Sacrificed on the Altar of Content

There is no single Moment that defines a person’s life, not really. We like to pretend there is, as a culture, because it makes for easier exposition in movies and TV and books; hell, even for regular everyday exposition to the people we talk to.

But, deep down, we know different. There are Moments — plural, many — that strike at the soul and make it more inclined to one course of action or another; and yet always, they are preceded by others, and in general they are followed by others, and these tend to be equal in importance.

I have lost count of the Moments in my life, as most people have, but sometimes they rise, unbidden, from the carpet of dust in the back of my mind.

I am not exactly eager to see them. They involve the breaks and bumps and bruises of the psyche: The Moment someone said they no longer loved me. The Moment I realized my exact insignificance to the world at large. The Moment I realized something had long ago pressed the self-destruct button in me, and that there was nothing on this earth that could prevent its fruition; there were only small things that could delay. The moment the Universe threw me off yet another mountain top.

We are a collection of Moments, all of us here, half-remembered and acted upon unthinkingly, for the most part. The things you think are inked in your memory for the rest of your days (how the lips of your first love felt against your own) will fade. Others (that one time you were mortifyingly unkind to a stranger) will crackle across your cortex as long as you draw breath.

The key to living, it would seem, would be to filter these according to what you need to survive, to lay the unhelpful back into murky unconsciousness. But what happens when you can’t?

One way to solve this issue is to simply avoid introspection altogether, a strategy I have not yet mastered and fear I never will. Theoretically, one does this by keeping catastrophically busy at all times; by burying oneself in work and play, in various substances, in other people’s problems.

Of course, when one makes a living writing, that becomes all but impossible. Writing is, by its nature, that most solipsistic of endeavors.

Even if you are reporting what other people have said, or simple facts, the words still come from within, plucked from the stream that runs through your mind, sometimes too quickly, sometimes maddeningly slow. You can never truly lose yourself in a story you are writing — journalistic, fictional, some cross thereof — because it is from your very deepest self that it comes.

This is a peril, too, of making work one’s life, a thing that every person of my generation has been encouraged to do. The Work: that is the thing that will not only put a roof over your head, but will also make you whole, will in fact fill the hole, the yawning singularity in your chest. The Work is given automatic capitalization, a wide berth. It is the center of your life, because it is so much more reliable than individuals.

Or so it seems. But always there comes a time when the Work is halted, when a job is lost, when a beloved boss moves on. This is the ongoing epidemic in fields deemed “creative.” Your writers, your editors, your white-collar proles attempting to figure out what words people want to read, all being washed away by a tide of willful ignorance.

As with all tides, this one is eternal. The difference now is that we are being borne toward a post-word world.

Entire publications are throwing up their hands and using the word “content” in all seriousness. Videos — some with bile-raising ads in front, others without (which seems nearly as big a waste) — play automatically above every piece of this “content.” Whether it adds to the reader’s experience or renders the “content” unreadable is of no concern to all those who own summer homes but refuse to pay out vacation time to laid-off employees, those sacrifices on the Altar of #Content.

And so another Moment has come, another realization: I am obsolete. I have probably always been obsolete, would have been even had I been born a decade or two before I was. Perhaps it is this inherent obsolescence that activated that self-destruct button all those years ago, and why this second, third, fourth interruption of our regularly scheduled life cuts so deep. For eight months, I was surrounded by people who believed as I did — that there was a place in the world for what we were doing.

We have been taught otherwise, hearts cut out and burned as an offering to an indifferent audience, and now we wait for the tide to finish the job.

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