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Randall Amster


The Cover of the Huffington Post

Posted: 04/21/10 08:59 PM ET

I wonder about things. I really do. All sorts of things. Like, will the world really end in 2012 and will anyone even care? Or, what the heck is Twitter supposed to be about, and am I the only person who can't figure out how (or why) Facebook works? I mean, what was life like before the Internet anyway, and if something doesn't make the Google queue did it really, truly happen? So, you know, the really big questions plaguing humankind are on my mind these days.

I also wonder about little stuff, like how exactly does one get their article to the top of the page on the HuffPo? And I don't mean the little "Big News" pages about Bicycles or the Balloon Boy. I'm talking the Politics, Living, and Green pages. Or, gasp, the Home Page itself! This is the driving obsession for all HP bloggers, I assure you. As a famous science fiction author once told me, "Don't ever believe a writer who says they don't read their own press clippings." Likewise, don't trust a blogger who tells you they don't care how many people read their posts.

Self-indulgent reveries aside, from time to time I also explore the realm of the arcane. As in, was Dr. Hook (of "Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show" fame) really a doctor? Did he have an M.D., a Ph.D., a J.D., or even an N.M.D.? Research indicates some startling factoids about this, for instance that he/they had the number one song in New Zealand ("Sexy Eyes") for one week in 1980. Furthermore, it turns out that the good doctor didn't even write the song he's best known for, namely "The Cover of the Rolling Stone," which was written by none other than Shel Silverstein.

Yes, that Shel Silverstein. This guy was amazingly prolific: children's author, songwriter, cartoonist, playwright. Oh, and here's the rub -- he denied reading his press clippings, according to an interview that appeared in Publishers Weekly on February 25, 1975:

"I would hope that people, no matter what age, would find something to identify with in my books, pick up one and experience a personal sense of discovery. That's great. But for them, not for me. I think that if you're a creative person, you should just go about your business, do your work and not care about how it's received. I never read reviews because if you believe the good ones you have to believe the bad ones too. Not that I don't care about success. I do, but only because it lets me do what I want. I was always prepared for success but that means that I have to be prepared for failure too.... I have an ego, I have ideas, I want to be articulate, to communicate but in my own way. People who say they create only for themselves and don't care if they are published ... I hate to hear talk like that. If it's good, it's too good not to share. That's the way I feel about my work. So I'll keep on communicating, but only my way...."

Okay, so he cared about sharing his words and visions, but not about how people received them. Kind of a fine line there, I suppose. I guess the modern-day equivalent would be something like paying attention to how many tweets, buzzes, and comments one gets on their articles but not actually reading the fine print. Or maybe publishing the piece in itself is sufficient, and then whatever becomes of it, so be it. It's about the reader, not the writer. Except that the writer needs to do things their way, so it is about the writer on some level. Or maybe about the writing, and not the writer. Indeed, the writer is merely a conduit for sources unknown and unnamed, as John Lennon alluded to in a November 1980 Playboy interview:

"I don't own it, you know; it came through like that. I don't know where it came from.... It's not a matter of craftsmanship; it wrote itself. It drove me out of bed. I didn't want to write it, I was just slightly irritable and I went downstairs and I couldn't get to sleep until I put it on paper, and then I went to sleep. It's like being possessed; like a psychic or a medium. The thing has to go down. It won't let you sleep, so you have to get up, make it into something, and then you're allowed to sleep...."

So, it comes down to being open to the muse, getting it published, communicating your thoughts, and staying true to oneself. Yes. This all makes a lot of sense. So maybe Silverstein was merely dabbling in sarcasm when he wrote these immortal words for the ersatz Dr. Hook:

Wanna see my picture on the cover
Wanna buy five copies for my mother
Wanna see my smilin' face
On the cover of the Huffington Post

Well, I tweaked that last line a little bit, but you get the gist. I suppose it doesn't really matter if anyone else gets it or if it takes you to the top of the queue. If it's right, you've got to write. What comes next is out of our hands; creation is validation, and being published at all is its own reward. As Ray Bradbury once said of his stories: "They shout, I follow."

Got it. It's all good. Still, it might be nice to grace the cover one of these fine days....


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