I want to be honest. Want to clear the air.
We have a new president. And he may have many good qualities — though hope for that is fading fast — but there are a number of things about him that are highly disturbing. Perhaps the worst are that he is narcissistic, and indifferent to truth, facts, and transparency. And I don’t mean that as a cheap insult, a dig at him based on his political difference from me or even his appalling personality; I mean quite literally that he appears to be a true narcissist, in love only and always with himself; he really doesn’t seem to care what the truth is so long as he can spin it to reflect well on himself. So extreme arrogance, and dishonesty, are the fundamental issues here — though again, that may only be the scum on top of the cesspool. There may be worse stuff lower down. But for now, these will do.
I just got chewed out, a couple of days ago, by a former friend on Facebook for some of my bad habits. And it hurt, but only because he was right, and I have been fooling myself about those bad habits, pretending they aren’t as bad as they are, or that other people wouldn’t even notice them. Not true. I was lying to myself, in order to protect my ego.
I was like President Stump.*
(*I refuse to type his actual name on this blog. Here’s why.)
Okay. Not that bad.
The guy who tore me up is, let it be known, arrogant on a scale I can’t match, and also a manipulative, obnoxious fuckbiscuit. But that doesn’t matter: that’s for him to deal with, not me. I have to deal with me.
See, the thing is, I spend a lot of time on this blog, and in my fiction books, saying what I think is right. And that is an essentially arrogant stance to take. It is worse for me because I base my authority merely on my opinion of myself, and my ability with language. Which is nice and all, being able to string words together, but it certainly doesn’t make me right all the time: the words reflect thoughts, and to be really right words, they have to come from right thoughts.
However, as I was telling my class today, the only thing a writer can ever be sure of is his own opinion of his work. While writers should consider their audience, we can’t really know what people think of our words and our ideas (Which is why comments are always welcome and appreciated! Even critical ones, because then I know when to pull back on the stick.), we can only know what we think. I think my stories are interesting, which is why I write them. I think my insights are insightful, which is why I share them. It’s the only reason I can ever have to share what I write: I think it’s the right thing to say.
I don’t have a problem with that truth. I can accept that my interests are my best subjects, and that if I think something sincerely, then I will write about it better than something I pick because I think other people will like it. I don’t mind at all that other people don’t always like what I like. I accept the basic egotism of being an artist. But I don’t want anyone thinking that I see myself the way President Rump sees himself. I don’t want people to believe that, just because I act like I’m all that and a bag of chips with a philosophy degree, that I, too, am a fuckbiscuit. I’m not.
So here’s the truth.
I’m arrogant. I think of myself as more intelligent than most people out there. I recognize that other people have knowledge and abilities that I don’t, and I know there are things I know nothing about, and could not learn; but I also think those things aren’t as important as what I know and what I’m good at. I have no valid reason for this belief; I just think it because it makes me more awesome. I think fast and I talk fast and I write fast, and voluminously, excessively, mind-numbingly, all three. Too much. All three. What I don’t do enough of is — listen. Read. Learn. If true wisdom is knowing what you don’t know, then I’m an idiot: because I think I’m a genius.
I argue this way. I don’t read carefully enough what my opponent has to say, I just — and this hurts to say, because I tell my students they should never do this — I find a flaw in the argument and then I attack it. I don’t pay attention to the rest of the argument, as long as I have my weak spot to stab at. I elevate my diction in order to seem objective, but really, it’s a cheap dodge to cover the basic flaw of most of my arguments, which is this: I’m making it up on the spot. I don’t have a whole lot of basis for a lot of my opinions. I think they make sense, and I strive to make them make sense, but there’s not a lot of foundation underneath the surface. I am logically shallow, just good at poking at weak points, and also talking really fast and saying a whole lot that doesn’t have much substance behind it. Sounds good, though. Well — to me.
I teach this way. I do not prepare very much, because I know I can entertain a class, and give them at least a veneer of insight that I come up with pretty much off the cuff. But I don’t read literary analysis, nor pedagogy textbooks, and I don’t try to improve what I do on a fundamental level. I change around what the classes read, and when I remember an insight from a past class (I do have a good memory, which helps) I add it in; but the aspects of my teaching style that don’t work very well stay in place because I don’t do the work necessary to change them. Largely because I think that my system is just fine. Because it’s my system. And I’m arrogant.
I write this way. I don’t edit much, or do a whole lot of drafts; I haven’t studied writing other than studying literature. I know there are flaws in my writing — I talk too much, mainly — but I don’t try to fix them. Because the way I write is fine, because it’s the way I write, and surely that’s good enough. My lack of tangible success is a reflection of the world not seeing my genius; not any reason why I need to change.
Along with arrogance is this: I am lazy. I am damned lazy. I know about my bad habits, but I don’t change them, because it would require effort. I thought about doing my exercises tonight, but I just had Cheez-its, instead. I planned to read much more this year, but so far, I’ve mostly spent time playing mindless video games. My usual habit is this: I recognize a problem with my arguing or teaching or writing, or with myself and my lifestyle; I castigate myself for a little while, until I feel like I’ve suffered enough angst for the flaw — and then I tell myself that I can’t change who I am. Then I start building rationalizations, false justifications for just staying the way I am. Not because I think my flaws are good — but because I don’t want to put in the work to change them. I don’t want to edit my writing. That’s hard. I’d rather just bang out a single draft and call it good. Well, really, I’d rather play mindless video games and listen to Hamilton.
I think the best word for me is glib. I react quickly and perhaps wittily, but without a whole lot behind it. I don’t think about things for very long, and I don’t spend time trying to learn what I don’t know. I am facile, and perhaps charming, and so I get encouragement from the people around me, which confirms for me how cool I am. Though I don’t really need that: because I know I’m cool. And my opinion is enough. Anybody who thinks less of me is clearly wrong and probably a jerk.
There’s more: I have a pretty serious temper, and I tend to cover it until I blow, usually without warning, and then I yell and curse a lot, pitch a fit, and then withdraw to feel put-upon and pouty. I can genuinely hurt people when I blow — I have scared students by yelling loudly; I have hurt the feelings of those I love: I have said terrible things to my wife, to my friends, and to my brother and my parents. I have yelled at and terrified my pets, throwing things and hitting things to make loud noises. I’m sarcastic, and often insulting, particularly in argument. For a guy who wants to be honest and usually claims to be fundamentally honest, I sure lie a lot. Mostly to students. Sometimes it’s even justified. And, obviously, I’m a hypocrite: I criticize other people for not being open-minded, for not trying to learn and improve, and then I sit back on my steadily widening ass and eat more Cheez-its. I talk about the importance of deep thought, and of honesty, and of valid, genuine argument. And then I do all the shit I do.
I am sorely tempted to finish this up by talking about my good qualities. But I think for once I will stop myself from going on. This is what I wanted to say: in a lot of ways, a lot of really important ways, I suck.
Just thought you should know.
A last postscript: it is — I don’t know, probably? Definitely? Surely? — true that the fuckbiscuit isn’t really that arrogant. It’s just that he had the gall to point out my flaws, and be right. (He basically said I talk faster and more than I think, get snotty to cover up my own confusion which is caused by my tendency not to take my time and think things through, and that I insult my opponents and then act put-upon and pissy when they call me on my own bullshit. And that I do this so I can stroke my ego, not so I can actually learn or improve myself or my opinions, which is why I claim to argue. So, I’m a liar, too. All true.) And I don’t like the way he did it, but then, it was effective, and I’m not sure that another approach would have been. So if he is manipulative, it might have been, really, for my own good.
Though I’m not taking back the “fuckbiscuit” part.
Further postscript: I recognize that this post seems like a confession that puts the lie to what I’m confessing — I can’t be that arrogant if I talk about how much I suck! I can’t be a liar if I can be this honest! — but this is one step back from years of these bad habits. I don’t think it balances the scales. I really am all of these bad things; this post is just an anomaly. I want to say that I’m working on these things, and maybe I am. But maybe I’m just going to eat more Cheez-its.