Hey, hotshots--a word of advice from someone who's been there, eh? Liz Smith's story--and, indeed, my own--demonstrates just how devastating the fall from great heights can be, and how fast it can occur. So keep that in mind as you turn your backs on the likes of Liz & Me.
Let's start with Monday's NYT Business section. The title says it all: "In the Blog Era, Liz Smith Wonders if There's Room for the Pro."
[An aside, if I may: is there such a thing as too exact a title? Should that particular NYT editor get a raise for precision? or a good talking-to about how, readers being scarce enough as it is, we don't want to make it too easy for them to skim past the article itself whilst walking from the kitchen to the den before they log onto Gawker?]
Tell the truth, cruel-hearted 21st century techno freak: the INSTANT you saw how Liz, that doyenne of discretion, but also the face of old-school gossip, had admitted defeat, what did you do? You dropped to one knee and performed that classic Tom Cruise "celebration of one's own greatness" maneuver, didn't you?
[You know the one, don't pretend otherwise: Clenched fist jerked crisply, Kung-Fu style, to shoulder, elbow pulled tight against your side-
HOLD IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Listen up, blogmeisters! Before you get all gussied up for that TIME MAGAZINE TREND OF THE CENTURY cover photo, let's look at the facts. Nirvana, you're not. Sure, you represent the chaos and freshness of revolution, but in fact you graduated from a fancy college just like the rest of us--
[worse, you probably even have an M..F..A..!--]
and, sure as shootin', you didn't have to work an on-campus food service job, struggling madly to keep up as wave upon wave of blue dining-hall trays marched toward you with conveyor-belt doggedness; were never put in the position of having no choice but to dig, with your own sorry fingers, into the depths of those scratched-plastic juice glasses to retrieve from their bottoms the soggy, half-eaten remains of tapioca pudding, + innumerable cigarette butts; all this for $1.25 an hour, just to make ends meet...
C'mon, admit it! You're living in Park Slope or Hoboken, Berkeley or Ann Arbor or Toronto, with a bijillion-dollar sci-fi rack of computer gadgetry to make your blog smooth and shiny. You've got a cushy day job--OK, maybe you even work hard, and even like it (sorta), or at least like the bon-bons your paycheck pays for; or else you're milking the interest on Grand-Mama's inheritance; either way, this is a secret you keep from your blogroll regulars so that you can present as a Terry Malloy down-the-docks scuffer ("I coulda been a contenda," you bellow with anguish at your 84" flat-screen t.v.)
(But I digress...)
We were talking about my close personal friend, the lovely Liz Smith, who at 82 looks better than I did at 22--and about how all you Dave Eggers-trained smarty-pantses cluck dismissively at the old values--sweat kept secret, secrets held close, true to yer school, et cetera. And about the little snicker you won't admit to at the thought that you & your gang are taking over the world... Same as the way you pshaw publicly every time the NYT or some other establishment rag tries to get a "handle" on you and your funknographic gaggle, which of course they always, like, get so wrong... And yet if a Cool-Factor judge were to issue me a warrant to search your place of fiction commission--that is, the place you do your blogging, the place where you assume your Alt-Shift personae--I guarantee we'll find you've got a secret scrapbook of printed mentions that you keep under your floorboards, and this week's Times' articles will be right on top.
Oh, Liz--I feel your pain! Like you, I'm too principled to play the Nasty Nellie game--and look at the cost. They email me; they say, Hey Max--serve us some Dish or we're gonna cut you off. They want the nitty-gritty on why Y got fired; how M maneuvered around A to wind up with J's job; which literary agent is consumed with Reefer Madness; and which top editor swizzles the spit between her teeth, driving her assistant mad. I know all this stuff, of course I do--but I've never forgotten your advice: when in doubt, imagine the shoe on the other foot. What if this were said about you?
So I stay between the white lines--and because of this, they turn away. Oh, Liz! In the beginning it was magical! We here at BookAngst had no business plan, we were operating by the seats of our pants. But it worked, Liz! And, oh, the accolades! We went from 0 to 60 in no time flat. Suddenly NPR was calling, Oprah was calling; Publishers Weekly wanted to do a profile; there was a whole blog devoted to trying to figure out our true identity. [No, they never did get it right.] Meanwhile, at BookAngst 101 we had 6,000,023 hits in a single day. That's a lot of hits!But it doesn't last, does it? (Though your run has been far, far longer than most.) Quite recently I was having lunch with an agent, and we were talking blogs. Unaware of my own pointed interest in the conversation, he was raving about all those po-mo lit-crit tech-head groove-sters, Marvelous Maud and Bookslut and Sarah the Idiosyncratic and ElVar and Beatrice/ix and Nathalie the GalleyCat and--well, pretty much everybody in the known lit-blog universe... except... AHEM...
"Sure, sure," I said, "But what about that, whatzit, BookAngst, the publishing blog?"
He squinted a moment as though trying to concentrate in a loud restaurant. (OK, it was a loud restauant.) I prompted him further: "You know--that Mad Max guy?" Finally the squint gave way to a flicker of recognition--and then
He. rolled. his. eyes.
"Oh, God, yeah, I know that one--isn't it such a bore? The guy obviously doesn't know anything about publishing; maybe if he had some good gossip or something it'd be worth it--instead he goes on and on about the dullest topics. Reaganomics, corporate mergers, blah blah blah."
That night I dragged myself home and discovered that I'd had nine--9!--hits in the previous 24 hours; and two of them were come-ons from porn sites.
Well, Liz, at least they're still writing about you. Whereas Tuesday's lit-blog-fete made no mention of....well.... Anyway, now that the writing's on the wall, Liz, I depend on your example to show me the way to a graceful exit. As to all you hot-shot blogsters riding high atop the crest of the moment, just remember:
Payback's a bitch!
"Writing is considered a profession, and I don't think it is a profession. I think that everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks he can do something else, ought to do something else. Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. I don't think an artist can ever be happy."
PRACTICAL MARKETING [Courtesy Zornhau, 2005]
"They should put the 1st couple of pages up in subway adverts. Having read them several times, you'd feel compelled to try the book - if it was any good."
PLATE OF SHRIMP [Courtesy Alex Cox’s REPO MAN, circa 1984]
"A lot of people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidences and things. They don't realize that there's this like lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. I'll give you an example, show you what I mean. Suppose you're thinking about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly somebody will say like "plate" or "shrimp" or "plate of shrimp" out of the blue, no explanation. No point in looking for one either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness."
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- ▼ March (12)