Recommencement

  from The Medium is the Massage, by Marshall McLuhan

from The Medium is the Massage, by Marshall McLuhan

I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t know who I am, because then I’d be placing unwarranted blame on an awful lot of folks. Casting stones, first the splinter out of your eye, so on and so on and all that fairness. I say “unwarranted” because there’s no blame, no fault to be had at all, on any side. The truth is, I’ve done my active best to avoid what I’ve never wanted: scrutiny, vulnerability.

There’s no need to be unrealistic and pretend that each success (however defined), or each reader garnered, isn’t another mote placed on the scales of expectation, balanced against all the empty weight of creative pathos on the other side. It’s also nonsense to think that any artist, writer or otherwise, will simply succeed, outright, because of reputation and credentials. Fair-weather friends are made far fairer when placed side by side the loyalties of fair-weather fans, especially in an age of internet rantbile.

But things that need to emerge will emerge all the same--likely raving--if not emerged leashed. The modern demands of “self-marketing”, “branding”, public-facing personas, all that (yes) disgusting waste of precious lifetime, is a fundamental problem for those of us who enjoy anonymity, privacy, and quietude, and for those of us who want to create for creation’s sole sake, but also want to make a living: eat, wash, wear clothes, have refrigerated food, and generally pretend at what passes for civility these days. It's also a problem for the Byronesque among us for whom writing is an expurgation of trauma and devilry. A need.

The idea of the hermetic, cabin-in-the-woods artist of pure integrity and valiant penury--and all the benefits of victimization derived therein--is not a new one. We can look to the “fuck you” era of 90’s counterculture. We can look to the aggressively anti-sellout ethic of the 60’s. We can look directly at the antiauthoritarian heart of original Americana and the Westward expansion, that same strange heart that also demands strength of law, military, and an inevitable consolidation of leadership.

The notion of an artist who is never heard but used nonetheless as a one-way mirror of social comparison, of giving/never-receiving, comes from a very solidly traceable path of European medievalism. It’s a mishmash of “unrequited love” poetics that predate the rise of Bildersrogen and don’t-look-at-me-I’m-too-chaste Clarissas and Pamelas and their resultant archetype of purity, generations prior to the birth of the modern novel in the Neo-classical period of Western literature and its legitimization a mere hundred and twenty or so years ago as a serious art form, round characters and all (thank you, Mr. Forster). This is all before Hemingway stepped onto the scene with his famous piece of modernist advice, “A Farewell to Adverbs!”

But since writing must be a thing of brick and mortar, a thing done because you happen to be inspired at 9:00 am every morning, and not simply Baphomet’s steam nostriling up from the unconscious, and not simply something kept for you and you alone, unread and away from cruel eyes, the question becomes: how to reconcile the purely selfish need for psychological dialectics with the emotional brutality of commercialism?

Again, not a new conundrum. Patronage to the arts--commissions of sculptures, musical pieces in honor of newly ascended royalty and the like--is a form of funding far more traditional than point-of-sale, and has by necessity addressed this seeming-contradiction, as a result producing wonders of creative power that we revere, historically, culturally, wonders that we just might be able to use to convince the aliens to not blow us all away when they weigh against those wonders our collective vices and stupidities.

And a book: a book is a conversation. Literature is a bi-directional relationship, no matter how passive the act of reading might seem, or how little of a role the reader might seem to have in the production of works. Yes, writing is one of the most solitary acts of creation possible, one that undoubtedly attracts a certain type of individual. And no, readers don’t physically scrawl or type the words that land on the page. I also don’t mean that readers play a role by “speaking with your wallet” or by letting the market decide, or any of that late capitalist rhetoric. I mean that literature can’t breathe unless it’s being ingested, interpreted, and pondered. Art requires a receiver, a receptor for the signal, not just a source and a vector or wave along which to move.

And now, lo-and-behold: we have in this age websites like Patreon.com, a beautiful and long-needed answer to the Gen-X corporate-hatred kerfuffle of the late twentieth century.

But even so, as the phrase goes, we all must answer to a higher authority, and even a site dedicated to generating merit-based, self-sustaining income for artists must ultimately, and perhaps justifiably, place power in the hands of the non-artist, the one who is consuming and not producing the thing being consumed. In and of itself, this is neither a good thing nor a bad thing, but simply a system of definable inputs and outputs. Subjectively though, and ultimately, it means that I and other writers/creators must place our trust and livelihood and demonized, excoriated souls in the hands of readers/consumers, and readers being, well, human, this isn’t exactly a comforting notion. No offense. Recall what I said earlier about aliens. Let’s just hope they’re less fickle that we are. It’ll make annihilation painless, at least far more painless than the slow bake and salinized rise of climate change.

Before firewalking it might be beneficial to practice a bit. To know yourself well enough to not transpose the image with the real thing. I’ve had to take a long while off the proverbial grid the past few years to know myself and push myself, creatively, to find out precisely what I’m capable of as a writer, to ascertain what I really want to say, how I want to say it, and to determine exactly what I do and do not need from this art.

No, I will never be a social media mendicant begging for hollow love. But, I still must exist in this forum. I must “put myself out there”, I know. I need to make of myself a presence in the machine. That’s why this whole thing is difficult. And if that sounds baffling to you, or preposterous, or straight up ponderous bullshit, and you’re wondering “what’s the big deal, brah?”, please remember that all predispositions fall along continuums, whether it be IQ, interest in professional sports, visual vs. auditory memory acuity, sexual preference, or any damn thing at all. Outliers help define the stodgy middle of the bellcurved belly. And right now we’ve got a big, fat social media belly full of micro-celebrity vainglory somehow taken for virtue.

But maybe I can just let be. Maybe a public face can actually be my own face and not the face of a self-aggrandizing sellout. Maybe this reinvention of a career can be simpler than I imagine. Yes: that’s what this post has been driving towards. Ironically so, because in the end I’m talking about simplification, reduction, listener-speaker, a roundtable, an athenaeum.

So here’s the plan:

I’m going to be recording videos of me reading my own work. Take a piece of short fiction, split it up into segments sensible to the text, of a reasonable length (7-10 minutes might be a good cutoff), and record those as individual videos. Think of audiobooks except the audio has a video. So, a videobook. A campfire. An intersection of literature and performance art. A story read to a group by the guy who wrote it.

We have, in the internet, a kind of revised phase of literature as oral tradition. A way to connect, face-to-face, and essentially listen, not “read”, to the voices of the greater tribe. The difference is, the tribe is not necessarily confined to local geography. We have, I admit, already moved past the sequential, linear print phase of human history that has given us so much erudition and technological/scientific progress, no matter any setbacks, by way of the proliferation of the printed word and our ability to free up more headspace because we need not remember every damn thing we’ve heard; we can just jot it down and reference it later. The trick, of course, is to enable “deep reading” and allow us to focus on a task long enough, and a complex enough task at that, to come to the resolution of a problem or the construction of a piece of work that was not previous allowable in a pre-print era, at least not without greater difficulty. This is one way to articulate Media Ecology 101, and I completely ally myself with Media Ecology as a discipline and theoretical construct.

Media Ecology may help to answer the question of why I would presume anyone would listen to a guy reading fiction in online videos. I adore the rhythmic, auditory quality to the written word. When we read something, it’s not simply a bunch of strange symbols on a page. There is a *voice*. That’s the term we use, rather intangibly and encompassingly: voice. Colloquially, voice means style, tone, pace, structure, meter, even typographic elements, and a whole bunch of other intangibles all wrapped together. And so: how about I simply give that voice voice?

I want to reach across the divide of the internet and the page to connect with a community of people, either according to the writer/reader paradigm, or speaker/listener paradigm. I want to challenge the notion that a public face must be a fake face cynically constructed solely for the purpose of disgusting words like “networking” and “branding”. I want to be real out here in there.

This is one of the purposes of writing, really: to enartifact yourself. To make of yourself a future relic. To enshrine, perhaps. To use the rules of language to place a small little token of being into a set of words bound and readable like a breadcrumb for anyone willing to give chase. A horcrux, if you’ve read Harry Potter. To leave an imprint and a riddle. The print era allowed this gift to explode and race its way into home after home of an everyday, literate public. The internet has turned that singular big bang into a multiverse.

However, in the grand scope of human history, the print era is a relative anomaly, and the modern digital era is an even slimmer sliver. Self-publishing has helped to democratize the sources of creative fiction, regardless of quantity or quality, but writing, as a discipline, no matter if it belongs to self-published individuals or traditionally published individuals, is still some kind of a mystic black box. Oooo, a writer. By my experience leading writing groups and writing workshops this kind of response typically means either, a) there is little to no awareness of the ground-level on the speaker’s part about the grunt work of writing, or b) flippancy.

I feel that there might be a better public, non-professional understanding of filmmaking, musicianship, canvas-painting, perhaps even game development, more than writing. There is simply more exposure, more exposés, more insight into processes that are more glamorous to watch or record, or are more easily reduced to deconstructible bits. Want to learn how a writer gets shit done? Ok. Watch this guy stare at this screen for two hours with his lips pursed and his fingers occasionally spidering. Very hard to explain or make concrete from the abstract. Also not nice to look at. Much less cool than footage of Andy Serkis in a green-painted room with little white balls stuck to his Velcro-suited body as he does an impression of a sentient chimpanzee.

And so we must ask: What is literature’s place in the modern world, at least literature in the sense that it’s generally known? The shift to the modern, digital era represents not a wholesale obliteration of deep reading, but a re-evaluation of how we define communication between writer and reader, source and receptor. On the subject of the aural quality of language, I keep hearing certain words come up again and again when talking about the circulation of information on the internet: conversation, dialogue, voice.

There is something inherently auditory about written material. Babies listen first, then speak, then read, then write. Storytelling began as an oral tradition to pass down knowledge, history, and wisdom in a form more memorable than lists and raw instruction. But the written word is unique. Minimally, it’s unique in the way that each medium speaks uniquely. We all know this inherently when we do things like compare books to movies. Of course there are differences because media and their respective languages – their tools, their strategies of conveying information, their strengths – all of them are different.

When looking at the changes that the written word has undergone in the past couple decades, including reading habits, market expectations, digitization, and economic trends, it becomes clear that there is more yet to uncover. We have not collectively discovered or defined the role that the former dominant medium has in the current era. We have work to do to suss it out, and it is at this point that I want to snipe. I want to play with text and see what potential ways there are to reconstruct the relationship between writer/reader and speaker/listener, and to find out what untapped potential still lives in an esteemed, traditional artform. This is where Patreon comes into play.

On that note, monthly Patreon supporters will receive e-books of all of my written works as they are written, whether short or long-form. I will also be frontloading my output after re-launch by making available short fiction from my completed, unpublished backlog to help me catch up with the current flow of work through this period.

Additionally, and perhaps most pointedly, I will be posting recordings – orations, I’m calling them – of short fiction alongside the re-launch of the site and the corresponding release of e-books to Patreon supporters. E-books will be available in epub, pdf, and mobi formats, and aside from the video orations themselves each work will have companion videos serving as deconstruction essays of the work at hand. All of the videos will be available to anyone, supporters or not, and they will be posted on my website, my Patreon page, and of course, YouTube. I think it’s suitable, in this day and age, to incorporate lessons from other media and approach literature in a dramatized form that harkens back to its oral roots.

You can think of Patreon support as a subscription service to my work, which gives you access to anything I write in e-book format in addition to supporting me as I write, record, upload, and curate the accompanying audiobooks (in video format) in addition to fleshing out the usual gamut of online essays and social media presence. As for essays, they will be available on my website as well as Patreon, and will be focused on three literary topics: deconstructions of works, technique, and ethics in literature.

Another part of me (smaller by the day, I admit) is concerned by this venture and its possible corruption of the traditional, romanticized artform of fiction, short stories, etc., that means so much to me. However, that’s exactly the rejoinder: *all* its artforms. There is no rigid boundary to the definition of literature any more than there is to the content it contains. Past shifts in literary tradition have always seemed incongruous with then-history. So, my concerns in this regard are immediately made moot.

Another part of me thinks this all sounds like an inherently horribly egotistical thing to do. Or at least, fears this is the case. Why would I presume you would stop to listen and care about what I, this one guy, have to say? Truth is, I have no idea. I have no idea if anyone will care. But, my desire for a particular result is separate from the need to conduct this experiment in fiction, voice, and theory. No guaranteed outcome is needed to drive me to do it.

As for the future and stretch goals: I would love to include things like online Q&A sessions, orations of classic texts, and even mentoring. It all depends on the amount of the support I receive. For now, let’s keep it simple and produce an output that can help justify such lofty, future ambitions.

I’ll be including all relevant links at the bottom of this post (essay, really). If you choose to support me, I hope to justify your faith in the very near future. This is an experiment that I hope to conduct together, a way to rethink and rediscover the written word and its connection to our oral past, digital present, and post-human future.

But I should stop here. This is a mere commentary, possibly a disclaimer. It’s not fiction, not a holy text, not at all. And just like the contrast of the wracked Byronist’s inner motivations at odds with the external pressures impugned by a place in the outside world: for the moment let’s embrace the contradictions as non-contradictory, and in so doing be able to adore literature and its messaging and its insights and maybe even start to see past its text to whatever truths it encodes.

Here’s to the very next step, and the one after that.