Wednesday, April 16, 2003

"Mean People Suck"

The roofers are hard at work, tearing out the old shingles, pounding on the rafters, giving me a headache, confounding and irritating my dog, all in hopes of re-covering the roof with brand new shingles that will protect it and my possessions from the unpredictable spring weather. That's as good a metaphor as any for my virtual life right now. There's a lot of pissiness about, and hopefully this experience will enable me to better protect myself from the stray jets of urine that the reservoir dogs of blogland are splashing on my stoop. After all, more heartache awaits. Exams and defenses. Mean-spirited book reviews. Malicious gossip. Departmental politics. This is life and I'm not retreating from it, much as I'd sometimes like to.

One of the things that shocked and upset me about the Stanford writing workshop was the way you weren't allowed any errantry of statement, any room for experiment with the poetic persona that you'd initially been admitted for. Everyone at that table seemed more interested in defending their little piece of turf, and angrily rejecting the attempts of others to interpret their writing, then they were in creating a space where it felt safe to try something new. I've since learned this is the typical workshop model for places like Iowa, but that wasn't my experience at Montana. If you wrote or said something half-assed people would call you on it, but they also seemed willing to look for the value in what you'd contributed; they'd give you the benefit of the doubt. I guess the difference between Montana and Stanford is that at Montana you were assumed to be a student, a learner, an ephebe; the poets at Stanford took the line from the Stegner brochure ("Fellows are regarded as working artists, intent upon practicing and perfecting their craft") a little too much to heart. The same seems true on the Wild Wild Web: it's assumed that if I've got a blog and a book I must be setting myself up as some kind of authority, another turf-pisser whose decorous pose is just that, a pose. We're all out for the main chance, we're all self-canonizers, we're all little Barret Wattens in training. It's an ugly conception of what blogging could be. It's a Hobbesian take on the poetry community that says if someone is up then my safety and well-being can only be preserved by taking them down. It's a megalomaniacal desire to control what people think and say about you or about anything. And I reject it. I won't live this way, I won't write this way, and I'm going to ignore other people who think that their grubby little world is the only one.

There's no excuse for nastiness. There's no excuse for ill-humor, self-importance, and attempts at censorship. None.

I don't always know what I'm about, poetically or prosaically. But I have an instinct that up to now has been affirmed by experience: blogging is a great way to expand one's sense of community, to get a sense of the larger social, ethical, and aesthetic enterprise that one is a part of. It's a place to experiment. It's a place to play with the evanescent spirit of authority without necessarily trying to become an authority yourself. It's a place to generalize and fall down and occasionally make a fool of yourself, though I hope not of other people, and therefore a place to make friends. In that spirit I'm going to add a new blog by Michael Helsem to my links list. I still believe in blogging and if you do too, clap your hands.

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