Keep Writing and Pay It Forward

Sometimes people write me and say that things I’ve written have gotten them through hard times. They might send an email, leave a comment on Instagram or message me on Twitter.

I’m always deeply moved by these messages, often reduced to tears, because it’s a crazy thing, no matter what point you are in your life or career, to know that in a person’s darkest hour, you helped them get through something difficult.

Especially when you don’t even know know you’re doing it, and especially because it’s through writing things you’re merely thinking about, as if nobody else is thinking about them, putting them on internet because there is nowhere else, really, for them to go.

It’s funny, and I’m not just saying this to say it, but a lot of times these messages help me to keep going, because it’s really tough sometimes to even know if you’re reaching anyone. You could get a big ass check for your work, and still, you don’t know.

So, it’s all very circular, very what-goes-around-comes-around, and what-you-give-out-is-what-you-get-back. Pay it forward, you know.

And yet, I do worry a little bit, the internet being what it is now, that this kind of expression will be — and really, already is — getting stifled. Everyone seems so angry now, so quick to judge or belittle, that were I younger person, with a little thinner skin, I might think twice before I chose to share anything personal online.

If not for the fact that you run the risk of getting slammed and publicly shamed, tarred and feathered (more like disemboweled, Braveheart-style, is how I like to think about it), there’s also the receipts, the idea that something you write or produce today will come back in five years, if not five minutes from now, and be used against you in a court of public opinion (AKA the new court of law).

I want to say that to be an artiste, that’s the risk you’ve got to take, but the truth is that most people creating online content don’t think of themselves as artists any more than they might think of themselves as just normal people using the internet. If they once had a Tumblr or blog or YouTube page, they had it because it was easy to have, and for a time, that was just a thing you did. Like climbing a mountain, you made shit not because you needed to, but more likely because you had a camera and a keyboard, and the internet, the internet was always there.

But anyway, yeah — I don’t know, maybe what I’m saying makes no sense, and maybe it’s only the corner of the internet I’m in now that is experiencing this, this is sort of retrenching of the lines between what is acceptable and what isn’t. Just saying that online, there seems to be a radical movement towards conformity, to reinforcing the status quo, and if I were to begin writing today, I have to wonder how much my views and what I had to say would be shaped by that.

Which is so counter to what the internet actually offers — this beautiful, practically never-ending canvas, where the whole point is to express yourself, not the version of yourself that looks, acts and thinks just like everyone else. And if people do reach out, say that something touched them, it might be because I’m doing just that — writing about things that are important to me.

So, I merely say this just because I hope people keep writing, making videos and whatever else they do online, expressing themselves freely and openly. If there has ever been a time to do it, it is now.

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Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

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