david foster wallace, cruising and me
Friday, February 27, 2009
I found the essay dazzling, annoying and frustrating.
It is dazzling in its humor, insight, broad sweep, attention to detail and just plain great writing. I don’t need to heap praise on it—praise has been heaped on it since it first appeared in Harper’s magazine in 1996. I battled all my taunting demons of envy as I read it. Wallace’s death last year, by his own hand, is certainly a loss to letters.
But I also found the essay annoying because as far as I’m concerned, mocking cruises is shooting fish in a barrel—and I use a cliché to describe a cliché. Anthologies could be filled with cruise-mocking essays (hm … not a bad idea). Cruises are for philistines, for white-shoed, shuffleboard-playing, sunburned geriatrics. Hahaha! They’re so OLD! Not old-old, Wallace wrote, “…but like fiftyish people for whom their own mortality is something more than an abstraction. Most of the exposed bodies to be seen all over the daytime Nadir were in various stages of disintegration.”
Yeah, sure, I take that personally but it’s more than that. I also feel a little queasy when writers insert themselves into situations they know they’ll scorn and then give themselves free rein.
The captain of the ship—fair game. (Most cruise ship captains I’ve met were mockable—dinner at the captain’s table is an honor I dread.) The cruise director—fair game and well played, Wallace. Same with the scary hotel manager.
But Wallace’s fellow passengers were people who had saved their money to do something they enjoy and who the hell is he (or any other writer) to stand on deck and take potshots? “There is something inescapably bovine about a herd of American tourists in motion, a certain greedy placidity,” Wallace wrote about observing his fellow passengers from an upper deck as they disembarked.
Well la-di-da. Funny, yes. But nasty.
Granted, I am a little torn. I don’t necessarily disagree with what Wallace wrote, but hipper/younger/smarter-than-thou scorn gives me hives. Wanna get my eyes rolling? Tell me you’re “a traveler, not a tourist.” Uh-huh. Why? Because you take public transportation? Because you don’t wear white shoes?
I note that when Wallace got to know some of his bovine shipmates—specifically the group he dined with each night—he liked them a lot. “…I want to get a description of supper out of the way fast and avoid saying much about them for fear of hurting their feelings by noting any character defects or eccentricities that might seem potentially mean,” he wrote.
As with any bigotry, Wallace could not maintain his negative preconceptions when he became friends with a member of the group he scorned. This was not a faceless bovine group, these were individual human beings. Why did they deserve cheap shots from an on-high observer who, if not being paid, would not choose to participate?
I laughed at his descriptions and then felt guilty.
My final personal issue with Wallace’s essay has nothing to do with the writing or the topic. It is simple and pure career envy. The essay ran 24 pages in Harper’s. Twenty four! It’s full of digressions and his famous long footnotes and navel-gazing and even some repetition of concepts. My god, I can’t imagine having that kind of space to indulge an essay. Every time I submit anything more than 1,000 words, it is either rejected outright or trimmed to its essence. State your case, give an example, and out. No indulgence for color or creativity or experimentation. Nobody has time for that.
I’m no David Foster Wallace, sure. I know that. But to develop writing chops for long-form essay, I would need an editor’s help and no editor I know has the time or inclination.
I feel like a bonsai tree. Every time I try to grow, I am trimmed back until the effort seems futile. And so my writing grows ever more precious. I enjoy writing short but am starting to fear I’m incapable of more.
All that, from an hour of reading...
why you're wrong about facebook
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Want to sound outdated and left behind? Then smirk about how online social networking is only being done by pathetic losers living sad, sad lives in their mothers’ basements.
Stupid. That’s one reason newspapers are circling the drain—they simply refused to acknowledge the coming Internet tsunami and even now, evidently, they don’t quite believe its power. Maybe if they mock it, it will go away.
I don’t know about you, but my Facebook Friends are interesting, vibrant, involved, accomplished people whose lives are not the least bit sad. They just happen enjoy Facebook. And Twitter. In fact, they may be the opposite of sad and cut off because they have embraced new technology and a changing world.
We share mundane details of our lives sometimes. And sometimes we share links to compelling articles. Good jokes and videos. (Emphasis on good, we hope.) Job leads. Sources for stories. Sympathy. Support. Attagirl and attaboys. We comment on current events. We get creative. The 25 Things fad was creative writing. Now an entertaining little game is running through Facebook that involves creating an album cover. (Haven't received it yet? You will.) It's fun, entertaining, and can exercise a little design muscle. Nothing wrong with that.
Here’s a column from the Washington Post about all the Twittering (I’m not wild for the use of “Tweet” in this context—perhaps I’ll change) that was going on in Congress during President Obama’s speech last night. It’s less patronizing but still a little incredulous. People actually DO this stuff? Like, real people?
I don’t say everyone has to do this stuff but … well, to an extent, I do say everyone has to do this stuff, to stay relevant in a changing society. I know people in PR and marketing who have not mastered it yet. Seems to me they are choosing to become obsolete.
At the very least , everyone needs to understand the place, purpose and power of online social networking before deciding to reject it. And if you do reject it, be aware that you are cutting yourself out of a strata of society—and one that’s not as pathetic as you want to believe.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
But I went to my very first Mardi Gras parade on Sunday and it suffered the opposite problem. It was “family friendly.” And you know that can’t be good for Mardi Gras.
I’m guessing that family-friendly distinction is why, although much of Oak Cliff is considered the gayborhood, flamboyance was in very short supply. So was music. Not so much as a high school marching band. The Libertarian float had a pounding disco beat, but it came and went so fast. There was no dancing in the streets of Oak Cliff for this.
With all due respect to the monumental volunteer effort required for any community event, this parade bore no resemblance to the festive debauchery that is synonymous with Mardi Gras. It barely resembled a parade. The highlight for me was a float from a local sports bar, Alley Oops, which managed to misspell its name on its sign. How does such a thing happen?
I watched the parade with friends and we all did our very best to have fun, helped by high-octane margaritas. Here, along with some casual tipsy commentary, is a condensed two-and-a-half dull minutes of what actually took about 30 dull minutes to unfold. But for some reason, the very dullness of the whole thing makes me laugh. Maybe you had to be there, but the beaded cop just about does me in. And the Segways. God help us, the Segways...
What do we learn from this? Perhaps that, like Las Vegas, Mardi Gras is not meant to be family friendly.
another image of spring
I'm also entering this photo of spring flowers, from Ocracoke Island, NC, in the photo contest (I have to post pix on my blog to enter.)
Monday, February 23, 2009
I respond to everyone who writes to me. (Everyone who is not unhinged, that is, and fortunately most of my correspondents seem perfectly lovely.) This time, I urged everyone who wrote to check out Dr. Helgoe’s book, Introvert Power
Maybe other books on introversion are just as good, but this is the book that came my way and changed my life a little bit. Coming to understand introversion better is making a difference for me, and Dr. Helgoe offers not only insight, but also tactics for functioning.
For example, I went to a wonderful party yesterday. I’d been looking forward to it and was happy to go. But I also noticed that halfway through, I started getting that familiar “my brain might explode” feeling that says I’m on introvert overload. For me, this is almost a physical sensation, a sort of mind-ache—which is different from a headache. It’s more pressure than pain. The conversations coming at me start losing meaning and everything takes on a swirling, dizzying look—like the drug scenes in the Movie of the Week version of "Go Ask Alice."
This time, when this started happening, I knew it was simply time to excuse myself from the party crowd and find a place for a few minutes of quiet. (And here’s where smoke breaks come in handy. I started smoking again about a month ago, I am about to stop again. I will miss it.) No guilt, no shame, no self-recrimination—just step away and let my brain smooth out before plunging back into chitchat.
Not that stepping away is always easy or possible. People are very generous and if they spot someone they perceive as lonely, they will often step up and try to ease the loneliness with a little friendly conversation. Had I been able to easily leave the party for a walk around the block, that would have been the best plan, but that would have been difficult. So I grabbed a minute here and a minute there as I could. And just these few minutes helped to me enjoy—really enjoy--this party for hours before I hit the wall completely.
It’s not that I’ve never done such a thing before, but this is the first time I’ve done it consciously, with a plan and purpose. It was a surprisingly powerful moment for me.
And it brings to mind a thought on therapy that I've shared here before. People often mistakenly think that therapy will cure us, will change us profoundly so that our problems cease to exist. But in fact, what therapy does is provide us insights, tools and new maps for navigating our inner and outer worlds. I am not interested in “curing” my introversion, nor would that be possible. But learning to respect it and developing new tools to work with it, as I have other aspects of myself, will make my life three hundred percent easier.
you saw it here first
Friday, February 20, 2009
I wrote about it again for this column in the Dallas Morning News and I've had a wonderful response from grateful introverts. One guy wrote that he and his wife were going to a party this weekend and planned to leave shortly after arriving. Rock on, introvert guy!
We have all been suffering in silence with our nature, taking heat from cocky extroverts. Well, enough is enough. We are going to sit quietly in our rooms and exert our power!
While I'm in shameless self-promotion mode, I recently got my copy of The Best Women's Travel Writing 2009: True Stories from Around the World (Travelers' Tales), in which I have an essay. The editor has contacted me about having some events surrounding the book here in Dallas this spring so stay tuned.
one image of spring
The image has to be focused on the right side, with the left side relatively uncluttered. I am finding that most of my photographs are the opposite--I hang left in my shooting. Kind of frustrating. But this photo has always said "spring" to me. I can practically smell the moist earth.
save the fish
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Tom and I spent last night at the Hotel Palomar, here in Dallas, for a story. On the desk, along with a note pad, the hotel directory, and some snacks, was this poor fishy, trapped in a tiny vase--bored, restless, pleading for freedom with his little fish eyes. Sometimes he would look at the wall, sometimes he would look at the bed, sometimes he would float to the top of the water and with his little fish lips, silently beg for mercy.
We went to sleep, there he was. We woke up, there he was. Nothing to do, nowhere to go. We found it horribly depressing. We should have brought him home, bought him a decent-size tank and some friends.
Poor little fishy.
nothing says "i love you" like an inflatable frog
Labels: Valentine's Day
return of flotsam friday
Friday, February 13, 2009
Anyhoo, it’s been a long time since we’ve had any flotsam so let’s get down.
I got this link from my friend Meryl and sent it on to Ms Krit who said, “It has now been proven that---without any doubt---the devil invented the internet.”
Ms Krit sent me this link to a Dutch catalog. Just watch. Brilliant.
Some Valentine’s Day flotsam:
Tom cooked his favorite food last night, Brussels sprouts, and our house smelled of ‘em all night. For the record, this is not an aphrodisiac. However, these foods evidently are.
If you’re planning a gift of a great experience for your sweetie, be sure you know what you’re doing. Research shows that emotions elicited by experiences, bad or good, “stay with us” longer than those from material purchases. So if the experience goes well (dinner, a trip, that sort of things) you will generate lots of happiness for a long time to come. But if things go badly, you’re gonna wish you went with flowers and chocolate.
Or perhaps a love poem.Here are some tips on writing one.
Did she like the poem? Hard to tell. Maybe you should have played some music while you read it to her.
And now, for your viewing pleasure...
I rarely watch videos that are more than a minute or two long, but this parade of stars from the CBS 50th Anniversary special in 1978 had me mesmerized.
And finally, two kid videos that made me laugh and laugh and laugh. And laugh. You will too. Guaranteed.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
smoldering dillard's man
Sunday, February 8, 2009
the thing about 25 things
Friday, February 6, 2009
Some of us shamelessly embrace this opportunity to reveal little-known facts about ourselves. Others sneer at what this Washington Post writer calls “just another online outbreak of mass self-disclosure and self-importance.”
In this NYT article, editor Telisha Bryan sniffed that she wouldn’t deign to participate.
“ ‘Whatever happened to talking to people face-to-face?” she wrote in an e-mail message. “Since when do we have to give our friends synopses or overviews of our lives? Anyone who wants to know 25 things about me can call me or ask me.’ ”
No, not so much. As another person interviewed from the story pointed out, “I’ve gotten 25 random things notices from people that absolutely fascinated me, but I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t want to be stuck on a bus with them telling me these things.”
Ms. Bryan, the holdout, is the editor of a women’s magazine (a quick Google revealed it to be Cosmo), and the stock-in-trade for women’s mags is TMI and celebrity chatter, so I’m a little confused by her attitude. Why should I consider the details of Jennifer Aniston’s life more relevant than the details of people I actually know? (And yes, I do know the majority of my Facebook friends in some capacity beyond Facebook.)
The NYT writers says, "The idea that real intimacy is achieved by telling 25 people about the first time you saw a horse or the name of your kindergarten boyfriend is, admittedly, worthy of ridicule." But that's so missing the point. Who says this is about intimacy? Totally missing the point, dude. This isn't intimacy, this is entertainment.
People who choose not to participate in things like this do so with a holier-than-you losers attitude, but who cares? I filled out the 25 Random Things and passed it along, and I read other peoples’ and comment on them. Why? Because they’re fun. Lots of fun. They’re fun to write and particularly fun to read.
If I were a smart fiction writer, I would be keeping a file of other people’s 25 Random Things because, you know, you can’t make this stuff up. Each list is full of details that could make a character come alive. (Hm, that would be a cool writing exercise: Take a random 25 Random Things list and invent a character around it.)
I love what my friends choose to write about, love how they choose to write them. Are they one-liners or full paragraphs? Are they boastful or self-deprecating? What do they view as significant moments in their lives, what are they confessing to?
How can anyone find stuff like this uninteresting?
my other blog
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Thank you and good-night
one last on loss
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
The day after my Dad died, I apologized to a friend who lost her mother a few years ago, leaving her without a living parent. I’d tried to be supportive at the time, but I realize now how little I understood. Not really. I understood “sad” and "loss," but not all this. Until it happens to you, the full impact of losing both parents is incomprehensible. Parents anchor us to the earth, they are our most essential touchstone. With them gone, the world tilts off-balance.
My relationship with my parents was fraught and distant. This is a sad fact of my life and I have come to terms with that. My loss does not actually affect my day-to-day or even week-to-week. But my world has profoundly changed.
I’ve heard people say that even as adults, they felt orphaned when their parents died. That is not my experience. Rather, I feel untethered, like a wagon broken loose from the horse. How do I know where I’m going now? Whose approval am I seeking?
And when you lose your parents, your most essential and concrete past slips away, with all its textures and complexities. Your parents are now photos, memories, mementos and whatever you carry of them in within yourself. They become ephemera.
You'll understand when it happens to you. And, very sadly, it will.
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