I have the expectation that when I want to say something, people will listen.
I have that expectation because for the large majority of my life that is what’s happened. When I was a child, I could expect to be listened to by teachers and by others because I was clever and good with words. When I was in high school and college I was That Guy Who Wrote Things, who was encouraged by educators to get my words out there and given spaces where others would read my words and react to them.
When I left college, my first job was as a critic and a commentator — literally someone who is paid to tell people what he thinks. I’ve been paid to be a critic or commentator almost without interruption for twenty years. I started a blog just before they became a thing and have benefited from 13 years of growing an audience and being linked to by others. On any given day, tens of thousands of people drop by to see what I’m blathering about now, and occasionally (like the last couple of days) rather more people visit than that.
Just short of seven years ago now I became a successful novelist and a (very) minor celebrity; one of the side effects of this peculiar status is that now there are people who are interested in what I have to say because I’m me.
At this point in my life, me speaking and being heard are expected enough that when I don’t speak, people wonder why. If I take a day off from the blog without telling people I’m doing so, I get concerned e-mails asking me if everything’s okay. Speaking and having what I’ve said being heard is my default state. It pretty much always has been.
Certainly some of this is by design, and effort on my part — I’ve used my skills to raise my voice because I like being heard. But then again, come on, who doesn’t? Who doesn’t want to be able to have the option, when they choose to speak, of having those around them pay attention and take them seriously? There are also other things at play here, the things I get for free.
Like what? Well, like luck, which I have very recently essayed in terms of how it’s affected my life and career. Riding the wave of the blog revolution back in the day, and having my fiction career take off in the manner it has certainly expanded my ability to say what I want to say and get it out into the world. Being in the right place at the right time does wonders.
And, why, yes, as it happens, so does being a well-off straight white male. Yes! I know! Still! Amazing. Many in the Straight White Male community like to roll their eyes and get affronted whenever it’s suggested that being these things continues to confer an unearned benefit, but, well. I think the rest of us know better. Speaking as a well-off straight white male, what it means is that when I speak, and people run through their checklist of Default Reasons to Ignore Me, they can’t cross off any of the usual boxes. That’s helpful.
(But, but, but — there are women and minorities and gays and maybe even poor people who get heard too, you know! Indeed there are. Generally speaking, I don’t have to work as hard for it as they do, and I don’t get nearly the amount of crap they get for doing it. Life’s not fair, and sometimes the “not fair” aspect bends in one’s favor. This is how it works for me.)
Being heard is usually beneficial, but it does have a flipside: When one shows one’s ass, that ass is seen from a long way off. This seems fair to me, although speaking from experience it’s no fun when it happens. What one hopes to learn from such events is that being heard comes, if not with responsibilities, then at least with consequences. If you’re lucky, what you take away from the experience of showing your ass is an understanding that what you say matters in one way or another. Therefore it’s worth making the effort to say it right and to try to know a bit on what you’re talking about, or be upfront about what you don’t know.
If you’re not lucky, what you take away from events like that is that some people just can’t take a joke and should really lighten up. Here’s a pro tip: When you say “It’s just a joke, lighten up,” it’s understood by the rest of the world as you saying “I’m almost certainly being an asshole right now.”
I like being heard when I have something to say, even when what I have to say is “look, this is my cat.” I recognize that this ability I have is partially earned though my own effort, but was also partially given to me by things and events I don’t control. I acknowledge the fact of what’s unearned and work on the things I do control, and I give thought to what I say because at the end of the day, what I say is how most people know me. I’m thankful to be heard. I try to be worth listening to.