Sorry I Haven’t Posted

I recently stumbled across an online art project (found here) called Sorry I Haven’t Posted: Inspiring Apologies From Today’s World Wide Web. A young artist, Cory Arcangel, lifts blog posts with the phrase “sorry I haven’t posted” and presents them as a cultural cross section, posting a new (borrowed) post every week or so. I thought perusing them would be funny—if not rife with story ideas—but it got me thinking: Who are they addressing? And what makes them worth the trouble?

Like a journal entry, the blog form assumes that there is an audience; however, while the journal is addressed to a future self, the blog is addressed to the entire world, going as far as to assume that, not only will someone read the post, but that the reader will be an active participant. Take, for instance, the comment box. Or consider that many blog posts end with a question. In any case, a blogger has a very intimate relationship to his or her readers—so much in fact that they feel compelled to apologize whenever they miss a few days of posting.

In a way, the pressure that bloggers feel was anticipated by creative writing programs; if the MFA has no other value, it would be enough that it provides an audience for student work. The pressure that audience provides, along with a few deadlines, gets the writers writing. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, while I sit here at my desk, banging my head against the wall—trying to squeeze something out of my aging MacBook, which may or may not have anything left to give. And there’s no illusion about the imaginary nature of my audience. They won’t exist for a long time, if ever. How terrifying to think, that even the contrived MFA audience will be gone, come spring.

This is what makes the Sorry I Haven’t Posted blog so depressing. A lot of these people have no audience. They are chronicling diets, or cooking escapades, or social anxieties, or simply recounting the events of their days. And very few people are listening. But it seems to me like a form of insanity, one that has become quite popular these days with the rise of social media—the compulsive telling of one’s own story to an often imaginary audience. This compulsion used to be safe, when it was restricted to the privacy of a journal or letters but now that this compulsion has become readily available, there’s a dangerous amount of crossover between the insanity required to be a writer and the insanity required to be a person.

As fiction writers, we are often dissuaded from directly addressing the audience in our stories. It knocks the reader out of the story, reminding them that the fictional dream is just that, fictional. Of course, the reader knew they were picking up a work of fiction before they started, but that is the tight rope we walk. How can we facilitate the reader’s imagination without alerting them to the fact that we are there, at every turn, manipulating the world they’re dreaming? They promise to pretend our story is real, if we keep our promise to pretend we don’t exist.

Which is insane, and that’s fine because no one asked us to be writers.

The trouble is, there’s a lot of pressure to broadcast ourselves these days—so we do. But when we blog or use social media sites we are writing into a void—universal access, which breeds universal isolation—so we invent an audience for ourselves. The solution can’t be to get actual people to read our blogs because, whether the reader is real or imagined, the audience that social media formats address is constructed by the writer, as a conversational foil.

Which is also insane.

Though, as writers, perhaps we should consider inviting some of this imaginary pressure into our process. Thinking more about an audience—perhaps one that expects and eventually demands something from us. One that makes us feel guilty when we have nothing to show for the hours spent staring at the screen.

But perhaps we’d find ourselves in the bloggers’ predicament—compelled, not to write, but to excuse our absence. Because if you are going to invent an audience, why not make them wait? Let them know you’re worth it.  

I promise to try harder, you’d tell them. If you promise to listen.

5 Comments

  • eddie says:

    It’s funny, I feel like the other end of the spectrum needs some addressing as well. What about those sites like TheRumpus or Apartment Therapy or even Lifehacker.com who, according to my google reader have about 70-100 new posts since I last checked? I’m not going to read all of them. I feel like they need to apologize for posting so goddamn much. It’s worse than making me wait, it’s like forcing me to sift through shit. But based on the amount of views these sites get, you’ve gotta wonder, if only you churned out post after post, of sub-par material, would you be fulfilled?

    But maybe I compare apples to oranges here, personal blogs or fictions or whatever are a completely different animal, compared to the above sites, who maybe aim for add revenue.. or wheteverrr.

  • Laura says:

    I think a lot of bloggers go into it hoping they will find an audience and be able to make money. There are personal bloggers out there who have tons of sponsors and have managed to make a small living off of their blogs, and a lot of it really is just posting about their personal lives, though it seems the really successful ones also have some sort of relation to fashion or design. A Cup of Jo (joannnagoddard.blogspot.com) has 26,916 followers and a lot of what she posts is just, “isn’t this cute?”. I found her because I wanted info on how to become a magazine writer and googled “magazine writer” and there she was… but then I found myself strangely sucked in if only because she has really cute taste. Also, her husband and child are incredibly photogenic and her life looks all smooth and glossy; she’s a skinny New York mom on the go. I think a lot of bloggers try to enter themselves into the popularity contest and lose, but find themselves strung along with this eternal hope that one day they’ll check their stats and see they’re the most popular blog in the world. Maybe they’re promising to try harder because they don’t want readers to stumble upon the site and dismiss them without getting to see what wonderful blogging they can do. We’ve developed a way to be rejected not just by the people in our own communities, but every single person in the world.

  • Sam Ligon Sam Ligon says:

    Lots of great stuff here. Love the comments on insanity and pretending not to exist. I have one question. You write: “[P]erhaps we should consider inviting some of this imaginary pressure into our process. Thinking more about an audience—perhaps one that expects and eventually demands something from us. One that makes us feel guilty when we have nothing to show for the hours spent staring at the screen.”

    My question: Don’t you already feel guilty — when you have nothing to show for the hours you spend working or not working, for the days you don’t do enough or the days that don’t go well enough or the days that go okay or the moments not spent thinking about the work? Could an imagined audience possibly make you feel more guilty than you already make yourself feel as a writer? I think the audience you already consider — yourself — will generate enough guilt to motivate, if that’s the right word.

  • Leyna Krow says:

    Oh wow. Great post, Michael. I feel like this cuts to the core of a lot of my MFA anxieties as well…and writing anxieties in general.

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