To Each and Every One of You,
I wanted to write an allegory about how alt lit is a party that I was late to, so now all I get are the leftovers. Not only am I too lazy to write that allegory, but I don’t think it’s totally true and maybe it approaches my argument from too obscure a space.
So let’s get at it this way: I defined alt lit for my digital media classroom a couple weeks ago as: a specific artistic community that operates within new media while simultaneously operating as a style of writing, designing and sharing ideas. I didn’t emphasize the sharing part enough, nor did I really get into this weird sort of “traditionalist vs. new alt” argument that’s going on right now.
There’s a horrible misconception about the trend of positivity that’s spread throughout the culture. Steve Roggenbuck’s barrage of likes all over statuses and comments and his pokes and friend requests etc. etc. etc. is a beautiful invitation into this world. We can’t have an audience for our work without a promise for a good time. And seeing “Steve Roggenbuck poked you” is a nice, boosty feeling, so I appreciate that sort of positivity.
But there is such a huge fucking difference between being nice on the internet and being honestly critical of each other’s work. Let’s call it “Blind Boosting” because it has two B’s in a row and that sounds nice. What if Virginia Woolf blindly boosted? What if the modernist canon wasn’t canonical at all, but just a big pile of “new writing” that was considered “cool” only because it was “new” and “sellable?” We’d be reading a lot of shit right now. Yeah I’m comparing alt lit to modernism. I don’t mean that lightly, and I don’t mean that in an effort to jerk all of you off. I mean it because I so fully believe that alternative literature is the most honest artistic reaction to internet culture and I have never doubted, nor will I ever doubt its significance. That’s precisely why I feel so strongly about this point in its progression.
Alt lit is not about love or hate. Alt lit is about sharing. But it’s become a weird sort of sharing, lately. I’m starting to understand why so many people are ready to jump ship. People are selling a book they haven’t even written yet. And what’s worse, more people are pre-ordering that book. It’s sort of like the difference between looking at words and reading. Either you’re actively engaging in the culture because you feel you have a legitimately original and creative voice, or you want to become internet famous. I have a feeling there’s a little bit of both in all of us, but I’m horrified of the idea that fame is overpowering a legitimate yearning to share and read.
Movements become stagnant when they’re treated with fame in mind. Maybe alt lit has gotten too big. Maybe it’s too inclusive. I’m sure there are plenty of writers out there who would say it needs to be more exclusive, but I don’t think that’s really the point. It’s not a question of size. It’s a question of quality. And quality comes with honesty and clarity, not with an attempt to make everybody like you. That’s impossible. Don’t be a fucking moron. Not everybody will like you. Trust me, though, that’s a good thing, there are plenty of people I’d rather stay the heck away from me.
I could go on and compare the difference between the writing produced now and “how it was back in the day.” But that’s boring for me and you can do that yourself. Rather, let me point out the fact that we are way too young to already have a golden age of the movement in which we still participate. Let the golden age continue. Stop blindly boosting. If you think something isn’t good, don’t violently shit all over it, but don’t say 666. Don’t comment, maybe. Or better yet, use your brilliant mind to form a legitimate criticism of the work.
A lot of people have expressed my fear already. But I’m afraid their frame which they’ve chosen is too hostile and maybe comes off as self-centered. Not that this essay isn’t remarkably egotistical of me to present. In fact, what the fuck sort of credentials do I have to say this? Maybe I don’t at all, maybe the fact that I’ve only been published in one alt lit mag and read at only a few events means that I have no right to say these things at all. Or maybe the most beautiful thing about alt lit is that we will always listen to each other because that’s the right sort of positivity that needs to survive in order to make this thing we’re doing better and clearer and powerfully inspirational for each other and others. We will also always listen to each other because we’re on the internet and guess what we have no friggin’ choice.
I love all of you, but I don’t think you’re all very talented. Or, I think you’ve got some files saved in your folders that you need to share with us, you need to edit and ask for critique because that’s what a community is about. It’s not all love. But it is all care. Maybe I’ll make a bunch of enemies for being “too negative” or “arrogant” with what I say. But the few friends that respect what I’ve said, with honesty, will be a fuckton more important to me than those enemies.
So here’s my conclusion: Write well. Think clearly with a head and a heart. Share. And don’t fucking lie to me when you tell me you like my work. Grow some balls and don’t be afraid to shit all over my chest, because the cleaning process will make my work so much better. We are each other’s best critics, so let’s act like it. It’s not about just “doing it.” It’s about doing it really fucking well. So go write something and send it to me. I’ll tell you what I think, honestly, and I swear to God it’ll feel great.