Monday, December 28, 2009

Myths Of Place And Setting

As I make my way through Steve Erickson's books, while inevitably taking breaks, short and long to dip into all the other unread masters I have heaped around my life,

I'm thinking about his 8-plus novels (only 2 of which I've read), most of which have to do with the cinema, or Los Angeles, or alternative surreal histories of America to some degree, and how they all supposedly constitute one large oceanic novel.

Sort of like Proust, or how Kerouac's novels were all one "Visions Of Duluoz". . .

I've always liked that idea. Which is why short stories, when I write them, tend to share common denominators, common settings, or variations on the same setting.

And why I'm drawn to a project now, a series of novels and "memoirs" that all interconnect and reflect and draw from each other. Featured warped visions of me and warped visions of not-me. False memoirs and true novels.

(A project that is not unlike what people as diverse as John Berger, Jeanette Walls, J.M. Coetzee are doing now. And in terms of the memoir craze, I'm completely of the moment even if, at one point, or many points, I have been ashamed of and/or afraid of the seductive life-writing impulse for reasons that were silly, short-sighted and completely illusory.)

When I think of connected books and how each book is part of a larger book, it's kind of like that saying, not sure who said it, but that you usually only have ONE IDEA in life. . .which isn't exactly true. You have many ideas, many motifs but maybe, just maybe they tie into a larger, more cosmic motif that defines you, often without you knowing it.

Which is like that saying, "The fox knows many things, the hedgehog knows one big thing. . ."

In my case, and for this prospective project, there is perhaps one thing: The Missing Beloved, which is like The Missing City.

Or the Sister That Ran Away To The Forgotten city.

Which is part of that relentless lineage of books that all feature someone who's searching for a mysterious other person, and in cases of male protagonists often the missing other person is a woman ((a theme that also reoccurs in Erickson's novels)). . .

But never mind that now. What I wanted to talk about was one of the recurring settings that is deeply rooted in my life.

I was down in San Diego for the holidays,
a city that I grew up in, lived in for many years and go back to for short intervals during the holidays, and I'm always, each time I go down, succumbing to different torrents of memory, often of varying intensities and warring degrees,

and the consequence of this can be a sometimes disorienting see-saw between comforting melancholy and uneasy exaltation.

I like the brick and the verdigris of my parent's place. The downtown sea winds. The hot dry brightness and the quotes by Martin Luther King on the stones that lead down to the port. The seascapes down here, perforated and punctured and defined by military prowess are dazzling and somewhat terrifying.

And I always smell the summer I worked on a tour yacht that did rounds of the bay past all the grey ships and the ship builders and the submarines. A summer enjoyed on many levels but wasted on one: pining for a missing blond.

Now, navigating through the Bourbon Street-feel of the Gaslamp Quarter,
you find Broadway where things start feeling dingier and more gutted, and the signs of a few archetypal holiday dives that are featured in a few tales I've told begin to show themselves near the stained bus shelters and the liquor stores and the check-cashing places.

I find parallels between downtown San Diego and downtown Oakland even if these parallels are a stretch. Or are just elements common to any city. What really connects them is the warehouse feel of their downtowns by the water.

The sense that some fundamental, browbeaten history is being obscured.

Chee-Chee Club on Broadway had, in the past and this last holiday, shown my friends and I some of that history. . .

But just being a voyeur never entirely helps.

The idea of a city whose old skins go to recreate its citizens. . .

More later. . .

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