Pridefully Humble

Naïvely, I do not count myself as prideful. On a good day, I’ll label myself as “humble”, “modest”, or “selfless”, but never “proud”. In fact, if I’m truly pampering myself, I’ll take a moment to glance about and politely, gently, be thankful that I don’t put myself at the center of my own personal universe. I’ll then settle back into my chair in the UgLi. Pull out my laptop. And check, one more time, how many views are on my latest YouTube video.

In the act of congratulating myself on my humility, I have successfully swept under the rug that I am, in a capacity of varying sizes, prideful indeed. I imagine that’s why the first paragraph of Didion’s “Why I Write” left me with a lingering sense of discomfort.

Writing is an act of aggression, Didion argues. “You can disguise its aggressiveness all you want with veils of subordinate clauses and qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasion – with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating – but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is […] an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.”

Outside of academia, writing in my world has looked like scripting and shooting YouTube videos. At These Neon Hearts, I post videos whose sole purpose is to change the way my audience thinks about various issues. My agenda is not quiet, is not timid, is not hidden: I have blatantly said that my purpose is to influence thinking. (“An act of sheer egoism,” Orwell would add.)

These thoughts have clung to me for the last several days, a thin coat of convicting dirt. Walking through campus recently, absent-mindedly trying to brush away the grime, I let the thoughts unfold and grow.

Is there such thing as private space in this day and age? Is there a corner of thought that is not touched, assaulted, and invaded? Facebook advertisements are tailored to our search histories, encouraging us to buy, purchase, consume. Flyers are forced into our hands as we scuttle through the Diag. Even family gatherings are not sacred, filled with political agendas and the constant pressure to date, be married, have children.

I would argue that writing is not the only act of subtly violent aggression: Communication itself is. In any medium – when we speak, play, dance, write, draw – we impose ourselves upon our neighbors. “Believe me.” “Agree with me.” “Deal with me.” “Understand me.”

While there is wisdom in knowing the art of silence, it is often the meek who keep their aggression hidden. The silent are those who do not wish to stir the pot, to attract attention – alternatively, those who have been so bullied with the ideas of others that is easier to fall silent than fight back.

Typing this, I am overwhelmed with the clarity for why I participate in the act of sheer egoism that is writing*: I do not seek to vainly assert my ideas to seek affirmation; I write to fix a system that is broken.IMG_1309

I write videos about my time in Seguin, Haiti to show the beauty in depravity.

I write about Dave Brandon and Brady Hoke to lash out against the personalized hatred toward them.

I write about Chicago and Independence Day and the thousand swirling thoughts on my mind not because any praise establishes my worth, but because my heart longs to change a world that is shattered beyond repair.

I write to assert my ideas because I will not fall silent to the pain, struggle, and destruction of this world.

Communication, at its heart, is an act of idea assertion. Use that power wisely. Wield your words as weapons.

Be bold, and go change minds.


*Nothing like having Project 1 revelations while working on a blog post.

Alexis Stempien

An aspiring science writer studying biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience with minors in writing and general shenanigans. In my spare time, I make YouTube videos at

2 thoughts to “Pridefully Humble”

  1. Alexis,

    What a thought-provoking piece. It’s clear that you don’t entirely agree with Orwell’s assertion that writing is an act of sheer egoism, but I think you are very in tune with Orwell in a regard that you didn’t mention. He stated that all writing, or at least all good writing, should have a political purpose, and it appears that you follow this motif to a tee. You say you write “to fix a system that is broken”, and that is exactly what Orwell seemed to be alluding that all good writers should do. So bravo, it’s great that all of your writing, or vlogging, has a purpose and you are constantly striving to influence thinking. I’m looking forward to becoming more familiar with the ways you intend to influence thinking over the course of the semester.

  2. Alexis,

    I love your style! (Also I totally creeped on your youtube feed, I like what your doing and if you’re ever in the mood for some collaboration let me know!) I like how you connected yourself to the pieces we read in class and specifically how today is a lot like what Orwell went through when he was writing–I hadn’t thought of that. I agree with Max this really is a thought provoking piece and I look forward to reading more of your work!


Leave a Reply