So, last weekend I had the pleasure of observing two very different writers in "action". I use "action" loosely, as one was Hunter S. Thompson...clearly a man one can not observe in action without some heavy super powers at their disposal. To be more clear, I went to see Ursula K Leguin read from a young adults book, and I went to a tribute on HS Thompson, complimented by a short documentary about Hunter in the early 70s.
Now, I am normally of the opinion that writers give you everything you need to know within their books and essays. They are writers, if they wanted you to now specifics about their background, or philosophy or influences they'd WRITE about it. As such, I tend to avoid readings and book signings and lectures and documentaries about the works of fiction. I feel they fetishize the art instead of contemplating the work.
But this time I actually got quite a bit out of each encounter, with, dare I say, not just two authors, but two role models, two legends, and two archetype in the writing profession.
Hunter S. Thompson
During the documentary on Thompson he commented on his fortune at being alive in the San Francisco in the late 60s, early 70s. His exact comment was that the city was "coming alive". Having worked with many people who experienced SF in it's heyday I have gotten similar impressions. That, for a great while, the bay area was the epicenter of evolving social awareness, it was the brilliant vibrant center of social change, both through extended responsibility and through interpersonal experimentation and awakening.
People were rediscovering their own culture, what it meant to be american, young, and part of an emergingly global world. You can see how this would be relevant to writer such as Thompson, who glorified in tearing and redefining the boundaries of social experience and expression. Someone who drew from such odd disparate sources: part redneck, part literary genius, part politic incarnate, would need this vibrancy and freedom to truly experience his own growth.
I experienced the bay area during a very different, yet also significant, metamorphosis. I lived in San Francisco during the technological revolution, the dot.com boom.
Yet, though I loved living there, I could hardly claim to bear witness to such vibrancy. And looking back, I wondered if maybe I experienced a little bit of the city experiencing death.
This sounds a little crass and gross. When I speak of death in such a manner I mean it in more in the capacity a tarot reader interprets the death card: a time of falling apart and ending that leads to change.
I'll explain: while I was there, portions of the bay area were still, certainly, involved in discovering new ways to be aware, new ways to live, so serve each other and build a better city. But most of the social activity was clean up for a very different and surprising movement: the increasing stratification and destruction of what SF once was: a beautiful and strange haven. Perhaps one could have predicted that a movement designed to expand horizons, technology, would give birth to another movement, spurned on by greed and the desire for convenience, that would belittle past movements in such a glorious city, would destroy old monuments, architecture and community, and would compromise the ability for anyone without access to such wealth, to even LIVE in the city, let alone thrive in it.
As I lived there I experienced the slow demoralization of trying to work to preserve many of the aspects I felt once made San Francisco so alive: physical beauty, a certain social awareness brought on by the summer of love, social acceptance and curiosity that attracted artists and artisans and sailors and multiple cultures and society people alike. I also experience a city that only holds true possibility for he wealthy and privileged, an characterization of the american dream gone oddly awry.
Now when I stroll through SF I still see all of the beauty and possibility. I still love the place on a certain level. But I also see people living and dying on the streets, new lofts nobody can afford that block formerly majestic views, artists who can only afford tp perform in the city, but never live there, and a certain layer of dirt and grime and pestilence brought on by a central government that can not afford to supply basic city works.
And it makes me a little uncomfortable, like I am walking through the ruins, experiencing a bit of the death of the city, part by part. And I don't know if what while awaken from it's ashes is something the city is ready to contend with.
Ursula K Leguin
And then there is life. The chapter Ms. Leguin chose to read from started with a statement much to the effect of "considering your life a story might provide the incentive to make it a good one." While it probably best, I suspect, to not spend too much time imagining how the outside might see you and your life, or removing oneself from the experience as it unfolds I liked the sentiment for a variety of reasons. Namely, when we read a story we assume and prescribe a point, meaning or significance to that work. If we approach our existence with the same assumption, the sum of our actions has a point and meaning, and that we have the capacity to make our journey spectator worthy, the perhaps some incentive lies to accomplish meaningful tasks, to take on bigger challenges. I'm in favor of anything that expands our capacity to view our actions and the world around us.
Later, when she was speaking to many of the tools she uses in illustrating her point in her fantasy works she commented that she hoped some of these instruments would not be interpreted literally. I enjoyed this point as well. I have always considered science fiction and fantasy particular fantastic in that the writer attempts to create a whole new world without current social restrictions or physical laws that will illustrate their point. It's the ultimate opportunity for metaphor. Science fiction opens the door for explanation and exploration, while drawing on common experience to make it relevant.
When I think of these impressions I find myself contemplating the intersection: how important it is to seek a life that capitalizes on our capacity to experience change, to explore new possibilities and to move forward paying heed to what we have learned, and using this homage to expand upon our discoveries, to live even more vibrantly.
And, perhaps it's important to pursue life wondering, maybe, that if someone were watching or reading your tale, what would make them smile.