One can live in denial and call it optimism. I prefer to call it as I see it… a life in stasis, wandering a Lovecraftian landscape, plagued by crimson-eyed Leng Hounds. Already possessing a less-than-canine love of humanity, these winged things from The Dreamlands are relentless in their pursuits, known to avenge the transgressed for whom they are guardians, fearsome when alive and more so when dead, hideous voices searing the ears of those they pursue with endless baying through serrated teeth and long, wicked muzzles. I can take the constant state of vigilance. It’s that darn baying that is making me crazy.
A Writer’s Worst Nightmare
I am speaking of this long recession, and being a writer in it. There is a reason that writers and artists tend to gravitate toward colonies or isolation. Sometimes the noise of the outside world becomes too much for the Muse. The conscious self begins to listen to the voices of rumor and innuendo, to belittle choices made, to trample dreams. I hear the dry echoes of their doom-speech even now; their eerie, rasping voices chanting like Cthulhu-worshippers, “Nobody reads anymore…”
I course between wild midnight writing sessions, bad poetry, term papers and unemployment anxiety. I bury myself in websites, brainstorming while staring out at an empty parking lot at three in the morning. I wonder what the ultimate cost will be when all is said and done to the publishing industry as we know it; I wonder how many writers will never be discovered because someone is always chanting, “Nobody reads anymore.” I wonder if that writer is me…
This is the howling that fills my ears. It is the revenge of some technologist somewhere, slighted by the Popular Kids, believing that if you say it often enough it will become true. Clearly, it is someone who hates writing and literature and the Humanities. Yet how does one separate oneself from the Humanities? Every soul has a poet – even a bad one who writes trite love sonnets has its place. And what if you are a writer or a fine artist in today’s world? What will become of those of us who draw sustenance from lyrical springs when everyone else seems so eager to embrace the news, to take up the mantra? Could it really be true that no one reads anymore?
I say balderdash. I say it at three in the morning, and I say it in class, and at job interviews. And one by one people shake their heads. “Denial,” they whisper sadly, piteously. “You’re in denial...and probably old.”
It’s not like I am refusing to get a telephone…
And what’s wrong with being old? Wisdom cannot be had without it. Neither can temperance, fortitude, justice or prudence…cardinal virtues, all. I’m simply saying I don’t believe in rumor. I prefer facts. Closing bookstores and bankrupt newspapers do not equate to people “not reading;” that is the easy, obvious answer. Maybe it is too easy. Maybe it has to do more with bad management, poor marketing choices, and an internet everyone piled onto before any sense of structure was conceived.
Did you know that the subject of Internet Standards is still a major issue concerned with resolving technical aspects of the internet? No one has gotten around to regulating editorial standards (which many – no doubt those who don’t read anymore – find intrusive and a violation of their rights). The battle of the search engines, the competition for social networking, the proliferation of job-search sites…There is no uniformity. And no uniformity means there are no standards. No standards mean there is no one way to search and retrieve all information correctly and comprehensively every time, no one way to catalog the tremendous amount of information pouring into the internet daily.
Of course, that’s what SEO is for…Search Engine Optimization…The key word search. We’ll make it one big subject catalog…Yet no one is in charge of how to manipulate and apply catalog terms. Sometimes you choose this word, sometimes another, or perhaps different phrases, or different phrasing of phrases. Sometimes something works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes links fail. Sometimes corruption happens. It’s the internet after all…
But when we find it, we read it. Finding it is the first part of a new problem.
“Don’t Worry: If It’s Important, It’s Online”
I’ve developed a real hatred for Hollywood’s internet. People sit down at a terminal, type in three words and – viola! – exactly the article they sought is there…no phishing, no pop-ups, no erectile dysfunction ads; just glorious, unadulterated information. Just like flying cars, that’s what all the early internet promoters promised us in order to woo support. And now, half of the time one can’t even find the same site twice. I struggle looking for the mythical bonanza of fiction. Horror, it seems, comes and goes on the internet… or remains unchanged for long periods of time, locked in the perpetual ice-field of change or financial straits, advertising upcoming issues due out two years ago and never seen again... The internet is plagued by ghosts and the walking dead.
This temporally capricious behavior of all things web is disturbing. I still have a newspaper clipping of Art Linkletter’s visit to my American school in Taiwan back in 1969, right after his daughter died of a drug overdose. I can’t find any reference to the visit online. I also survived a Class 5 Typhoon on that island, and don’t think I can find it referenced either. But I remember both incidents quite well, and have proof of the one and nightmares of the other. If I can’t find those two known incidents, what are the chances that I can find new Horror out there by new or lesser known writers? I guess Amazon is the new Wal-Mart; as we used to say, “If Wal-Mart doesn’t have it, you don’t need it.” I’m hearing baying again.
Bookstores are closing. Magazines are closing. Newspapers are closing. Publishing houses are closing. “People don’t read anymore.” Post offices are closing… Grocery stores are closing… Public schools are closing. “People don’t write anymore. People don’t shop anymore. People aren’t reproducing anymore.” Rumor is a powerful thing. I hear the panting of Leng Hounds, the clicks of their claws on my city’s asphalt.
Then just when a writer is ready to despair, an inconsistency in the argument arises. First “nobody reads anymore” then “Everybody’s reading online…” Which is it? Who decides these things?
The answer: Leng Hounds.
We are allowing some unseen “in-crowd” tell us how things are, how things will be, not realizing that it is our choices in the end that will shape the future of all things – including the internet. But saying something over and over does not make it so. I’m not going to stop buying print until it isn’t there to buy. Because I don’t fancy not being able to go to one vetted source, reading on the internet means I will have to seek out several to find out what is going on in the rest of the world. But I will not acquiesce. I will not abandon print, even as my ice floe grows smaller and smaller, and ever more isolated.
I watch the rumor mill warily. What is a writer without readers? I decide to keep writing fiction, wrapped in my Cloak of Invisibility even if you want to call it denial. I will amass the fruits of my imagination even if the produce has to sit in a Leng-Hound-proof file drawer – as back-up to computer crashes and in homage to the uncertainty of publishers – and will do so indefinitely, if necessary...Even if it’s ultimate purpose is to serve as a fire-starter for my Shovel Buddy. I might even use a pencil and paper now and then, just to throw the Hounds off the scent. But I will not believe that nobody reads anymore because this about more than a writer’s fear of losing an audience or the utter suffocation of the Muse; I hear the words but I simply don’t see it.
The Horror of Actually Finding It and Reading It
There’s a mess on the internet. We are supposed to be satisfied that it is temporary and is noble because it represents freedom of speech.
But I see confusion by internet users on understanding what is verifiable fact and what is unsupported opinion. I see frustration when “news” articles are reduced to fluff to serve an alleged internet reader’s desired word count instead of delivering hard, usable facts; when anonymous authorities claim readers don’t want meat with their informative articles, but a brief saccharine taste to decide if they want to research something themselves presumably later. I see important decisions being made based on prejudicial opinions, allegations, and unsubstantiated rumors. I see misinterpretation of data or its misuse and it going unchallenged, implying its validity. I see professional, seasoned writers who no longer understand what the future could possibly hold crying out in collective pain…
Meanwhile, I also see people complaining about being told that no one reads anymore when they want to buy print books that they cannot find. I see kids in college preferring their literature as held in their hands with a dust jacket and bookmarks. I see unmitigated angst from a public that complains loudly when libraries don’t have the newest in science references or branches close; when what seemed like crowded, profitable bookstores disappear, and when not everyone has internet access. I see literacy rates falling fast… I hear complaints about reading levels and increasingly poor comprehension ability and spelling… Obsession with the inane and frivolous… Because “they” say we want it. Do we? Or is this the slobbering drool of an over-eager predator?
Want to share in my disturbing thoughts while the hounds close in? What better way to stupefy a nation than to send the general population chasing after a mythological rumor of vast audiences participating in online reading that doesn’t appear to be there? If something isn’t found, it must be operator error. And when you do find it, so what if the quality isn’t quite there and people stop reading some things altogether? Isn’t that natural selection? If we only communicate in consonants, numbers and intermittent vowels, do we really need big words? Big thoughts? Dreams and ambition? Does it matter that not everyone has access? Try Googling the word “ignorance” just for jollies…
Maybe if we are worried about a celebrity’s sexual liaisons, we won’t notice the mismanagement of government or our own missed opportunities. Maybe if we are shocked at the same five people’s comments on the same five news sites, we’ll be too busy being shocked to notice that there are only five people commenting or only five sites. Maybe we can blame others for our misfortunes and misplaced trust instead of ourselves. Maybe the internet is one big babysitter for a generation that has confused the concept of young-at-heart with not knowing when to be an adult with responsibilities…
Oh, the Humanity!
The last time we stopped paying attention as a nation, we wound up in two wars and a Re-Depression. Still want to read more about celebrities than PTSD? Hey, I’m sure if it’s important, it’s online…and someone else is reading about it, for sure...right alongside the Horror I can’t find. But then it’s probably just me. I get like this every once in a while at three in the morning…Staring at the parking lot….Waiting for the Vampire Girl…Worrying and hearing the bloodcurdling baying of big-eared, bat-winged hounds… knowing I am a writer in a world where nobody reads anymore. It’s enough to keep a body awake nights, out here on the Plateau…
They say you get this way when you’re old. Conspiracies are everywhere and the imagination plays tricks. The world is doomed. But I’ve seen today’s youth and I am encouraged in spite of the internet. There are some bright whippersnappers out there. I can only hope that they are the ones doing the reading that everyone else denies is happening on the hidden internet I cannot find. Otherwise that howling is getting awfully close. And being old, I can’t run as fast as I used to. On the internet, nobody can hear you scream…
I look to my Muse. “Come with me if you want to live,” I whisper in the dark, hoping big ears don’t hear the fear in my voice. I am a writer in a world where nobody reads…I feel exposed, smelling of meat. The Muse trembles. I lock and load. They’re coming; and they absolutely positively will not stop.
Leng Hounds… the cursed things are everywhere.