I’ve had almost a month now of time for my own reading and writing, without teaching, and it has been a pleasant experience, if difficult at times. Except for the occasional e-mail exchange, I’ve been avoiding social involvements and instead taking some time to try to understand myself and my own writing in a way I often can’t when I’m busy. And I haven’t been thinking much about my blog either. Amazing though how much suddenly having time to write makes it easy to want to fill one’s life with meaningless clutter. Still, I’ve spent every morning writing and exercising, and every afternoon reading and writing and going for a walk, then in the evening watching a film or listening to music.
It’s strange to live in the state of California, where the government makes such bad decisions, many of them based on panicky responses to their bad decisions of the past. Maryland didn’t do that sort of thing. DC did, but for the most part the government of DC didn’t have enough power to really screw over most of its citizens. California, however, is better at that. Right now, the depression and financial crisis we have is an excellent example of what happens to a state when it gives all its money away to corporations, essentially with very little payback or oversight. Because corporations can “choose their own tax plans,” they pay almost no taxes and take the money in and out of the state as they please, and the state has no money. And all of it doesn’t benefit anybody other than a few ultra-wealthy people who maybe don’t even live in California. Does anybody in California really still believe that corporations create a lot of jobs? Maybe so, but that doesn’t make it true.
I have been a fan of the TV soap opera The Young and The Restless for 25 years. It’s on when I’m at home and eating lunch. Sometimes I don’t watch the show for several months, but more often I manage to watch it about once a week. Lately it coincides perfectly with my post-exercise lunch break. What do I like about it? All the characters are ultimately ambiguous, capable of generous and selfish acts by turns. Also, they’re all so messed up all the time that it’s a lovely lesson in the messed-up, waste of time lives of the American wealthy. Immature, deluded, vicious. Even the frequent homilies to family life and love and children, which I can’t really stand, are undercut by people’s actual behavior. Whatever they say, they don’t take care of their children and they don’t love anyone but themselves, and their corporations are mainly just a way of trying to take revenge on each other.
Why is it that many blogs written by women discuss a number of issues in each post, but that there are almost no blogs by men that do that? Blogs by men tend to focus only on a single issue with each post. Some women focus only on one issue per post, and others do it differently, but male blogs almost uniformly discuss only one issue per post, unless of course they’re doing a round-up of recent magazines or readings or something like that, and even then the round-up tends to focus on one main issue. Ryan Walker’s blog is an exception, except that it’s possible also to say that all his blog posts are about the same thing.
It doesn’t seem like anybody has much idea yet what’s going to come of the massive Iranian protests. Overturning the election seems unlikely without even more revolutionary change, and while that’s definitely needed, how likely is it? Are a lot of people going to die before this situation is resolved? A few already have. The situation is still changing as of this minute, obviously, and some election results are being reconsidered.
The most interesting music I’ve been listening to recently is the 2005 CD The Eleventh Hour by the Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble. With his continuous breathing techniques, Parker has long been one of the strangest and most original musicians currently performing, and the range of odd sounds the ensemble makes here create a series of fascinating textures unlike anything I’ve heard. They do have some similarity to Parker textures on other releases but this CD pulls them almost into big band like arrangements. I’ve also been listening to a fair amount of blues and country and alt.countrypop (thumbs up for the best cuts on the somewhat uneven sun kil moon sampler ) as well as to the live 2004 Iggy and the Stooges CD Telleuric Chaos, which is really energetic and also sloppy in a great way (with only a little toneless hard rock thud), making their recent studio release The Weirdness sound even worse.
A lot of my reading this summer has been critical books on the history of science fiction and some key science fiction texts, along with poetry and much else of course. I may be teaching a science fiction course in the next year or two. Oddly maybe, I had never heard of Alfred Bester until this summer. I still think I might like science fiction less than either horror fiction or detective fiction, while at the same time, the greatest books in science fiction are certainly more profound than those of detective fiction. I find sci-fi most interesting when it includes a psychological component in thinking about science and alternative societies. I’ve really loved the Ursula LeGuin work I’ve read so far. I’m teaching her book of stories The Birthday of The World this fall, and actually I’m a little worried that it’s too sexually explicit for some of my California students. Imagine: I’m living in a place where Ursula LeGuin might just be too blunt.
The city is still perhaps best defined by the concept of the stranger. In cities, frequently encountering those you do not know is inevitable and part of what many residents are seeking. The stranger is a direct function of circulation. In contrast, the suburbs seem defined by the desire not to know anyone you don’t want to know and having no more than brief contact with them.
The kinds of loneliness that the city and suburbs create are therefore very different.
I just played Van Morrison’s song “Evening In June” last night for the first time this month. It’s from his album How Long Has This Been Going On and it’s a song that creates such a perfect longing for June that I usually play it frequently every June so I can feel like it’s June while it is June. Yes, I need a song for that. Know what I’m saying? Every day I’ve been telling myself I wanted to play that song yet by the end of the day I still hadn’t played it. But last night I finally did.
Just watched 1967's In Cold Blood for the first time ever on Sunday and on Monday watched Capote, which I had also not seen. In Cold Blood may be the book that gave me the most powerful emotional reaction I’d ever had from a book when I read it 25 years ago: revulsion and fascination and a big headache. I still remember much of the book and have never wanted to read it again. The movie was grim and compelling but didn’t stun me as much, perhaps because in the movie the characters of the murdered Clutter family were not as developed as they were in the book. Extra real-life painful twist; the actor who played neurotic murderer Perry Smith so effectively is of course Robert Blake, who was found not guilty after a long trial of the 2001 murder of his wife. Blake was later found guilty in a civil suit and ordered to pay $15 million to his wife’s three children. Almost everything connected to this book is horrifying.
Speaking of which, Capote was an intriguing examination of Truman Capote’s character and the kinds of manipulation he used to get information for the novel, an effort which ended up having genuinely destructive effects not only on the people who were the subject of the book but on him as well. Still, Capote was another example of the only kind of movie about artists that Hollywood seems capable of making, with rare exceptions: that of the tortured genius who looks into the heart of darkness and transmits it to us while being destroyed by it. I really get tired of that.
Yes, creative writing can be taught. And a lot of poetics debates circle the same ground over and over again with no new insight.