Down the Rabbit Hole: Writer or Performer?

It happened unintentionally. I followed a series of internet links that carried me into a blind alley. I was perusing social media on a Sunday morning and encountered a post about The Timberline Review. It’s a new literary journal, cooked up by Oregon writers, good people committed to fostering the art and craft of writing.

When I met the journal founders last summer I refrained from the question that loomed overhead, that dark discouraging cloud that rains on bright ideas. But I wondered, “Do we really need another literary journal?” I know the numbers. New journals flare like meteors and then die out after the seed money is spent and volunteers lose interest.

I was curious about the writers whose work was featured in the new edition, so I clicked on the FB post, which carried me to the journal site. Contributors list? They have one. Sort of. But it consists of a block of photographs, as if to suggest that names are less meaningful than faces, words less potent than visual images. A few contributors lacked photos, so the TR posted the icon of a leaf, as if to hide the shame of having no face.

I recognized one of the 43 authors. To learn the names of others required a click. I searched a few faces, but soon lost interest. The face led to a bio page that included responses to fluffy Q&As: What’s on your nightstand? If you could spend a day with an author, who would it be?

Most writers provided crafted responses, earnest in the way of MFA students in famous-writers workshops. Details were exquisitely rendered to grant a snapshot of the writer through studied prose that includes the understated mundane detail (an alarm clock), and the lofty (book titles), as if to say, “Like you I have dirty tissues at my bedside, but I’m well-read.” Or quirky. Or erudite. Or gritty. Or edgy.

One bio claimed membership in a writing collective. Curious, I found its site and learned that the collective is a critique group. It seemed something like Our Gang, identity forged through membership. Instead of wearing club jackets they have a web site. Their page included posed photos and member statements. They weren’t offering workshops or editing services. They weren’t soliciting members. It presented the group, who had cast themselves in a bit of internet performance, but for what purpose?

After thirty minutes of following links, I felt queasy. I had hoped to find some new writing, and perhaps authors hovering at the edge of the art they created. Instead, I waded into personalities who cast themselves as writers — internet performance artists. And I found a literary journal that relies on images rather than words, personalities rather than writing, to entice me to subscribe and read.

Does this mean that writers are foremost faces and personalities? This unanswered question leaves me feeling sad and old, grateful to return to my rooms, removed from the frantic posting and twittering and self-promoting. I produce words for a non-existent audience, understanding that what we write is frequently more interesting than who we are.

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