Saturday, June 9, 2012

Random Gravelly Thoughts

1.  On Memorial Day, sitting on a gravel bar off Troublesome Creek a tributary to the Chulitna River fed by the melting snows of the Alaska Range, reading a book set in London and written by a fellow native Midwesterner, pausing to look up at the sky and think about my father.

2.  Comic Books reviewed in the NYTBR, science fiction in the NYer. A good essay on genre fiction, also in the New Yorker by Arthur Krystal and an even better commentary on both by Lev Grossman here:
Regarding genre: does knowing a work's genre affect our judgment of how good it is?  Uh, yeah, but not necessarily in a good way.
When Phaedrus asked Socrates “Do we need anyone to tell us what is good?” (Muchly paraphrased here by me), I think it was a rhetorical question, that the good should be obvious.  But, clearly, what is good is not obvious.
When I taught an undergrad creative writing course last spring, the students—hard-working and highly-motivated—would have rather written fantasy, which is what they have read.
“Serious literary fiction” sounds pretentious, but that’s where my heart is.

3. On our bike commute, if we do it as a circuit, we cover about thirty miles and stay mostly in an urban wilderness that passes four lakes and the Cook Inlet.  It’s a remarkable ride, yet part of our daily bread.  On a single day: a large trout breaks the surface of Taku Lake, and we fly by three moose and a porcupine.  I promise to not ever take this for granted.

4.   I am reading three books at once.  No, that can’t be right: I am reading one book at a time and simultaneously there are two others that I stopped reading for whatever reasons but have not abandoned.  The threesome is:  Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry, Lance Armstrong (with Sally Jenkins) It’s Not About the Bike, and Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84.
I make no apologies for the Armstrong—it’s an amazing story.  And, I didn’t start riding so much because of Lance or my own surviving of cancer (knock on wood, throw some salt over shoulder) but because my hips no longer tolerate running.
Niffenegger says, in an interview: “I don’t believe in electronic books.”  It’s nice to acquire the stature to be able to draw that line in the sand.  Most of us won’t be afforded this luxury.  I never read The Time Traveller’s Wife, but I like this book.
I have never read a Murakami book I didn’t love.

5.  Yesterday I passed four moose on my morning bike ride on Kincaid Coastal Trail.  Also, driving down to Homer I passed four more moose.  The difference between passing a moose on your bike and seeing one from your car is roughly equivalent to the difference between seeing a moose from your car and seeing one on television.  My pal Sweeney, who is camped out for the summer in some undisclosed location down here near Homer, encountered two bears yesterday on his bike commute.

6.  Driving down to Homer I heard this amazing NPR radio program about the attraction Europeans have for the city of my birth (59 years ago, exactly), Detroit:
This line stuck in my head: “Some other people say that it’s exactly what the future looks like everywhere.”  
Toqueville called Detroit “the utmost end of European civilization.”  There’s not much Euro left but for the tourists.
When I got to Homer, also an end of the road locale, I heard a talk by Barry Lopez, in which he asserted that very soon, all people will be sharing the same fate.  He wasn’t talking about death, the obvious shared fate (which we expertly deny). He was talking, though, about a near apocalypse, our degraded environment, the unlikelihood of the ability of our species to sustain ourselves, and the coming, related economic collapse.  At least that is what I assume he was talking about.  He never used the words apocalypse, environment, nor even sustainablity.  I thank the heavens for that, as those words are practically meaningless from overuse.  What he was really talking about was the role of art in warding off the coming storm.  In this way, he was very much echoing Faulkner’s 1953 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, when the holocaust was assumed to be nuclear and Faulkner staked out art’s role as an almost literal pillar of society. 

Faulkner believed we will prevail, but, I think Lopez believes we will be lucky to merely endure.
Lopez is worried, but so am I.  I worry that this stance amounts to the same thing as a diversion, the band plays on while the Titanic lists and begins its watery slide.

7.  Last week I wrote three sentences.  I mean real writing.  At least (I don’t mind saying this) they are very good sentences.  However, this also will work to explain the trajectory of my writing career, such as it is.

8.  Finally, Ray Bradbury left us this week.  In life he well knew that he was immortal.  I hope he believed it with his last thought.  Bradbury was brilliant, energetic, and generous.  We will miss him.

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