For my first Five Dollar Friday, I had a both difficult and not-at-all difficult time choosing who to feature. On the one hand, there are so many of you about whom I have good things to say and who I am dying to write about (and plan to in upcoming 5dfs); on the other, I, and perhaps you, have been reading and enjoying the essays and photographs posted by Mills for so long that I wanted to thank him. It felt overdue, almost as though what he’s written and snapped over the years I’ve stolen from him, so often not commenting because the pressure to put my writing below his requires too many proof-readings, or not re-blogging because I know that most of you have, on your own, visited his site to catch up on all of the brilliant things he’s written. It seems redundant to link to Mills: the 100+ notes on his last GPOYW are just a fraction of the people who read his short essay about the worth of producing art, the necessity of relying on something within yourself to keep on keepin’ on versus the cheerleading of your audience. He unpacks his thoughts so completely that it’s impossible not to emerge from hours of sifting through his archives a person who has something new to say, who’s been somehow altered for their time in the world of Mills Baker.
Lately, even more than usual, I am convinced that every photo I take and everything I write is a waste; I’m not fishing for friendly rebuttals; we all experience this and are powerless to prop one another up, and others surely need encouragement more than I do; and besides: I don’t want to feel that anything is worthwhile, I want to stop worrying about worth, which I can at times. One can seek confidence or one can work to not need it, and as Kundera notes one might as well get used to not knowing how others see us: “Because that’s how things are, and this goes for everyone: we will never find out why we irritate people, what bothers people about us, what they like about us, what they find ridiculous; for our own image is our greatest mystery.”
I hope this doesn’t contribute to a worth-considering backslide for him. I hope that he takes this as it’s meant, a sincere thank you for two things: number one, for writing for the internet in a way that elevates it, for all of us, to a level that we’re more used to seeing in print, for asking more of us just by creating these posts; number two, for sharing so much of himself with us, his thoughts and questions and photographs (particularly of his wonderful, very talented girlfriend Abby; I’ve meme-mangled his photo, above, from a Flickr set that has stuck with me for months since he shared it with us here on Tumblr; it’s a joyful photo set, it’s about love and friendship and, as Meaghan said, “no man not in love takes pictures of girls reading books in soft focus,” and there is no better way to say it).
What does Mills do for the rest of us, who are all making content for a place (thing? Concept?) that didn’t even really exist when I was a kid? He shows us that TL;DR shouldn’t be a consideration when we have a lot to say and are willing to explain ourselves well. He’s an example of a person who uses the web not for cats and bacon, which are dear to my heart and never to be discounted, but for creating essays that borrow from others and give meticulous credit, that reference the article or the author or the blogger that gave him a jumping-off point for an idea; he annotates and you click on a biography of Nabokov or Sarah Belfort’s A++ Tumblr, and you end up spending a great deal of your evening following the breadcrumbs of Mills’ thoughts. Isn’t that what you’d like the internet to be like? What a wonderful present it can be, what great fodder for conversations you’d never had before, and how generous to share, so considerately, an idea that goes beyond himself and his own concerns. Mills has ideas, opinions, questions, and often they relate only tangentially to himself, which is of course the mark of a person who sees the world as endlessly amusing, befuddling, and beautiful.
I asked Chad, our Bright Wall Dark Room editor and one of my favorite internet chums, to say something about Mills for this post. He obliged:
There are certain people you come across in life — in the real world, in books, online, wherever — that sincerely make you want to be a better person in very particular ways: smarter, more interesting, more thoughtful, more articulate, more generous, more engaging. Mills has been one of those people for me ever since I first stumbled onto a post of his a couple of years ago. He reaches people in a very direct way, and, even though he knows more about most everything than you probably do, he never makes you feel lesser than. His is the best kind of intelligence, the most important kind of writing: it invites you in — warmly, gently — engages you in a dialogue, and then allows you to feel smarter than you probably are just for being a part of the conversation. I’m not exactly sure what it means to be a good man in the 21st century, but I think it probably looks a lot like Mills.
I’ll end this with a few of my favorite of Mills’ posts, though there are too many to list:
A Love Letter
Older than The Idiot: Illness as Heroism
The Worst Vice Presidential Candidate?
(he knows what it means to miss New Orleans, but he’s got a pretty lady in a Hobbes costume with a broken foot who loves Nabokov)
(he also has the dope jams parsed for your eardrums)
(he was the shadow of the waxwing slain)
A Minor Theme
Perhaps you’d like to join in the love fest for Mills on this Five Dollar Friday. His email is on his page. Or perhaps you’ll publish the draft you saved that’s 4,000 words about pizza; I’ll read it. I’ll thank you for saving me a subscription to Granta, in fact. Granta is something I would like to subscribe to when I’m 40, and not before.
I lied about ending with the links. I totally lied. Instead, I’ll end with a quote from Mills, which encompasses so well what is special about him and his writing, which always goes beyond the small world of interiority that people have come to associate with social media and blogging:
Let us tearily confess to the viewers -how brave to share our emotions! We’ll speak our “selves”, post by post! And we’ll update our “statuses”: abbreviated, gussied fragments of interior monologue, evidence of the exchange between interior and exterior, the rise of personality and the decline of reflection. Status: the bleeping of a probe deep in space, beyond its range, updating unlistening engineers on its velocity, its energy levels, its functioning camera. Perhaps it can take a photo of itself.
Don’t listen to Weil! Think not of the impersonal but of “the way the camera follows us in slo-mo, the way we look to us all”! Or consider, at any rate, the possibility that our obsession with selfhood is somehow concomitant with the foreclosure of the individual’s avenues of transcendence: hemmed in by the reductive and denied the mythical, what else can one plumb for depth but the self?