Thursday, July 5, 2012

Histrionic Exhaustion

After a weekend in the DC swelter, I'm back in the Pacific Northwest. Read Denis Johnson's Train Dreams on a layover. Read it again on the plane. Now I can't stop thinking about wolves and Idaho and wildfires. I wrote a new poem the other day (which contains all of the aforementioned obsessions). I'm thinking about moving back East. I'm thinking about the Blue Ridge. I'm glad the days are so long.


Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. I once knew a woman who interned at a magazine where she wasn’t allowed to take lunch hours out, lest she be urgently needed for some reason. This was an entertainment magazine whose raison d’être was obviated when “menu” buttons appeared on remotes, so it’s hard to see this pretense of indispensability as anything other than a form of institutional self-delusion. More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.



Ray Bradbury was, by then, eighty-nine years old. He’d had a stroke in 1999, and it showed in the interview manuscript: he misremembered dates, names, years; he attributed books to the wrong authors; the quotes he offered from memory—I remember one in particular from Moby-Dick—were nine-tenths invention. It made for a lot of work. But what I found in the interview were things that had escaped me for much of my undergraduate and graduate years—years spent earning a supposedly literary education. He promotes friendship, love, self-discovery, the daily intake of poetry. He instructs us to read from every kind of literature we feel drawn to. (Speaking about his own influences, he calls himself a “conglomerate heap of trash.”) He talks about the “fiction of ideas,” a term he uses to describe the need for literature to engage with major developments in science, art, and contemporary culture at large. He warns against the dangers of intellectual snobbery (“If I’d found out that Norman Mailer liked me,” he says, “I’d have killed myself”). He asserts the primary importance of public libraries. In the early days of e-books and Kindles (“Those aren’t books,” he says. “A book has got to smell. You have to hold it in your hand and pray to it.”), he makes a case for the printed page.

-The Paris Review


Singers like Cold Specks make it easier to believe.

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