Tuesday, November 15, 2011

So I've been trying to write a new post all morning, but blogger wouldn't let me. It's pretty harsh when your own blog doesn't want you blogging anymore. I was closing in on a strange sort of despair when, probably the ninth time I'd gone back and tried to open a new post, my eye finally fell upon the notice in the menu bar suggesting I try the new blogger interface. It wasn't until that moment that it occurred to me that blogger is a Google product, as is gmail, which recently launched a new interface that, as promised, is not optional. Neither is it particularly appealing. Function means more to me than form, but still, if you're going to get a hard-on about rolling out your new facelift, try to make it look like something that wasn't designed by developmentally challenged second graders. Those who would point out that my blog is pretty spare in appearance, I'd say this: I don't pretend to be a designer, nor do I want to be one. I just write. I'm willing to bet Google paid some design firm a fair chunk of change to drape their sites in the emperor's new clothes, and if I'm right, they got fleeced hard.

Before I get down to it, I want to point out the link in the upper right corner of the blog: it connects you to The Nervous Breakdown, an arts & culture website featuring work by some of the smartest, funniest, most insightful people you'll encounter anywhere. If you enjoy my writing, you'll absolutely love TNB. They've published two of my essays in the last couple weeks, and with any luck I'll be contributing regularly. Check them out, and if you're a real trooper, join their book club -- it's an outstanding deal, and it supports some truly vibrant and meaningful writing. Feel free to email me if you have questions.

Thanks very much to all who have commented on my last post. That one was special to me in a few ways, but mostly because it surprised me by going someplace I didn't expect. I was, as I mentioned, in a funk I hadn't been able to shake, and as I cracked my first Rolling Rock pounder Saturday evening, out of nowhere I remembered the image of the sign behind the bar in Seattle: "Attitude Adjustment Hour." From that image I started coaxing recollections of the days and weeks and months that surrounded that evening sitting in a bar in a far-away city with my girlfriend's dad twenty years ago, and bits and pieces I hadn't thought about in years surged back to me like the benign remnants of a capsized cruise ship washing ashore, hats and shoes and deck chairs and umbrellas, only faintly hinting at some distant tragedy now that they've been separated from the wreck itself (as well as the casualties). There I was, just sitting in the Bear Cave trying to adjust my own attitude, and all of a sudden I found myself thinking about a lovely pixie, three electricians from Texas, a closet full of handguns, and the flaws and joys of a relationship that at one time meant the world to me. You don't need any more than that to tell a story.

Kierkegaard said, "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." Yeah, no shit, Soren. Actually, I've always been partial to the way Milan Kundera put it in The Unbearable Lightness of Being: "We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come." Life is a complicated, backwards affair. The events that have the most profound effects on us do so most often in hindsight: whether we act or react or sit silently still, the play goes on, and as time accumulates behind us we find ourselves sitting in the balcony gazing down upon those remembered scenes being reenacted by perfect replicas of ourselves and, removed now from the stage, we notice details downstage, off center, that eluded us in the living of those moments. We remember a sign in a bar, and from that brief detail we hear a wistful admonition for what it was, we see strangers become generous neighbors, we smell gun oil, we remember unfair fights, and the threads of bad choices made for good reasons become clear and compelling and forgivable.

It's reasonable to say this contributes to my inclination toward storytelling. I hear it in my voice, hear it in the voice in my head when I'm writing: an implied sense of perpetual wonder. How and why lead to exactly when was that and where was I and who else was there. I'm constantly searching for something in those scenes from my life. I'd like to tell you I'm trying to make sense out of all of it because I believe that will help me do a better job tomorrow or the next day, but that would be a lie. What I'm really looking for are those wooden boxes hidden in the closet, the ones containing my long-ago neighbors' pistols. I'm looking for those guns because that's where the story is. If we don't buy that ridiculous couch, there's no story. If we don't move to Seattle together, break up, reconcile, love each other but disagree constantly, no story. If I don't hide the guns in the closet, no story. If I don't find my way to that particular bar and choose a seat that affords me a view of the sign hanging over the bartender's head, I don't sit up straight almost twenty years later in the Bear Cave and realize what I need is an Attitude Adjustment. I could have gone twenty more years without looking in that closet. Except that Saturday I needed an Attitude Adjustment. And from that I have a story. See how easy it is?

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