Damn…I’ve been kinda silent here, huh?
I remember when I first started this blog, about five years ago, I guess. The first few essays were mostly about evolutionary psychology, some stuff about death (not morose oh-my-gods I’m gonna die death, but on deaths of homeless clients I worked with), and one about wiping feces off the face of a client with Parkinson’s and also epilepsy. He’d keep falling off the toilet onto the floor, and of course he’d make a mess of himself and I’d wipe shit off his face.
Because, fuck. That’s what humanity is about. You wipe shit off the faces of people who fall off of toilets because they can’t control their neuro-muscular activity and then have a seizure.
Err.. actually, that’s probably what socialism is about. I can’t remember anymore–thanks to a pseudo-socialist presidential candidate, socialism’s starting to mean something to other people that I don’t quite remember it meaning when I read Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man Under Socialism 20 years ago.
Of course Wilde was actually talking more about anarchism, which is actually socialism without States. I think that’s called community, too, which is also Communal-ism, or Common-ism, or (oh shit, don’t say it) Communism.
Except that got Statist.
Actually, we all got Statist. I want to write about that sometime, how we all just started assuming The State, unquestioning the State, believing in The State. that holy Being from whom we should demand redress of grievances, who doles out justice for the crimes committed on us, who we fear when we commit crimes, who takes our taxes and fights our wars and tells us it’s safe to be gay or not safe to be gay, depending on the year and the People in Charge, whoever happens to sit upon the Throne of Authority.
Oh, but I’m not gonna write about that right now. Instead, I’m gonna write about writing. Sorta.
All Too Serious
My life’s gotten all serious lately. When I started this blog I’d get like a couple of views from friends and that was all. And anyway, writing wasn’t what I did. I did social work, and music, and union organizing, and my boyfriend at the time. And then gods happened and writing took on a new purpose, became something I did on behalf of things, or Things. Big things, inarticulate things that required poetic turns and analytical arts.
A few years after that, and I’m a columnist for The Wild Hunt writing really big things (or long things, anyway) about really big ideas and problems which no-one else seems to be writing about. Which meant I couldn’t just read the stuff I was hoping to read to make sense of things. I had to write it, and then read it afterwards and know that it existed.
It’s all so serious, though. Sure, my first column for The Wild Hunt was written in a notebook in an open field while some brutally hot, hairy satyresque men fucked each other at the base of a maypole in southern Oregon. That wasn’t so serious, though that inspired me to write about Liberalism and Fascism and how they’re each others shadows.
I’ve also written stuff while a really stoned muscledaddy was trying to distract me by running his very large and leaking cock across my freshly shaved head. That essay was “The Garment of the Gods” on A Sense of Place a few months before that Wild Hunt piece. It was rather poetic, but also a bit serious, and I managed not to be too distracted.
A year after that and I’m talking to a bunch of Pagans in a swelteringly crowded room in a San Jose hotel and then starting Gods&Radicals. Lest we think I was too serious even then, though, I should mention there was a lot of armpit-licking outside later (no…didn’t really know the guys so well, but dude–that convention was hetero as all get out).
But then everything got all wildly serious after that. Gods&Radicals is a pretty serious thing. I’m a publisher, and an editor, and find myself writing theory and having dead revolutionaries claw at the back of my brain to warn me about stuff. Things have import, weight. Say something wrong, say something flippant, and all sorts of bad things can happen. Me being at the ‘head’ of G&R kinda makes it so some wrong word or poorly defended theory can result in folks deciding we want disabled people to die (that’s happened thrice), we want women to be raped (our first article, because we like transfolk…), we don’t really believe in gods (X4), or whatever comes up.
You learn not to take that stuff too seriously, of course, but you do so by anticipating hackneyed and ridiculous arguments before they happen and taking those potential criticisms away from critics. Like playing chess, which actually involves lots of attempts to defeat yourself. How would you sabotage the move you just made if you were trying to beat you? Except, actually, ‘how would you as a pagan misread what you just wrote if you were thumbing a phone on a crowded subway and someone just belched in your face and you’re slightly constipated?’
It’s a lot of effort, and it makes you awfully serious.
“Distracted From Distraction By Distraction”
There was a quote from Victor Hugo kicking around today. “A Writer is a world trapped in a person.” It’s like that, except it’s actually worlds. Possibilities. Modes of cognition, or dreaming, or feeling that seem to make little sense to others around you until you put words to them. Lots of words, though, like thousands and thousands.
At a bear bar last night, celebrating my birthday, I mentioned to an artist friend an idea for a graphic novel about the birth of Capitalism that I’ll be writing. We were discussing the planned size and they said, kindly but in all seriousness, ‘you use A LOT of words, you know.’
A torrent of ’em, yeah. I remember when it was difficult to get up to a 1000 words in a day. Now I can write a 6000 word essay for The Wild Hunt in an evening. The war used to be trying to marshal enough words; now it’s trying to hold some of them back to accommodate short attention spans, limited time to read, and the less-than-ideal medium of the internet.
Writing ‘for everyone’ is impossible. Writing ‘for most’ is easier, but actually quite boring. Most people don’t want to read about gods and capitalism anyway, and most Pagan internet writing is rather short. For instance, when I wrote for Patheos, there was always a push to make sure our pieces weren’t much longer than 1000 words, which is the equivalent of three book pages.
What can one actually say in 1000 words that will change someone’s life? Not a whole lot, and I’ve never written for the ‘clicks’ or the entertainment of it.
Of the three main ‘Pagan’ sites, I suspect The Wild Hunt has the highest reading level, primarily on account of myself, Alley Valkyrie, and now Heathen Chinese. Which isn’t to dig on the other two sites, only to point out that there’s actually rather a dearth of analytical Pagan writing. Whether that’s because Pagans are generally uninterested in such stuff (I highly doubt this, considering the popularity of Gods&Radicals), there aren’t many analytical writers (again, G&R disproves this), or too few places for it (doubtful).
I think it’s the medium of the internet, really. That ‘chess game’ I mentioned earlier? Much of it is to account for a reader’s likely distraction. I’m often distracted while reading on the internet, and really find it hard to concentrate on screens. And no, it’s not because I’m a luddite–I’m actually a recovering gamer, having spent more time than I’m willing to admit in my 20’s saving people from pixelated evil while real people died around me because of the real evil called Capital. And all my writing is now done on computer–I can stare at a screen for hours, certainly. I just get distracted, have trouble remembering my place in an essay or story when it’s not on paper.
By the way–see what I just did there? I accommodated for a potential reader’s argument and distraction. Someone reading this was going to make the argument that there’s no difference between the internet and print matter, that I’m just a technophobe, that the computer has saved their life and opened up the world to them and who am I to say otherwise? And likely, they were late for work, reading this on their phone, and damn did I just piss them off and now they’re gonna tell me what’s what after they clock in and apologize to their boss and curse the fact they didn’t get coffee.
Maybe they wouldn’t have. But that’s how internet writing goes. That extra anger and virulence in comments is more often fueled by the current physical situation of the person responding. You see this quite strongly on Facebook, only a little less so on blogs, and much less so in print.
My way of getting around such a thing is refusing to write quickly-read pieces with the nuance removed. 6000 words (roughly 20 book pages) demands a certain attention of the reader, a certain patience, a certain devotion to understanding that a 1000 word essay doesn’t. And besides, it takes a lot of words to convey a difficult to understand idea, especially one foreign to most (like Essentialism, or Post-Colonialism, etc.).
But all this means that the ‘serious’ writing I do at Gods&Radicals and The Wild Hunt makes writing a little too serious. Granted, the topics are serious (Capitalism kills, kids), but the need to ensure anything I write bypasses as many potential distractions as possible makes it a bit burdensome.
The Other People
I almost shut down this blog, actually. It costs me $100/year to maintain, not much for most but that’s also a week’s worth of good food. I hadn’t been writing much on here lately, but there’s a few stories behind that which I’ll tell soon. Also, Gods&Radicals takes up a lot of time, and the ‘seriousness’ (or rather, the fact that a poorly-understood statement written somewhere could affect the reputation of the writers there) of being managing editor is a new pressure.
But suffice for now to say I won’t be shutting this down. Actually, I’ll be writing more here, but less seriously, more experimentally, and about a lot of different stuff than the last few years. At the risk of sounding like I’ve betrayed the gods (again, accommodating for at least four known antagonists who often have very bad days and like to start crusades), I’ll be writing a bit less directly for Pagans and Polytheists and more for the other sort of people who are in the world.
Obviously, the stuff I write on Gods&Radicals and on The Wild Hunt will continue to be pretty fucking Pagan. I mean, one’s got ‘Gods’ in the name anyway (we take that pretty seriously, y’know). But there’s definitely no sense in always preaching about the environment and homelessness and Capitalism and critical theory to an off-key choir. And besides, precisely because of Gods&Radicals, there’s now 40 more really good writers writing about this shit than there were when I started writing. I can go read the sort of stuff I want to read about gods and anti-capitalism and not have to write it myself all the time.
What will I be writing about?
Probably more political stuff, more theory, more relevant shit without feeling the need constantly to ‘fit it’ into a Pagan context for readers. I’m Pagan. I hang with gods. That’s context enough for me. They know what I’m up to, anyway.
Maybe even some fiction. More poetry, I hope. And more flippant stuff, stuff that isn’t so fucking serious. A lot less coddling of people’s bad days and anxieties about religious purity or refusal to read a book. Basically, more stuff about wiping shit off of people’s faces and less trying gently to convince Pagans that someone’s been shitting on their face.
So, oi. Here’s to many, many more words,
5 thoughts on “Writing For Pagans”
Sweet, I needed to read this today. Battling my fear of the inevitable trolls in my own public writing. Thanks for this.
I really empathize with a lot of the difficulties you discuss here. Between my photography and my noveling, I spend quite a lot of time interacting very seriously through a computer screen … but, at the same time, an article with a wordcount that would be a nonissue in print had better be both pointed and poignant to hold my attention on mobile. As a blogger, I struggle to produce content that is both meaningful and entertaining.
The short and the long of it: I’m glad you’re not giving this platform up. You’re one of the people inspiring me to get back to the work.
Some years back, I picked up E.J. HObsbawm’s “The Age of Capital 1848-1875”
(Abacus edition published 1975) in which this verse appears (p.39)
Here lies, all his celebrity forgot
Legitimacy’s famous Don Quixote
Who, twisting truth and fact, thought himself wise
And ended by believing his own lies;
An aged fool, who’d been a knave in youth:
He could no longer recognise the truth.
Franz Grillparzer, Werke (Munich 1960),
Tilt away, Youth.
I’m glad you’ll be writing more here. Your work inspires me to think and maybe even write a little myself.