Gentle Readers, I’ve asked this question before, and your silence was deafening. I don’t know who most of you are. Surprisingly few of you, according to Google, are looking for your own names and contributions here. I hope that means regular contributors are regular readers. But unless you tell me I don’t know who you are, and that raises the question: Do you actually like this web site?
Writing is what I do. Writing is who I am. Reading the things some of you send me, working up from the individuals who don’t have commercial ’zines all the way to the Washington Post, and deciding what to cite, link, comment on, and “plus,” is tremendous fun for me as well.
On the other hand, since I’ve chosen to maintain an Internet-free home, I’ve had to use public-access computers. Let’s see, when I started doing this blog I was walking seven miles around the mountain, half of it on a dark winding road with no shoulders and deep ditches on either side, in order to get enough uninterrupted computer time to work...and then, although I’d publicized the building enough that it did start doing enough business to stay open, it had already lost its grant, so it closed. During one bill-reading session a supporter shared a computer and office space with me; next year, when one of her children had taken over her computer, several supporters made it possible for me to commute twelve miles along another dark winding road without shoulders, featuring a narrow icy bridge, that was dangerous enough in the daytime, but my return home took place well after dark. The rest of the time I’ve been working from the public library. As short-term ways to start something these hardships were acceptable to me, even interesting. As permanent conditions of operation they're not acceptable.
The library’s funding is tied to its use and I’ve definitely boosted its funding. Nevertheless, there seems to be opposition on the part of some employees to the idea that someone might actually be earning a living on what they seem to think is their property. At least three library policies that had been working for everyone for years have been changed just to make my job more difficult. At least three library employees, which is to say employees of mine, have expressed overt ingratitude to me personally. Since their own personal salaries aren’t affected by the funding tied to use of the library, they feel free to tell me things like “We’re tired of you coming in here.” Ohhh. Not only do I feel the same way about their faces that they feel about mine, only probably more so because I’m HSP and have more working neurons, I also walk to work in the heat, in the cold, in the rain or snow. Don’t tell me you’re tired, y’silly cows, you do not know tired.
The heat’s finally broken, I still have several hundred things to do—all of which I want to do—at the Cat Sanctuary, and every day when I consider stopping doing those things and trudging to a place where I’m not enthusiastically welcomed, to do something for which I’m not lavishly paid...
I typed this on September 25: all summer I remember thinking, “Why am I spending so much time on this web site?”
Then I looked at the e-mail and answered my own question. “Well, correspondents send in so many good things, free...and local people have done things to support the web site...and somebody commissioned the article about buck moths, people paid for the stuff about the Virginia legislature, and some local lurkers have actually been paying me for regular part-time work based on what I wrote about roaches, in order to support the web site...there’re just so many people who’ve put so much into the web site, and probably half of them are disappointed with it, I really ought to try to keep on improving it.”
I’ve been telling myself this, but it’s remained hard to push myself out the door. I’m happy at the Cat Sanctuary. Although the house and orchard still need a lot of attention from experienced professional men, and I’ve not done nearly enough construction work to have any ideas about doing it myself, there are lots and lots of things I can do at home. Things that need to be done; things I can do right. Pure satisfaction, especially in the kind of perfect weather we’ve been having. Whereas when I go out I get all kinds of oppo and aggro and miscellaneous harassment.
Gentle Readers, I fully understand that Illiberal Left types like Al Gore want to stifle web sites that don’t parrot their party line (there’s a long rant in The Future about this). I try very very hard to be fair to the party of Rick Boucher and Jim Hightower and my Aunt Dotty, even if it’s also the party of President Obama and the Clintons; that doesn’t mean that Democrats bother their heads about being fair to me. The majority of people in Gate City are what I’d call right-wing types—far to the right of me. The majority of people who are employed by government agencies, however, may be pro-family and pro-temperance and Southern Baptists and all that, but they tend to vote for bigger government because that’s the side on which their bread is buttered.
So, although this web site has encouraged local readers to support the library, and although I personally have not only generated revenue by heavily using the library but also adopted it as the charity to which I’ve been giving ten percent of my meagre income this year, the library employees would have to be as intelligent and as conscientious as I am not to hate this web site. And let’s face it: most people who spend their entire adult lives doing student-labor-type jobs are neither.
This is (I hope) the last time I'll ever log in to the Internet from a public library's computer. I have about an hour and a half to go through seven weeks of e-mail that was coming in at the rate of 100-150 e-mails a day. I'll try to share a few of the best recent links and articles e-friends have sent in.
But do you, correspondents, really want this particular web site to stay alive? If so, you need to say it with money, now. As a taxpayer I do need a formal apology, and positive efforts toward reconciliation, from any library employee who wants to remain on the county payroll. As a writer I’ve been offered other, privately owned, possible work spaces. As the voice of Cornerstone Communications I think that, if we can’t set up a shop of our own, by now, we’ve all been wasting our time. This web site needs to get real.
Cornerstone Communications needs about five thousand dollars to lease a building, set up the computers, and pay off the local bureaucracy. Don’t even bother wailing that you don’t have all of that in your pocket. Tell other people you know that you would like to help the creative artists and entrepreneurs in Gate City to become and remain makers rather than takers. If even 50 of those 392 page views represent 50 regular readers, and each of them can scrape up $100 in the next week, then we can open a real-world site in two or three weeks.
Cornerstone Communications needs reliable computers. Since we believe that mending is better than ending, I actually prefer secondhand computers.
Cornerstone Communications needs reliable real-life local supporters. This in no way implies that anybody needs to agree with me about everything. I doubt that anybody does completely agree with me, or with anybody else, about everything.
We need input. We need balance. Compare, if you will, the list of what this web site was meant to contain with the list of what it does contain. The Politics Department is taking over. That’s because we get free material from people who are interested in politics. This is good from some readers’ point of view, but not from the point of view of some e-friends, and some of our actual members, who want more book reviews, more phenology, more local history, more singable hymns, more recipes, more knitting, even more Bad Poetry, relative to politics. We need a place where it’s financially feasible for me and the other members of this web site to sit down and give each of those departments the time I’ve not even really been able to give to politics. I don’t know whether the readers who search for book reviews, and do or don’t find this site, can visualize this, but I have actually e-mailed myself twelve batches of book reviews that are still sitting in an e-mail folder waiting for me to find the time to post them. I am as frustrated by the time constraints under which I’ve been working as any of you.
The store’s going to be the same way. We have many cubic yards of books. Some of them are valuable. We can get many other books: Amazon is positively eager to help us help local people exchange books. We understand that books all by themselves, in a town that might contain three thousand people during Friday Market in tourist season, are not going to generate enough revenue to keep our store afloat. The original vision for the "Cornerstone Bookstore and More" included other merchandise as well as books. No junk—Gate City already has secondhand stores. Nice new local products, like paintings, handmade jewelry, or recorded music, need to be on display in a place where intelligent people are spending their time.
We also have another mission to our community. Too many Christians have been encouraged to believe that it’s ethically acceptable to steer people to what we might charitably call professional helpers, rather than helping them ourselves. (Yes, that includes “I don’t have a lot of money to spare [after I’ve paid for a lot of overpriced, greasy restaurant meals my body is visibly screaming for me to avoid, and cable TV channels I don’t actually have time to watch, and clothes that weren’t even on sale and that normal people will not appreciate as being “this season’s”], but you ought to be able to get a grant.” Those grants aren’t managed by Christians or by people who care particularly about Scott County, and the strings many of them attach to their bequests show this.) And somehow the solutions the professional helpers come up with aren’t what people really need.
Someone who’s broken an addiction, who could do some kind of work that’s different from what he’s been doing, who wants to work to support his children, is being told that if he loses his house and sinks back into his addiction he can get into a residential treatment place. One of the jobs this man could do would be driving a taxicab. Someone who wants to avoid waste and pollution, and doesn’t drive enough to justify owning a car, is being told that the so-called charity that’s destroyed Scott County’s taxicab service is working on a grant to help Scott County residents get subsidized fares if we call taxicab services in Kingsport, Tennessee, when we really need a car. What’s wrong with this picture, and how did it go wrong? Could it be that Scott County could solve more of our problems than the “professional helpers” are solving for us, if we had a nice safe public place to communicate with one another?
These things aren’t going to happen in cyberspace; they’re not going to happen as long as we all sit around in our places in the existing system. They don’t need a huge effort, or a radical or painful change...but they do need all of us to make some changes and some efforts. You need to give up some little luxury or other and chip in $100. I need to stop hanging out in the library, checking e-mail, and trying to tell myself that this is leading to any real change when I’m not seeing the money. If you like this web site, fund it now.