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September 29, 1999

Explaining my slight disappearance

"You just write this crap for the money!" The flame roared across my e-mail box. There was nothing for the flame to burn, however -- certainly not those piles of money the writer envisioned me rolling in. My work was earning me less than half what the local high-schoolers make on their first day at McDonalds. At the same time it was heaping huge demands on my time and my spirit.

Something had to give -- and it has. With regrets, I've given up my WorldNetDaily column. With regrets (though fewer of them) I'm disappearing from the 'net to earn a living and regain some privacy and balance in my life.

I've always wanted to be a hermit in the woods. When I sat down to write my first freedom book, after a long career in PR and corporate communications, I figured I'd be poor; after all, the hottest "underground" best-seller wouldn't be a pimple on the backside of the most feeble NY Times-list book (and that has indeed turned out to be the case). But I also figured I'd personally be obscure -- which suited me just fine. Standing Wolf Image (7k)

Ha! The e-mail deluge since publication of that first book has been steady and overwhelming. It's the Internet at work. A writer like me who might get two or three reader snails a month gets thousands of personal messages (I'm not talking about list traffic), each meriting personal attention. I've long struggled -- unsuccessfully -- with the question of how to let people in without, at the same time, giving up my own life to a thousand strangers. I'm the first to admit I didn't handle it well. Couldn't answer all the mail; couldn't ignore it, either.

I think to survive in the public eye -- and particularly to survive being visibile on the 'net -- you have to learn to filter a lot of things out -- like most of the desperation, demands, anger, information and even good-hearted friendliness that pour into your life from people you'll never meet; I don't have that talent. (And Lord, there is so much pain in this world!)

The FreeLife column for WorldNetDaily increased the mail, as I knew it would. But I also thought it would increase opportunities -- both for building a constituency for freedom and for finding more editors interested in my work. Nope. Didn't happen. I don't think I've done a thing for freedom, and the only personal opportunity has been the opportunity to cope with more mail.

I'm gratified by the powerful response to my writing. Awed is a more descriptive term. But I must also conclude that there is very little market for what I write -- at least not on the Internet. There are a number of reasons for that. For one thing, you'd be amazed at how painfully underfunded even successful new-media sites like WND are. For another, the 'net is glutted with commentators willing to work for free. So realistically, I was fortunate to receive even the token sum Joseph Farah was able to spare. I'm certainly grateful to JF and an admirer of his pioneering work. But I also must earn a living.

No increase in freedom? The poverty was only part of it. I'd crawl naked over broken glass if I thought freedom lay on the other side. But what really began to get to me was not just the volume of mail -- but the kind of mail I increasingly received as the WND audience grew.

First, let me say enthusiastically, that from the beginning, my work has been blessed with the warmest friends and kindest critics. If anything, I've been overwhelmed by loving support. I've met the most outstanding, bright, funny, generous, principled people one could ever know. I can't count the number who've sent leads to superb information or given their time, without reward, to help create a column or article or to contribute to this Web site. I'm honored and privileged. And I know that e-mail -- this thing I whine about -- also brought these blessings.

But as WND reached into the mainstream, a darker current began to rise through the e-mail stream. It took a lot of forms. (Don't get me started...) What spooked me most was this: No matter how many times I cried, "Think for yourself!" or "There are millions of individual paths to freedom!" a small but frightening percentage of readers made it clear they expected all answers to be provided for them -- that they preferred to follow a freedom guru or obey a Supreme Dictator of Individuality -- anything other than think and act on their own responsibility.

Worst of all, an increasing number of self-proclaimed freedom seekers made it clear that the magical answers they demanded must require absolutely no work, risk or inconvenience on their part.

Freedom? It's okay if it doesn't mess up my credit rating or mar the polish on my BMW.

"Ignore these rotters!" you say? But in the end, even the effort of ignoring them was more than I could manage. I felt like Bogart in The African Queen, shuddering to rid himself of sucking leeches.

After a year of high visibility on the Web, I no longer regard the 'net as a miracle of freedom. It's a magnificent research and communications medium, absolutely. But it's just one more place where do-nothings, including "keyboard revolutionaries," can waste time. And the real killer is that it also gives them unprecedented ability to lay claim to other peoples' time, as well. Sluggards who wouldn't put out the effort to lick a stamp cheerfully thrust their e-opinions and their e-wheedles at anyone whose address they can snag.


Besides, my mission (to whatever extent I have one) has never been to wake the sleeping -- or the dead. It's been to walk among awake folks, looking around at the manifold wonders of the world and saying, "Hey, look over here! Isn't this cool? How 'bout we try this?"

The short version of my farewell tale goes like so: I'll work for freedom for any price or no price. But I can't think of any price on earth that could induce me to give up peace, privacy and solitude for the amusement of the lazy, or the glassy-eyed scrutiny of guru-seekers.

Yeah, maybe I just wasn't made to be in the public eye.

Anyway, though the column may have been entertaining, it wasn't needed. Ultimately, I have only three things to convey, and you probably already know them:

Think for yourself.
Live free.
Foil the plans of tyrants.

I also might add: "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him."

That said, I'm closing down all e-mail addresses and leaving the 'net for an indefinite period of renewal and just plain work. Wolfe's Lodge won't go away, but it won't be updated in the near future, either.

I've got several earning-a-living type assignments and a few interesting, but speculative, projects in the works. I'm not going to quit writing for freedom. (Can't -- no more than I could quit breathing and keep walking around.) I'm looking forward to working alongside friends who care about freedom right down to their bones. But other than that...

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us?
Don't tell! They'd advertise, you know.

How dreary to be Somebody.
How public, like a frog,
To tell one's name the livelong June
To an admiring bog.

--Emily Dickinson

(Seconded by Claire Wolfe)

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