[I like this George Saunders. He’s funny. I recommend his story “Winky” from his book Pastoralia. I’ll try to post it at some point. . .]
I have to admit I’m a little unsure about this whole blogging thing. The whole idea of writing to an unknown and possibly nonexistent audience seems – I don’t know – a little narcissistic. Kind of mentally ill? I mean, it’s very similar to what I do, day in and day out, inside my head. But now here I am, typing it out.
Still, when in Rome, as the saying goes, one must blog, or people will start yanking on your toga and calling you a Luddite, in Italian.
So how about this – I’ll do this in an interview format, in which I ask questions of me. This should work well, as long as the questioner isn’t an idiot.
Q: Hi George! Nice shirt. What are you doing these days, George?
George rolls eyes. Hasn’t this interviewer done any research? Decides to answer as best he can. After all, the questioner was probably born dull, and is just trying to eke out a living in a hostile capitalist environment.
A: Wow, great question. Thanks for asking it. Actually, I’ve recently returned from Africa, where I was traveling with President Bill Clinton as he—
Q: Do you mean Africa the continent?
A: Uh, yes. Yes—
Q: Shaped like a kind of glove-shaped pork chop, kind of?
A: Right. President Clinton was there visiting various projects his Foundation is working on, really remarkable projects that focus on AIDs and malaria and poverty-elimination—
Q: Wasn’t Bill Clinton the President of America?
A: Yes. Yes he was.
Q: I miss him. I wish he was still President.
(A brief silence of mutual nostalgia for 1993)
A: Anyway, to get back to your question – I’m writing about this Africa trip for GQ Magazine. So what I’m doing these days – during these late-summer dog days in Central New York, where I live – is transcribing my notes and interviews and trying to—
Q: Do you mean GQ the magazine?
A: Yes. The Magazine.
Q: I love that magazine. Isn’t that the magazine in which three of the pieces in your new book, “The Braindead Megaphone,” to be published by Riverhead this month, first appeared, and weren’t those—
A: Wait a second. Hold on. I don’t think we’re supposed to be so blatantly self-promotional in these blog postings. You went…you went all bold just then, when you mentioned the book. I think that’s kind of creepy. The idea, as I understand it, is more to try and be more informal and personal—
Q: Well…but isn’t that kind of the whole point of doing a blog? To get the word out on your newest book and try to engage a whole new demographic and move some product and generate some buzz? Isn’t it?
A: Ha ha! So anyway, you know, just typing up my notes and transcribing interviews, and getting ready for the upcoming semester. Very busy. Teaching takes a lot of time –I mean I really love it, but it’s very time-consuming if you do it right, and this semester I’m teaching a graduate course in the Russian short story in translation—
Q: Don’t you teach at Syracuse, one of the finest creative writing programs in the whole entire—
A: Again – not to be a killjoy or anything? But I think the whole self-promotional thingie probably applies here as well.
Q: Wow. Fine. Maybe you just want to go ahead and ask yourself some questions, Mr Modesty.
(Awkward silence, as both parties contemplate the psychological ramifications of this. That is, of someone in the act of self-interrogating refusing to self-interrogate any further, then suggesting that some other part of the larger psyche, ones not so rebellious as the original interrogating part, resume the interrogation).
A: And so anyway…we just got a new puppy. So that takes a lot of time and energy. I’ll be kind of working upstairs, transcribing my Africa notes, and then I’ll hear a yip, and have to race downstairs—
Q: Isn’t your puppy one of the cutest puppies in the world? And intelligent? And remarkably well-behaved? Is that ok? Can I at least promote the puppy?
A: (soldiering on) I’m also…I’ve also been writing a weekly humor column for The Guardian in the U.K., which has been a lot of fun, especially in terms of–
Q: Look, I’m only trying to help. I hope you know that. I’m over there minding my own business, over there in the cerebrum, and all of a sudden you’re all like: Hey, come over here and pretend you’re a separate being and interview me. At first I was like: That’s weird. But then I thought, well, I should probably do my part, I should try to help us get the word out. On us. On you. On…him–
A: I’m just under a lot of pressure lately, what with this African piece, and the semester rushing up, and the new puppy, and all of a sudden someone asks if you want to blog on Amazon, and that seems like a good idea, although–
Q: (Chastened and making a real effort to ask a proper question): So, uh…George: what kinds of things have you been writing about for The Guardian?
A: (Taken aback at Q’s sudden acquiescence): Excellent! Fantastic question. Thanks for asking. Well, I’ve written recently about bad US journalism:
and the special horror of having to listen to the harmonica:
Also, in more general terms, in the wake of my trip to Africa I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking about, you know, global inequity, and the nature of good and evil, and I’ve got a couple of longer pieces of fiction I’m excited about—
A: (Suddenly jolting awake): Oh jeez. What time is it? I have to go clean the garage. We’re having a neighborhood garage sale tomorrow. Did you forget about that?
Q: Oh jeez. What time is it? I have to go out and clean the garage.
Q&A (speaking as one):…We’re having a neighborhood garage sale tomorrow. We almost forgot about that. We’d better get going. This is already an unreasonably long blog posting. So, until next time, hopefully not entirely imaginary Blog Audience!
Q&A rush away from the desk, then seem to remember something and come rushing back as one, I mean, literally as one, two minds joined in one puffy inadequate middle-aged body.
Q&A (speaking as one): Do we, uh, sign off at the end of a Blog Entry? Like, you know “Sincerely yours” or “Blogorifically yours” or something?
Entire Universe (rolling its eyes):
No response. Total silence. The distant roiling music of the spheres. Crickets. Sounds of a distant fire engine.
** * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * **
Apologies for being such an incompetent blogger. Apparently, real bloggers blog every day, and sometimes even several times during the day, whenever anything interesting happens. I will try to do better. I will hope that more interesting things happen to me. I will go out right now and befriend some angry junkies and when they steal all my money I will rob a bank and sail to the Azores, where I will accidentally eat some hallucenogenic mushrooms and go on a big mind-expanding trip.
Whoa. I just did it. It was awesome. I never knew that unicorns could talk, and that, when you married one, you had to polish her horn whenever she asked.
But here I am again, having “come down,” trying to blog. Plus I still have to pay back the bank.
I just now let this document sit here on my computer for three hours and nothing interesting happened. I cleaned the kitchen, had a neurotic internal conversation with someone I used to know, let the puppy outside, resumed my conversation, finished the kitchen, went to the couch, fell asleep, had no dreams, woke up, and came trudging back up the stairs, intent on blogging.
Actually, one interesting thing happened to me this week, or, more truthfully, last week: I read a book called The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation by Drew Westen. I read it in two very long sittings because I couldn’t stop. It deals with the way our brains process political information, and particularly with the need for people on the left to become more honest and direct in the way they talk about things – to stop trying to appease the growing right-wing movement and really say, flat-out, what they believe and why they believe it, directly and fiercely. Westen includes an incredible “here’s-what-he-should-have-said” speech that Al Gore should have made when Bush questioned his character during one of the debates. Really a mind-expanding book, and I finished it affirmed in the idea that this whole left-right thing is tearing the country up, by denying a great central area of commonality the so-called left and so-called right share. And why? Well, follow the money, I guess: who benefits from us believing we are either Liberal or Conservative and never the twain shall meet? Why, the Paid Pontificators, that’s who, the Crap-Stirrers-for-Hire. Every conservative has an inner liberal and ever liberal has an inner conservative, which is a hopeful thing: on that basis, we should be able to talk. Also, because I just figured out how to insert those little pictures of products, let me make one more suggestion: the most moving piece of music I’ve heard in the last ten years. It’s On the Transmigration of Souls,” by the great American composer John Adams — a post 9/11 piece that somehow manages to be both dirgelike and a celebration. I recommend it, but not if you have anywhere you have to go and not have red eyes from crying.
Here, blogwise, I begin to stall out.
As I see it, the real problem with blogging, or at least with me blogging, is as follows:
(1) Presumably I have been asked to blog because of the short stories I’ve written;
(2) Those stories took hundred of drafts;
(3) Blogging does not allow for hundreds of drafts, unless one blogs once every six months;
(4) Ergo, whatever I write here will be underwritten, i.e., will be less interesting than what I “really” write.
(5) So what gives?
(6) The central premise of the title essay in my new book, The Braindead Megaphone, is this: Our cultural discourse is being dumbed-down by mass-media prose that is written too quickly, and therefore fails to due justice to the complexity of the world. On the other hand, prose that is revised and that the writer lives with awhile can go deeper and deeper and become more nuanced and truthful. This doesn’t happen for me in one or two or even five drafts. At the one-level draft, I don’t feel I really have much to offer. I am just: Guy, Typing.
(7) In addition, we’re being dumbed-down by people who, though claiming to be objective and curious and truth-seeking, are actually pushing a (political/corporate/financial) agenda.
(7) Am I writing with an agenda? Well, sort of. I am writing in connection with the publication of my new book, touted above, in item (6). Ergo, am I not, in effect, violating the terms of my own essay? Shouldn’t I, if I have any integrity, simply cease-and-desist right now? I mean like right—