Have I lost my way? Have I found my way? Am I busy being born instead of busy dying, to quote Bob Dylan? A constant reader commented the other day I was a “softie” under my crusty exterior. I had written a post about my wife and I rescuing an abandoned kitten. How mushy is that? And, I’ve been writing posts about joining in on clean-up projects promoted by a young boy in Florida, and worrying over the fate of people from the other side of the world…people I wouldn’t even know of without this social media connection I’ve fostered.
Where did my inner curmudgeon go?
Have I pawned all my angst, anger and attitude off on the Philosopher Red/alter-ego I seem to use more and more often for dirty work?
I was reading an old Kurt Vonnegut interview published in Playboy magazine in the early 1970s, post-Slaughterhouse Five, and he answered a question posed by the interviewer about why he writes with this:
“Writers are specialized cells doing whatever we do, and we’re expressions of the entire society – just as the sensory cells of your body as a whole. And when a society is in great danger, we’re likely to sound the alarms.” Later in the interview he answers further questioning by saying that artist’s work reflects the society they are a part of, and if they’re good at their work, they offer comforting lies to make people feel good about being alive.
Sometimes I think I should be sounding the alarm. I agree with megalomaniac dictators like Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler that artists should serve their state…I just disagree with them as to how I should serve my state. But, to do this I need to define my state, just who it is I’m writing for. I know the most common answer from artists is they create for themselves and the audience can buy the ticket and take the ride, or they can go jump in a volcano…but their work is still affecting their society, even if they reject that society and any approval from that society. A question I used to pose to students…a writing prompt –
“What does ‘America’ mean? Is it a geographical area…rivers and mountains and deserts and seashores? Is it the people who live within those borders? Is it an idea, started by a gang of rich Virginia planters and Massachusetts importer/exporters and interpreted by succeeding generations to fit their times and fashion? When you pledge allegiance to the Flag, what does that piece of cloth symbolize?”
I got about as many answers as I had students, and none of them made much sense. The one know-it-all I had write a screed about Communism’s faults and Democracy’s superiority…I told him he was comparing a method of organizing the commercial life of a group of people with a political one and he should sober up if he was going to preach. The ones who answered it’s the American people…I asked them exactly who they were including: crack dealers…robber baron CEOs…lazy cretins who live off SSI or other taxpayer-supported programs intended for the truly needy, or people they perceived to be very much like themselves. I wanted an answer for myself as much as I wanted them to think about something beside “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” or “American Idol” results.
I seem to be going in several directions…or, are they connected in some manner beyond my non-inquisitive intellect? I guess I’m flailing around for a subject to write about, and I’ve written about one.
Just now I was having an e-mail conversation with a writer, and I told him about the little comic books I saw in Mexico called “revistas.” They’re turned out every week, and the government gave them away for free in the Mexico City subway, thinking that people who are reading don’t commit as much crime as those who aren’t. These “revistas” are hyper-sexual, awfully written, and the cheapest form of “low art” imaginable…but they were being used to serve the “state” in a positive way. Goofy entertainment to reduce the chance your grandmother won’t get beat up and mugged on the way home from her $12 a day job cleaning rich people’s toilets.
But I’m still at an impasse…do I serve my “state” better by promoting small, feel-good posts that make readers go, “Awwww…” or do I dredge up heavy-handed, loaded, and brain-straining issues that are not – and have never been – manageable to the average reader? I think I’ll just shut up until someone more intelligent than I offers some sort of answer…or write for these three gals.