The preoccupation of the week has been writing. Medium.com is losing its writers very quickly. The website had proposed to be a clear, artistic, and popular platform for writers who wanted to be part of a sympathetic and helpful group, inviting help for them to grow into the professionals they wanted to be. But it has blown up in everyone’s faces. I read but no longer contribute.
It’s clearly a culture problem. The base is in San Francisco which is now a techie town with a high proportion of code generators whose “writing” is done within certain bounds according to certain conventions. They were the ones who had the idea of a brilliant platform attracting writers. I suppose they were thinking of something like Word Press, but their “guiding genius” is Ev Williams who previously devised Blogspot (the one I use) and Twitter (I’m also there.) They assumed that he’d wave his magic wand and Medium would pop out of his forehead.
Instead there has been increasing irritation between the difference between the conformist, money-pursuing Ferengi back in the office and the wildly trans-everything raging souls who hark back to the Seventies and who mostly post the writing. What at first seemed to be the freedom to self-edit, but with community support, pretty soon revealed itself as controlled and edited by invisible people. Even if you didn’t ask, they were quick to advise a person (me) that I would get more readers if I would post an identifying photo that was smiling. My fav selfie is in a beret and Harry Potter glasses, which I hoped would suggest a Chinese intellectual. But the puppet masters clearly want their own vision, which is a blonde suburban teenager from the conformist Fifties -- smiling. That didn’t work for me the first time around and certainly won’t now. These techie kids put arbitrary tags on what I write. Whenever I write about Blackfeet, they tag it “travel.”
My movie this evening was “The Book Thief,” which sort of encapsulates the female myth about writing that serves this approach. Partly Anne of Green Gables and partly Anne Frank, this beautifully presented film about a girl with a conscience trying to survive in Nazi Germany is focused on her fascination with books. She steals them out of a rich person’s library and then returns them, so that it’s technically borrowing. Such a conscience! It must come from reading! She tries to save everyone and tells them stories in the bomb shelter so they won’t be afraid. Alas, everyone dies but her, but after all she is able to immortalize them in her books. Such power! She lives to ninety and has a wonderfully elegant apartment with a grand piano, which just shows what a successful writer can achieve. There’s no sex in this particular version, but boy friends. NO female friends.
This is so deeply internalized in my generation that few can pull away from it enough to see the reality of compromises, denials, and contingencies that can be folded secretly into such stories. Pulling them out, like unfolding origami, destroys the metaphor and leaves only paper. This particular story is narrated by Death, who is not a girl but a Big Primary Male making arbitrary decisions. He sounds pretty sexy, but that’s been pointed out by other Big Primary Males.
Getting back to the platforms that are e-magazines, they are different from blogs because there are editors and they have a plan and agenda. Aeon is one based in England, more carefully planned and far more stable than Medium. They did quite a bit of primary surveying, just asking people for spontaneous comments, and that has continued. They also include videos, high quality short works from all over the planet. They continue to allow comment and most of it is pretty decent: educated and thoughtful. Quite English, actually. They are mostly male, believe deeply that what separates humans from animals is literacy, and can throw out quotes from classical education.
They can be intimidating, unless they get onto the subject of what I should probably call something, but I don’t know what: the new research into biology and cosmology, geology and psychology. Evidently they don’t read that stuff. Deep history, before anyone even spoke but used material objects to mark concepts. The incredible connectedness of life so that a dipper taking up sea water includes viremes (bits of virus), bacteria, plants and animals of only one cell that have aspects of BOTH plant and animal, so which is it? These are people who learned categories and principles long enough ago that they preceded this paradigm shift. The pigeon holes are gone and now there are only continuums, whether we’re talking about sex or culture or the names of millennia and aeons.
A hint of post-WWII existentialism when everything seemed to be gone lingers on, but with a determined, even blind, effort to remain Western Civ humanists who know nothing about the indigenous or the Asians. They assume that everyone is Christian or at least Abrahamic, so their generalizations tend to be like Tom Hanks declaring that “The da Vinci Code” will save the planet because “everyone” knows about the chalice. Or the Aeon question about whether the smart aleck New Atheists have damaged the faith of believers, without remembering that probably most Asian and indigenous people have never been theists in the first place, much less cared about the niceties of the various “Axial” dogmas of their kingships and immortality.
The contrast between Aeon and Medium is rather enlightening in several ways. First, the importance of considering the source. Second, how much money controls print even on the seemingly “free” internet. Third, a sharp contrast between generations -- the one that is trying to nest in a treeless world, and the one that is rather lost in the tangled forest. They all praise each other for the courage of their confessions and deplore what they call “listicles” which are articles with titles like “five ways to make a man fall in love with you.” (My advice would be for them to read Eugene Kennedy’s advice column.)
Publishing houses, I mean the print ones, have been using a strategy of creating “imprints” managed by people who declare a style or interest. They are convinced that research can reveal what people will buy so they are sorting their marbles into various baskets: witty old women; wise old men; sexy risky boys; immigrants; survivors. Medium is trying something like that, appointing certain people to manage their named “domains.” (I’m not sure that’s the right word.) But then the main managers come in over the top and interfere. So the person leaves or even gives their named space to someone else, like selling a law practice. (So far no money has changed hands.) But it doesn’t take down the whole platform. All these people still believe a copyright is a real thing and that intellectual property has value.
There are a few highly personal blogs by people who don’t write them and don’t invite others either. One curated compendium is Brain Pickings Weekly which is very PBS -- inspiring curated quotes to get you reassured. My cousin loves it. She also likes the science posts from Nautil.us but reads them secretly so no one will know there is disease in the family. In the meantime, I realize that every time I talk to anyone about any disease or condition, the bots pick it up and I am deluged with advertising spam about whatever it is. So she’s right about people prying, but wrong about any ability to keep anything secret.
This IS a smile!
My blog, this one, is edited only by myself and this particular one is written hastily at the end of the day, so it's probably not edited very well. As a parting thought, I just discovered that if Google gets mad at you, in addition to putting you on the "block list," which means your email provider will refuse any of your messages without you knowing it, Google will tear off all the tags one puts at the end of the posting. That means it won't be on their "listicle" when people are looking for you. Of course, people are demanding to be taken off the search engine lists anyway. This is not so much like the Wild West as like a revolving door. It can hit you in the butt on the way out.