Sunday, February 15, 2009

Notes On Adventure And Literature

A startling procession in a Chinatown alleyway. This was from the first year of the Hunt...

This blog, or rant, is regrettably late in arriving. This last week, I've been in a bit of a fog, as if my mind is stuck in the limbo between winter and spring, and I have relented a little on my writing obligations. To jump-start things, I did some inquiries about the crossroads of adventure and literature, at least inside my own head. I never cease to interrogate the disconnect between being a successful writer and a successful "live-r"; which has led me to a self-imposed itinerary for Adventure Research. More on this to come. So far it's all talk and very little action.

I began thinking about adventure again at the beginning of February, as I always do, right when I'm about to undertake the Chinese New Year's treasure hunt, an event that marries some of the most fascinating, Situationist-like passions, namely: "urban exploration" and "detective games" something like that. Intrigue and exploring? Noir sensibilities mixed with naive romanticism? Everyone loves all that, or they should.(Above, one of the many alleys/dead-ends we got sucked into...home of the biggest LOLCAT mural in the world...)

Simply, it's a chance to play detective on a grandly chaotic scale, navigating the clustered hot points of a giant, percussive and pyrotechnic parade, tromping through the pre-apocalyptic celebration streets of fireworks and smoke and glowing things being revered in narrow and sudden alleyways. The Chinatown playground with its tiers and cupolas and weird monuments. And men playing dice games in dark alcoves.

Above is a wonderfully suggestive map I discovered here, Chinatown and Revolution.
The treasure hunt is one invigorating way to discover some of the myriad nooks and crannies, especially the amazing alleyways of our local Chinatown. I don't know what it is about alleyways, but they never fail to evoke the murky, seedy, libidinal and polymorphous depths of the human heart and imagination. In my own stories, alleyways and freaky public restrooms always make appearances, as do warehouses, docks, churches and cemeteries. I think all these places have to do with my own fears and desires all jumbled up together. Liminal places where bad things happen in good disguises and good things happen in bad ones.

But yes, alleyways, I always thought it would be incredibly fulfilling work to travel the world merely to do a full-color, journalistic inventory of the world's most captivating and intriguing alleyways. So far the best ones I've ever seen were in Saigon.

And yes, there are tours of Chinatown alleys, right HERE.

Scavenger hunts, among other urban psychogeographical diversions, are one way to fulfill some of the interesting, if somewhat implausible and pretentious tenets of the Formulary For A New Urbanism. Speaking of the Situationists, although they tend to have a pretty positive effect, at least on the imagination of every single armchair intellectual college boy who comes across them, myself the most guilty of that genus, they seem to be entirely lacking in any sort of economics or pragmatism. This all just an aside however.

This was all meant as a meandering preface to this idea I have. A lot of my stories, for better or for worse, are research-intensive. I like to learn about the secret histories of places I'm writing about, and I tend to write usually about the complex intersections between marginalized people and more "normal", "functional" people, whatever those adjectives may connote, which means I enjoy researching certain types of people who might be beyond the realm of my experience. It can make for difficulties in my writing, with huge periods devoted to finding things out about persons and places, more things that I need to know. But it can also be the catalyst for some interesting experiences.

Which brings me to the thesis: Adventure Research, or Ad/Res for short. Or maybe it makes more sense to call it Research Adventure? Res/Ad? Whatever. Engaging in adventure for the sake of research. I'm compiling now an itinerary for such foolhardy endeavors. I also want to explore the concept of adventure more at length and to show how it, in fact, has nothing at all to do with hyper-individualism, hedonism, libertinage, etc. but has a lot more to do with vulnerability and psychological brinkmanship. It's more adventurous, for example, to spend a cold evening in the Tenderloin ladling out soup to homeless people, than going to get drunk at that one perverted clown's house. I, unfortunately, have yet to do either. But soon!

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