Friday, January 30, 2009

New template for a new day

I don't know about you, but I was getting kinda sick of that green.

Anything worth doing is easy

Here's a great excerpt from Po Bronson's What Should I Do With My Life?, republished on I'm always thrilled when successful writers' trajectories are similar to mine (except I have yet to experience the "successful" part in any major way). I definitely relate to Bronson's sense, before his first book was published, of not writing the way I'm supposed to write. Until recently I felt like my deepest instincts on both subject matter and my voice--not separate entities, after all--were not artistically serious. Minimalism, childhood experience, and travel stories still seem to dominate the literary market, making other modes, such as humor or satire, and stories set in the workplace, seem like fluff. I do write from the point of view of children sometimes, and a couple of those stories have been published. But I'm not very interested in actual childhood experiences, only in the off-kilter, naive viewpoint, which can, I've come to realize, be created just as well through a goofball adult. In fact I currently prefer the goofball adult, since that presents interesting choices about what that adult (sometimes not a real character, but just a narrator persona) has decided to know and not know about the world. I can make these narrators wilfully blind to something a regular adult would understand implicitly. With children, I feel more constrained by what a real child could actually understand and say at that age. Come to think of it, though, there's no reason for this constraint, since I'm chucking realism over the side anyway. Why not have a four-year-old narrator who speaks like a college professor? Hmm.

Anyway, I found it reassuring to read about Bronson's struggles to defend his breakthrough story. He realized it was a breakthrough long before most other people saw it that way. He was repeatedly advised to dump it, because it was so different from everything else he had done. But it was his experience in writing it, the pure joy and the surprising lack of exhaustion and struggle, that told him he was on the right track. And I've found this to be true: the stories, or parts of stories, that I've really had to wrestle with have ultimately turned out not to be very good. The stuff that comes easily, that makes me laugh and lets me write for hours on end without constantly backtracking and tweaking, with no need for food or coffee (until after I finally stop, when I stand up and see spots)--that's the stuff that I ultimately believe in. It also provokes the strongest reactions in others, I've realized--both love and hate, but no middle ground.

In other words, one always hears that anything worth doing is hard. But when it comes to writing fiction, what's most worth doing might be what's easy.

Friday, January 23, 2009

On public humiliation

I understand Bush was made uncomfortable by Obama's speech at the inauguration, and by the booing he received when he (Bush) was introduced to the crowd. I admit, I cringed a little on Bush's behalf. I can't stand to see people embarrassed or humiliated; I can never watch shows like "Jerry Springer" or even "Survivor" for that reason. As I kid I found "I Love Lucy" reruns pure torment--though it never occurred to me to turn the show off, on those long afternoons lying in bed with some mysterious ailment. Perhaps I saw it as my punishment for missing school, for maybe not being quite as sick as I had made it seem.

Nevertheless, in the case of Bush, I think having to sit there and take a few mild smacks from his successor--and to maybe hear the booing and singing, which he could, with his mindset, have passed off as the wind--was deserved. In all likelihood, this was the worst punishment he is ever going to receive for what he's done. Obama has signalled he wants to move on. Let's not bicker and argue about who tortured who; it's all waterboarding under the bridge, right? Bush will retreat to his Dallas manse and emerge in a few years as the baseball commissioner (his real goal in seeking the presidency, as I've heard). He has been and always will be insulated from any consequences. That's how he came to be who he is. The inauguration was the one moment he was vulnerable, and the crowd, perhaps sensing that, did their best to dispense justice, in a non-violent, even humorous sort of way.

Obama could do a lot more on the justice front, but maybe he feels the speech did the job. I hope not.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

World's most horrifying robot

This is way beyond--way beyond--Japanese robo-toddlers.

A new day

Beth puts it more eloquently than I can. But all I've been thinking this morning is:
Our long national nightmare is over.
Our long, lingering, sense of shame as Americans, like a low-grade fever, has broken.
The sky feels higher today.
Even Rick Warren can't wreck that. Plus Lowry was awesome.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Arts and Letters Daily

I went to hear Denis Dutton at Stanford last evening. Still processing the the meantime, here's his web site, Arts and Letters Daily. My, there's a lot of those arts, and letters.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Hollow Earth

I'm happy to report that I'm back working on my novel, after the two-week mental and physical implosion known as the holidays. Well, sort of back. I'm doing some research (aka procrastinating) by reading Hollow Earth by David Standish. I bought it for Trev a couple of years ago, and he just cracked it open for the first time, looking for a reference to City of Ember, a book that's been turned into a movie with Bill Murray--who knew?--and which he watched on the plane back from Cleveland. That reference does not exist. However, it dawned on me that my novel includes some hollow earth--what do you call it, theory? imagery?--so I picked it up. It's fascinating. One of many things I didn't know: ground zero for nineteenth-century hollow-earth thinking is...Ohio! John Cleves Symmes, he of the critically important Symmes's Holes (oh! there's a Museum of Hoaxes!), is buried in Hamilton, and his sidekick / rival Jeremiah Reynolds was born in southwestern Ohio. It was Reynolds's name that issued repeatedly from Edgar Allan Poe's dying lips--why, evidently no one knows. But his and Symmes's ideas of polar exploration leading to voyages into the earth's interior inspired Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. Which is one hell of a narrative. Also ape men are big in underground narratives; there's a Bigfoot figure, in the form of a large, hairy shepherd, in Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth.

It also occurs to me that on our flight to Cleveland for Thanksgiving, they showed Journey to the Center of the Earth. Twice. (SFO-Houston, Houston-CLE). What is with Continental Airlines and the hollow earth? Will they be adding Symzonia to their route map?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Vegan Akron

Here's one of several places we meant to go on our last visit to Ohio, and didn't: Vegiterranean, Chrissie Hynde's new vegan restaurant in Akron. Say it again: vegan restaurant in Akron. I hope it succeeds, even if it's awful. I couldn't get excited about the menu, which is built around fake meat--veggie hot dogs, burgers, chicken-like bits, etc. I get what they are trying to do; diners in America's erstwhile tire capital, they figure, won't cotton to a pyramid of mixed seaweeds alongside quinoa fritters with tamarind sauce. On the other hand, you have to make a *really good* veggie burger to get people to forget the original, if they aren't inclined toward vegetarianism to begin with. I'm not sure I've ever had a *really good* veggie burger. (Perhaps Chrissie's was the one, and I've missed it!) What I have had are surprisingly good veggie burgers, inoffensive "chicken" nuggets, veggie dogs no worse than the average Ballpark. It seems to me the best bet is something like Ubuntu, where the entire concept of the meal is reconceived with vegetables, fruit, or grains at the center. But then again, perhaps you have to let people know that they don't have to give up hot dogs and hamburgers to be vegetarian. And if you offer more radical veggie food, as Vegiterranean sort of does, people may transition over to it. Anyway, good luck, Chrissie. Next time I'm in Akron, I will go.

UPDATE: I think what I'm getting at here--which I will express in the form of an SAT flashback--is as follows:
veggie burger: beef burger :: movie: book
That is, the best veggie burger (or dog, or mcnuggetty thing, or whatever) is somehow inspired by the original item but does not attempt to copy it. It has to be a veggie thing, first and foremost. Just as movies that try to reproduce the original book on film are always overcrammed, literal minded, and bad. The movie has to be a movie. It can't be a book or imitate a book, because it's a different art form.