other, then its not just superficial and meaningless (and there’s room for superficial and meaningless sometimes, too). Each one of us is a facet in a kaleidoscope of perspectives. I believe every one of our unique angles matters.

    Maybe some of these ‘bigger picture’ world issues wouldn’t be so dire if an integral part of everyday life was the ability to creatively express ourselves, live our passions, and share what mattered to us.

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    1. if an integral part of everyday life was the ability to creatively express ourselves, live our passions, and share what mattered to us, then perhaps tranquility, compassion, and peace would reign.

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  26. Great post! It’s true, people will be throwing their opinions at anything written, because there are so many opinions in the world. Some people are interested in Miley Cirus’s hair cut, others would rather read about the economy crisis.
    But people might criticize in a more respectful manner, instead of hurling shards of glass into your throat :/
    But well said anyway!

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  27. I love this. I fucking care because I’m not dead inside. Because it matters to me, to someone. Because apathy is the death of freedom.

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    1. Serminyesilada: Well, I’m a little irritated with you. Not only did you use the words I wanted, you put them in the same order, too.

      I’ll forgive you this time because: Right the fuck on.

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  28. “Who the fuck cares?” is likely just the exhausted response to the constant media churn of immediacy and opinion. Especially surrounding young women perceived as celebutarts, and i completely agree about them being cultural barometers. We DO tend to kill our heroes. People love to see the famous fall in a world where FAIL Blog rules.

    However, Tabitha, you have managed to write a perfect reflexive piece about how NOT to be afraid to share your voice and vision, no matter where you come from. Everyone is a critic, and we do spend an inordinate amount of time “defending or discrediting art in place of creating it.” Read any YouTube stream of comments on the most innocuous subject ever and people STILL go wild and cruel anyway, if not on the topic, on each other. Must be the safety of anonymity.

    I would add, commentary courtesy should follow some tenets of the kindergarten rule, “if you don’t have anything nice (or constructive) to say . . .” at LEAST try to temper your disagreeing response.

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  29. Anything and everything in our culture is worth having an intelligent conversation about. The people you mention either don’t recognize intelligence because they’re busy feeling good about themselves, or they have decided their pet issues are the only worthwhile ones, which hurts their cause tremendously. There’s room for everyone.

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  30. Even if you write about “REAL” issues, you are going to take shit. It’s the nature of being a writer in the digital age– lots of trolls to contend with. After my experiences with two of my pieces being trampled upon online, I’ve made the personal rule that I won’t submit to places that have straight up anonymous commenting. If my writing is able to follow me around in my daily life, then your shitty comment should do the same. At least with someone tearing you apart with their facebook account you are able to go back and look at their profile and judge. 😉

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    1. It’s true, and a learning curve when you start to publish in places not just your best friend and mom read–someone isn’t going to like it. Which, of course, isn’t new. But definitely easier to see and hear nowadays. At least the newspaper had a couple days to sort through the snail mail troll rants 😉

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    2. Totally agree! In this era some people just go around leaving negative comments on other’s work. And what’s sad about it it’s that they have no real point, they don’t present to you a real argument on why they dislike your post. They just do it in a immature way and can’t even defend their point!

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