Friday, December 11, 2009

In Which A Grammatically-Inconsistent Summary Is Provided And Analysis Foreshadowed

Saturday, 12/5: Fly. Stop. Fly. Arrive at New Orleans aeroport at approximately 4:30 p.m. local time (which is, as I'm constantly forgetting, one hour behind time-to-which-I'm-accustomed). Drive to Baton Rouge. Eat at local Greek-and-Lebanese chain. Find motel. Sleep.

Sunday, 12/6: Arise. Examine websites of two local megachurches. Choose The Healing Place Church on basis of less overtly political Statement of Belief (this territory has been well-covered in a previous post). Attend "church". Leave "church" emotionally numb and further from God than when we arrived. Drive to Livonia, LA. Eve bikes about 30 miles to Plaquemine as I drive there and look around. When Eve arrives, go to Bayou Segnette State Park, set up camp in the dark, and sleep.

Monday, 12/7: Arise to rain. Determine too cold and wet to bike, so drive to Plaquemine and look around. Find beautiful Catholic church. Examine abandoned lock. Climb levee. Follow river south. Find plantation, attend tour administered by contagiously-unhappy Darlene. Tour attempts to address issue of slavery in Southern culture; ends up, as was inevitable, both euphemizing and romanticizing it. Drive into New Orleans. Get coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde. Find that we both like beignets more than any other form of fried dough. Wander French Quarter. Eat oh-my-god-this-is-amazing sandwiches. Go to Bayou Segnette. Sleep as rain starts to fall.

Tuesday, 12/8: Arise to puddles as previously described. Dry clothes and sleeping bags in free laundry room. Go to Westwego Library. Drive to Grand Isle State Park. Set up camp, explore, eat, get flat tire on drive back from restaurant, sleep.

Wednesday, 12/9: Arise to one tire flat instead of four flats as dreamt by Mac. Make arrangements to get tire fixed. Unpack car, organize everything. Bask in first and only sunlight since Saturday. Shower. Fix tire. Drive back up to NOLA, stopping at Walmart for groceries and two new tires and oil change. Drive to St. Bernard State Park. Set up camp. Drive to New Orleans. Park, wander, look for music. Find, first, passable music at trashy tourist bar. Leave, find pretty good music at emptier bar. Go to Candlelight Lounge. Wait for Treme Brass Band to arrive and play. Wait. Wait. Listen to excellent Treme Brass Band. Eat. Sleep.

Thursday, 12/10: Arise to cold. Drive to New Orleans, find cafe. Go to surprisingly small exhibition of pictures of the end of the Mississippi. Drive around New Orleans. Go to African-American Museum. Eat. Sleep.

Friday, 12/11: Arise to colder-than-yesterday. Drive to New Orleans. Find cafe. Post.

Stanley Fish Is A Complete Fucking Idiot

I'm sorry. I know that the few of you who might read this thing don't come here for this reason. But my god. Despite his badass name, this older essay and, more recently, this I'm-trying-to-be-contrarian-but-this-is-all-I-can-come-up-with-may-God-forgive-my-stupidity-and-the-New-York-Times-reward-it deserve nothing else but public scorn. And that's all I have to say about that. More coming, and when it does I promise it will be about New Orleans, neogeography (this is a stupid term, I know, but don't you love the rhyme?), and music. Honest.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

In Which We Go To Church Without Going To Church

Baton Rouge, LA--More accurately NOLA, I suppose, but in my mind I'm back in Baton Rouge, and since this post will take as its subject a memory I feel it's fitting to town-stamp it at the memory's site. In Baton Rouge we went to church in a warehouse and listened to a fake preacher who was actually an accountant. The church, which retains the name not because it deserves it but because I can't think of what else to call it, was this one suggested to Eve by the person (I think a he, but his name is eluding me) who showed her around St. Francisville LA. Brief Sunday-morning analysis of the website was inconclusive--we chose the Healing Place Church over Bethany because of the former's less overtly political website; Bethany's scared us, HPC's scared us less, but we shouldn't have worried in the least, because just once before (in a classroom--a brief primer: this fool of a professor equated the perjury charge leveled against a policeman friend of his who had perjured himself during a murder trial with Bill Clinton's acquittal in the Senate of perjury, neglecting to consider that just maybe lying to a jury during a murder trial isn't quite equivalent to saying that someone didn't fellate you when in fact they did (brief, brief aside: Google's dictionary doesn't recognize the verb fellate, and I'm not sure if the reason is more likely to be prudishness or frequency of usage, but a brief experiment reveals that it does recognize the noun fellatio and so it's probably the latter reason)) have I been in a place where so much was said without anything being said. We arrived ten minutes early and sat in the car for nine, watching the cars-nearly all expensive, and nearly all SUVs--file in and steeling ourselves for we-didn't-know-what. They could tell we were first-timers, either because we had quizzical expressions or because we reeked of Christlessness or both, and so ushered us to specially-marked seats in more or less the middle of the warehouse theater (I simply can't think of another way to describe this place) that they tried to pass as a nave--for the entire "service" I fretted, and my guess is that Eve did as well, that they would try to work on us, as it were, but thankfully they left us more or less alone.

The first half-hour was dominated by a predictably solid but mind-numbingly dull band singing what seemed to be secular love songs with two or three references to Jesus scattered throughout. Instrumentation: one drummer; one percussionist (solitary, inaudible conga); no less than four male guitarists, two of whom sang; two female lead vocalists; one mixed chorus of perhaps 25; one bassist; one keyboardist. Type: all young; all dressed nicely but casually; all painstakingly groomed to varying degrees of hipness. Intra-band engagements: one, between blond female vocalist and indistinct guitarist. Favorite Christmas carols of Mac's forever ruined by godawful cover: one, "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear".

Ratio of spoken-word mentions of "dollars" to spoken-word mentions of "God": approximately 4:1. Ratio of amount of sermon devoted to various fundraising efforts to amount of sermon devoted to reading and analysis of biblical passage (from Luke): approximately 1:1. Amount of money raised by church in the previous 21-day period: $830,000. Amount of money spent on new church complex that could instead have been spent on any number of excellent causes in the area:.... but I'm becoming bitter. Eve said after we left that she didn't feel like she had gone to church.

In Which There Is Water-Oh-My-God-Everywhere-!

New Orleans, LA--Once again (in a metaphorical rather than literal sense), some other-named town just outside of a city will not get its just deserts in this blog, as New Orleans will serve as a stand-in for whatever municipality truly contains the St. Bernard State Park (which, by the way, has free wireless, as do two of the other three LA S.P.s that Eve or I or both have stayed at; the one holdout S.P., at Grand Isle, is consistently rated one of the top State Parks in the country, a fact which I'm sure provides its supervisor a simultaneously plentiful source of pride (that his State Park, alone of Louisiana's, made the list) and fear (that when the day inevitably comes that sees G.I.S.P. fall off the list, his professional life will be, for all intents and purposes, ended)). Had I written something at Bayou Segnette S.P., however, I would most likely have town-stamped the post "Westwego, LA," not because B.S.S.P. is any further from New Orleans than St. Bernard, but because "Westwego" is such a wonderful name--as is, by the way, "Cut Off, LA," which, before you ask, is most definitely not cut off, and in fact it's difficult to imagine when it might have been, and so the pertinent question becomes not "From what is or has Cut Off (been) cut off from?" but rather "Just what, exactly, is or was cut off?"

But I'll diverge from this burlesque line of questioning-or-not-questioning (Ed.: not to mention sentence-completing-or-sentence-fragment-abandoning) to address facts: there is more water in Louisiana than anywhere else I've ever, carefully, set foot. On Monday night, we were positioned at Bayou Segnette S.P., Eve comfortably in her hammock (which setup now includes accompanying tarp so that it looks like a sharply-executed, floating blue tent), I in a new and unfamiliar tent, hastily and haphazardly erected (the consequences of this slapdashery being, as we shall see, more severe than I would have predicted). Our shelters having gotten us through the previous night's showers moisture-free, we viewed Monday night's projected thunderstorms with scorn. I learned, quickly, that "thunderstorm" has in a hurricane-ravaged land a slightly different meaning than that to which I was accustomed. The storm raged for close to five hours, and when I say "raged" I mean think of the most powerful Northeastern rainstorm you can. For me this is Hurricane Bob (I think) of the early nineties, when I was maybe seven. Tent-posts and guy-lines were whipped out of the ground like candles from a cake (Ed.: spare us your pathetic hyperbole: you replaced precisely one post, and the fact that you replaced it three times speaks more to your weakness than to the strength of the storm). Maybe so--but the rain and wind and lightning and cold, and the inch-deep-and-growing puddle in the tent drove me, still sleepless at 3 a.m., to the shelter of the car, and it was only when the rain and lightning ceased at 5 that I fell asleep, awakening at 6:30 to this strange and dreamlike sight. The rain had created ponds where the previous evening there had been grass--and, we later learned, had flooded a few suburbs not far from where we were staying.

Let me clarify the term "suburb" (Ed.: as usual, I see absolutely no way of stopping you), for here, again, the typical Northeastern meaning of the word is inadequate. The areas around New Orleans are overwhelmingly, for lack of a better word, depressed (topographically and economically) and depressing. In a way, it's the opposite of what seems to happen in the North--where the richer, and overwhelmingly whiter, folks move out of the inner city to the suburbs or (though I detest the term, it is occasionally useful) exurbs. But here--and I cannot speak to Southern cities in general, although I have a (fallible, obviously) hunch that it applies generally--people flock to the city. It doesn't seem, at least I haven't seen evidence of it, that there's a single suburb in the Northern sense of the word. Everyone seems to live in the city, if not formally then at least roughly defined. But let me leave sociology, such as it is, to the sociologists, seeing as they know how to do it properly.

The parts of Louisiana south of New Orleans extend much further than one could imagine, particularly if (like me) you heard a "preacher" in Baton Rouge proclaim his masculine being-from-Southern-Louisiana and thought there was a great deal more to go in that direction--but that's a story, and what a story, for another time. Maine has islands, plenty of islands, and a rocky coast which appears on a map to be a fairly accurate kind of meta-geology, that is to say it looks as rocky pictographically as it does in person; and southern Louisiana (actually southern, you shape-shifting ape-lifting preacher-man) looks much the same, map-wise; but it is not. For one thing, it's bigger: broader, longer, grander, but also thinner, less dense. I think it's the effect of the trees. In Maine you can't see very far because even the islands have enormous thick pine forests; in southern LA you can see forever, over the islands to the sea to more islands to more sea to even more islands and beyond them who knows? And Grand Isle is their apogee, level enough but in danger (as, geographically speaking, is New Orleans) of falling into the flat, flat ocean. That's the thing about these places--they're precarious.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Brief Banalities; and Withdrawal Makes The Fix Even Sweeter

Dubuque, IA--Before reading this post, do yourself and my ego favors and check to see if you've read the one below, which I just put up a few minutes ago (Ed.: you're such an asshole. You think they can't figure it out on their own?). Or don't. Whatever. I don't care.

Back to camping, which feels surprisingly good--the fact that I'll be sleeping in a real bed semi-permanently in a couple of nights lends a melancholy comfort to these last two sleeping pad and bag experiences (Ed.: lends these last two experiences a melancholy... oh whatever you'll never learn). Today Eve is biking from Guttenberg IA to Dubuque or so (the “or so” referring to her discretion in terms of mileage) while I wait patiently in cafe(s) in Dubuque instead of setting up camp like I said I would (in my defense, it's like 20 miles to the campsite and I did at least look up if camping there is allowed and it is, and plus it takes us like 20 minutes to set up and what's the point of driving down and back because she'll definitely want to use the Internet), and tomorrow I will either bike or kayak down towards the Quad Cities (Davenport IA, Rock Island IL, Moline IL, and Bettendorf IA, although B-Dorf's inclusion has its opponents, among which I'd have to count myself for the sole reason that “Quad Cities” is just kind of an ugly name and something along the lines of “Tri Cities” would be much nicer).

Also: Iowa is pretty. Like really pretty. Especially here (I'm not sure how I'd feel about the flat parts), where there are hills and bluffs and I actually saw a sign with an arrow and the words “Ski Area”. It's all farmland, and it's beautiful.

I guess I don't really have much to say right now. Which is too bad because I'm not sure I'll be able to post anything more before I go home, and though I plan on continuing to write (because honestly, how much of this blog was directly related to the particular places I was or what I was doing?) it'll be interesting how the subject and tone change when I'm back in familiar territory. And here again: how much of the subject matter and tone of the blog so far have been driven by fear and uncertainty? It's tough to say. And now I have to sign off quickly because I've only got like five minutes to get to the parking meter so maybe I'll put up something again later but then again maybe I won't OK bye!

A Return To Form

Ferryville, WI (but probably posting in either Prairie du Chien, WI, or Guttenberg, IA (UPDATE: Actually am currently in Dubuque IA))--Sorry for the lapse in posting frequency, it's been a very busy and Internet-and-cell-phone-free couple of days: nice every now and then, but eventually it's an itch you gotta scratch. Nick and family hosted us like long-lost relatives (it makes strong bonds, this River) and were able (sans one who had I believe a football game or something of the sort) to come out paddling with us yesterday, and we formed a small and slow-moving flotilla (seriously guys ever since I learned that word I've been aching to use it so cut me some slack re: its “proper” meaning (UPDATE TO THIS POST: I just discovered that Apple's TextEdit uses the same algorithm for determining the direction of quotation marks (I've also been dying to do a third parenthetical at some point so here it is: is there a specific word or term for the direction of quotation marks? Quotation Vector? Sub-Question: If one person somewhere made up such a word and used it exactly once, would it be a word? Super-Question: ..............? Super question! (Ed.: I'm going to kill you, and I already know exactly how and when I'm going to do it: with a knife. Sometime soon.)) as does Google's Blogger. Is this, like, the best we can do? Aren't these guys the giants of the algorithm-innovation-and-development fields? Hasn't MS Word had like a perfectly good algorithm for precisely this problem for, like, twenty years? Am I the only one who cares? (I know, I know, but Sub-Question: Is there a dedicated Quotation Marks Algorithm Developer on the Programming Staff of any of the three aforementioned companies, and if so, how does he feel about his title? Is he out for the Senior Punctuation Manager's job (and its accompanying colloquial title of “Pun(c/k) Guru?”), and if so, does the SPM know, and is there pushback (I'm sure there would be really nerdy, passive-aggressive pushback, although is there pushback that isn't passive-aggressive (excluding sexual harassment)?)?)); it's such a cool word, especially when “armada” is just out of the question) moving through the backwaters of the UM (Upper Mississippi for all you landlubbers (shore-shovers? concrete coolies? leg-lemmings? walkie-talkies (we neither walk nor talk on the UM)?)) (Ed.: oh my god get a life!).

T.O.: If you've made it this far, and read each parenthetical the way you should (read pretty much straight through until a close-parens, then go back two open-parens and start again, skipping the complete thought you already read and finishing the interrupted thought), congratulations. I felt that after a couple days of rather lax posting, my return shouldn't be a whimper (Ed.: Christ, you show this guy one fucking poem and suddenly he's... well, well, well I can't really think of any writer who is best-known for his allusions, I mean Joyce is kinda close but they're not so much allusions as archetypes; I'm sorry, you all know I'm a figment of his imagination and thus it's really him who's at fault for this shortcoming; but wait again, if I start blaming him for my flaws then do I lose free will? I've never been one of those people who can stand a paradox e.g. “God gave me free will.”). But it's also a result of paddling 20 miles in the hot sun on Friday then getting up and paddling a canoe a whole bunch yesterday (OK OK a whole bunch is, like, seven or eight miles but still it was also in the hot sun) and currently facing the prospect of another 20 miles in the hot sun today. So enjoy it while it lasts, buckos, cause nothing lasts forever.

T.I.: So all of this just kind of goes to show that it's been a pretty exciting few days, and exciting is all well and good (witness, e.g., how good this post is!) but it doesn't leave a whole lot of time or energy for writing, or really I guess producing anything at all. It's a sort of condensed absorption phase, and I was thinking about that again yesterday (Question: can writing or thinking about the creation and production of art and even artistic impulses, and I mean all that in about the broadest sense possible, possibly be considered art? And I really really don't mean that in a sort of freshman-in-college (-or-if-you're-me-junior-in-college-cause-I-didn't-get-a-whole-lot-of-those-questions-in-high-school (“get” meaning either receive or understand)), and I suppose I should modify the question to read “possibly result in art” rather than “be considered art”. And I guess first of all it's sort of a meaningless question, as is every question about what might constitute or prevent from constituting a work of art. So anyway.) and I was particularly considering this point, again, that the question of what this trip does for me (I still think it's too soon to say “has done for me”, not to mention that that formulation makes me a little sad), i.e. how does it change the way I see and hear and respond to things, is far more important the question of what I produce in direct response to it, which in the long run might not be anything beyond this blog. But then I started re-thinking: I've been dreaming a lot recently (which is, as a few of you might know, not something I do regularly), and they've been not especially vivid or memorable but one thing they have been is odd and, well, original and creative. I remember the night before last having a dream with a very cool soundtrack that I have never heard before (oh to have remembered it!), which has only happened to me a very few times and is both a fun experience and a sign that I have some, well, stuff that I want to get out. So I wouldn't say absorption is complete because obviously it never is. But I've spent a month and a half in places I've never been, doing things--highly mythologized things or at least a highly mythologized thing--that I've never done before. That's gotta do something.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Geometrics Really Just Isn't A Word, No Matter What Anyone Says; And This Isn't Covered In The Post But Stanley Fish Is Still An Idiot

De Soto, WI--A couple miles north of De Soto, anyway, at Black Hawk Park, looking out into Battle Slough and across it at Battle Island (there's a definite theme here). There's no cafe in De Soto (I had hoped that it would continue the pattern of there being no real correlation between size (in terms of both geography and population) and economic/hipness-possessing prosperity, but even on a non-correlative graph there exist outliers. Anyway. We spent the night in luxurious comfort at the home of Nick Lichter, who wrote this book that we've been referring to pretty frequently and who lives in La Crosse with his wife Margaret and kids, and I slept in a bed for only the second time in a month and a half. Today Eve kayaks from Brownsville, MN, where I finished yesterday, 18 miles to Black Hawk Park and a few miles north of here will cross the state line from Minnesota into Iowa, which means that (A) we've entered our third state and (B) Minnesota, which had started to feel like a perpetual companion and looming comfort over on the right shore, is no longer there, replaced by Iowa, a state about which my feelings are shall we say somewhat mixed (even though there's no real geographic/geologic distinction between Winona and Dubuque and the state line is a more-or-less arbitrary distinction based on the reasonable if arcane and artificial (i.e. prescriptive rather than descriptive, no?) system of latitude/longitude which also formed the U.S./Canada border and the Mason-Dixon line, and though I'm perfectly aware that this part of Iowa bears no resemblance to the industrial-corn-farm Iowa of the central and western part of the state, it's always seemed to me on the map to be adequately evoked by its shape, a square-that-they-made-not-quite-a-square-cause-hey-it's-gotta-have-something-to-distinguish-it-by). And it remains to be seen if we will experience the same transformations of Wisconsin and Iowa through which we experienced Minnesota, from the wild North Country to the Iron Range to the (especially) lakey region to the bluffs of the Southeast, and my guess is that we won't.

I'd continue these fascinating thoughts but it's hot today, probably not much over 80 but the kind of heat that makes you want to just lie down and turn off your brain. But maybe I'm just dehydrated or something. But either way I should stop.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

On Provinciality (But Not the Kind You Think)

La Crosse, WI--Once again, the unrelenting sun has melted my brain to a low-viscosity pink froth, like strawberry ice cream abandoned too long, and though I feel an odd compulsion to write (not an obligation exactly, and honestly if Eve wasn't hogging the computer--mine's AirPort card is dead, don'tcha know--it's pretty likely I wouldn't be at it at all), about what I haven't the slightest. When you kayak all day (Ed.: shut up, it was five hours), you generally don't have much to say at the end of it; it's the days off that are the most productive.

I went through Lock #7 today, and a guy watching me (I couldn't tell if he was involved in the operation of the lock or if he was just spectating), after being told of our (Eve's) plans, said, “I don't think you'll make it.” I was so shocked to hear him say it (for three reasons: first, that as he was well aware, we'd already gone a month and a week, including a week of really heavy traffic, which I find adequate evidence of commitment and determination; second, that I don't think I look like a clumsy fool out there--I clearly knew how to lock through efficiently and safely; and third, that it's just kind of an asshole thing to say, even, maybe especially, if you follow it with “Good luck!”) that I didn't ask what in retrospect is the most important, and obvious, question: why? Is it just a matter of statistics (I'm sure that a significantly greater number of people being such a trip than complete it)? If not, was it some kind of mistake I had made in the lock? I don't think so, if only because the person operating the lock (regardless of the conversant's affiliations, he definitely wasn't controlling the mechanism) let the water out wicked quickly, which seems like something you do for a guy who clearly knows what he's doing, not something that's prudent when you have a novice in the lock. Or was it because the river is just unimaginably difficult and scary below, say, Cairo? How did he know we hadn't done it before (I'll admit I was tempted to tell him this was my third time kayaking the length of the Mississippi, just to knock him down a couple levels)? I understand that giving this much thought to the words of a man who seemed to me to be the kind of guy who acts seasoned about the tiny bland corner of the world that he knows at all because it's all anyone ever asks him to talk about is completely ridiculous and neurotic etc., and I'm not worried about it in the long-term (really, I'm not, he was an idiot); it was just so strange to hear someone be so rude. Bah! Anyway. I'm done.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

On Caffeine (Coffee Shop Hip-Bop Be-Hop Short-Stop Art-Pop)

Winona, MN--Feeding a growing caffeine addiction--having never really been addicted to anything (Question: does Addiction exist as infinitesimally-spaced points along a continuum or as an on/off switch and does the distinction matter?), I now live in a deep-seated fear of anything-too-much--in yet another coffee shop. Last night we stayed, for the first time, at a campsite inaccessible by car (we parked about a half-mile away), at the end of a slough (pronounced like "flue" with an S; and one of these days I need to learn pronunciation symbols like that upside down "e", although there are many ways to explain how to pronounce words without such symbols and after all even the pronunciation shorthand itself requires explanations drawn from actual words--see e.g. the beginning of any dictionary--and so couldn't it be said that the symbols are so unnecessary to the whole procedure of explaining pronunciation as to serve as yet another example of the leisure classes' cultural exclusivity?) that sees no traffic but is foggy and silent and beautiful in the morning. The campsite was revealed to us, a la the bequeathing of a secret passageway by father to son (Ed.: where do you get these awful metaphors?), by David Echelard, a singer and accordionist and hurdy-gurdyist who specializes in early French music, particularly that of trouvers and troubadours (Ed.: and where do you get off italicizing the former but not the latter? Although I guess trouver is still pretty much an exclusively French word, while troubadour has made the jump, e.g. "sans", to common SWE usage) which if you'll permit me to rhapsodize for a moment (Ed.: and what if we don't? Writing is the aggressive act, reading submissive, and a writer asking his audience's permission is like a dictator asking for that of his subjects) is music that I always love but I don't know nearly enough about, especially as it fits into my whole pop-vs-art-transitions-over-time thing (i.e. the history of European, essentially popular, music from 200 or 500 years ago was required for my college degree; popular music from even 50 years ago was not).

Eve and I were just talking about grammar and its decline in the American curricula and if said decline matters and I started thinking about DFW's (I know I bring him up a lot, but show me a better American essayist in the last 20 years and I'll declare you stark raving mad) essay on approx. the same: "Authority and American Usage," which sounds like the dryest read ever--the type of Essay Stanley Fucking Fish would write, not inthe NYT but rather in some academic journal and in the first paragraph of which he'd only half-jokingly refer to "finally writing something for an educated audience" or some shit, at whichthe two or three young, still passably self-aware English professors would roll their eyes but the rest would nod knowingly--but if you know DFW or even me (hopefully) you'll realize is not that at all. The essay is a review of a book by Bryan Garner (I didn't even have to look that up) on, well, Authority and American Usage (of Standard Written English (i.e. Standard White English), if that wasn't yet clear), and DFW is essentially saying that Garner's brilliant contribution to the debate over descriptivism vs. prescriptivism (i.e., and here I'm really summarizing Wallace's also-brilliant summary of this timeless linguistic conflict, the "Dictionary Wars", whether the role of the dictionary should be to describe or prescribe grammatical and linguistic patterns and changes, such as whether a dictionary should continue to insist that "ain't" ain't a word or whether it should cave to overwhelming popular usage and include it in the dictionary; a more fundamental approach to the debate could even question whether dictionaries matter, because communication gave rise to dictionaries and not vice versa, and whether the basis of language is speech or writing) is that it doesn't really matter what position you take in these debates so long as you acknowledge that there are and will forever be multiple ways of using the language that are equally valid in their respective contexts--hence "Standard White English"--and that what really matters is not "correct" usage but the ability to possess several different dialects and to use them in the correct context.

And I started to think about this in respect to music. (First of all: kudos if you've made it through the above paragraph, let alone understand it, and you should all really just read the article because it's much clearer and more fun there.) Because for all the talk of provinciality in the music world, and despite the fact that the intimacies and details of each musical sphere are much more intricate than those of language (regardless, I think, of whether or not you're a musician, though it might be more difficult for musicians), one of the crucial skills for anyone interested in music as a performer or critic or composer or audience member or whatever is to be able to move between different musical contexts fluidly, to understand that the important musical elements of a work are entirely different from one kind of music to the next, and to understand and adapt our understandings as we go. In one context, "ain't" is perfectly acceptable but "hermeneutics" might as well be a four-letter word, while in another the reverse is true. I think this is all fairly clear, and as DFW points out, most of us go our whole lives not needing to really sit down and think about it because it comes fairly naturally to most of us (to paraphrase, "the kid who doesn't understand that the language you use with adults is different from the language you use with other kids is the kid who gets beaten up by the other kids," and obviously I don't mean "naturally" to mean "by instinct rather than acculturation" necessarily), but it bears repeating and maybe even contemplation if only because debates over quality can so easily leave out the question of context.

Monday, September 7, 2009

This Post Is Not Worth Reading

Winona, MN--I'm not sure how I manage to keep all these coffee shops associated with the correct city, but I do: if you held up pictures of all of them, I could tell you where they're located (I could even distinguish between the Caribou Coffee in Monticello and the Caribou Coffee in Elk River). Now, maybe you could say I have a prodigious memory. And you would not be far wrong. But the frequently transparent efforts of coffee shop managers to make their businesses distinctive are surprisingly effective regardless of how aware the viewer is of such efforts (the same can be said for a lot of modern advertising, actually--despite the fact that we're all aware of advertising's efforts, it still works, and often its own willingness to play on our assumptions and the way non-advertisers think advertising work is one of its most effective mechanisms), and so I have no trouble remembering that the coffee shop in Grand Rapids (“Brewed Awakenings”) had blackandwhite tile floors and lots of yellow elsewhere while the one in Hastings (“Second Street Coffee Shop”, and that's another interesting story out here; a town's First Street is the first street parallel to the river, and so on from there, except that because of the threat and history of flooding a lot of First Streets are basically empty or abandoned to the point where there frequently isn't a First Street at all, and Second Street is the one with shops and cafes) is the one with the slightly overbearing proprietor.

But enough of such banalities. There is important business to which to attend. Was it about kayaking? Where's my damn editor? (Ed.: it's Labor Day. Shut up so I can go back to sleep.) Ah. Well, in that case I suppose we all deserve a break.