ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Quick Interview: Drive and Despair —

One of my fine users sent in the following four questions. I figured everybody had to hear my answers right now, so here you go.

When you first started publishing, did you ever feel in moments that you had some trouble getting people to notice? Did that impact your feelings about your projects? If it did not, then why?

Well, I’ve been publishing an awful long time; the first time I wrote stuff that other people had to print and others had to listen to was probably my role as Humor Columnist for Horace Greeley High School back in 1988. I did a calculation at the end of the school year and I’d written more for that paper than anyone else, likely over a dozen of the other staff members combined. For the April Fool’s issue of that paper, I wrote an entire page of text, which is crazy looking back. And yes I have all the articles I wrote online. They’re pretty OK, considering I wrote them all when I was 16 and 17. I also started a school humor magazine, Esnesnon, which I have the first issue of online and which went on, absolutely astoundingly, for another 10 years at that school.

Before that publishing, of course, I had bulletin board systems. Years and years of them, starting from when I was 11. Since I was delighted to have any outlet whatsoever, I got a lot of experience just writing stuff for the joy of having it somewhere else besides inside my head, where maybe it should have stayed. Left alone, my writings are a little more “me me me” than even now, with elaborate creations like this one being loosed upon the world. So I was “publishing” in a way with almost no direct feedback that I was even in the ballpark. San that feedback loop, I had little worry about it.

In college, I was on the school newspaper, school radio stations (FM and AM) and did a little work with a humor magazine. For the newspaper I wrote articles and drew editorial cartoons. Throughout that college newspaper work, I don’t recall many times someone would engage me about anything I did, outside of some chats with other newspaper staffers. There just wasn’t much in the way of feedback loops or seeking legitimacy/meaning in the words of others. I just liked doing it.

So no, no real impact either way, so when I work on my stuff now, every bit of contact/feedback (and there has been a lot more from the films and the weblog than I can ever recall) is a bonus. It’s a little extra niceness, not a required part of the transaction. I get fan mail and hate mail, but it doesn’t make me stop and go. I do listen, however; if a lot of people tell me something and that something wasn’t a particularly strong personal choice, I’m more than willing to shift things around or improve/sully the project as needed.

I’ve never considered you a divisive figure, but you do have your share of critics. How do you deal with the emotions that come from people not agreeing with you, not liking you? Does it ever get you down? Why? Why not?

What a nice way of putting it.

One has to make the division between Jason the ASCII Blogger, Jason the Documentary Film Guy, Jason the Guy, Jason the wizard of a MUD, etc. All of these reach different sets of people to different amounts, with some overlap but not complete overlap. I’ve found I’m thought of in radically different ways by different people, and in cases where those two worlds crash together, I get to watch “Jason is a Great Historian” meet up with “Jason was a cockbiter when I dealt with him in 1994”. The reasons for hating (and liking!) me are variant: a personal slight, a disapproval of the way I phrase things, the way I’m a bully in some spheres, my overarching love of myself, and all the other little faults I’ve been informed of over the decades.

What I have determined, if one wants to take the jump of calling this “wisdom”, is that doing anything to any degree before others results in criticism. I won’t use the self-serving term “taking a stand” because it sounds like I’m always in the right. But going out there, stating something clearly, means that you’ve set yourself up for someone to come along and say “Man, that guy’s totally wrong”. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time sets you up to have it quoted back at you. Saying a LOT of stuff over a LOT of time sets you up to come face to face with contradicting yourself, being reminded you took someone’s pain too lightly, or made a silly declaration that you never should have.

When someone seems extraordinarily pissed at me, I spend some time chasing down the source of that animosity, just to make sure it’s not on the level of a gas leak (an ongoing situation I can rectify) as opposed to a forgotten slight (I called somebody something very bad once and they never forgot it).

On the whole, however, I have so many nice stories and so many great times with people, it’d be hard for me to turn away from those and say “everybody hates me, I should pack up and leave”. I don’t even know if I could really “pack up and leave”, it’s kind of the way I am to be this out there. I do recognize the need for knowing I am not universally beloved.

Did you ever feel like that despite your best efforts, you simply are not heard in the way you want?

I am positive of this. But I have to clarify that the question is among the realm of “Did you ever feel, getting on a bicycle, that if you didn’t keep pedaling, your momentum would stop and you would fall over?” It’s kind of the nature of things that we miscommunicate all the time. We lose either the ideas themselves or the context of them, or they’re presented in strange ways. Look at my documentary; I have this nice little package I put together, but people sometimes watch it on Google Video or torrent DVD-ROMs or watch ripped MPEGs and so on. That’s how they see it, and they’re fine with it. I’m fine with it too.

How do all of these things impact your momentum? Do they? Even for a second? And what do you do about that if it does?

In your letter, you hoped I wouldn’t respond with pithy short answers, but I have to say: it doesn’t. I’m doing what I do because I feel I have to. I’m working on stuff that I think needs to be done. I am of such a strong mind of this, I have worked hard to ensure you can enjoy or benefit from the stuff I’m doing without ever directly interacting with me. Tens of thousands of people do this on a daily basis; they use my sites without having to know anything about “the guy”. They watch the movie without knowing me (you can watch some episodes and never hear my voice). I enjoy spending time with myself but recognize not everyone does, so I appreciate the ability to avoid me entirely.

So I have no contingency for criticism halting me. I don’t think it really can.

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