Category Archives: Blog

Cary at the Colosseum on our day trip to Rome

Why and how being paid makes a difference

There is an editor’s letter in the current Poets and Writers Magazine in which the editor takes issue with the idea that it makes a difference whether you write for money. He seems to think that there is such a thing as writing for writing’s sake. I know what he means but I wonder.  I wonder if he realizes that the reason he can afford to entertain the notion of not writing for money is because he himself is writing for money. I wonder if he sees this — that writing not for money is a romantic notion.

To me, writing not for money is a privilege and a romantic notion. I don’t mean that one ought not write simply for the joy of it. But at some point, if one is writing for publication, economics becomes a central issue. It is a material issue. Because if your money is not coming from writing then it is either coming from a store of money that has passed on to you or been given to you in some way, which means that you view the world in a certain way, or it is coming from an occupation that drains you of resources that would otherwise be devoted to your writing, and deprives you of the time you need to fully do your job as a writer.

So I think we would all be better served by talking openly about the economic challenges of being a writer, and about the rewards we receive.

I have always tried to make my living as a writer. I tried doing other things and they took too much out of me. That is why I didn’t have children. I could not see how I could do that and still devote every waking hour to writing and reading and getting better at doing this craft.

So now I am at a crossroads. I would love to write the column as I was before. But writing it for a job, like playing for a team, makes a difference. I do not want to shortchange people. I do not want to do second-rate work. If I do it, I want to do it right.

Tomorrow: If I had enough faith, would I just keep doing it regardless?

Things that confuse me

What is public and what is private confuses me. I turn my life into writing. That’s my material. So now in this life I am faced with a situation that is part personal and part political and economic.

As a columnist I felt it was my job to share with you whatever I could of my personal life as long as it did not injure anyone else. So, for instance, things that would embarrass my wife I tried not to say. Of course, some things about me are so strange that it embarrasses my wife a little just to have them in public. Just to have people know that she is not married to Superman is some kind of embarrassment. That she is married to a human being. So I try to be discreet.

At the same time, I am a creature of many weaknesses

I have often felt that when people do business they are not as honest as when they are in private dealings. We try to put on a face. We want people to do business with us so we act like everything is great. That has always bothered me. And yet I understand it.

Being a writer has meant growing up in public.

I do believe that we ought to talk openly about the social and economic forces that affect our private lives. Unless one has an assured private income one must work. If one works as a writer then one’s life is precarious. That is a given. So why should it be a secret that as a writer one is always figuring out how to make it work. One is always hustling. One is always selling something.

This conflicts with the persona of the advice columnist, whose sole interest is in the well-being of the other person, and in entering into the spirit of the situation.

So in considering whether and how to continue writing the Since You Asked column now that there is no longer a salary attached to it (and hasn’t been for over a year) one faces these interesting questions. I like to share this. I feel that I have come to be known by many people out there and that we are in a more or less ongoing dialog.

Tomorrow: Why and how being paid makes a difference

CarySmaller

What I used to do

I used to write a column five days a week for a salary from Salon. In this column I practiced a particular kind of literary art whose purpose was to affirm the dignity of individual suffering. This required a particular kind of writing, one that could sustain and encompass an individual’s dramatic situation. That dramatic situation included both personality and social forces. My aim was to acknowledge the totality of forces bearing on a situation — the individual’s personality as well as the choices available in the world. And then to produce something that was pleasing: sometimes pretty, sometimes kind, sometimes funny,  sometimes beautiful. Sometimes  crazy.

This was constant: I was always swinging for the fences. Swinging for the fences was my mantra. I knew I was lucky to be doing this and that it couldn’t possibly last forever and so never once did I succumb to cynicism. At times I was tired or distracted or simply wrong. But I was never glib. I never took it for granted. This meant working every day four to six hours writing. That is a relatively long time to spend writing. If you are doing that, that is pretty much all you are doing. This had consequences which we’ll get to.

I knew that this job was a rare opportunity to do a kind of writing that very few people do, and that as long as I had the job it was best for me to give it everything I had. In doing this job I created a body of work. It is literary work. And because I was being paid to do this work, I never cut corners. I dedicated myself to this.

Tomorrow: Some things that confuse me

28_rockinmedievalmusic4_lores-2

More fun with bullet points

  • What is it about bullet points?

  • I thought I should write everything in bullet points because
    • I was worried about Internet attention spans
    • Also just having fun
  • Then I decided bullet points were stupid because
    • they debase language
    • they are very very boring
    • they don’t tell a story
    • they are just a summary
    • a summary is like an obituary
    • sitting in a corporate meeting is like going to a funeral
    • we’re watching something die when we’re using bullet points
    • doesn’t the term “bullet” clue you in?
  • So … are you doing the column or not?
    • I want to do it but there are considerations:
      • Can I afford to work on it four to six hours a day?
      • Can I dedicate my life to it like I used to?
      • If I can’t give it everything I have, is it still right to do it?
      • Is there a danger it will slowly decline?
      • Didn’t Seinfeld do the right thing by quitting at the top?
      • What about my other literary interests?
        • Short Fiction
        • The Novel
        • Poetry
        • Literary reviews
        • Spoken Word
        • Performance
  • Publish something every day even if it’s not done?
    • What is “done”?
    • Is “done” an antiquated construct?
  • Where is the boundary between literary product and conversation?
  • Hard to tell, right?
  • Yep. hard to tell.
  • Maybe we’re in a new world
  • Duh, dude! Where have you been?
  • I was on the Internet
  • Yeah, but at Salon
  • What’s that supposed to mean?
  • Are you kidding? Salon was always behind because it was started by journalists, not by engineers.
  • That sounds like some kind of heresy.
  • It’s the friggin’ truth, dude.
  • So is this still bullet points?
  • There’s bullets, aren’t there?
  • Yes but this seems like it’s getting discursive or narrative-like.
  • No, this is dialog.
  • Sorry.
    • Hey. It looks like there are two bullet points there
    • That symbolizes dialog.
    • Sure. Right.
    • Just kidding
    • Who are you anyway?
    • You mean who am I talking to?
  • Yeah.
    • Yourself?
      • Maybe. You sound different from me though.
        • Yeah. I am different from you. I am your smarter faster quicker less bullshit-laden self.
          • If you’re different from me, though, who am I?
  • You’re Older You. Or Older Me. I forget which
  • Oh.
  • Is that all you can say? “Oh.”?
  • No it just sounded kind of harsh.
  • Like I said: Duh.
  • Meaning?
  • Meaning get with the program, slow old dude me.
  • Are we still doing bullet points?
  • No. Now we’re having a dialog.
  • How old are you anyway?
    • I’m 27.
    • Oh. I’m 61.
    • Wow. You’re old, dude.
    • Hey. Easy.
  • I’m your 27-year-old self. The self that would have studied coding instead of literature if you were my age now.
  • You think?
  • Absolutely. You were looking for the new world. This is it. This world we’re creating.
  • You’re creating.
  • We’re creating.
  • But I’m 61.
  • Like I said, I’m your 27-year-old self come back to haunt you and let you know what’s going on.
  • Oh, thanks. Should I forget the bullet points now?

    Yeah. Afraid so. Just follow me. Do what I do.
    OK.

Have to stop now

Out of bullets.

 

 

Nothing is a Ruse, Judith Lindbloom 1992 (portion)

El Farolito

Judith, abstract expressionist, El Farolito on 24th Street in the Mission for lunch after the meeting, talking about William James,  the God thing, William James says, Look, we are scientific men, Christian men, honest men, and we cannot deny what we see: People are having experiences; they have these experiences of another world and then they change. What are we to call this? How can we, as scientific men, pretend that this is not real? So something is going on, basically, is what Judith and William James and I agree about in the Farolito on 24th near Florida Street.

How did she get 33 years sober, hanging out with de Kooning in New York, marrying Steve Lacy because he needed a wife even though she preferred women, and living in that apartment at 23rd and Potrero since 1979, watching the giant construction cranes across Potrero at SF General Hospital, and my plate of al pastor, and the uncanny feeling of holy rescue one feels sitting across from somebody who rampaged through 1950s New York art scene fucking everything that had a can of cadmium yellow and a canvas stretcher, everything that had a gallery show even a group gallery show and a collection of Chet Baker records not too many because he didn’t make too many because he died young and pretty and messed up, toothless and beat up and strung out in the Fillmore … thinking how does that familiar miracle happen to this woman who is nothing but trouble for years just fucking up everything until finally one day she gets it and stops the bullshit and just keeps painting every day for the last 33 years in her studio at Hunter’s Point until the abstracts are piled up to the ceiling and still she keeps going because it’s the only way to God for her, it’s the only way to know herself, her raspy, Winston-ravaged throat, her New York by way of Chicago combination of exasperation and exultations, half the time having no idea what she’s really saying but agreeing, as we agree about William James and what he was seeing in 1890, that the old religions are crumbling yet people are having these experiences of something beyond, something other, something anti-rational that says everything you believed up till now was wrong, relax, surrender.
Let the impossible happen.

Let what you don’t know guide you.

Me and Judith in El Farolito. She talks incessantly about dying. How she’s ready. How it’s a pain in the ass. How people are taking care of her. People are taking Judith where Judith needs to go. People are buying Judith lunch. People are driving Judith to meetings. This is community.

This is how community works, a loving community around a single person without any blood relatives nearby, this is how we close ranks around someone who tore through New York in the 1950s and is still painting abstract expressionist and still listening to jazz LPs on her turntable in her Hunters Point studio and still wearing those khaki painters’ pants the hipsters wore in New York: that faded black-and-white photo of her on the door of her Hunters Point studio: Who is that woman she’s with, her lover? A friend of de Kooning’s? Who is that woman? How did she get there? And how did we get to this table at El Farolito?

We moved into her building in 1990 and she said, “I’m the one with the great flat. You’re the ones who got the not-so-great flat.” We became friends. We went to demonstrations together.

I am giving her rides. We are taking care of her. We are closing ranks around her as she threatens to slip away from us.

Nothing is a Ruse, Judith Lindbloom 1992 (portion)

Nothing is a Ruse, Judith Lindbloom 1992 (portion)

Cary14

Three recent occasions upon which I should have tweeted and could have tweeted but did not in fact tweet

It was at one time understood that to be noble one must not draw unseemly attention to oneself or glorify oneself or make oneself seem, in a crowd, to be the most important person, or to seek glory only for oneself at the expense of others, nor to seek to draw the fame of others toward oneself for one’s own gain.

But today, all good citizens must tweet and tweet widely. One must take selfies and tweet these selfies widely. This is well understood and does not reflect poorly upon the tweeter.

And yet, things hold us back. Prior scruples, outdated mores and education, notions about what is proper and good, about how the self ought to be portrayed, about the self itself, how it once was a unitary thing and yet is now an atomized thing, an amalgam of a million tweets and bytes, a decentered, fluid phenom of the video multiverse.

I confess that on three recent occasions I was near people whose glory exceeds my own and should have therefore taken selfies and tweeted them widely but indeed did not. I had my iPhone in my pocket but did not bring it out. I betrayed my sacred duty. I froze up. I forgot my true mission. I had conflicting teachings. My father on his deathbed said to me, “Son, do what you have to do, but don’t overdo the tweeting. It’s bad for your eyes.” This admonition, wise as it was, held me back.

Yet when it is time to tweet, one must tweet. One must overcome. So herewith, three occasions upon which I should have tweeted and could have tweeted and did not in fact tweet. May the subjects and recipients of these tweets now, in response, retweet and widely retweet, so that these tweets may cover the earth and the cause be glorified.

1) Stanley Bing aka Gil Schwartz, upon the publication of his new book, The Curriculum:

There I was in his home, in the bosom of his family, among his many friends and his lovely wife. I could have embraced Gil Schwartz, aka Stanley Bing, taken a selfie and tweeted it widely. Yet I did not. Why not? Apparently I was doing what used to be called “having a good time.” I do not know what that is called now but I found myself sitting in his living room playing his guitars, joking with him and Laura and guests, and eating red beans and rice (or jambalaya, as later Norma and I had a rather detailed discussion involving some not inconsiderable amount of Internet research o the question of jambalaya versus red beans and rice). All that time, I could have been tweeting about his hilarious new book The Curriculum. I could have put my arm around him and his lovely wife Laura Svienty and we could have posed for a selfie-plus two and it would have only taken a second and might, as it journeyed around the globe, have inched his already impressive Amazon sales ratings just a tiny bit higher. I could have and did not. What is wrong with me? I think that Gil, Aka Stanley, might look into my eyes and say, Cary, my friend, you’re just trying too hard. Get with the flow. And I think he would be right.

So go buy his new book The Curriculum. If you do not, I just may buy it for you. It is as of this second Number 1 in Amazon in the category of Books > Business & Money > Management & Leadership > Training

2) Gary Kamiya’s Cool Gray City of Love:

So that was Saturday night. Then on Sunday afternoon Norma and I thought we would go down to the San Francisco Public Library to see what authors would get awards from the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association this year, because among our many friends up for awards was the inimitable and brilliant Gary Kamiya, whose Cool Gray City of Love was up for best regional nonfiction, and which, among many fine nominees, was indeed the winner. Again, I had my iPhone and while embracing Gary it would have been an ideal opportunity to take a selfie and tweet it but I did not.What is wrong with me? So imagine, if you will, the handsome Gary Kamiya receiving his award and reading from his book, and then go and buy the book so you can enjoy it yourself. It is now of this second Number 13 in the Amazon category of Books > Sports & Outdoors > Hiking & Camping > Excursion Guides! Oddly enough, but there you go.

3) The Write On Mamas collection Mamas Write:

Finally, on the Thursday preceding, we were at Diesel Books in Oakland with the Write On Mamas for the publication party for Mamas Write,  their collection of essays on writing and parenting which Norma and I had a hand in producing, as I provided some minimal copy editing and Norma designed the book. Again: I could have whipped it out and taken a selfie with Janine but I did not! What is wrong with me? I will endeavor to do better in the future, without, of course, appearing to work too hard at it.

Cary14

Another blog post about blog posts

Not to be postmodern or self-reflexive or self-conscious about the form but just to say that I’m going through a process of discovering what I love and in the process of discovering what I love I realized as I was exiting the bathroom that the reason I didn’t feel comfortable in the comments section at Salon for the whole 12 years I was writing those 2,300-odd Since You Asked advice columns was that I felt uncomfortable discussing the people who had written to me for advice, and I felt uncomfortable discussing what I had written, and I felt protective toward the people who had written to me. I felt unequal to the task of knowing fully what they ought to do and where they fit in the moral, judgmental hierarchy into which we were always placing them. Also uncomfortable about evaluating what I had written, because what I had written was written in a fire of passion that might not be professional and might not be aesthetically pure and might not be ethical if you get right down to it. There was an ethical stink about the whole thing, frankly, much as it warms my heart that people are helped by it. There is an ethical stink about it not just because the kind of help people actually really need is so hard to find, not just because a stranger on the Internet is a poor substitute for a flesh-and-blood person who cares (though yes of course words can heal at a distance, and inspire, and light up), not just because I myself am ambivalent about as a writer taking the next easiest thing that will make me money rather than doing the very hard but true thing which is to take the mainstream literary stage boldly and without apology, but mostly because, as I realize now, I was not comfortable talking about other people that I don’t know.

I do not like to gossip. Gossip makes me uncomfortable but if it were just that I wouldn’t care. It isn’t my discomfort that’s at issue. It’s why I’m uncomfortable with gossip. It feels like a kind of murder.s;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;a

? (did you see that series of semicolons? that was the result of my dozing off in this chair as I sat wondering should I even publish this. That was me falling asleep at the keyboard.)

This discomfort discussing the ills and woes of others who have written to me for advice contrasts with my perfect ease talking about random stuff that happens to me, and my whole trophy case of bullshit opinions. Like the fact that I’m unhappy about Steven Colbert taking David Letterman’s place, and that I never liked R.E.M. (they sounded like ornament; the Clash sounded like rock; even the Talking Heads sounded like they came from necessity; R.E.M. sounded like they came from abstraction, from cake decoration, from a jangly, riffy notion of what might be cool). In fact–and here is what I am just beginning to grok about this whole fucking awful blogging situation–I also have thought that my life was not interesting, and still think so, but am writing as a kind of aggression suppressed Lo these long dozen years during which I used suffering as a platform for my tap dance and literary recitation under the hot lights of an imagined Broadway, an imagined crowd beyond the pixellated footlights. That’s another thing that, say what you will, has always had a bit of ethical stink about it: My use of the pain of others, however good my intentions, however salutary the results. Surely I have done some good; surely my ability to sit for hours or days working through someone else’s complex problem, trying each avenue like moving chess pieces to see what devastating outcome was likely if, say, she told the truth or didn’t tell the truth or confronted her father or didn’t confront her father etcetera, has given the world some good things. Surely I have not been a huckster or a con, and surely out of this pact with those who are suffering I have produced some interesting, affecting and at times I’m sure, out of 2,300 columns, occasionally moving and surprising writing.

Yet for me there has always been, as I say, this ethical stink, and this air of its being provisional and not at the white-hot core of destiny. I have stumbled into things. I have riffed. I have stumbled onto stages unprepared and read spontaneously from just-written texts; I have improvised my way; I have through sheer bravado delivered what sounds like literary work but may on closer inspection prove to be ingenious facsimile. I know I am capable of these things and I am half the time secretly joking as I write, as my father was secretly joking as he entertained us with his tales, tongue literally in cheek. I am multilayered and contradictory and who isn’t? I am this and that both at the same time and who isn’t? And with this comes the guilt of the actor, the guilt of the journalist always selling someone out, the guilt of the memoirist using others’ pain for performance and backdrop and foil.

So to be always writing the column and only writing the column was like being a merchant seaman but not in the Marines; like being in the next room while the grownups decide who will be mayor.

Now I can cuss. Now I can write long sentences and not worry if they even completely grammatically hold together, though I believe they mostly do, rattling ragged into the station but still mostly not burdened with unconnected concluding gerund phrases and other not-wholly grammatical stylistic novelties that displease me. (Ha ha whose joke is that now?  Who is deliberately tearing things apart just to see how they crash?) Now I can be the person who is not that gentle and kind. Now I can say that many things displease me, including the tentativeness that passes for manners and respect, and the refusal to look me in the eye that passes for cool in Oakland.

Cary14

I suppose I could be a blogger

I’m so awakened by Ifemelu in Americanah, her blogging, that after the doctor, whose first name was Tennessa, which I had never heard before, and which, when I mentioned it to the medical student who had amazingly white teeth, got me a blank and slightly fearful smile as if she did not know which way I was going with this simple acknowledgement that I had never heard the name Tennessa before (I was frankly curious to know if it would be a recognizably male or female name), I went to Peet’s for tea and they did not have gen mai cha but they had a jasmine green tea which I do not like and they had Earl Gray which I do not like so I settled on black English breakfast tea, and sat in the window at Peet’s in the Lakeshore Plaza on Sloat and continued my wonderful, energizing, effervescent enchantment with this novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called Americanah, in which Ifemelu, whose name I cannot get out of my head, comes to America and observes us. Yes, us. You and me, as we go about our sometimes charming and sometimes clueless and sometimes cluelessly cruel, rich, privileged, blank-faced, rude, hungry, entitled, brittle, righteous, Christian, needy, overly sensitive and spoiled little lives. In Yale and in Philadelphia and in New York and in Baltimore and in Connecticut. Ifemelu has not yet come to California in the book and I do not know if she will. I wish she would if she doesn’t. I would like to know what she would have to say about Valencia Street and 24th, and the Alley Cat Books, and the Google buses and our rage at the Google buses, which I am thinking I could make a piece of personal literary nonfiction out of if I rode one.

This is how I naturally write and that is why I am thinking I might just be a blogger because I am no longer a writer on salary and strangely enough “blogger” sounds more enterprising than “freelancer,” which has a doubtful air and always did because one had to first acquire an “assignment” as a “freelancer” but one can magically become a “blogger” just by blogging. A blogger is someone who blogs, to paraphrase a tautology of which I am fond and yet suspicious, because everybody knows when we say “writer” in one context we mean it as an occupation and trade, like “cook” or “shoemaker,” and there are limits to what even the most enterprising DIYer can do as far as being a shoemaker. “Do you grow your own cotton?” (Read the book if you don’t get that.)

If I were to become a blogger I would want to say something controversial and yet harmless and so I would probably say how sad I am that Steven Colbert is taking over from David Letterman, how I mourn already, and how Steven Colbert leaves me cold and has never made me laugh, and how I find him irritating and hyperactive and want to shush him and if we were at a dinner party I would leave early with some excuse.

Part of it is that I love David Letterman so much. Part of it is not wanting to see him replaced. But if he were to be replaced wouldn’t it be wonderful for him to be replaced by someone with a small ego and a folksy manner, some humility, and when I say humility I mean affect, I mean acting, I mean the persona of humility which seems to allow the rest of us to relax and laugh as the brittle and hyped-up persona of Steven Colbert does not. I mean that I have never been made to laugh by Steven Colbert. I have gaped; I have observed with detachment that he has twisted something around again; I have seen that what he says makes others laugh. But I have never laughed and I have never loved Steven Colbert and so it is sad to know that he will take over from David Letterman, whom I love and have since watching first in Paul Keister and Debora Iyall’s apartment up on Nob Hill on California Street where they had practically no furniture because she was on tour with Romeo Void and I’m not sure if they’d even had their wedding at the Art Institute yet, but there was this young, gap-toothed ironic and silly man on late at night and that was Dave.

But who else? Who is large enough in the firmament of stars (odd phrase that)?

I do not know. Perhaps you do. Perhaps you also do not find Steven Colbert funny and by mentioning it I can give you courage, like in the old days when I used to enter into the spirit of whatever your malady was and thus by example allow others to breathe more easily at their desks in highrise office buildings where they would think about their lives and read my column and commune with all the lost souls found on the Internet. Or perhaps you will pity me for missing what is so funny about him. I like to laugh. Jon Stewart makes me laugh. Edgy people make me laugh. Silly people make me laugh. He doesn’t seem edgy or silly; he seems like he wants us to know how smart he is and I’m not sure how smart he is because what he does is obvious but then so is what R.E.M. does and I never got far disliking them, either, nor did I get very far Disliking Intensely U2.

But then I thought, maybe that’s what blogging is for, to dispense possibly unpopular opinions and see what you think.

Maybe you can also tell me why so few people of the supposedly aware and tasteful set of which I am a charter member do not watch the most amazing and exciting show on television right now other than The Good Wife, which is American Idol. Am I the only one in my social group who is stunned and reduced to tears by the dream of regular folks from dirt-poor ordinariness and drabness in shared bedrooms having their dreams not of cheap stardom but of true artistry come to life in front of practiced and knowledgeable professionals? Am I the only one who is interested in what Harry Connick Jr. says because he is not only a star but a working musician with practical knowledge who thinks about practical problems of phrasing and chords and so forth?

So I do think about things other than therapy and God and why you think your husband is making you unhappy.

Oh, and one more thing. What do I notice about publication dates and review dates and marketing cycles, which I lived with in the world of music and so am hyper-alert to and somewhat dismayed by, as it means that culture runs to the tune of marketing and distribution, which we know but still find at times when we are delicate or extremely moved and perhaps vulnerable to be unsettlingly and even outrageously crass even if, as I think I admitted somewhere near the beginning of this sentence, true, but that all the reviews if you search on the name “Ifemelu” (I just wanted to see if it was, um, a super-familiar name that I just hadn’t heard because I don’t know enough about Nigeria) seemed to all happen in May 2013 when the book came out, which I know, again, is obvious and how the world works and why do I have a problem with that, but still, it’s just something I noticed that bothered me. Because the world I live in bothers me in case you didn’t notice yet. In case I’ve spent 12 years being such a nice person trying to help other people with their problems that I didn’t have time to be this other extremely bothered person who sometimes feels the whole crushing weight of the world’s crass idiocy on his shoulders and has to get down on his knees on the sidewalk just for a minute until it goes away?

Cary14

The wisdom of the system

I just had a weird thought. Weird but lucid. More like a vision.

I just thought, what if we are producing a generation of people who are going to solve the planetary problems we have created? What if the whole system, not just the human race but the planetary system itself, the biosphere, is producing the cure for its ills, in the form of a generation of humans agile enough to use technology to solve our problems, to produce unheard-of and undreamed-of new solutions to global climate change, etc.? What if the strangely nonlinear and collectivist sensibilities of the young are a direct planetary response to its own ills? Like a generation of planet healers? Like an organism producing its own medicine?

What if Gaia knows what medicine it needs?

Is that a preposterous idea? Why is that such a preposterous idea?

I rather like the idea myself: a generation of young people so well-adapted to the machine mind and the collective, networked global consciousness that out of this networked consciousness will emerge technological and social solutions that we can’t see now. We can’t see them because they haven’t been invented yet. But when they are invented they will be so astounding, and yet in retrospect so obvious, that they will take their place among the greatest discoveries of mankind. So far.

Throughout human history, it must have seemed like the end of the world lots of times. Think of what humans have gone through! So maybe scientific progress and technological advancement are a kind of planetary medicine. Of course it’s messy right now. It’s hard to see how it’s all going to work out.

And then my wife Norma said what she doesn’t like is how large tech companies like Apple keep making us buy new things. And I said, yep, they’re making consumers fund their R&D. And maybe it is like that, that we have to do this, for the R&D we’re funding by our global adoption of technological advances is R&D that will eventually save the planet. I don’t mean your iPhone is going to save the planet, or Apple is going to save the planet. But the collective intelligence and problem-solving and visionary genius that all our stupid little technological purchases funds may just be the thing that saves us. That some genius or collection of geniuses, wired into the collective and speedy problem-solving network of computers and agile, imaginative minds, will hit on something unforeseen.

When it happens, if it happens, it probably won’t look like that. The strands of connection will be thin and nearly undetectable, because we will have funded this thing in such a cloud way, such a nonlinear way. But in a sense, every time we buy something we are “throwing money at the problem.” And I don’t see why that should be such a dumb idea. Let’s throw more money at the problem. Let’s throw enough money at the problem that the problem at least notices.

It’s just an idea. It’s the kind of idea that sustains an optimism that some might find foolish. I just think that it’s normal and sensible to expect miracles.

 

Cary14

My reading is private–so why start reviewing novels?

Into my awareness a few weeks ago came this strange, unbidden thought: My reading is private. I don’t really want to talk with you about the books I love. I just want to love them in my own way. I mean, I like you and you’re interesting to me, but the reading I do is mine, all mine, and I don’t even all that much want to share it.

Is that bad of me?

The truth is full of paradox, of course. Because in practically the same breath I’m going to say: I’ve decided to start writing about books.

People expect you to want to talk about the books you’re reading. Why is that? Is it because books are supposed to be important? Is it because of a presumed duty, as a citizen, to sharpen your perceptions, to make sure you’re not misguided, or to share your insights with others for their enlightenment? That takes the fun out of it. Reading novels and poetry and short stories is one of the few pleasures left in which I do not incur an obligation. All I have to do is read. What a glorious pleasure! Why mess that up with a duty to discuss, analyze, explain a viewpoint and defend it? Aagh!

And yet. And yet I am interested in my own thoughts about why books do what they do, and how. And writing is a nice way to explore one’s own thoughts.

But here’s the real impetus behind my decision to start “reviewing” books. I want to be a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

It has to do with my longing to belong. I may not want to talk to you, but I want to belong to your club. So I was sitting in Java Beach writing my weekly Wednesday advice column this morning when, because I got on the mailing list for the NBCC at the AWP Conference (I can see the more I get involved, the more the acronyms are going to pile up), an email came from the National Book Critics Circle and I read it and suddenly I wanted to know who all these writers were that I had never heard of. I mean, I’ve heard of the ones that it’s obvious I’ve heard of and you’ve heard of them too, but the other ones I haven’t heard of and it made me curious and even a little excited. Of course, I’m used to massive disappointment, too, so it’s a guarded interest.

I’ve been on a kick lately, see, to find books I really like, and writers I can meet and talk to. Mostly it started when I read a San Francisco Magazine piece on Litquake and it was so disgustingly clubby and mutually congratulatory. This bothered me. But rather than simply make a face and take an attitude like a high schooler, I decided to embark on a project. I decided to be an adult and read all the novels by San Francisco Bay Area writers that I could stand, and be really, really honest about my own reactions, and see if I could find some that I really, really liked.

So far I’ve only found two novels. Well, three actually. To be honest. I read some interesting things but I only found three novels, lately, from the Bay Area, that I really could say I loved. Oh, and I found one short story collection that I really liked. Then I went up to the author of that short story collection after a reading and told him one story made me think of John Cheever and he said kind of dismissively—but also maybe self-protectively, as it’s a drag to hear the same old dumb first impression, when your work is much deeper and more complex than that—that he’d heard that before.

I’m still looking for more. I’m checking books out of the library all the time, whenever I hear of something I might like. I don’t like much. And I’m only going to write about novels and short story collections that I like. I mean really like. Like when I was a kid, when I read just because I liked it. I might mention books of poetry too but I don’t know if I can really write about poetry.

I guess writing only about books I like would make me not an official critic. That’s fine with me. I don’t want to be a critic. I’m not out to enforce my standards or influence the world’s taste and judgment. I just want to join the NBCC and get their magazine discounts.

I’m not really all that interested in having a dialog with you, either, about the books that I like. I say what I say and you read it in private and that’s that. That’s how it used to be. Your enthusiasms are probably different from mine, anyway. Mine are strange but also at times very quotidian. I don’t know if you’ll enjoy what I have to say about the books I like. I’m not doing it for that. I’m doing it so I can have three reviewer’s clips and then maybe they’ll let me into the National Book Critics Circle as a charter member sort of. And then I can get those magazine discounts.

Like I say, to tell the truth, I’m just one of those people who just wants to belong. I want to be in the club. You can be in the club with me. I’d like that. I just don’t want to have to explain and agree and disagree and all that. It’s like, the cool thing is, I’m not getting paid for this, so I can do it however I want! Isn’t that great! No more pretending!

Oh, and also I figure it’ll show book editors and agents that I know a little bit about how novels achieve their effects. Since I’m writing one myself, I ought to know. I think I kind of do.  I think I kind of know how to do it, I think. So I’ll enjoy talking about that.

Soon I’ll do my first one. I hope it’s not too hard, like a test, or an assignment in school. I don’t think it will be. I’m not trying to prove how smart I am or anything. I already know where I stand with that whole business.