One of the first things I noticed when I quit my job was that that the paychecks stopped coming in. Although ready to leave the daily grind, it is fair to say I didn’t fully appreciate the consequences. The old “Me and Bobby McGee” ballad comes to mind: “Nothin’ ain’t worth nothing, but it’s free.”
And so there I was, grubbing around for a few bucks to pay the bills. I wasn’t allowed to read news anymore so I decided to write. But earning an income from writing is a sometimes thing. Few do it well. There are thousands of authors writing books, most of which go unread. You’ve probably bought books that didn’t deserve it. And yes, I’ve written books that shouldn’t have been. They are stored in my attic.
A writer has many things to consider. He can have something to say, he can say nothing well, or he can mix the two, which is the better way to go. The Sermon on the Mount and Gettysburg Address are two examples of endurance that owe much of their success to brevity. If either Abe or Jesus had rambled on we might have dozed off.
Then I found Twitter, and although it paid nothing, it provided an outlet for quirky if shallow composition that enabled me to avoid the discipline of really writing something. The restriction of 140 characters is a great deterrent to endless babbling. Or is it? For the most part, tweets are a mindless stream of nonthoughts. There are entirely too many teenagers who have absolutely nothing to say but insist on saying it anyway. After all, they have iPhones. It would be a shame not to use them.
A few profound people are on Twitter. Some of them don’t follow anybody, they just post their stuff. We read them because their thoughts are worthy.
But most of us are vain. We crave attention. Performers demand it, indeed live or die by it. Tweeters have an instant audience because they can talk to the world, imagining the world is listening. Some of them are yelling in a canyon, basking in the nonexistent echo. But the need for recognition is much deeper than that. Bricklayers are proud of their work and appreciate someone’s appreciating it. The work of a bricklayer is very important because bricks stick together forever. Besides, they have a function. Bricks are good. We like bricks. After the bricklayer is dead and gone, his work lives on. I think bricklayers should sign their work, a corner brick or something that says Pete Moss laid these damn bricks … every one of them. I’m gone now, but look what I did.
There’s no mortar in cyberspace. A tweet flickers around the world in a second, then is seen no more. A re-tweet makes it flicker again, but then it disappears into nothingness. Out, out brief shadow … life is but a … oh, never mind. Someone needs to come up with a way to make rare Tweets last longer. Cavemen did it. Hieroglyphics in the ancient world endure forever, or at least until they’re destroyed by the Taliban or other such idiots. If a tweet says something worth holding onto, it should be held onto. But alas, few of us have the talent to create such things. We only imagine otherwise.
There are some things that are useless but last forever. Bad ideas endure simply because there are so many of them. We keep re-electing the candidates who thrive on them. And this year there’s no shortage. Religions (other than yours, of course) last forever because a made-up mind is rarely changed. Not worth fooling with.
In conclusion, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” Most young people never heard of Howard Baker. But they’ve probably been exposed to his most famous Tweet. My advice to anyone who wants our attention is this: Say what you have to say, and then shut up. If it’s important and you say it well, it will hang around.
Otherwise, forget it. Because we will. S
Gene Cox is an author and inventor who recently retired from a 35-year career as a television anchor in Richmond. Connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at genecoxrva.