Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Epistolary Response - A Love Letter to Anonymous, The Reader

Dear Anonymous:

Thank you for commenting on my blog.  I appreciate the feedback, for it is every writer’s deepest, darkest fear that our words—be they charged with Nabokovian pyrotechnics, or laden and gravity-bound with my own utilitarian linguistic dead weight—will fail to find readership, and that we, as writers, are somehow and forever remanded to inhabit that 3AM of the soul of truly anonymous literary toil.  Writers, even lowly bloggers like myself, have proven remarkably deft at propagating the self-mythologizing persona of the “lone wolf,” whose own elaborate pose of self-exile is meticulously calibrated to render us impervious to the slings and arrows of the outside world.  But really, we are just like everyone else—seeking the acceptance of our peers, while courting approval from a most-fickle followership the way a Labrador retriever begs for a pat on the head.

We crave your attention.  Really we do.

So imagine my delight when I discover a reader’s comment in my Inbox, be that comment positive, as most are, or negative, as some, like your own, inevitably must be (and sadly tantamount to graffiti sprayed across binary walls by reader’s red right hand).  Good or bad, reader remarks offer the writer, this writer, any writer, what he craves most:  tangible evidence that his words have not only found a reader, but carried sufficient literary potency to elicit a response.

With that admission, however, comes the secret confession that writers (bloggers and blog editors, especially) are strongly cautioned not to read reader feedback, lest we too quickly indulge the impulse to take credit for the intellectual prowess on parade in our own work, or, as is more often the case, to satisfy the craving to tell a reader to go fuck himself for the thought-crime of getting it wrong, as was my first impulse when I first read your remarks.  But we can’t help it.  We are helpless when it comes to this.  Reader comments are like crack; our compulsion to devour them is without defense.

Your own comment on my work is brief, but it manages, in just three, terse, pucker-mouthed little sentences, to get nearly everything about what I was trying to convey in this (and all of my blog posts about the cultural significance of American street food) utterly, if beautifully, wrong.  Ordinarily, I’d take feedback like this on the chin; I’d take my lumps, deserved or not, and move on, for even the poorest of readers—those literalists demonstrably inept at detecting any trace of irony or self-deprecating humor afoot in text or subtext—are still readers, nevertheless.  But your feedback is somehow different.  It’s wrong in a way that begs redress.  So please allow me the courtesy of apologizing (in etymologically Greek sense of the word) for my post by explaining what I was trying to get across.

[Read the original post to which Anonymous has responded by clicking here:  Manifesto: Mr. Anthony: Grillmaster]

Sentence One:  This is poorly written

The dirty little secret about food, as a subject, is this:  it’s boring.  What drives any narrative—real or imaginary—is conflict, and there’s usually precious little of that when describing most any meal served outside a professional kitchen, be it fare worthy of Michelin stars, or grilled meat served in a styrofoam clamshell on the side of the road.  Worse, yet, for the food writer is the undeniable fact that the language fails its subject.  English is famously inadequate and bereft of words for describing food and sex.  Just as the pornographer trying to meet his deadline for Penthouse Letters must resort to calling a penis a shaft or rod or cock, the food writer must overreach by turning delicious into unctuous, and by turning a prepared dish from merely good into something sublime.  My writing on Mr. Anthony is hardly Shakespeare, I’ll grant you that.  It takes too-liberal grammatical license in its use of sentence fragments—lots and lots of those—in an albeit sophomoric attempt to subvert, even defeat, the then-prevailing, all-too-banal tonality of food writing, by coming off (or not) as street-smart and edgy.  It’s also hyperbolic, over-testosteroned, and too-cool-for-school, and while it might fail—even greatly—as a piece of food writing, the prose, as a whole, is emphatically not poor.  But of course, your second and third sentences below are about to fail to support your topic sentence.  But the grammarian in you already knew that, didn’t you?

I digress.

Sentence Two:  This is far beyond an inaccurate representation of the neighborhood, but it’s completely filled with jargon and racist undertone.

This first:  fuck you for calling me a racist.  Post after post, my blog ridicules white privilege and mocks white people’s (of which I am most fixedly one) often-silly hang-ups and conceits about food cultivation and consumption (notice the piece in question is largely an exercise in self-effacement, laughing, at I do, at my insistence on peppering Mr. Anthony with truly idiotic questions about, say, his “sourcing”).  Post after post, I attempt to creating narrative tension by putting myself in situations that most VW-driving, yoga-pant-wearing, latte-sipping white people would find uncomfortable, because—let’s face it—much of white privilege is based on the exclusion of brown people.

The neighborhood you so rightly defend is a nice place filled with truly wonderful people.  But before its recent “discovery” and subsequent gentrification by a veritable conquering army of white people (and the resulting diaspora of brown people fleeing the suddenly way-too-high rent) it was a deeply troubled area that I, through my own work in the food business, came to know well, and where, after work, for instance, I once caught a man trying to pry the windshield off my car (a VW, no less) to sell for parts.  And as for my racist “jargon,” I call Mr. Anthony an “oracle,” and myself an “acolyte.”  Let me break this down for you:  an oracle is Latin in derivation and is defined as a holy person, a high priest, who tells of the future by speaking on behalf of divine agency.  In other words, an oracle talks to god.  High praise to be sure.  An “acolyte,” (what I’ve called myself in the piece) is Greek in derivation, and means attendant.  My “jargon” well suggests that I consider Mr. Anthony is superior to me in most every way.  More simply put:  Mr. Anthony is really, really good.  Me:  not so much.  This language, my “jargon,” as you put it, fails, and miserably so, to meet any qualifying standard for hate-speech, or racist patois.  Sorry about that.  It just doesn’t. 

Every writer’s creed is to never let the truth stand in the way of a good story, and while I gleefully exaggerated the perceived risks and dangers of Mr. Anthony’s neighborhood, calling it “the Compton of Northern Virginia” is laughably, absurdly correlative.  The comparison would (and does) suggest that I’m trying to be funny.  I’m making a joke.  I’m trying to make you laugh.  Really I am.

Sentence Three:  I understand you’re only a blogger, but please try and have some consideration and unbiased posts when you’re discussing people and the communities involved.

Congratulations, Anonymous.  You’ve just scored a hit, a very palpable hit.  That one hurt.  You’re right:  I am “only” a blogger, the proverbial red headed stepchild of the publishing world, and the literary equivalent of the pimple-faced teenager, knock-kneed and rawboned, with an Adam’s apple two sizes two big for my throat, with whom none of the pretty girls at the high school prom will dance.  No one pays me to write.  As “only” a blogger, I sit alone in a quiet room and write about food I’ve already eaten.  I do this for my own amusement.  I do this for free.  It’s sad, I know.  But as “only” a blogger, I am also unfettered by corporate concerns, unshackled from the interests of advertisers (my whole proto-Marxist shtick should have hipped you to that, yo), and I can write whatever I well fucking please in a continued and deeply earnest attempt to celebrate, even champion, area purveyors of street food—most of them brown skinned, some of them operating outside the law—whom my “bias” and years in the food industry deems worthy of calling to the public’s attention.  This “mission” of mine comes with a sense of responsibility I don’t take lightly, and I fully understand that this medium (with me in it) has the power to change people’s lives for a day, a week, forever.  Over the last two years, I’ve been lucky enough to receive notes of thanks from local cooks who’ve enjoyed that rare and sudden post-blog surge in sales and buzz after being the subject of one of my posts.  For that reason, and because I know the world is watching, I have only rarely—if ever—publish negative or unfavorable reviews about any of the journeymen food purveyors I profile.  Bad experiences go unrecorded, lost to the ages, and hidden beyond the reach of any binary perpetuity.  And while the tone of my blog might often be snarky, the words I choose are—and will remain—unfailingly nice.

Ordinarily, I consider the reader comments section the preferred habitat of the feckless fuck.  Who else would anonymously disparage the work of an otherwise well-meaning writer, who is, indeed, “only” a blogger?  But my initial anger at you for your profoundly myopic and misguided reading of my work (not to mention that your ham-fisted, limp-dicked, coming-at-you-sideways accusation of racism really pissed me off) has given way to something else, a different emotion entirely.  My anger has transmogrified into gratitude, for you, Anonymous, have given your “only a blogger” pal, the greatest gift a reader could give:  you’ve given me something to write about, and for that, I am grateful.

Some parting advice:  if you really do get your ya-ya’s out by posting anonymous content on blog posts that are already two years old, and if you really get your rocks off by namelessly, facelessly shitting on someone else's honest work, I’ve got the place for you.  All of your friends are there already.  Check it out.

It’s called Yelp.

I know you’ll like it.

They say it’s warm there.

Take care.

Your Blogger Pal,