CNN’s Jake Tapper Telling the Truth about Ferguson
"What is this? This doesn’t make any sense."
Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery Blu-ray — FULL TRAILER
This looks like a dream come true.
And so we find ourselves once more visiting the quaint, upstate New York town of Union Grove, as the Christmas season gets underway. Since A History of the Future is the third novel in James Howard Kunstler’s A World Made by Hand series, there are no plastic Santas, electric Christmas lights or endless airings of It’s A Wonderful Life on everyone’s TV. No one will be glued to the tube to watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve, because the other shoe dropped years ago, when we ran out of cheap oil, the world was beset with wars and rumours of wars, and all the comforts and conceits of the cheap-oil era went the way of the dinosaurs.
In this world, there is no TV anymore. No gas, no internet, no jet travel. Welcome to Union Grove, Kunstler’s post-oil, post-iPhone vision of small-town America, in which the world has become a much larger place, the idea of a “global village” left to the dustbin of history. I happened to drive 40 minutes last night from Glens Falls to Greenwich, NY (the town Union Grove is loosely based on), a trip that I would have had to make on foot or horseback if I lived in the world Kunstler has created, and it would have taken days to get there, not 40 minutes. That’s how it will be after The Long Emergency plays out, and with ISIS bearing down on Iraq’s capital city as I write this, I wonder how soon it will be before Kunstler’s fictional War in the Holy Land becomes real history unfolding before our eyes. (I am a faithful follower of Kunstler’s weekly blog Clusterfuck Nation, which more and more seems like the Pre-History of the Future to the world of Union Grove.)
Opening up A History of the Future, I was delighted to visit the town of Union Grove once again. Kunstler deftly weaves together numerous storylines that have been developing over the course of the series, and we learn, finally, the truth about what happened between the world we live in right now and the world Kunstler first revealed in A World Made by Hand and further developed in The Witch of Hebron. All Union Grove’s notable personages are here, from the carpenter and default leader Robert Earle and the truly fascinating religious leader Brother Jobe, to the wealthy, powerful and somewhat scary plantation owner Stephen Bullock (did you hear what Bullock did to them fellers that broke into his place?).
Kunstler’s facility in bringing these very different characters to life is a genuine joy to experience. Booklist’s review of the novel, to be released this September, notes Kunstler’s “increasing literary finesse,” and while the author’s extensive exploration of this environment and its inhabitants may play a role in just how smoothly and delightfully this narrative goes down (it’s a true page-turner with many, many pleasures to behold), I have to say I had a similar thought while I was reading the book. I’ve admired Kunstler’s prose both fictional and non for over two decades now, but A History of the Future is a new high-water mark in showing off his gifts for storytelling, structure and character.
And what a story it is. Lots of things happen to lots of people here, not all of them pleasant or cheery, but the core of the narrative is right there in the title; Robert Earle’s son Daniel miraculously reappears after two years lost out there in what’s left of America, and over the course of the novel he lays out his long, harrowing journey; it’s a trek into the heart of Bible Belt darkness, in which Earle the Younger encounters the leader of the Foxfire Republic, in the personage of former country singer turned racist political leader Loving Morrow (perhaps the greatest character name in modern fiction).
Loving Morrow isn’t just a two-dimensional Tea Party satire, though. Kunstler paints her with nuance and complexity, so much so that by the time her story reached its climactic moment, I felt genuine sympathy and perhaps a little pity for her, despite the fact that she is unquestionably a monster of the most vile kind. The relationship that develops between Daniel Earle and the Republic’s Leading Light (Praise her!) is a highlight of the novel, and its ultimate resolution was one of the most compelling moments I’ve found in fiction in years. Just brilliant stuff.
There’s lots of other joys to be found in Union Grove at Christmas. Brother Jobe and his brethren have opened up an actual tavern with food and drink for the townspeople, and I found myself cheering inwardly at how something that would be so mundane in our time seems such a noble accomplishment in the new times Kunstler is documenting.
I don’t know if I’ve used the term “post-apocalyptic idyll” before to describe this series of novels, but that’s the best way I can explain the genre Kunstler has created. In other hands this would be hard-boiled sci-fi with terminators roaming the landscape, but Kunstler’s rumination on our nearly inevitable, tragic and bucolic near-future is so far above such facile ideas.
I recommend this series of novels to anyone interested in current events, the course the world inevitably seems to be sliding toward, or great fiction in general. By now the residents of Union Grove seem as real to me as the people next-door. I love them and care about them and want very badly to know what happens next in Union Grove. Happily, I am informed there will be a fourth novel in the series, so I’ll get to find out. Unhappily, I am going to have to wait a while for Kunstler to write it.
The current controversy over Stephen Colbert highlights why I like The Daily Show much better than the Colbert Report. I liked SC as a TDS correspondent, but his “character” gets in the way of providing the value and insight Jon Stewart delivers every day. So often Colbert will have a good guest that I am interested in, only for the interview to go nowhere because of the gimmick of Colbert’s “character.” (This James Howard Kunstler appearance is a good example.) It was an amusing conceit that has proven limited in its capacity to entertain and enlighten, and this current brouhaha seems to be the point where everybody has finally gotten as tired of it as I have always been. I like Colbert as a performer, but this gig has come to its natural end. It’s time for him to get real or at least evolve his show past the one-note O’Reilly satire. Bill O’Reilly is a blowhard and a bully, yes, but there’s no more funny to be wrung out of him, at least not by Stephen Colbert doing the same old same old for one day longer.
Ebola really activates my George Carlin-like fascination with the existential horrors of the world. I’m sorry for anyone afflicted by it, but the fact that it even exists, and this goes for prions too, the fact that things like this actually exist in the world creates a Lovecraftian dread in my mind at the unknowable terrors the universe actually contains, and how little we matter and how little we can do when they choose to make their presence known. If you were asking yourself, “What does Alan think about a possible Ebola outbreak in Canada?” well, now you know.
On Cosmos last night, when they showed Giordano Bruno in prison for advancing scientific ideas, do you think anyone at Fox thought about the irony of the fact Fox officials would have totally supported that imprisonment and the suppression of new ideas?
No, I don’t think so. What you’re describing are two different skill sets. A person who shuts themselves in a room every day to wrestle with a blank page is very often not a person who feels comfortable making loud noises in front of crowds. The people who can spin an anecdote to a room have a performance skill that is not inherently native to writers.
I know a few writers who are excellent raconteurs, but I also know a few writers who are excellent bakers. I even know an excellent writer who is an excellent raconteur who is married to an excellent writer who is an excellent baker. There are certain fields where you’re more likely to succeed if you’re both a raconteur and a writer, such as comedy, television, marketing, but there should be no expectation of overlap.
The distinction I was hoping to clarify in my post yesterday is not about performance, nor is it about professional pedigree. It’s about application.
I’m going to take this opportunity to expand on my thoughts, because I noted a few questions and objections that deserve to be addressed. “You” from here on in does not mean “you who asked this question”, but a generic “you”.
My “trouser theory”, as it was dubbed, does not suggest that there are only two positions, but that there are two prevailing positions; left leggers and right leggers. All manner of things might lurk in the gusset.
Left leggers are the “I can’t write every day” people, the “I like to cook” people. They write for fun, which means they can write or they can not write. We might call aspiring writers, hobby writers, amateur writers. We might even just call them “writers”. I think we should probably call them casual writers. “Casual” has the right sense here. “I can do it, or I can not do it”.
We should not demean those people. We should never demean people who do something because it’s fun. “Hobby” should not be a bad word. A hobby can be a lifeline. It can be the only thing keeping a person sane. The passion of the casual writer is not diminished by the term “casual”, as the term denotes their degree of application, not the depth of their feeling. This is the group, remember, that can’t write every day. That is the defining quality.
Right leggers are the “I must write every day” people, the “chefs”. They write because they feel a compulsion to write, which means they can’t not write. It’s tempting to call them professional writers, established writers, prolific writers, but all of those terms are wrong. It’s not about getting paid. It’s not about getting published. It’s not about the volume of your output. It’s about writing being such a fundamental core of your identity that it would break you not to write. So we call these people “writers”, and that complicates calling the other people “writers”.
For the sake of clarity, I’ll call this group “routine writers”, because for these people writing is as much a part of their daily routine as washing or feeding. Actually, these are the people who sometimes forget to wash or feed themselves because they’re writing. I don’t say that to romanticise it. There’s nothing romantic about being hungry and smelly.
In fact, romance is lost entirely with these terms. There’s no poetry in “casual writer” or “routine writer”, which is why everyone calls themselves “a writer”.
But if you ever ask a routine writer what it takes to be a writer, they’re going to assume you mean a writer like them, and they’re going to give you a “routine writer” answer; “Write every day”. And if you say “I can’t”, they’ll say, “you’re not a writer” and what they mean is, “you’re not the same kind of writer as me”. That’s not tough love. No consideration of toughness or love comes into it. They’re simply telling you that if you want to play the piano at Carnegie Hall, you need to practise the piano every day.
Is that elitist? Yes! Shouldn’t a person who practices at something every day be considered elite? Shouldn’t we give some credit to the person who is compelled to put the hours into being a chef, a concert pianist, a ballet dancer, a free-runner, a programmer, a photographer, a jazz saxophonist? Remember, this is the group that does write every day, because they must. That is their defining quality. We should recognise that distinction.
You don’t get to be in the group that writes every day if you don’t write every day. Nor are you excluded from it by the people in that group. You’re excluded from it if you don’t do it, even if you have a good reason why you don’t do it.
If an obstacle or a condition exists that stops you playing the piano every day, or practising ballet every day, and there is no way for you to overcome that obstacle, then you cannot be a concert pianist or a prima ballerina, and it’s not because all the concert pianists and prima ballerinas got together to exclude you, it’s because you were dealt a shitty hand in life. I’m sorry if that’s you.
Christopher Sebela cited the example of Jean-Dominique Bauby, a writer who continued to write after a stroke left him completely paralysed. Cervantes wrote Don Quixote in prison. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote in prison, in a labour camp, and from his hospital bed. The list of writers who lived with severe mental illness is too lengthy to enumerate, but it includes Tolstoy, Swift, Plath, Hemingway, Lovecraft, Wallace, Kerouac.
Maybe your circumstances are less forgiving than all those people, and you believe you’d be a routine writer if your life allowed it, but if you don’t write routinely, you can’t be that kind of writer.
I think it’s useful in this context to explain a little more about what writers are saying when they say “write every day”. It doesn’t mean that you have to be prolific. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t allowed to fall into a coma or take Christmas off.
I saw several names thrown out as examples of people who supposedly don’t write every day. Harper Lee has only published one novel in her lifetime, and is now too ill to write again. It’s been popularly supposed that she’s had writer’s block ever since, but that’s never been confirmed. We don’t know what she’s produced since To Kill A Mockingbird, we only know she hasn’t published again.
Jeffrey Eugenides and Jonathan Franzen were cited as writers who produce about one book every decade; Junot Diaz was mentioned as someone who said he only wanted to write four books in his lifetime. But all three of them say that they sit down to write first thing every day. Writing is not the process of producing words by volume. Junot Diaz is not a ticker-tape machine. Writing is a craft without raw materials. You don’t see the wood or the marble being delivered to the studio and a chair or a statue come out the other side. A writer who spends eight hours on a single sentence is still writing. (Slowly.)
We talk about “trying to write”, as if the act of trying, the effort of practice, is not itself writing, but it is. Sometimes the product of a day of writing is a blank page. Trying to write is writing.
But you can’t write for years with only a blank page to show for it. You can’t cycle through different projects and never put anything down. If you have not written, are not writing, and will not write, you cannot call yourself a writer on the grounds that you want to be one.
Is research part of writing? I think so, yes. Is plotting part of writing? Again, yes, if that’s part of your process. For a lot of writers, taking a shower is part of the writing process, if you come out of the bathroom with an idea that you didn’t go in with. But researching and plotting and brainstorming can also be forms of procrastination. If you’re doing those things and the page is still blank, you’re not getting any writing done, so you’re not writing. Yes, even if you shower every day.
"Write every day" doesn’t mean "write for eight hours every day", or "write seven days every week". A lot of routine writers keep weekends free, or say they do. A lot of routine writers write early in the morning and have the rest of the day free, or keep the day free and write late at night. I seem to recall Michael Chabon writes early and keeps his weekends free, the lucky sot. A lot of routine writers have other jobs, and can only write for half an hour on the commute to and from work, but they write every day anyway, because they can’t not.
And a lot of routine writers are diarists, journalists, bloggers, critics, historians, essayists, columnists, poets, songwriters. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking “writer” means “narrative fiction writer”.
"Write every day" means "don’t make excuses". It means you should want to write every day and you should manage to do it most days. It means write, if you call yourself a writer.
But if you want to write casually, for fun, when you feel like it, and you want to call yourself a writer for that, that’s actually fine. Just understand that you are using the word differently to the people who do write every day, and you are going to find a disconnect when you talk to those people about writing.
And you can be a routine writer even if you’ve never been one before, if it’s in you to do it. All you have to do is embrace the compulsion, overcome the anxiety, and stop making excuses. No-one is keeping you out of that club except you.
Approximate translation: “Write every day”.
Our local Blockbuster Video is being shut down, and in its death-throes is currently running an unspectacular 10-to-30 percent off sale on all the crap left over after they sent the stuff they still think they can sell to other, heartier (i.e., “not dead yet”) Blockbuster locations. They still have some premium Blu-rays on the shelves, like the most recent Spider-Man movie. I’d pay three or five bucks for that, but they have it priced at $24.99. I guess they don’t understand how a going out of business sale works, but good luck anyway, Blockbuster.
Since the proliferation of cheap oil just over 100 years ago, we have lived in a society ever more distorted by the availability of cheap energy. Everything from motor vehicles to personal computers and corn syrup to iPhones can probably be explained by the fact that dead dinosaurs plus pressure combined over a timeline humans literally cannot comprehend resulted in the wildly distorted and inhuman modern life we all not only accept as the way things are, but which most people cannot help but think of as “the way things have always been.” It’s not. Not at all.
I remember when VCRs first became commonplace in American homes, in the early 1980s. It wasn’t that long after microwave ovens had gained a toehold. In a world where, just a decade earlier, going out to dinner and a movie was something special, now you could microwave your meal and watch a major motion picture in your living room, in your pajamas, for just pennies on the dollar of what that experience would have cost you a few short years earlier. Do you think the experience was a special? Or was it somehow devalued by its ease and commonality?
My very first prerecorded VHS purchase was Raiders of the Lost Ark. It cost me $40.00 at Don Hill’s video store in Greenwich, New York, around 1984. What do you think you’d pay for Raiders on VHS at a yard sale now? $.25 seems like it would be asking a lot. Personally I am amazed that anyone still has a working VCR, but I guess someone must. Every once in a while you even see blank VHS tapes for sale. That dying Blockbuster 10 minutes from my house had one lonely 5-pack of them laying unwanted and unloved on one of the sale tables. I doubt it would be worth the shipping cost to send it to another Blockbuster store, so it will probably end up in a dumpster, like our entire culture seems destined to, eventually.
Blockbuster isn’t the only one. In fact, of its kind, it’s the last to go. Ironic, given that Blockbuster had a corporate policy of buying up independent and competing video stores and either shuttering them or converting them to more Blockbusters. And now, just a few short years after that glorious era in which we all were invited to “Make it a Blockbuster night,” (remember?), it’s over. The existence of broadband internet, and the accompanying sites and technologies that have grown in its wake like Hulu, Netflix, Roku boxes and so forth, have pretty much brought an end to the era of the video rental store. Sure, you can still get a physical DVD or Blu-ray from your nearby Redbox, but that seems so…redneck? Hillbilly? Certainly it’s a bit unseemly and déclassé to wait behind the hoboes and methheads in line at the Redbox outside Cumberland Farms for your turn at the kiosk. Maybe it’s different where you live, but I’d just as soon do it all online or read a frigging book. It seems less dangerous, and certainly less soul-destroying.
But I do remember well the glory days of video rental. At one time, the community I live in had a thriving independent video scene, with stores like Empire Video and Big Dog Video. Then Blockbuster came along and put them out of business, then the internet grew up and put Blockbuster out of business. And it all seemed to happen so fast. The days when I could find a rare old cult classic or a noted foreign film at one of the great indy video shops (an hour south, Albany had even more to choose from) seem like they were just a couple years back, but Blockbuster pretty much wiped those independent shops off the map a decade or more ago. And somewhere in the past decade or so, people stopped making it a Blockbuster night, and about three years back I started predicting to my son that the Blockbuster shop near our house (then literally around the corner) would soon curl up and die, because it was obvious as Hulu and Netflix and even Redbox became ascendant that Blockbuster was literally doing nothing to compete with the faster, easier and better alternatives that were growing up around them like weeds.
Now Blockbuster is going. I think I remember reading that they’re keeping a few hundred shops open for now, but of course those will eventually be shuttered as even the seediest methhead movie fan comes to realize there are better, cheaper and less aggravating options. I hope all the employees of our local, dying Blockbuster find other jobs and I wish them all well, but as a corporation Blockbuster never impressed me as anything other than an opportunistic behemoth, and I can’t say I regret that they won’t be here in my town much longer.
But in a greater sense, the passing of Blockbuster, of course, is just one more signpost on the road to a very different world we are all slowly lumbering toward. Whether the end of the cheap oil era and the playing out of the Long Emergency brings a total breakdown of society or just a new World Made by Hand, it’s certain that by the time my children are approaching 50, as I am now, there won’t be any Blockbusters. I wonder what kind of night everyone will be making it by then?