Tuesday, July 28, 2009
I have been relocated. My usual perch at The General Store has been usurped by “paying” customers (apparently, paying $1.75 for a ginger peach iced tea will not guarantee one’s spot in the dining room come lunch time when hoards of hungry tourists arrive ready to empty their pockets for larger meals), and so I am now sitting in a dimly lit bar known as The Shed. It is the hang-out spot for most American Players Theatre staff members at a long day’s end and, when I stop in, it is usually quite lively. At two in the afternoon on a Tuesday, however? Three different news channels muted above the bar hum methodically against the muffled clinks and clanks of pans in the kitchen. A few middle aged men are huddled at a table behind mine, talking about sports and local government. Aside from these noted aspects of my surroundings, I am alone.
There is a stark contrast between these two locations, even though (by day) they serve the same basic purpose. But it is obvious that they cater to a different group of people. I don’t think I’m in the mood to completely dissect the difference between these two groups, spaced only three small-town blocks apart, but I do delight in people watching.
However, it would be helpful if there were people here to watch. At The General Store, with crowds of people coming and going, I could disappear completely from the radar as I watched frustrated mothers with their overenthusiastic children trying to order food, get hands washed, and find a suitable table without losing an arm, an eye, or even an entire child. I could listen to the older women in the corner gush about their grandchildren and boast about the plentiful gardens they’ve planted this summer (and how their husbands, of course, have taken no notice). Here, though, in the low, yellow lights of the bar, I am too aware of my presence. It is too quiet, and it is too dark. The swaying stained-glass lamp above my table provides an unwelcomed lime light for my afternoon of introspective solitude.
Also, my coffee is burnt.
My afternoon set-backs aside, “things,” in general, are good. In the last few days I have visited with old friends, taken a brief-yet-exciting jet-ski adventure on the Wisconsin River, found pants that fit (one of the most arduous journeys of my life, I assure you), and have experienced many a great night of reading and writing.
The latter activity, writing, has been a source of great challenge, but never anxiety, which is nice. I think that reading The Gift in tandem with my “first” ("serious") writing endeavor has been a really great experience. I am now into book II of The Gift, which takes the historic and anthropologic discussions from book I and applies the ideas to two artists (Walt Whitman is the writer we’re currently exploring) and their work. This book has really given me a new perspective on the creative process and the role of the artist (both to himself and to his community). Right now I’m reading about the role of “divine” inspiration in tandem with the artist’s craft – his ability to hone what has been “given” in order to create art that may affect his community. It’s all very fascinating and while, at times, I feel that some of it might go over my head, I like to pretend that I am understanding Hyde’s wisdom and am in fact learning a thing or two about myself.
My writing has been off-and-on. I have moments when I will construct an entire paragraph or scene in my head with great detail; I end up running to the nearest notebook (I always try to keep one handy) or driving home as quickly as possible to write everything down. I try to elaborate as much as I can and add details to a superfluous degree, so that I can cut and paste and “slim” down my narration at a later time. Other days I discover a sentence or a single moment that seems usable, though I know not where, but I document it anyhow. One day, it will all come together. And if not, well, I’m just hoping all this exercise for my brain will serve me well one day soon.
I often trip over my own words when I’m writing. I get so caught up in the details, trying to catch every moment in its entirety; I end up losing sight of the movement of the piece and the writing becomes stagnant. Too many words. I’ll write a page or two, look back on it, and more often than not I find myself asking “So what?” What a troubling question, and applicable to so many things.
I decided many things this past week (what a statement), but one of the more important things I have decided is that I am officially excited for the upcoming school year. No more complacency or self-pity over my discontent; there isn’t time and it’s a waste of energy. There are many exciting school productions to take part in, and I am planning some of my own. I had a talk with Terrance today - who has been writing music this summer and hopes for lyric/vocal support from myself and our other roommates - we discussed the possibility of producing some absurdist films this first semester, and I have started outlining a (hopefully) exciting photography project for myself when I return to Racine. I’ve also got some independent studies in the works and have gotten myself in gear exploring how to go about completing a minor in graphic design in a timely fashion.
Gotta keep moving.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
I have a lot of things on my mind. This should make it easier for me to update this blog, but really it just complicates things... I can't decide which topic to start with, whether or not I should pile everything into one entry or split them up into groups, etc. etc. etc.
So, instead of writing about my own thoughts, I'll write about somebody elses. Lewis Hyde's, to be exact:
As I said in my last entry, I'm currently reading The Gift. I've conquered nearly half of it in the past week, but I seem to be hitting a rough patch. I enjoy reading non-fiction, but it requires a lot more concentration, which is something 1) I don't often have too much of to begin with and 2) is difficult to harness when I'm at work (which is where I end up doing most of my reading). But so far, this book has given me a remarkably eye-opening perspective on the history of gift-giving and its evolution into commodity exchange (and the importance of art - in all its forms - as a form of gift giving in modern society). It's also made me view the way I live my life in my community/society in different ways, as well.
My favorite chapter so far, The Bond, focuses on the connection that is created between two (or more) people through gift exchange. Hyde begins the chapter by stating that "It is the cardinal difference between gift and commodity exchange that a gift establishes a feeling-bond between two people, while the sale of a commodity leaves no necessary connection." This idea seems pretty basic, and it is. Hyde uses several examples (such as walking into a hardware store to buy *you guessed it* hardware from a salesperson, or a child giving a kidney to her mother when she is in need) to highlight the degree of experienced emotional attachment through commodity or gift exchange.
What I love most about this chapter is Hyde's discussion of commodities in regards to the United States (the "free world," as he calls it). The following is a series of chunks from a few paragraphs about this topic:
Because of the bonding power of gifts and the detached nature of commodity exchange, gifts have become associated with community and with being obliged to others, while commodities are associated with alienation and freedom. The bonds established by a gift can maintain old identity and limit our freedom of motion. [...] It seems no misnomer that we have called those nations known for their commodities "the free world." The phrase doesn't seem to refer to political freedoms; it indicates that the dominant form of exchange in these lands does not bind the individual in any way - to his family, to his community, or to the state. [...] The excitement of commodities is the excitement of possibility, of floating away from the particular to taste the range of available life. [...] All youth wants, once, to be alienated from the bonds of nurture, to be the prodigal son. Sometimes we go to the market to taste estrangement, if only to fantasize what our next attachment might be. It's a free country, you can do what you want: get married, get divorced, settle down, leave town, ski, farm, talk on the radio, buy the radio; the problem is to find someone to do it with. In this old lover's quarrel between liberty and community, Westerneres are those who defend freedom and long for attachment.
This selection spans about three pages of the book, and it's one of my favorites. I think it offers a lot of interesting insight into the individualistic perspective that we aquire as Americans and with that, I think, why so many people in this country are bursting with patriotism. By being patriotic, we are able to create that attachment that we all want to have along with the ability to be free. But, because we are a capitalist nation we deal in commodities (which is accompanied by the need for a power structure, reciprocity, payments, etc). Therefore, this patriotic family is a superficial one, yes? I guess that's how it's always felt to me. And yet there are times, such as 9/11, when members of our nation do rally together to give to one another and work together for the sake of others and create that attachment.
It would be times like this, then, that I think Hyde might say that Americans break free of society and become a true community. In earlier sections of the book he explains the difference between society and community, stating that a society is structured through commodity exchange, whereas communities are founded upon gift giving. Gift giving creates a bond between one or more people, and so when gifts are constantly circulated throughout the community, they keep every member tied to the others in some way or another.
Hyde also speaks about anarchy in reference to gift-exchange communities, which I found interesting as well. I took an American Politics class this past semester, and did a bit of reading about anarchy in my textbook. The authors of the book gave a bleak description of a life without government: buildings burning, cars being stolen, children attacking old women for loose change, parents stealing TV's from their neighbors houses, etc. But in Hyde's book, his discussion of anarchy refers to any tribe or community that was either in existence before traditional forms of government appeared or any group existing now outside the Western world that still utilizes gift-exchange. His accounts of many of these types of groups are peaceful and eye-opening. One anthropologist, Lorna Marshall, spent many years in the 1950's with Bushmen in South Africa. When she left, she gave each of the women in the band a supply of shells to make themselves their own necklaces. A year later when she returned, she found that the shells had been spread amongst everyone in the band - no one in the band had more than one or two shells each. Obviously, this is a completely different society than the one that I live in. About this "phenomenon," Hyde says, "If we take the synthetic power of gifts, which establish and maintain the bonds of affection between friends, lovers, comrades, and if we add to these a circulation wider than a binary give-and-take, we shall soon derive society, or at least those societies - family, guild, fraternity, sorority, band, community - that cohere through faithfulness and gratitude."
To put it simply, I think that's pretty sweet. Anarchy without mayhem. These kind of things do happen in the United States when, as I mentioned above, there is some sort of disaster which demands unification in order to persevere. But they are rare. One of the unique aspects of 9/11's aftermath was the true coming-together of so many strangers in order to help others. It was an historic day which led to Americans banding together across the nation to help those in need without (I would hope) any expectation of synthetic or capitalistic gain in return. On that day, and for years afterward, American citizens worked together for the sake of comradery, faith, community, and gratitude.
I will return, then, to my American Politics textbook reference. After reading about Lorna Marshall's experience with the Bushmen, I was immediately reminded of my textbook's violent depiction of anarchy, and was slightly disgusted to realize that at the time I found it perfectly plausible and logical to assume that anarchy would create such a chaotic scene. Because my mind (and the minds of almost every other Westerner) has been trained to think about capital and power from early on, I could not function without government the way that these tribes do (Or, if I could, it would take a very, very long time to convert). Our lives in the "free world" have been under the shadow of government ruling and large corporations for so long that it seems impossible to imagine existing without it.
The question is, then: Is this individual identity that I have had the freedom and liberty to create really my own? What else could I truly learn about myself if I was only worried about fitting in with a community instead of with society? Is my individual identity "better" than the collective identity created through connections to my family (who are the true gift-givers in my life with whom I exchange constantly but still feel the need to escape from)? And why, then, do we value commodity exchange over gift giving when giving back (such as with 9/11) creates a real connection at a "spiritual" level? We connect, but then we let go; we go back to working for ourselves to get ahead, only to be bombarded by others who are doing the same. We all think of people such as the Bushmen as being very primitive or inferior to us. But, in regards to how to run a community, it seems like they really do know a thing or two (or more).
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Well, here goes the first post. I hope I keep up with this.
I think that writing is a terrifying thing; the documentation of my own thoughts often leads me to introspection and self-criticism. But I am doing this 1) because it's time to conquer that ridiculous fear and 2) because the more I write, (I hope) the easier it will become.
The summer of 2009 has brought about many changes in my life, and so I have chosen to begin documenting my thoughts and reactions to these shifts that I've experienced. I began my summer by moving into my first apartment with a couple of collegues (and plan to stay there while I continue toward recieving my BA from UW-Parkside in Kenosha, WI), but then moved to Spring Green, WI for the remainder of the summer to work at The American Players Theatre. I'm working a lot of hours (I'm a Production Assistant - which basically means that I'm manual labor), but in my downtime I'm finally reading, writing, and thinking - all of which are things I wanted to do during this past school year but never really "made the time" to do.
In reference to the latter of my activities - thinking - mainly I'm spending a lot of time trying to figure out "who I am" and "where I'm going," both of which seem to be questions that shouldn't ever have concrete answers, but they're still interesting to consider. Living out in the small town of Spring Green for these past few weeks has given me time to step back from the "chaos" of life and really evaluate what I've been doing, both on a day-to-day basis and on the larger scale. I want to gain a better understanding of what it is in life that I value and what seems to be worth pursuing. There are so many things I take for granted, so many things that end up overpowering my life, and I want to learn about those things and gain a wider perspective. I want to enter the "real world" with a better scope of what is out there and what I am capable of being a part of, and understand what is truly fundamental to achieving a fulfilling existence.
As part of this journey toward self-discovery, I've started writing a series of short stories (or is it a screenplay/a novel/a play? at this point, I don't really know) which are largely autobiographical, but with extreme artistic license. What began as just a journal documenting my experiences in the last few years of my young adulthood has transformed into an exploration of the human experience and how "we" discover who we are and the impact the people around us have on that process. I know that seems ridiculously cliche and, in fact, I'm pretty much 100% sure it is cliche. But they're still my stories and they are feelings I want to dissect and understand, and writing about them seems to be the best way to do that (what better way to try and understand the way that my life has panned out than by deconstructing and rewriting my own history, right?). As they are developed and hashed over, perhaps I'll post some of my writing here.
A lot of these desires have been motivated by some of the books I've recently read. I just finished Middlesex, by Jeffry Eugenides, and The Beautiful Miscellaneous, by Dominic Smith. I found both books to be very thought-provoking and, most importantly, I thought that both authors handled the coming-of-age tales of their respective "unique" protagonists with wonderfully detailed eloquence. The journaling that I've been doing follows somewhat the same vein that these authors have taken with their stories, and it makes me wonder how autobiographical the characters and events in their own novels are.
At the moment, I'm working my way through The Gift, by Lewis Hyde. It is, to quote the back of the book, "a brilliant defense of the value of creativitiy and its importance in a culture increasingly governed by money and overrun with commodities." I'm about 100 pages in, and I find it fascinating. There are a lot of sections from the book that have offered a lot of food for thought, and I hope to write about them here later after I've had time to digest them.
I think this all I want to share at the moment, though my mind is currently writing volumes ;)