This post might ruffle some feathers. For others, it's probably been their opinion for a long time.
It started with some reactions to the following video, which has been making the rounds on various websites.
I'm not going to comment on the video itself, but want to focus in on one site of "discussion" in regards to the content of the video: Elephant Journal. For anyone not in the know, Elephant Journal is a fairly popular web-journal that centers itself around yoga, Buddhism, and environmentalism. A few years back, I was a regular reader of EJ. More recently, I have been on the fence about EJ - liking some of the content, but also finding some of the content fluffy and feel-good. Yet, while others took shots at the journal's editor, Waylon Lewis, last year after an incident involving one of his former writers, I tried to focus on the issues being brought up by the former EJ writer about some potential corruption in an American Buddhist sangha.
However, with the following display of stupidity and arrogance, all in the name of shits and giggles, I'm leaping off the EJ fence on the side of something else, anything really that is willing to handle issues with more maturity and integrity.
Now, in full disclosure, I was contacted by one of EJ's editors last month, seeking new Buddhist columnists. My subsequent attempts to return that correspondence and find out more details about their writing policies, at multiple e-mail addresses, including the main EJ e-mail address, went unanswered. In addition, about a year and a half ago, another blogger recommended my writing to EJ, and when I sent a few sample columns in, they first got lost, and then were received, but never commented on.
I bring this up because as a former journal editor, I'm aware of the challenges that come with dealing with unsolicited material. We occasionally lost pieces that were sent to us as well, even after taking care to keep everything organized in piles by genre. And so that, in and of itself, is something any writer should be aware of. However, it's quite different if you either have solicited work from someone, or had work recommended to you by another writer. Dropping the ball on those as an editorial team is a screw up, the kind that can negatively impact your reputation. My literary journal lost a set of poems by a fairly well known author and had to send her an apology letter and ask for second copies. Fortunately, she handled it gracefully.
So, I didn't plan on offering the story about what felt to me like fumbled communications regarding my writing with Elephant Journal. However, after reading the post I cited above, as well as this one, from the yoga blogger whose comments sparked the EJ post, and finally this post by another yoga blogger, I felt compelled to say something.
What exactly? Well, first off, when done well, spiritual humor is absolutely illuminating and sometimes the best teaching anyone could have. That said, much of the humor on EJ doesn't hit that mark. And if you're choosing to raise the bar, and add race into the mix, like the video above does, then you better damned well get it right. Or your flop is gonna be fucking massive. And frankly the comments from Waylon Lewis in response to disagreements about the "humor value" of the Yoga for Black People video are a fucking massive flop.
Secondly, any publication that has 48,000 readers needs to recognize that it has some responsibility on it hands. Even if you cut that number in half - considering the inflation of stats that occur online - that's still 24,000 readers. Not chump change in other words. I have no interest in detailing out what constitutes "responsibility" because that depends upon what you ultimately decide your target audience is, who your writers might be, and what you wish your publication to do in the world.
Which brings me to the third point - Elephant Journal is a publication with an identity crisis. Is it a spiritual humor website? Is it aiming to offer serious content that might teach people? Is it a political website using spiritual content as an enticing companion to pro-Democratic Party propaganda?
What is it?
Perhaps if it were easily identified as a spiritual humor website, for example, people looking for anything other than that might avoid it all together. There still might be heated discussion about issues like the Yoga for Black People video, but at least the focus of the journal, as well as the intent of the editorial team, would be much less in question.
But as it is now, the mission and direction of EJ seem pretty unclear to me. I actually was surprised that anyone from EJ contacted me about my writing, seeing as the work I sent over previously never was responded to, and since then I haven't really seen what I do here at Dangerous Harvests as compatible with a lot of what Elephant Journal is doing. Which again isn't a total dismissal of what's happening over there - I do enjoy some of the writers they have very much. However, I'm just really unclear how my writing would fit in at EJ, which leads me back to the point about mission and direction. If you don't have enough clarity, it's damned easy to stir up confusion and misery.
So, I write all of this knowing that a lot of folks online have already taken a stance on Elephant. Some will defend it nearly to the death. Others desire its death post haste. I'm not in either of those camps. Knowing how much work it is to establish a readership and develop a quality journal, I'm not one to flippantly wish death to a publication. And also knowing how much bs occurs behind the scenes and sometimes on the pages of many journals and magazines, I'm also not one to go soft on criticism when criticism is due.
So, this post is an offering to EJ's editorial team, and to anyone else who is running well read blogs, spiritual magazines, or web-journals. I fully admit that I am not an impartial observer, and that I may not have every last fact available. In fact, I'm not completely sure that I have maintained right speech throughout this article. However, I felt compelled to say something, and share the blog posts of others who had something to say about these recent happenings over at Elephant Journal.
May something beneficial come out of all of this.