Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Which Way Did They Go, George?

I love making lists. I don’t know why; perhaps it brings some order to the craziness going on in my head. My therapist once told me that it was my coping mechanism for trying to control the emotional chaos I experienced growing up, and I think there is a great deal of truth in that hypothesis. Regardless of the cause, I love my lists and I take great care in developing them. No willy-nilly picking names out of a hat for this girl; I deliberate, edit, add and subtract until there is harmony in my heart over whom or what makes the cut. 

There is my “10 Foods to bring to the Deserted Island list”, for instance. I have been working on this one for two years and so far only five have made it. In no particular order they are; Cheeseburgers, Pizza, Chocolate, Peanut Butter (smooth, all-natural), and the latest, Cheesecake. Also in contention are Salted Peanuts, Bran Flakes and Chilean Sea Bass.

I have a “10 Greatest Recorded Songs of All Time” list as well. This one probably has been in the making for at least ten years, maybe longer. So far, only “Amazing Grace” (any version, even bagpipes), Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade”, and Billie Holiday’s “You Don’t Know What Love Is” are definite. My only criteria for choosing a song is the same as for food; I’m assuming I’ll be on the deserted island and these will have to keep me satisfied for the rest of my life, so I have to be very careful. I am considering Sly and the Family Stone’s “Dance to the Music” right now. I think it has a very good chance.

The third and final working list is “The 10 Greatest Writers Ever”. This one has proved a bit easier mainly because I only have to go back over my life to know which of them influenced me the most. So far there are seven. They are;

Thomas Paine- The original muckraker and embedded reporter, ole Tom made no bones about wanting the colonies to separate from England. Believe it or not, there was great division in America over the wisdom in doing so. Tom, bitch-slapped the undecided, and told the money-grubbing Tories to go back to England and kiss the king’s ass over there; they weren’t welcome in his new, upstart republic He was an unabashed Washington groupie and traveled with the Colonial Army throughout the Revolution. His reporting, in his fire-in-the-belly style, makes the mythical heroes of our nation’s birth and the events which surrounded it, come to life.

Mark Twain- Good satire should be biting, consciousness-raising stuff. Marky Mark never shied away from it, whether in is his abolitionist writings, his coverage of the Boxer Rebellion in China, or just simply pointing out the hypocrisies of the general public. Twain took all kinds of heat for his writing, but nevertheless endured to become the icon he remains today. There are still some who have tried to ban his works in libraries and schools, but it seems that even 102 years after his death, they can’t shut him up.

Ayn Rand- Ten years to create a philosophy that is winning converts to this day! While I don’t agree with 100 percent of her ideas, the sentiment of Atlas Shrugged changed my life. This immigrant, who spoke no English and fled from the oppression of Bolshevik Russia, came here and turned the world on its ear with her message of  self-fulfillment for the good of society.

Jack Kerouac- On the Road and Dharma Bums is jazz in writing. Kerouac’s be-bop style of living wasn’t all cupcakes and ice cream; in fact it was in many ways a paean to the petulance and rebellion so typical of the youthful. But his pit bull, lock-jawed vice grip on the neck of life and his seemingly unquenchable desire to taste it all,  in many ways responds and harmonizes with the sentiment expressed Atlas Shrugged, albeit on a much more hedonistic bent. Without him and these books, the revolution of the 60s and 70s might not have taken place. I dig him the most!

Jean Shepherd- Shep had, without a doubt, the greatest influence on me as writer. I first came across him through the magic of a tiny Japanese-made transistor radio back in the early 1960s. This master story-teller riveted me as I lay under my blanket while listening to his WOR radio broadcasts. His recreation of the middle class, blue collar America of the 1940s and 1950s in the books, In God We Trust-All Others Pay Cash, Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories, and A Fistful of Fig Newtons, brought the art of writing to me in living color for the first time in my young life . Never before had I been able to see characters as brilliantly drawn as I did when I was being introduced to Flick, Schwartz, Grover Dill, and the Old Man. Shepherd did for writing what Norman Rockwell did for illustrating and more; he showed slices of the American Experience with all the cracks, shortcomings, and armor chinks, while still managing to make you laugh out loud.

George Carlin- Brilliant... Caustic... Honest... Fearless... and outrageously funny. He was, in my opinion, The greatest stand-up comedian of the 20th Century (and most likely this one as well). Carlin set the standard for all of us who purport to call ourselves comedians: his work should be included in college writing courses, not just for the razor sharp grammatical presentations of his works, but also for the biting criticism of the state of our society. Carlin is also on my newly formed list of 10 People I’d most like to hang out with.

George Orwell- The other George in my life, Mr. Orwell’s 1984 simply scared the living shit out of me in the 7th grade, mostly because I was supremely convinced that Communists were going to show up in Fairview, New Jersey one Sunday morning while we were all in church, take us as slaves and force us to work in a tractor factory. Orwell confirmed my worst fears that being overtaken by Communists could only result in a life of endless brainwashing and rats gnawing at my eyes. I can clearly remember dreading the actual 1984 as it drew closer and closer. Even as a reasonable adult, I was still certain that Reagan would sell us down the river, and one day, reruns of I Love Lucy would be replaced with I Love Lenin.

 I was thinking about Orwell today, for no apparent reason, and it got me to thinking about the influence of great writers on us all. Each of the above affected me in a profound way; But Orwell...hmm... Orwell had this almost Nostradamus thing about him that simply fascinates me.

It is transparently obvious that both 1984 and Animal Farm were condemnations of tyranny, particularly Nazism, Fascism and Communism, all of which dominated the political landscape of the mid and late 1940s. The brutality of World War II fought over an ideology of mad men, and the subsequent genocide in Stalin’s Russia no doubt provided Orwell with his writer’s consciousness. But what makes him remarkable is his ability to transcend his time. His observational acumen is not limited to the 1940s though. The same problems that plagued the world then, did so five hundred years before the world ever knew of him, and still do today.

Being encased in the bubble of our time, we tend to think that our moments here are the beginning and the end of it all. That’s our ego and sense of immortality talking, of course. The truth of the matter is that humanity is insane all the time, and it keeps repeating its displays of lunacy generationally. As an example, we, who lived through the attack on the World Trade Center, can now fully appreciate the gravity and reverence with which our parents and grandparents viewed the attack on Pearl Harbor. But a generation from now, those children will know what happened on September 11th, but they won’t know it in the same way that we do.    
George Orwell understood that, I think, and it is for that reason you can read almost anything he wrote, and simply by changing the names of the politicians and countries, you find that he is as relevant today as he was in 1949, when he wrote 1984. I don’t know why, but I thought of him as I began reading this past Saturday’s Wall Street Journal.
Of the nine stories listed on the “What’s News” section of the Saturday Wall Street Journal (January 28-29, 2012), four of them had to do with war, defense, or suicide car bombers. I added a little commentary, just because it pisses me off to read the same stuff over and over. But here are a few examples of George’s insight.

The first was an article entitled, “Pentagon seeks Mightier Bomb vs. Iran. This story had to do with the United States trying to develop a “bunker busting bomb” capable of destroying Iraq’s nuclear capabilities, at least temporarily. In short, it seems that in order to keep the crazies in Iran from getting The Bomb, we crazies make a bigger bomb capable of killing their bomb. What did Orwell say?

War is peace.
Freedom is slavery.
Ignorance is strength.”
George Orwell, 1984

Up next ...  Dissident troops teamed up with civilians in Damascus. Commanders of the dissident Free Syrian Army said they fought back the military and in some suburbs, using “hit and run” tactics supported by lightly armed civilians. This action marks a new phase of Syria’s conflict that holds the potential to move the capital toward
Chaos. This piece has to do with soldiers who once fought on the dictator side, but now fight on the freedom fighters’ side. I guess they are hedging their bets that Assad is going down and they don’t want to get caught in the aftermath. Either way, George seemed to speak to the justification of the freedom fighters cause, while still calling out the bullshit.

“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
George Orwell

Finally, this just in- Dozens are killed in Attack on Iraqi Funeral Procession. A suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden vehicle into a crowd that included the pallbearers at a funeral for an Iraqi army commander’s brother.

Needless to say that the après-funeral repast at Formaggio’s Ristorante in Baghdad was cancelled due to insanity.

“Perhaps a lunatic was simply a minority of one.”
George Orwell, 1984

Well, I’ve gone on way too long on the subject of writers and writing. Oh, there’s more I could have talked about, but I think you get the idea. And if you didn’t here it is in a nutshell; the world needs brilliant, free thought to progress. Censorship of any kind, which doesn’t harm anyone, cannot be allowed. Writers are our hope for the future of society. We need the ideas of those who aren’t afraid to proffer new ways of thinking. Their genius allows us to grow and form our own thoughts, our own paradigms, and our own truths which we hold to be self-evident. 

We are balancing ourselves in this turbulent time between those who would force their will upon us and those who want to move us to a better place, a more enlightened place. Whether by humor, satire, or terror, writers are the ones who will enlighten us and connect us. They will foster discussion and compromise when we differ in opinion. Where we end up is our own decision. If we list the things we have in common, we will find it far exceeds the list of our differences. It’s just a matter of using our heads, right George?

“Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.”
George Orwell

Write on!

That’s it. I’m done bitching. Everybody hug, everybody eat! Abbondanza!

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