“WHEN do we get to read Letters to Humanity???”
Recently introduced to autofiction, a hybrid genre of autobiographical fiction, and direly in need of CONTENT for my author website and social media “platform” (if a digital popsicle stick can indeed be considered a platform,) I resolved for my summer Work In Progress (WIP) to write a series of letters to 100 people for serial release starting this fall (i.e., now) and titled Letters to Humanity. Some obvious choices: my family, of course. Schoolyard bullies, of which there were many. Old lovers and mortal enemies. A fun experiment AND weekly content!
It all started out promisingly enough, a couple of good zingers for villains of my past, but I realized early on I didn’t have 100 people to whom I’d left things unsaid. Many of the 50-odd people on the list weren’t even from my life but from the media - after all who wouldn’t like to give a Trump or a Putin or some other super-schmuck a piece of their mind?
As the missives wore on, it soon became clear something was missing, and I think I know what it was: Art.
Recently I began to see a backlash to Content, which many in social media will continue to swear by but has begun to feel like fancy wrapping for something ultimately very simple, but also very difficult to produce: Creative WORK.
You know the feeling: the gorgeous gold logo on the gorgeous handled bag in robin’s egg blue, the gossamer tissue paper lovingly wrapped around the crisp blue box— another logo!—and the draw-string velvet bag inside the box, revealing at last as you are practically panting with excitement: a T-shirt! With the logo of the store where your gift was purchased! Hey, gee. Thanks.
Yes, Content is apparently just like that, the online equivalent of buying “books by the foot”—creativity tortured into clicks, not an end in itself, not a meal so to speak, but more like a delicious dish broken down into its constituent ingredients, sold at the same Michelin-star price as the ground-breaking concoction, but piecemeal for people who are not yet convinced they really like or care about culinary foams, or kale.
Experiments are never a failure if we learn from them. I learned the petty grievances of my life are, all these years later, usually just that: petty.
In the process of packaging up those simple little incendiaries letter by letter, I was burning through the ingredients I would need later for the real dishes of my writing: Characters! Conflict! Tension! Emotion! Because that’s the real payoff of art and creativity: turning our humdrum and tragic particulars alike into a wider pattern, more universal than a “4 min read” between stations on the subway of life.
And so we gently simmer, let the flavors mellow, and bid RIP to the WIP in which I learned that unrefined resentments are really pretty bland, even when tied up with a bow.