Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Guns, Letters And High Involvement: Rant?

(Hunter S. Thompson motivational posters. Telling it like it is. And yes, it is connected to what I'm saying...)

I sat down and wrote a letter the other day.

I haven't done that in a while. It was to a friend who prefers the low-tech form of letter writing and who makes me hate myself for being suckled so often and eagerly on the Internet. (
Like I'm doing right now with this blog and my other one.)

It used to be I was always sending letters and mail. At one point, it was a game I invented at a very boring, soul-sucking job I had years ago. Besides scraping off rat droppings from my keyboard, and calming down hot-headed real estate agents, I had unlimited access to a whole wonder world of antiquated office machinery. I tried to see how much interesting mail I could make on the clock with all the interesting office machines they had on hand and then I would mail it back to my house under an assumed name. After a couple months, I had accumulated close to a hundred pieces of mail, all without getting caught by the Man. Most of this stuff I'm going to turn into some sort of "zine" type thing. Strangely enough, it creates a pretty cohesive narrative about relationships, 6th street, garbage, poverty, myths, desire, and history.

Even now, I have a compulsive urge to look in the mailbox, hoping that that one letter/parcel/announcement will finally have arrived. But perhaps this is more of a habit acquired by scoping out grad school rejections, or seeing if my Amazon books have arrived.

Hunter S. Thompson, even as early as 17, would carbon copy all the letters he wrote (and he was a prolific letter-writer), claiming that he knew that he would one day be FAMOUS and people would want to compile them at some point.

It was in large part thanks to reading The Proud Highway, his selection of letters aged 17-28 or so, that I got inspired to do a little traveling a few years ago.

I would recommend this book for anyone who needs to be jolted out of their tired, old ways. It never gets old. His letters are uproariously funny and savagely inspiring. They document the transformation of a swaggering young man into a full-fledged writer and all the madness that went with it.

His dispatches about being constantly broke, uprooted, at loose ends, unemployed, prone to constant, dangerous distractions and flailing about inside of his own neurotic fantasies are healthy reminders that trying to do what you want often requires a lot of inhuman gusto. Good stuff. It's more or less the only Thompson I've read in its entirety. Which is a shame probably.

In light of letter-writing, I thought about an interesting proverb I read in Samuel Delany's About Writing: he quotes the seminal media theorist Marshall McCluhan: "Low Resolution Makes For High Involvement." Which in itself is a solid argument for letter-writing, magazine-making, "crafting", cooking and writing in general, not to mention all sorts of other high-involvement/low res. pursuits.

I want higher involvement in things. I didn't always think this. I've never been a good "joiner" and am usually fearful/hesitant to the point of neurotic passivity when it comes to any kind of formal/institutionalized/obligatory conglomerates of people. Classes, seminars, workshops: historically, my devotion to these things is spotty at best. Which isn't to say I'm a bad student. I'm not--and even graduated with Honors-- I'm just suspicious about gatherings where everyone HAS to be there. Maybe it was my Catholic upbringing, or remembering all those D's in behavior I got, even though I got straight A's in what counted.

Generally, I've preferred spontaneous get-togethers or drunken frolics or just walking around aimlessly without an "agenda" or a "target goal." Unfortunately, the world doesn't often cater to such frivolity, especially if you want to do something with your life. Which I do, even if writing isn't really considered "doing something with your life." Actually, writing is more what you do when you're not doing things with your life. NOT that I believe that either though. Like everything worth doing, it's a balancing act and most people take a tumble.

But getting back to Hunter S. Thompson:

I remember thinking March got off to a great start: I began last month by going with my friend down to Jackson Arms and, with impeccable instruction dutifully dispensed and under the watchful eyes of the well-trained (and armed) employees, I fired my first pistol, a 9MM Glock at a paper target that was perhaps 10 or 12 feet away. And I even hit the target, and in fact, I didn't miss the target at all even though I seemed to favor the right side.

I was surprised by the experience and found it invigorating. Shell-casings flying around your head, the snap of the pistol, the stance you took, etc. I was excited and humbled, scared and ambivalent, but in control. Of course, I deplore most violence, think guns in the wrong hands are evil, all that eminently reasonable stuff. I read the Oakland headlines every day. And the San Francisco ones. And as recently as today, a man went on a killing spree, making it the 5th shooting spree in the past month alone.
I can't talk about guns or the ethics behind them. I can acknowledge that they exist and that, in certain hands they do considerable harm. I can't say I worry too much about whether the government will take them away from me. I find them intriguing, I do. As objects they are astonishingly odd if you think about it. And prone to the most abject fetishism.

What I can talk about, sort of is the fact that I'm embarking on a novel that I thought I would never write but that seems the most honest thing I've yet concocted. And it's about murder and guns and sexism and violence, topics that have had little to do with me personally but are still pervasive in everything I read and see and absorb and wonder about when I walk down the street.
But more on that another time.

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