Saturday, November 30, 2013


Obama's speech script

No one can really teach writing.  One “evokes” it.  One is a “writing-caller.”  One doesn’t say,  “do it this way” but rather considers possibilities.  The criterion that matters is NOT correctness but rather what it -- in turn -- calls out of the reader.  It could be dismay.  It might be admiration.  Maybe undying love.

I like to mix languages, which is a little risky, but most of my early vocabulary came from reading and puzzling out the meaning via context.  I pronounced words in peculiar ways. I wasn’t always old enough with enough knowledge to understand.  Anya Seton  (Ernest Thompson Seton’s daughter) wrote historical novels about mad passionate love affairs that were read in a social atmosphere that would never tolerate the kind of explicit stuff that’s in my ladylike cousins’ beloved historical time-traveler novel series, "Highlander".  (The author is a biologist and uses her knowledge!)  So Seton had to do a bit of metaphorical suggesting:  the hero carries off his red-headed prize to the bed-chamber.  The next morning she has strange red marks on her breasts.  I figured they were bed bug bites.  Castles are so unsanitary.

The real secret to writing is that it’s not about the words:  it’s about the thinking and envisioning and sort of mental diagramming that comes ahead of time, accumulating until it really NEEDS to come out.  It’s the “foreplay.”  It’s the teasing.  It’s the engaging with the subject matter.  And always keeping an eye out for the voyeur who is trying to understand -- you can make it tough for them or easy for them.  Depends on the audience.  The audience -- maybe an invented one -- shouldn’t have control, but on the other hand, a really good reader can pull things up through the writer that were always spooled in his or her guts, waiting for the right understander.

Grammar is only a tool.  Few kids old enough to attend any level of school have NOT internalized the basics or we couldn’t understand them.  Nouns are names, verbs are actions -- that’s the coupling that everything else revolves around.  Adjectives stick to the fronts of nouns in English, the backs of nouns in other languages.  Adverbs can go anyplace.  Move ‘em around -- see what happens.  Phrases and clauses obey the same rules.  Memorize the prepositions -- it’s sort of fun.   

Because of working on the computer instead of the typewriter, I bold all the names of people the first time I use them in a post, because I know that some people will be wanting to google the name or check it some other way and it will be easier for their eye to find again if it’s bold.  I italicize titles for something like the same reason.  But I also like to use it to separate fact from fiction, thoughts and quotes, like that.  All tools.  Underlining, colored fonts.  I would love to have a computer tool that would let me insert automatically triggered music -- I know it exists: I just don’t want to take the time and money to find it and learn it.  I’m a lazy writer in some ways.  I just link.  But then I could go cross-media.

Publishing is nothing but a capital investment in writing, backed up with an advertising and distributing mechanism.  It’s just money.  The idea that publishing is an indicator of worthiness is dead now.  Only in the “sticks” like around here do people knee-jerk say,  “Oh, you write?  Well, are you published?”  They mean,  “Is it safe for me to admire?”

But writing shouldn’t be safe, nor should any other kind of media.  Media is about the edge, the growth, the possibility, the potential.  What comes AFTER tablets?  Every kid in the Browning Public Schools on the Blackfeet rez is now issued a tablet.  I hope it doesn’t turn out like the “green” children’s networking computers in Africa given to the kids for free:  the adults stole them.  You don’t have to spell or even keyboard on a tablet.  You can dictate into it, listen to it, draw with it, take photos, compose music.  Speech is a way of capturing and conveying what is happening in the mind and then writing is another level away from that.  Other media are more sensory, more invested with emotion, more immediate.  No media can ever be as powerful as face-to-face hands-on with another person, the vocabulary of touch.
Nevertheless, writing can give precision, it can hold something still for long enough to study it, research it. analyze it.  Proper tools for proper goals, improper tools for improper goals.  Propriety is situational; the protocols for one time and place won’t work in another.  We admire the creator who can explore that -- joining the minuet or throwing a bomb into a mob, as wanted -- maybe as needed.

Censorship is a strange practice if you ask me.  Why prevent people from seeing things they won’t understand anyway?  Why narrow their understanding of what humans can do and be?  Why assume that children should not know about death and sex or the suffering of other children other places?  Surely these days they already know.  What does it do to the censors who sit there and watch, read, think about all the forbidden subjects?   If it has no evil and corrupting effect on them, what makes them so much more able to handle it?  On the other hand, maybe they have become evil and corrupt from watching all this -- can they prove otherwise?

And yet, as a small child who normally had her questions answered, there were things I couldn’t figure out that took on a menacing shadow because adults were disturbed.  My father took me -- maybe three years old -- with him to the wool buying warehouse where he worked.  I had to pee but there were no women working there, no women’s bathroom.  My father took me into the communal bathroom while one of the other men guarded the door.  The row of urinals (the tall kind), so sculptural, so stinky, seized my imagination.  What were they?  Did they have something to do with the sheep?  Everyone pretended they didn’t know what I was talking about.  I dreamt about urinals.  Maybe they were an art form!

Rez kids have a thousand half-understood things shadowing them.  Unexpected reactions, glimpsed tableaus, misunderstood scenes in movies, song lyrics that make no sense.  I’ve been watching “Deadwood,” which I do not admire or even like, but it does have that hallucinatory quality of being half-understood, sometimes deadly and other times slapstick.  (Milch tells his actors to be “operatic,” but then admits he’s never attended an opera.) They didn’t dare take on Native Americans but the Chinese trope does just as well.  Also, whores, though they never even hint at MSM.  (No one says “gay” anymore.  Try to keep up.)  Shakespeare understood all this very well, even fancy language, MSM, cross-dressing, obsession, addiction and all that other fascinating plot material.  No censorship until the Victorian middle class suddenly decided Shakespeare was an icon of education.  The only reason the Bible escaped was that they rarely read it.

Writing that explains all that, writing that denies all that, writing that makes you feel a little strange, writing that confirms exactly what you’ve always believed -- everything has its place on a page, a screen, someone’s back fence, the side of an abandoned warehouse.  Maybe one’s own arm.  

Lately, in a world where men are garlanded with tattoos, the most eloquent writing I’ve seen was simply a straight black line drawn with a ruler down the inside of a young man’s arm, a geometry, a simple principle, written on living human truth.  Not exactly secret, but we don’t normally see the entire length of the underside of a young muscular arm.  I look at that strict plumb black line again and again, “reading” it.  I’ve fallen in love with it.

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