28 May 2008

Niggle Amplitude Exceeding Stagnation Threshold

There comes a point you just can't keep doing nothing.

Fate/circumstance/that-which-blows-past-my-face has in the past week launched a multifaceted attack on my journaling slack. Since I maintain a constant low-level angst about slack, it's hard to say when it began, but I guess it was after I swiped a bunch of material off Jeff's iPod at work -- lotsa stuff, much of which I still haven't and may never listen to. But I'm slowly working my way through it, mostly in the background as I'm out working on location. I grabbed a smorgasbord of stand-up comedy, which makes for a pleasant break from the usual spoken word menu of Fresh Air podcasts, Radio Lab, and This American Life.

Well, but -- speaking of that: there were also included a slew of readings by David Sedaris. And I was listening to Naked last Friday while I painted logos on the side panels of a homeless health services mini-van. He read a story about growing up with OCD symptoms. At some point it reminded me of the story I wrote for an assignment in a class at art school to "describe a ritual". I described the method by which I ate Cheerios every morning. I don't think it was symptomatic of obsession or compulsion; it was just habit, reinforced by repetition every time I ate Cheerios (which, for breakfast, was far more often than not) throughout childhood, up until I left for college and moved in with roommates. Coincidentally, this is the same time in Sedaris' life when his OCD symptoms retreated, although he attributes his relief to starting smoking. My change of habit was just to avoid getting caught being weird. And, of course, the way I was playing with o's in the bowl and on the spoon was nowhere near as weird or 'sick' as the behavior he describes in Naked. Nonetheless, the feedback I got from the teacher about my Cheerios story was that it wasn't "believable". I have to take that as more a comment on my writing style, than on the plausibility of tracing a Union Jack into the cereal bowl, or raising the last spoonful while silently chanting "pyramidpyramidpyramidpyramid..."

But I'm losing the point, here: a little later, Sedaris was reading about having found a pornographic book in the woods, or somewhere, of stories about an incestuous family; and the effect its tales had on him and his sisters, and on their perception of their parents and the suburban world around them. And this reminded me of the book that got passed around class in 6th or 7th grade, called Teenage Sadism. I don't know who all might have gotten their hands on that tome, how it got into my hands or where it ended up (it's associated in my head with Frankie Pantano, who I remember later in high school worked in a liquor store and who sold me under the counter a bottle of Dom Perignon with which to woo a girlfriend one Christmas), but I know it's deeply rooted itself at the intersection of my sex life and fantasy life; and I wonder if the same is true of a certain cross section of those kids from North East Middle.

But again, I'm beside the point. It was as soon as Sedaris started talking about the book he found, that I started to feel "in common"; that found porn and the task of writing about peculiar habits had put us in league -- with the difference being, of course: I don't write a damn thing! That story about Cheerios was from 16 years ago, and it wasn't any good! And the only people I've talked to about Teenage Sadism are my psychotherapist and my wife.

(I recently heard a Fresh Air interview with Mr. Sedaris, in the introduction to which Terry said he'd gotten so famous he'd become an adjective, e.g. I could hope to become "the David Sedaris of withdrawn half-wit slackers!")

Yesterday, in South San Francisco, painting a logo on the side of a bakery van, I listened to a compilation of Richard Pryor bits. There were lots of it I didn't get -- either the subject matter was too far from my experience, or it seemed like there was a visual component to his performance that was drawing laughs where nothing intelligible was said. This was the last I listened to, of the hours of stand-up I'd pulled off Jeff's iPod -- Dave Chappelle, David Cross, Patton Oswalt, Chris Rock -- and I think I'd put it off to last because it was the oldest of the material, and I anticipated it being most likely to not be understood, and I was right. I'm no comedy connoisseur, no comedy historian, although I do understand the names listed above don't constitute any sort of pantheon. Nevertheless, I understand Pryor is respected, and I respect him, too. And I could hear bits that were obviously necessary antecedents to bits I'd heard earlier in the week by Rock and Chappelle. That their bits were funnier to me may be due to them being delivered by stand-up comedians, while Pryor seems to be more of a spoken word performer, much more communicative of the gravity and pathos at the roots of his 'bits'. But again: I'm not a historian in these regards, and I'm not composing a psychohistorical biography here. What I took away from the experience was: this accumulation of Mr. Pryor's best-loved contributions to the world lasted two and a half hours. Not too long, really. He's a lot older than me, and I've been around nearly 333,000 hours already. If my contributions to the world were strictly the sorts of things that could be measured in time... well, I'm not gonna try to do the math right now, but I don't imagine I have more than fifteen minutes I'd want on the Anthology at this point. Applying Warhol's Law to these proceedings, I suppose that's enough; but really, I'd like a bigger database to edit down from. That Pryor compilation was distilled from a 9 CD box-set!

Last weekend, I happened upon a New York Times Magazine article by Emily Gould, describing her experiences as a gossipy blogger, and its effects on her life and loved ones; particularly in the wake of a backlash in the bigger media over her placement of the line between public and private, as it relates to celebrities, and might be extrapolated to relate to the rest of us. What I'm doing in this blog is only barely connected to what she does/did, but it adds a layer or two of complexity to how I think about what I want to be writing about, and whether this is the right forum for that writing.

Something here rings a bell about a Methodologies in Modernism course I took back in SFAI (prob'ly in the same year I wrote my Cheerios story), where the focus was specifically on the line between public and private. Theresa something was the prof. Something hyphenated? I should see if I have any papers around from back then. This was back in '92-'93 -- long before the internet age, long, long before web 2.0 and we all became Time's Person of the Year.

Anyway, about the same time as reading that Gould article, I followed a BoingBoing link to a stripper's blog, Grace Undressed, which had merited such mention on account of being very well written and educational (in addition, of course, to being sex related). Soon after the link was posted, the blogger was, of course, deluged by Boingers -- not unlike Total Annihilation's MySpace page in the week after our own BB link, two years earlier. She had a minor freak-out at the sudden jump in traffic, and quickly went back through her archives to make sure they were suitable for mass consumption. Her experience, and that of Emily Gould, makes it apparent that there's a netherworld opened up between 'private journalling' and 'publishing', wherein you expect only a few people with whom you supposedly identify to pay attention to what you're 'publishing'. I guess thats a blog, duh! And I guess there's some hope attendant that, in the process, one will discover (perhaps mistakenly) that more people 'identify' with oneself than previously thought. Or, in Grace Undressed's case, I'd guess people hear themselves in her writing voice, and imagine themselves on (or seated before) her dancing pole.

Amidst all this reading, I got into a few IM chats and phone conversations with my friend, Huw, about his discernment over a calling to priesthood (in the course of which he eventually drew these conclusions). We compared the experience of blogging (of which his experience is vast and deep) to the experience of 'sermon sharing' at SGN, where I go to church (and he used to), and where people in the congregation stand up to complete the sermon, by relating how what the presider has shared resonates with their lived experience. There are similar elements of public exposure tempered by identification with the audience. And there are some people who are seemingly hardwired to stand up and share each and every week. Meanwhile, I've been going there about 8 years now and have never stood up once. I've actually practiced what I imagine saying -- sometimes it relates to whatever is being spoken of in a given week, and sometimes it's just a canned preamble about how my attention is such that I never actually know what anyone's talking about in a given week -- but I've never been 'moved' to share.

And thus we have here a blog with, what, a half dozen entries in fifteen months. Oh, sure, I've got plenty of excuses. My attention deficit! I can't see the big picture -- I get too bogged down in sentence construction to maintain a compelling story pace! It's a failure of empathy -- I don't think I can identify with whoever will read, whether I know them personally or not, because I don't even identify with my friends and relatives, forget the 'blogosphere'!

And probably nothing will change. But every so often, it feels like the reasons to write gain enough weight to tip the see-saw's end up out of its muddy wallow. And when it happens, it feels like the see-saw will just keep rocking! So, let's just foster that illusion, and keep on rocking!

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