Drawing dicks on the walls.

If you’re feeling small,
And you can’t draw a crowd,
Draw dicks on the walls.

Ben Folds Five

[NOTE: This is something of an update to this post.]

Their mascot's a ginger, so you know they've got soul.

Their mascot’s a ginger, so you know they’ve got soul.

I stood in the restroom of a Wendy’s wedged between an IHOP and a shady-looking tech college, doing my best to dry my hands. The nozzle of the air drier was missing, causing lukewarm air to spill into the room in a thousand different directions.

My hands were getting drier, but my shirt was getting wetter.

It was a typical Tuesday for me — the sort where all I see for 12 hours straight is the inside of a classroom, occasionally punctuated by the inside of my car. Eight hours of feebly trying to get kids to determine the slopes of lines followed by three more trying to muster the energy to pay attention in psych class, on a campus all the way across town.

I had about half an hour to grab something for an early dinner and get to class. A cheeseburger and a baked potato seemed like an okay idea.

If my hands ever got dry.

My car radio is perpetually tuned to the local NPR affiliate, which is the only way I can get myself to pay attention to the news. (I agree in principal that I should be informed, but with much learning comes much sorrow, as the teacher tells us.) The only news items all day, both of which bounced around in my head as I dried my hands, had been the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade — scarcely even a news item, seeing as nothing at all had changed on the abortion front since the ’70s — and a minor school shooting. An aftershock of Sandy Hook, this time spurred by poverty instead of mental illness.

They both seemed like such non-news to me. People still dig in their heels and plug their ears the second you say anything about abortion, and they do the same the second you even acknowledge our never-ending epidemic of gun violence. And I wondered if it would ever even be possible to move forward on either.

And then, suddenly, Gene Wilder was staring me in the face.


And he didn’t even bring me chocolate or a Frankenstein monster.

I had seen the image macro six months prior, but it had weaseled its way into my brain and had refused to leave. It was an idea with relevance and staying power. A “meme,” if you will. And as much as I disliked it, I had to admit that it had a point. The track record of gun control laws is spotty at best, as much as I would like it to be otherwise.

But then, I reminded myself, the same could be said about abortion restrictions.

And — like all progressives that have just been so rudely reminded that government’s power is limited — I started wondering how progress could ever be made on either issue. Vast swaths of society both demanded unbridled access to killing, and law could do nothing to deter them. Clearly, it was a cultural deficieny, and not a legislative one. Ours was (and is) a culture of death.

It struck me as an odd comparison — fans of guns and fans of abortions. Supposedly opposite ends of the political spectrum, and yet they seemed so similar to me. I knew that neither would accept the premise, that both would continue to condemn the other side as murderers — or wannabe murderers, at least — all while congratulating themselves for standing up for their own inalienable rights. It was a thought that had the potential to offend and alienate many.

I'm fairly certain that this is what the stupider part of my brain looks like.

I’m fairly certain that this is what the stupider part of my brain looks like.

And the stupider part of my brain said, “You ought to post that on the Internet.”


It wasn’t just about getting traffic. Not at first, anyway. I only write about politics when I feel I have something worthwhile to say, and then I try my damnedest to say things that haven’t been said a thousand times before. My blog is not a particularly political one, and I certainly have no desire to be a mouthpiece for either major political party (after all, our dichotomous gridlock is the main reason we have so much trouble moving forward on any and every issue).

The thought about abortion rights and gun rights certainly satisfied the second requirement: it was undeniably a unique thought. I wasn’t so sure, though, that it was a worthwhile one. But I had to decide now. After all, the seconds of Roe v. Wade‘s 40th anniversary were ticking away, and I pride myself on being up-to-the-minute. They don’t call me Punctual Joe for nothing. (They don’t call me Punctual Joe at all, but that’s beside the point.) If I was going to post it, I had to get it written ASAP.

But first I had to sit through three hours of psych class.

Throughout class, I was making notes in my head, pressing myself not to forget anything. I returned home around eight, and despite being exhausted, I made myself type. I pounded away on the keyboard, fueled by a mixture of beer, frozen pizza, and pure force of will, until my thoughts stood before me in a wall of black-and-white text.

I re-read the thing.

It left something to be desired, I thought. It seemed condescending, disorganized, a little half-baked. And I couldn’t think of a way to improve it. I’m okay with offending people, if it breaks them out of their intellectual ruts, but I wasn’t sure this one would accomplish that. So I slept on it.

I re-read it again the following morning. I still thought there was something there, but I wasn’t sure the piece communicated it effectively. Rewriting the whole thing seemed like the only way to fix it, and that seemed like more effort than it was worth.

I sent it to my brother for feedback. “I think the semi-calculated offensiveness might obscure the intent,” I told him.

“I think this is even-handed, reasonable, poignant, and very intelligent,” he said.

"These chinos do not breathe well!"

“These chinos do not breathe well!”

What a suck-up. (He later backpedaled on his comments. “Maybe I’m not the best person to judge whether something is too offensive,” he told me. “That’s like asking the Human Torch if something’s too hot.”)

So I posted the thing. I knew it was kinda half-baked and kinda stupid, but I figured it might get my blog some attention. After all, people don’t exactly flock to websites that post genuinely thoughtful and insightful stuff. And it did generate some traffic. And it did produce some response. But not necessarily the kind I wanted.

I suppose that’s to be expected. If your intention is to break people out of their narrow thinking, you need to be pretty damned eloquent. You need to choose your words carefully. High diction can be mistaken for condescension. Irony can be mistaken for bitterness.

I couldn’t sleep that night, even after taking the ZzzQuil that has become my unfortunate friend during the school year. Maybe it was blogging anxiety; I don’t know. I watched the comments pour in — some angry, some supportive. Some somewhere in between. Some readers seemed to at least consider my point; some apparently skipped to the comments after reading about half of the title.

Sigh. That title.

Sadly, no one reads on the Internet. Everyone skims. You create titles thinking only of what will grab attention, but you forget that plenty of people will only read your title. Maybe your first paragraph, if you’re lucky. And when your most offensive thoughts are in your first paragraph, they assume you’re an asshole.

I'm hoping to score a sponsorship.

I’m hoping to score a sponsorship.

But then you realize that you actually wrote those words. So maybe you are that asshole.

Well, some days you strike out. I don’t know if I struck out this time; maybe I just hit a pop fly and barely got on base. Maybe I got beaned. Maybe the other team’s mascot chased me down and beat me with an aluminum bat. I’m not disowning what I wrote, but I won’t say I’m terribly proud of it either. It was a fleeting thought that might not have been worth voicing. And part of communication is knowing what not to say.

Some days you draw a crowd. And occasionally, it’s by saying something eloquent and insightful. But usually it’s by doing something stupid and offensive.

By drawing dicks on the walls.

Ah, well. Any publicity is good publicity.

Insert truism here.


9 thoughts on “Drawing dicks on the walls.

  1. Pingback: Gun Nuts and Abortion Nuts are Exactly the Same (and if this post doesn’t offend absolutely everyone, I should just give up) « The Western Branch of American Reform Presbylutheranism

  2. I gotta say, I kind of resent the way you completely sold me up the river on this one. Especially since the inspiration for this piece clearly came from my reference to Folds’ song.

    There’s one thought I keep having over the past months. It amounts to basically this: It’s really pathetic that in the age of the internet, when people have access to thoughts, ideas, opinions, and biases from others all around the world, from literally every creed, society, and lifestyle imaginable and, therefore, should be more open-minded and educated than ever, that the average person’s reading comprehension is so bad, anyone who writes anything on the internet feels compelled to specify that “[they’re] not saying” something offensive in a feeble attempt to defend themselves from petty insults and accusations (racist, bigot, etc.). This is especially true considering how many times I’ve seen this as part of an article where your average high school student should be able to tell that the author is not making that sort of racist, bigotted, etc. statement. For example: This man should not have to go so far out of his way to prove he is not racist in an article about the NFL’s Rooney Rule: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/570877-the-rooney-rule-why-its-outdated-and-unnecessary-in-todays-nfl

    And yet he does. But the even sadder part is that, after all that, he’s still called a racist.

    Which is all to say, I’m really not sure what you were expecting. The thing about articles that are thought-provoking is that those who can’t think just find them provoking.

    But at the same time, that doesn’t make them useless, because provoking people can often be the first step towards getting them to listen. Some concepts just take longer to take root in a person’s mind and there’s nothing that can be done about that. Change takes time. Four years ago, I spent much of my time shouting about how liberals were destroying America, and last November I voted for Obama. The point is, you may never have any idea the influence you have on people, especially if you only look at their initial reaction to what you have to say.

    So you either cry about it and start only posting stupid lists to your blog from now on, or you suck it up, try a little harder to be less offensive next time, get someone who still has feelings to tell you if you’re being a jerk, and accept that you can in no way control someone’s reaction to your message, but you can still put your message out there.

    Either way, I’ll be looking forward to it.

      • Ah, dang it. I typed out “kidding” with a / and surrounded by after that first paragraph to clarify that I wasn’t serious, and the stupid internet apparently thought it was actual hypertext and didn’t display it. So, no, the internet hasn’t made me deaf to irony, but it has made you blind to my kidding. Boo-ya.

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