Monday, March 7, 2011
So, this one time, Nancy Pearl and Helene Hanff were examining a first edition of Michel de Montaigne's Essays with a bunch of independent booksellers from the Pacific Northwest, and the staff of The Slog, at a used books shop in Seattle that was about to close, while all around them an increasingly heated debate had begun about spiritualism and dogs, when who should come in with Josh Kilmer-Purcell on his arm, but the star of the 1955 television western, Cheyenne, Clint Walker, shirtless.
I know that that sentence doesn't make sense, at least without some kind of a punchline, and no, I don't have one. This is something I've only recently learned, that that sentence does not have to make sense, anymore than I need a good reason to post that beefcake picture at the top of this entry.
It's all about the numbers, baby. Or rather, it isn't, for me at least. Okay. I will explain.
When I started writing regularly, if not quite daily for another blog a couple of years ago, my reasons for doing so where pretty self-evident. It was an interesting new challenge for me, though I hate being challenged nearly as much as I hate using that word to describe any undertaking that doesn't involve pistols at ten paces or putting a man on the moon. Nevertheless, that was what it felt like at the time. I hadn't done any sustained writing, other than correspondence, in the better part of a decade. I'd kept diaries and notebooks, and written all sorts of forgivably bad poetry and fiction in my youth. I'd done a book review, here and there, and a few pieces for zines when that was the fashionable thing to do. Fifteen years ago, I'd even taken a few months off from working full time, for the first and only time in my adult life, to write an unpublishable novel. All of that was well behind me by the time I started contributing to this other blog. I have never not written, it's safe to say, from the time I first learned how to read, but I don't know that I ever did it seriously enough, or produced anything good enough, to fancy myself a writer. I still don't know that I ever will. Nevertheless, to use yet another word I dislike abusing in this way, I came to see the brief entries I was eventually contributing every day as an opportunity to write and, at the same time, make some small contribution to a worthy undertaking, all to do with reading, recommending and selling books, which is, after all, what I do most, and how I earn my living, such as it is. To use one last word I simply detest, blogging seemed a surprisingly natural extension of my job and a way to practice one of my only two remaining vices, gabbing about books, in something like a productive way. Writing to this end quickly became a habit. Yes, obviously I came to enjoy the occasional notice something I may have written brought me, but I also came to enjoy the exercise of writing again, the act of it, for want of any better or less embarrassing way to say that.
Well, inevitably, I fucked that up. Despite my resolve to not abuse the privilege, and keep within the bounds of decorum, I eventually wrote one or two things in which I allowed my own opinion to possibly be misinterpreted as representative of the enterprise for which I was writing. I didn't use the kind of language with which I started this paragraph, or anything like that. When I wrote the bits that would eventually result in a policy change, and the end of my participation in that other blog, a policy change that would have required some more responsible party to have oversight of everything I wrote thereafter, I was sufficiently humiliated and hurt that I came home that very night, started writing here, and resolved never do such a thing anywhere else.
The platform I have here, by its very nature, is quite small, certainly smaller potentially than the one I all but undid for everyone, myself included, before I slipped so ignominiously away in the night. (I would note, happily, that that other blog has since recovered and is now thriving again.) That I expected here to address only the few friends and such of my coworkers as might find me, and if I was very lucky, the occasional stranger who happened by, was a fact with which I was not only perfectly comfortable, but something I frankly welcomed after the debacle I'd made of my last effort. When this new thing of mine acquired my first few "followers," I was touched by the loyalty of my friends. When the first person unknown to me joined, I was thrilled! I never knew, for most of the more than two years that I've been doing this, just who or how many people might be reading what I've written, or even looking at whatever nonsense I happened to post. When anything I've done here receives a "comment," from friend or foe, from anyone other than a spammer, I still get so childishly excited I can barely keep from bursting. (I will always treasure specially, the very first anonymous, semi-literate comment I ever got, attached to my review of a Michael Mann movie, in which I referred to my beloved, Johnny Depp, as "the greatest actress of his generation." The comment, I quote now from memory, in full, reads as follows: "You a fucking moron." How very gratifying, honestly. Can't ask for a more visceral reaction, really. I was as surprised as anyone might be, who isn't John Simon or Lars von Triers say, to find that even a negative response can feel like an acknowledgement.)
I'd never really appreciated just how accessible what I do here might be, until recently a friend showed me how I might look at the "traffic" at this site. By simply clicking on a tab marked "Stats," I can at any time of the night or day not only see if anyone other than myself is looking at what I do here, I might also see just what might be my most popular entries of the past year, the month and the week. Only when something I'd written was picked up by others, and a link was made to this or that piece by real online journalists, through social media, or more recently, by way of the still mystifying business to me of "tweeting," did I begin to see numbers that genuinely astonished me. For a day or two, I felt an unexpected pride in having reached an audience that I never anticipated and to which, briefly, I felt a new obligation to be considerably mindful. I was ever so full of myself, for a little while there.
After all, from the look of things, there were actually people from as far as Korea and India who had found me here! Imagine that. What was more, there were as many as a hundred or more people looking in at this or that entry, over the course of many months, and some of the most frequently visited had not even had the benefit of a link from The Slog, or The Northwest Book Lovers site, had not been "shared" from my facebook page with librarians, or "tweeted" by actual, professional book reviewers.
Then, unfortunately enough, I happened to notice how very popular something I'd posted on Michel de Montaigne had proved to be. Montaigne is among the most powerful of my household gods, so the very idea that anything I might have to say about him here might have drawn the attention of even a small battalion of online readers was about the most flattering thing that might ever have happened to me. I don't generally revisit anything I've posted here after I been back a few times to recheck the spelling and correct any howling errors of either fact or form that anyone might have been kind enough to bring to my attention. After seeing so much activity resulting from this one entry on Montaigne though, I naturally had to go back and look.
I was baffled. When I took a vacation to go back and see the old folks in Pennsylvania a couple of summers ago, I'd posted short essays here from some of the greatest essayists who ever wrote, billing each, rather cleverly I thought at the time, as a "guest blogger." This had proved, as even I could appreciate from the few reactions I had to the experiment, an all but total flop. Nearly no one had read the essays I had so painstakingly copied out -- at the time, I did not yet know that most of these were already available online and that I might have simply used the less arduous technique of "cut and paste" to post them here. Live and learn. Anyway, I'd posted an essay by Montaigne among these. My only real contribution to this series had been some very brief introductions, the least of these, titled "Why Michel de Montaigne?" as you might see for yourself at the link, consisted of only the following text:
"Might as well ask, 'why Shakespeare?'"
That's a sentiment with which I am still in complete agreement, but it hardly rises to even a sentence, now does it? So why then should this be among the most popular postings I've ever made? I figured it out. It was the picture. By way of illustration to many of the entries I make here, including most of the daily quotes I post, I have found pictures online that I thought interesting and appropriate and used these, with only a watchful eye as to copyright, as I have no interest in abusing the wonderful resources made available to me by the great folks who bring us, free of charge mostly, the Internet. To illustrate my lame introduction to Montaigne, I had selected a lovely image of the first edition of Montaigne's great Essays. it was that, that rare image, gathered from I no longer remember where, and not anything I did that drew so many curious eyes to this blog. Once I'd finally tripped over this obvious fact, I went back and began to look seriously at all the other entries that consistently drew visitors to this little chop-shop of mine. Turns out, people really like looking at pictures.
Also turns out, among the most frequently used words in Internet image searches is "shirtless," thus the enormous popularity of another, considerably longer if no more memorable of my entries, all to do with my husband watching old black and white westerns every Saturday morning on his new computer. For that, appropriately enough, I'd found a particularly comely snap of Clint Walker -- you guessed it -- shirtless.
So, for this, my first truly shameless and self-conscious bid for real popularity and big numbers, I have included an anonymous bit of beefy titillation from my private collection, in addition to using every truly popular tag from any post I've ever written, and supplied an opening paragraph of unadulterated nonsense using the same in something like a sentence, just to see if I might really push this thing over the top.
The reality is that this effort is unlikely to produce anything like the desired result. Even if by some truly strange chance it should, what then will I have proved? Nothing really, except that I should never have let myself get carried quite so far beyond the statistical probabilities for this kind of thing, and or my own quite reasonable and contented expectations of what I meant to do by doing this.
To anyone then who clicked through hoping to find either Clint Walker in a posing-strap, or anything equally satisfactory, only to find a thoroughly silly bit of chastened navel-gazing, I offer sincere apologies. It was a dirty trick. That's what it was. To anyone who has, for whatever reason, read the whole way to the end of this, or anything else I've written here, I'm still awfully flattered and glad of the company. Thanks again. I'll try to keep things from degenerating to quite such a low again any time soon.
Meanwhile, enjoy the all-but-naked guy. He's pretty special, I think.