Your light is gonna fade

Blogging is like cranking the light on an emergency flashlight. As soon as you stop, darkness descends.
Blogging is like turning the crank on an emergency flashlight. As soon as you stop, darkness descends.

We keep an emergency flashlight in the cabinet above the freezer in the kitchen. It’s one of those hand-crank jobs that we’ll bring out during Armageddon or the Zombie Apocalypse, after we’ve burned through all our batteries. As long as we keep cranking, we can generate enough light to see what we’re doing while opening our last can of pork ’n’ beans, but once we stop turning that handle, boy, the light fades quickly.

After 33 years in the newspaper business, I learned a thing or two about doing it daily. I also learned to not get attached to a great page layout or a crisp headline I’d written because, like as not, I’d soon see it in the bottom of the bird cage, and there’s nothing like seeing your labor of love covered in parakeet shit for killing any sense of self-importance.

But even after a career spent watching journalists and journalistic institutions die, I still wasn’t prepared for the harsh reality of blogging. Looking at my WordPress statistics, the thing that gets me is the incredibly short shelf life of the written word. Like my emergency flashlight, as long as I keep turning that crank I can generate light, but once I stop cranking like a fool, how quickly the light fades.

It’s not even about quality. I know I’ve written some bad posts, but I also know I’ve churned out some good ones, too. It really doesn’t seem to matter. Fact: Unless you’ve written a timeless classic, your writing will get dropped faster than a used prophylactic. We’re all just as good as the next new thing.

Bloggers take heart; it’s not just us.

Long before Patrick O'Brien made the Aubrey-Maturin novels a thing, C.S. Forester wrote a series of excellent books. Few people think about Horatio Hornblower anymore.
Long before Patrick O’Brien made the Aubrey-Maturin novels a thing, C.S. Forester wrote a series of excellent books. Few people think about Horatio Hornblower anymore, but the books in this series are among the most enjoyable I’ve ever read.
Most people have heard of Captain Bligh and the Mutiny on the Bounty, but the Bounty Trilogy by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall -- copyright 1932 -- probably isn't on anyone's mind these days.
Most people have heard of Captain Bligh and the Mutiny on the Bounty, but the Bounty Trilogy by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall — copyright 1932 — probably isn’t on anyone’s mind these days. I love this book, with illustrations by N.C. Wyeth.

More talented writers have much the same experience, but on a grander scale. Many excellent books enjoy their moment in the sun before falling into relative obscurity. Oh sure, you can still find them if you dig, but they’re buried by an ever-deepening strata of fresher, newer, brighter material. Consumers of words have little motivation to thrust in their shovels and turn over the soil because, well, they don’t have to.

I look at the books on my shelves and remember how much I enjoyed them, but at the same time I wonder how many are unknown to a younger audience because nobody is turning the hand-crank on these books anymore.

I’m guilty, too. I wonder how many classics I’ve missed because I waste too much time reading tripe from Buzzfeed, Huffpost, or some other purveyor of click-bait crap that keeps cranking and cranking and cranking, powered by battalions of unpaid interns who never get tired.

They're just cheap paperbacks, but I've probably owned these books longer than any others, first reading them when I was in high school. Say what you want about Carlos Castaneda's scholarship, the man could turn a phrase.
They’re just cheap paperbacks, but I’ve probably owned these books longer than any others on my shelf, first reading them when I was in high school. Say what you want about Carlos Castaneda’s lack of scholarship, the man could turn a phrase. These books had a cult following when I was young, but I doubt they’re read much anymore.

One thing should be clear, I’m not in the right frame of mind to write today, yet I write again anyway, railing against the inevitability of failure. I’m tired. Tired of watching good writing fail, and tired of watching good journalists die. Oh, and now Rupert’s fucking National Geographic, and another former colleague passed last week. And yes, in case you’re morbidly curious, he was out of work at the time.

For even the best writers and editors, it’s a loser’s game.

So I’ll just post this now, turn the crank a few times and watch its wan light flicker to life. It will be dark again by this time tomorrow, guaranteed.

All of us just crank it for ourselves, don’t we? We only stop when we awake from the dream and realize that it no longer feels good.

 

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28 Comments

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  1. “This line of work no one retires
    Come in clean, leave torn apart
    A Bad Liver and a Broken Heart”
    — Hayes Carll

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dorothy Parker had this to say about writing: “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m a friend of Leah’s and have been lurking around your blog for ages. Your writing is hilarious. And smart. And as a fellow writer with one novel out in the world and one more struggling to get written, your post strikes this weird balance of fear (validation!) in me as well as a sense of “screw it! I’m doing it anyway.” (Which is a good thing, so thank you!). Thanks for keeping it real. And thanks for writing lines like this: “I also learned to not get attached to a great page layout or a crisp headline I’d written because, like as not, I’d soon see it in the bottom of the bird cage, and there’s nothing like seeing your labor of love covered in parakeet shit for killing any sense of self-importance.” You take the pressure off, even as I sit here terrified that people are going to one day use books as parakeet poop-catchers. Keep cranking away!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Er, sorry about the newspapers at the bottom of the birdcage. I never stopped to think of it as shit upon your hard work.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I do think writers crank it for themselves….but it sure is nice when someone else takes the time to read it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What you need is a little reinforcement from a great poet on the subject of writing! W.B.Yeats:

    “The fascination of what’s difficult, has dried the sap out of my veins…”; (from poem of same title)

    (from “Adam’s curse”)
    “…A line will take us hours maybe;
    Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
    Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.”

    or read his poems “A coat”, “The Fisherman”.

    A great poet such as William Butler Yeats had his off days and disillusionments with writing, you will have them too. Everyone does. Some days it flows, some days it ebbs, but out of the darkness of thought, words are reborn in light. Ex tenebris, Lux. Hold onto that!

    I-

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Have you thought about etching blog posts in stone somewhere?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I prefer a handful of intelligent, witty, and dedicated followers on my blog rather than several tasteless imbeciles that don’t even really understand what they’re “liking.” Unfortunately I don’t have any from either group at this time. Some people say it’s because of my bad attitude.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow, what a library. I think I read all of those Castaneda books. Thanks for the memories.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Jason Fredric Gilbert November 5, 2015 — 10:55 pm

    I used to love filming with a Bolex 16 mm camera hand crank film camera. Your blog reminded me of that and it reminded me to explore some of the classics. Great read!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Your light may fade, but if it created just one spark for someone else it lives on!

    Liked by 1 person

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