As promised, this is the beginning of a more personal & speculative series of articles building on the ideas of my technology postscript. It will appear intermittently to form one narrative.
When my friend Alan and I were twelve, we became very interested in lost continents. I must have read a hundred books on the subject, if not more. One that always impressed us, at least for its cachet, was Lost Continents by L. Sprague De Camp, published by Dover. We decided to write a book like that, so wrote to Dover about publishing it. They were not interested. We were not savvy enough to know that they only did reprints. We were very foolish kids, and from my parents' point of view, I should have been picking apples and making cider. I spent my time doing that and other chores, and when I left, they got a motor for the cider press. That's all you need to know, really.
I wrote a few screenplays during that time, too, but none went anywhere. I do think one could be reworked into something, and I wonder about writing a screenplay about the dotcom boom. I saw most of it firsthand. Anyway, we were very naïve, stupid writers. We did like to write things, however, and within a year or two, I think I may have read every nonfiction book in the Fort Wayne Public Library. Nonfiction always seemed at least as whimsical to me, and still does. I love the label of it, so here I am writing nonfiction. You had better believe it too.
I wrote a novel later in my teen years, but it was really terrible. Really, really terrible. My short stories from elementary school are better, because they came from before I felt as though I ought to be making a point or something like that. Since then, I think I manage to make a point without being too tedious, or at least I like to imagine so. When people say my style is more literary than it is informative, I guess that is... good, bad? I don't know. My main audience is eccentric professors, partly because they still know how to read. In some circles, you can't really admit literacy, at least not without some consequences.
So, anyway, Lost Continents.... You know, in those days, continental drift was considered a crackpot theory. There were a lot of theories on how the world used to be, and there are still some uncomfortable correspondences in flora and fauna. The idea that the Mayan language, say, is an offshoot of Chinese is not so easily dismissed. The idea of whether things were true, or whether they were written as true, or why they might be true... that has never left me. There is no clear division of this sort, at least not under scrutiny, not really. The "true story" TV movies illustrate another pole. So I was impressed to read the narrative style of García-Marquez and the silly citations of Borges, and knew that they received recognition for them. I think of myself as almost South American for that reason, at least intellectually. In fact, when I was doing science, in my field nonequilibrium thermodynamics, there aren't many Americans. A big conference was held regularly in Chile, and I also remember the remarks about this column from a philosophy professor in Chile. Maybe he is reading this. He congratulated me on being so practical. Now, any of you who have to actually work in your lives... imagine that!
There are all manner of things we "have" to do, of course. I have to write this. I mean, I told you, or at least implied, that this Thursday I would have a new column. I do it every time, on time. It's a compulsion, even if sometimes I would rather wait. As noted, expression is something which forces itself upon one, something which comes into existence whether one really wants it or not. So I have to do it. It must be at least as good as selling fancy shoes, mustn't it? Everyone knows I am useless, or at least almost everyone, but most people are useless too. I know that, so it leaves me feeling fine. The idea that expression or art or whatever is not on par with making junk or forcing people to see soft drink ads... how silly. People can enjoy other things if given the chance, if at least given the idea that material wealth is not the highest station of man. Why not? You know what I'm selling doesn't exactly come with a price.
There is always a price of time, though. There is no question but that I want to write about some of these things so I can stop thinking about them, so they will leave me alone. I value having a blank mind, not chattering away to myself. I often have nothing to say, which is the way I like it. It isn't the way many people like it, I don't think. They love to chatter, to hear themselves talk, and hopefully to get attention. So many people are out today in social situations talking to someone else on their telephones. I don't think I'll ever get used to that. The TV commercials tell us to get phones to express ourselves. What about expressing ourselves to the people who are where we are? I'm certainly not the only one to wonder on this phenomenon, but it sure seems dumb... cute little toys and lots of chatter. If the world economy goes the way it seems it will, I wonder what will happen to the cute little toys and lots of chatter.
That people don't need to stop and form their thoughts into writing or other delayed-gratification communication should make for much more chatter. Without literacy, people will also become much more ignorant. It will be their means to purity, pure expression of greed and selfishness... pure, unadulterated self-importance which will end only when the burgeoning population of poor "third world" countries sees to it that the streets of America flow with blood. That isn't something I'm supposed to say, but it does seem likely. That or maybe our esteemed scientists will think of a way to sterilize entire countries from airplanes. It's simply impossible for everyone to keep everyone else under their thumbs, and it's just as impossible for the entire world to consume the resources we consume here. It all makes for a grisly picture, whatever the specific events, a picture that most people feel can never be true.
Anyway, it doesn't really do to get ahead of oneself. Just as in music criticism, there is no point to suggesting something before people are ready to hear it. That's probably the main thing I learned in school: People don't want originality or real creativity. They want something almost entirely the same as what they already know. There is little use fighting this either, as that only brings marginalization. It is only too easy to become some kind of "shock artist" who glories in "blowing people's minds" or somesuch. There is little challenge in that; it's a variant on the "Aren't I cute?" chatter. Shocking people does not make them any more receptive to new ideas. That's also something medieval music performances can never successfully do, whether well-grounded or not. The audience is far too conservative to hear the truth. It needs baby steps. It never becomes easy, though, to see derivative ideas hailed for their creativity while the actual pioneers are ignored. There is always something to being in the right place at the right time.
To be continued....
To TMM Editorial index.Todd M. McComb