My parent’s primary principle when it came to censoring the content their children imbibed was, “When in doubt, throw it out.”
There were a few hard and fast rules. Anything related to KISS was forbidden fruit. We were to eschew anything with too much cursing or anything that suggested that sex existed. And most importantly of all, we were not allowed to read, watch, or listen to anything that might lead us to question the spiritual truths our parents were cultivating in us.
It was this third rule that led to the banning of both Tales From the Darkside and Judy Blum’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
But, banning content was no more effective in the McBride house than it was in the Warsaw Pact countries. There was always a way to smuggle it in or to get it at friend’s houses.
I had been a huge Judy Blum since I was in third grade and my teacher introduced us to Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.
In fifth grade, I checked out a copy of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret from the school library. I only had a week to get through it. I hid the book in my room and spent every spare moment rushing through its pages.
As an eleven-year-old boy the sex stuff in the book was much more interesting than the religious questions. I was confident in my understanding of God and my religion. I knew why I was here and where I was going.
The book didn’t feel transformative.
But, the ideas stayed in the back of my mind.
I’m now 42, and I identify with Margaret more now than I ever did before.
Instead of Turning to God I Turn to the Internet
Where Margaret prayed, I write. She was seeking enlightenment from God. I’m seeking attention and validation from an algorithm.
I work as a freelance writer for my day job. People pay me to write content that will earn them more sales. I’m good at what I do, and I usually have more work than I can handle.
But, even when I’m doing my best work, I’m left feeling hollow and hungry once I turn in an assignment.
I want my creative writing to get the same kinds of rave reviews my business writing earns. But, making money as a creative writer scares me — it’s more dangerous than business writing. It’s easier to get hurt, harder to gain traction, and more difficult to monetize. I’ve tried to stop working on my creative writing projects, but they eat away at me. The stories seep into my dreams. I think about them in the car, at the grocery store, and in the shower. I never think about my copywriting projects like that.
So, I write.
I hope that writing these essays and stories will allow my mind to rest and will bring me the sense that I’m not wasting my gifts feeding the crass commercialism of the world.
But, writing isn’t enough.
I have a binder full of thousands of pages of fiction. I have hundreds of essays I’ve started that languish on my hard drive. I have more ideas percolating in my mind.
Just writing doesn’t bring me peace or fulfillment.
So, I publish.
That’s the scary part. Every time I post I feel like Margaret.
I’m calling out into the darkness hoping for an answer, unsure if anyone can hear me. I’m not hoping for fame and fortune. I am hoping to create work that means something to other people and to be able to make a living from my creative writing.
I’m relying on several secret lines of code to take my work to the people who will like it, who will need it. There are no SEO hacks or marketing pizzazz I can bring to this project. It’s my ultimate act of faith and rebellion.
Margaret never did hear the voice of God. But, she kept praying just the same.
I may never cultivate an audience, but I have to keep writing just the same.
Are you there algorithm? It’s me, Jason.