Sunday, February 21, 2016


In Montana in the Sixties there was occasionally a character who was “all hat and no cattle,” who looked like and talked like a “real” cowboy but turned out to only own the wardrobe. In the Fifties when Bob started out as a sculptor, no one had thought much about cowboy art. Maybe Charlie Russell, but he wasn’t an industry yet. Then word got out that a person could make big money painting “pitchers” and suddenly there was a cowboy artist under every rock. Since they all seemed to stroll into the Scriver Studio to announce themselves, we used to try to come up with something that had as much ring to it as “all hat and no cattle,” but mostly “all palette and no pictures” didn’t work that well.

The human desire is to assume the role without having to do the work. I keep thinking about the young woman who told me that she’d “love to be a blogger but she couldn’t think of anything to write.”  To be but not do.
I'm proud to have been published in the journal of this Canadian environmental group.

Keep this in mind.

There are a lot of gimmicks to get people to write for free: organize an anthology for which no one gets paid, claim to be editing an encyclopedia that never quite gets “published,” and the newest one is the online magazine, often in the name of an idealistic organization. Some announce “theme” issues and others just post whatever comes along. I suppose some are recruited. What pushes these enterprises along is the belief that people are just dying to be published and would be if the editors would wake up and read through their slush pile. And then the editors keep hoping that there’s something in that pile — online now, so easier to ignore — that will catch fire and sell enough to be the locomotive that pulls the train.

There are problems. We’re in one of those boring Horatio Alger times when people worry a lot about security and prestige, how to dress and whether they stink. One can win elections by daring to be obnoxious and lying.  Or charming.  All advertising and no product.

To me he looks relieved.

So now we come to a little situation that has developed around which purports to support unheralded, high-quality, unpaid sleeper writers from everywhere. Except that it doesn’t. They’ve tried a lot of interesting strategies: one is to anoint some people editors of sub-groups. It’s unknown to me whether they get paid (it’s a lot of work), but they do tend to develop a style — which might not quite be the one they announced — defined or abandoned when one of the most intense and colorful writers supplies a piece that makes everyone gasp. And imitate. That works best when the essay is written by the editor, who took the role in order to show the way.

The original devisers of this platform for writing seem to have had social media in mind and to think that writing was done as it is in the background of a TV series by a group of arguing writers developing a plot or maybe by a warehouse of carrels with individuals working on some corporate project. But what was really on their minds was the Platform, the code design that organized the format. Good design, based on clever code, was the real goal. Build it and content will come.

The result has been “all platform, no good writing.” What on earth made them think that organizing paragraphs in a nice font and slapping in advertising-quality images would make anyone sweat their way through real writing? What did they think good writing was anyway? They keep begging the writers (who are pretty much the same as the readers) to tell them what they want.

For a decade I’ve subscribed to a group blog currently called “Uncouth Reflections.” Actually they are quite “couth.” If you read it for a while, you begin to realize what wet puffed rice is coming from Medium. com

The "Uncouth" writers are WEIRD (in the acronym sense: Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic.) No women, though some have come and gone. They are old, they travel, they take their own photos (excellently), they are not prudes, and they know stuff. They are not at all beginners, nor are they avant garde in any obvious way, but they’re pretty funny and can handle irony. By contrast, the Medium people are “Global, Empathic, Technological, Salarymen, Obedient”, which doesn’t work out to a very good acronym: GETSO. I’ll work on it.

Ray and Polly Sawhill being couth.

Bottom line deduction: These men were educated (in institutions or by their own efforts).  Too many of the Medium writers are not. Much of that is the fault of the public school systems where the teachers were produced by “gut” course Mickey Mouses who neither have the old virtues of good spelling, grammar and organization, nor any real grasp of the fancy not-so-new Algerian/French post-everything theory they may have been exposed to in college coffee shops. Schools, and esp. schools of education, also have gone to all platform, no content. They admit stigmatized students, but stoop to them. Or maybe this category is too burdened to learn: all backpack, no defiance.

It’s amazing to read over any length of time. It’s like watching a hatch of baby turtles scuttle towards the moon shining over the sea. The original founders and controllers went back to engaging paid professional magazine writers whom they sort of slipped into the mix.

The white girls who evidently had WEIRD dads to pave their way are the worst to read. They are even more officious than low-quantum urban Native American women trying to ride their supposed entitlement to passing judgment on the world. They invent distinctions like truth (their opinion) vs. fiction (which they think are something like entitled fantasies). The ones who read science (and often get it wrong) are at least partly aware that it’s clear now that a human being’s mind is reassembled all the time, and not always the same way. Not only do witnesses not agree, they change their testimony over time. Since privileged girls have little encounter with law enforcement, they don’t know that though legality values truth, it mostly means “provable,” and endorses it for the sake of neatness and closure.

These overconscientious persons do not know that literary categories are INVENTED to support theories and the culture of the theorizer. They do not know that people can write in fabulous and powerful tropes full of insightful metaphors without having any idea there’s a name for any of this. They do not know that the high school texts they studied (and got A’s and lots of praise for mastering) were written by people with opinions specifically chosen by textbook publishers to please English teachers and school boards, mostly in Texas where the big sales are.  Heads still in the Fifties.

They do not know that when the forces of time and events get aligned into a Real Movement, a story that makes sense of chaos, it’s like an asteroid coming from nowhere and flattening all the timber for many miles. You can’t go to school for that, no one pays you for that, and if you’re at the epicenter, you might be totally destroyed. Since we are now digging up asteroids and analyzing them for the sake of recovering crucial trace elements, it’s possible that your work will be found and valued long after your death.

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