Open Salon, R.I.P.
“Don’t it always seem to go. You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.” –Joni Mitchell.
I started blogging at Open Salon almost five years ago, with a post (a love letter, really) to Joni Mitchell. As of the 9th of March, OS is officially dead.
Open Salon was a bloggers dream: a platform with a built in audience. I made friends there. A few I met in person, others on the phone, and many through exchanges in the comments. And I learned a great deal about writing. I had started writing five years before. Writing a book, a memoir no less, not knowing how challenging that form is. I ignored a friend’s advice that I might want to practice with a few songs before attempting the B Minor Mass. Ignored all the novelists who started with short stories.
Blogging gave me practice in a short form. Someone suggested posts should be under 1000 words, so I tried to stay under 2000. That alone taught me a lot about self-editing. Finding the wheat and tossing the chaff. As I received comments, and ratings, I began to think about readers. I was mystified by how my assessment of my work wasn’t always in line with that of my audience. I became a little less mystified when I realized that readers have topics that interest them more than detailed explorations of the inner landscape of my cranium. Write about The Beatles, and many readers will come along just for the ride. People love lists. They like hearing about my (once) famous father. They like it when words strike some emotional chord. Love. Loss. Passion. Poetic ramblings about frog life along a country road? Not so much.
Salon published three of my OS pieces on what we OSers called “Big Salon.” Even then Salon had started its long slide into (mostly) the click-bait swamp. But it was a shot in the arm to finally “be published.” And to be told that my piece had garnished 90,000 page views. The Salon pieces led to publication at Talking Writing (edited by an OS blogger), and The Good Men Project, even a paid gig! ($300.)
Commenting at Open Salon was of course a game – you comment on your favorites, and they’ll comment on you. But it was more than that. I could tell what comments were heartfelt. A lot of them. And I tried to return in kind. An Open Salon blogger turned me onto Gillian Flynn, before Gone Girl. More than a few writers made me envious. The good kind of envious, which makes you write better.
I’ve been a lousy blogger in recent years because I’m busy working on three books. I started writing eleven years ago, in which time I’ve become codgerier, tireder, with a memory that’s increasingly sieve-like. But I still have ambition. I WILL publish my books, preferably by traditional means, but one way or the other. And I WILL have readers! Five, fifty, fifty-thousand? Does it really matter?
Death is terrible and sad no matter what form it takes. But I find particular eeriness in the demise of online institutions. Maybe because they don’t feel alive in the same way as a newspaper or a magazine. There’s something insubstantial about a blog where the writer hides behind an avatar. Is it a he, a she, or a bot writing it? And the anonymous trolls that savage comment threads. Could there really be that many hate filled people, or is it just one with different handles? Or more Bots? At the same time, everything online feels eternal. Isn’t that what people are afraid of, the fact that everything posted online is forever?
Content may be forever, but people are not. When the hilarious political satire blog Jon Swift went dark it was because some person named Al Weisel had died. It left a small hole in my life, and I tried to fill it by reading everything I could about the man behind the blog. But there wasn’t much. Doghouse Riley brought curmudgonery to the level of high art. When its proprietor Douglas Case died he left us with nothing but a name. Andrew Sullivan revealed much more about himself at the Daily Dish, but when it ended last month I really felt the loss. It had become my morning source for news and all kinds of weird stuff, after the NYT site.
Fortunately, the death of Open Salon doesn’t correspond with anyone’s demise. And many of the people there are still around, at Our Salon, or on their own blogs. But whatever happened to Scarlett Sumac, Hoop Jr., Bellwether Vance? (To mention just a few.)
I would love to hear from any OSers who want to keep in touch. Please feel free to email me: johnkmanchester (at) gmail.