17 Aug 2008
But what do you do when all you have is words and phrases and they don’t won’t make a narrative?
An anchor can hold you in place, but that place could be the bottom of the sea.
Murky, frayed, buoy, eddies, pressure. All my metaphors seem to be nautical, but I’ve never even been on a boat, so I don’t know what they mean.
Where is my mind?
There’s a kind of literature–not a genre, because it’s a part of all genres–where a woman is your leuchtturm: you probably know High Fidelity. But there’s no guarantee your woman is a lighthouse; she could be a siren. She could be your anchor. She could be your cement overshoes.
Why do these patterns only manifest when I’m just a bit too drunk to understand what they mean?
It’s not as much fun as it used to be. It used to work just fine, but now the loss of control has become unpleasant. I enjoy whiskey and beer and wine, but the switch I needed to flick has become much easier to hit, and unnecessary. Drunkenness is a revelation now, an uncomfortable state of being I can see out of through parts of self that are normally opaque, but it only seems to come after I am too muddled for it to be useful.
My left wrist hurts a lot. Typing is difficult.
Conspiracy stories are attractive, and maybe I know why, (and maybe my love for William Gibson and why I read Robert Ludlum and have been watching Welcome to the NHK are explained) because of the joy of (yes) pattern recognition. Because a pattern, any pattern, is pretty welcome. I don’t believe these conspiracies, of course: the attractiveness is not in that particular pattern, but in the fiction that patterns exist. If you’re too smart (or maybe even too compassionate (not that I am)) for religion, then maybe these stories are the only time you encounter a world that works for a reason, and a place you can slot yourself in to get an explanation.
Because you can know things about all of this without knowing them. You can feel them, rather, without being aware of them.
Maybe I’ve just spent too long doing my best to pay no attention to what I wanted and what I was feeling, but I would love love love for something to come along that would explain why I’ve been doing the things I do and made the decisions I’ve made, especially if it could somehow absolve me of responsibility for them.
I want to tell Betsy a lot of the time the thing I always try but always fail to tell myself, something that he needs to know but being told will never teach him: This is it; this is what you get. If you’re determined not to enjoy it because you can imagine something better but are also determined not to do anything to make it more enjoyable out of some strange stubbornness then it will keep on being like this forever for ever for ever.
Where did this come from? Since you can never know 100% what the right decision is, how do you know when you have enough knowledge to act? What constitutes a quorum for life change? How many precincts do I need before I can call this election?
Lisa wrote a long time ago–did I ever tell you I was supposed to profile Lisa as an assignment for my nonfiction writing class and so read her blog through a couple times?–that she was determined not to regret things but instead focus on being who she wanted to be (ok, I found it after extensive googling, and it’s even more appropriate (did I ever tell you that for the longest time I thought I had the biggest crush on Lisa’s life?)). I’ve remembered that for years since. I’ve been trying to figure out how to do it. I think it’s the best advice I’ve ever encountered. I wish I were better at action, and worse at regret. I’m too too good at regret. (Not that, as I meant to tell you last week, it is the decisions I regret; even the times my choices have ended worst feel better now than all the times I failed to choose.)
I have to stop. My wrist hurts, and I need to link things.
But but there is a story I want to tell you, made of all these pieces I can’t put together. I need to put it together. I need to show you a siren anchor and finding yourself in the strangest people and losing yourself in the closest. Give you the etymology of clue and turn Theseus into Ariadne, or Ariadne into Theseus, and each of us our own Daedalus.
So do these waters need oil, or whisky? I wish I knew how to use either.
Filed by shaun at August 17th, 2008 under indifferenthonest
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22 Jul 2008
This is somewhat confused from being written in several sessions. I was going to put a lot of work into editing and clarifying it, but I’m not sure it will stand up to that, so I’m going to pretend it’s just a thinking-out-loud examination of some related topics without any intended point. Like a low-rent Susan Sontag kind of thing.
Since the, what, 60s we’ve continually been told (men, especially) that we have a choice to make when we hit adulthood, wherever that’s defined, high school graduation or college, between two roles: suit/sweat (a Career, a marriage and kids in the suburbs) or slob (cold pizza for breakfast, partying until dawn, mysterious source of income). Contrast, e.g., Buck and his brother in John Hughes’ gritty documentary on the urban-suburban split, Uncle Buck.
That this choice is available, or presented as available, to everyone is a new development. Previous to (very roughly) the 60s, to reject the standard job+family role was to put yourself in the role of a freak. This isn’t to say that you had to join a circus–there have always been a lot of ways to be a freak–just that you weren’t quite fit for regular society. There were alternate roles to take up, from almost innocuous (e.g. the boyish favorite uncle/brother) to the criminal (e.g. criminals). With, I think one exception–the artist–to be a non-suit is to be seen as worth less, relatively. The limited value that is assigned to these roles seems always to be where it interacts with the folkloric role of the trickster.
The trickster’s utility for society is to poke holes in the pompous and powerful, to ask questions and make observations that no one inside the system can or will; to keep the status quo from becoming a stagnus quo. This is Hawkeye’s function, and gadfly Socrates’, and, I don’t know, Dogbert’s. There are other roles that can serve similar functions, and some overlap between them all (and obviously I’m using a big brush and artifically hard lines here to simplify discussion): child (i.e. “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, any movie where a retarded person teaches us all a lesson about life), magician (prophet/alien/private detective/“magical negro”), elder (big overlap with magician–see most Morgan Freeman roles), foreigner (Crocodile Dundee, Clark Griswold), madman (King Lear, The Fisher King) and probably some others I’m not thinking of, but it is the trickster who is the favorite of comedy and it comedy is the point that I’m hopefully eventually going to get to.
Tricksters may be the root of comedy (or possibly comedy is itself has a sort of trickster role in culture), and they are certainly a large part of it. The humor, or at least the lightness, of the trickster is the chief distinction of that role vs the other outsiders. But a trickster must by definition have a trick, or a joke, and a trick is an anecdote, not a story. For stories with a character confined exclusively to the role of trickster one of two things is nearly always true: either the trickster character is not the main character (usually instead either an antagonist or sidekick) or the story is very short. Tricksters qua tricksters are static; in narrative they serve more as a device rather than a developed character. Tricks alone will get you a series of Bugs Bunny cartoons or the adventures of Till Eulenspiegel, but then you have a collection of jokes, not a narrative.
So how do you start with the pure trickster that is Bürger’s Baron Münchhausen and end up with Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen? How do you give character to your trickster? You denature their trickster character by blending it with another role that allows for a story arc. The laziest way to do this is to have your trickster Come To Realize that laughs aren’t all there is to life and learn to behave (temporarily, somewhat) more respectably (Groundhog Day). (Often, especially in the 80s, this story starts off with a joke that goes wrong, and the joker must take life seriously in order to correct the situation, which is usually accomplished with the same sort of crafty/tricky behavior that started the trouble, now applied in the interests of society–see Wargames or Trading Places.)
The other CTR trickster is the manchild (Billy Madison) who is forced to grow up–not, generally to clean up his messes, but essentially to move to the next space on the game board. While in both types of story the development is prompted by forces outside the character–otherwise you’re generally dealing with either a coming-of-age variant or something French (or Big, which is a really strange take on this story)–in the manchild type it is much more forced. Frequently, too, the love of a good woman is the guiding influence, usually a mother–sex object hybrid who serves as an example of calm adulthood.
(I am talking about movies rather than sitcoms because sitcom manchildren never do come to realize (outside of very special epidsodes). Sitcoms have to balance the single-episode narratives’ demands for change with the inherent demand for stasis that exists when the ideal is to continue the same show with the same characters for as long as possible. The battle between the two frequently results in rancid archetypes of the (often overweight) bumbling manchild husband/boyfriend and the (often oversexed–and what the hell does that imply about our societal narratives of marriage–sensible shrewish wife. See The King of Queens, Married with Children, Honeymooners, Home Improvement, et cetera. Television is cruel to narrative.)
The manchild-to-productive-adult theme is enduringly popular because society likes normalizing. This is why Sabrina is such a successful story: the ne’er-do-well David learns responsibility, and the over-serious Linus loosens up. Sabrina herself is a bit directionless at the end, and (though this is more true of the 1954 than the 1995 version) has very little development herself and is less the main character of the movie than the prod for the Larrabees’ changes, but she does end up with a man to look after her, which is enough to wrap her up as far as society (especially 1954 society) is concerned.
(How, outside of CTR storylines, do you sustain a trickster main character? Mostly by not developing him. You create a plot story rather than a character story. Your trickster is looking for something (Hudson Hawk, half of Fletch), going somewhere (Bean), saving the day (Derek Flint, Indiana Jones), etc. The plot-driven story with a trickster main character is generally the only place outside of comedy you’ll find trickster main characters, frequently watered-down tricksters in the form of wise-cracking men of action a la John McClane (to say that he’s a watered-down trickster does not imply he’s a watered-down character; Die Hard actually has a lot more character depth than most of its fellows).)
Sabrina is a good example of what a terrible choice we’re given, and weighted exactly the way these stories are. Linus is successful and secure, but is ultimately unfulfilled. David has lots of fun, but is unable to finish anything or do any good. Given the options–dissipation or karōshi–it’s hard to fault Hollywood for not coming up with a solution aside from the exchange of one bad situation for another. It’s also not surprising, I suppose, that they’re at a loss for a motivation for the change. Sabrina is interesting in that David and Linus actually trade unpleasant roles, but it’s not exactly a fresh breeze sweeping through this stuffy old dilemma, since it still restricts itself to those two unpleasant roles.
Clearly this isn’t an irresolvable dilemma. One can, conceivably, reject both roles, or blend them, but there’s a dearth of narratives that do either convincingly. Rejection is almost always a temporary state, a sort of lacuna between (man)child and adult, and the more robust hybrid option is extremely underrepresented. About a Boy, As Good As It Gets, and Vanilla Sky all try, but I can’t actually think of any movies that succeed, whose characters are authentic hybrids who can be serious about life but still enjoy it–LA Story maybe? There we’re heading in the opposite direction, mid-life crisis movies that turn Linus into David (David of course turns back into Linus (but with a new wife, job, whatever), because we all know David is not sustainable–just ask American Beauty), but it’s still is the only one of these dialectic narratives I can think of that actually makes it through to aufhebung. Consider the allusions to manchild classic The Jerk throughout, this is possibly something Steve Martin was concerned about himself.
The underrepresentation of adults outside of the traditional suit role is a problem for the same reasons (though not as big a problem) as only showing women as wives & mothers, or (later) only showing them as either unfulfilled corporate drones or wives/mothers. It warps our perception of what it means to be an adult, and keeps us from being as aware of the other choices or sets patterns of thought that don’t take them into account.
Identity, the narrative of self, is not entirely self-constructed. The other narratives we encounter–people and stories–affect our own, and the closer you let a narrative type get to you, the more it will alter your own, whether through echo or opposition. Making your own sandwich doesn’t necessarily mean you get to keep your own teeth if the only thing you have to make it with is HFCS “grape” jelly and Nutella.
Filed by shaun at July 22nd, 2008 under indifferenthonest
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18 Jul 2008
I’ve been reading a lot of Dumas lately. He wasn’t paid by the word either.
Filed by shaun at July 18th, 2008 under indifferenthonest
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Even though visual construction metaphors have mostly defined the way I (and lots of other people, possibly you) think (or at least talk, which is about the same thing for me) about writing (the dimensionality of characters, polishing prose, etc.), I think that the kinds of attention required to create a new verbal or visual/physical work have less in common than do the kinds of attention each required within the visual/physical and verbal realms. Designing a new website, sewing my Halloween costume (a bunny), and repairing a broken window fan seem to require fairly similar frames of mind for me, even though one is creative (in the sense of creating a new thing), one is purely technical, and one is problem-solving. However, the new website and a new blog entry need completely different frames of mind, even though they’re both similarly creative activities. A small amount of constant distraction — music, idle conversation, a familiar movie — is often helpful (sometimes necessary) to me with the visual activities, but for the verbal I require no constant distractions (can’t listen to music unless it’s classical of the furniture variety), but sharp, 5-15min breaks in concentration every so often with just enough distraction to cover the surface level of consciousness without requiring any real thought — conversation is too much, but a cigarette is just about perfect.
All of which is a very long-winded way of saying that I think this difficulty of writing vs. prolificity of craft since quitting smoking (or in my case, just in general) may be due to the different patterns of attention involved (especially, as I read through this to change it from a comment to a myownfuckingblog entry, the formal sit-down capital-letters nature of my (attitude toward) Writing vs. the casual just-doing-this-thing ease of dicking around with geometry), and so, if you can sew and can’t write, maybe you should attempt to write like you sew. How to do this remains an important question of course: type with your feet? pay less attention?
And, thinking it through, I wonder if it may have something to do with the outlines all the creative writing professors said I should be using. Start with a pattern?
Filed by shaun at July 18th, 2008 under indifferenthonest
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6 Feb 2008
Last night I had a dream I was at a tea stand that stuck out into the main concourse of a mall. It was Japanese — not the mall, I don’t think, or the rest of the dream, just the tea stand. I was excited, since it seemed a comfortable place to practice the little bit of Japanese I’ve learned (as opposed to the crowded-with-actual-Japanese-folks bakery where I chickened out this weekend). Also, even in strange mall dreams, I love tea. So I asked for a cup of tea in passable Japanese, and had the tiny conversation involved.
When I woke up, I thought to myself that was pretty awesome, since I’ve only been learning Japanese* for a month, and decided I would tell you about it, since there’s nothing more interesting than other people’s dreams. But writing the paragraph above, I realized that I don’t know the Japanese for tea. Or cup. I have not forgotten them; I’ve never known. So what the hell did I say? The memory’s pretty clear, down to the hesitation where I try to remember tea instead of coffee. “Une tasse de … thé, s’il vous plais.”
Well, I did order tea.
* more on this later?
Filed by shaun at February 6th, 2008 under indifferenthonest
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19 Dec 2007
The bus, especially when your total commute including walking to and from and waiting, is 40 minutes, is not a great place to read. There’s a lot of distraction, you have to keep looking up to check that your stop isn’t coming up, the words bounce around, people want to talk about why you’re reading something about Danish dreams, are you Danish?, etc. The bus is a great place to listen to audiobooks and lectures. (I have a lot of audiobooks and lectures. Never you mind where I got them.) You can do this during the to/fro/waiting parts, you don’t have to stop while you watch for your stop, fewer people interrupts you because you’ve got headphones on and are clearly listening to something, and buses are just distracting enough to allow for real focus on listening.
So I listened to some (Discworld) books, and then to some lectures. I don’t remember which one I started with, but it’s the Robert Solomon lectures on Existentialism from The Teaching Company that are important, because they’re amazing. Robert Solomon is a comfortable man to listen to, comfortable in a Fred “Mister” Rogers or Dalai Lama way, which is a very good thing in a man who’s talking to you about Heidegger and Sarte and the nature of personal responsibility. (You may remember him from such films as Waking Life, where he had a cameo as a philosophy professor.) I could go on about how amazing he was, but I think you should just inter-library-loan yourself ahold of his Existentialism lectures now instead. This would be a better use of your time, and I need to get on to my main point, which is this: they were too awesome, these lectures.
Because of this awesomeness, one night when I got home I did not stop listening. I kept the mp3 player on while I petted the cats and made dinner. This worked pretty well. While no one should need something extra to occupy their attention while petting cats, because cats are fully as awesome as any lecture or audiobook, even read by Nigel Planer, could be, unless I’m frantically trying to read upside down the chou-fleur with beurre noir recipe I’m making for the first time while it’s boiling over on the stove, cooking dinner is often less than totally engaging, and an audiobook is just the thing to occupy you while slicing the carrots.
Since then, for I guess two or three months now, I have pretty much been occupied 100% of the time. I listen to the audiobooks while walking, cleaning (the little I do), playing with cats, cooking, eating, brushing my teeth, and waiting to fall asleep. Mira has largely been doing the same thing. Our conversations happen while the book is paused. I have, while not actually at work, working, been listening to someone talk all the time (sometimes this is David Attenborough or Simon Schama and there are pictures of animals and castles and things that I look at instead of just listening), with three exceptions. 1. While actually with-eyes reading books. B. While exercise biking, when I watched silly movies (Our Man Flint) or Babylon 5 episodes. iii. While sitting there, concentrating on my breathing and trying not to think for about 20 minutes a day.
A couple days ago, that just sitting there got extended to way more than 20 minutes, not on purpose. I stared at the bookcase across from me for a few hours. Later, I went upstairs and laid in bed and stared at my eyelids for another few. When I couldn’t fall asleep there, and seemed like I was going to keep Mira from doing so, I went back downstairs and sat in the chair again, in the dark this time, for another hour or so until I eventually fell asleep. The next day, very tired, I forgot my headphones on my scramble to the bus, and since my carrying-around book is in my desk at work, I had to just sit there on the bus.
That night, I was thinking about these things. Since I recognized even at the time that this really was not a super-sane thing I had been doing, hypnotically staring at a bookcase for hours, I was surprised at how much better I felt without actually doing anything. Later while I was brushing my teeth I came to the conclusion that this is because it is that constant stimulation that is really not super-sane. I came up with the perfect analogy to explain it, too, but because I was sure I’d remember I didn’t write it down, and now I can remember the bristles on my gums, but not my analogy (the shape of it feels like it had something to do with dreams).
It was too much. I sneer at heavy television watchers because television’s main goal is to constantly distract you and pull your attention away to the external, but I was doing the same thing. Granted, I was doing it with Alan Watts and not Snuggles the fabric-softening bear, but what the hell was I thinking would be the result of the constant occupation of my attention with these external stimuli, if not constant preoccupation? What sort of dissonant worldview does it take to schedule yourself a 20-minute break from your self-inflicted distracted state so that you can practice mindfulness?
Today I spent several hours by myself. I played the guitar, and the keyboard, and stared into space for a while (on purpose this time). And wrote this (sorry, I meant it to be short, but didn’t have enough time). I did listen to a book on the bus (because George R R Martin may be sort of creepy and very dorky, but he breaks all kinds of rules about what directions your narrative is allowed to go and has written one of the most original takes on zombies since that whole Easter thing in the Bible) and while I was reducing my curry. This feels like it may still be too much, and I think I’m going to need at least one day a week where I don’t listen to anything at all.
I don’t eat meat now, of course, but when I did I was very fond of ham sandwiches. I always prefered the ham be shaved thin, translucent, so it would barely hold together. The Frugal Gormet told me (and other Viewers Like Me) one day that this is because there is more room for air when you have very thin slices than one slab, and the air lets more of the flavor get to you.
Filed by shaun at December 19th, 2007 under indifferenthonest
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17 Dec 2007
Since the second job I’ve had in Columbus, every work day (with the exception of the few weeks I had one job two blocks north Goodale), I’ve passed through the intersection of Broad & High. It’s not the main intersection in Columbus, not anymore, but it is the main one downtown, and it’s where almost all the bus lines cross. I’m not a temp anymore, but while I was, for eight of my twelve jobs I got off the bus at or just after that intersection, so it provided a bit of continuity.
On the northeast corner, they’re building a building. They have been for as long as I’ve been passing by. At least, they have scaffolding and billboards (that sometimes fall down), and plywood-roofed temporary sidewalks, and men in hardhats, and for a while an enormous crane, but they don’t seem to have done anything in, what, two and a half years?, except move the advertising around. I guess that’s how it goes sometimes.
This is a months-old draft beginning of something. I think it was going to be about to say something about the Kelvin Arms and someone I used to know, but now I can’t remember what.
Filed by shaun at December 17th, 2007 under indifferenthonest
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4 Jun 2007
I wish there were a quiet way to flag people, or their actions, or creations, as favorites the same way I can (though seldom do, because it would violate the lurker’s code) metafilter comments, so that that quiet feeling I have of being glad that as long as I’m in whatever place at whatever time I am, there are these things or events or people that make it good, or better, or bearable. Just a little button I could press, because I’m shy about positive things for whatever reason, so I’d never actually say anything, but I know that it’s just as important–hell, much more important–to note the good things as the bad.
Filed by shaun at June 4th, 2007 under indifferenthonest
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