“ ‘I’ve been here 26 years and I can’t remember another exhibit that had a sustained heavy attendance over a period of a year like this one has,’ said Mr. Ackerman, noting that more than 350,000 people have visited. ‘It’s been a surprise blockbuster for us.’ He said he knows of only a handful of detractors asking why the museum wasn’t showing Christian cultures instead.”
[…] Here in my spheres of the Internet, it’s funny how everyone shares this idea that WRITING = fantasy and science fiction, that WRITERS are people who get loads of money to publish their space elf stories. I think we all found each other here and now because we share these roots of being The Bookish Children, who aspired to be Tolkien or Adams when we grew up, and I think that’s great, and I’m so glad we share all this.
It’s weird, though, how our Writing About Writing then tends to be about fiction. And fiction is such a strange market, a really weird beast. I think that a lot of this post applies to fiction writers in a particularly toxic and demoralizing way but it’s also very true in nonfiction writing.
As a kid you have all of these… IDEAS about nonfiction writing. That your textbooks and news stories and magazines and adventures and dictionaries and everything are prepared lovingly and truthfully by experts. Edited and approved by some great authority. It isn’t Authors or Writers who create this stuff; you don’t want to grow up to be them; they are oracles, not celebrities. There is still this perception that nonfiction is handed down benevolently, like stone tablets from God.
And the truth of it is that nonfiction is handed down by whoever met the deadline first. These were generally not The Bookish Children whose Daydreams Finally Took Fruitful Wing. These were the ones who believed Terry Pratchett when he said “If you trust in yourself…and believe in your dreams…and follow your star…you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.”
The truth is, natural talent attracts a certain magician’s-flair attention, but that the Content Machine is starving, and it gobbles up sparkly cupcakes just as fast as it gobbles up plain bread. The news cycle turns over. Nobody’s reading it carefully, thinking of the children, setting words to flake and texture against each other just so. They’re thinking of Wednesday. They’re afraid they’re about to be found out as Mediocre, and if they miss another deadline they will get the Raised Eyebrow.
Talent is a pony you can ride for 3000 words, but when your job is 10,000 words a week then you need a fuckin trained warhorse that puts its head down and carries you stolidly through a battlefield of distractions and doesn’t listen when you try to steer it otherwise.
So you get this dichotomy in Writing about Writing, where in Fiction Writing you’re encouraged to build an elaborate fairy grotto and arrange the correct pencils in pretty Mason jars to attract the attentions of a Muse, and then do a bit of performance art where you try to market yourself while also being very humble and modest - it’s not very evidence-based, is it? And in Nonfiction it’s just THROW WORDS AT THE PAGE UNTIL THEY STICK! THROW WORDS AT THE WALL - THROW WORDS AT YOUR MOTHER. THROW YOUR MOTHER AT THE WALL. FUCK FUCK BALLS THEY’RE SLIDING OFF!! FUCK HAND ME THAT CONCLUSION WE’LL NAIL IT INTO PLACE AND PAINT OVER IT AND IT’LL KIND OF… CRUST OVER. THIS IS CRAP, IT’S THE WORST THING I’VE EVER MADE, SEND THE FUCKER OUT THERE YES GOOD DONE.
And the Nonfiction gets written, every damn day, thousands of words, filling up the Internet, bringing the news, coming through the radio, teaching the children, adorning the museums, educating the people, telling the truth, selling the product - it gets out there. But don’t think it isn’t creative, powerful, coming from some essential source - its pedigree is just as potent as fiction’s. This post may be terrible, but it has warhorses and cupcakes and all sorts of strange and alarming imagery. And most of nonfiction writing isn’t good. Most of it is workhorse, mediocre, bringing the truth to your mouth - some of it’s terrible. This certainly is.
And you didn’t notice. You noticed it was there.
Maybe try writing fiction like you’re writing nonfiction. Maybe it will help.
Dear Mother Who Lets Her Kid Crap Wherever He Wants,
Potty training is a thing, do it.
Let me paint y'all a picture. At my children’s museum we have this two story, out door climber.
So one day I’m minding my own business when an irate mother rushes over, clutching onto her sobbing child who is literally covered in crap. After we calm her down, we come to find out that the crap isn’t her child’s, but someone else’s. Someone else’s EIGHT YEAR OLD CHILD who had apparently decided to midway through climbing up our climber pull down his shorts and take a crap right then and there. So my coworker and I rush outside, and by now more than one child has happened upon the crap and it’s literally everywhere. BTW, the parents or the poop monster child are no where to be found. So we quickly close down the outside, help at least 5 kids clean up, and then hose down and disinfect EVERY outdoor item because we have no idea what has been contaminated.
½ an hour after we finish cleaning up, the child’s mother walks over to talk to us. And instead of apologizing, she informed us that she didn’t tell us what happened because she didn’t want to embarrass her son who apparently gets upset if she tells someone he had an accident. Yeah, let that one sink in. She would have rather put kids at risk for getting sick from her child’s crap, cause us to close down an entire exhibit, then to come tell us her kid had an accident.
Then, she just floats away like it’s no big deal.
Listen lady, put a fricking pull up on your grown ass child, or teach him to use the toilet. But for crying out loud, stop letting him crap wherever he wants. The world is not his bathroom.
Okay, so I work at a children’s museum and one of our “exhibits” is an art room. Now, like everything in the museum, the art room is hands on. We have your standard markers and paper, some cutting crafts, and a few face paints. But the real cream of the crop is the TWELVE cups of paint that we have. And not like nice, watercolor paints. I’m talking if this crap dries it will leave a lovely little stain wherever it splattered kind of paint.
So one day I’m cleaning up the art room after a field trip of over 150 kids, kill me, and this mom walks in with her toddler. Now mind you, I’ve just spent the past 3 hours with screaming elementary school children destroying every room in the museum so I look like a hot mess and am on the verge of tears.
Anyways, this mom walks in, sets her baby on the ground, and proceeds to place cups of paint around him so he can finger paint on a piece of paper on the ground. Then she sits down and stares at her phone. Now, in my lovely museum we are not allowed to tell parents/kids how to behave, we just have to wait to clean up the disaster after it happens. And what do you know, the lovely darling figured out how to unscrew one of the lids to the paint cups and dumps the entirety of its contents onto himself and the floor. The lovely floor I had just cleaned that will now be stained for all eternity. And as he’s smacking his hands about and smearing it everywhere, his mother finally looks up from her phone, sees the mess, and then turns to me and starts yelling at me for not paying attention to her child. I’m just standing there like, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I was your child’s babysitter. And as her tirade continues, first for 5 minutes, then for 10, about how incompetent I am, and how she should be compensated for her child’s ruined outfit, and blah blah blah something in me snaps, and I just turn and walk out of the room. (Probably not the best thing to do but honestly it was either that or like start crying.)
Long story short, the woman gets refunded her entry price, I get written up, and sometimes parents are the freaking worst.