Monday, June 22, 2020


What we call “writing” is in its broadest sense so vast that one can hardly describe it more than by nibbling at its edges.  People who claim to teach writing usually just teach the way they themselves write and hope that the method still produces something that sells.

Look at it this way: marks on paper that can be bought and sold in some objectified way, like a scroll or a "codex", which is a lot of pages bound in a protective and, hopefully, enticing cover.  Currently these “books” are a nice way to make a lot of money, except that with modern means the whole book can be removed from being an object and made into a free electronic code, not unlike a genome, that is sent to a whole category of devices around the world for free.  Now what will you sell?  Even if you have an impressive mustache.

Look at it this way:  four categories of workers are necessary to support the “book” industry.  One is, of course, writers which is a category that can be replaced by stealing print from other people in other times.  Part of selling a book is touting the skill and authenticity of the writer, so this morning there is another new war over the literary third rail of who is an “authentic” Native American.  Actually, it’s an old war fueled by guilt — some would say — and complicated by Black tribal members, often urban with a powerful culture that overruns any notion of what an "Indian" is.  Another theory is that if as many authors as possible are stigmatized, then those remaining “pure” will sell more books.  To white people.

Publishers have gone from being an elite class, who could choose and create a particular kind of writing they admire, to being anyone with access to a computer connected to the Internet.  What was once a whole complex of acquisition, editing, augmenting, manufacturing, promoting, and distribution is either ignored or parted out to the gig economy.

A secondary industry formed around “writing” which treats all the arts of depiction -- from acting, filming, painting, singing, orchestras, and endlessly devised new ways to use this human ability.  These people say what is “good” and what is “bad” and try to explain the underlying theories, for instance the difference between what they call “fiction” and what they call “fact,” and why one is okay and another is not, even though it’s sometimes so impossible to define or prove that arguing about it is pointless.  History is fact or propaganda or fantasy.  The most elite try to define and illustrate the thinking that is “under” and “before” some depiction of the world — the philosophy — and this is entry to an academic world that purports to teach writing.

Then there’s the interesting category of using the imagination to kindle desire that actually causes the body to respond.  Certain images and stories are seductive, the senses imagining so vividly that sensory systems consider them actual.  This is stigmatized, which increases its value by adding the dimension of secrecy which creates the enticing possibility of revealing it when useful.

The practicalities of creating print on paper or in code that comes alive in certain machines are almost infinite.  Does your culture arrange the marks from left to right to top to bottom?  Can you include sound and movies?  Can the marks be spoken aloud and even when silent do they carry a melody characteristic of the people in that culture?  How does the grammar of a particular language make it possible to subtly change meanings?  Should languages in writing be allowed to become dated and inscrutable?  Is it possible to define a clever pastiche puzzle like “Ulysses” as anything deeply meaningful?

The “fourth force” of communication is always the receiver, which we almost entirely ignore.  No matter how resourceful and endorse-able a space/time critique is provided, people either like it and acquire it and quote it, or they don’t.  The end.

But then there’s a revival and we’re all watching silent films again, reading forgotten books in languages we can’t quite master, and scribbling in our journals in hopes that our little peccadilloes (“a very minor or slight sin or offense; a trifling fault”) might turn out to establish our importance to those who have slammed us, because what they crucified Jesus for is exactly what we value now.  Jesus never kept a journal, but at least one follower (Paul) wrote a heckuva lot of letters about how to make Him into an institution.  Religious institutions highly value “books.”

So why have I devoted much of my life and certainly the past twenty years to the preservation and sharing of my writing and the photography of my family, mostly my father?  Why do I value some of the most unlikely categories and individuals that I know by accident?  Why write my reviews, whether for an author who sends me a book because they assume I am someone I am not, or for a high school competition that assumes I value the same correctness and compliance that they do?  Only one person has ever reviewed a book by myself.

But I do it because I can and it’s there.  Some people even approve, but writing is a thing so rewarding in itself, in the doing of it, that I am pleased.  The people who tell me to keep writing are wasting their breath.  I don’t need their advice or urging — it’s just butting in.  People who complain that they want to be writers but can’t think of anything to write about are not writers at all, IMHO.  My brain, through habit and opportunity, is a constant stream of ideas demanding realization.  I just grab a thread and pull.  The main problem is hoping not to be overwhelmed by a fabric that becomes uncontrollable and smothering.

Some people maintain sanity by limiting their world close enough that they simply don’t know what’s going on elsewhere.  Someone said they thought “ferocious” insistence on what is real was a characteristic of mine.  They were wrong and naive.  Reality today is not just kaleidoscopic but also tachistoscopic. It flickers with change, but also carries enormous beauty.  My rule is not to turn away, no matter how scary and complicated, because that’s writing.

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