01 March 2008

This Is By Us

My Reading Life has suffered a bit of late. I seem to have slowed down on actually reading books, complete books, and yet I seem to spend plenty of time right here in this chair reading, and writing. The truth is, I've found this new thing to read, and it's consumed a lot of my time.

I first encountered thisisby.us on Craigslist, where I was perusing jobs for writers or editors. I do this often, it's sort of like picking a scab. Whenever I see a job open that's actually real-looking, the requirements are far beyond anything I can claim -- even though I feel that I could do the job -- and I fall into despair that I will end my days as a greeter for Wal Mart after my nice cushy job that I have now is eaten by the monster of financial inevitability. The ad said something like "write and get paid," so I was interested.

What I found was a sort of interesting looking website with the catchy FQDN of thisisby.us. Thisisby.us allows anyone to contribute (anyone who registers, that is, but it's a simple process and doesn't require anything objectionable) just about anything. There is no editorial approval required. Once one's writing is posted on the site, readers who have registered can vote for the piece if they like it, and write comments about it. The number of times a piece is viewed, and the number of times it's voted for, determine how prominently it will be listed on the site.

As for the "get paid" part: thisisby.us sells ads on the site. The advertising revenue is split fifty-fifty with the contributors, according to the FAQ, and distributed according to "goodness," a quality calculated from views times votes, measured at some point in time. From what I have learned, no one is getting rich writing for thisisby.us.

I didn't ever think I was going to make money there, but it looked like it might be fun, and perhaps a place to improve my writing. I started reading, and soon wanted to be able to vote and comment. I had to register, and create a username, and I was in.

There are plenty of posts to read, vote for -- or not, and write comments about if one desires. Experience hasn't yet taught me -- though it should have by now, I've made sufficient faux pas in this area that I should know better -- to be careful when commenting. Various personal shortcomings make this a problem area: thoughtlessness, insensitivity, literary snobbism, old age, and a sick sense of humor are among them. Mental illness probably plays a part as well. Be advised: the writer is very likely to read one's comments. The writer is very likely to be feeling just a little bit insecure, having just released his or her brain child to the cold, cruel world. The rule "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" is a good rule here.

(There will be members of thisisby.us who will read that last sentence and snort meaningfully at the hypocrisy I've displayed by writing it.)

There are many really fine writers working on this site regularly. A registered member can "fan" a writer that she likes by clicking "I like this writer!" on a post, or on the writer's profile page. It is then possible to enable email notification whenever a writer one likes has posted something. I do this, and I must admit to being obsessed with checking the trap I've set in gmail to catch these messages. I will eagerly click off to read the new one by one of my favorites, and then read the comments, and become curious about a comment writer, click on his link, start reading something by the new person, and I'm off ... Hours go by in this way.

A writer who goes by the alias Wisco writes once or twice every day (from Wisconsin), including a "news roundup" for the day which is always interesting, often quite insightful, and frequently humorous. Brakeformoose is another frequent journalistic contributor, writing from New Hampshire. His stuff is very funny when he means it to be, and very professional. It was not too surprising to learn that he free-lances for his local newspaper. (As of 1 March, 2008, 'moose seems to have slowed down a bit. Perhaps he's finding some success out in the "real world." I hope so -- he's very good.)

Terry Hargrove's alias is his name. He is the author of Don't Mind Me, subtitled "A Tennessean Lost In Connecticut." He writes regularly on thisiby.us, and I am always quick to read him. Mr. Hargrove writes a column for the Pictorial Gazette of Old Saybrook, Connecticut, and his book is a collection of those columns. His stories are often about his childhood or his family, sometimes set in Tennessee where he grew up in the 1960s. He makes me laugh out loud regularly, and has a gift for the short and sweet.

Brianfile23 and BigDog both write from Fort Worth, Texas. I feel like both of these guys are my friends, although I wouldn't know them if I saw them on the street, and they'd probably think I was a strange old codger if they met me. Brian's posts are like pages of his personal journal, stories of his daily life, right up to date. I don't know how he does that. BigDog's writing is likely to be about anything, and he's really been working on it of late. He just wrote an essay about The Innocence Project, and before that a piece of a vampire thriller (I think?). Late last night I read one by him about a Polish woman who saved Jews during World War II.

vetinarii lives in New Zealand, although he's originally from England. His writing is simply exquisite. It's always calm, nicely poised, perfectly phrased, and thoroughly interesting. I would read a grocery list written by this man. Jasmine Ardent is the alias of a lawyer who lives in Seattle; she writes poetry and prose of a quality that makes one despair thinking of her laboring over boring briefs in a dusty courtroom. She has been kind enough to comment on some of my efforts and I think her ideas very helpful.

My old friend Doc writes some very well-worded and often highly opinionated pieces, and occasionally posts them on thisisby.us under the name Tom Joad. Doc writes letters to the editors of the local papers, and they get printed just about every time. I keep telling him he should be freelancing for the papers instead of giving his writing away free and working nights for money.

Blackrob8 is new to me, but I've seen some really good stuff from him. Typo is a very intelligent fellow who writes beautifully and betrays an excellent education. Beardless Viking is a writer I just started paying attention to; he is, according to his profile, a "First-year MFA in Creative Writing at San Jose State University." bbstucco was one of the first writers that really attracted me on thisisby.us. He has just about stopped posting on the site this year, but that's apparently because he too has found success in that elusive "real world."

There's anniemor in Northern Island, mudgeon I know not where, maze, Erik the Red, Roomspimp (what a strange name), Mike James, dean fearce, and so many more I know I'm going to forget someone wonderful and probably hurt somebody's feelings by leaving them out.

I don't know how I can possibly name all the writers that have entertained me, occupied my mind, and why -- this entry would go on for many meters down your screen. It's unfair, because I've named a few, and that seems to give them preference, but it's really not that way. Go to http://thisisby.us, read a post or two, register, and try it yourself. See how many writers you've collected after a few weeks.

I suppose this is the "social networking" website thing in a different form, but for me it's a very palatable form. Certainly, a lot of the posts on thisisby.us are forgettable, of low quality, barely intelligible and offensive -- bring your thick skin and do not send your children to this site. But when you go to the trouble of mining through the slag, the gems you extract will be well worth it.