In the past week I came across two rather disparate author reactions to their fans. Strangely enough, the “nice guy” writes books that focus on, in his words, “a preoccupation with the invasive nature of violence in our lives.” The not-so-nice guy is a children’s book author.
It all started with Brad Listi’s brilliant “Other People” podcast, specifically an interview with Alan Heathcock, author of the critically acclaimed story collection Volt. Alan spoke about his intensive book touring schedule, which lasted from March through November and involved a lot of time away from his wife and kids. When Brad asked if he ever got tired of the touring grind, Alan shared a surprising answer:
It’s kind of a first-world problem. ”Oh no, people want to have me come in and talk about my book and have my book celebrated?” Boo-hoo. I grew up in a working-class area, and all those people have actual jobs — police officers and firefighters and pipe-fitters. They’re out doing jobs, and I’m always aware of that part of it. So who am I to whine and complain about, “Oh, I have to fly to an event where they’re going to celebrate me and my book?” It doesn’t make any sense to me.
Listening to Alan, I had to agree. Book tours may be grueling, but how many people (and I’m including published authors here) get the opportunity to even go on book tours?
I don’t write for children. I write, and someone says, “That’s for children”… I didn’t set out to make children happy, or make life better for them, or easier for them. …. I like them as few and far between as I do adults, maybe a bit more because I really don’t like adults.
Maurice went on to call book signings “dreadful.” When Stephen asked about groupies, Maurice said that he had them, but “they don’t mean anything.”
The interview was in all highly entertaining, but his comments about children and book signings gave me pause. Maurice could’ve been bullshitting, but his ornery 80-something persona felt pretty legit. He’s already rich and famous — what does he care?
Though I run a blog expressly about book readings, I rarely consider the dark side of reading and touring. I asked a published friend about her experiences, and she said that a week into her interviews and readings, she was admittedly a little tired of answering the same questions over and over. When I brought up Maurice Sendak, she said: “Think of it. That guy’s been asked about Where the Wild Things Are for decades.” My friend also made the point that authors have most likely finished their book a year or more earlier, so having to jump back into it might feel like getting stuck in the past.
In light of all this, I have to admire Alan Heathcock even more for his enthusiasm — along with all the other authors I’ve seen take unoriginal or bizarre questions in stride. And hey, the writers who express gratitude toward their readers and book groups and bookstores will reap an added benefit: when they publish their next book, they’ll be invited back.
Muhammad Ali turned 70 this week, but the heavyweight event that garnered the most attention matched web users and several high-profile sites (in our corner — white shorts, gloves off, and a Twitter tattoo) against the villainous RIAA/MPAA (boohiss, cloaked in Benjamins with gloves made of solid gold). The implosion of SOPA/PIPA and the SEAL-Team-6-style takedown of Megaupload were as exhilarating as any blood sport, but neither of these mass-participatory events concluded with anything like the finality of Caesar’s thumb.
For piracy, it’s an old story. From the entertainment industry comes the perennial cry: it’s war. From everyone else we hear the same answer we’ve heard since Napster or the invention of the VCR: it’s untenable. What did change, however, were the players and the tactics.
So, a play-by-play: some dopey bill only nerds are paying attention to floats around the House and Senate with a whole bunch of support drummed up by deep-pocketed entertainment lobbyists. Then a few not-so-tiny websites launch protests that elicit an insane volume of legal and civic response. Phone lines are tied up in congressional offices and numerous lawmakers’ websites crash when they are overwhelmed with petitioning constituents. Two days later, the bills are shelved. Whoa.
At the same time, MPAA/RIAA flips the bird in a huge way when the Department of Justice launches a massive strike against Megaupload, essentially realizing many of the worst fears of SOPA/PIPA opponents and proving they didn’t even need that law anyway. The hacktivist group Anonymous responds with illegal and sleazyDDoS attacks, shutting down the websites of MPAA/RIAA, Universal Music, CBS, and the DOJ.
A single protest, entirely unprecedented in size and form, stopped a controversial bill from even reaching a vote. This, in itself, is astounding. It represents a step towards the type of real-time democracy that is often hinted at in media accounts of “Twitter Revolutions.” Less unequivocally righteous are the Anonymous attacks, which of course run the risk of delegitimizing the SOPA/PIPA protest. Action like this lends credence to the anti-piracy groups’ claim that it’s mostly criminals defending the crime. But what’s a protest without a few black bandanas? Regardless the means, these protests send a similar message: the ever-increasing ease of communicating and organizing is leveling the playing field between citizens, their governments, and industry.
And while there’s good reason to be taking victory laps around the internet, there is something at work here that still bothers me. The fact that we even knew about SOPA/PIPA is largely due to the activism of web giants. And it would be crazy to think they don’t have a dog in this fight. Google, Twitter, Facebook, among others. The same companies that made this type of mass-action possible. While their reasoning against SOPA/PIPA was sound, we cannot deny that these companies subsist entirely on content they don’t own and don’t create. They need the net to be free, at least to them.
The media battles of the future won’t be about ownership but about distribution. The concept of internet piracy is nearly dead. We increasingly demand and expect content to be free to us and free to use and redistribute as we like. Old industry giants like the RIAA and the MPAA still have trouble accepting this, and for years have been lashing out against would-be customers. The effect of this on the creative community is well documented in films like RiP! and in the writings of Lawrence Lessig and Cory Doctorow, among others. What will the analogous threat be once the ideas are free but their availability profitable? Millions and millions of us were just turned into Silicon Valley lobbyists under the banner of net equality, but also under the threat of losing our supposed right to watch Game of Thrones without paying anyone. We fought, but who won?
It’s 2:30 in the morning and I can’t go to sleep. Somebody read me a bedtime story.
Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re trying to be so quiet?
-Bob Dylan, “Visions of Johanna”
My sickness, back then, was pride, rage and violence. These things (rage, violence) are exhausting and I spent my days uselessly tired. I worked at night. During the day I wrote and read. I never slept. To keep awake, I drank coffee and smoked. Naturally, I met interesting people, some of them the product of my own hallucinations. I think it was my last year in Barcelona.
-Roberto Bolaño, Antwerp
Well now, hold on
maybe I won’t go to sleep at all
and it’ll be a beautiful white night
-Frank O’Hara, “Five Poems”
One of the more interesting claims about Leonardo has been offered to explain his high level of productivity. It deals with his sleep pattern. Supposedly, Leonardo would sleep 15 minutes out of every 4 hours, which would give him a daily sleep total of only 1½ hours. The net result of such a sleep pattern is a gain of 6 additional productive hours in each day. If Leonardo followed this regime over his entire life it would have effectively added 20 years of productivity to his 67-year life span. It has been suggested that this might, in addition to his genius, explain the vastness and richness of his work.
-Stanley Coren, Sleep Thieves
I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death,
Beyond the walls of intelligence, life is defined, I think of crime when I’m in a New York state of mind.
-Nas, “N.Y. State of Mind”
The cubs and the lions are snoring,
wrapped in a big snuggly heap.
How is it you can do all this other great shit
But you can’t lie the fuck down and sleep?
-Adam Mansbach, Go The F**k to Sleep
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
-Robert Frost, “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”
I’ve been moving around a lot this past month. I left New York a couple days before Christmas, walked through still-dark early morning Brooklyn streets to catch a train to a bus that carried me through cold swamps and strip-mall suburbs. I went through Baltimore and D.C. and down through Virginia, watching all the upturned dirt outside turn black to brown to red as I got further South.
I stopped for a while in North Carolina, outside of Charlotte, visiting family and eating, drinking moonshine, and standing around a bonfire. Drove in a car back to D.C. for a few days before flying to St. Louis, via Chicago. I stayed in the house I had lived in during high school, so it was warm and comfortable and as nice to see as an old friend. I saw a few of those in St. Louis, too.
I flew from St. Louis to Cleveland and back to D.C., and danced without getting drunk. From there my wife and I took a bus to Philadelphia to see two people sincerely and passionately in love get married.
The point of all this isn’t just to say “what a whirlwind,” but to recommend a podcast. BBC 4′s Desert Island Discs is, if you’ve never heard it, a great collection of mostly British, but also (especially in the archives) generally interesting people of all walks and backgrounds and nationalities talking about what music, book, and luxury they would bring on a desert island with them. My favorites so far have been Brian Eno and Hugh Laurie, but the archives are really extensive and new episodes are being made all the time, so there’s a lot to explore.
Traveling, especially long periods of being in the wind, can feel something like a desert island experience. The isolation of being so physically close to a bunch of strangers. The monotony of manufactured seats and two-dimensional landscapes going past the window. The waiting.
And so I compiled my own desert island disc compilation, based solely upon my most recent traveling, and of course expected to change next year, week, tomorrow. What’s your music? Maybe a more interesting question, what’s your island?
my feet were two fish made of wool,
two long sharks
sea blue, shot through
by one golden thread,
two immense blackbirds,
my feet were honored in this way
by these heavenly socks.
A murky death
“Suspicions rise in Pablo Neruda’s death,” proclaimed the headline of a recent article by the Associated Press. My first suspicions of foul play arose earlier this year during a guided tour of Neruda’s house in Santiago, Chile — one of three houses-turned-museums kept by the estate of the iconic Chilean poet and diplomat.
A guide informed my tour group that Neruda had “died of a broken heart.” Slipped in among a barrage of eccentric tidbits about Neruda that were underscored by the presentation of the most thorough nautical motif ever executed on dry land (his home), this winking explanation went unnoticed by most. Even as a metaphor, Neruda’s “broken heart” struck me as a bit too footloose and fancy-free. Especially in a country where such euphemisms have been substituted for real investigations of the unresolved deaths of thousands who were persecuted by the government of Augusto Pinochet during his 17-year dictatorship that ended in 1990.
In spite of his whimsical side, Neruda was a well-known dissident and a one-time senator of Chile’s Communist Party, and had been exiled when Communism was previously outlawed in Chile in 1948. I had learned this half-an-hour earlier from engravings on a wall of the museum’s café, yet there appeared to be few other skeptics in the crowd. Still, the guide indulged my inquiries and elaborated a bit.
You see, Neruda’s “broken heart” was one of many casualties of the military coup that ousted the Socialist government of Chile in 1973 and promptly resulted in what the AP clinically refers to as the “lethal persecutions” of several of Neruda’s close friends and fellow socialists. Neruda’s despair at the violent loss of compañeros, like then-President Salvador Allende, allegedly proved fatal when, less than 2 weeks after the coup, his physiological reaction sent him to the Clinica Santa Maria, the most prominent hospital in Santiago.
Uncontested is the fact that at the hospital he was injected with Dipirona, a sedative that ultimately killed him, according to AP.
I don’t presume to know whether Neruda was killed directly by the military coup or if he just died of a flare up of the cancer he was fighting (though medical records show his disease had been well under control and his health improving at the time of his death). Or perhaps poets can die of clichéd poetic devices. A recent autopsy of Allende, whose death had also been under scrutiny for decades, revealed that the ‘official version’ — that he committed suicide during the impending coup — was accurate.
While the current project underway in Chilean courts to investigate hundreds of deaths that occurred during Pinochet’s rule is important for the nation, the specifics of how Neruda died won’t change the reality of the dictatorship.
Lessons from Neruda’s life(style)
Having now visited all three of Neruda’s houses in Chile, what I can say is that the guy lived well. I’m not talking jacuzzi-and-private-jet well; I’m talking adult-sized-see-saws-and pretending-to-live-on-a-ship well (without the delusional Neverland Ranch vibes). I mean he had a good time.
Lately, I’ve been (literally) taking notes whenever I encounter someone who has (or had) an occupation/lifestyle combo that I find to be particularly awesome. I’m at a point in my life when, regardless of the economy, I need to figure out what I want to do and then figure out exactly how to go about doing it. Unfortunately, I am still scratching my head as to how Neruda managed to be such a busy renegade and still live so comfortably.
Anyway, here are my notes:
1. Three avant-garde houses may seem like a couple too many for a Communist, but Neruda knew that you have to figure out what makes you happy and go for it.
In Neruda’s case, that was one dwelling on a largely unpopulated island, where he could chill and write and eventually give the island a name better suited to what would today be known as his ‘personal brand’ (La Isla Negra); one in a rowdy port city where he could party (Valparaíso); and one in the public sphere of the capital, where he oddly chose to stow his mistress.
Most importantly, though, he absolutely had to have each one constructed and adorned, as I mentioned earlier, in the most thorough of nautical motifs. Seriously, duck on your way up the stairs.
2. Take a cue from Olympians and start your career early: become a well-known poet as a teen and hold your first national political position by the age of 23. (Too late for me.)
3. Live abroad for a while. In case you can’t break through at home, you have to diversify and use what’s left of that fading foreigner cache to make yourself known in political movements and art scenes in places like Mexico, Spain, and even random tropical islands. You might just end up like Neruda and catch on everywhere you go.
Somehow the AP headline “Occupy Wall Street becomes highly collectible” does not fill me with revolutionary fervor.
Where does this sense of preciousness come from? Since the early days of the revolution in Egypt, there has been a strong and tangible need to archive. This urge has birthed a number of exciting projects (in fact, I wrote about some of them here), but there is still something strange about paying so much attention to posterity. Maybe I’ve harped on the subject of nostalgia’s incompatibility with revolution enough at this point, even in this very blog. But the archiving and preservation of Occupy Wall Street seems to have kicked into overdrive recently, so I think the subject might be worth revisiting.
The AP story mentioned above includes this inspiring quote:
“Occupy is sexy,” said Ben Alexander, who is head of special collections and archives at Queens College in New York, which has been collecting Occupy materials. “It sounds hip. A lot of people want to be associated with it.”
In the face of such blatant opportunism, the Occupiers, understandably, are seeking to make sure they keep control of the movement’s legacy, and have formed an archives working group:
“We want to make sure we collect it from our perspective so that it can be represented as best as possible,” said Amy Roberts, a library and information studies graduate student at Queens College who helped create the archives working group.
With more than one OWS documentary in the works, articles popping up with titles like “Occupy Wall Street is History,” and a planned Occupy exhibition scheduled to take place at the City Museum of New York this month, I can’t help but wonder what has spurred all of this preserving and repackaging, and the seeming hyper-awareness of the historical importance of current events.
But I have a hypothesis.
Of course, there is no need to reemphasize the importance of social networks and cellphone cameras in movements like Occupy Wall Street and the revolution in Egypt — a plenty big deal has been made about their effectiveness as organizing tools and facilitation of international visibility. But we are all so accustomed to keeping a constant running commentary on our own lives, Instagramming the walk to work, tweeting lunch. That constant documentation kicks into overdrive when something is actually happening. And once the camera is running, it’s natural to start to think about what will happen to all that material. How will it be saved? How will it be remembered? How can I make sure that the Smithsonian doesn’t get my story wrong?
Your perspective on the present moment suddenly becomes wide-angle. There is some aspect of the world inside the smart phone that leads to a constant awareness of being watched, and wanting to make sure that what everyone sees is what you want them to see, now and in the future.
On the first day of Occupy Wall Street there seemed to be one professional quality camera per two or three protestors. People showed up with all of their gear, ready to document. Has there ever been a historical moment when the people living it were so deeply, painfully, purposefully aware of its historical momentousness?
The internet, all disgusting things considered, is a beautiful place. It lets us (and millions of other people) start websites that allow us to disseminate information, share our opinions, and receive rewards both spiritual (a ton) and material (a pittance).
If you’ve been on the internet in the past few weeks, the odds are you’ve heard some troubling rumblings about SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act), the net’s new Scylla and Charybdis, and how these laws could bring about the end of the internet as we know it. This is absolutely true. These bills have been promoted by the powerful lobbying firms of the entertainment industry to cripple any website or network that has (or had) hosted copyrighted material and the language is porous enough to allow all manner of governmental interference in the web.
While we at Full Stop don’t purport to understand the deep workings of the web, we don’t have much faith that the men and women of the House and the Senate do either (in all seriousness, remember that stuff about tubes?), and urge them to reconsider the effects of these bills. While we support forms of copyright, we believe these laws do little to help fight piracy. Instead, they help deliver the net into the hands of the powerful and the wealthy.
Not only will this legislation affect huge sites like Wikipedia and Reddit (which are both blacking out today in protest of this legislation), but it also could effectively destroy any small website (like us!) who might ever have a suit brought against them under law included in SOPA and PIPA. Even linking to a site that hosts illicit material could bring us under the auspices of SOPA and PIPA. And if you think the federal government has better things to do than bring down small cultural websites, think again. As Reddit user “alienth” posted yesterday, “If you’re a brand new startup with little to no money for legal counsel, well, best of luck to you. The internet may no longer be a friendly place.”
In the introduction to Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past, Simon Reynolds qualifies “past.” He defines “retromania” — a word he possibly made up but definitely made his own — as pop culture’s addiction with the recent past, the remembered past. Also, “retromania” only takes over a creative culture when both creators and consumers, but especially creators, can easily access that recent, remembered past. Reynolds is writing about music, primarily, so he takes the implications of his statement as moot: not only do the creators have access, but they have the reasonable ability to consume all or most of the media they have access to. That’s why Reynolds’ “retromania” will probably never get in bed with book-writing; books take too long to read.
Last year, I read 21 books — a career best for me. Even in college when I was supposed to do nothing but read books and write short stories, I usually topped out at 19 or 20. In the two weeks since 2012 began, I’ve added more books to my to-read list than I will read this year.
Here is an incomplete list of writers who are talked about regularly whose books and other various works I’ve never read: Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Safran Foer, Joan Didion, David Mitchell, Philip Roth (actually, I’ve read half of Plot Against America, but I can’t remember it), William Gibson, Lionel Shriver, Ursula K. Le Guin, Herman Melville, Henry James, James Joyce, and Carson McCullers. I’ve only read a short story or two by Flannery O’Connor and Raymond Carver. I read my first Margaret Atwood and Jeffrey Eugenides books last month.
Despite being more of a “book person” than a “music person,” most of the time when I read music criticism, or essays about music, I’ve heard all or most of the bands mentioned. To be a music fan is to be on top of things; to be a reader of books is to be perpetually behind. When consuming media, time is relative; geologic time is something very different from the time it takes to back up the hard drive of my laptop, but both of them seem to take forever.
Most people I know still read books in their physical form — even people who have ereaders do, at least some of the time. When most people consume most of their books digitally, whether this comes to pass 10 or 50 or 100 years from now (probably 10-15 years), will the paradigm shift? With the dominance of ebooks, will people read books faster? Will writers begin to indulge in Reynold’s version of “retromania”?
I was planning to start this blog post by mentioning that I’ve finally started reading Retromania after months of planning to read it, but it is better to end there. If I were writing about an album, this piece would feel woefully late. Retromania was published last July, eons in music listening time. While six months past publication date is late for a straightforward review, it’s still well within the acceptable amount of time to be reading and commenting on a new work.
MSNBC, home of high-octane public intellectuals Joe Scarborough and Ed (of The Ed Show), recently posted an online article concerning the synthetic enhancement of intelligence. Skimping on hard science, the article pulls quotes from reputable scientists concerning the ways in which doubling your IQ would improve your life (and the lives of people around you): advanced technology could be created and utilized to solve the Big Problems; no more god; and, obviously, we’d all be better looking and more self-actualized.
Ignoring the classically fascist value-system in use here, I think there’s a real lack of imagination in the scientific speculation published by MSNBC. And so I give you the following: ways in which doubling our intelligence would make us, um… I don’t know… (if I were twice as smart, I would find the word twice as fast).
- The First Noble Truth of Buddhism says that all life is suffering. The second states that this suffering is caused by ignorant desire. With twice as much brain, either our desires would be halved on the whole, OR our desires would be twice as intelligent. We would have a 50% greater chance of achieving Enlightenment in this lifetime.
- No more being poor or fat or homeless.
- Just imagine the greatest works of Western Literature, only twice as good. Huck Finn has a raft twice as large, double the amount of rocket attacks in Pynchon, the Great White Whale with skin so perfect an alabaster that two entire chapters are devoted to its description.
- Endings are twice as ambiguous. (But you can comprehend the ambiguity twice as well.)
- God is dead, but like, for real this time.
- No more murder, theft, or incest.
- Love, if not felt more deeply, better understood.