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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I'm finally getting around to reading Kurt Vonnegut's slaughter house-five. My favorite quote so far: "Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops." I'm also a third of the way through The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe by Michael Frayn. And last night I saw Infamous, that other Truman Capote biopic about his In Cold Blood years. What on earth could these three works have in common? And how might I relate them to my own writing life? The answers lay in lies, or the fictionalization of non-fiction, or the perversion of truth brought about by use of language and reflection.

Vonnegut's slaughter house-five is loosely categorized as Science Fiction, but it's essentially a commentary on the bombing of Dresden. Vonnegut uses the fantasy identity of Sci-Fi to get some distance. He needed to get far enough away from the plain facts to bring some editorial latitude. He started writing this book during a time when his audience would not have had a lot of information about the Dresden bombing campaign, and therefore not a lot of sympathy towards it. As he points out early on in the book, Germans making soap out of people was still fresh auf dem amerikanischen zeitgeist.

I'm going to make the Dewey Decimal System suggestion of updating the schema to include Sci-Fi as the cross discipline art form that it is: Science + Fiction + Politics + Philosophy ( 500s + 800s + 100s + 170-190s ). One way to expand the Dewey Decimal system is to expand the number base. So, I'm further going to suggest it be heretofore known as the Dewey Hexadecimal System. The amazing thing is that if you do the math above in hex, you come up with the number: 09-F9-11-02-9D-74-E3-5B-D8-41-56-C5-63-5 6-88-C0 for Science Fiction (Note: this is 1. a fiction and 2. a number of significance to some people, inserted in this post just to be cheeky geeky).

This newfound namespace would allow for a lot more meaning to be carried in the categorization. For instance, you could keep books about Meat and Coffee in the appropriately human-readable named sections deadbeef and c0ffee. It just makes sense. But more to the point, there'd be room to keep Vonnegut's slaughter house-five and Frayn's The Human Touch in the same section, Science Fiction. Now, that's a hell of a long of segue to get an editorial knife stuck in the back of a book about the philosophy of science. But that's partly the point I'll eventually get to, I draw the long bow in order to create conflict where none exists - i.e. fiction.

I'm not trying to be mean in calling The Human Touch a work of science fiction. I've only gotten through a small portion of it. I do mean to say that there's a bit of creating conflict where none needs to be created. Frayn is walking a line dangerously close to philosophy or worse, to Clinton'esq that-depends-on-what-the-definition-of-"is"-is semantics. I'm waiting for some payoff, but for the time being I'm having to settle with being impressed by how many blind noble prize winning scientists Frayn can get touching up an elephant simultaneously.

As a work of non-fiction Frayn's effort reminds me of the (very poor) paper I once turned in for a Children's Literature class. The "paper", written off the top of my head without the constraints of any references, pilloried the false economy of the A-F grading system. My point was that B's were given too freely and too often. What I turned in had nothing to do with the assignment. It was poorly written, unresearched, and inappropriate. No surprise then, D. Fray pulling all semantic relativism and "scientific reductionism" to bear on science relegates not only science to a status short of fact, but sends his own book cascading down this slippery slope. He's going to have to find some traction to pull me back up, to trusting him enough to get through the next 300+ pages.

Lastly, and most to the point, Infamous skillfully weaves the many threads of the Capote's writing of "In Cold Blood". Capote is shown to test-drive various key lines that will eventually end up in his book. He's shown coloring the truth for effect and it becomes very unclear where his loyalty/identity/reality lies, but clear that he lies.

Now, for me. I lie. Here. Right here in this blog. I often times just allow the writing to happen, truth be damned. I think it was Mark Twain who said; "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story". However much I'd like to go back through the entire blog and catalog all of the little lies I've let slip over the years, I can't. Too busy painful. But as an indication of level of deceit you've been subjected to through the years, I'll give a for example. For example, in the post about holding breath during nappy(daiper) changes, it is true that I once held my breath for 5 full minutes. But it is untrue that I had actually tried to hold my breath through an entire change prior to writing that post. I tried it after I published and found it really difficult to get past that 45 second mark, or the more important olfactory milestone of getting the charged particles into containment (there has to be a better way). But there was a "story" there, so I went with it.

About writing and publishing on a semi-regular basis I've found three things:

1. It's more difficult to write to individual friends. I generally end up inadvertently writing a blog post, posting it, and then writing a much shorter something to the individual. This didn't used to be the case. In the olden days my post texts would be sent out to individuals in email or letter format retaining the subtle intimate expectations olde tyme letter writing.

2. This whole truth thing detailed above. It's a slippery bit of soap that one. The magic of writing is getting this shadow-puppet show in my head in your head. The 2-dimensionality of the medium demands some heightening in order to lift off the page. But where does "heightening" cross that nasty line to become misleading for advantage? At what point when employing the stress of embellishment does the string break when drawing the long bow? http://esuburbs.blogspot.com/search?q=lies (for reference, some things I've said about lies in the past)

3. Proofreading and editing your own stuff is difficult. Not proofreading and editing your own stuff is worse.

And finally, three entrepreneurial ideas totally unrelated to the above:

1. The pillow on pillow-top mattresses should be Velcro attached to the mattress, so that if you purchase a too soft or too hard mattress, it can easily be exchanged for a suitable core.

2. A hotel should contract with bed salespeople. Each room in the hotel could feature a specific mattress. You spend the weekend at the hotel on the bed you intend to purchase. Customer is maybe $400 out of pocket for the hotel stay, but a hotel stay in and of itself has value. In any case, that cost could be accounted for discouting the price of the mattress if customer eventually buys. Hotel owner has extra customers and always has fresh mattresses (see pillow-top idea above). Bed salesmen have fewer returns and more satisfied customers. It's win win win really.

3. Pet food that makes dogs constipated so that their owners who live in apartment blocks don't have to take them out to do their business so often. Oh wait, that's already on the market:

"All products in the ADVANCE range are highly palatable and digestible to help deliver maximum nutrient availability and fewer, firmer stools."

Jesus Christ, what kind of a world do we live in?!

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