Saturday, April 10, 2010

Out of the Official Professional Narrative Showcase: True Secrets of Obamacare

Man, writing about yourself: easy as hell. I didn't know this was even possible, but I think I now have less respect for the Eat Pray Love lady. While I know this website exists largely for the purpose of delivering the majesty of my prose to those who want more of it -- that and the dog videos and maybe eventually me linking to other things I like -- the ease with which I'm able to slip into self-biographizing Actors Studio mode is enough to make me kind of uncomfortable. If it's this easy, it can't possibly be valuable, right?

Right. I know. But also, if I might desperately justify my literary/dudular narcissism for just a moment, a lot of the writing that I've done and some of the writing that I am most proud of took place outside of the master professional narrative that this site is supposed to advance. I have my ambivalences about the freelance lifestyle -- which I'll doubtless explore in a later post/journey deeper into my own navel -- but while this is the (totally faulty) model through which I've pursued a living over the last couple of years, writing is also the thing I enjoy most and am best at. And I do occasionally do it for reasons other than Getting That Money. So during the long intervals between advising of actual in-the-narrative publishing credits, I'll try to add some depth to this professional self-portrait by highlighting some of the off-topic writing I've done for reasons other than rent-paying. Probably the most egregiously non-professional of these was True Secrets of Obamacare, a short-lived satirical blog thing that's about just what it sounds like, and which I wrote under the name "Publius."

I did all this in the month or so before I got married, back in August and early September of 2009. Since the discourse has now totally returned to its normal civil, information-based self, it's tough to remember that it was just eight or so months ago when seemingly every ill-informed, terrified human being in the United States was showing up at Q&A sessions with their congressperson and just spittling out a bunch of ridiculous rageful bullshit about Hitler's individual mandate and state-sponsored euthenasia and why-do-you-support-a-bill-that-will-force-me-to-get-my-appendix-removed-by-illegal-immigrant-lesbian-moms-when-that-is-not-in-the-constitution-at-all. Thankfully, what looked then to be a rising tide of heroically misinformed, nightmarishly aggrieved, potentially violent caucasian dudes has receded, and the nation has come together in acknowledgment that -- in health care at least -- the status quo is untenable enough that even the feeble-ish compromise bill we actually got will almost certainly represent a massive improvement. So in that sense, looking back at my attempts at comic mimicry of last summer's sad, crazed discourse is almost like reading science fiction.

Excellent, glad that's over.

I stopped writing True Secrets of Obamacare for two reasons. One of them was that, as I mentioned earlier, I was getting married -- the anxiety over that was probably part of why I started doing it in the first place, but the commitment of emotional energy and time required (totally reasonably) distracted me from continuing to write goofy, in-character point-missing screeds about imaginary elements of the health care bill. This is not the only bit of perspective that marriage has given me, but it counts.

The other reason I stopped is that it was a masochistic sort of fun, and thus sort of both masochistic and not-fun. I think it's obvious that I'm enjoying myself in the better posts -- I like this one and this one and this one -- and did write some funny enough stuff in the persona of the blog's super-paranoid proto-tea party author. Looking back at it (again with the meta-narcissism), I was even apparently having fun after stopped finding the whole debate amusing anymore, but the nastier and dumber things got, the harder it became for me to make jokes about it. What started out as a way to exorcise my nausea and sadness at the idiotic rancor of the national conversation became more and more like simply soaking in all that stuff and then spraying it, inna drying-off-sheepdog stylee, all over whoever was reading.

There's a gene that certain writers have -- Bob Somerby and screechy Glenn Greenwald at Salon and all the perfervid Daily Kos commenter folk -- that enables them to exist in a perpetual ecstasy of exasperated enragement, and there are times when I want to join them there... as a reader. As a citizen who (check this out) loves America, of course, I've got my concerns about just how dumb, dishonest and irresponsible our discourse can get before our democracy will become unworkable; before the culture eats itself diabetic and bedridden on a diet of fervent, irrational, narcissism-flattering intellectual junk food. I still worry about that.

But at some point I just ran out of ways to make jokes about the national trend of ignorant populism-without-the-populism still being peddled without conscience by actual existing monsters and consumed without insight by people eager to have ugly urges indulged. It hasn't stopped striking me as worrying, and alternately frightening and sad. I just am not sure I want to write jokes about it every day. Or at least I don't want to do it for free. If the Daily Show wants me, my email address is up there on the right, I guess. I can only hope antidepressants are covered by their health plan. Or scotch, I guess. I'd take scotch instead.

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