The Discrete Shudder of A Twittering WASP: Philippe Petit, Limestone Cliffs, and R. W. Emerson

Before writing my first novel As It Is On Earth, I did not have a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a Blog, or a website that relied on me as the “Admin.”  I scoffed at the first, did not understand the meaning of the second, shrank in horror at the third, and thought web administrators were all…well, geeks.

That was then, this is now. How far I have fallen.

Perhaps it really is the WASPy New Englander in me that has made the novels and self-promotion business so painful. My Emersonian soul corrupted by Social Media.

I put on a good face, tell my friends: “It’s actually surprisingly fun…No, really!”

I am a liar; it’s only occasionally fun, and usually only after a few toddies which, as any savvy social media type will attest, is a very very dangerous state in which to conduct said business.

Walking the tight rope between one’s sense of dignity and one’s whining cry out to the world – “Pick me!” – makes Phillip Petit’s amble seem like a cakewalk.

Am I overstating? Perhaps. But, if you too suffer from a needy self-inflating hubris that requires endless affirmative relief just to keep you from bursting at your existential seams, you probably take my point. Odds are, you’re also probably a writer.

The stakes feel inordinately high in the writing game. Remember picking teams at the sandlot? The humiliation in watching your flanks thin as others romped off across that invisible line that mirrored your worst fears. In those days, it was the humiliation in being the last kid picked.  For writers, it is the humiliation in not being picked at all.

I think that, deep down, most writers are not after money or even fame, at least most literary fiction writers aren’t. If you are indeed one of them, you have an urgent need to share something about life on earth, to give others the news, the secret message in the bottle. And if readers accept your offering, lots of readers, it comes with a sigh of relief – your observations on the flux are not as crazy as you thought. Even if one or two reviewers suggest otherwise, not to worry, there will always be those who miss the boat. That’s why you write in the first place,…to help as many as you can get on board.

Which brings me back to social media and the weird asymmetry between the urgency of the message in the bottle and the urgency to jump up and down for attention – to be picked.

I saw the Facebook necessity. And the Blog. Twitter still eludes me. But, those who advised me were right. Suck up your pride and be the borderline shill you need to be. Still, it’s exhausting. It’s not the WASP thing – you know, “the unseemliness of it all” – it’s just that now that I have my PEN/Hemingway nod, I’m not sure I will be able make it to the 52 Ruminations, as promised. I have to conserve my writing chops for the new book.*

Oh, and for you writers who don’t get picked? Take heart. Even if the message in your bottle never makes it to shore, and the bottle simply sinks into the depths on its way to silicate and calcite, its message will not be lost. In a few eons, you’ll find it in a limestone cliff. Just be patient…

*editor’s note: Since writing this Rumination, the new book has been finished. The Door-Man was released 2/1/22. You’ll find a lot more about the depths of the sea and limestone cliffs therein…Oh, and last October, The Door-Man was included in The New Yorker’s Best Books of 2022…so, I’m starting to Ruminate again.

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  1. molly page Reply

    Peter, I will miss your weekly mini seminar, your humanist intelligentsia, your voice. sigh .. I guess I’ll have to take up your book again! (I had set it aside for Los Angeles based readings. I’m one of those types who requires my literature to thematically compliment my personal narrative.) Perhaps you will surprise yourself and realize philosophy in 140 characters or less is the bees knees.. see you on the twitter feed! -mp

  2. W J O'Reilly Reply

    As someone who knew you half a lifetime ago, I am pleased, surprised and impressed with the “voice” of your prose. It seems as if something genetic or more likely, karmic has pointed you in the direction of being a chronicler. Your wit, charm and wonder at being alive have found a splendid purpose. nam myoho renge kyo……

  3. Jan Reply

    I’d say one brave twittering wasp has arrived.

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