Greg Leake emails: Hi Luke,
The other day in a post you made that could be associated with this one, called ‘When Did I Hit Bottom?‘, you had an inspired comment by Chaim Amalek.
He suggested that your real problem was a need to write about yourself. Chaim Amalek rolls out very good advice to you. He sees through you better than anyone else who posts up here, including yours truly. Seriously, there is no doubt in my mind that you would be much better off had you followed his many cogent pieces of advice.
And yet there is a conundrum. Basically your blog is like one neverending memoir. And your life is the subject that you write about. When you are not writing about yourself, you are writing about Judaism.
The problem with Judaism is that it’s only interesting to other Jews. In fact, you primarily address the Orthodox community, and they are not even interesting to Conservative and Reform Jews.
Clearly when you were writing about pornography it was a sordid subject and yet a compelling and spectacular one. Although some people might be a little curious about the feelings connected with a guy who became famous for chronicling the porn industry after he converted to Orthodox Judaism, this is a subject that has diminishing returns.
You have to be a kind of weird dude like me to find your reflections about yourself to be sort of interesting.
I know that you are a fan of Tom Wolfe. But Tom Wolfe only marginally wrote about himself. Look at Bonfires of the Vanities, and even his early work. He sort of invented the gonzo sociological approach to dealing with contemporary subjects. (Occasionally he would talk about having finally become a “genuine, bona fide eccentric” and wore those white suits.) He chose subjects he could work with and found compelling.
Really your writing is more like a combination of Hunter S. Thompson and Bukowski. I don’t mean specifically your literary style, but more the attitude and sentiment that you bring to your pieces.
Hunter Thompson would do things that no one would recommend though, like go live with the Hell’s Angels OMG. Not recommended. And Bukowski. What can anyone say about Bukowski? You’re not going to start drinking, and you’re not going to start fistfights in a hobo jungle, and your aspirations for upward mobility are not going to lead you to the desire to live on today’s Skid Row.
So what is the solution? You’re a good writer, and you could take Chiam Amalek’s advice with profit, but then you wouldn’t have anything to write about. And you could stick with writing about the Orthodox Jewish community, but that is a bit dull and has an exposure to a limited number of readers.
Bottom line, I thing you need some new subjects.
You don’t want to go back to porn. You don’t want to join organized crime. (Jimmy Breslin has written some terrific pieces about organized crime.) So what you need is to take a Tom Wolfe approach to something like the fashion industry or Jewish restaurants or Jewish gun owners or Jews who are serving in the military. Etc., etc.
Or you could do the world a service and employ your talents in the place that G-d placed you. You could do what only you could do as well. You could write about building bridges between Orthodox Judaism and the Christian world, or even Orthodox Judaism and Conservative and Reform. You are uniquely situated to be a bridge builder. It would take some adjustment of your personality, but then that might be just the radical change you were looking for.