Sunday, November 26, 2017

Famous Men, Travel, Paradox, and Miscellany

My friend Ravyn told me in September that she was impressed by my ability to hold two contradictory ideas in the same hand. She called it a capacity for paradox. She also said that she thought I had not yet fully explored the power of two yet. I agree with her, inasmuch as my intellectual strength seems to come from threes instead of twos. Right now. I'm not sure about later.

This capacity for paradox is what powers an essay of mine published this week in the Offing: "Famous Men I Have Been Asked to Forgive (Abridged)". It's also what powered the original version of the essay, "Everything I Think About Woody Allen", which I threw out completely in order to write the new one. The original was more of a cinema-focused piece, more experimental, more specifically about Allen and his films than about the wearying topic of Bad Men. In between the time I submitted the original and the Offing said "sure, but can you revise it?", and now, the field of Bad Men and their deeds got wider and deeper than anyone could have imagined. So then I wrote what you see.

The revision used to open with a short discussion of Madonna, and how my father's judgment on her made me ask questions very early on about the relationship of artists to their art. I think the kind, gentle, responsive Offing editors were right to ask me to remove this, but I'm pretty sure it's going to appear somewhere else. It's illustrative.

Paradox seems to drive all my recent work. It's difficult enough to live in that I've been writing mostly book reviews lately, instead. But, for instance, an essay I'm working on (slowly, agonizingly) examines a photograph that could depict any GI, from any time period with war, but also has very specific time and place markers because of the clothes of the non-military people in it. Picking that apart is harder than considering what an author is up to in a novel or a memoir.

I write this at the tail end of a two-week trip that took me to the east coast of the US and then all around the UK, from Scotland to Wales to London. Many people have oohed and aahed over this trip when I explained it, but I've had about 50% of a good time. For the first part I was dogged by migraines, which spoiled a lot of people's fun aside from just mine, and then we had a terrible time with our travel arrangements from the US to the UK.

After that - it may surprise you to learn that November in Scotland is quite cold and wet, and that doesn't suit my disposition very well. Then we had a lot of time on trains in the week that followed, and I did not know until we were in the thick of it that Matt does not consider it fun to sit on a train for a good part of the day. (I do.) But doing so was integral to our vacation. So I felt guilty and he felt anxious and we were tired as dogs from all the trouble before we left Scotland and I had the same experience I always have when I leave home on trips that are not road trips: this is not worth the trouble it took to get here.

Until we got to Portmeirion. Which was magical. Profoundly so.

I took this picture. Click to embiggen. 

It was worth the trouble it took to get there. But - and although I am not conscious of prejudice on my part regarding this statement, there are all kinds of factors that could make me mistaken about it, such as the season or the way we came across or some other variety of cultural disjoint - the Welsh are not a very friendly people. They had this way of saying "no problem" that made it sound like "I hate you" again and again. They didn't laugh at Matt's jokes and they didn't return my smiles, and when we tried to help them with our baggage or dishes or whatnot, to smooth the way, we were treated like children trying to use the stove. No no no. Let me get that. You silly idiot. We could not figure out how to make them not hate us.

EVEN SO, Portmeirion is the second best place I've ever been (after Chautauqua, the place we chose to get married in), and I want very much to go back sometime. Maybe they'll be in better moods in the spring?

I hoped to get a lot of writing done on this trip and I did not. The countryside through which our trains cut so beautifully was too interesting, and our plans left us too little idle time that was not spent sleeping or just recovering. There's still an 11-hour plane ride ahead, but I find it very hard to concentrate on planes. On this trip, I wrote one book review, completed edits on the Offing piece, read a few books, and pitched a couple of reviews, but I'd hoped to write my next Medium piece and two more reviews as well as working on essays and the novel. Oh, well. December will be calmer, I think.

Of late my thoughts have been running too often to uninteresting topics (my weight, my wallet), and I don't always know what to say here. My work has appeared in a lot of places that make me happy and proud, but my newsletter is the self-promotion place, not this blog. I am reading interesting books and talking to interesting people, and some private things are difficult for me right now. None of that can really be communicated here. I don't know how to talk about what I'm doing without giving away what's coming next, and I don't know how to talk about what I'm feeling without being dull or hurtful. What I'm thinking keeps going into the work.

A consequence of finding publication and gaining momentum as a writer is that my thoughts don't have to go to a ground wire. They can go right to the third rail, to power the work. That's good, but it leaves this space empty.

What do you think? What would you like to see me write about here?

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