gall and gumption

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Not Dead

I'm camping out at the new place and didn't have internet there till tonight. I have a temporary dial up account till the real one gets set up. I'm moving, cleaning, and I'm three days into a new job. I suppose life will feel normal some time TBD, but at the moment it feels like that will never happen. I tell myself that moving to a strange place is always like this. But then, I have moved to a strange place. Can't see another house from mine. But if I walk half a mile and cross the road I enter this subidivion that is straight out of Disney's Main Street -- if Disney's Main Street had a golf course running through the middle of it. It has its own little supermarket and shoppping center with (thank you Bijan) the inevitable nail salon and tanning place, and aside from that it is a desolation out here. If the houses weren't so Christmas-card perfect -- if they were double-wide trailers -- the subdivision would remind me of the camp my Dad lived in in Saudi Arabia. I turn my back on those splendors and walk down my dirt road again, woods on my right till I get to the meadow and then this small, shabby, quirky, drafty, and desolate-looking old ranch house. Well, I begin to think I may be testing the limits of my capacity for dislocation a little too rigorously.

At twilight I was stacking some firewood (a surprisingly satisfying pastime, who would have guessed?) when Sweetie took off after a deer. I followed the sound of her crashing through the woods and then I heard her just doing that special excited yelping bark she does, the sound fading off into the distance of some fields much decorated with "No Trespassing" signs. I wandered into some place where I definitely was not supposed to be, calling and whistling to her, and then it got dark so I walked back cursing like mad of course. By the time I had collected my wits -- collect flashlight and coat -- she came sauntering in the door mightily pleased with herself. When I sit out in the back yard after dark, though, she huddles behind my chair and listens nervously to the sound of the old metal shed creaking, and to the owls and other wild noises and the planes from Dulles, and where's the big showboating deer chaser then, I'd like to know. She just sits there looking alarmed.

But in the morning and in the afternoon light this place is magical. It's real. And I've learned rather quickly how to start a good fire. I started the piece on the Turner show but it has sort of gotten away from me. You'll see what I mean, I'm sure. Meanwhile, thanks for hanging in through the long silence!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Why I Love William Hazlitt

A common-place critic has something to say upon every occasion, and he always tells you either what is not true, or what you knew before, or what is not worth knowing. He is a person who thinks by proxy, and talks by rote. He differs with you, not because he thinks you are in the wrong, but because he thinks somebody else will think so. Nay, it would be well if he stopped here; but he will undertake to misrepresent you by anticipation, lest others should misunderstand you, and will set you right, not only in opinions which you have, but in those which you may be supposed to have. Thus, if you say that Bottom the weaver is a character that has not had justice done to it, he shakes his head, is afraid you will be thought extravagant, and wonders you should think the Midsummer Night's Dream the finest of all Shakespear's plays. He judges of matters of taste and reasoning as he does of dress and fashion, by the prevailing tone of good company; and you would as soon persuade him to give up any sentiment that is current there, as to wear the hind part of his coat before. By the best company, of which he is perpetually talking, he means persons who live on their own estates, and other people's ideas. By the opinion of the world, to which he pays and expects you to pay great deference, he means that of a little circle of his own, where he hears and is heard. Again, good sense is a phrase constantly in his mouth, by which he does not mean his own sense or that of anybody else, but the opinions of a number of persons who have agreed to take their opinions on trust from others. If any one observes that there is something better than common sense, viz., uncommon sense, he thinks this is a bad joke. If you object to the opinions of the majority, as often arising from ignorance or prejudice, he appeals from them to the sensible and well-informed; and if you say that there may be other persons as sensible and well-informed as himself and his friends, he smiles at your presumption. If you attempt to prove anything to him, it is in vain, for he is not thinking of what you say, but of what will be thought of it. The stronger your reasons, the more incorrigible he thinks you; and looks upon any attempt to expose his gratuitous assumptions as the wondering of a disordered imagination. His notions are like plaster figures cast in a mould, as brittle as the are hollow; but they will break before you can make them give way. In fact, he is the representative of a large part of the community, the shallow, the vain, and indolent, of those who have time to talk, and are not bound to think; and he considers any deviation from the select forms of commonplace, as the accredited language of conventional impertinence, as compromising the authority under which he acts in his diplomatic capacity. It is wonderful how this class of people agree with one another; how they herd together in all their opinions; what a tact they have for folly; what an instinct for absurdity; what a sympathy in sentiment; how they find one another out by infallible signs, like Freemasons! The secret of this unanimity and strict accord is, that not any one of them ever admits any opinion that can cost the least effort of mind in arriving at, or of courage in declaring it.

More here.


Tom has just begun reading Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son. Gosse was one of the important late Victorian literary critics – he wrote a general history of English literature, several large volumes, a very useful book. Father and Son is his autobiography, or at least part of his life story. Gosse’s parents were members of the last generation of real Puritans; their dogged questioning of Anglicanism led them deeper into dissent until they settled in an odd little church called the Plymouth Brethren, Biblical literalists. The newly married couple’s favorite shared pastime was trying to make sense of the Book of Revelations.

Mencken definition of Puritanism sticks with us to this day (thanks, Leslie), and the label has stuck, truthfully enough. But the American Fundamentalist is like a cheap degraded imitation of his real Puritan forebears. He’s like Las Vegas souvenir keychain Elvis compared to actual Elvis, as you may infer from the cheap and specious reasoning in the article Leslie cites. You can glimpse the real Puritans in accounts of the Counter-Reformation; they are all over England in the 17th century. You can see their later descendants in the New England of P.T. Barnum’s childhood. And one quality that is totally unexpected among them is joy. Gosse’s parents had that quality, even though the early years of their marriage were difficult, and just as things were beginning to get easy Emily Gosse, Edmund's mother, was diagnosed with breast cancer, for which there was no treatment at the time. The Gosses practiced, joyfully, a most scrupulous unworldliness. They did their bit of the world’s work and they read the Bible and they enjoyed this blessed assurance that came with a complete and willing trust in and submission to the mystery of God’s will. These were not the sort of people who think God gets them Oscars or wins football games for them. They were kooks but it is impossible not to admire them. They were truly heroic people.

To top off everything, Gosse’s father was a zoologist, a real lover of science, enjoying good professional relations with, of all people, Darwin and Lyell. Philip Henry Gosse’s fame peaked in the years when biology and geology were converging to reveal 1) a longer timeline of earth’s history than the Biblical timeline, and 2) the changeability of species. Zoology was the bit of the world’s work that the elder Gosse did, and he loved it. You knew the moment had to come sooner or later, the moment when irrefutable biological fact and Biblical inerrancy met. Gosse pere tried to reconcile both in a hpothesis that was so silly, especially coming from a man of his intelligence and knowledge, that it made him a laughing-stock, the great humiliation of his life. His theory, roughly put, was that God had planted misleading geological evidence for evolution as a test of faith. I am sure there are people who believe this now, but his contemporary Victorian audience knew that this was just ludicrous.

He couldn’t follow biological theory where it was going, though he was able to go on doing a lot of zoological work; locating and identifying and classifying new species of tide-pool creatures. He was a bit of a tide-pool creature himself. It was the loss to the field of a wonderfully trained mind. A tragedy with just that little bit of farce to it that makes you forgive human frailty.

But the story of this controversy is only an incident in Edmund Gosse’s narrative. The book is really about what it was like to grow up with these peculiar people.

Gosse’s mother was a writer of devotional poetry. She had her son quite late in life, especially for those days, and died of breast cancer when he was eight. In the years after her diagnosis, as she traveled about London seeking treatment and often in terrible pain, she became a great harvester of souls, converting people she met on the street by the force of her arguments and her formidable will power. She was the great moral force of the little household, and on her deathbed she made her husband promise to dedicate their son to God’s service, that is, to teach him to become the kind of servant of God that they were, to carry their mission further.

The story of Gosse’s childhood and adolescence is the story of how he found his way out from under this dreadful obligation.

Gosse is little regarded now as a critic because the thing that interested him in literature was its pleasure, the pleasure of beautiful language and feeling. This was a luxury that the English and American modernist writers, looking at the shambles of Europe after World War I, felt was rather less than indispensable. But the world into which Gosse escaped from the Plymouth Brethren was the fullest flowering of Victorian culture, buoyant, optimistic, rich, busy, and serious about things like pleasure and beauty, And, oddly, his upbringing peculiarly fitted him for responsiveness to literary pleasure. He clearly started out with that sensitivity – he detested bad writing as soon as he could read – but the long daily Bible readings had the effect of steeping his imagination in the language of the King James Bible. But there was another, salutary effect; close attention, and the absence of self-sufficiency, by which I mean the absence of the starting assumption that he knew it all already. He was a man who had broken a sacred deathbed promise to his mother and escaped into a secular world of which he knew little.

I had a friend years ago (we’ve lost touch) who was an ex-Muslim. He had turned to Marxism, of all things! We used to have long arguments, usually in bars. He was bitter, and I don’t believe in bitterness, I don’t believe that a general pose of cynicism does anything except let the real bastards steal the good things of the world right out from under you while you are admiring your own superiority. His cynicism was cover, too, for a lot of pain that he wouldn’t own up to. One night I got really exasperated with him. I said “You’ve gone from being a true believer in one book to being a true believer in another book. There’s no difference. Maybe the problem you have is that you keep thinking you can get everything out of one book.”

Gosse escaped this hazard; he was moved by the Word, and he learned early that it was because he was moved by words. When he eventually discovered literature (all works of fiction were forbidden) he found a garden of earthly delights which those passionate, enthusiastic, analytical Bible readings had strangely fitted him to enjoy. His quite voluminous body of criticism is testament to this enjoyment. But in Father and Son it seems to me that any reader should pay close attention to what he says about books. Because he is not putting anything on, he is not trying to impress anybody with cleverness.

A book like this only gets written because it tells the story of the defining experience of a person’s life. The story demands to be told, as the Rime of the Ancient Mariner demands to be told.

Nothing in this book is quite what you would expect, and that’s a good thing. There are undoubtedly reticences – he was a Victorian, for crying out loud! – but what he does tell you is so strange that it reminds me of how sketchy and cartoonish my usual ideas about things are. It reminds me how I go about my day vaguely feeling that I know about the world, unreflecting, navigating it by means of conventional ideas that I don’t examine unless I bump into something that demands closer attention. Everything that disturbs our sense of knowing it all, our sense that we know the exact price of all the goods in the shop, is salutary. In taking in the basic facts of Gosse’s life we may think we know all about him, but what we are taking for knowledge is not to be confused with what we get byexperience.

In this book I enter a world that was culturally remote even from the society that was contemporary to it. How much more remote it must be from me here today! And yet when I read it I feel like I am not escaping, but getting deeper look into, my own world. We need our sense of what it is to experience anything to be continually refreshed. Life is short, there’s too much to do, and our faculty of stereotyping and working from sketchy views of relationships and things is necessary just to get through the day. But when we look into our own relationships to things, when we want to know what we can know, when we hope to judge and act from the best motives, we have to stretch our imagination and sympathies to their outermost reach. We can’t just go looking for what we already know.

With this thought I've been compiling a list of writers, like Gosse, whose works you might pass on the shelves of a secondhand bookstore without realizing that they are worth picking up. I'll post it separately.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Fried -- A Confession

Some of you have had an awful lot of me lately, by phone, because I've been obsessing about work and housing. I got the work sorted out, and now I've got the housing sorted out, with unexpected suddenness, but still, good. (Oh, and I didn't mention my dog bite and my dad's surgery scare in the middle of all this, or the weight gain or the leaking toilet.) Anyway it's all been rather a lot the last couple of months.

And now I've got to move house. I found another place with some acreage (dog heaven, people!) and ten minutes drive from the new gig. It's a small house. It's in Virginia, out on the edge of the Metro area, close to Dulles airport. There are all these new subdivisions with big boxy new houses and jogging paths with people jogging on them (seems to be the Spandex capital of the world), but from the little kingdom which I have just rented, none of this is visible. Nothing but a big meadow and woods and a dirt road.

These practical preoccupations have been eating up so much of my brain and energy that I just don't at the moment know what to do to get my various writing projects going again -- I confess to feeling a loss of momentum, a loss of focus, and the usual great swarm of self-doubt about why even bother. All this will not quite make me quit, but it does have other pernicious effects.

Am I blegging for an encouraging word? No, just for anything nifty and practical that I or anybody else can use. It's really just like I said. I need to reconnect with all this stuff I've been writing (not just here) for the past year, and it's a little overwhelming, the quantity of it, and the wretched notebooks too. And just at the moment I don't know how to do it. Anything that can get me started thinking again will save me a few weeks of beating up on myself.

Friday, October 12, 2007

It May Be A Little Bit Too Country in the Country

So I got a permanent gig at last that I can live with. It's in Virginia so I shall have to move from Germantown as it's nearly 40 miles, at least half that distance in dreadful traffic. This all came on rather quickly.

I could tell you about the one that got away, the one that came and wined and dined me took me for a ride in his private jet and left me with my eyes full of stars and my head completely turned. "I'll call you," he said looking deep into my eyes. "This was special." Did he call?

They never do. My mother maintains that I'm much happier without the bastard and I'm inclined to believe, well, it is necessary to believe it at this point otherwise I'd just be like whatsername neath the blossoms waiting. Still, when I read his name in the paper I wince. But I'm moving on... this gig not in the center of the city. No he's not rich like that other fellow but he's a steady provider and promises me four weeks paid vacation a year and an honest day's pay. The location is out on the outer reaches of the Metro area. I may have to say goodbye to the bright lights of the city but perhaps I can make up for it in acreage, space, quiet, nature, etc. So when I saw the Craig's list posting advertising the house on 75 acres (not that far from the job, really, if it was fabulous it deserved consideration) I followed the link to the specimen of shitty-little-California-ranch-style above (interior below),

and realized I was looking at Larry the Cable Guy's pied a terre.

Leslie, via email, has suggested I should give up my dreams of being landed gentry. She has a new blog, The Bias Committee and you should drop by and take a look because that's where she's following through on her Jena experience. You can't march in a crowd every day, you know. You have to do the daily work too, and that's what she's doing.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Thank You, Jesus

...for these clowns. I don't get to laugh at the news nearly enough these days.

Richard Roberts [son of Oral - ed.] is accused of illegal involvement in a local political campaign and lavish spending at donors' expense, including numerous home remodelling projects, use of the university jet for his daughter's senior trip to the Bahamas, and a red Mercedes convertible and a Lexus SUV for his wife, Lindsay.

She is accused of dropping tens of thousands of dollars on clothes, awarding nonacademic scholarships to friends of her children and sending scores of text messages on university-issued cell phones to people described in the lawsuit as "underage males."


Colleagues fear for the reputation of the university...

Now here are two things I didn't know Oral Roberts University had -- a private jet and a reputation to lose.

Let me pause for a minute and quote Mark Twain.

First, as to its literary style. Our negroes in America have several
ways of entertaining themselves which are not found among the whites
anywhere. Among these inventions of theirs is one which is particularly
popular with them. It is a competition in elegant deportment. They hire
a hall and bank the spectators' seats in rising tiers along the two
sides, leaving all the middle stretch of the floor free. A cake is
provided as a prize for the winner in the competition, and a bench of
experts in deportment is appointed to award it. Sometimes there are as
many as fifty contestants, male and female, and five hundred spectators.
One at a time the contestants enter, clothed regardless of expense in
what each considers the perfection of style and taste, and walk down the
vacant central space and back again with that multitude of critical eyes
on them. All that the competitor knows of fine airs and graces he throws
into his carriage, all that he knows of seductive expression he
throws into his countenance. He may use all the helps he can devise:
watch-chain to twirl with his fingers, cane to do graceful things with,
snowy handkerchief to flourish and get artful effects out of, shiny new
stovepipe hat to assist in his courtly bows; and the colored lady may
have a fan to work up her effects with, and smile over and blush behind,
and she may add other helps, according to her judgment. When the review
by individual detail is over, a grand review of all the contestants in
procession follows, with all the airs and graces and all the bowings and
smirkings on exhibition at once, and this enables the bench of
experts to make the necessary comparisons and arrive at a verdict. The
successful competitor gets the prize which I have before mentioned, and
an abundance of applause and envy along with it. The negroes have a
name for this grave deportment-tournament; a name taken from the prize
contended for. They call it a Cakewalk.

What I wouldn't give to have witnessed a genuine cakewalk! Now, if I want to see a good parody of high-class white people, all I get is this sort of monkeyshines:

– Mrs. Roberts – who is a member of the board of regents and is referred to as ORU's "first lady" on the university's website – frequently had cell-phone bills of more than $800 per month, with hundreds of text messages sent between 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. to ``underage males who had been provided phones at university expense."

– The university jet was used to take one daughter and several friends on a senior trip to Orlando, Fla., and the Bahamas. The $29,411 trip was billed to the ministry as an "evangelistic function of the president."

– Mrs. Roberts spent more than $39,000 at one Chico's clothing store alone in less than a year and had other accounts in Texas and California. She also repeatedly said, "As long as I wear it once on TV, we can charge it off." The document cites inconsistencies in clothing purchases and actual usage on TV.

– Mrs. Roberts was given a white Lexus SUV and a red Mercedes convertible by ministry donors.

– University and ministry employees are regularly summoned to the Roberts' home to do the daughters' homework.

– The university and ministry maintain a stable of horses for exclusive use by the Roberts' children.

– The Roberts' home has been remodelled 11 times in the past 14 years.

Nothing says "too much money and not enough sense" like SRS -- Serial Remodeling Syndrome. It is such an expensive way of acquiring subjects for conversation. Whatever happened to going to Europe to become more socially interesting? Where did the conviction arise that what you had to do to become a social adept was remodel your house? Heck, it would be easy enough to fly there -- that's why God gave these bottom-feeding hucksters a jet.

Let this put to rest the theory that has been kicking around ever since Dallas that bad people are more interesting than good people. I promise you that anybody with all these "internal contradictions" to hide is very dull, very dull indeed. Oh, yes, they need their day in court but even if they escape prosecution you don't need a judge and jury to tell you these are awful people, do you? You know that if the money had been good enough they'd be the barkers outside of titty shows. Which would at least be honest work since a paying client will get a glimpse at actual tits.

Oral Roberts, God's very own extortionist, is the granddaddy of TV preachers. We can thank him for Jim and Tammmy Bakker (though I had a soft spot for Tammy), Benny Hinn, Pat Robertson (God's very own failed blood diamond dealer and diet shake peddler), the Power Team (mendacious meatheads who rip telephone books in half for Jesus) the Paul and Jan Crouch horror show and legions of low-rent imitators.

Over the years as I clicked through the TV channels, pausing to marvel at the horrors of this stuff, I noticed that Paul and Jan especially were into remodelling. Their set went from a fairly ordinary TV living room sort of arrangement to this mad gilt-and-stained-glass extravaganza, Gift Shop Extreme, if you will, that would have made Liberace wince. They've done a fair amount of work on themselves too. I remember a TV comedy sketch long ago about the Farrah Fawcett-Major family in which everybody had that trademark Farrah hairdo, even the Afghan hound. It was like that. I haven't watched the Crouches for a while -- I expect they've gilded the dog, the budgie, and all the domestic help by now.

You know, they just sit there and ramble on all day. Sooner or later they talk about remodeling, or something cute their grandkids said, and you realize that part of this "ministry" that they do, this hooking and crooking of the unsuspecting into the flock, is to present an image of domestic life. You gibber away about trivialities and Jesus and every year God gives you a bigger, newer, more elaborate wig. And, heck, the $25 they get from some poor soul out in Bumfuck, KS won't do much to help that soul improve her own lifestyle -- she might as well give it to these rich Christians who will know what to do with it.

The Gospel of Something for Nothing has an interesting corollary. The Gospel: Send these geezers some money and they get something for nothing, which proves that it works. The Corollary: Meanwhile they are busy teaching you that the nothing you get is a priceless something. I certainly hope that the next time someone breaks into my house and robs me he leaves behind some sort of Prayer Medallion or a sticker that Pat Robertson has prayed over or a bottle of Special Righteous Jesus Tap Water.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A Winnebago of the Mind

Years ago I wrote a story that opened with this lede: “Television brought the Grand Canyon to American living rooms. Now the recreational vehicle industry brings American living rooms, occupants and television sets, to the Grand Canyon.”

This travel adventure writer, Rolf Potts, discovers that “travel adventure writing” is actually part of the luxury goods marketing industry.

I'd spent much of the previous three years adventuring through the distant corners of the Asian continent, but this experience had put me at a weird disadvantage in reporting the story. "You're giving us too much geography," my editor would tell me every time I submitted a new list of destination summaries. Readers of Major American Adventure-Travel Magazines, he told me, didn't want to read about journeys that were obscure or complicated; they wanted exotic challenges wherein they might test — or, at least, imagine themselves testing — the extremes of human experience.

For weeks, I had trouble understanding exactly what this meant, and my increasingly irritated editor returned my story drafts marked with comments like, "Is there a helicopter service that can get you there faster?" and, "Would you recommend some cutting-edge outerwear for this kind of trek?" and, "Can you think of any celebrities who've visited the region recently?” In time, I discerned that adventure itself was far less important to the magazine than creating a romanticized sense of adventure — preferably with recommendations on where to buy a cappuccino and a Swedish massage afterwards. The Major American Adventure-Travel Magazine, it seemed, wanted me to create a tantalizing recipe for the exotic and the unexpected, but only the kind of "unexpected" that could be planned in advance and completed in less than three weeks.

But it is funny, the “extremes of human experience” turns out to be an upmarket version of touring in a Winnebago. And then the extreme experiences are basically sensations, since that’s what you can have in a week at some extreme resort. “Adventure travel” of the glossy magazine type is not going to make you into Ibn Battuta. But the sales pitch is what makes it so funny, it’s so egregiously fawning on the imaginary reader: You are tough and pure, nature boy/girl, you are the sort of person who hangs by one hand from the face of a cliff, you sit on mountaintops all alone with your laptop writing poetry, beautiful poetry, you look fabulous in Spandex, you need a Big Expensive SUV to take you to those wide open spaces where you will have deep thoughts, perhaps think up some new kind of backpack buckle or something useful to humanity like that! And African children love you!

In real life it is more like, “Lewis Lapham goes parasailing in Belize.”

I’m sympathetic with Potts, but I cynically also wonder, didn’t he read the magazine? One might equally have asked the editor, “Didn’t you read the sort of thing that Potts writes?” Well, I need to blame somebody. And I guess I’m inclined to blame the editor because the dispute between him and Potts is finally about artistic values. And I prefer Potts' values. I do not find that the world is in danger of being overrun by friendly and humane curiosity about the lives of others.

The non-advertising space of any publication has always been susceptible to encroachments from advertisers. Even in my small experience running those papers in St. Kitts there were advertisers who were always trying to sneak into the news hole and complaining about not getting free space for their press releases. Advertisers who bought full-page ads and who owned a near monopoly in their market, would complain that we weren’t giving them enough free press. It was as if somebody bought half a pound of Camembert cheese at the marked price and then kept hanging around the counter demanding to know why they only got half a pound of cheese at the marked price, why didn’t they get three-quarters of a pound for the price of half a pound. Why did we run the government’s news for free and charge them, etc.? That editors and publishers have capitulated I also do not doubt. Win some, lose some. But it does seem to me that at the minimum an editor was supposed to know the difference, and if he or she was forced into tolerating an encroachment it would be done eyes wide open. What is strange about the adventure travel writer story is that it seems to me that the idea of content has become completely integrated with the idea of marketing. Not marketing the content itself (i.e., write your story about the rain forest so someone will want to read it), but marketing stuff -- massages, luggage, resorts, sunglasses, resortwear, swimming with dolphins, whatever. What is promoted is what can be packaged and sold. Well, granted, a lot of livelihoods depend on the marketing of tourism products.

Moreover, the people who have the kind of money to go on these exotic travel adventures don’t have a lot of time. To spend months on the edge of Burma you can’t have another business to run. Fair enough, you know? And then, maybe travel magazines are a sort of window-shopping vehicle for the tourism industry, which has, you know, an enormous marketing apparatus. So I can’t entirely blame the magazines. Is this what people really want? I don’t know. For myself, I’ve always had rather mixed feelings about tourism. I grew up in Jamaica, my grandparents had a hotel in Montego Bay, and I always felt rather superior to the tourist kids who came to stay. What they paid to visit belonged to us. Not just the hotel, but most of Jamaica, where at that time there was a lot less tourism development than there is now, and where we were free to go to all sorts of places that were just open and a bit wild. I don't want it all turned into an amusement park. When I was a child I went to places that were scary because the unmediated past was right at my feet -- picking sea grapes in the old yellow-fever cemetery just outside Port Royal, sliding down the floor of the old armory that got tilted in the great earthquake and then just stayed that way. The idea of everything being packaged up for consumers of the tourism product is depressing to me, even when I recognize that tourism supplies jobs and training, and even preserves certain natural and historic resources. I try not to travel as a tourist. When I travel my imagination runs away with me, I start imagining my ideal life there and then I want to get busy at it. I want to settle in and have a little routine (half an hour writing in the morning, or reading, or drawing, or something combined with intense people-watching), be part of it, not someone wandering through it and staring at things for a certain prescribed amount of time. I want to get lost and I want to talk with people, regular people, about real stuff like work and politics and prices or their plans for their kids. Or I want to go explore some nature. My usual vision of doing these things is of me alone. The feeling of being part of a group of sightseers or adventure-seekers, being buckled into our seats by Winston, lord. No no no. Except one day I’m going to go on one of them there painting holidays.

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