Sunday, July 02, 2006

Susan Straight was in New Orleans this week. Close to year later, it's like this:

"We have no electricity, no water," others told me. "They just opened a store last week in my neighborhood, and a lady was holding a bag of chips and crying. People were just walking around her and nodding, because they understood. We haven't been able to buy food."
Dorothea Salo, writing in Caveat Lector (

Some people speak about themselves and their families in clichés and polite fictions for many of the same reasons corporations speak in empty, sonorous PR, not least among them desperate fear of the truth. Some people, submerged in the family fictions, lose their real voices in part or wholly. Blogging threatens such families for the same reasons it threatens PR-dependent corporations. It threatens the fiction, the public façade of perfection, the private walls around anger and pain and disagreement and error. The “public” nature of blogging is only an excuse, really, for those who want the façades maintained. Public or private is not the issue; the issue is talking truthfully, or writing truthfully, at all. To anyone.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

I don't post often because I don't fit my writing into the standard blogging form very often. There are some great bloggers, I'm not one of them yadda, yadda.

But you get a sense now and then about how different the medium could be (as I did reading Theoria on DailyKos a few years ago), and how it rarely gets there. I think anonymous nails it in the comment I've pasted in below. And how appropriate that he should think no one will listen to him for saying such a thing (as he says in a part left out), when he's actually very interesting:

Anonymous said...
I can't wait for the day when blogs are more than hypertextual diaries. I read this and I saw this and hear's a picture of me with my wife. I'm sure there are sites that aspire to be more than what we have, something more abstract, creative, and maybe even a little poetic in terms of how they are laid out. I've been reading these movie blogs for a couple of years now and they're stale. It's the orthodoxy of punk all over again. We're going to create a new world and it has to look exactly like this. It's time to rip it up and start again. These blogs are like cocktail parties: I'm reading Mark Crispin Miller and oh, have you seen the new Malick, and isn't it a shame about Spielberg, and Hey, let's play a game! Everyone name their top five...blah, blah, blah, and who is this man and why is he saying this, he shouldn't be allowed to speak, that's not what we're here for, now everyone be civil.

By Anonymous' standards this post is stale, but it is so in a way that considers how it could be otherwise. Thanks, Anonymous, whoever you may be. If I could do something different I would, and I'd do it more often.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Defining this blog

I'm putting some thought into what this blog should focus on. For me it comes down to how writing gets done, what it means to me, and trying to find out where it comes from in a time with so much anxiety about the future of the written word. I'm interested in new writing, but just understanding what the present of writing is difficult enough. For the most part, literary study covers the past of writing well enough.

I know I want to process some of the unspoken, unwritten and unpublished thinking I've done on anthropology and fiction. I think both of those genres of writing and thinking are relevant to where we are as a culture right now. Anthropological thinking is helpful as we become less isolationist and more involved in the diverse world, and as American society begins to process the existing diversity. I see fiction as the most flexible and complicated form of writing that we have available to us now. I think the two genres are headed toward an understanding and admixture.

Writers are strongly influenced by what they read, and I've been reading a lot of journalism because of the drama of current events. I'll never be a journalist, but reading the form obviously affects how I'm writing fiction these days, and I want to figure out what that means. My next post will be about the effect of reading journalism on my writing.

Monday, April 03, 2006

How do characters begin?

Department meetings inspire my self-loathing in a way few things do anymore, since I tend to avoid events and places that make me feel bad. Our department is fourteen people, and the meeting consists of us going around the table discussing what is going on with our job that others should know about. Some of us go on for 10 to 20 minutes hitting all the highpoints of our fortnightly accomplishments. Others are mercifully short. I tend to keep it short, but realize that people may actually think I do little if I say little. The work litany becomes a strange genre of defensive self-aggrandizement always in danger of slipping into onanisticly subjective minutiae.
Sometimes it helps to spend meeting time watching my co-workers speak or react to others speaking, and to think about how they might be characterized. I can see how it’s possible to take any small group with intense dynamics and mold it into a little drama with heroes and villains. Who the heroes are switches out from week to week. Is the assistant who scowls at half of the comments the rest of us make simply petty and envious with no self-control or does she harbor the burden of upholding standards the rest of us have forgotten?

Lunch: Homemade chicken mole and rice. It could be a lot saucier. It needs something but still communicates the idea of what it could have been.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Joyce recently wrote:

At 80, when a film about Ruth Duckworth (a German Jew who fled to England to become an artist) was done, she said, "If you're still afraid at 80, that's bad luck."

I would add that if you're still afraid at 80, you probably just haven't been paying a whole lot of attention as life has rolled by.

Which made me write this:

In 1922, one of the first British expeditions to climb Everest approached the mountain from the Tibetan aside. The climbers brought hundreds of porters and twice as many pack animals. The Rimpoche of the monastery up in the hills below Everest did not want to meet with the climbers, but was pressured to do so by the Tibetan government. He claimed that the very idea of meeting the Europeans made him physically ill. But he did agree to meet them and allow them to stay in the area around the monastery. Many contemplative people resided in shelters and caves in and around the valley of the monastary, meditating for months and years on end. Many of them were aged people meditating on their fate. Once a day monks would carry water and barley gruel to the caves, and the climbers would see nothing more of these people than their pale hands reaching humbly out for their rations, trying to avoid even the sun. The Rimpoche demanded that the Gurkha general accompanying the expedition refrain from hunting in the valley, for, as the visitors saw, all of the animals were absolutely without fear of humans. The mountain goats and wild birds calmly wandered and flew among the expedition during their stay.

John F.