My polymath friend and frequent commenter, Art Durkee, is beginning to make and post on YouTube what you might call “movies,” but are in fact videos he made of landscapes in black and white accompanied by music he composed. Art is a mystic poet as well as a techie. He made this video on an iPad last night using “Garageband” for composing. You could do it. Well, probably not quite at the level Art can reach, just starting out. Talking about such things is severely pinched by lack of vocabulary. This is a cross-media poem but it has no words. It is an “object.” The tone and subject of it make it suitable for meditation but it contains no religious dogma. It is universally available on the Internet through YouTube, which constitutes “publishing,” or does it?
“Publishing” has become an albatross -- not the soaring white bird that follows ships at sea but the stinking carcass hung around the neck of the ancient mariner. It stinks of money. When it was in the sky, mysterious and iconic, it was an automatic sign of quality. Important People somewhere in the sky (demi-gods) anointed published books with awards and praise, so that you knew to be impressed by it. Your high school English teacher taught you to believe this. (I hope he or she also taught you Coleridge.) If you say you are a writer, the next question is always “are you published?”
They think they are asking whether they could find a copy to read, but what they really mean is “are you anointed?” If you ask them, what do you mean, “published,” they will describe a book. But consider this: friends of mine were eating out with someone who knew nothing about me. The friends told this person about my blog, so he put his smartphone on the table and punched up http://www.prairiemary.blogspot.com and there I was, published, if you mean available for anyone to read. But if it doesn’t cost anything, can it be worth anything?
Change birds. Waterfowl in all their genres seem to glide effortlessly on the pond, but we all know that their ugly little webbed and scaly feet are paddling like crazy where you can’t see them. Self-publishing without marketing is a decoy: seems to be a gliding bird but has no feet, can’t go anywhere. The feet are marketing. Self-publishing is not publishing unless it’s also self-marketing. That’s where the anointing happens. Advertising. They call it your “platform.” One can contract with an advertising company (install batteries) or tow your decoy around the pond on a string. (Self-promotion.) If a book isn’t promoted, can it be worth anything?
There are so many people aching to be anointed (and rich) that if a person wants to make money, the best bet is to exploit all the pilgrims. Sell sandwiches on the road to Lourdes, as it were. Offer cheap and easy access to e-publishing, for instance. Or actually print-on-demand the books, the way I do at Lulu.com. You and I can order any of my books via Lulu.com or even Amazon and have them here in a week, but few of my readers will do that. There’s money in educating writers, but not readers. Better to keep consumers where they were. I’ve offered to do workshops for readers but no one comes. People don’t read -- they watch vids.
The people who in the past would buy local self-published books, partly as a favor and partly to see what the writer was up to, are accustomed to the authors having a stash at home under the bed, because in the past one had to print a LOT of books at a time. So they call you on the phone or stop you in the post office to get your book. In order to sell my books, I must front the money to print up a few dozen to show around or to the locals they will not seem “real.” Some of my books are suitable for locals (though whites for the most part will not read about Blackfeet). They do not care about liturgical theories. Anyway, they’re a little afraid of Google. (If they used it and understood, they would be even more afraid.) They imagine eyes staring out of the screen at them, and they are. Real ones.
But there’s the passivity problem. When I asked a museum exhibiting Bob Scriver’s work why they didn’t carry the book I wrote about him, they said, “Oh, no salesman has come and asked us to carry it.” But few publishers even employ salesmen anymore. A chair for a major local conservation group asked how she could find my books, but when I suggested Amazon, she said she did not care to use a computer. Some here still think blogging is an activity of the devil, mysteriously likely to precipitate one into a pit of pornographic vipers. Yet they will sign up for Facebook and Twitter, snake bait if there ever was. Many of these people are depending upon salesmen to teach them, so naturally what they learn is shallow consumerism. They don’t go to YouTube to watch edifying lectures but rather to watch cats in mailboxes or chimps abusing frogs.
How does one learn to make a video like Art’s? How do people even know such things exist, much less that they probably already have the tools to do it. They’ll say, “Oh, I have no talent,” but talent comes -- like playing the piano -- from doing it. NOT a salesman. What kids know and Art knows is the computer is NOT like a television set. A television set is a salesman, trying to get you to buy something and to teach you to trust the television. A computer is a trail that you walk up, with effort, with awareness, with gradually increasing power. (This post is a metaphor riot.)
Writing is like a computer, but on a computer you can “write” with images and sounds. I think what keeps a lot of people from even trying it is that a television set gives a person the reassuring sensation of being alone in their living room with just the actors on the screen. A computer with Internet gives people the fantasy of being in a stadium crowded with an audience ready to go thumbs up and thumbs down as you confront the tiger of “writing a book.” If you relish that, here’s a website for you: http://bookcountry.com/ You post your writing there and then put your thumb to work on other people’s writing, who will do the same for you. Go ahead. If you’re embarrassed to look bad in front of your computer, here’s your chance to let a lot of actual people criticize you.
Art Durkee’s meditative vid easily includes “fifty shades of gray” but it’s unlikely to go viral. We’ve been taught that sex is the main marker of value: no sex, no bucks. Publishing taught us that. That albatross, too, hangs stinking around our necks, another that used to gleam soaring across a blue sky.