Nonnegotiable Time

Neko Case, a the vocalist in cult band “The New Pornographers,” is one of one hundred artists, entrepreneurs and writers interviewed for “In the Company of Women,” a surprisingly unsappy coffee table book. 

Pictured above is what she had to say about time and making it to make art. I agree. 

Digital Chips

During a dinner where cellphones made an unwelcome appearance, a good friend recommended Dave Egger’s “The Circle.” It’s a 1989-type cautionary tale about Big Internet set in a mirror version of San Francisco. 

The quote above sums it up, although the characters and plot make it worth a beach read. And, it’s no doubt good to be reminded that social media feeds an emptiness that can only be filled by real human interactions, ocurring without the constant need to affirm their occurence. Does everyone on the known universe really need to know we had a taco for lunch? Does telling the world make the taco better? Or does the telling just distract from the actual, real, delicious, ephemeral taco? 

There is a deep contradiction in an indivualistic, progress-driven culture that at the same time is consumed by social media, which is built on caring what the other thinks.  Eventually this contradiction drives an inner wedge. 

One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from the always cheerful Sartre: “L’infer, c’est l’autre.” “Hell is the Other.” To live as individuals swayed by what the Other likes or hearts or stars is no life, because, of course, there is no Other. There is the One, multi-manifested in six billion human minds and hearts. 

The emptiness of virtual interactions comes from the illusion they give of real connection between apparently separate individuals. But true connection is derived from realizing there is no separate. 

In any event, “The Circle” will be a movie so we can all tweet our thoughts. 

Steinbeck Uni

As with sea urchin, it is tempting to lap up good books in an unsighly way: devouring page after page, mouthfuls at a time, no napkin to dab. 

But, as with sea urchin, it is also hard not to stop and savor a really good book right before you gulp it whole. 

To pause at its greatness, it’s complexity, it’s slimy, mucous texture and refined, unapologetic taste. 

The morcel above left me stunned for a few hours this afternoon, unable to read more; it sent me back to normal life with secret knowledge inside. 

And as with sea urchin, good books beckon you back. So, here I am, ready to smack my lips with more. 

Post Partum

For months I’ve considered embarking on my third book of poems. And for months I have not. 

I finally know why: the emptiness that “one feels when one has finished a piece of work that was important to one.”

This is not a small emptiness; it is a big one. Sure, one can decide to promote the hell out of the book and keep it alive. But book parties and book planning are not the same as book writing. They are the opposite, rather, the antithesis. 

What I enjoy is the book writing. But book writing is a self-eliminating process. The more you write a book, the closer you are to finishing it. And once there are no more words to sculpt, the book is gone. 

At first the emptiness was bigger. What Herman Hesse writes in his book, “Narcissus and Goldmund” is true. The emptiness passes, is passing. Perhaps it is time for another bellyful of book. 

Life as List

“The Time when Bookstores Went Out of Business” is a label that fits the first few decades of this century. I’ve encountered more closing book shops than I care to count. Yet, as dispiriting as it is to do so, treasures can be found amidst the fallout.

Liberty Books on Clematis in West Palm Beach went out of business this past March, after faithfully serving the haphazard public on that haphazard street for many years.

Days before it closed, I entered its doomed space and purchased a few children’s books and George Perec’s “An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris.” Perec, an established novelist writing in 1975, sets out to descriptively exhaust a single spot in the French capital without the use of narrative, history, metaphor, as he puts forth in the introduction:

“My intention in the pages that follow was to describe the rest instead: that which is not taken note of, that which is not noticed, that which has no importance: what happens when nothing happens other than the weather, people, cars, and clouds.”

The short book is structured as a list of random, apparently disconnected events that happen at place Saint Suplice over a period of three days. Coffee, buses, church goings, church comings. Perec tells no story. But, precisely because there is no narrative, no point, the narrator becomes all important. What goes into the book is what he sucks out from the scenes about him. The Place Saint Suplice of three days in 1975 exists today because of Perec, the collector who itemizes its images.

A mere fifty pages in, Perec realizes that no place can become “exhausted,” only the observer. Nothing changes when everything changes. Cake boxes. Strollers. Rain. Without added meaning, life is a list that is ordered according to time, to the weather, to the writer and his way. Once Perec realizes this, the exercise is complete:

It is the mind of the viewer/writer/viewer that summons meaning from the procession of life.

The mind is the oyster is the world. Perec presents this and invites the reader to suck the oyster whole, be present to the taste of the texture that surrounds. In a few, few days, everything contained.

The buses, the Citroens, the Cambembert. The kids, the clouds, the suddenness of crowd. A quote:

“A bus, empty

Some Japanese, in another bus

The 86 goes to Saint-Germain des Pres

Braun art reproductions

Lull (lassitude?)

Pause.”

Japanese on a bus. Lull. Lassitude. Wherever you go, there you are. On Clematis Street, anther bookstore closed. Pause? Lassitude.

O, the list goes on.