Clyde Haberman from the NYTimes interviewed a bunch of MacArthur Genius Fellows about cell phones, Ipods, and other gadgetry disconnecting us from physical reality, and this is what Jonathan Lethem had to say:
“Nonconnectivity becomes a commodity, something to cherish….You won’t hear different, particularly from novelists. You need so much ruminative time to build these elaborate alternate realities. Every novelist is running away from the telephone. Has been for 100 years.”
Not me. If anything, I run towards them. I see a crazy woman walking down the sidewalk wielding a cell phone? That’s the one I follow. She’s bound to say something nutty. Just the sort of thing that might spark a story.
My rule: save the Ipod for the car. On foot, follow the cell phones.
New fancyness: leave comments, search, etc.
Here’s an illustration from my new story:
A long time ago in Cincinnati, in hopes of enriching his service, a minister built a parlor organ, the first organ ever built in the city. On Sundays, one of his boys played out of the hymnal. Even the Indians, loitering about the streets, came in to see the attraction. The red men sat quietly through the entire service, just listening…
– for a new story, “The Organists”
(from HARPER’S, June 2005)
I’ve been taken lately with maps and storytelling. It started at Cambridge, where I did these rough “psychological” maps of London in Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, continued during my senior project, and it got started again when I read a book called Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer. In Maps, Peter Turchi, (who edited a book with Charles Baxter and teaches fiction at Warren Wilson College), writes about fiction using the metaphor of making maps. The sociology article containing the above graphic can be found here, and a collection of crazy network maps, here.
CUSE: Twin Peaks looms large to me as cautionary tale. That was a show where the mythology sort of overwhelmed everything else, principally the construction of believable, plausible characters.
LINDELOF: It’s all about character, character, character. Everything has to be in service of the people. That is the secret ingredient of the show.
Supposedly, the creators do know how the series ends. “The survivors will not learn they are part of some dastardly experiment, or discover they are in purgatory, or wake up from a bad dream.”
CUSE: These guys get off the island.
LINDELOF: If it’s an island.
X-Files + Twin Peaks + Weekly World News + Stephen King = Best Show on Television.
Corey Gillen is not only the coolest best friend in the world, he might be the best drummer, too. Check out his current gig, The Josh Krajcik Band. Last month they threw their gear into the back of a Yukon and drove across the country to play two gigs in L.A. They ended up playing four. Here’s some footage I shot at ComFest 2005.
“Well, filet my ass and plastinate me.”
1. Pack half the stuff, twice the money. (Rick Steves)
2. Check at your bank about getting an international ATM card. Getting cash through ATMs is quick and easy.
3. You need a suitcase (or backpack) and a daybag. The daybag stays with you at all times (NEVER LEAVE IT FOR ONE SECOND), and includes your passport, your money, and anything essential that you couldn’t live without if it got stolen. (I’ve found most moneybelts to be cumbersome, inconvenient, and uncomfortable.) I use a Gap messenger bag: it was big enough for a guidebook, camera, bottle of water, and my identification. I could also wear it in front of me through crowds. It had a zippered pouch on the inside, which was where I stashed passport/money. No gypsy can get their hands in your bag, unzip your pouch, and steal your stuff without you knowing it. A backpack for clothes and toiletries is great, but totally worthless for day to day travel: thieves can access the zippers, and everything is behind you.
4. Keep small bills in your pocket for small transactions. You don’t want to be rummaging in your daybag for 2 euro at a bottled water stand.
5. Pretend like you’re back in elementary school, and cover any big guidebooks or phrasebooks with paper from a Kroger’s bag. That way, you can access your guidebook in public, but it’s harder for people to know what you’re looking at.
6. Your main goal is to look as little like a tourist (or American) as possible. NO windpants, net shorts or T-SHIRTS WITH ENGLISH WRITING. In American terms, comfortable business casual is probably the way to go. Dress in muted colors. Browns, khakis, blacks. If you’re in Paris, you can’t go wrong with black–especially leather. I travel in a leather jacket: it’s an extra skin, it looks badass, and it always makes people think I’m a local (and I feel like Indiana Jones.)
7. At the Eiffel Tower, you will get swarmed with North African peddlers and gypsies. They will get in your face, and might even thrust roses into your hands. They are aggressive and unrelenting. Here’s what you do when you see one: you look them right in the eye and you let them know they’re not getting a damned thing from you. You hold onto your bag with one hand, and with the other hand, you point to your eyeball or point at them and wave your finger, as if you were saying, “Naughty, naughty, nasty gypsy.” You firmly, and meanly, say, “no,” and you keep walking. Shout it if you have to. When a gypsy realizes you’re no kind of target, they will move on to some other clueless American with a fanny pack speaking English loudly and gawking at some attraction. Be mean and direct to the gypsies. And be prepared to have them put a hex on you. It happens.
8. Don’t go to see stuff just because you feel like you’re supposed to. Comb the guidebooks and find the places that look interesting to you.
9. Don’t talk loudly. The French despise stereotypical, loud Americans. Learn as much language as you can and try to speak it. They appreciate the gesture.
10. Take plenty of breaks and don’t wear yourself out. Don’t feel guilty about having lunch and going back to the hotel to take a nap. It’s your vacation, enjoy it.
FROM THE VAULT: the best voicemail I’ve ever received. Ever. Giving it a context or a backstory would only muddy the genius. (A____ B______, if you’re out there, God bless you.)