anybody in here? the blogtastic is playing winky-poo…
ah, that’s better. felt myself disappearing for a minute there. all but the smile.
you know what my current blogger template always makes me think of?
shari’s dalmation polka la dot. not that I ever actually *met* polka. never had that pleasure. but she lived large in my imagination, due to her most-apt name.
then there’s brad nowell’s (deceased lead singer of sublime) dalmation, lou dog, who adorns much of their album cover art and makes cameos in the lyrics. I credit lou with that bedsheet covered with sand brad complains about in “garden grove”– remember, I too had my lu, just not a dotty one, and following our visits out to fort funston, she’d leave some substantial beach in the sheets.
we’re shooting a live-action comic book– or at least blocking the scene with live actors prior to inking– the play centers on a bunch of tough guys and a single dame, and it’s moving right along when the director yells, cut! the problem is, he explains, she’s getting upstaged by the guys– and that cannot happen. come on, sweetheart, snap to it! and she just stands there for a count of ten, vaguely insulted– no one moves (they all know it’s a good call)– but then she’s moving, sashaying across the floor right into the clot of men, and, as she swishes past, swinging her purse with deadly accuracy a hair’s breadth from one guy’s face– it whistles through the air and his hair luffs back. the action comes out of nowhere, and he just stands there gaping, unsure how to react. she’s not a star for nothin’. and now the chips are all hers. she reaches the far side of the room and pivots on her spike heel, gun barrel tracing a wide arc parallel to the floor to come to rest– and she stops. the face in her sights stops her dead– his face, his deadly beautiful face.
I’m visiting my sister who’s staying with her in-laws, a bunch of israeli jews– the grandmothers sit holding the babies, and they’re tough old bats. the mothers are breast-feeding, though one of them hasn’t gotten the hang of it, and she asks me to turn away– I’m embarrassed to have been staring, and I wish I could explain how happy the sight makes me, but it’s evident I’m intruding here. rain comes through the ceiling and fills up the light fixtures and clocks.
there’s bombing in the sky, zapping alien laser warfare, targeting just over the ridge– we’re unsheltered and sneaking through the night, trying to get a sense of what’s going on– but then the zaps are coming too close, and we realize we should take shelter. the others go on, and I climb up into a slatted outbuilding, kind of a chicken coop but clean, up and up the rungs of roosts– it’s dim and blue inside, and after sitting quietyly in the shadows for a bit, it comes to me that the place is full of people– and I make my way down to join them in the darkness.
for all my being this definitively Sensitive Person, I can really be an incredible blunderbuss. the problem, indeed, is that I’m unable to screen it, not to let the Inside show on the Outside. I wear it all right out there on my face, as people close to me are forever informing me, as much as I might try to dissemble. I’m like saran, not sarah. also, I tend to have strong responses—so compound my inability to hide them with the, at times, melodramatic degree of the response, and you end up with a social occasion, say a nice little dinner out with close friends, that blows up in your, and everyone else’s, face.
and even if it’s honest, even if it’s coming from a caring place, it seems in the harsh light of day to be kind of… I don’t know exactly—difficult of course, but also harsh—a harsh way to be with people you love. kind of violent, emotionally. in any case, not easy.
the other thing this calls to mind is– just how the fuck my ex never clued in that I was lying and miserable for so long is a mystery.
no. not a mystery. an explanation. not an excuse, but an explanation.
building community– aka “social networking”. sometimes, I would even venture so far as to say, social engineering— but that’s when there’s actually an engineer at the throttle– and indeed power can go either way– become corrupt or simply, well, powerful.
the question at hand is: what do we make of the social relations we extend into the digital realm? and I, by no means, am without ambivalence on this topic. I’ve been seared crisp in the past. by a glorious email-based community, dammit, that disintegrated under my very fingertips at the keyboard. by a set of friendships that flew apart into poor judgment and spite on a public web page. by a marriage that could not survive, in part, creepingly, the promiscuity inherent in my exposure of self through electronic means. and by relationships that have been so attentuated by mediation that it’s hard, at times, to tell what’s real. but then, sometimes, astonishingly real things emerge from all the attenuation of prose and pixels.
I realize that I’m speaking very abstractly, which is far from my best mode, so let me revert to a concrete example: a so-called, depending on your perspective, flamewar that’s sprung up in the last day on a heretofore stolid and businesslike graduate student listserv I’ve been a subscriber on for a couple of years. here’s what’s happened, in a nutshell, in an attempt to concisely put it in context for the discussion here–
first someone (female– does this matter? it might) sends a post calling out for collaborators in a letter-writing campaign planned one evening on behalf of the tenants of an apartment complex in town who were being summarily turned out of their homes at the end of the month in favor of renovations. next, another student (male) replies with a, frankly, curt and withering little piece about how this particular neighborhood is a local hotbed of vice and dissolution, and how, just possibly, the landlords are doing the community a public service, and then continuing on to slap the first writer’s wrist for apparently indiscriminate use of words like “justice” and “solidarity.” at which point– shit, fan. just about every articulate male I know in the department flew into the fray, mainly in defense of the original student’s intentions and right to post her message in this venue– a portion of the shitstorm, granted, is also constituted by the (typical) Voices of Discipline that perennially complain about the deluge of Irrelevant email messages and wasted computer hard disk space, slow dial-up downloads, blah blah blah.
so. what do we make of a social situation like the above? I say, lively debate. I say, investment and interest in one another’s lives. I also say, participation in a medium which is really good at siphoning emotions into distilled essences and intensifying experiences over dislocated space.
personally, I say, we’re working with hydrochloric acid here, folks. incredibly useful stuff– when directed conscientiously– and also powerfully destructive stuff.
the tools we’ve inherited for such casual use are potent. and there is an associated level of responsibility in using them that should be assumed, should be remembered, I would venture. because it’s people on the other end of the line, after all– people who are sensitive, people who are volatile, people who are what it’s all about. for me at least.
people are the grand project of the world, I feel (even tho the lovely and confounding amy leach makes such a compelling case for the non-self-marketing living creatures of this world)– or helping to forge productive and creative connections between them, between us. and it’s dicey and painstaking work. multi-tiered work. sometimes blow-up-in-your-face experimental work. but the best work of all.
and that’s why I’m on friendster, now. you could say I’m finally ready for it.
I’m sitting on a hillside full of sun and grass and tiny field flowers– the guy beside me is pushing me to consider the futility of being in love with this other beautiful friend of mine, whom I’ve been devoted to for ages (in the dream this part is played by johnny depp)– he says, this other guy, he’s gay, you know, right? and I sort of stop and stutter. I don’t know that I did know– I think I just thought he was too beautiful for me– but this has made me stop and look at it all again– just as he has, this other friend of mine. and then I have to wonder why he even cares– I mean, he could just care, but I get a kind of suspicion that he cares— and just like that, it’s amazing how easy, all of my affection begins to trickle over from one to another, flooding a field that’s stood dry and empty. and I’m sitting there on the actual hillside, pulling clover leaves and inspecting them in embarrassment as I tell him how I think now that I’ve kept my heart put away all this time because in truth I am so unbearably soft-hearted– that’s the word I use in the dream, “soft-hearted,” tho it sounds strange to me now and I doubt I’d ever use it with a straight face to describe myself.
I’m having an affair with a professor who’s nearing retirement– the grotesque differential of our ages and the fact that he’s married put me off somewhat, I’ll own– but then, when I’m in his presence, I’m compelled by his personal magnetism, pulled to him irresistibly. but also I’m tired of waiting around for him to get to me– after all his more important buisiness, lecturing and so on– so I go to campus to find him, feeling bold and confident. only when I see him evidently busy and important, all he says to me is, “did you translate your joke?” and then my heart sinks, because I remember that I’ve been given this tiny piece of homework to do, so small, two lines only to be translated into an obscure eastern european language– and I’ve forgotten to do it. so I go off then to take care of it, this one little responsibility of mine in the complicated heist-type thing we’re planning– my part to waylay the foreign personnage by telling him this joke, and then, once he’s distracted, all the other cogs can move into place. but first I’ve got to translate it. so off I go to the library of this tiny liberal arts college, in search of a dictionary of… not moldovan, some other language whose name starts with an M… probably made-up. and I’m browsing the reference works that are stacked on top of the old card catalogs, but there are all these dumb happy students standing around the place, going through the card catalog in a leisurely manner and yammering away– so annoying– so at last I grab my dictionary on the obscure M language and go off to find a quiet place to write my translation. but there are these dumb happy leisurely students seemingly everywhere I look, clustering together at tables in twos and threes and big cumbersome groups– one of these last is strung along one long side of a library study table, all facing in the same direction– so I look off, trying to determine the object of their gaze, but all I can see is a carnival set up on the horizon– and I choose a chair very near the end and sit down close to the table’s edge so as not to impede their view.
poor guy. what a bum rap he’s given.
I like to go out to the museum and homestead in west branch, iowa and read about the bootstrap boy, the self-made man. what tragic timing– blamed for the Depression. as if one man might singlehandedly effect so much. but we have historically granted our public figures such inhuman stature. lionized and demonized.
I like to drive into the farmland and look at the hair wreath woven by his mother. artifact of an entirely other age. think of it! to build a decorative object out of one’s own hair. and I understand it was not an uncommon craft. such a dark and tangled object, so suggestive.
and, golly, what an age to live in, and through. to draw yourself up out of, to stride across wide, low-slung hills– to step across the slow mississippi and on into the East where the world begins, where America in fact got made. to take an active and determined role in all of that, by choice.
unfathomable from here.
“now give me.” “a lot of.” “wow, yeah, you need.”
preoccuppied out of sleeping by the documentary I watched earlier today, born rich by jamie johnson– heir to the johnson & johnson fortune, who made a project out of interviewing his inner circle friends about the unmentionable word. fascinating. depressing. surprising (particularly seeing a young man I actually know on the screen, being interviewed, and whom I did not realize–perhaps simply because I’d never stopped to think about it, but more likely due to that hushed characteristic of the wealth– belonged to that echelon).
and what interesting timing in my own life to be watching this and considering specie in its most phenomenal form. because I am currently and most personally, and have been for the main of the last few months (certainly not the first such period), chronically short of cash. as in, thank goodness for overdraft protection. as in, frequently unable to scrape together change to buy cigarettes. as in, raised with plenty and yet unpossessed of the tools to either manage or create. compelling, humbling, and generous lessons from life.
because if I hadn’t had to go through this, lightly bottom out, as it were, I probably never would have found occasion or means to confront the kernel of disfunction. the shame. the anxiety and apotheosis.
raised patently upper middle class but consistently with an air of just-hanging-on-by-the-hair-of-our-chinny-chin-chins (one that was indelible if quite likely manufactured), I reached post-college adulthood and the first lesson out of the gate: “um, what the fuck do I do now?” as in, how do I provide for myself adequately, capably, and maturely. and all these years later, the answer continues largely murky– only just, and through most-embarrassing-insolvency, beginning to come clear: manage it. look it in the eye, at last, and count it, make an accounting of it. somehow this, seemingly indispensable, part of the equation never made it into the original construct.
and consequently my siblings and I have all suffered our financial throes. none of us is especially good with lettuce. no, let me amend that. we are, all four of us, notably bad, characteristically and spectacularly unadept where the almighty dollar is concerned. we spend it, and that seems to be the extent of our literacy on the subject. so some of us have been fortunate in our choices of spouses, helpmeets to assist and offset our clan debility. and some of us have not. this one of us at least sits with her own incapacity on a daily and geometrically compounding basis, and finally comes to understand the white devil in her blood. attains its name if not the ability to command it, just yet.
and those kids on the video screen. those most elderly and ignorant and urbane kids you’ll ever see– their lives cast and commanded by the dollar sign. so deeply enculturated by it, by money. by money alone–how weird that is. well, of course not money alone, of course as well all its addenda of privilege. but money primarily, money nominally if widely unspokenly, money essentially. fascinating, as I said, and dreadful. deeply depressing– not for want of it, not in envy of that privilege, the shiny clubs, the tailored hair– no no– only pity. yeah, that’s what I said. what awful creatures of an all-consuming master, what a pitiable state of being.
and then I realize this boon: that I was never so rich, and there is, in this, hope for me yet.
also, I should add this: good for you, young mr. johnson. for daring to venture through the passage where the rest, your cohort, your elders (your own father) quailed at the prospect of entry. forbade discussion as strict taboo. leveraged the law, outright suing you for the hubris of the breach. and still you persevered, cracked that tight nut right open and laid the contents out for the world to consider– yourself not least of all. and I sincerely hope it may do you the greatest good.
thanks to a fine and cleverest new friend, I’m reading this morning about mosaics, chimeras, and freemartins. fascinating stuff, not to mention poetically named. although the science starts to get a little scary and even pretty awful once they get into grafting baby animals… for those with a soft heart, I recommend you stop reading before you hit the geep. the folks up in arms about dolly would go wacko over this one, I suspect.
and then there is enallage. this is one I’ll have to share with my approaches to teaching writing students– the intentional breaking, or twisting, of rules. what hey.