It’s amazing how important titles are to my work. I have almost never written a post for this blog without knowing the title in advance of laying down a single word. One of the very few counterexamples was my last post, in which I wrote the title between the last words and the hitting of the slightly pretentious “Publish” button at the bottom of the screen. I didn’t know what the theme was for that post until I finished it. Ironically, the theme was themes themselves, or “threads”.
The theme for this post is “Summer Chill”. There are many possible interpretations of that phrase and I would hazard that all of them are relevant to the intended scope of this post. Read closely, pay attention. You may be surprised what you see. Or you may find the theme trite and blase, which it probably is in some ways, and go off to read about Lady Gaga.
I have discerned that Americans very much don’t like to be hot. This is probably because Americans, as a rule and general practice, are overweight. The precise coordination between weight and heat aversion took me a long time to figure out, but has become in the last few years one of those obvious and universal truths, like “donuts are tasty” or “parents have a lot of both direct and indirect influence on their offspring”. It took me longer to figure out this particular truth because it is generally considered impolite in this society to discuss the weight of other people. Thus conversations like this are unwelcome:
“Really? I think it’s rather pleasant.”
“Well I think it’s too hot.”
“Hm. I guess you are a little pudgy.”
Comments on weight are especially unwelcome from people like me who, despite a two-year period of being somewhat overweight in the middle part of this decade, have otherwise been rail-thin. Since I rekindled my metabolism after its premature death at 27, I’ve gone back to being cold everywhere relative to every other human being, including even those who normally serve the role of being the coldest person they know. Ha ha!
Never is this phenomenon more apparent or frustrating than eating out during the summer in the United States. A phenomenon that I swear was predominantly limited to Florida during my youth has since gone nationwide, and now I must never leave my house without a jacket in summer if there’s even the slightest chance I will be asked to dine somewhere before returning home. In LA, in Albuquerque, in Philadelphia, I relied on my Mariners jacket to save me from hypothermic expiration in the bitterly frigid confines of restaurant after restaurant. After the third one, I stopped asking if I needed to bring my jacket. I would hit the swinging-door threshold, feel the blood harden in my veins, and suit up.
What’s ridiculous about the whole thing is that people keep restaurants at temperatures that no one would enjoy at any other time of year. Two in particular, Waffle House in Albuquerque and Los Segundos in Philadelphia, had the thermostat well below 68 degrees. Imagine going from a crisp November night into a restaurant kept in that meteorological condition. There would be literally no business. No one would go. So why does it being summer make it more acceptable? Why does everyone get to presume that all patrons have just run a marathon in their fat suits before entering their building?
Yes, this is part of an absurd class of things rapidly becoming known as “First World Problems” – the complaints only the spoiled of our species could possibly imagine worrying about, the offshoot of a pampered instant-gratification culture centered on the self. A waste of time, probably, but one that is both alienating to experience and hopefully a bit humorous to relate. And also, perhaps, emblematic of that selfsame pampered spoiled society itself, that we have created expensive, energy-wasting cultural standards and practices designed to cater further to our own self-centered obesity. It’s like the whole thing spirals on itself into the stratosphere to the point where to even observe or complain about our society’s missteps has itself become a misstep that presumes caring about the fate of that society. Paragraph summary: we’re in a fine mess indeed.
I’m reading Don DeLillo’s White Noise and it’s done something that Golding, Tolstoy, Foucault, and Calvino have failed to do in the last month or so: hold my attention. Granted that Tolstoy held my attention about four times as long as DeLillo’s even trying to, so maybe it’s a weak comparison. But he’s also done something else that the other four never approached: scare me. Not because his 1985 vision of the present or the future comes across much like all those movies I’ve seen lately (“Koyaanisqatsi”, “My Dinner with Andre”, “Dial H-i-s-t-o-r-y”, “Double Take”) in its prescient understanding of the incredibly insular self-absorption and chaos to come (it does), but because it reminds me of my own book just finished and nearly fully edited, The Best of All Possible Worlds. Not in whole, not overall (yet), but in certain scenes and themes and focal points. And it not only predates the book by 25 years, but I had never read one word or heard one thing about it before finishing my own tome.
This is at once highly problematic and a little relieving. It’s the former for obvious reasons – on a planet of seven-billion willed agents, I constantly fear accidentally rewriting another person’s book that I’ve never had contact with, just because there are only so many ideas or thoughts out there. As a writer whose greatest asset is originality of ideas, this could lead to unmitigated disaster. At the same time, it’s relieving because the publishing world seems very focused on “comps” – equivalent books to the one being pitched to them that they can in turn use to pitch to potential readers, writing such ridiculous drivel on the back of books as “…with the rich landscape of John Steinbeck, the emotional insight of Sigmund Freud, and the quick-paced action of Dashiell Hammett…” I made that up, but you get the point. No one is allowed to be themselves, at least not at first. Everything has to be derivative. And since I’ve never read anything remotely like The Best of All Possible Worlds, it’s encouraging to run across DeLillo just in time to be able to put a comp in my cover letter.
But also scary. Really, really scary, depending on where it all ends up.
I’m back in Tiny House, by the way, mostly just to block everything else out and finish editing before departing again for roadtrips that will lead up to my series of flights to Africa. The editing is about 70% complete, though there’s the second round of it that comes when I transcribe my red-lined notes into the electronic file that contains the work. It’ll take a while, maybe up to five days. But as an only child, I sometimes just need to be alone, especially to buckle down and do work. Once the work is done, really done, I’ll be sending it out to friends and the one agent who wanted first crack at it, then probably hit the road once more.
So, uh, public service announcement: This is your open call to let me know if you want to read The Best of All Possible Worlds. Your odds are better if you’ve already read and commented on American Dream On, though it would be absurdly self-indulgent of me to require this. Honestly, if you’re my friend and want to see it, that’s enough. Send me an e-mail.
And to leave you on a fun fact for the day, so that we can all laugh about the past and be awed by the present, here’s your news: The girl who said she couldn’t be friends with someone who had a blog had a blog. Far more fascinating than that is what she’s spent the last nine years doing, forsaking some of the first-world concerns she seemed to have in 2001 for time in the Peace Corps in Mauritania and working in Sri Lanka before coming back stateside to work for a really cool organization. I would say I’m proud of her, but that sounds really weird and probably obnoxious since I may have had nothing at all to do with it, especially given the way things ended. So, uh, I don’t have anything to say. Yeah.
I’ve summed up homecomings of all sorts with the following lyrical quotation throughout much of my life. It always has this way of being more transcendentally accurate and true than even all the times I’ve utilized it before. Guess what, “Awareness is Never Enough – It Must Always Be Wonder”? You just got to be the sixth category for this post!
“Looking all around the room
I see the clutter and the gloom
I’m not only back
I’m not only numb”
-Gin Blossoms, “Not Only Numb”