Saturday, July 23, 2016


A YouTube vid I first saw years ago comes back to my mind now and then.  It’s about a monk who calls for a techie to help him operate a new-fangled bound book.  There are two versions still posted, one with sub-titles since it’s in German or Swedish or some other language I don’t speak.  Here’s a link to that one:

“Monk needs help opening book”

It’s about trying to make what’s in your head (organism) interface with the changing world (environment).  But this spoof is about the technicalities of learning to use a computer, which has been echoed again with every new tech development from tablets to texting and beyond.  This is all about how to operate the system, the machine.  

At about the same time there was a book published that I can’t locate at the moment.  It was about how the content and functioning of the mind itself is transformed by accepting the content and functioning depicted on a screen.  It was about virtual spaces, seeing behind/through the screen.  It was powerfully poetic and I’ll keep looking.  It was a book rather than a video.

The point is that now that we know the brain is plastic, adding and subtracting neurons and reconfiguring them throughout our lives, we realize that our concepts and world views are also constantly changing.  One of the strong forces is empathic access to the lives of other people, as individuals and en masse.  This used to be the territory of the book, then the movie, but they were stable, given, coherent works of art.  

This new empathic access comes far more directly from the person actually in the events.  It writhes and changes as the person does, moving the point of view, realizing, adding new facts, going to a different mode (from reporting to imagining to poetry).  It’s pretty damn scary.  Esp. when it’s coming from the other side of the planet, a place we don’t know any better than the back of the moon.  (Did you know that the moon revolves around the earth so that it always presents the same face to the mother planet?  Like a teenager.)

For some people — Trumpies — the scary dark world of others is too much and they cry out, “stop the world — I want to throw them off.”  For others the response is “what can I do to help?”  But that’s not what I want to address.

Like a zillion other straight A high school girls who became English teachers, I always thought I would write a book that would make the world a better place.  It would be beautifully written, consummately insightful, humble and modest but developed by an inspired and devoted Development Editor.  Fantasy.  There are no more Development Editors.  There are publishers who are also writers and believe in good writing.  

I’m reading “Last Year’s River” by the publisher of Bangtail Press, Allen Morris Jones.  It’s published by Houghton Mifflin (2001).  Beautiful cover.  Elegant sophisticated writing with lots of research and proper attention to women’s point of view.  I’ll write a review later when I finish.  What I want to note is that the vocabulary is for readers, not watchers, but the structure is edited into 114 “beats” -- scenes, episodes -- that play back and forth among story lines and across time the way that is standard with TV shows, especially cop shows where mysteries are being revealed a bit at a time.

I’m not criticizing this.  I’m just noting.  And wanting to say that like the evolving human brain (and therefore the human mind, the organism coupling with the environment) —reacting to it, maybe struggling with it — also evolves.  The mechanism of evolution is to be constantly changing the interaction of creature and setting by changing either one of the two or both.  Variation in people is vital to this; variation in environment is simple reality.  The continents shudder beneath our feet.  

The genetic plan of each person might include new or old mutations, which may have been created by the environment of the past or present.  Some of them will be helpful in terms of survival and other will be handicaps.  The difference in the human animal is that we can directly mutate the environment, even though we don’t really know what will guarantee survival, esp. the survival we want.  And since every evolutionary step is followed up naturally by an array of consequences, some of them may take off on a path that is destructive. 

As I write, Chinese researchers are preparing to use CRISPR technology to change someone’s genetics directly by molecular intervention.  They are taking precautions but worrying that the next-over genes might be changed by mistake.  Others are better qualified than I am to discuss this.

I want to talk about the evolution of how and what writers “write” and how the technology of presenting print and image (which is how I’m defining writing) is changing, essentially mutating content and making it all universally accessible.  Many of the qualities of published books are missing — the prestige, the connection to Middle Class status and education, the pretence of universal popularity or even universal ability to decode (Were you forced to read Silas Marner?  Do you REALLY understand Shakespeare?), the necessity of long blocks of focussed time to grasp big books, the approval of censorship, and a whole lot of other things, including deconstruction and post-colonial insights.  

Most people aren’t really aware of much more than popular genres.  If you say you write, they ask whether you are published, which is really a status question — are you important?  Then they want to buy directly from you, with your autograph in the front.  They want to come on vacation and sit in your front room and tell you how important they are because they love what you write.

Blogging is as much of a shift in the organism/environment writer/reader as paper to electronic screen.  I have a book that’s been published:  “Bronze Inside and Out.”  700 copies were printed.  Half have been sold or given away.  It is an account of a life and cowboy art that is unvarnished, maybe even prejudiced, but it’s certainly colorful and easy to read, truth-based, and researched.  It’s also been pirated.  This year my royalties amounted to $29.97 Canadian funds.  I don’t know what that is in US funds because my bank charges $30 to convert money between countries and they didn’t want to do it because that would leave me with royalties of three cents for the year.

This morning I see on my blog “” that by one measure I got about 1500 hits yesterday — this is because I mentioned Trump and it’s a hot topic.  Usually I run along in the hundreds.  Sex doesn’t make it go up much.  Blackfeet makes it respond, I think partly because there are diaspora Blackfeet tuning in.  (When I say Blackfeet, that’s a part-for-the-whole figure of speech since I include Cree, Metis, and whites.  It’s just shorthand — no motive.)  

I get few comments.  Some people say (rather resentfully) “there was nothing left for me to say.”  One friend says I take all the air out of the room.  The kids used to say, “Aw, Mrs. Scriver, you just killed it.”  (Not a compliment.)

But the truth is that I don’t like argument.  Facebook-type exchanges, little verbal fencing matches, turn me off, even the fancy ones on Aeon. This is a mutation of both the phenomenon and the creature, who feels she’s running out of time.  There are a million incompletely educated keyboarders out there who have not figured out that “counting coup” on each other via some computer platform is creating a kind of ephemeral genre of literature that will prevent them from ever achieving the kind of work that was once stamped on paper and put between covers.  They will only appear in the record as a dot in the data mound.

What I’m doing is writing short essays of many genres for the pleasure of the fancydance in my head.  I don’t really care whether anyone reads it.  (There are certain people I care about more than others.)  It is a sort of “literature as path” or maybe “as river”  It doesn’t pay, it often hurts, I get lonesome and scared, but life is like that.  It’s also exhilarating and sometimes useful to others.  It is a way for me to love.

My biggest fear is that I’m non-conforming enough to trigger an intervention from the larger community.  They won’t put me in jail — I don’t do anything criminal — but they can decide to impose their standards on my life.  I sat in the Town Council and listened to them give themselves the power to “clean up yards” without being asked and then charge the owner $100 for it.  I understand why but I just find it so much more rewarding to write than to rake. 

No comments: