When You Bleed On The Keyboard, Be Prepared To Clean Up The Mess


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By Jay Kirell

If you go to the original writing section of my blog you’ll see I’ve written 47 prior articles.  46 of those were me pouring my brain out.  The 47th was me cutting myself open and bleeding onto my laptop.

Proving the old newspaper adage “if it bleeds, it leads”, that story has been read hundreds of thousands of times by now – more than anything else I’ve written in the 30 years I’ve been able to put pen to paper and convey my thoughts.

As the author of the story, it’s beyond thrilling. Seeing your work spread around the world, and knowing it is generating discussion.  Observing that happen in real-time will make you believe you weren’t put on this Earth to do anything else but write.

As the subject of the story, however, it brings a whole new set of issues to the table.

As I state in my FAQ page, I do not allow comments on my blog.  When my story was graciously re-posted by one of the Internet’s top-25 websites – the Huffington Post – and became one of its top viral stories, it generated thousands of comments.

You can go see for yourself what the comments said about my story, what they said about me personally, and the assumptions people made – either in attack or defense.  I’m not going to pull any one in particular out because whether the comments were supportive or antagonistic, many of them seemed to take something from the story, as it connected with them.

And I believe, after almost a week of sitting on my thoughts, I’ve come to understand the common theme running through all the comments.  From the people who were so moved they offered to send me money through the mail – to those so skeptical they want to inventory my apartment to decide whether I was worthy of food stamps.

That common theme is insecurity.  In whatever form it manifests.

The economic insecurity that made people to relate to another human being on food stamps.

The personal insecurity that made people question the legitimacy of someone they don’t know.

The political insecurity that made people come up with excuses as to why people “like Jason” are worthy, while others are not.

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After last week’s story went viral, I started receiving interview requests.  All In With Chris Hayes, an MSNBC show I watch on an almost nightly basis, wanted to have me on as a guest at the 8:30 hour on Friday.  Huffington Post Live wanted me to do a live web-chat.  Upworthy asked me to do a video version of my story – “or even a rant” – that they could use on their site.

I declined…because of insecurity (and some other reasons, but mostly insecurity).

Personal insecurity in not thinking I’d make a good guest because I’m not a good public speaker.

Economic insecurity because I thought I wouldn’t have enough money to take a train into Manhattan to do MSNBC.  (I found out later they send a car for guests)

Political insecurity because I know in my heart I’m not “the face of food stamps” – because there are many, many people worse off than me whose stories deserve to be told.

But “the face” of an issue is what you become when you get booked as a guest on television.  You get your face on tv, with your name in a little box and a label underneath.  That label is very hard to shake from people’s minds – especially if you ever want a job in the media.  It’s one thing to be a personal blogger who writes about various topics and another thing to be the topic yourself.  It’s a fine line I’m learning how to navigate on the fly.

Yesterday I sat down for the first and probably only interview I’m going to do – it was with a reporter for my hometown paper – Newsday.  He’s approaching it from the veteran angle, which I have no problem with since I’ll never be able to detach my military service from who I am completely.  The only reason I did this interview was out of respect for the institution of print journalism and the respect I still have for Newsday, a once-large and important paper that has fallen from great heights as so many newspapers have in recent years.

The reporter and I spoke for about two hours and it was rather surreal, being on the other side of the notepad.  I have no idea what he’s going to write or when it’ll be published, but he seemed like a genuinely nice guy and I trust he’ll do good work.

I hope that’s how my interview subjects felt after meeting with me years and years ago when I was the one with the notebook and pen.

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Today the pen and pad may have been traded in for a laptop, but I have come to realize recently that the interviews remain.

Only the interviews are with myself.  And ultimately [other writers take note] when you interview yourself, and you find your inner Bob Woodward who can tear open a small piece of you and reveal it to the world – and that piece that connects on a visceral level with others – it’s going to be messy.

Messy and beautiful.

Just like life.

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