What I Learned from My First Two Hundred Medium Stories
how I learned to embrace my irrelevance and stop being so polite
I just reached two hundred stories on Medium. I’m telling you this because I know how hard you are on yourself when you forget to hire the marching band, arrange a platter of clever hors d’oeuvres and invite the guests.
Admit it: I go the extra mile for you.
And I’m telling you this even though there’s, well — just a tiny whiff of imposter syndrome tainting my buzz, when I consider that, for example, one of my stories consists of only three words, and they are not “I love you.” But, still, two hundred.
Here’s what I learned along the way:
1. Everyone, except me, loves lists. Seriously loves. They’ll read “Ten Reasons Why Lists Suck.” They’ll read “Five Ways to Improve Your List About 10 Reasons We Hate Facebook, and did you see my cat video?” Takeaway: Two Pad Thai with shrimp, and some spring rolls. Couple of Coke Zero.
Sorry, that’s take out.
The take away is: make the occasional list. They’re light and breezy and full of Anne-of-Green-Gables plucky optimism, and promise quick stimulation, like a shot of espresso taken standing up. In fact, now that I’m writing one, I love lists!
Another take away is that I occasionally channel my dad’s really corny sense of humor. Is there a dad without a really corny sense of humor? What is it about diapers and khaki pants from GAP that shreds whatever part of the amygdala that’s responsible for waspish rejoinders and Wildean epigrams?
This is my first list. You’ve never heard of me, but that all changes today, baby.
2. Gigantic, eye-popping images of unparalleled garishness (see above) are effective because they both attract and repel. It’s like not being able to resist driving back to view the aftermath of a non-fatal car pile-up.
Or like watching Bernie Sanders try to be cool. Or well-groomed. Or electable. “I’m voting for social democracy / I’m voting for a Muppet.” Attract / repel.
Remember: You’ll nab ’em with an image. But your content had better merit the attention, or they’ll wander off, probably to read a list because you were too high and mighty to think one up. Get over yourself, girlfriend!
3. Big images with lots of primary colors and lacking in subtlety make your article look significantly longer and more researched than it actually is. They’ll think, “Jeez, did she hire a graphic designer?” This is discouraging to many rookies. Which is great, because — less competition! You are rockin’ my list!
4. You’ve got a loving heart. Now grow some thick skin. Engaging, however politely, with surly, obnoxious NRA supporters, if you’re a people-pleaser like me, goes well with a big helping of solipsism, i.e., don’t read their replies. Just stay in your Pollyanna bubble and talk to yourself, which you mostly do anyway.
My one foray into this territory prompted My American Cousin to publish a gratuitously nasty, chauvinist, anti-Canada screed that oozed contempt, and in which he asserted I have no standing to discuss gun control in the U.S. (This may or may not be a point, depending on how many hot guns were smuggled into Toronto this past week.)
As a response to his outpouring of bile I countered with my most concise story to date, which I wrote after I stopped crying. My story totalled three words: “Oh, fuck off.”
This is either a triumph of not caring or a total decompensating cop-out. In retrospect, my only regret is that I didn’t say it twice.
5. “Stories.” Ahem. Lord knows I’ve tried, but I’ve never quite acclimatized to calling an article a “story,” much less my short responses. Those I call responses. Yes, I am old.
This is like Spotify calling the movements of a Beethoven symphony “songs.”
“You can’t beat Beethoven’s Fifth —that first song is just so totally — woke!”
Nope. That didn’t happen. Never said that. No, siree.
6. Do you suddenly feel that you’re entirely on your own, out in the big bad world, where your mother is not going to stick your “story” on the fridge door because she’s so proud and impressed by your mouthing platitudes to a deaf choir?
You’re absolutely right, you are. Learn to hold your own hand. Say what you want to say, not what you think people want to hear. You might open the eyes of one or two special readers, those who “get” you. They are like gold, and they are yours. You might even make them laugh, hopefully because you intended to.
Above all, be your unique self. As an example: I’m flippant, shallow, self-involved and immature, but I try to make sure at least one person is snickering before the truth sinks in.
7. You don’t always have to have the last word, you know, Mr. Smartass Buckaroo. Give someone else that dubious honor occasionally.
This is a note to myself.
8. It is the height of bad taste to engage with your critics — and face it, you know they’ll never come round. They are “entrenched,” you are “right.”
By the way, if you are not familiar with the concept of “taste,” this is when you have every right to do something, then refrain from doing it.
9. When I posted my first story on Medium, I was nervous. Well, with reason, because the first things I posted weren’t all that good.
Oh, they were not. Oh, stop it.
Really? You think so?
But I know that by posting that first story I stepped out of my scared skin as a writer, and acquired a bit more space in the world. I stopped apologizing and worrying if I was any good and remembered that dreams and goals and ideas are like dime-store jewelry; taking action and completing something, just one thing, is worth a million unfulfilled, unfinished dreams. Bear in mind: You’ll probably have to leave the house at some point.
I want the people who don’t think they have anything to offer, the people who are afraid, to step out of their own scared skin and complete something. I want them — is this you, perhaps? — to write any old rubbish, make a gesture with a paint brush, or sing and not care what it sounds like, not yet; and I want you to keep doing this until you’re done. Then I want you to do it again, and again, until you have a lifetime’s worth.
Let me be perfectly clear: I’m talking about writers and artists. I’m all the way up to the waistband of my dollar store briefs, thanks anyway, with conservatives who have skins like elephants and all the zeal in the world around making the world a more hateful place.
Feel free to not complete something, conservatives! Take a day or two off! OK! Back atcha!
10. I will never be relevant. I have the reaction time of glaciers. I shift into high gear like metamorphic rock.
I have always been cursed with “l’esprit de l’escalier.”
I’m at the pub, for example, and someone in the group standing next to me glances at my Friday Night Shirt, the blue and white paisley with the ruffles down the front, the shirt that must be special because I feel so uncomfortable wearing it. I leave this shirt untucked, lest my delusions about still retaining a thirty-inch waist be shattered by a wisp of Oxford cotton. This guy glances at me, turns to his friends and stage-whispers, “Nice shirt!” while rolling his eyes, and I take him at face value.
I feel suitably attired, proud that I’m turning heads who is that distinguished gent who looks so good, backlit? and setting the bar just that little bit out of reach, for fashion’s sake. High fives!
One night later that month, while slipping blissfully under the duvet, I’m ambushed by a nagging moment of uncertainty, followed by full-body blushing, and I sputter, “Why, goldarnit! I do believe he was — making fun of my shirt! That — that hooligan!”
This is why I’m still polishing my satirical barbs about Hillary Clinton. It’s nice to find someone equally irrelevant, and, bless her, she gives and she gives. She’ll go on until the end of time, our little pink bunny, forever beating her drum. I think of Hillary and I as growing old together.
Look for my Joe Biden satirical barbs around 2024.