Some people misunderstood something I said in my previous post. My intention to write the third draft of my book by hand means that I’ll be working in longhand, but entering it into the computer at the end of the day, where I will no doubt do some spontaneous editing. It will be published like any other book is published. I find that when I work at the computer I get spacey. (I feel it right now.) Staring at the monitor dulls my brain. The same thing happens to me when I look at television. There is something enervating about staring at an electronic display. The content is irrelevant. I believe that sitting alone with paper and pen leaves me in a clearer and cleaner state of mind. I’m getting a fountain pen so I don’t have to strangle the pen or press hard on the paper. I’m buying tablets of smooth newsprint, so that I don’t have to deal with lined paper. I also like its texture. A poet friend of mine used to write on tablets of newsprint, and I liked how it looked—natural. I haven’t written by hand in years—nothing of any length, at least—so I’ve been practicing, getting my hand muscles accustomed to it. My hunch is that it will be harder to do than I would like, but I’m convinced it will make a better book. Working at a computer, all you get is “text,” content for an e-book. Handwriting allows the door to open to something deeper. I can’t imagine someone writing actual poetry on a computer. You can format the lines so that they look like a poem, but that won’t make them one.
Archive for December, 2009
From 1973 to 1988, I lived without a fixed address. I had no bank account, no identification, no car, no career. The book I’m working on, Street Song, details that period of my life. I don’t regret any of it. It was difficult, but I felt alive. After fifteen years, without my making any special effort, things slowly changed. I was given a place to stay as a caretaker, so I had an address. The position required that I get a driver’s license and a telephone. I got a bank account. I didn’t really have any money to put in it, but the bank account made it easier to cash checks from the odd jobs I was getting by on. Then somebody gave me a bicycle. I thought I was flying high! Not long after that, someone found out I was writing a book and gave me his old computer—an early DOS system. I had no idea what computers did, and I’d been worried about getting left behind. In subsequent years, I got paid to write a book, became the subject of a documentary film, got married, got a car, became a home owner, and got a credit card. I still don’t have health insurance, but I will probably get that soon. That’s as far as I intend to go, though. I refuse to get a cell phone or an e-book reader. You couldn’t give me either one. And we don’t have television. My intention is to dispense with a lot of this stuff eventually. Right now, I rely on the computer for my work, but I see myself getting rid of it at some point. (My plan is to write the last draft of Street Song by hand.) I understand now that the high tech future is mostly hype. Judy and I have been talking about not buying a new car when our current car, which is quite old, dies. As a writer who has to travel to sell books, I need the credit card. But I see myself getting rid of that, too, once I’m finished presenting the new book. I’d also love to dispense with the telephone eventually. I know I could be happy with just a roof and a mailbox.
I had a friend in high school who was always ahead of everybody else. He was the first to smoke pot, the first to take acid, the first against the Vietnam War, and he owned weird records and books long before anybody else in our area had discovered them. I lost track of him after graduation. Recently, I tried to locate him in order to verify some details in Street Song. He was difficult to find. He doesn’t have a phone, just a mailbox. So, as far as I’m concerned, he’s still ahead.
Marshall McLuhan is famous for his dictum the medium is the message. He meant that the form of any given medium has a more powerful effect on us than its content. In fact, he said that the actual content of any medium is really just another medium. The content of writing is the spoken word, the content of television is the movie, and so on. When I was in high school, I was tremendously excited by McLuhan’s book Understanding Media. It was the first intellectual-type book that I ever grasped. Before that I’d only read novels. Now I think McLuhan is wrong about a lot. He’s right in that people who live unconsciously don’t pay much attention to the ideas presented in any given medium. But we’re not obliged to live unconsciously. I’m indifferent toward the media that people use. I want to understand what they’re saying.
Conventional wisdom nowadays is that we human beings are influenced almost exclusively by our genes and our environment, that this is our natural way of being and cannot be overcome. You see this all the time in scientific studies that supposedly explain people’s preferences. Studies that read like, “Researchers at the University of Missoula have discovered that men prefer women with green hair because it gives them a biological advantage in the color wars.” I see these kinds of articles in the news all the time. But we can live consciously and deliberately. It takes an effort, but we can do it. We can pick our loves based on affection rather than on some physical characteristic. And we’re much better off when we do so. What scientists are really discovering in all these behavioral studies are the nuances of neuroses. If we want a healthy world and healthy minds, content is what matters. Where form becomes something more than the outcome of content, it is delusory. It means that the artist or thinker or lover or whatever has nothing real to say.
I’ve been seriously bugged by Senator Joe Lieberman for several years now. He’s a creep who has been holding several decent movements hostage because of his 60th vote status. Up until this morning, I hadn’t been sure what the Democrats should do about him. But now I think they should throw him overboard—regardless of the consequences. Nothing good can come from coddling this spiteful and manipulative little man. MoveOn.org is raising money to agitate against him in his home state of Connecticut now, as well as to defeat him the next time he has to run for re-election. It’s also calling on the Democrats to strip him of his chairmanships and seniority. I agree, and I sent MoveOn money today. I encourage others to do the same.
This second draft has felt endless—a long, forced march. A few months ago I made some adjustments to my chapter outline and as a result lost track of how many chapters I have to go. So I sat down and worked it out. I’m past the midway point—Chapter 12 of 21. I’d guessed that this second draft would run around 900 pages (double-spaced, 8 by 11), and that looks right. All this for a work that I intend to run around 300 book pages in 16 chapters. It feels good to be past the middle of the draft. The end is in sight. Then I start the third and final draft.
In September, even if I haven’t finished draft two by then—and I think it unlikely that I will have done so—I’m going to Germany and Greece to work on some third draft material. I had a lot of miles saved up, and I figured I’d better use them before the airlines start ending their mileage programs.
Of my own writings, one of my favorite pieces is a bit of doggerel. I originally called it The Sun Sets in the West, but I realized recently that what I really meant was The Sun Sets on the West. It took me years to get it just the way I wanted it.
Alexander wasn’t great,
Augustine was not a saint,
Freud was nuts! And that’s not all;
Supply and Demand is not a law.
The news of Obama’s plans to escalate the war in Afghanistan is disappointing and demoralizing. We never learn. Liberals wanting to show that they can be as “tough” as Republicans? It’s a stupid, ruinous game. The Taliban is a small, poor, rag-tag crew, thousands of miles away. The effort to make them appear a grave threat is childish. I have never felt my freedom and well-being threatened by any political organization as much as I did by the last Republican administration. They were as crazy as the Taliban, but they had real power and the will to use it.