Books

Coming in and going away

End of the book

I wonder if I simply stopped reading magazines, watching TV news, and reading anything on the Internet, if my mood would improve and I might find the world I live in to be a jolly old place?

I wonder if I did not leave my flat — and a very nice and comfortable place it indeed is — would I smile more and feel good about the world in which I live?

You know why it did not bother me to watch more than 18 months of pretty good writing and really fine commenting go poof (and who says what’s on the Internet never disappears?) when I cancelled the contract for the blog that preceded this one? Because it didn’t mean anything, because it was nothing more than a cracking struggle to sustain a world that no longer exists. It was pissing into the wind.

There is nothing at all wrong with the world being created by and to be lived in by the young. I was young and I helped to create the world of my time and place. This is the most obliviously repetitive process known to life. A generation arises as the other passes away. I had my time to come and now I have my time to pass. I crave nothing less than eternal continuance, and short of that … I might as well drift back into the dust of my ancestors, as you and we all must do.

No, this is not a suicide note.  I relish life and think ending it before the last gasping moment is the most wasteful act a human being can perform. I will far from go gentle … .  This is not about that, this is about this:

I have spent my adult life working as a writer. I’ve done many other things, but in and among all that, I wrote stories, everyday I worked on writing stories. I don’t know why this is how I decided to spend my time, and frankly, I don’t care. I don’t need reasons. It’s just what I did. What I do still. In about a week, I will be 65 years old; I have been a writer (or known that I was a writer) for 50 of those years, and an author for 30 of those years. Living as a writer was to be living in the exact world I wanted.

The exact world that does not exist any longer. It was good while it lasted.

I do not doubt that the world of the writer I spent 50 years a part of is a dying world, daily being replaced by a new version, a new world, and I don’t belong in it and I don’t want to be a part of it.

In my writer’s world, books and the people who wrote them were something apart from mere product. Art? In a way, I suppose, but I feel squeamish about my association with that word. This is patently not true anymore. Books are like pizzas, the writers of books are pizza cooks. Or books are like billboards and writers are sign painters. Books are do-dads and writers are do-dad manufacturers. There is nothing important about a book other than how many of them can be sold. There is nothing about a book that has value beyond simple accountancy.

These days, all things considered, I’d just as soon carve chairs. At least I could sit on one.

I could sit on a short stack of my seven books, but it would hurt my knees to get up.

This has nothing to do with writing or not writing. Writing for a writer is like breathing to a mammal. This is about the book and the publishing of them. Book publishers are committing mass suicide and it’s not a pretty thing to watch; at least a pilgrim taking a swan dive off the Golden Gate bridge can be pretty to watch, until the end anyway. But the death of publishing is ugly, ugly, ugly. It sickens me. I don’t want to keep looking at it. I want it go shut the door and die in the dark.

There will be something else, some other version of story-telling, some other way of publishing stories; it is evolving at this very moment. This is the world the young, and those of you not embedded in the old world, are going to inherit, and you will believe it is the best of all possible worlds, as you should. I will think it is aborted art, as I am condemned to.

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6 replies »

  1. Those who are about my age (mid-30s) have, by and large, some linger ambivalent feelings about the oncoming onrushing world you refer to, Don. At least I do. I can sort of see both sides – I love my Kindle and Thomas Hardy, if that makes sense.

    But young folks just a few years younger than me will have no such ambivalence. They have spent their entire lives wired. They are the ones who will drive this thing straight to wherever it is going. I wouldn’t even begin to like predicting what that will look like.

    In theory, the internet provides a democratic opportunity for anyone to deliver, and read, writing that is more than mere corporate profit. In reality, it i almost always, as you say, pissing in the wind. I’m not sure what to do with that disconnect. But I feel confident that someone will, if they haven’t already.

    And writing (or “content,” as it is being called) will go on. What is at stake is how the content will be delivered, who (if anyone) will read, and who will be chose (and how) to deliver it. I confess to only a marginal interest in such matters. Somewhat less interest that I have in college football and somewhat more than any TV show.

    What I can do is continue to write, and continue to put my stuff out there in as intelligent a way as possible (which is why it would probably behoove me to take a greater interest in the matters mentioned in the above paragraph), and hope for readers, and continue to write. In that order.

    Thanks for the post, Don. I like to think that in a number of years I’ll be making one like it, in whatever currently unimaginable format such things happen in by then.

    • Yes, I think that people who have been on the planet for more than 40 years have memories, and the knowledge linked to experiences, that are mostly alien to people who have been on the planet less; mid-30s, halfway to 70, seems to be the cusp of this change, one foot on both sides of the fence (which leaves your personals in a precarious state). I don’t know that it might not be worse for them (you). You know what it used to be, but you don’t know yet what it’s becoming. Kids know what it’s becoming because it’s what they are making. You (and your halfway to 70 kind) see what is slipping from your grasp, and the coming is still too far away for you to reach. I think that would be worse. I had a fine life for a very long time as an author. I know exactly what is disappearing, but I also have the memories of how fine it was.

      The Internet is many things in theory. In reality, it is a game-changer, a world-rearranger, with more impact than harnessing the atom for weapons. As a basic and essential tool, it is incomparable — being able to do research in a world of libraries and knowledge bases from one’s room, chief among those wondrous tools. I do not believe that most of the rest of what it offers will make the world a better place. Like nuclear power, there are some good things about it, and it also has the potential to destroy the world as we know it.

      “Content.” “Product.” “Units.” Books are pizzas, or shoes, or do-dads. This is recent. It wasn’t this way until maybe the last decade, and for the publishing “industry” to think of books this way and to treat books this way is the tool of their own demise. This is the way movie people referred to writing and writers, but it was not the way book publishers thought of books. Now they do. Books are just another movie. Or a pizza. The people who write books? In “Hollywood,” they were called “talent.” In contemporary publishing, they are more or less the necessary evil required to cook the pizzas.

      I suppose you will one day have something like this to say; such is the cycle of life. But what you will have to bemoan is absolutely unfathomable to me.

      Thanks for your visit and your time commenting, Court.

  2. One of your most strident posts ever.

    It’s a bad time to be a writer because one is in the midst of a change cycle. It’s a great time to be a writer because one is in the midst of a change cycle. Who knows? Both are right, I’m certain.

    What we’re witnessing is less a change in business models and more a change in consciousness, I think. Are there less readers in the world? I don’t know. I do know there are more screen watchers. It’s not possible to imagine what consciousness can or will be because it’s a thing we never escape. Changes are occurring now that we can’t see because we’re always within the ambitus of own altering limits. To lament the fact that it’s changing is beneficial for nostalgia addictions, but that’s it.

    It used to be orators that sustained the culture, then poets, then novelists, and now what? Movie directors? Maybe.

    Novels still fundamentally alter people, but people are changing and thus the novel, if it is to survive, must change as well. There is one fundamental aspect amongst all modes of art that remains absolutely unshakable and that’s telling a story. If one tells a story, one is never out of touch, out of culture, or out-moded. If one can create tension and prod curiosity, then one’s work will never be dated.

    There may come a time when humanity has been so altered by its own constructs that stories no longer matter, that we are not compelled by our want to know or our love of conflict, but we are not there yet. We may be headed there. Soundbites, flash fiction, swift, sudden, and ill-thought emotional reaction appear to be gaining ground on realized narratives, allusion, thematic thrust and believable characters. What we now think to be the limits of believable emotional reaction would seem wildly out of place to someone a hundred years ago, fifty years ago.

    I try not to think of what we’re losing. It’s hard though. Apocalypse abounds. Everything is torn down, but it is also built anew, built strangely, but new.

    Consumerism is the death of the art which we have known, yes, but it is not the death of art. Go to any modern art museum. Art can not die because the definition is elastic enough to survive even the cruelest stretching.

    • You always put it well, Brad, and after all the time we’ve been following one another’s work, I have come to recognize Brad Green writing immediately. And yes, it is a good thing to have a distinct and recognizable style.

      On this matter, I think my feelings about the writer’s world and publishing and book reading and all these things in which we share an interest could be clarified by this analogy: It’s like school. I was in school for a very long time, through the 12 years to get to college, through the 4 years of college, and tacking on 4 more for graduate school. Now I’m finished with all that, and I am content to have it behind me. There were often good times in those days, and my memories of university life are fond. I look upon students these days going through that process with some nostalgia and occasional wistful longing. But do I want to go through it again? Not at all. It’s over and I am in some other phase of life.

      My life and world as a writer and an author parallels that.

      When you reach your 65th birthday, Brad (and Court and Rose, and my other occasional readers), you can write shit like this, too. Until then, enjoy what you have, enjoy every bleeding second of your glorious life. That is exactly what I did and what I am still doing.

  3. No, Rose, it does not sound pretentious. It sounds true.

    I like the image of my old blog as a mandela. I wiped it away without regard, as are all things.

    I wish there was your picture here instead of the paisley icon, but I don’t know how that’s done. Court might. He has used this WordPress longer.

    See my new post about having conversations, which I think is how we make pissing in the wind, since we do it anyway, something wonderfully useless and thus truly valuable.

  4. To get rid of the paisley thing you have to get a wordpress account and then upload a picture. I don’t think you have to start a blog although I don’t know. WordPress and Google are not synced to each other, in a stupid example of web territory pissings.

    Donigan, I’m going to go up and read & comment on your above 2 posts but at the moment the scioness is demanding I come finish eating granola with her so in my ongoing quest for some independence from the networked world, I’m going to go do that. I’ll be back later today … stay well.