Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Looks as if the on-again/off-again Arthur Silber is now off-again -- perhaps for good. But then that's what he said the last time he took a final bow, only to return with more mega-posts. So who really knows. Should anyone care? Depends on your blog diet. Personally, I read Arthur's stuff a couple times a week, appreciated his impassioned, heartfelt explorations of our wretched state, esp his angry musings on torture. Arthur took & takes this savage shit seriously, oftentimes too much so. It drives him to pain and cycles of despair, but his diligence and intelligence slices through the densest horror, though again, not without personal cost.

Arthur says that his health and poor financial condition have forced him from the stage; but he's also admitted that he's letdown by a lack of traffic, upset that after spending so much time thinking about and composing extensive ruminations on war and political/intellectual corruption, so few people show up to see what he says. He points out that lesser blogs and writers snare ten times the audience he does, and he simply cannot fathom it.

Now, here is where I start to lose some sympathy for Arthur. Is it any real shock that in modern America, a writer like Arthur Silber attracts a small crowd? Not only do his posts take time to ingest, Arthur is but one of millions of bloggers, the majority of whom, I'm willing to bet, based on what surfing I've done over the years, go ankle deep on whatever issue interests them. Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit has God-knows-how-many readers, but everytime I visited his site (admittedly, not a common practice), all I saw was a sentence or two about this or that, a link to a longer article, perhaps a pull quote, then Reynolds' trademark "Heh," "Indeed," and "Read the whole thing." That's it. Yet the guy has one of the most frequented sites on the Web. What can you do?

Fair? Perhaps not, but that's really beside the point. Creating a blog and trying to attract a steady loyal readership is a crap shoot, usually a losing one, and you cannot dive into the fray and expect widespread acceptance & understanding, much less expect to earn a living tapping out emotionally-charged treatises on these squalid times. And that's what Arthur expected to do -- pull countless readers into the depths of his outrage, then asking them for remuneration. That's simply not gonna happen, not with any regularity, anyway, and Arthur pretty much admits this and is depressed by it. He lacks the capital and the energy to write at length for pennies, and so, for now, unplugged his keyboard.

Thing is, Arthur's stuff was linked via bigger blogs, Crooks and Liars, especially. So he wasn't completely ignored. He just wasn't getting the fat numbers common to the larger sites. How many of us do? I average around 1,500-2,000 visits a week -- Off Off Off Off Off Off Off Off Off Lower West Broadway compared to the popular blogs. And unlike Arthur, I rarely if ever get linked to a larger site. Why would I? Rightwingers have no use for my stuff, and the liberal blogworld is a tightly-knit/insider/backslapping scene of which I'm not a part. I perform under a dangling 60 watt bulb for a tiny audience sitting on a concrete floor. My limited reach has to date kept me from expanding to a slicker, larger stage, but it hasn't stopped me from writing. Short of sudden death, I don't know what would.

Years ago I attended a writers' conference in Montana -- well, novice writers from Indiana, people who wanted to learn how to better express their desires and fantasies on the page. My mother brought me along, thinking I could add something to the mix. She was well-intentioned, but I didn't really belong there; in less than an hour, it was clear that I was the most experienced writer present, organizers and panelists included. It was somewhat uncomfortable, waiting for my turn to speak as everyone introduced themselves and spoke about what they hoped to learn about writing, etc. When my turn came, I listed my resume (though out of politeness, I truncated it a bit), and the panelists, the "experts," none of whom had published with a major or even midlevel house, were clearly upset that a ringer was in the room, and for the next few days they pretty much ignored and avoided me. Which was fine -- gave me more free time to explore the large mountain we were on, or go down to the local town and drink at a Mexican restaurant that served heaping spicy appetizers to the cowboys & girls. But one day I sat in on a panel and listened as person after person spoke about writing in mystical, happy terms; to them, composing a story, poem or journal entry was a form of therapy in which they found joy and a level of self-discovery. Then, inexplicably, someone asked what motivated me to write. While I didn't want to piss on everyone's gladspeak, I didn't want to lie either, nor offer additional gloss. So I simply said:

"I write because I have no choice. Been doing it since I was 12 or so, in one form or another. It's a big part of me and always will be."

Do I enjoy it or get anything fun outta it?

"Sometimes. But most times, I hate to write. The mechanics of it bores me, but it comes naturally, whether I'm in the mood or not. Again, it's not a hobby but an extension of myself.

"Ultimately, writing is not for the weak. Exposing your thoughts to strangers opens you to all kinds of nastiness, pettiness and outright hostility, or should, if you're pricking the right pricks and they're paying attention. Yet much of the time they don't pay attention, and you might be only writing for yourself, in which case you have to dig deeper and without sentimentality. You may find good, uplifting things down there, but you gotta claw thru piles of dark rotting shit in the process, that is, if you're honest with yourself. Writing's not fun, and it shouldn't be."

Blank fallen stares. A few open mouths. That wasn't what most of those people wanted to hear, and while a few approached me later on to discuss all this further, the majority didn't want their precious concepts about writing demystified.

James Agee's majestic and well-ahead-of-its-time "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" sold a paltry 600 copies when it was first published; and when Agee died, none of his books were in print. The marvelous Dawn Powell, one of the finest American comic novelists of the 20th century, barely got by on her writing, died penniless with none of her books in print, and was buried anonymously in a mass paupers' grave. Those are just two tragic examples. There are countless more. Arthur Silber may not, at present, have the physical energy or financial wherewithal to blog on a regular basis; but he should keep writing, even if all he has is a pencil stub and scraps of stained paper. It's what's within, not who "appreciates" you, that keeps your narrative alive.