As a birthday present to myself, I bought a copy of Poet’s Market 2008. I’ve put my novel aside for a bit but a sudden fire under my bum has been lit to get some of my other stuff published. I think Evan set this fire, by mentioning in his blog that he is interning with Sharon Olds, who is my favorite living poet. Or maybe it is this thing stirring in my belly, this turmoil about the state of the world and a desire to express that in writing. A lot of people ask me where the best places are to go dancing, etc, but I am not really interested in that. I want to go to poetry readings or stay at home and write.
The other day when I posted that article about global warming, wherein a scientist said that in one week the arctic had lost an area of ice almost twice the size of the United Kingdom, another interesting thing happened. My boss came back to work from his basketball game. The game ended early. Why? Because two players got into an argument over a foul. Not usually a game-ending event, but in this case one of the players left the game and came back half an hour letter and put a case full of bullets in the other guy. Somehow no one felt like playing basketball when one of their teammates was lying on the court full of more holes than blood. My boss seemed to be taking this pretty well.
The most striking to me about this was its insignifigance in the grand scheme of things. Oakland has a serious problem with the whole shooting thing (maybe you’ve heard about it). I’m not playing that down by any means, nor the suffering of the family. But the high murder rate in Oakland is not going to kill as many people as global warming, not even close.
This is what I want to capture in my writing: this feeling that the issues humanity is facing right now are huge, but they don’t feel huge. The day of the shooting, I also set a fire in the kitchen. I remember the exhileration of that moment, the thrill of the temporary emergency. No matter how much perspective I have intellectually, it is hard to feel the difference, it is hard to feel the suffereing of the vicitims of the shooting or global warming when that fire is the danger in front of me. And that same fire is a thousand other things, social conflicts or career concerns or a packed to-do list and on and on.
It seems that the only way people can reach these higher, more important concerns, is through art. Books and music allow us to feel, rather than only think about, these problems. And you can hear a lot of artists now are immeshed in it, this compulsion to capture the direction the world is heading. The Besnard Lakes, in a recent interview, explained it as the reason their new album is so dark. And Tom Morello described it recently in an interview on Sound Opinions, “Its preaching to the converted, well I strongly believe the converted need a kick in the ass. Why the White House is not ringed by pitchforks and torches I don’t know.” And the new (and frankly, the previous) Modest Mouse record captures that spirit as well.
This juxtaposition of what we are feeling and what we should be feeling is my new obsession. I know how to capture it artistically and maybe that’s why I have been so interested in drawing lately. I am only just beginning to explore what it means for me as a writer. I am very interested in how this conflict between the struggles of day-to-day life and the larger problems facing the world have affected the rest of you. Does it change your passion for the things you are pursuing? Some days, it makes my desire to be a writer feel like empty egoism.
On other days, that same desire seems like the only power I have to affect the world at all.