Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Laying Back, Paul Bowles' Travels, a Dream

Monday, July 30, 2012—Long Beach, CA

Feeling a little out of it. I’ve been battling an on-again off-again sinus infection this whole summer and lately it’s been acting up (it can take forever to get rid of those things, sometimes many months). I also have a minor muscle pull under my left shoulder blade, which is just painful enough to be annoying. Other than these issues things are going OK. It’s a bit slow around here: I’ve been doing little besides working out, doing some light school prep, and reading. I’ve also been writing a bit, experimenting with an essay about my days in Hawai’i. I’m very much feeling my thru it, am not sure where it’s going. As I’d mentioned, I’d been playing around with ideas for a novel set in Hawai’i that ultimately didn’t work and in a sense they haves morphed into this essay. Hopefully I’m now on the right track with it.

Like I just said, I’ve been reading a lot. I read a lot of novels in the first half of the summer, but since I’ve been back from up north, it’s been mostly non-fiction, political and economic stuff, history, travel writing. I’ve burned thru a couple of Noam Chomsky books and in the middle of a third one. I’m also reading a history on Vasco de Gama’s Indian voyages well as essays by Orwell and a collection of Paul Bowels travel pieces. The Chomsky stuff I’ve been reading mainly for his perspectives and the massive amounts of information he provides (he’s a pretty lousy writer). With the Orwell’s stuff, though, I’ve been studying his technique. He’s nearly in a class of his own as an essayist. Even in his lesser works the writing and the thought shaping it is always razor sharp; he never wastes a word or goes on any tangent he doesn’t eventually drive right pack to the heart of the piece. I’m perhaps finding the Bowels’ book the most interesting, though. As a novelist he’s very frustrating. His novels start off so promising, but every one I’ve tried to read begins to let me down about halfway thru; it’s as if he’s become bored with his own creation and doesn’t quite have the energy (or the vision, which is partially born from this kind of energy) to see things thru. His travel writing, though, thus far really shines.

The book is simply called Travels and collects a lot of his travel pieces from 1950-1993. Some of the work has appeared in his books, but a lot of it is stuff that was published in magazines and newspapers and has never before been collected. It’s obvious that he’s toned down his style a bit at times for more mainstream audiences (the icy detachment of the narrator of The Sheltering Sky and Let it Come Down would no doubt freak out the readers of magazines such as Holiday), but his voice still comes thru. It’s a voice suited for this kind of writing too. With his novels Bowles always seems burdened by his plots, by having to tell a story—for him, you get the feeling, that the landscape, the climate, the people going about their daily lives is enough. Travel writing allows him to concentrate on just those things and he brings them to life marvelously. So far my favorite pieces have been set in his beloved North Africa and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). There are some that take place in Europe too that are interesting. When I’m done with this book I think I’m going to check out the rest of his non-fiction, including the travels books some of the pieces in Travels came from. He also published a dairy from his time in Tangier I want to track down.

I went to the Lakewood Mall today in search of a shirt to where to a wedding I’m going to in Santa Barbara this weekend (I came home empty handed). Going to malls has become a very weird experience for me. I simply don’t go to places like that very often. I don’t buy things in general. I don’t even watch TV much, which means I don’t see the commercials most Americans allow themselves to be bombarded with. Today I began realizing how disconnected I’ve become from the American capitalist enterprise—I truly don’t understand the mindset of the people who hang out in malls regularly. Nor do I really get why anyone would want to spend their lives selling and making most of the stuff sold in them. People shop, I think, because they’ve largely lost the ability to create their own lives, their own value systems. So they try and buy those things one step removed. It of course doesn’t work. And when it doesn’t they feel bad, which provides the impetus to go off on another buying spree to try and solve that problem (which is really of course just an expression of the first problem). And so on and so on … I’ve reached the point where, except for stuff like food, I hate to buy anything, not because I’m cheap, or even because I usually don’t have that much money, but because I know whatever it is will likely become more baggage in my life, something I have to wash or dust or do an oil change on. Stuff, in other words, equals work. I’m amazed that more people don’t see this. Freedom is a light backpack and a (relatively) full bank account.

I’ve been having lots of weird/bad dreams lately. Most of them are gone soon after I wake up (I mean within seconds) and all I’ve got left of them are the uptight or outright bad feelings they’ve brought out in me. I do remember bits and piece of one of these dreams, though. One which loosely ties into my previous discussion of shopping malls. I can’t recall exactly what was going on, but I was at a beach somewhere and I remember that everything you might to have at the beach had to be bought from vending machines that lined the cliffs above the sand—sunscreen, towels, and even surfboards had to be purchasest like this—you weren’t allowed to bring your own from home. I think there was even someone you had to pay a toll to for each wave you road. It was all just a handful of steps away from ultimate capitalist landscape where there’s a surcharge for breathing …

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