Wednesday, August 01, 2007

you have ZERO friends

I accept an invitation to the latest dubious community widget, this one called I arrive on the site and, as D. points out to me upon his subsequent receipt of my invitation, it tells me "You Have ZERO Friends." Wow. Okay, I take this deficit seriously, I suppose, because this is, after all, a book club. Even better, it is a book club in which one gets all the wine and cheese to herself and can pop off about what a punk Norman Mailer is anytime she wants, off the grid of the calendar. No one even need be in the room. But, the notion goes, if they're a member of the community, they'll hear you on their own time. Well then, yes, yes, sign me up and get me my dog-eared copy of The Executioner's Song!

So. Like any good grade school chain-letter slave, I immediately blast off invitations to a few readerly friends. Several were already members, some with dozens of books, a few time-sinkers with hundreds. When I hear back from A., he informs me we need no such net below us to talk about titles. Well, no. We don't. I could just as easily write or call him (or you, for that matter) directly, e vero. But I've got lots of excuses: I need nicer quills, some good stationary. Phone's not set up at my new place, low minutes on the cell. I'm out of cheese ... and gads, I need more time. But if I can post on boards, can't I email? Indeed, if I can blog, can't I write letters? Or what about an actual date at L'Amyx?

I very recently visited the marble-and-wood, paper-piled offices of a most talented poet, Steven Rood. He plays classical violin, writes proper letters, lives and breathes poetry to the extent that two weeks is a desperate dry spell. I admire him for it. Last night as I was working on a story involving a harried couple and their encounters with the cats at the Hemingway estate, the couple stopped talking to me and I drifted away from them. I thought of Steven's devotion to his work and I fished out (from the boxes of my recent move) my tattered little motto and taped it up on the wall: "There are those who do and those who wouldacouldashoulda." Indeed. But what it do, as the kids say, is the question.

Is recreational blogging such a waste of time after all? We all need to stretch for the races. And the truth is I do find blogging easier than playing the fiddle. Or developing my fiction. Or, especially that be-all, end-all, most sacred act of my life: writing reviews--the real reviews, the ruminations, those deep carbonic excavations. For me, the process of critiquing is scintillatingly comparable to Maggie Gyllenhaal's work with her little blades in Secretary. Feels unbelievably good to strike something below the skin and to see (and feel) all that flows, brighter and richer than the mundane, everyday agonies, yes. But there is only so much that can be cut in a go. And when I contrast formal writing with the lesser efforts, I can't help but return to those chain letters of my elementary school years and defend their utility. For kids, freeplay is an accepted, if frowned-upon, diversion (I'm talking about my own preambles to blogging--chain letters, horoscopes, passed notes, locker graffiti, and what my brother and I used to call "chit chat" when we stayed up past curfew as young kids to make up stories and giggle ourselves to sleep). Light conversation is a necessary counterpoint to our highest form of masochism, the concerted, highly personal derivation of meaning. I dunno. Besides all that, there's a sort of vanity to all these online monkeyshines, as well. Like looking in the mirror before the big date.

But why hang the laundry online? Is that what this blogging around is all about, a matter of opting first for visibility, well above clarity? What is it about hanging a shingle on the web that's so satisfying? Is it a stamped proof of existence? Not really for me, no. That puts too fine a point to it. And even I have my standards in that regard. Take the quicksands of myspace, friendster, hi5, for example.

Myspace is an analog to the experiences I frequently have on holiday. I visit these breathtaking countries (the humbling spectacles, twinkling cornflower-colored cities after sunset, the awe-inspiring views, the mythical woods, the people and their body languages, the histories haunting street corners, all that wonderment at what's foreign). And in every place, it's the same: pods of humans trot to the brink of their photo opportunity, grin with great plasticity, snap the shots, look around appreciatively, and move along. Move along. Move along. That's all myspace is, proof that you've come, you've conquered, and you've moved the hell along, somehow compensated and enriched by (the exhibition of) shared experience. And hayzeus, go to those sites. The comments are an embarrassment to our kind ("I fucking love you, man; that beerbust was the bomb!"), the worst kind of frathouse asshattery. But mayhaps it's just not my venue.

Muriel Ruykeyser suggested that "if there were no poetry on any day in the world, poetry would be invented that day. For there would be an intolerable hunger." When I read S.'s lament for the future of literary criticism as corrupted by bloggers and I return once again to these fundamental concerns about the passage (and expenditure) of my own time, I do feel the old worries about productivity arise. But I find now that I can only really fall back on Ruykeyser's words as a rationale for all this rambling. We hunger not only for the sustenance of our mainstays, but for a few empty calories between meals, too. And regardless of what notes I pass on any given day, wherever the pleasures of chit chat may take me, whether I like it or not, I know for certain that it all brings me back to the same hard work with the same damn motto sitting there in front of me like a timeworn provocation. I know down to the bone, even if I entertain the doubts presented by those I admire most, that a masochist works for life.