April 27, 2002
Confused Blog to Biog
Looking over my last Blurried Musing article
, it's difficult to figure out the point. Having written the damn thing, I know what my objective was for the softly tiradical document, even if my writing turned out disjointed and came nowhere close to a complete thought. What I'm after here is to say that I can't say why I went on about the topic for any length, since there's little there to speak of. Nor do I think I meant what I meant, and by that I mean, I'm not sure I can claim to hold whatever conviction it may actually have buried within it.
With a good night's sleep under my belt I could go back and clean it up a bit, make it sound like it came from a smarter and more logical writer... but where's the fun in that? Nevertheless, I'm glad I wrote it because of what it isn't
. It's not clear why that is, so let me go in from a completely different angle.
I look at the whole span of literature. OK, maybe not all of it, but whatever the amount I'm able to get my brain around adds up to. Then I separate off and compare this to what stands in for it today. I won't go over the derivative calculations the work entails, due to it's lack of value here, and my disinterest in evaluating it. And the fact I didn't really do it -- but let's say I did, primarily to make my point work better here. Here is the conclusion I would have come to: the memoir or personal narrative is overrated and over published. No, not for all time. I mean within the here and now. Let me elaborate:
Journals were once something kept under your mattress, or swaddled in your underwear in a drawer. Are diaries still sold with locks on them? If so, now it has to be for keeping others from swiping your material as fodder for their next biographical manuscript. Everyone and their dot.com selling cousin has a narrative of deep and abiding interest (or can generate three good quotes, which fulfills the requirements for piggybacking a book tour). Once respected goals of intelligibility and style tend to be shoved aside in the new editorial demand to get details to order. Yes, we all embody a weirdly plotted story line leading from conception to termination in a format of near chronological organization. But why must everyone write it down and slap a sale sticker on it? Some blame the modern fascination with pop psychotherapy, or the ongoing, sickening fad to gain fame through ones personal problems. (How else can you explain success stories like Jerry Springer
and Oprah's Dr. Phil
In my opinion, new-age publicized online journals or blogs
are either partly responsible or demonstrate a failure for this behavior to properly subside. In HTML table cells we discuss our lives, its successes and slips and sublimations, the journal software automatically assuring it's listed properly under day and month and year. Why a philosophical rumination needs to be attached to July 14 I'll never fully understand, but it must be if it wishes to provide a concrete meaning to us. Within these we trundle on, note how we observe our daily operandi, then gear up for publication -- for free when published to our Web site, for diminutive royalties when book sales are involved.
Brendan Halpin, the author of It Takes a Worried Man
, a memoir about how he had to deal with his wife's breast cancer (hope no one thought narcissism was on the way out), and a work which falls into a category I call the Self-Help Memoir, was quoted as saying "I had to write it to stop myself from going insane."
Sorry Brendan (can I call you Brendan?), but sanity is, as far as I'm concerned, as overrated as the personal narrative is. It leads way too often to purposeful items like Diet Pepsi, Wal-Mart, and most especially self-indulgent autobiography.
Just to protect my rear, I don't go so far as to claim memoirs have no value at all. But you know, too much of a mediocre thing...
April 26, 2002
Nom De Net
Unlike almost anywhere else or with any previous technology, on the Internet we can pretend to be whatever we want to be, simply by slipping out of the persona we normally put forth, and slipping into an even more made up one. This, however, is rarely as good a thing as one might imagine. (It's not all bad, but when complaining you've got to start somewhere.)
Log on to any bulletin board and you find the usual assortment of Tom, Dick, and Harriet, but mainly you've stumbled across an endless prattle emerging from the keyboards of d00d
, and good QueenTut
. And who's to say Tom and Harriet are so legally designated once they step away from their connection? (And maybe even Dick, but then who would pretend that?) On the Internet a given name with a relationship to a birth record is not unusual, but most of the people portrayed behind them are no more than a molecule thick.
It's about the casual masquerade, the vaguely cunning falsehood covering ones truer identity (assumedly) and tracks (hopefully), well protected from those wishing to avoid the nuisance of taking a closer look (which are legion). We are unknowns while online, formless in more ways than form, occasionally even to ourselves. Are we unable to get on stage and perform the real life version of ourselves? The answer I'm looking for is No
. Like computerized shadow hand puppets, we scrunch up all bird-like; then there's a tiny shift of digits and instantly we're playing the rabbit. The choice of displaying our own profile in the light is passed over without a pause, because we'd rather poke our eyes out than show up as-is.
Our concealment goes further than personal encounters and grammatically-challenged usernames. Want to turn your cheesy one-man entrepreneurial undertaking into the appearance
of a vast, multi-national, and well funded operation? No problem. How easy is it? Extremely, thank you very much. What's required is a memorable URL, a fax number, and tons of self-promoting Web copy drooling over the fantastic things you do, written to generate buzz where no self-respecting bee would ever venture.
Tired of all the spam sent to your e-mail, even though you signed up for it? Delete the account and pick up a new one. It's perfectly acceptable to scrap what you've done and who you've become so far and start over. Looking to throw dirty rags on your competitor? Register acmeballbearingsbitethebigone.com
, set up a quick and dirty Web site behind it, and let things take their expected course. Your online self will be no worse off for the muckraking. We couldn't be modern technological sorts without doing things this way.
To find the man behind the curtain all we need do is walk around, but we hate doing that. We're too much the Believer. We enjoy being taken in by the good sell. Give us plenty of tricks without the explanations on how you work them out and we're good to go, because we expect the same in return. A mix of cultural demands forces us to play the game the way we play it, but mainly we've become comfortable with life in a throw-away society. It's the uncomplicated path, so naturally it's better to toss aside one virtual identity when it isn't working out and pick up another. They sell in six-packs!
I too find it useful to hide behind the anonymizing effects of the Internet, so I'm not in line for it's removal. But I've learned a surprisingly less difficult and more effective way than playing it easy, and it's found in an old adage: "hide in plain site"
. However, this doesn't make up for having a forgettable URL. It's all about being anonymous, not invisible.
April 25, 2002
A Brief Story Interlude (Mail Carrier Ted)
When Ted was young, much too young to work, he would say becoming a mail carrier, bringing letters and magazines and advertisements and packages to his neighbors, was all he thought of, all day, and all night. For as long as he could recall, Ted had only one dream, and that dream was to deliver the mail.
Ted's childhood friends would try to talk him out of it. "There's not a lot of money in it," they would tell him. "Not many chances for advancement in a career like that," they would point out when they were older. "Yes, that's all true," Ted would reply, "but it's my dream."
"It's all I ever wanted to do," was Ted's only excuse.
Ted's parents told him to go to college and learn about the world. "You won't get to know about it delivering mail," his father would say. "You'll never know what's out there unless you go look," his mother would follow. "Yes, that's probably true," Ted would reply, "but I'll be delivering much of it."
"It's all I ever wanted to do," was Ted's only defense.
Ted loved the idea of being a mail carrier, more than he could put into words, and wanted only to deliver the mail. So when it was finally time for Ted to get his first job, he went straight to the post office in his town. And when they offered him a position as a mail carrier, a real chance to deliver the mail, he was happier than he had ever been. He was in Seventh Heaven; he was on Cloud Nine.
"It's all I ever wanted to do," Ted told his supervisor on his first day of work, a wide smile on his face.
"That's nice," his supervisor replied, and handed him his mail bag.
Ted learned the business of being a mail carrier: how to handle the mail, how to travel his route. He picked up the habits of a letter courier, and built up his leg muscles from all the walking it entailed. He was doing what he loved. He was where he belonged. There was no better life for him.
It's sad, then, that Ted was an extremely bad mail carrier. He delivered mail to wrong addresses, and left packages in his truck. He showed up at the post office earlier than everyone else, but left later than the rest as well, since he always required additional time to sort through his pickups or handle his mail load. Often he'd forget to stop at a mailbox, or even which streets he delivered to. And on one occasion he lost an entire bag of mail, though he could never satisfactorily explain where, or how. His supervisor asked him why, with all the problems and repeated mistakes, why in Hell
did he want to be a mail carrier?
"It's all I ever wanted to do," was Ted's only explanation.
So it was a bittersweet moment for Ted's coworkers when he was fired. They all knew how he loved being a mail carrier, but they were also very much aware of how awful he was as one. And they understood Ted had to be fired, because there really wasn't anything else for his supervisor to do with him; he'd never accept any other position in regards to mail.
Ted tried to get work as a mail carrier at other post offices, but the few times he was given another chance, he showed his old incompetent ways, and after a while they'd let him go. Eventually he took a job bagging groceries at an A&P Food Market, but he never gave up on his dream, and sent applications to post offices all across the country. He'd rarely get anything back, and when he did, it was an apologetic note explaining why he was turned down.
Nowadays, those first postal coworkers who remember Ted stop to talk when they see him on the street, or have him as their bagger at the A&P. Many note his demeanor, which appears as happy as that first day on the job as a mail carrier. They may inquire how he's doing, and a few are concerned enough to ask whether he's still trying to be a mail carrier, somewhere, somehow.
"Naturally," he's apt to begin.
"Of course," he'll sometimes add.
"It's all I've ever wanted to do," is Ted's final, inexorable response.
April 24, 2002
Modes of Transport
I've gotten around in many different ways throughout my life, just like the rest of you. Here's most of the methods of conveyance I've had a chance to experiment with, and how I rate them:
Crawling is easy, and a simple way to go from point A to point B, but you can't get away with it forever. Crawling is much like breast feeding: when you take it up everyone seems to accept it, but at some point you have to break from it or you start to get very strange looks in public. And let's face facts; as we get older, crawling becomes a pain.
I am a big fan of walking.*
I'm amazed there are not more magazines covering the topic. (Then again if I'm honest, there's not much to discuss here). There's no need for permits, and it's cheap -- if you walk barefoot it's pretty much free. Of all the transportation options, walking is our default, the original fallback. Before we figured out how to get around in any other manner, we walked. Got to stick with what you know.
I enjoy bikes. They're a good choice from the self-propelled category of vehicles. But they offer a major challenge: where to put them when you're not bicycling. If you live in a house then it should be easy to deal with, but a walk-up apartment causes problems. Worse is you often need to make plans about the endpoint of a trip, because if there's no place to lock up the bike, you're screwed.
It's love and hate. Cars are almost a necessity for a modern life. OK, they are
necessary, yet there's some negatives. Cost, insurance, legal restrictions; all of these are serious drawbacks to what should be loads of serious fun. But when you need to pop out to the store on a beef jerky run, nothing gets it done faster. And living for a time in self-imposed exile from car ownership, I can tell you nothing sucks more -- except when it's imposed through other means.
Trains are OK. There's a certain nostalgia they bring up, and the uncomplicated, right-on-track way they go about their work can be comforting. But where are those super fast maglev versions we were supposed to see absolutely everywhere by now? A disappointing thing for my futuristic desires to accept.
I'm not a fan of boats (and by extension, ships). I don't get seasick so I don't have problems voyaging on them, but the thing about most boat outings is they really don't seem to go anywhere. Whether a cruise or fishing trip or day on the lake, I finally end up in the same place I started. Not good.
Up, up in the air!
If you don't like airplanes, then you need psychological help. It's almost like freedom itself. Being able to look down on the clouds as you're passing over them at several hundred miles an hour is almost a religious experience. And other than the potential of falling from 20,000 feet, there's few downsides to flying. Except for airports.
* Not trying to offend people in wheelchairs -- I'm just generalizing here.
April 23, 2002
Fragments From the Memory Log, Entry Six
Animals, or as I mean them here, pets, represent an occasional occurrence in my youth. For many American families they provide a regular staple to the growing up experience, a seemingly natural and constant din that falls harmoniously in with the symphony of household noises. For me, I can only key up several long notes.
We had one dog, Tootsie
. She was a medium-sized mixed breed, and the first I had more than a nodding acquaintance with. Tootsie was my mother's dog, which colors much of what I recall; I have a great fondness for her but won't go so far as to say there was love, if only because she left our family group before I had an inkling on the nature of that lofty and complex emotion. Tootsie had puppies while she was with us. She would let me grab at them while they nursed, but came close to chomping my younger brother's arm off when he'd venture near; he could only hold one if my parents picked it up and handed it to him. Not hard to understand this behavior once you witnessed his "I'm eating out of Tootsie's dish"
performances. Some children are cruel, but with luck grow out of it. Right bro? Few things about Tootsie stuck in the long term, but she left me a little more sure of the kind of person I can be then any other pet has.
Then there was Fluffy
. Not an altogether original name for a cat, but what an original cat it was placed on. Everyone who knew Fluffy has their own Fluffy story to tell, but I'll go with one of my mother's, as it shows something of the cat's demeanor: mom walked into the living room and found my younger brother (the dog food eating faker) in a recliner in front of the television, Fluffy lounging lazily in his lap. As she watched, Fluffy slowly reached her head up to his face and gave him a little kiss, feline nose to human chin. Then the cat backed away and in deliberate fashion went through the motion all over again. And then again. Fluffy sets the bar for all others as far as my pet-vaulting standards go. More the shame in how we lost her to that common modern day pet owner's horror, the automobile runover.
And then there's Bizarro Fluffy
. He had to be karmic backlash for Fluffy; whatever went wrong I ended up paying for it. If one can be said to have an arch enemy as a child, this cat was mine. I'd prefer to block his name from my mind forever, but I'll place it here, if only for the additional bit of text it provides: Chip
. If cats had shoulders, you would have found this on his -- one the size of Mt Fuji. Chip was the runt of his litter, and from then on he always had something to prove. It was typical to have him return home ripped up from a fight with another cat, a fight he inevitably started. Chip was a loser, and knew it, and was constantly pissed off about it, too.
My problem with Chip, hence my hatred, was simple: he picked me out of the family herd as the one least likely to fight back, so I became the main target for his rage. At any time I could expect a clawing from him. And think cats don't bite? Think again. The damn little insane puma actually cornered me once. I was eight years old, and as you may realize from my comment on Tootsie's pups, I was not one for hurting animals. What was I going to do, kick him? He knew I wouldn't. Chip's temper was notorious, a cause célèbre
throughout our neighborhood. The joke was that if someone came up against our family, we'd threaten to release The Treatment
on them. Considering Chip couldn't even chase a mouse (I mean that literally), it truly was a joke. Just a bad one.
I might have a dog as a pet in the future, but I don't plan on keeping another cat any time soon, and by that I mean never
. Sometimes all it takes is for one chip to go down wrong to put you off them for good. Mine not only went down the wrong pipe, it nearly scratched me to death.
April 22, 2002
Captions Without Pictures
Sam Beckinsworth of Wichita Falls greets new Wichita-Fallians with a basket from the Neighborhood Welcoming Committee. Sam's black eye is reportedly due to a "welcome" altercation with recent arrivals from Boston.
Newtie the wombat (far left) is looked on proudly by owners Denise and Bob Mooch (center), both saved from drowning by the small mammal while swimming in a neighbor's pool yesterday.
Trapped for eight months in an earthen well in his yard, Dennis Farrelly of Stratford appears in surprisingly good health. Police are still searching for Farrelly's wife and three daughters, who remain missing.
After pitching 33 straight no-hitters and scoring a record 141 home runs this year, Terre Haute native Tommy "Tom" Reynolds says he's bored with AAA ball and will return to his father's pig farm next season.
Hot dog fan Douglas Fairbanks Morinsky shows his love by stuffing 23 Germain's Weinerdogs into his mouth. Germain Meats hosts the "Eat the Meat" Festival at the Marion County Fairgrounds this Friday.
Coma victim Sandra Wheetin is watched over by members of the Ferris Wheel Operators Union, Local 39.
April 21, 2002
I've been a book person as far back as I can remember; in fact very nearly as long as I've had a brain to remember with. Books and the technical aspects to their creation hold a certain intangible attraction to me, and I've learned a good deal about the publishing trade. My love of books lead me to take up work in a bookstore for a number of years (until much better paying job offers finally brought me to my senses), and this only served to heighten the interest. I've felt more at ease drifting through libraries, surrounded by shelves stacked with dusty volumes, than I ever have in my own home. But enough about me.
There's a certain type of author that intrigues me greatly, and that's the extremely dedicated self-promoter. I don't mean writers you see popping up regularly on shows like Charlie Rose
or C-SPAN's Booknotes
, though they are certainly nice stops on the road to personal aggrandizement. No, what I'm on about here is the author who spends much of his or her time chasing down business owners and venue managers to arrange book signings and reading engagements, sometimes going to the length of providing organizational skills. I'm talking about the published wordsmith who takes to driving far beyond home to perform spot-checks on local bookstores, looking into how well current titles are selling, slipping signature stickies into store copies, offering to assign whatever the store presently lacks (and of which there happens to be a full box in the car), then assuring the manager places them prominently at the registers.
Can't fathom how such authors could exist? First, let me congratulate you on your unhardened nature. Second, they most definitely do. Perhaps not in large numbers, but enough to prompt me to write something about them. Let me give an example from my own experience.
-- excuse me, Dr. Lederer
-- wrote a number of well received books in the 1980's and 1990's, all dealing with the English language (and for him it's beneficial
misuses). His works are decent reads, often humorous, and for friends of proper grammar aficionados, or as his site calls them, wordaholics, logolepts, and verbivores
, they make inexpensive gifts. I had more than one run-in with Dr. Lederer back when I was involved in the bookseller business, and let me say he is a text-book case of the devotedly self-promoting author. Any day he (unexpectedly) showed up provided a full two hours where nothing but Lederer-related tasks got done. Impromptu book signings were likely, though I never bothered to ask customers how they took to his shouting over the quiet of the store to announce he was available for personalized additions to his autograph. He's a fairly large (as in tall) man and so tends towards the overbearing by sheer size, and he can be boisterous, due no doubt to his previous career in teaching. But beyond height and decibel level, he knows what it takes to sell more than ones share of product.
It requires a vast reserve of ego and chutzpah to play the writer and showman all in one. I'm of the opinion Phineas Taylor Barmun
himself would not have dared such a thing. They're fairly different sets of balls to keep in the air, and to start juggling one typically makes it hard to grab for the other, let alone keep them all flying. When done badly, the self-promoting author act comes off as pure horseshit and a thing deserving contempt of even the hackiest of hack writers. When handled by a master, it can awe and beguile everyone within walking distance; only much later will they realize it struck.
And then there's this weird in-between way of performing it I believe the Richard Lederer's of the world represent rather nicely. All I can say about that is, I've never figured out if he offended me, or filled me with envy. Maybe it was a little of both... the showboat.