Writing

Follow Your Obsessions

kafka
The harsh reality is that we sell out, thinking we must drop our integrity, our visions, our chaotic dreams. In this digital age, it’s nearly impossible to hold on to your own visions, nearly impossible not to conform to logic’s pressure and a culture of rational materialism.  The financialization and commodification of everything has made us all desperate whores in a highly competitive market. Go lock yourself away in a dim and quiet space and, like a flock of caged birds, set free your obsessions across the page.

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Writing

Writing the Low-Fi Life

lowfi life

Who was it, Proust? who said, Make the strange familiar and the familiar strange. Personally, I like to write about strange-yet -familiar low-fi memories. You know, those everyday events that we all tend to gloss over. They have no monetary value and they don’t lay claim to fame or glamor. I want to write (and read) what is usually passed off as boring and somehow turn it into magic. I’m not talking “abracadabra” magic a la Harry Potter. I’m talking about capturing all that truly strange stuff about life, about being human, to really focus on that magic, on those things we all recognize but write about them with a new spotlight.

It’s good to know, despite the much-debated demise of the novel and our disappearance into the monetizing and digitizing of everything, that there are sane and solid things about life that never go out of style, regardless of era, trend, culture, or political landscape. One of those things is that life is about suffering, another is the study of the human heart with all its facets. It includes a strong sense of geographical place (as opposed to the nowhere of online), and how short and precious our lives really are.

I’m trying to recall which novels/stories I’ve read that stuck with me and why. I’m trying to remember why I’m more interested in the lives of desperate people who are quietly at the end of their rope in a society that forces you to pretend that everything is all right. In a society where everyone is an individual and no one helps those who are suffering in some way. What is it about certain works that touch my brain and heart as well as my gut?

Right now I’m reading (among other things) Sam Shepard’s Motel Chronicles (1982), a collection of vignettes that capture the gritty life and boyhood memories of an actor as he moves around the Southwest. He elevates these vignettes to a metaphysical level. Each is one, maybe two or three pages long with a date and location they were written added at the end. They are in no chronological order. They begin with Shepard as a small child, wrapped in a blanket and carried by his mother among giant cement dinosaurs while she sang to him. Another blogger contextualized the book like this:

T[he] pattern seems — at least in Sam’s case — connected to the West, the post-WWII West in its transition out of trauma into at least the semblance of progress.  In those days, before motels became corporation franchises on interstate highways, they were often little shoestring operations, then became backwater businesses that dabbled in prostitution, and now — at least in Portland — are converted to subsidized housing.  In those days, just before the motels (“motor hotels”) there were still wooden small town hotels, and then, in cities, slightly more fireproof SRO refuges for solitary old people. {source}

Here’s another example. I spent a large part of my childhood in a car with my mother driving up and down Interstate 5 between Los Angeles and Bakersfield before the old road got replaced by the super-highway. The heat, the smell of truck brakes, stopping along the road for sodas and a pee, the desolation that rolled past for miles. But most of all there were those roofless concrete houses banked with tumbleweeds, the wind whistling through the empty window  holes, one of the most mournful sounds I’ve ever heard. Those houses are long gone, now, but they’re still there somewhere inside my memory, and they haunt me and I want to know why. So I write about it.

Or this: I spent the night in the Austin City Jail once. The first and last time I was ever in any jail. I confess I subconsciously got myself arrested because I wanted to know the experience first-hand of being on the inside. I wanted to know it up close and personal. I wouldn’t suggest anyone ever get arrested just so you can write about it, however. It was probably the second most harrowing experience in my life: I got a taste of what it was to have no freedom and as a bonus, I found out a lot about myself, like I’m intensely claustrophobic and also a little privileged, since I wasn’t one of those people at the end of their rope like those who shared my cell block. And if you’ve never lost your freedom, you can only know about it intellectually, not in your gut.

Instead of going for the big splash stories that scream movie rights with CGI and thrills, where characters die like props and we know nothing about the “bad guys,” I still love the quiet low-life stories because they remind me that I can’t escape their long reach down into my own life.

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