The case for writing about nothing

Can it be acceptable to witter on aimless when it feels like the world is falling apart?

I remember coming across a great Nietzsche quote when I was poring (pouring?) over his work as student. Unfortunately I am truly rubbish at recalling great quotes, or even being able to summon up the right combination of search words to fetch them from the void via Google. (Oh, how I envy those who seem able to have a rich selection just ready to be elegantly rolled out for the right occasion.)

The thrust of it stayed with me though, even if the specific words evidently didn’t. Friedrich was often accused of a lack of empathy (and not without foundation). That was why it stood out that according to him, apparently it wasn’t that he didn’t care about people: instead it was that he considered there to be so much suffering that if he truly opened his heart to all of it, then it would leave him paralysed in horror, unable to function in a world that allows such things.

However accurate my interpretation was, I’ve often returned to this idea when certain events have reasserted the existence of purposeful cruelty so abundant that it feels impossible to contemplate in its entirety, never mind to do anything that will make more than a comically minor dent in proceedings.

Has social media made us feel worse by making the sheer amount of these gross barbarities ever harder to ignore? The recent rolling news cycle already did a pretty damned decent job of piling emergency on top of disaster then compressing the multilayered shit sandwich into an easily digestible bulletin, but now the likes of Twitter and Facebook present a multidimensional sprawling epic of international scope, one which is never-ending and currently feels like an endless spiral of doom. (Unless you’re one of those who gratefully grasps on to Steven Pinker’s evidenced though contentious assertions that things are actually getting better.)

Up until a few years ago I somehow made a living as a full-time journalist who embarked on all manner of opinionated think pieces, some much better than others, and their success rarely correlating to quality. Aside from a flailing media industry, part of the reason I eventually shoved myself exhaustedly into the nearest possible escape route was that – with various political situations going southwards I found dispiriting and/or terrifying – I lost any confidence I had that I was in any way well placed to tackle these major issues. I would read and listen to others whose voices felt vital and relevant in a way that mine simply did not.

What could I possibly add when measured against an international wealth of talented individuals with much greater insights and experience in every possible subject matter that may be worth addressing and raging about? I was increasingly bugged by the notion that in continuing on I would simply be hogging space better used by someone else. (I often wondered whether the more established opinion columnists – usually of a wearily predictable age, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality – had the same feelings but are stuck within the roles they had created for themselves, or whether they are simply big enough arseholes not to realise the uselessness of their hackneyed and thuddingly obvious perspectives.)

Lacking any specialist area to claim as my own, it seemed like the things I was left with to speak about were… well, pretty much bugger all. Bundle up all my qualities and history and it’s well, somewhat unique, but only in the same way that the combination is for everyone. There’s nothing remarkable there. I’m unlikely to take your breath away with a personal revelation or anecdote that ties into the issues of the day.

What to do about this? Shutting up seemed good, as well as overdue. Every issue seemed to have some great representatives within the affected groups making precise and pertinent points – there certainly wasn’t any need for me to thunder over them and say the same thing more clumsily at greater volume. And, I reasoned, perhaps taking a break would then allow me to ‘find my voice’ again, hopefully something that would fit in and make some sort of a positive difference.

A few years later I’m still waiting. In truth I didn’t even have a case for ‘writing about nothing’: the headline was a challenge that I posed myself while crossing fingers that by this point I would have found an answer. No such luck. It was uncharacteristically positive of me to imagine that something I hadn’t solved in such a long time might suddenly be knocked out of the park within an hour late on a balmy summer evening. My apologies for promising too much and underdelivering, it’s really not like me at all.

Actually though……. wait a second.

After a few wayward minutes of getting sidetracked by articles about the supposed benefits of writing every day, I have thought of something! It comes down to this: the ‘nudge’. When considering my writer’s block of the past few years, I suddenly realised that I’ve been aiming way too high and looking towards achieving monumental things. Which would admittedly be ace, but even a modest nudge is enough, provided it’s in the right direction. If I can write something that pushes somebody slightly in the right direction – even if it’s myself, and even if it’s seemingly inconsequential to anyone else – then that ought to be enough.

As a music fan who went to a wealth of local gigs, there were enough occasions when I loved a set at a poorly attended show that would likely have been perceived a failure by the artists themselves. Perhaps a butterfly effect took place when I told them so and gave them a nudge, one that then ended up with them headlining a stadium somewhere and enjoying vast wealth. (Though given today’s music industry most likely not.) Whatever the case, it was a step in the right direction, and something glorious/substantial/worthwhile/excellent felt slightly closer. And if the end result was just that the view became a little rosier for a short while, then that ought to be enough. The same applies to subjects that seem like nothing in the current climate; how it will be received might just change somebody’s life. And even if it just provides them with a brief moment of respite amongst the unrelenting misery taking place outside, that’s fine.