Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Blog turns 30!

I'm pretty much a novice to keeping an on-line, web-log journal. I've been thinking a lot about the best use I can make of the Unbecoming Normality idea and venue. Part of this means reading a lot of other blogs. Which means spending a lot of time on line. I've read a lot of pages recently, and the truth is, I'm reading via computer more than I'm reading books away from the screen. I've enjoyed a lot of amazing sites, in addition to favorites I've put in the "friends" list, like Jessica Smith, Michael Salinger, Ron Silliman, and Chris Fritton (who got me started on this by emailing an announcement of his new blog):

Shopping at EverythingRon.com is a hilarious site dedicated to the difficulties of using the English language without having fluency. The great thing about his site is that all his examples are advertisements hoping to sell you something. The mistakes being made reveal other grammars, wonderfully unexpected images, and provides news ways to think about my own language, English, especially how funny my own sentences would sound if I were writing in a language I didn't have fluency in. For me, this is every other language on earth (and I don't have such an easy time of it with this one).

I like poetry sites that include poems. I find that I will read an entire online poem if its less than 40-50 lines. Otherwise I seem to get attention deficit issues. So my approach to poetry blogs is a lot like my old television viewing habits--easily bored, always ready to switch channels. I'm not happy about this. It seems I've simply moved from being a couch potato to being a computer potato. Navel Orange is a poetry blog by Jill Chan in New Zealand. She is also the editor of Poetry SZ: Demystifying Mental Illness, a unique on-line magazine. I like Navel Orange because Chan posts new poems almost every other day, and then removes them 2-3 days later. I think this is a good way of having your work read, bringing readers back, and showing the writing process as it takes place. I will be borrowing this idea for poems that I feel should be in-print, or will be gathered for a later collection. Other poems will become part of the blog on their own. Thanks for the inspiration, Jill!

I get a lot of information about poetry and poetry websites from the Poetics List managed by the University at Buffalo and Pennsylvania University. Today I enjoyed finding Ed Galing's moving, direct works at Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene.

I also envision this blog to be a way to respond and reflect on larger, societal issues. I was angered and dismayed by this story in the the local news. A very sad indication of how much more sensitivity and maturity is needed in our world. The local independent newspaper is also encouraging bloggers to join Great Lakes Urban Exchange, which may take up a role here. The site is based on a great idea, and an easy way to read about projects and ideas that will help re-invent our mismanaged urban spaces.

A blog is also a way of expressing oneself. Sometimes it is the latest emotional state that has taken over all our energies, or sometimes the blog can be shaped into the work of art itself, the filtering and transformation of our circumstances into a deliberate (sometimes indecorous) statement.

So lately I've been thinking about just how much my own "way" in the world unfolds like a soap opera, that the little fiction/drama composed in my head out of the circumstances of my day need to be recast into a new genre: COMEDY. Because my life is, really, funnier than I think. My various conflicts, conflicted emotions, and misunderstandings seem so huge when I'm in the middle of them that it seems hard to say STOP, take a deep breath, and put the whole thing into context. Of course, when I've let the day to day circumstances go unattended to, I end up with a big mess, so that I need to stop what I'm doing, untangle all the knotted threads of the day, and let them all resonate together as a big, beautiful chord. And when I'm convinced I'm in a hurry, that time is running out, deadlines are looming, it's very hard to do that.

So, I get a lot of useful information from longer works, and not just quick fix, ill-considered blogging, or deceptively formatted commercial websites--

one theme that keeps coming up lately, are little maxims in other languages that I've taken the time to memorize. I think they work on me because I have to memorize them simply to remember what they mean, phrases demanding greater attention and care to understand because they are unfamiliar or oddly formulated, and can thus draw on them more readily, see them as sonic impressions beyond the easily forgotten cliche or homily. One of these has been mens sana in corpore sano.

A few others I've taken a liking to, found in my recent reading in and about Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, is a quote from Goethe:

suchen ist irren

which means, "to seek is to err". This has become a useful way for me to think about writing, or the longer project of writing as a means to respond to the world, friends and loved ones, the way a "way" is pointed out--because I am so full of the energy to discover new things, to allow myself a degree of drift in my attention (and thus led astray). The search for an open way through life leads us into error, to mistakes, and away from our assumed starting point and any destination we had so thoroughly envisioned. It opens the way to allow beauty into our lives, because the search we are embarked upon has few certainties. Watts called this, in one sense, the wisdom of insecurity.

So I've downloaded and started reading Rosenstock-Huessy's book I Am an Impure Thinker (you can find it here). And here are a few ideas of his that I find really amazing:

"I am an impure thinker. I am hurt, swayed, shaken, elated, disillusioned, shocked, comforted, and I have to transmit my mental experiences lest I die. And although I may die. To write a book is no luxury. It is a means of survival. By writing a book, a man frees his mind of an overwhelming impression. The test for a book is its lack of arbitrariness, the fact that it had to be done in order to clear the road for further life and work." (p. 2)

He is also comparing broad concepts, like Descartes cogito ergo sum, with the older form credo ut intelligam, which he says Descartes wanted to replace. And Rosenstock-Huessy continues with this one: respondeo etsi mutabor, "I respond although I will be changed".

For me that is an important view of being a writer & good friend: one writes to respond to an overwhelming impression, and in doing so, the writing changes, and so does the writer. So much that I do for myself is in some way to resist that change, but the longer I do, it seems the less motivated I am. It has meant my not taking the writing, or any commitment to any project, seriously enough, not letting go enough to embrace the change that awaits me.

And so, since I wanted to present it here, I will include this final notion, which seems to follow from what I've included so far: that we are hardly single, solitary, self-created individuals; that our responses or representations in writing also take part in a social, integrated component of many sources, revealing not just a part of who I am, but some small facet of who we all are (not to be too presumptious); but that, in essence, we're never alone. I was looking (randomly) in Ram Dass and Paul Gorman's How Can I Help? And came to a passage on helplessness:

We go about our lives thinking that helplessness happens to "other people" and this can make us forget our responsibility to others (like visiting a friend or loved one who has fallen ill or become immobile). When we ourselves become helpless, we realize "the price of our conditioning...We've clung to models of ourselves as independent, defining ourselves largely in terms of our power to shape our own destiny. There's been little encouragement to acknowledge and explore our vulnerability." When suddenly we're encountered with our own helplessness, "our ego is adrift...Because our power is so threatened and our ability to control our environment so curtailed, we may explore ways of using our helplessness to gain power. Perhaps we get others to focus on our predicament. Controlling attention is power. Or perhaps we play on people's pity, guilt or sense of duty." The best way through, the book suggests, is to examine and explore this helplessness. In the end, after the free-fall, you discover how you yourself create the conditions of that feeling. If you can go into it, you will gain a better understanding of self, community, and how to better seize positive, life-altering and affirming opportunities. (quotes are from pages 136-139, Knopf, 1985).

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