Saturday, December 27, 2008

location, location, location...

Of all the places in my parents house, why is it that my bed is the universal choice of place to bed down for all the various cats we have had down through the years. And even if I close the door, they always find a way to get in. At least this year, Okra (my brother's cat) is a much better cuddler than Waleena (my sister's cat) ever was.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

the fountainhead: Part III

(written early last year, during my second trip in Hawaii)

Ok, so I may have softened a little on the fountainhead. Yes, I still think it is mostly pompous rape/cuckoldry fantasy done up in flimsy drag as radical philosophy. But it can be a reasonably readable book when it isn't busy monologuing and explaining everything.

If you haven't noticed, I've been kind of hard on this book from the start. My irritation comes from three sources. One is obvious: the book itself is irritating. The hero worship starts on the first page and only get cringingly more fawning as it goes. The philosophy of the whole thing is so black and white and so condescending and pedantic that even when a good point is made, you want to disagree with it because you know that had that point been made in that same way in real life, it would have been made by someone you hate.

The second is a few well-meaning friends commenting when they heard that I was going to read it that I should be careful and not be taken in by Ms. Rand's wily storytelling. I know that they are afraid of me becoming as annoying as they were when they were fifteen and read it and thought it was mind-blowing that someone could suggest that being selfish was something to aspire to and felt it really spoke to their frustrations with all the mindless imbeciles that every teenager feels surrounded by (and not always without reason). I'm not exactly a teenager and don't exactly shy away from fairly difficult reading, so I'll admit to being mildly offended by this well-meant warning. Ok, initially miffed and increasingly full stop offended as I've proceeded through the book.

The third reason is that over the years too many people have made comments like, "Have you read the fountainhead? I think you'd like it. Your take on things reminds me of it." Which is not unlike when I worked at a summer camp one year and was told repeatedly that I was just like Dan Edge who had worked there the year before. "You are just like Dan Edge, except he was a total asshole." Thanks. So my take on things reminds people of the philosophy expounded in what may be the most annoying book I have ever read? Great.

So, yes, I walked into this with unfair baggage, already prepped to dislike the book. But the baggage was only unfair because I hadn't read it yet, not because the book wasn't annoying enough to deserve the derision outright.

Actually, I should be clear. If this were a random tome picked out of obscurity from some shelf, I would have nicer things to say about it. It is reasonably well written. The characters are well developed, even if annoyingly developed as one-note sychophants, and the plot keeps sort of twisting til the end. As just a book that had managed to get published, I would judge it kindly and might have finished it, though probably not and if I had would have found it reasonably thought provoking even if a little naked about its intentions. But it isn't just some random book. It is a book which tons of people hold up as this life changing experience and a brilliant mind expanding read. At the end of the day, it is a bold attempt at sexualized hero worship, a story about a woman getting to be bored by the mediocrity of the world and lashing out with her beauty and competence and status to keep it all at bay until she meets this powerful machine of a man-god to ravage her. Yawn.

the fountainhead: Part II

(written early last year, on my second trip in Hawaii)

I don't know if I am going to make it. I really don't. I'll put down a book because I think it is wasting my time or I'm just not in the right frame of mind to digest it at the moment; normally not a problem. But this isn't just a book which sucks, this is a book which sucks and has a rampant following of people who felt led to adolescent epiphanies by this book's bold declaration that most people are obnoxious and that only the defiant artist (and very few of them) could have true integrity. And being who I am, I'm certain at some point I'll end up surrounded by people whose lives were changed or whose minds were opened by the fountainhead and someone will see me roll my eyes and say, "What?" and I'll answer. And then it would come out that I couldn't finish the book and they'll smugly dismiss my opinion and suggest that I didn't have the strength of character to finish such a noble and challenging book blah blah blah. And I'd rather finish it and be able to say it all was annoying instead of having to listen to someone say that the last little chunk was where it was all tied together and that of course I didn't get it if I didn't finish it.

And I may not finish it, but if I can't, it won't be for lack of stamina but for lack of stomach. I finally took a break and decided to read something else, so I've just finished Battlefield Earth, the longest sci-fi novel in history. I'll write about that separately, but a total joy to read and let no one say it was the length of the novel that turned me off from the fountainhead. I'm trying, I really am.

I still think that the novel is pompous rape-fantasy, which at the end of the day is the most cowardly kind of fantasy, but perhaps also one of the most common. I don't think the prevalence of it as fantasy is acknowledged enough. The desire to be violated. It is the secret dark dream of the pious and holier-than-thou. It is the wish to experience carnal things but without having to experience any of the responsibility for the act. "I was forced!" This is not to make light of rape or to suggest that in real life that people who demurely suggest that they won't go any further are asking for it or that no really means yes; this isn't about that at all. I'm talking strictly in the realm of fantasy and how so many people use secret rape fantasy as the route to accessing taboo desires. If they imagine themselves as violated, then they couldn't be guilty of dreaming about sex or whatever guilty pleasure they dream of, can they? Not that this doesn't have its real world correlaries, with people who aren't yet comfortable in their sexuality seeking out predatory or manipulative types so they can feel compelled into something they desire but still feel guilty about.

Perhaps I am getting off track. I really don't mean this to be simply sexual or for it to all be simply guilt centered. (Unfortunately, I can't remember what the hell else I meant to write about it, though. This is the point where I cut it off when I was originally writing about it and never seemed to get back to it. I've read and reread it thinking I'll one day finish it and so have gone almost a year now without publishing these three essays on the fountainhead, but I've decided enough is enough so here they are in all their unfinished glory).

the fountainhead: Part I

(written early last year, on my second trip in Hawaii)

On my first trip, I headed to sea with far too few books. I didn't think this when I left; the weight of the books was a ridiculous addition to an already cumbersome collection of junk. But you never realize how quickly you can read books when you take away other forms of distraction. Suddenly held tight on a boat where only one other person really speaks english well enough to hold a conversation and you suddenly plow through books like a maniac. Not all because you necessarily love them, but simply by the fact of them being there. Anyway, this trip I swore I wouldn't spend three days straight playing Snood on my cell phone and grabbed books like crazy.

"Like crazy" may be a more appropriate description than I would like to admit. I had all these plans of going book hunting and buying tons of great books and reading them and being all excited, but somehow with all the days spent in the office and then running around doing all my other tasks in that short valuable time that we spend on land, I didn't go out book shopping. Thankfully, as I unloaded the books I had read, I picked through the assorted books left behind at the house and the gear shed and came away with a motley crew of things which I had thought perhaps in the past of reading, but knew there was no way on earth I would ever read most of them in any other situation. So here I find myself in the middle of the ocean with Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard, The Good Earth by Pearl Buck, Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, Jewell by Brett Lott, The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck, and the fountainhead by ayn rand (I also have Morning in the Burned House by Margaret Atwood and A Lover's Discourse by Roland Barthes, but since these made the previous trip with me and have both been read and picked apart many times, they seem to require separate mention). For some unknown reason, I decided to pick up the fountainhead. It had to happen sometime.

Why do I persist in refusing to capitalize the title of the book or its authors name? Because I have begun reading the book. THIS is the heralded beacon of reason and objectivity that annoying goth kids in high school and pretentious college antagonists have gushed so enthusiastically about? Granted, I'm not finished with the book, but I wouldn't have trudged past the first chapter if I wasn't stuck on a boat and wasn't rationing my few precious downloaded episodes of America's Next Top Model like they were manna from heaven. But I am on a boat, so I'm going to finish the damn thing.

It isn't exactly a painful read. It might be reasonably enjoyable if it didn't have all that reverent hoojab about how great and life changing it is. It is written as poorly as Ishmael (speaking of reverently adored, eye-opening, badly written books), but at least Ishmael did have some eye opening insight to offer which wasn't found laid out as directly or as challengingly in other books, even if it was clunkily chinked into a silly story. the fountainhead doesn't have all that much which is eye opening and unavailable elsewhere. It is basically just elaborate rape fantasy spruced up as Frank Lloyd Wright fan fiction. If she manages to cram in the description of a shirt clinging to the shoulder blades of another man, I'll throw up. The book starts with a naked dude looking at nature and thinking about how he would control it and overpower it, how it was waiting for him to take control and improve upon it. Force himself upon it, if you will, but as it has been waiting for someone to do, for someone to bring it to that climax that only this ultimate man could deliver. Throw in some other characters, some time, a perfect beautiful stone-cold bitch, a nice trajectory to the bring them together... whatever.

The book is fine as what it is. The story is reasonably engaging, the characters sometimes border on likeable and you even find yourself wanting to see Mr. Roark's buildings get built. But unless there is something really waiting for the last half of the book to bring it all together and make this profound commentary that people have told me this book makes, this is just one more book that I really couldn't recommend anyone devoting the time to unless they find themselves stuck in the middle of the Pacific with only a few books at hand.


I've been away at sea for a few months so I've been a little quieter than I would like. And my laptop cord bit the dust early into the trip so I have less written word to share now that I'm back on land but I'm putting up what I've got. I'm also going to put up some back log, things written in the further distant path but which never made it up here for one reason or another. Hopefully amongst all this you will find something you consider worth reading.

wings... or not

(also written at sea, sometime in October)

If I could walk up on deck and take flight, would I? Where would my wings take me?

I want to say back to you, straight to New York as fast as I can fly. I'd fight the frigid winds and work my way across a continent back into your arms, the arms I'm missing so vividly right now. But we live in the time of choices. Choice and ability are the blessings of our generation. As is so often the case, our blessing is also our curse. The truth is wings would change nothing. I am not held on this boat against my will. I do find myself too far out to swim, but the only thing holding me in sway here was my decision to come here. I could have stayed back East. I wasn't stolen by pirates or at gun point. Not attached to my back, but there are metal wings which could sail me home faster than my fantasy wings could possibly transport me. There are few physical barriers which remain, certainly none between populated areas, only financial ones and those are the ones which put me on this boat and which wings wouldn't help overcome, except perhaps as a carnival attraction. Which has its appeal.

In a way I've already signed up as a carnival attraction. "Look at me! Look at how far I can go! Who else does what I do?" I'm not charging for admission, but it ups my hand in conversation, gives me currency when answering that inevitable query: What do you do? Honestly, what I'd really like to do is bartend or play music, but so far I've managed to do neither. There is a ukulele that I carry with me even at sea, a physical manifestation of a promise to myself to learn an instrument that taunts me with how little I have mastered it. Which I could if I practiced every day, which I don't.

I do do what I do because I like it and I'm good at it. I chose what I do, so wings aren't going to save me from it. I'd have to chose not to do it, which I could, at any time; but then I would have to chose something else and I still haven't mastered that ukulele or convinced anyone to allow me behind a bar. I'd also like to garden, but I grew up on a farm and worked for a landscaper: I know this is not a pleasant thing when it is for other people. And I do really like what I do, it just doesn't allow me to do so many other things which I love that it demands a frequent reanalysis. So do I go back to school, which I hate, and try to take it to the next level, which I might not enjoy and which would force me to interact with other people, which I do well but have less and less patience for?

The life of an artist tempts me from time to time. Perhaps I should say the life of a commercial artist, though I don't mean that in the typical way. I don't just mean someone painting signs or sculpting custom fittings; I mean artist who live off selling their work. All the artists represented by all those galleries, who would shit a brick if someone called them a commercial artist, are commercial artists in perhaps the baldest way possible. All they are selling is art. Their most intimately personal and expressive works are the ones made for public consumption. I like to think I live the life of an artist on some level (despite being horrified by how conceited and stupid that statement sounds), constantly processing and trying to express, sometimes through words, sometimes through images, sometimes through other materials. I don't do it as much as I'd like to, but I also don't do it for money. But I'd like to.

Wings can't give me that. If I were trapped by circumstance, carried away from a place I loved, prevented only by walls or distance from return, I could wish for wings and dream of taking flight. People around me would yell and scream, surprised and scared then awed as I took to the sky. They would either cheer or toss threats and warnings, but my wings would not be wax and I would be gone. An eruption of feathers, a rush of wind, the exhilaration of freedom. But I'm not held in a prison, I'm held by contract and identity and bank account. A take to flight would feel like a free fall: what now?

So I go back to my work, which is not forced upon me, which I chose. The only foe attacking me is impatience and laziness. I remind myself what holding you is like, how sweet it will be when I return and how stale I felt during the long days this summer with too much time and too little motivation. On return, I'll be crisp and fresh, something more pleasant and refreshing to cling to, instead of the sluggish, fading facsimile I was becoming. It might have taken years to fade, but I've seen it enough times to know that I wouldn't be happy that way. That I would take flight from, but that is what you can't fly away from, the feeling that you've wasted time and the dead inertia that you've adopted. So in motion I remain, coming and going. Not on wings of my own, but not dead weight.

"I love you." a brief personal history.

(written earlier in the fall, somewhere at sea)

"It will not be enough to say I love you. I know you have heard it before.

"I love you. Those words were not worn out two thousand six hundred years ago. Are they worn out now? Perhaps, but not by repetition, but by strain." from Art & Lies by Jeanette Winterson

On a whole, I didn't enjoy Art & Lies as much as I had other Jeanette Winterson novels. The story seemed more strained and less fluid, like something created to hang her thoughts on. The overall effect made the book feel more piecemeal. Still, as always, there was plenty to get entangled with and tremendous mental/emotional stimulation. The passage above was amongst the ones which stood out to me, partly because I agree with it, partly because I don't.

Others might object, but since I'm not really writing to analyze the book itself but rather as a leaping off point for my own thoughts, I'll leave this without context from the story. The context isn't the point.

"It will not be enough to say I love you. I know you have heard it before."

Beautiful line. And I suppose I agree for anyone for whom that phrase is over-used. I know there are people who just talk about love for the sake of love and mostly, they make me want to vomit. This isn't just my curmudgeonliness; I get stupidly serious about stuff like this and place way too much importance on love and all that shit. Really. I promise. Perhaps it would be easier to start from my usage of the word and work out from there, rather than blather about how other people (mis)use the term.

My parents have always said I love you. My father not as often, but my mother almost never let one of us walk away without saying 'I love you.' At the end of every phone conversation, every time I left the house, every time we said goodnight (even, during my adolescence when I was so rage filled that I refused to say 'goodnite', abbreviating it purposefully to "'nite" when trying to avoid all interaction failed). And doubly true with my grandmother. None of this is romantic of course, but it is the background of my understanding of the word (and the action): I've heard it, and frequently, all my life and the people who said it meant it.

I don't know if I initiated it, through habit of saying it with my family or if it just arose organically or if someone else initiates it, but the same goes with speaking to my friends. Not all the time, not every conversation, but I've noticed that with most of my close friends we say 'I love you' to each other, usually as part of saying goodbye over the phone, but it gets said. And (at least from this end) meant.

Things, of course, get a little squirrelly when we start talking romantically. Don't they always? For someone who says the words so often and so frequently, you would think they would flow so much easier in a relationship. You would be wrong.

Perhaps I get too serious sometimes. I take things too literally or too heavily; I've worked hard to be lighter and more zephyrus, and have mostly succeeded, but deep down, there is still an uptight virgo literalist in here. And I don't kid about love. Or I didn't; I'm trying to learn how; why should everything, particularly beautiful things be so serious? I'll dive into a little abstract relationship history to hopefully illuminate my point.

I've long have a serious aversion to saying 'I love you' to someone I'm dating. It always seemed to be a big step, somehow in my mind something akin to an engagement ring. That might seem a little bit exaggerated, but at least at one time this was true. I refused to say the words lightly. I could say them to my friends, but as soon as I was dating someone, there was this extra weight. A certainty that if I said 'I love you', I had to mean forever or at least with no end in sight, that it had to be some other level, a way of saying "You are the One," even if I personally didn't believe in 'the One'. This isn't exactly what I meant. I've never gone in for one-true-love bullshit, and certainly don't believe in meant-to-be, but I'm just trying to communicate something of the heaviness that I attribute to saying I love you.

I just don't feel that most of the time, in most relationships, when people say 'I love you' they mean what I want it to communicate, what I mean when I say it. They are saying "I love having a boyfriend" or "I love having someone there to hold" or "I love the way you make me feel" or "I love not being alone" or whatever. And those can be fine and sweet things to say, really. Those are partial reasons why we want relationships and love in the first place. The practical considerations are part of anything in life, and I don't begrudge them being said. I just don't want to hear 'I love you' as a stand in for all these other things. It may mean all of them too, but for me at least it has to mean something special, something more. This is what is meant in Ms. Winterson's text when she says the words are worn out, "not by repetition, but by strain." It isn't how often they are said, but how they are said, used to cover so many emotions, forced to carry so many meanings other than their own.

So I've worked hard to avoid straining these words, and refused to say them in ways I didn't mean them. I had more than a few serious relationships where the words were never said until after it was over, which I regard as a success rather than a failing. I'd rather them seem pointedly absent rather than pointlessly present.

I'm not as harsh as I used to be. This is mostly because I found someone who I could say the words to. They lost their threat: waste us now and you will never get to mean us. I get to mean them and not as stand-ins for other things I don't know how to say, but as exactly what I am saying. Having said them with full resonance, they've become lighter, gentler, more approachable. Having taken up this mantle, I hope I can avoid wearing them out in the way Ms. Winterson warns. If repetition could ear them out, I'd have already failed, but I think I can fairly argue that I at least have never stretched or strained them.

Having learned to say these words, they flow freely from me out into the world (I still mean them). I sometimes wonder if the significance of me being able to say this is lost on him who inspired me, as he never knew them as a protected commodity in my life. The water in a lake doesn't know how dry the lake bed was before; it has been wet since water arrived.

It is hard too for me to remember sometimes as well, but why bother. I like it wet.

"It will not be enough to say I love you. I know you have heard it before."

Oh, but sometimes it is enough...

Phoenix rising

(Written sometime in October, somewhere in the Bering Sea)

I might try my hand again at fiction in November. Why then? Not exactly sure, but it seems a good month for such an undertaking. November has always been my ill-placed month of rebirth. October scours me clean and in November I rise anew. Why these months over any others? Wouldn't it makes sense for my rebirth to be at New Year's, particularly since I've made a cult of it's celebration? Or maybe in the spring when new life springs forth or summer when it grows? Why be built fresh in the season of dying, with leaves falling and days shortening and temperatures falling?

If I had been consulted in the matter, I might have chosen differently but my rhythms seem to have been mostly preset. As to this one in particular, I grow restless in the fall. As soon as the summer starts to cool even a little bit, I get hit with wave after wave of ecstatic wanderlust. At first there is mostly wonder and joy in this feeling, calling me out to explore and enjoy. If, as I am doing now, I can heed this call and take flight and explore, then the feeling can keep some of the joy about it and I just flit about like a kid in a museum for the first time, all big wide eyes and gaping smiles. If I can't, the feeling turns dire and I feel like there is a freight train continually slamming against the inside of my skull, violently and persistently screaming for me to move. I have a hard time sitting still. I have a hard time dealing with other people and retreat deeper and deeper in myself and catch myself wanting to scream out loud or smash things. I do neither; I'm not the type to give into such whims, but I might manage better if I occasionally did. I find myself wanting to force away every familiar thing around me and start over completely. There were more than a few years where it was speculated that any relationship I was in could not survive October unless I was completely sequestered away from my beloved. This was both true and not: October doesn't inspire me to just destroy anything in my reach, it simply refuses illusions. Without illusion, many things fall apart.

Anyway, the point is that this time of year is when I'm rattled to the core. Pleasant or otherwise, every loose thing is shaken loose and all the joints and bends tested to see what will hold and what needs to be repaired or removed. Then comes November, whose main significance to me seems to lie in following October. And so I begin again...

isolation or not

(this was written in early October)

Fishing in the Bering Sea is not like fishing long-line off Hawaii. It isn't the weather that marks the greatest difference; it is the isolation or lack of it. Dutch Harbor itself feels cut off from the world because it is small and the people there are mainly there for one reason: fishing or somehow supporting or profiting off the fishing fleet. And internet access is slow and not so easy to come by and the cell phone service is controlled by a monopoly which wants you to pay through the nose.

But on the water... it almost feels crowded. This is ridiculous, of course, or at least relative. The boats are huge and comfortable and much more connected and modern. This opinion may change later as we venture further out, but two days into fishing and I can still see land! This is a stupid thing to be excited about, but in Hawaii, seeing land was so rare. After three weeks at sea, you would go on deck every few hours on the trip back to see if you could spot land yet and as soon as you could, you would just stare. The solid lines and bulk of it seemed so amazing and almost like a mirage after so long without. We were so far out and sighting anything but birds and fish was so rare that the light of a single fishing boat on the horizon would make you stop and stare and wonder which boat it might be. Even trash floating by became fodder for the imagination. Any little suggestion that there were things in the world beside your little floating prison.

Maybe it is also the contrast of having more people on this boat, it being larger, and the crew all speaking English that makes this feel less isolated, but I still haven't been out of sight of land and other boats are almost always visible. Even when we do leave sight of land, it is unlikely that we will ever be even 200 miles from shore, which is closer than we would start fishing in Hawaii.

This is early, it is still warm. Let's see how I feel about it all as the season wears on.

The Purpose Driven Tripe

I'm back from the provinces, however temporarily. Much to write about and hard to decide where to start, but before I scramble through a backlog of impressions from Alaska and crab fishing, I'm struck by an annoying bit of news that keeps popping up in headlines and irritating the shit out of me (and what is this blog for if not for griping about current events?).

It seems that richard warren is to give the invocation at Obama's inauguration. I suppose that there are more toxic religious figures out there. It could be worse, much worse, but I have to register how much this decision irritates me. Why him? Why did they have that stupid thing at his bloated church before? Because he sells a lot of books? His books are stupid. My mother sent me The Purpose Filled Life back when it first came out and I tried to read it. I wanted to like it is theory, but it just isn't very good. The writing is crap and the ideas are vapid. And he's anything but a biblical scholar. It is just feel good crap for dumb middle class people not quite happy enough with all their excess who want a religious leader to give them a quick fix to feeling better about their lives. I read for a few days (it is a daily devotional guide) and then flipped through looking for anything that suggested it shouldn't be shelved then dropped it. When I admitted to Mom that I thought it was crap, she admitted that she had also found it kind of useless and quit reading after a few days.

I'm not the most religious fellow these days, but I'm pretty fierce about it when I've got to deal with it. I appreciate the desire to find and feel magic and the supernatural in everyday life (and that is exactly what religion at its best is about), but most of these modern bullshit artist peddling god for mass consumption and easy digestion kill all that with their assembly line vacuum packing of the Word. I was a uptight religious nerd in an earlier incarnation and read and poured through the Bible nightly, seeking and analyzing and praying and meditating. And I thankfully made my way out someone intact and avoided the looney bin that would be the likely end point of my trajectory had I gone to these false prophets and snake-oil peddlers instead of straight to the text. And even that would have likely left me mentally crippled had I not had people to challenge the popular interpretations and assumptions and force me to also find the Word scattered as it is through so much other text. All of this is just to say that having invested so much time in this subject matter I'm not inclined to be particularly generous to folks who condescend on it and proceed to talk out of their ass.

People are going on about mr. warren's support for prop 8 and of course that pisses me off. All his idiot blather about "a five-thousand year old definition" and crap about every culture having the same definition of marriage as between one man and one woman... has he even read the Bible? The definition of marriage changes through out the Bible and even if it doesn't endorse same sex relationships (other than David and Jonathan's love for one another), it certainly explicitly endorses polygamous marriages. I'm not so concerned that he is just one more homophobic prick (who, irritatingly says, "I'm not homophobic; be nice to gay people," right after saying vote to make the law say we are lesser citizens), but rather that he just isn't much of a religious leader. He is apparently effective and people seem to eat it up, but what the man may have in organization, he lacks in charisma. Billy Graham is a rock star; even if you disagree with the man, there is no denying that he has that umph. If we've got to have a religious invocation, could we at least have someone dynamic instead of some fat mega-church fool?

Most of religous leaders (at least on the national level) in this country are idiots. And so are most of their followers. Surely though, there is someone else? I suppose it is only fair, this guy gave Obama something of a fair shake and leveraged his visibility into an opportunity to reach out to evangelicals, so I can't say that it doesn't make some kind of sense. But it is still a dissappointment; it is a failure, if not of standards, then certainly of style.