Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Slouching Toward Today:

Making Something Better or Different

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
William Butler Yeats

In my own country I am in a far-off land
I am strong but have no force or power
I win all yet remain a loser
At break of day I say goodnight
When I lie down I have a great fear
of falling.
Francois Villon

I suppose it's that kind of day, one of those that began last night before sleeping and didn't really end. Dear Thorn in My Flesh was reading my Joan Didion book, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, all comfy on the bed, with the cats keeping him warm and "Law and Order" providing background noise. Then my world tilted a bit for a moment spilling some stuff upon the floor, and now it's today, this afternoon... and I'm thinking about the Joan Didion stuff on the floor and the Hunter Thompson debris that followed. It's not really a terrible mess. I could probably ignore it. But I'm walking around it all, wondering if I should clean it up or tell you about the stain. I suppose that because I'm writing about it means I'm willing to fess up, ask for redemption or at least permission to go on so about the spill. (The photo of Joan above at left I guess to have been taken 35 years ago or so... I wonder at what age we each envision ourselves through time. Joan is a glowing crone now, but I rather like this image of her.)

So another lengthy introduction down, I want to tell you to pick up a copy of Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem, either at Amazon or at your favorite local used bookseller's place. When you get it I want to particularly direct you to two of the essays in the collection. The pieces were published from 1968 forward. Read the title piece, "Slouching Towards Bethlehem", and the last piece, "Goodbye to All That". Joan, the quintessential creative nonfiction writer and essayist of the time, addresses the era from her own personal overlooks in San Francisco and New York City respectively. I particularly want to influence those of our Constant Readers age 30 and under to read those essays, and the whole collection. I could go on with many superlatives about how Joan does what she does, but I'd rather have your take on it. I already know what I think, and why it seems so important to me to read her again now:

"It was not a country in open revolution. It was not an country under enemy siege. It was the United States of America in the cold late spring of 1967, and the market was steady and the G.N.P. high and a great many articulate people seemed to have a sense of high social purpose and it might have been a spring of brave hopes and national promise, but it was not, more and more people had the uneasy apprehension that it was not. All that seemed clear was that at some point we had aborted ourselves and butchered the job, and because nothing else seemed so relevant I decided to go to San Francisco ... I just stayed awhile, and made a few friends."

And the Hunter Thompson? I have to blame that on the dear curmudgeon... I woke up this morning with my mind still blistered from lying next to him while he was rereading Joan. I asked him to tell me what if anything new he had pieced together, and he told me about the great connection between the two essays I mentioned above, and about how it reminded him of things the Doctor had said in his Hell's Angels collection. And about the page he had marked in the paperback edition years ago with a note to page 324 on the front flyleaf. I have the book next to me with the Didion. I've neglected Thompson in recent years, but we read some of it out loud today.

"One afternoon as I sat in the El Abobe and watched an Angel sell a handful of Barbiturate pills to a brace of pimply punks no more than sixteen, I realized that roots of this act were not in any time-honored American myth but right beneath my feet in a new kind of society that is only beginning to take shape. To see the Hell's Angels as caretakers of the old "individualist" tradition "that made this country great" is only a painless way to get around seeing them for what they really are -- not some romantic leftover, but the first wave of a future that nothing in our history has prepared us to cope with. The Angels are prototypes.

I warned you about the mess. But my years on the Happy Planet have taught me that sometimes I have to make a mess before I can see something better, or at least something different. Without looking backward through people like Joan Didion and Hunter Thompson, I don't know how to even begin.

Note: In the future history wikipedia they will call this Kate Storm in her Verbose Period. ;-)