The writer who taught me to be weird

He helped me stay serious.

The writer who taught me to be weird

Of all the declarations I saw and heard in 2021, this one has been my favourite piece of advice:

"If You Want to Make It As a Writer, For God's Sakes, Be Weird"

That's from Freddie DeBoer, who is a talented writer, a self-described Marxist, and my parasocial weirdness coach.

In his writing, Freddie often notices and points out a certain behaviour that he can't stand. I can't stand it either. It's the demotion of earnest or serious voices in the social media activity of some journalists and writers.

Here is a solid quote from Freddie, in the article linked above, where he gives us some context:

[F]or a long time now media has been overtaken by a cult of expression which forbids any style or mode other than contemptuous blank irony.

It is remarkable how uniform and homogenous the style of writing is on Twitter, which is where media culture is defined.

It seemingly hasn’t evolved in a decade. Condescending, sarcastic, amused that you would think to say something so dumb, endlessly superior, contemptuous of all sincere values except the one being used as a bludgeon in the fight at hand. Absurdist in an entirely prescriptive way, novel in a tired way, funny in a humorless way.

And here's how Freddie positions himself against the style:

If I was a young writer who wanted to make my mark, I would be serious all the time. I would take myself seriously. I would take my work seriously. I would take my audience seriously. I would not wrap every thought I had in mental air quotes.

I see the mental air quotes too in the world of music.

There's a type of Gen-X artist who writes their whole bio, on their website, in the style of self-deprecating humour. Was this a funny thing to do in some past decade?

That's using mental air quotes to prevent seriousness — the importance of never being earnest.

But you're reading, and I'm on the quest for money and wisdom in music. On it indeed, like the good drug it is.

Freddie makes money from writing. He doesn't get it from me yet, not until I can afford anything again, let alone that type of glorious discretion.

I've got one more quote — a long multi-quote — from Freddie. It's about making money as a writer:

Almost nobody is making real money in this.

Old school shoe leather reporters, if you can find them, aren’t making money.

Idealistic young striving writers who hope their digital-only gifticle publications are just a pit stop aren’t making money [...]

33 year olds who follow Tik Tok trends for a living and communicate in slang that’s fifteen years too young for them aren’t making money [...]

Sports bloggers who provide sports news and commentary but with attitude aren’t making money [...]

Aspiring young data scientists who labor over their spreadsheets for hours only to see others copy and past their R graphs without attribution and receive 40x the pageviews aren’t making money. And you won’t either. But you might be able to pay the rent.

(If you want to see the lines I cut for brevity from the quote, read the article.)

My takeaway from all this is: none of it matters unless you're weird enough to be remembered. That's what I have learned from Freddie.

Thinking about what I will do music-wise in 2022....

I used to just want acceptance from my old community, to know that I had one or two bridges unburned. And I could go to the 4-5 jazz venues in town, then the festival, and join the folks in the clique again.

But what I really want is to solve for a career.

I've felt ashamed for wanting to strive toward one of those, when my friends always had other motivations. Working seriously seemed so impossible and uncool.

But I, more lost than ever, am too weird to care about the mental air quotes that my friends put around their gigs, albums, and posts. Let me push up to the limit of my potential or bust. Let me seek prosperity or give me 9-to-5 — no halfways.

Merry Christmas!