Lately, I've noticed a certain level of stuffiness creeping into the sensibilities of several blogs I once thoroughly enjoyed reading.
Let's call them the Old Guard. They've been around a little longer than your average blog. They've been around, some of them, longer than this blog has been. And maybe it's me; maybe, when I first started reading them, I missed out on a current of negativity which was always there. Then again, maybe it's not me, and they've just succumbed to problems many people face in middle- to old age: paranoia, a feeling the world is passing you by, the sense that a younger generation doesn't pay sufficient respect to your wisdom and experience, crankiness, exhaustion, constipation.
Blogging can be lonely. Lord knows, if blogging were all I had going on in my life, I might very well be in a sad, sorry place. No one says blogging has to be a laugh riot or simply a ruse. Committing yourself in general, let alone to a blog, is serious business. But taking yourself seriously, too seriously, can be deadly. Your reader feels it. Other bloggers do, too.
You don't care about other bloggers, you say? Oh but you should. Every halfway committed blogger knows that readers are only part of the process. Minus relationships with other bloggers, you're in for an even lonelier row to hoe. Other bloggers can be an invaluable source of support and inspiration. To be sure, not all of them will be your cup of tea. Maybe you don't need support; only the right connections. Fine. But to assume you've made friends with the right bloggers and can shun the rest is a mistake only a truly silly, feeble strategist makes. Remember that blogger in whose basket you so delicately placed all your painfully laid eggs--the one with what you deemed such an "important following"? That blogger is now temp-ing at an auto parts plant in Iowa. She had mouths to feed. The one you wrote off, that uneducated, upstart blogger--the one who didn't know what she was talking about and was only clogging the arteries of internet discourse with needless fatty garbage? She has 15 thousand hits a day, and counting.
Where's the joy? For these bloggers, blogging seems to have become such a dark, unfriendly, unproductive place. The writing feels stale: its only reason for being is to serve the blogger's ever bloated ego. Remember that Monty Python sketch in The Meaning of Life? Over fed man walks into restaurant to feed ever more? Hilarity explodes. It's not always so funny, and if there's time to save these bloggers, perhaps we should try. Maybe it isn't too late. Maybe their egos haven't ossified and are still merely somewhat fragile. Maybe they can be broken and restored. Better yet, maybe these bloggers can help themselves. First we must recognize the signs of trouble. Here, then, are some of the more common symptoms of distress.
Remember that one piece you wrote--the one about the relevance of the house of Lutens to world peace? Oh, let's not call them "posts" anymore. Posts make it sound as if anyone with a computer could do this. Reviews, dissertations, essays--anything but "posts". Make a note to yourself: tomorrow, on blog, stop referring to your life's work as "posts." Train yourself to vomit a little at the mere mention of the word. Does "posts" sound like the talk of a writer with a book contract? Tomorrow you must also write something which reaches the poetic grandeur, the historical sweep of that Lutens review. You must write something which advances your sense of alarm at a world gone haywire with the over-estimation of utter dreck. One blog reviewed Jontue the other day! Can you imagine? Why not review the contents of your junk closet? Why not review in loving detail the toilet cleaner in your bathroom cupboard? Oh, but what if tomorrow is too late? Who needs sleep, anyway? Someone in the provinces is checking her computer every ten minutes, hoping for a new post from you. There's that pernicious word again. Someone in the provinces is contemplating a life of prostitution and degradation. Without your regular guidance, what could possibly be the point of aiming higher? Must get out of bed. Must reach out immediately. Your public awaits you. It could mean the difference between life and death.
2. Do you have a book deal?
There are many things you could write. Where to start? You did get an agent, which is the first step. Books are important. That's the thing. Yes, you write a blog. Oh, let's not call it a blog. Really, isn't that like calling a Chanel handbag a fanny pack? The thing is, yes, it's true, you write this Chanel handbag. Yes, it's true, the success of a thing like your handbag--you have the numbers to prove it!--would seem to indicate that nobody much reads books anymore. Who needs a book when you've got a handbag? The thing is, just as those classic perfumes you admire have hit the dust, just as they are devalued if not discontinued altogether under the wheels of ceaseless forward motion, books have become practically extinct, a rarefied pleasure. The publishing industry indicates that only memoirs and self help books really fly off the shelves these days. It's one thing to have a book. You need one, of course, in order to command respect. It's quite another thing to have it read. In order to be respected a book must be noticed. Granted, you shall shout it from the mountaintops yourself, but how far can your own solitary voice be expected to throw, even with echoing factored in? The book must be read, or else it ends up in the bargain bin. What could be more horrible than a classic perfume in the bargain bin? It's like picking up a bottle of Sarrasins at Walgreens, between Snuggies and HuggieWipes. Eureka! In essence, your book must be Proust in the form of a Snuggie. Why, yes: a Chanel Bag with arm holes! A tome with the soft, supple ease of use required of a Huggie Wipe.
3. Do you grumble about all the little people, all those new bloggers sprouting up beneath the sprawling wisdom and authority of your big strong Oak of a blog?
Back in your day, a blogger had credentials. A blogger was someone who really knew what she was talking about. Yes, she loved perfume. She had a passion for it. But also an obsession, and to the point of near psychosis. Look at all these little seedlings. Where are their chops? They're sitting out there in, what, Peoria? In their little houses. At their little desks. It's not like you. Where, pray tell, is their psychosis? Where is the overflowing ashtray, that longstanding symbol of your wheezing dedication? Where are their book deals? Have they lunched with Lutens? Would Lutens, looking at his cell phone, vaguely recognize their incoming number before ignoring the call? I think not, and so do you. What do they have to say, these seedlings? Who gave them the authority to say it? What precisely inspires them to think that the world must hear their thoughts on every little perfume that flits past their consciousness? On top of this, they merely imitate you. They see how wonderful your dissertations are, and they try to emulate your magnificence. They cannot, of course. Can the little cat with a missing leg grow up to dance the polka? Can the trashy pop singer belt out Wagner at ear-splitting, glass-shattering decibels? They can no more emulate the Chanel handbag than the local butcher can, so why are they trying? You're a kind, patient person. You would let all this pass. But your commitment to excellence forces you to speak out. Don't all these little seedlings know that they're taking up the majestic Oak's water supply? Don't they realize how crushing the dessicated Oak's fall would be? You tell them for their own good. The world needs the Oak's health. Do they know how many people rely on the bloated oak's shade?
4. Do you count several perfumers and/or fragrance industry types as your closest intimates?
Just the other day, as you stretched out for just a moment to consider your book deal, the phone rang. It was some journalist--some woman--you can't remember who at this point. A lot of important people call. They're calling every day. They look to you for your unbiased insight, relying on your expertise. You know more than they do, and this they recognize. This particular journalist wanted to know your impartial assessment of what your favorite perfumer has been up to. That glowing review you wrote about his latest perfume. It made the stuff sound like manna from heaven. Why yes, you answered, it is, and I say that as someone who doesn't call just anything manna from heaven. When will it be available? asked the journalist. With a funny little snort you worked hard to make sound voluntary, you announced again the release date, adding that surely this journalist wouldn't have to call quite so often if only she read your reviews more carefully. The journalist answered, why yes, I try to read your reviews as carefully as possible, but they are so packed, so overflowing with insider information that it can be hard to retain all the data with any kind of permanent recall. I will accept that answer, you said, as long as we can agree that, while as women we are equals, your answer endorses the idea of my superiority over you as a fellow generic human being. Tell me, continued the journalist. What was the perfumer in question thinking when he created this lovely fragrance? What was running through his head? What are his private thoughts and dreams? If only we knew what he is thinking now, from an impartial, totally unaffiliated source like you. At which point, you placed your hand over the receiver and rolled over in bed to ask.
5. Is it important for you to be the first to report on some breaking development, even if it means making it up?
You would like everyone to know that you were the first to reveal the discontinuation of several highly esteemed fragrances. You make sure they know by reminding them they heard it here. It's sad--tragic, really--but the good thing is that your readers must acknowledge that the best place to hear bad news first is from you. Then again, not all news is bad news. You are often also the first to review the latest fragrance. The latest very important fragrance. Though, by reviewing it, you have virtually created its relevance, really. You were the first to ever wear perfume. Then you were the first to smell it. Just joking. You're not that elitist. You were merely the first to wear it and smell it the right way. Before you, people scarcely knew how to spray the stuff. Do you know how many people practically blinded themselves by trial and error? Of course you do. You know everything! You were the first to report on various rumors which never crossed over into fact. But your attention elevated them in a way which made silly issues of accuracy secondary. Your gaze upon these issues is itself a form of truth. If all else fails to impress, you were the first to report your own significance. Surely that counts for something in certain quarters.
6. Are you paranoid about challenges to your imagined throne?
People are out to get you. This post is a case in point. All these coded references. Here's what it is, you tell yourself. People are jealous. Remember when you were young? Younger. Remember when you were younger, and people in school made fun of your lisp? Oh how they mocked you. People can be cruel. What it was is, they were jealous, because you were different in an interesting way. Sure, it wasn't interesting to them, but only because they were so blinded by jealousy that they couldn't recognize how fascinated they should be. Alas, the good thing about a blog is also a bad thing. On one hand, you can hide your lisp. And you can puff yourself up in various ways no one can contradict. No one sees the books to dispute the numbers you quote. You can tell people you descend from royalty and they'll never know the difference. Were they ever to meet you, they might imagine that your lisp is merely an accent, the way royal people speak in your homeland of Selfimportia. You can tell them you get inside information the same way everyone else does, from the outside. You can hide behind any number of ruses which distort your imagined weaknesses into formidable strengths. The problem is, your readers can hide too. How do you know to trust they are who they say they are; how can you be sure they mean what they say? You know they can trust you, but how can you trust them? Soon enough, everyone is out to get you. What they want is what you have. A book deal. A Chanel handbag. Who wants a fanny pack? Who wouldn't want a Chanel? When you were younger, and the others bullied you about a lisp, you couldn't wait to grow up, not to get away from them, but to join their ranks undetected, so you too could be important. Now you're important and everybody's still calling you names. Soon you will be more important, which should put an end to that.
7. Do you make a lot of "distinctions"?
There is a difference between good and bad, and many distinctions in between. A Chanel handbag is preferable. A fanny pack is unfortunate. A book deal is success. A blog without one is a waste of time. Readers mean nothing unless among their numbers are important people. People are more important if other important people say they are. You are important but you could be more important, and you will be, eventually. Some fragrances are worth one's attention. Others are by perfumers you don't yet know or haven't been made to feel by important people you should want to know. Not every nose is worth knowing. Sometimes, you can make a real ass out of yourself cozying up to just any nose. Some things are worth saying. Generally, these things are being said by you. Other things are a little less worthwhile. If a writer has a book contract, he or she is a good writer. If he or she has an agent, he or she is almost there. A writer without either is like an artist who cuts off his own ear. How will he hear success calling with such a disadvantage? Here's the thing: the cream rises to the top. We live in a meritocracy. We all know that. Artists who haven't "made" it know that what they have to say isn't important or valuable because it isn't being said so often on TV that its genius is immediately recognized. In a culture where the best dancer on Dancing With The Stars can be relied on to win, only the truly great and worthy have a book deal. The truly profound have made the book into a Snuggie.
8. Do you condescend to your dear reader?
In order for you to truly be smart, your reader must be a little more stupid. While you like comments--thrive on them, even--you can't help pointing out in some subtle way how unlikely it is that you would make any such remark. You take the time to respond to each comment, if only to point out how unenlightened it is. This isn't a conversation, folks, you'd like to say. One has conversations with people of the same socio-economic status. It's only natural that, being above your readers, you will talk down to them. There's no malice in it. Is God malicious?
9. Do you review only the most expensive fragrances, believing that to do anything less would make you less like royalty?
Why of course. Only an inferior blogger would review anything anyone else could just as easily review. Who would read a book he could write himself? Does the Queen of England go to Chuck E. Cheese to whack the bobbing groundhogs over the head with those mallets? Does the President pass out eating potato chips in just anybody's TV room? Does a Kardashian get waxed just anywhere--and by that I don't mean any old place on her body? Does a patty melt stand up on the grill and say, Hey, you, can you keep it down, I'm burning my ass off over here? Did Marilyn Monroe marry just any Joe Blow goat-herder from Montana? Did Susan Boyle say, I think I'm good with this uni-brow, let's go public now? Did the little dog on whom you blamed your flatulence write a retort on an index card which read "Those who smelt it dealt it?" Royalty must be cultivated and enforced. There must be a sizable moat between the castle and the crap-dwellers.
10. Are you tiresome?
Increasingly, yes. Lighten up. It's only a blog.