Jeffrey Allen Mays

The Virgin and the Critics

So today I did what was probably a foolish thing, but I learned from it.

I belong to a private group for writers on Facebook. It has literally thousands of members, over six thousand. Today was designated “First Line Friday,” a day in which everyone is invited to post the first line of their book or story. My mistake was in choosing a controversial, hard to read, experimental short story that I wrote 4 years ago to post.

Why did I bother? I don’t know. I wanted to contribute something. I saw other posts, pithy short sentences mostly.

It was like 6th street in Austin on Saturday night. Teeming masses of people are wandering by, snatching bits of culture and society like so many little smokeys at a Charlie Hebdo support rally. And I chose that open sewage, riverfront sidewalk setting to set out the “first line” of my holy virgin short story, like a bumbling novice, an uncareful steward, an unwatchful eunuch.

What did I expect? I did not know what to expect. I hoped, yes, that people would get it. But I had never contributed to a thing like this before.

The first few comments were 50% appreciative. Some people actually tracked with it. Others admitted that reading is hard, and they skipped it. Alas, reading is not for everyone.

It IS hard to read. Not hard, just demanding. You have to understand, it was something I wrote after finishing a Faulkner novel. Absolom, Absolom, I think it was. And the opening sentence was not brief or pithy. It was longer than most paragraphs. You’d have to see it to understand. And you’d have to have recently come from a funeral, or a Benedictine monastic cell, or else be someone who has the well-trained patience of a lover of poetry.

But as most of you have already surmised, after the first few tentative comments of appreciation and dismissal, the jackals who like to come in a cackle over fresh carcass descended.

Comments started to flow. People who openly manifest themselves as novices, neophytes, wanna-be’s, amateurs, rule-followers, half-wits, posers, would-be lecture circuit speakers, strict grammarians, Stalinist punctuationalists, Fascist spell-checkers, Nazi lexicographers, artists whose aesthetic sense is covered by a thick callous, swooped down and condescendingly informed me that the “first sentence must draw the reader in,” suggesting that my vestal virgin should be submitted as a candidate for the Bulwer-Lytton Award, counseling me to “go back to Hemingway,” and other such freshman-grade formulaic pablum.

I shortly clicked on the “Stop Notifications” button (thank you Facebook for that).

What did I expect? That a bunch of Vampire Romance hacks and 50-Shades-of-Gray Me-Toos are going to slow down long enough to read my divinely inspired utterance? No. No way. Lesson learned.

I threw myself into the mosh pit, and now I’m bandaging up my lacerations. I knew it was a jungle out there. I knew the internet is simply impacted like a sedentary colon with trolls of every sort.

And if I hit the big time some day, I will face this kind of thing every day.  Until, like all writers and public figures in any field know, I stop listening to them. I click the “Stop Notifications” button, and silence their empty cavils, and leave them to their mud pies and pee-wine.

So it was good practice.