Adrift without an Outline

I finished reading Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea yesterday and I’ve been talking about it or thinking about it ever since. Despite devoting an unusually large amount of time to thinking about the book, though, I still don’t have anything written so far.

Now, I’m nearly as concerned with why I am suffering writer’s block as I am with why I can’t write anything about this particular book. After all, I use to consider graduate classes in English pure entertainment and stopped taking them only because I felt guilty about spending money that should have been going into my kids’ college fund, or later, after the divorce, because I needed the money to eat on a regular basis.

One possible reason for the writer’s block is that I discussed the book with Leslie, and she let me know in no uncertain terms that she didn’t like Hemingway. This immediately reminded me of some nasty graduate class "discussions" where women just plain went after Hemingway, and after the professor, because of Hemingway’s obvious sexism and disdain for women, particularly his mother who he apparently blamed for his father’s death. Now, I’m beginning to wonder if this isn’t going to turn into one of those nasty Mars/Venus things.

It’s quite obvious, after all, that Hemingway’s philosophy could be classified as a "jock" philosophy. His references to DiMaggio and to the arm-wrestling championship are not unintentional. His code is the kind of code that you were likely to learn while competing in sports, and it is definitely the kind of mentality you need to survive in combat. In my opinion, though, that doesn’t mean that it can’t serve as a philosophy for life in general, and that’s certainly what Hemingway intended.

Another possible explanation of the writer’s block is simply that this book means more to me than I originally thought. There were poems that I would never teach in high school because they meant too much to me to have them put down by students. Or, they just meant so much that I wasn’t willing to try to explain them over and over again to students. You can ruin any work of art if you talk about it too much.

Hearing favorite works openly criticized or attacked can be painful. Perhaps Hemingway’s philosophy is very close to my own philosophy, and I subconsciously realize that it is an inadequate philosophy. Though it may well carry you through some of the life’s more traumatic of events, it doesn’t do a very good job of guiding you to positive experiences with others.

It is certainly a stoical philosophy that would have served a Greek soldier well. Whether such a philosophy is an effective guide to getting through everyday life is still open to question.

Meanwhile, that’s what I’m doing, questioning. So far I have copious notes that I’m pushing around trying to organize into something that truly reflects what I feel about the novel. I’m getting there, wherever there is, and I should actually have something worth saying shortly.

It would certainly be difficult to come up with much worse than what I found browsing the web. My god, a teacher’s organization in California had the nerve to suggest on the basis of one short quotation that the novel would be a good vehicle to start the exploration of the endangered status of the turtle. If that’s a teacher’s quide to this novel, heaven help the state of education in California.

A Good Blogger is Hard to Find

Like Visible Darkness I’m more interested in knowing the people behind the blogs than I am in discussing the machinery behind these blogs, but I still would like help finding people who I want to be part of a community with and that’s a major reason I go to sites like Keeping Trying.

I’ve been going through my list of blogs that appear in my bookmarks, not the one that appears on my blog, and trying to add new blogs that are informative and delete old blogs that no longer seem quite as interesting or have quit updating regularly.

What I’ve discovered in my efforts, though, is just how difficult and time-consuming it is to find new blogs that are worth spending time on. Time is precious. Time I spend looking for interesting blogs is time that I can’t spend updating my own site. Now I’ve tried going to sites like Soul or aortal, but they’re not really much help in screening sites. In general, I’ve been quite frustrated.

For instance, I still haven’t found any bloggers that consistently comment on environmental issues, though that is certainly one of my passions, and I would like to find people who are knowledgeable in that field who have their own opinions but who aren’t spokesmen for environmental groups.

In the end, I usually just search the links on pages that I admire. I’ve found most of the blogs I like best this way, but I still don’t enjoy having to click through each site and read several entries before deciding whether or not I want to read more. I’m sometimes amazed how wildly different people’s tastes are. But, the point is that this is more time consuming than it needs to be, and I end up missing sites like Jonathan Delacour for months before I finally get a chance to check out his blog.

In other words, I tend to agree with Mike Sanders that if we’re going to build a positive community of webloggers one of the things we all need to do is to provide more links on our own sites.

But I would like to add another suggestion, one that I’ve yet to implement on my own site, of course, but that I will shortly, and that is that we should each set up a link page that offers short descriptions, and perhaps recommendations, to the sites that we link to.

To Link or Not To Link, That ‘Tis the Question

I’ve largely stayed out of the ongoing debate within the blogger community of the relative merits of providing links versus writing your own material because the subject doesn’t particularly interest me. Even though my interest in blogging was triggered by wood s lot, I’ve always focused on writing my own essays and providing links as best I could.

Partially that’s been determined by the content of my blog. I’m writing about self-discovery, and I am THE expert in that field. After all, I’m discovering MYSELF. Also, as a life-long reader and English teacher, I feel pretty confident discussing literature, even though I’m purposely not providing the kind of in-depth analysis required by some colleges.

It turns out that part of who I am, though, is someone who is concerned not just about himself but about others and about the evironment that we all have to grow out of.

It’s when I am interested in these areas outside my expertise, though, that I think direct linking makes the best sense. Now, I can rant about a topic as well as anyone I know. Unfortunately, although ranting may provide motivation to get involved, it doesn’t provide the information needed to make intelligent decisions. That requires information and opinions that can only be provided by experts in the field.

I have some very strong opinions about the environment, and I like to think that I know more about it than the average person. However, I know I don’t have the kind of expertise to make sound decisions here.

If I had all the time in the world, I would probably just write extensive research papers on these topics and break the papers down into manageable, or not-so-manageable, entries. The trouble is that I don’t have that kind of time. So I’m going to have to rely on a short summary essay and provide the kinds of links that can give an in-depth analysis.

Unfortunately, I’m not the wood s lot of links, so even this set of links, like my earlier attempts to discuss NAFTA’s Chapter 11, will probably be inadequate.

Still, it’s better than sitting around doing nothing and feeling bad about it and yourself. I’m not going to devote my life to saving the environment, but neither am I going to sit around quietly watching it be destroyed.

My Old Man and the Puget Sound

A Personal Introduction to The Old Man and the Sea

I haven’t fished for years for many reasons, not the least of which is that I tend to get violently sea sick.

Still, reading Richard Hugo’s poems reminded me just how important fishing has been to my life. My earliest, and most vivid, memories of my father are directly linked to fishing, probably the greatest joy of his life.

I was three or less when I started fishing with my father. I can still remember being dragged out of bed half asleep to make sure we were on the water at dawn when the fish were most likely to hit. I hated getting up that early, but it was worth the sacrifice to be out on the water with Dad, sometimes my mother, and my brother Bill. There are still some things worth getting up that early in the morning for, but not many.

I’m sure it would have been easier for Dad to leave us home and go fishing with friends, but salmon fishing was a family ritual. Thinking back, I feel sorry for dad who had to spend the first thirty or forty minutes of fishing baiting Bill’s and my hooks. I suspect, though, that I learned how to correctly bait a hook before I learned how to tie my shoelaces. But I wasn’t allowed to bait my own hook, or at least drop it into the water, until I could do it correctly. I remembered this ritual years later when I read Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea.

If you’re going to be a successful fisherman, Dad taught, you do everything right. First, you found the best place to start fishing, no matter how far from the boathouse that might be. Lazy fishermen were willing to just drift for salmon, not Dad. Dad would slowly row the boat while our lines were out, at least until we were able to afford a small motor to attach to the rented boat. Even at three you had to keep your line taut, not let the bait drift down too far. Few things are as embarrassing as bringing in a bottom fish when you’re fishing for Kings.

There seemed to be as many rules to fishing as there are rules to life. When someone in the boat had a fish on the line, you always reeled your line in as fast as possible. Whenever someone else brought a fish in you complimented them on the catch, no matter how much you wanted to catch the biggest fish of the day. It was really, really hard to sound excited when you had the biggest fish going, especially when you’re the littlest guy on the boat. And have no doubts that everyone, Dad included, wanted bragging rights to the biggest fish of the day. Bragging rights lasted until the next fishing trip.

Of course, sometimes you could be saved from the biggest fish put-down, because Dad would point out that certain kinds of salmon, though I was too little to tell the difference between anything but big and little, tasted better than others. And we weren’t just fishing for fun. It was important to be recognized at dinner by someone saying, “This is the salmon Loren caught.” We lived a good part of the year on those salmon and on the vegetables we had harvested from our garden. Whenever food became scarce, we always had salmon waiting in the freezer.

But most of all, I remember Dad’s sheer enthusiasm for fishing. There are still vivid images of Dad standing up on the edge of the boat trying to net a huge salmon while Bill and I would desperately try to balance the boat by hanging out the opposite side of the boat, our combined ninety five pounds no match for his two hundred pounds. “Don’t rock the boat” has a very special meaning in the middle of Puget Sound for a four-year-old who can’t swim.

Even when things had turned rough, yours truly had lost his breakfast over the side of the boat, the water would be breaking over the bow, the boat would be filling with water no matter how fast Bill and I bailed, and we would appear to be going backward, Dad would yell across the roar of the wind and water, “We’re having a great time, aren’t we?”

Strangely enough, we were.

My hiking partner has noted that when we get stuck in a precarious position — say six hours out on the trail, little or no food left, it’s getting dark, and we’re not quite sure where the hell we are or which trail to take to get us back before dark– that I always break into a laugh, a special laugh reserved just for such moments, a laugh that says I’m alive and having a great time.

That’s when I know I’m Dad’s son, even if I don’t fish anymore because Dad isn’t around to go with any more and because I can’t stand paying good money to throw up.