Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Horsemeat and horsefeathers...and other lies...

the purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself (Camus, quoted by Fay Weldon, in By Heart, The Atlantic, February 26, 2013 below)
It was Camus's compatriot, Jean Paul Sartre, who declared, "Hell is other people!" and from this combined forge the world has gleaned some very white hot 'coals'....of caution and warning!
If it might be possible for civilization to be kept from destroying itself, by any means, including all the writing by all the writers, of all gradations in all countries, in all ages, then each key punched on this keypad is worthy of the effort.
We must do anything and everything we can think of to keep civilization from destroying itself, no matter how pretentious, or how specious or how 'tilting at windmills' is our every tactic and strategy. The new Secretary of State, John Kerry, is quoted in today's front pages, reminding his audience that Americans have a right to be stupid. However, they do not have a right to deploy their stupidity to bring the rest of the world to naught, as they nearly did in 2008 with the financial crisis.
Nuclear weapons, unsecured, lying around some broken silo's in various countries, where the accounting and the accountability leave much to be desired, with terrorists of various stripes, some political, some religious, some merely desperate for whatever reasons, and state governments either unable or unwilling to bring those weapons under even reasonable security, never mind "tight" security...that is only the beginning of a potential nightmare.
Increased risk from cyber-attacks, bringing power systems, military intelligence, and/or national security secrets into the "wrong hands"....added to the already known cyber weapons that can and have disabled nuclear reactors, without 'showing their hand'...these are some of the other potential hazards, with which we all live.
And then there are the bio and chemical weapons, the drug-resistant 'bugs' and the potential for sloppy or non-existent food, water, air, land and both plant and animal inspections to which more of us are being exposed, as budget cutting replaces sound, fact-based budget allocations in countries where such errors of both commission and omission are being documented frequently....and then there is a minuscule anecdote that portrays a kind of carelessness that announces "powerlessness" whether perceived or real on the part of the actor. A story to illustrate:
Ordering a Tim Horton's coffee today, I asked the clerk for a medium double-double in a paper cup, with a doughnut, "for here" and when I turned to pick up the order, I found the coffee in a ceramic mug..."Is that my coffee?" I inquired of the clerk who poured the drink.
"Yes Sir," came her official reply.
"Oh, I would really like it in a paper cup, please," I said.
"I was just following the screen directions, Sir, and she's just learning," came the rather short response.
Leaving the issue as settled, so I thought, I waited for the paper cup and proceeded to find a table.
Just as I was leaving the counter, I heard the cashier say, "Sorry!" to the second clerk.
"It's OK, he ordered improperly!"
Unable to leave it alone after that, I blurted, "I did not order improperly; I asked for a paper cup in the first place," and walked away.
Some people who consider themselves "responsible" to protect a new trainee ought not to have to overlook the trainee's omission on the keypad, and pass the responsibility onto the customer...no matter how inexperienced the trainee, or the apparent trainer.
And, someday, I have thought since, that the editorial cartoon in the Toronto Star today, sums up too much of contemporary culture and human existence...two boxes, one from IKEA under which the caption reads, "horsemeat in the meatballs," the second, the boxed DVD of the Oscar-winning best movie for 2012, "Argo," under which the caption reads, "horsefeathers in the plot"....
One has to wonder if there is any authenticity and truth-telling left anywhere...and that makes one wonder about capacity of civilization to resist self-destruction, no matter how many gallons of ink are poured into how many scribes' writings.

Imagine Sisyphus Happy: How Camus Helps Fay Weldon Keep on Writing

By Fay Weldon, By Heart, in The Atlantic, February 26, 2013
"One must imagine Sisyphus happy," wrote Albert Camus in 1942. Well, I do try. But the page is blank. I sit at my desk seized by sudden doubt, conscious of decades of pointless toil behind me and the few years in front in the certain knowledge that I will never get it right. Experience suggests one never writes the book one plans to write. Somewhere along the way it goes astray, some link between the sentences does not quite hold. It is never what one meant. Never will be. So what is the point of beginning the long toil up the hill, pushing and straining sentences along, forcing characters into molds which never quite fit, dragging a chain-gang of second thoughts behind? Olympus will never be reached. Sisyphus is bound to slip. The rock will come tumbling down. Let the blank page stay blank.

As I begin a novel I remind myself as ever of Camus's admonition that the purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.But if we consider, like Camus, Sisyphus at the foot of his mountain, we can see that he is smiling. He is content in his task of defying the Gods, the journey more important than the goal. To achieve a beginning, a middle, an end, a meaning to the chaos of creation—that's more than any deity seems to manage: But it's what writers do. So I tidy the desk, even polish it up a bit, stick some flowers in a vase and start.
As I begin a novel I remind myself as ever of Camus's admonition that the purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself. And even while thinking, well, fat chance! I find courage, reach for the heights, and if the rock keeps rolling down again so it does. What the hell, start again. Rewrite. Be of good cheer. Smile on, Sisyphus!

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