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  • Dearest Jonathan –

    First off let me say that the tone of this ‘story’ may be harsh, and I may sound like an asshole, but that’s just kind of who I am. Probably why I don’t have a girlfriend. But everything I say here is because I care so very much. Plus I’ve had a long day and a few drinks.

    If Cowbird is a church, are you God? Or just the Pope issuing pronouncements from on high, without deigning to mix it up with the masses? I want you to know that Apostle Dave has done a decent job working amongst the flock.

    I have read your recent missive like it was a pronouncement from Innocent III calling on the crowned heads of Europe to root out the infidels, and though I accept your explanations with an open heart I must stand firm like Martin Luther at the Council of Worms on one issue – sprouts.

    Very soon after the launch of the sprouts, I sprouted a story off Jari Jarvela. Soon after, I got an email from Annie, telling me that the story was good, but that you guys wanted stories that could stand alone, and since I directly addressed Jari’s story, could I do some edits. I understood her point, and appreciated the feedback very much, and I edited the story in a way that I hoped was what was wanted, and I got an email from Annie thanking me.

    So right from the beginning I knew how the sprouts were meant to be used. And I used them in that way. When Alex(?) started the six-word story thread, I joined in. When Shane wrote a poem about censorship (fbook Cowbirders may remember that scandal), I sprouted a poem off that. When Tony G. joined, I sprouted from one of his first stories and wrote about my battle with an eating disorder, and how it almost killed me, not an easy topic to write about. I did this for me and Tony, to let him know he was among friends. I used sprouts how they were meant to be used.

    However, I know many people used it not in the way you intended, as a means of personal communication. I very much didn’t like this, though admittedly I did it once, in praise of the best Cowbird writer (IMHO), Peter D., at a time when he was questioning his writing skills. Also, I used sprouts in another questionable (though I would say that is debatable) manner, to collect stories that were on the same theme. I say this is debatable, since the first story in those threads were the foundation for the stories that were sprouted. And each story also stands alone, because I knew.

    So the sprouts were done away with. And here were the at times contradictory reasons given by You and Apostle Dave to the concerned flock.

    From Dave on fbook -

    “we found that sprouts were not being used by many people”

    “We also did an analysis and found that VERY few authors were using the sprout functionality”

    So reason one, people weren’t using it enough. From what I could tell, people were using it, especially some of the more prolific Cowbird writers and artists. It may not have been many, but I think this has been shown.

    “I say that even though we did not know sprouting was being used in this way, and did not realize that it would affect a few of you in this way.” – in regard to using sprouts as collections – so ignorance is another reason.

    Dave gave another reason, which I don’t feel like digging to find, but which echoed your statement -

    “About six months ago, we introduced an experimental feature called “Sprouting”. Authors could “sprout” a new story from an existing story. This was meant to mimic the dynamic of being around a campfire, and following the natural flow of conversation, where one story leads to another, and so on. We made the mistake of introducing this feature without giving any good examples, and so it ended up being used primarily as a messaging system between authors. Some people used sprouting in beautiful ways — to hold storytelling challenges, and to echo other authors’ stories, saying, “I hear you, and this is what happened to me” — but the vast majority of sprouted stories were not really stories at all — they were more like personal public messages from one author to another. Again, this felt inconsistent with our mission to build a public library of human experience, in which every story should actually be a story — and not a personal message.”

    This, based on my earlier communication with Annie, seems to be the real reason.

    And this is my biggest problem.

    You get to make the tools, but you do not get to dictate how we use them. We are the artists, we do that. Instead of embracing the fact that people were doing all kinds of different things with your innovation, you chose to delete it all. Is this type of heavy-handed action going to continue into the future? Can I trust my work not to be fucked with? “You are not doing what we want, and therefor…” That does sound like a church, and I ain’t a religious man. Indeed, I know what I am doing right now is not following the storytelling format intended by you, so will you now delete the storytelling function, or even me?

    Retells takes care of one problem that you had, using stories as personal communication. Now there is a cool, useful tool for that. And I have paid my $60, so I can make collections. Now only if anyone could find them. But I cannot sprout a story off one that inspires me, like when I sprouted a story about my father off Shannon's story about hers (I just remembered this usage of sprouts in the manner it was meant to be used). Alex or anybody else can’t come up with an idea that we can all sprout from. And that lessens Cowbird and weakens the community, which you now have acknowledged does exist.

    At this point, I don’t even care about the sprouts anymore, it’s just the fucking point of it all. You have lost some of my trust.

    I joined Cowbird because of the previous format. That is what convinced me that you were an artist and visionary of the first magnitude, someone I could follow, not as a god, but as an artist and inspiration. That format was truly the most beautiful place on the internet. But hey, I’m willing to let the new format grow on me. But I want to reiterate my main point, just to make it clear –

    You get to make the tools, but we get to use them however we want. We may be teachers, students, lawyers, journalists, chefs, housewives, retirees, etc., but we are all artists. And you know how they can be.

    I leave with words from my prophet Jalal al-Din Rumi (al-Din meaning the religious) –

    “All day I think about it, then at night I say it. Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing? I have no idea. My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that, and I intend to end up there. This drunkenness began in some other tavern. When I get back around to that place, I’ll be completely sober. Meanwhile, I’m like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary. The day is coming when I fly off, but who is it now in my ear who hears my voice? Who says words with my mouth? Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul? I cannot stop asking. If I could taste one sip of an answer, I could break out of this prison for drunks. I didn’t come here of my own accord, and I can’t leave that way. Whoever brought me here, will have to take me home. This poetry. I never know what I’m going to say. I don’t plan it. When I’m outside the saying of it, I get very quiet and rarely speak at all.”

    With love, respect, and admiration –

    johnnie b. baker
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