Turn up the People
August 14, 2013 § 20 Comments
A couple of days ago, I was talking about my occasional ambiguity regarding this site with a friend. “Well,” he said, “at least you’re building your brand.”
I was a little dumbstruck, because there it was: He’d freakin’ nailed it. The very source of my on-again, off-again misgivings: That I might, however unintentionally, be building my brand. To tell you the truth, I’m not even sure exactly what it means, but I am certain that I don’t like the sound of it. To me, it sounds like diminishment, like something calculated and hollow. In my experience, the people that do the truly important work of this world are not brands: They are people. I think of my neighbors, arising at 4:30 a.m. seven days per week, 52 weeks per year. By lunch, they have put in a full day of work and have yet another full day ahead of them (or, if it’s sugaring season, nearly two full days) before they will see their bed again. Milk, maple syrup, firewood, plowing driveways… on it goes.
You don’t know these people; barely anyone outside the borders of this little town knows these people. Yet their work is far more essential than mine will ever be, for what could be more essential than food and heat? Certainly not the written word. This is not false modesty speaking (as Penny would tell you, I possess no surfeit of this quality); it’s just the cold, hard truth. My neighbors have no “brand” beyond their reputation in the community as people who work hard and upon whom you can depend to keep your fires lit and your driveway passable. If I told you their name, you would not recognize it; if I told you the name of their farm, and you did a Google search, you would not find it.
I like my work; I am exceptionally grateful for it. And I am coming to realize that an essential part of my work – particularly in the Internet era – isn’t merely selling my writing; it’s selling me, or at least some version of me. I realize this, but I’m not entirely comfortable with it, and so I think a lot about how to do it as honestly and transparently as possible. Part of that is being open about my ambiguity pertaining to this space. Another part is reminding myself (and all of you) that much of the truly important work of the world is conducted in anonymity. It is done by men and women whose names we will never know; whose stories will never be told outside their small circle of family and friends.
We may never hear these stories. But that doesn’t mean they’re not all around us. That doesn’t mean they’re not important. And if we manage to keep our minds uncluttered of all the branded tales swirling around the toilet bowl of the 21st century American marketplace, perhaps our ears will become attuned to them.
So here’s my advice for the day, however unasked for it may be: Turn down the brands. And turn up the people.