The Drafty Window of Possibility

In keeping with the theme, here is one of the writers of Frankenweenie, John August on how over-projecting the future can affect/ruin some kinds of storytelling (sometimes).

John August, Off-Topic

p.s. Frankenweenie was so better than Brave and should have won the Oscar.

Pessimistic Positivity

Speaking of the future, new research shows that—contrary to what your gurus have been telling you—pessimism about the future is actually a healthy survival mechanism and helps people live longer (up to a point, I suspect). If literature does anything, I would hope that it’s to add to one’s one’s stock of realistic reality, about the present and future (be less deceived, etc etc etc). Some money:

A pessimistic future forecast is often the more realistic one, [study author Frieder R. Lang] said. Older people, after all, see a narrowing future with physical and mental breakdown as well as death on the horizon. As such, thinking things will probably be bad could motivate people to take advantage of more social services, for example, or make investments that will ease the aging process, he said.

Or write more. As I tell my students: you will be dead soon. Get to work.

The Ought to Be World

[At the equinox], a new poem published today at The Curator, is what it is (as they say around these parts: what a prevarication to say about anything, even a poem that supposedly wants to be and not mean). But the magazine itself has much to recommend it; sponsored by The International Arts Movement, it adopts that organization’s mission to “announce the signs of a ‘world that ought to be.'” This raises possibilities—who doesn’t want to live in a better world—and the natural question of just how we should do that. Could we possibly live productively in a world without an ideal of its improved condition as an image in our imaginations—can we even agree on the content of such an image—but at what point does living in and for the world as it ought to be get in the way of our living in the world as it is? Whatever the answer might be, I prefer The Curator’s intention to “uncover those artifacts of culture” (curate, natch) it feels points a way forward as opposed to those who claim to “renew” or “reclaim” culture, as if one can (or should) arrest the general drift, rather than simply, to paraphrase the Gita, shut up and do your thing. That’s what an artist does, and what one would expect from a movement of international artists, I suppose. The need to hedge against the natural impulse for idealism and attend to your life at hand, however, is persuasively argued in one of my favorite passages from Wendell Berry’s Standing by Words, somewhat condensed for the sake of the web-bots:

What can turn us from this deserted future, back into the sphere of our own being, the great dance that joins us to our home, to each other and to other creatures, to the dead and the unborn? I think it is love. Only the action that is moved by love for the good at hand has the hope of being responsible and generous. Desire for the future produces words that cannot be stood by. But love makes language exact, because one loves only what one knows. One cannot love the future or anything in it, for nothing is known there. And one cannot unselfishly make a future for someone else. Love for the future is self-love–love for the present self, projected and magnified into the future, and it is an irremediable loneliness.

There is not abstract action. Love proposes the work of settled households and communities, whose innovations come about in response to immediate needs and immediate conditions, as opposed to the work of governments and corporations, whose innovations are produced out of the implicitly limitless desire for future power or profit.

It’s really an explication of Augustine’s much pithier aphorism: “Love, and do what you will.”

Fate and the Individual in 21st Century America

Making rounds today, and brought up by one of my students: Auden’s daunting syllabus to his University of Michigan course Fate and the Individual in European Literature. This came up in a discussion about a student’s epistolary essay exploring, getting at, trying to get at what is either the failure of young people and students to sufficiently care about the direction of their own lives—i.e. what percentage of the human population possesses or cultivates a sense of individual destiny, and is that the job of education?—or the University (and their teachers’) failure to do anything but sap them of the will to learn or be interesting. I am fond of these sentences by Auden which defend a use for poetry that is the opposite of lofty and yet a condition no one at all interested in being more human (and who doesn’t, even if we’re not sure what that means) would not find a preferred condition.

The primary function of poetry, as of all the arts, is to make us more aware of ourselves and the world around us. I do not know if such increased awareness makes us more moral or more efficient. I hope not. I think it makes us more human, and I am quite certain it makes us more difficult to deceive.

The Source of Awe

Too many good things in this Oral History of Pulp Fiction—close casting calls, improvisations, the accidents of genius—but in addition to explaining the band-aid on the back of Marcellus Wallace’s head, the Mystery he seeks at quite a cost is revealed for what it is:

The mysterious briefcase, which glows in Travolta’s face when he opens it, was filled with “two batteries and a lightbulb.”

Repairs

  • Home from a trip to Boston, speaking at the St. Photios Symposium on Faith & Learning
  • Something got fixed visiting St. George Cathedral in Worcester. I do love the Antiochians.
  • Fixed Broken Links on Books Page (so go buy a book)
  • Another weekend without fixing the 10 things around here that need fixing
  • Finally Larry, our Plumber (a trusted plumber is a joy forever), will come tomorrow to fix the drip that defeated me
  • Wrote some poems on the plane, and have one fairly fixed up
  • Tomorrow. Forester. Air Fuel Receptor. $$$.
  • Need to make up for not having the intended fish tacos today, although the consolation was making friends, which isn’t an awful tradeoff
  • Much yet to get in place to even pretend to teach the next day, which is well underway
  • Five poems will appear in the Spring issue of Ginosko
  • The talk I gave on Saturday needs much revision; the last paragraph got rave reviews
  • The credit agencies are all in agreement that I need to pay off some debt
  • But before I do, my trip was made all the better because after a month or so without them, after my first pair broke, I have my favored earphones back. (Bose’s tweaked sound is not what a bass lover would prefer, but the fit is fantastic.) Happy Birthday I guess.
  • Note to self: don’t publish blog posts at 3 a.m. while vision blurry; repaired embarrassing typos.

The Battle of the Sidebar

So yeah, who cares, but it’s not always an easy thing to do exactly what you want to do when constrained by widgets. As with the many procrustean beds we are forced to conform ourselves to, the widgetized areas of WordPress put you either at the mercy of the available widgets or ultimately I suppose at your ability to write on for yourself, which not all of us are quite on this earth to learn how to do. My goal was simple: get a list of my poems available online to show on the homepages sidebar. Doesn’t seem like something that you’d have to pull North Pole strings to acquire, but at least after an afternoon of seeking a solution rather than grading papers or doing something someone cares about resulted in one rather than nothing. Since you cram a bunch of individual posts into a column the way I used to, and WP wants to excerpt your post whenever it puts it in a sidebar, the eventual breakthrough was finding a widget that would let me put a Page’s contents over there where I was fixated on Posts. They tyranny of minor differences. So thanks very much Carl-Fredrik Herö—may your sons be handsome and keep your widget up to date long into the future.

My next experiment, underway as I write, is to post to the blog using a plain text file marked up in Markdown, saved in a Dropbox folder. If anyone is reading this, then it must have worked in some measure or another. I have been wanting to move all of my writing, or the better part of it, to plain text, and have for some time been drafting in either IA Writer or, as I am now, ByWord. The amount of money I have spent on plain text editors for the iPad is a badge of honor I suppose, but I have yet to achieve what I consider a workable workflow, the imagined system looking like: I can work on any given document from any device I have, and then easily, through a structured mark-up, output them straight into a typset form. As it is now there is still the need to copy the text out for formatting (even in apps like Scrivener and Ulysses, I hear people say, programs I am only just now trying to learn) as I do into Mellel (that fantastic word processors stubborn refusal to be compatible with any editor on the iPad is motivation for moving away from it). So this is all practice, it’s all toward a practice.

Speaking of the practice, I drafted the first poem in awhile this morning, spurred at first by a title, as often happens, a phrase my shrink used on a script for me ensuring they don’t poison me with a generic: *Dispense as Written*. It has very little to do with drugs, or at least no more than everything has to do with chemicals, but I’ve been happy with what happens, as it always happens, when one writes something in the morning and one’s mind—followed by the hand—works on it throughout the day. Makes even the drudgery of sifting through code for where to tweak the padding and auditioning widget plugins tolerable. The poem does make life tolerable; seems like small praise but not many things can lay claim to even that much minor succor. Anything that gives one something to care about.

This Is Where It Will Go

So when my site was moved from one server to another that transit somehow broke the site, and though probably with the application of enough time and ingenuity I could have fixed it, the time feels more productively used just to build a new one. That one was around long enough. I am trying to learn my way around WordPress anyway for some sites I’m building for Malone’s creative writing students, so while my old CMS into which I have a decade of experience sunk is more flexible and probably powerful, here is where the new thing will be. I have an inordinate love for process over product, and so am attached to the idea of a development blog that attempts to impose a veil of transparency upon a creative process that prefers to be low lit, so although I’m not doing anything here terribly interesting (yet?) and although the poem I just wrote could certainly not have been blogged about in process the way the design of  some new product feature can be explicated, I’ll see what I can do. Whatever I can do, here is where it will go.