The Lost Art of Saying Nothing
Newsletter 08: March
There is a quote, often attributed to either Lincoln or Twain, but probably not said by either, that goes “Better to Remain Silent and Be Thought a Fool than to Speak and Remove All Doubt.” There are quotes in the Bible that express a similar sentiment. So, the quote is at least a hundred and fifty years old, and the sentiment is thousands of years old. The fact that it remains achingly relevant (perhaps more so than ever) in the 21st century is either a tribute to it’s wisdom or a pointed critique on humanity. Probably both.
The quote swirls around my head every time the topic du jour shows up on social media. The most recent being the slap. You know the one. I didn’t watch the Oscars this year for the first time in a very long time, as I was out having a lovely quick trip to visit some friends. But as soon as I saw it on Twitter, I knew it was an earthquake that would create a tsunami that would wash away everything else for at least a few days. And it’s not that there’s not a lot to be discussed around it that’s culturally worthwhile or could provide some value to our lives. It’s just most of that discussion will be buried under memes and a lot of noise.
Twenty Million Megaphones, All At Once
Whenever humanity is given some new tool to express themselves, there’s always a learning curve. For instance, it took us a while to figure out that fire is great and warm outdoors, but inside we need some sort of system of getting the smoke away because it’s not great for things like our furniture or our lungs. The internet, when it was a gleaming new tool full of possibility, was seen as many things. Something that could unite the world, that could let us communicate around the globe instantly, that could offer libraries of information at our fingertips, and so much more. Like most media tools, it was immediately used to distribute porn. We are, after all, only human. But, eventually, the internet created social media.
Social media can be incredibly empowering, especially for marginalized voices. Not only can you connect with other people like yourself, but you can share ideas. You can highlight social injustices, talk about your favorite movies, or just compare how you’re doing on a word puzzle. The problem is, it’s like we handed out a megaphone to everyone. And we’re all shouting loudly into them at the same time. Social media, as a system, rewards the most outrageous, pithy, and loudest voices. It’s a system geared to be manipulated, and also one that can easily trap us like rats in cages, hitting the button for more food even though we’re about to kill ourselves from overeating because, hey, FREE FOOD!
Make Like Neo
That’s why, over the years, I’ve begun to appreciate the lost art of saying absolutely nothing. I tend to share my dumbest jokes about things with just my friends, who know me well enough to know I’m making them with winking self-awareness. I also am, more and more, discussing trending topics with small groups of friends. Whether in Facebook groups, in person, or in group chats. This is much less exhausting to me, because when you’re around friends who respect you they’ll forgive the occasional mistake. Maybe you phrase something awkwardly, or you say something uninformed—you know, stuff humans do that are instantly pounced upon and torn apart online.
Now, this may make it sounds like I’m retreating from social media out of fear. That’s, perhaps, a tiny part of it. But I’m not “known” enough to have to deal with any serious repercussions of some theoretical slip-up or anything like that. It’s more to avoid the tiresome rando who might pop into the conversation. No, the thing I like most about this approach is it reduces the noise. Unless I feel like I have some particularly important insight into a topic, I think it’s better to just sit back and let more intelligent, informed, or involved people talk. I don’t always follow this approach, and almost always regret it later.
Meme-Generators & Shit-Stirrers
I wish, more and more, people would exercise some restraint when talking about things. I’ve seen so many people haplessly step into a big pile of dog crap purely because they felt compelled to say something because, you know, they had a Twitter account. I’m not here to tell anyone how to use their social media account. You do you. But I can say there are people who I really respected at one point, that have become little more than meme-generators and shit-stirrers on the internet.
Even if I agree with them on something, there’s a naked sort of “look at me” aspect to it that is off-putting. I understand the monkey-brain pleasure that can be derived from people liking or sharing a tweet. It feels like connection. But I think the fact that this “connection” rarely results in any further conversation (or even just an obligatory follow!) is proof enough that it’s not really very nourishing to your soul in the long run. And, it’s just creating more noise. Noise that is detracting from experts and/or people with real-world experience who have something intelligent and well thought-out to say about whatever is being discussed.
There’s no hard and fast rules about who “should” or “should not” comment on a given topic. That’s why it can be hard for people to even see the line they shouldn’t cross until they’ve crossed it. But I have come up with a few personal guidelines that have helped me:
Should I Express My Opinion About Something? A Checklist:
Do I have personal experience with this topic?
If this topic mainly deals with a specific group, am I member of that group?
Does my field of study, career, expertise, or experience offer a unique perspective on this?
Can I identify with this topic without making a very loose (possibly inappropriate) connection to my own experiences?
After a quick search, could I not find another article or post that says what I would have said, but either in more detail or from a source closer to the topic?
Personally, if I can say YES to ALL of these, then I’d say maybe I could make a post about the topic on the internet. Do I follow this all the time? Of course not! But when it comes to the big stuff, I try. Maybe this is too limiting to you, and you’d only want to use a couple of these criteria. I think it’s a good direction, at least, in trying to reduce the noise of the internet. It gives you more time to listen, and to retweet/amplify other—more pertinent—voices.
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Today, the festival premiere of Revealer was announced! Revealer was created by some friends of mine. Written by famed comic book writers Tim Seeley and Michael Moreci, and directed by my best friend Luke Boyce. It’s coming to Panic Fest in Kansans City, MO if you’re around to check it out! I know at least Michael and Luke will be there it attendance as well.
I saw the very first cut of the movie way back when, and was hooked even then. I really think horror fans are going to dig the hell out of this movie. Revealer was filmed during the pandemic, with a clever set-up that turned the realities of trying to do that into a positive. I was privileged to get to see the final movie in a theater with the cast and crew (I do have a credit in the movie!) and it was a blast. Afterword, I joined everyone for dinner at the nearby Buffalo Wild Wings. And it was great to just chat with a group of creative people doing something they loved. And every bit of that shows on the screen. Don’t worry if you can’t see it at PanicFest. It should have other festival showings, and will be accessible by everyone before too long. More news on that soon.
The Book of Queer Saints
I’ve talked about this project from Mae Murray before, but it’s out now! I supported it on Kickstarter, but it’s available from Amazon right now. I just love the concept behind this anthology. A book all about pushing back against the notion that queer people can’t be the villains in a story any more. I submitted a story to it, and although I was bummed not to be chosen for it, I am so happy it exists and is getting so much support! At some point I plan to publish the story I submitted for it here. So keep a look out for that. It’s just slightly seasonal in tone so I’m trying to decide whether to just release it now or wait more for the correct season?
While I’m talking about books, if you’ve never read this newsletter before, just a reminder that I have a horror book of my own- ! If you’d like to order it in paperback, hardcover, or in ebook form:
Things I’ve Greatly Enjoyed
When We Cease to Understand The World - by Benjamín Labatut, Adrian Nathan West (Translator)
A beautifully told symphony of fact, fiction, awe, dread, quantum physics, madness, and genius. I ordered the UK version because US versions were so hard to find when it came out. It’s been showered with awards, and understandably so. I read it in a couple days while traveling in the car, and it was a strange sort of page turner. Labatut, as translated by West, has a way of threading together a wide array of topics that flows so well. Some fairly high-level scientific and mathematic topics are discussed in ways that I found very approachable. Best of all, they are woven into stories (that get more and more fictional as you go into the book, according to the author) that are both epic and personal.
When I wrote my last newsletter, I was one day away from seeing the fan premiere of The Batman. I had a strange relationship with the movie going into it. Batman (as a character) is what ignited my love of comics. The 89 movie was what turned me into a comic book obsessive, and I love that movie and Batman Returns dearly. But since then? To be honest, the cinematic Batmen haven’t done much for me. Batman Forever was fun at the time, but it hasn’t aged well for me. I almost walked out of Batman & Robin, although I appreciate its camp aspects more now, I suppose. The Nolan films didn’t quite ever feel right to me. I’m a huge Nolan fan in general. I haven’t seen Tenet yet, but every non-Batman movie he’s made I’ve enjoyed immensely… other than the very end of Interstellar, although I should really give that another chance some day. But something about his version of Batman felt so flat. And almost goofy.
So, as much as I am a fan of Matt Reeves (his Apes trilogy was the biggest, best cinematic surprise to me), I wasn’t sure I liked how much DNA his vision of Batman seemed to share with Nolan’s. I just wish we could get a Batman that was less realistic. I thought the batsuit looked great, and had no fears about Robert Pattinson after Lighthouse. But the villains seemed kind of boring design-wise. All of this is to say I was so wrong. I was not prepared for how much I loved the experience of watching The Batman and I’m annoyed I haven’t gotten back to the theater to watch it again. Every bit of casting was perfect. It was “realistic” in a heightened way, which ended up creating my favorite Batman movie since Batman 89. I thought the Penguin was genuinely hilarious. Zoe Kravitz’s Catwoman felt more like her comics counterpart than pretty much any other version, and although the Riddler was a pretty wild departure in some ways, he actually felt like the Riddler too. Also, the Batmobile is the scariest Batmobile ever. The scene it features in is burned into my brain.
I know, I know, I’m way late to the cultural conversation on this. I’m always a little wary of shows that get a lot of attention. I don’t know, I’ve been burned before with some subpar stuff people swore was brilliant. That wasn’t why it took me so long to get to the Squid Game. It was more just the logistics of watching shows with my partner. We tend to watch only a couple shows together at a time, and other things got in the way. I’m so happy with how genuinely brilliant, funny, scary, and interesting this show was. I’m kind of sad that Netflix shows get dumped all at once. I find there’s less chance to have real conversations and discussions with friends about them. Everyone is in a different place, and they can sort of glom together in one big mass in your memory.
And the artistry on display in Squid Game should be celebrated. The production design was gorgeous and horrifying. The costuming is, of course, already iconic. I found myself waiting in fascinated horror to see what the next game would be. Delighted when the show threw away my expectations with episode 2. And then felt the gut punch when the VIPs entered the show and I realized that a certain level of the experience of the show was reflected in their enjoyment of the proceedings. Just great, great stuff. The technical craft of the writing really knocked my socks off. There are so many ways the show could have gone off the rails. If there’s one thing I didn’t love, it was the ending. I don’t want to say much about it for those who haven’t seen it yet, but let’s just say I was hoping this was a one and done series. But, as most people already know, it is getting a season 2. That being said, the writers certainly earned my trust, so I’ll be reservedly excited to see where the story goes.
Scenes from Gay Domesticity
True snippets of my life with my partner.
Master of my Universe / February 17, 2022
Me: “I HAVE THE POWERRRRRR!!”
Paul: “That was pretty good!”
Me: “I’ve been practicing since I was 5!”
(Sorry, you get no context. I’ve already forgotten it. Probably watching the new season of He-man on Netflix or something.)
Until Next Time…
I hope the month of April brings you more than just showers. I’ll be back next month with more thoughts… and I’d say it’s about time for another short fiction burst too!