Monday, November 21, 2011

guest post: free, exploring, undirected

A couple weeks ago I asked my friend Clint if he'd like to do a Steinbeck post for my blog and he kindly acquiesced by providing me with the following below. When you're done reading, you will undoubtedly want to read more of Clint's writings. So you will thank me for providing the link to Clint's blog, which you will find here. And now, Clint:

John Steinbeck is pretty much the only author that when I read his words, I spend time trying to imagine him writing them. I don't do that with David Sedaris or Dave Eggers or whoever it is that authors all the For Dummies books that I read, because that would be excruciatingly boring. Where is the romance in imagining a pajama-clad modernite silently tapping on a whispy-thin laptop while sipping a Slimfast and balancing on an exercise ball? (I do sometimes imagine Cormac McCarthy at work, but not intentionally, nor for long periods because in my mind it's mostly just him sitting at a desk made of the corpses of drug traffickers and dipping his long-nailed fingers into an ink bottle filled with horse blood.)

But there is something about Steinbeck's work that makes me just wish I could have been there while he clacked it into existence on his typewriter. Sometimes it's young Steinbeck, the one that's only marginally affected by hairline recession and adorned in what appears to be laborer's clothing. Sometimes it's old Steinbeck, visuals of whom could easily be confused with Walt Disney. But most frequently, it's the middle aged John, a ragged-looking cigarette in his hand, and his wrinkles just starting to find their footing on either side of his mouth.

In my mind, his house has lots of wood paneling, a well stocked aquarium and humongous bookcases chock full of classics that we would occasionally discuss, agreeing to disagree about Prince Hamlet's degree of sanity. I would stand just to the side, reading over his shoulder as he wrote. I'd watch the following words appear between the fluttering of typebars:

"And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected."

I'd soak it in for a moment and then say "You know that is going to piss off Hemingway, right?" to which Steinbeck would turn around and say "Ya' think?" and then offer me a high five. He'd start typing again and there'd be some talk of maybe starting a softball league come spring, but it would never materialize, which is no big deal because of course I understand that he's busy writing--which is obviously the way I want it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

poet laureate

I'd be really interested to hear the thoughts of my artist and art loving friends regarding the matter below. I'm not trying to solicit anything here, I'm just genuinely curious.

A couple weeks ago I mentioned that I'm currently enrolled in a French literature class where we study 19th century French theater pieces. The second play we read was called Chatterton by Alfred de Vigny. It's a fictionalized account of a real-life English poet named Thomas Chatterton who lived during the middle of the 18th century. This play depicts the plight of Chatterton, a young man struggling to earn a living as a poet. In the end (spoiler alert), when he fails to do so he kills himself. (According to Wikipedia, the real Chatterton "died of arsenic poisoning, either from a suicide attempt or self-medication for a venereal disease." Either way, tragic.) (Incidentally, his death date is my birthday.)

The Death of Chatterton by Henry Wallis. Poor guy. Image from here.

For every piece we read in this class we're supposed to write a paper expounding upon a theme or topic found in the piece. For Chatterton, one subject my teacher suggested for such a paper was the role of the poet in society. Her opinion is that the poet is a guide for the people, a person who gives inspiration and enlightenment. And in order to produce works of such enlightenment and inspiration, a poet needs time for constant reflection and pondering -- time that should not be lost in the pursuit of earning one's living, as a factory worker, or a cobbler, or a mason, or whatever it was people did for work in the 18th century. Therefore, as a guide for the people, it is then the people's duty -- or really, the government's duty -- to provide for the living of the poet.

Now, in theory, I don't necessarily disagree with that sentiment. While I'm not much of poetry reader, I enjoy literature, fiction, stories -- dare I say? -- more than the next guy. Not only do I find enjoyment in prose, poetry's sibling, I find a great deal of insight, hope, and wisdom therein. There's no doubt that the written word has been vital to my general well being as a human. I very much agree that writers, whatever their medium, contribute much to the enrichment of our society.

This sentiment in practice, however, is a different story. For one, sadly, not everyone in the society to which I belong will like reading as much as I do. I have friends who celebrate how little they read. That's fine, that's OK. They have different interests, to which they are just as entitled, that I will not begrudge them. Maybe, someone can find just as much meaning in, I don't know, football as I find in reading and re-reading some of my favorite books. (The same can be said for music, or photography, or painting, or film, or sculpture, or name your preferred form of art). So, what complex society of such differing interests and passions will support the poet or writer but not the photographer or painter? Or, is it up to society to provide a living for all these supposedly invaluable artists?

Furthermore, in a society whose government supports the poet/writer/guide-of-the-people, who or what determines who gets to be town poet? Let's say that in a society of 100 working adults there'd be room for one poet. The rest of the working population would have to fill the other important posts: baker, grocer, thatcher, tailor, cooper (someone's gotta make the town's barrels), butcher, farmer, and you get the point. But, what if in this same community, there are 10 individuals who want to be town poet but society has the means to provide for only one? What is the fate of the other nine wannabe poets? Do they kill themselves because they think that poetry is the only profession in which they would find success and enjoyment, just like Vigny's version of Thomas Chatteron?

Anyway, I've been wondering about all this lately -- because being town poet would be a pretty sweet job.

Additional Reading: "Distressed Nation Turns To Poet Laureate For Solace"

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

David and Return of the Jedi

Return of the Jedi

Only three people have ever beaten me at Star Wars Trivial Pursuit: my brother Matt, of course, my friend Joby, and most recently, David here. Though in my defense, when I played David a few weeks ago it was an extremely close game: he won only after I answered my final question incorrectly, and had I gone with my gut feeling I would've got that question right (life lesson here?). In the end though, David is the kind of guy I don't mind losing to.

Whoa, what would Star Wars be like without John Williams' masterful score? I don't even want to think about it.
Return of the Jedi includes some of my favorite Star Wars compositions, like "Luke and Leia" and "The Death of Darth Vader". John Williams has set the gold standard for fantasy and adventure movie soundtracks -- something he did well before Return of the Jedi.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

in another life

One of the best jobs I've ever had was on campus at BYU-Idaho. One afternoon in late spring I was perusing job listings on the BYU-I website when I noticed there was an opening for one of the most coveted student jobs -- grounds crew. These spots always filled up fast so I ran to the hiring office immediately. I was surprised that they didn't ask me any questions, didn't want a résumé, didn't have me fill out an application -- they simply hired me on the spot.

My crew spent the rest of that spring and part of the summer landscaping -- leveling earth, laying sod, planting shrubs and trees. We were assigned to an area of campus that had been an unsightly patch of dirt for over a year. It was so easy to feel satisfied with this job because we could see the direct results of our work. When we were done that vacant swath looked a little something like this:

Yeah, I did all that. You're welcome BYU-Idaho. Image from here.

The only downside to this job? It paid crap (like most student jobs on campus). When finding a job why does pay have to be so important? Maybe a better question way to ask that question is why is it so important to maintain a lifestyle that teeters between comfortable and affluent? How can I get by on less and either save more money or have a job that I enjoy more but maybe pays less? While I ponder these questions (please feel free to add your two cents), here are two more jobs I think I'd love if money was of zero concern: