Saturday, October 02, 2010

What did I do before the Internet?

One thing that I really loved about the Internet when I, a late-comer, first discovered it in 2000, is the "web" concept of all of the links on a site. An interest in one thing will lead you to another related thing, then another, then another... But back before I ever had a computer, I used to do the exact same thing, just in a physical, and a more time-consuming and much more thorough, sense, i.e. READING BOOKS! Good non-fiction books provide a Bibliography list, plus I always ended up wanting to know more about the other characters peopling the books, or the cities, or the time period as a whole. Luckily, I was for several years the 6th-floor supervisor of UT's Perry-Castaneda Library (same floor where the AK-47-bearing guy at UT killed himself earlier this week), so I had easy access to the vast collection of fiction, poetry, movie books...My actual work only took about 3 out of the 8 hours, so I'd spend the rest of my time holed up in my office, reading and reading and reading...

This week flashed me back to that "old-fashioned" way of learning about stuff: The slightly cooler weather put me in a mood to read; I was missing Sandra so I thought I'd revisit the excellent Zelda bio by Milford to see if I could pick up any clues; the Zelda book mentioned that Scott Fitzgerald's "Tender is the Night" was partially about their relationship, so I read that for the first time (I've got all of Fitzgerald's novels, but was never able to get into "Tender" before); "Tender" led me to Scott's essays, including "The Crack-Up" (his self-flagellation about his drinking and perceived failure) and his look back at his time in New York City (interesting to compare my experience with his -- he was, ultimately, a huge success there but found it too enervating; I was a huge failure there but fell in love with its energy); the essays, plus accounts in "Zelda" about her and Hemingway's mutual dislike, led me to Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast," about his '20s years in Paris, including intimate details about his encounters with the couple...

It's interesting to try to puzzle out "how it was" from different perspectives. Just shallowly: Reading "Zelda," I found myself judging Scott for being a horrible drunkard and partially to blame for her mental troubles; reading "Tender" and his essays and Hemingway's account, I saw much more how he was struggling to work on his craft and how she kept hindering him with demands to be entertained, how he really wasn't the ideal "help-meet" for her, but, rather, quite needed a help-meet himself, as genius-level artists (or any genius-level people in any field) do...

From Hemingway's "Moveable Feast"? Well, I just read a bio of Sylvia Beach and her "Shakespeare & Co" bookstore this summer, so I'm not in the mood for that again so soon... I'm definitely not in the mood to try to re-read any of Gertrude Stein's stuff. (God help me. The first time was annoying enough.) And, strangely enough, being lesbian myself, I'm not in the mood to re-visit accounts of the decadent lesbian '20s Paris scene, which was mentioned in EVERYTHING I've read over the past few days. (Fitzgerald and Hemingway both freaked out by it; the Zelda-book hinting that she'd been under the sway of the ladies...) I think at the moment I've pretty much had it with "decadence"... Had to go look up the definition: "characterized by a highly mannered style and an emphasis on the morbid and perverse." Yes, I'm definitely sick of it.

(BTW: I think the Internet by its very anonymous nature contributes to too much "stylization," i.e., creation of fake personae -- a bit thrilling at first, but ultimately soul-deadening when one attempts to make the leap from fantasy to reality after being attracted to the online persona... often, there's no "there" there, other than the image that the person has falsely created... At 25, 30, 35...that attraction to surface was still quite interesting to me. At 45, it's extremely boring. What I've also found boring is the fact that quite often -- really, the majority of the time -- people online, when given a public forum like Facebook, for example, have absolutely NOTHING TO SAY! They'll post their Farmville or Farkle scores; they'll tell you they're about to do their homework or go to the doctor or breastfeed their kid; the right-wing (my hometown people) will say stupid stuff about Obama and the lefties (my Austin people), stupid stuff about Palin; they'll tell you they finally got caught up on their DVR-watching... Out of my 50-odd Facebook friends, there are maybe 10 that actually say anything at all. The nearly constant onslaught of dumbness is just plain soul-wearying.)

Probably why I've, sans Sandra, returned to books this past week! I was starved for anyone, anything that said anything, that made me THINK and FEEL. I like thinking and feeling. I've missed it. Even "Tender is the Night," which is definitely not a very well-constructed or psychologically astute novel overall, provided much more mental sustenance than TV or the Internet, just on the merits of this quote alone: "...we are seldom sorry for those who need and crave our pity -- we reserve this for those who, by other means, make us exercise the abstract function of pity."

I'm sure I'll be in the mood for "Jersey Shore" bons mots like "You dirty little hamster!" sometime quite soon, but in the meantime... Thanks, Scott, for the anchor to the actual complexity underlying human interaction! :)

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