Great Service

I’ve been very impressed with the help provided by Benjamin Trott in finally getting this blog running on Moveable Type.

I had alot of problems with signing in on my new ISP and Ben stuck with me to get the page up and running.

That’s way too much work for $20, but it made a believer out of me. I don’t think you could go wrong having them set up the site for you.

Thanks.

Just Call Me Sentimental, Right Dawn?

The other day I suggested in the comments on Jonathan Delacour’s site that most people have positive feelings, or positive connotations, associated with the word “sentimentality.” My main point was that because a word like “sentimentality” generally has positive connotations rather than negative connotations that applying that word to another situation with negative connotations is likely to lead to unnecessary arguments and confusion. It’s best to switch to a synonym that doesn’t have such connotations.

Generally, we are "sentimental" about the things we most desire in life, precisely because we do desire them. For most people they are a goal, not necessarily a realistic expectation.

In my discussion, I suggested that most people are sentimental about things like Christmas and Thanksgiving, even though they’re aware their expectations are probably unrealistic. A good example of that would be my favorite Christmas movie “A Christmas Story” where the boy with the amusingly dysfunctional family still fulfills his dream and receives a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. Another example might be “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” where everything possible goes wrong because the father wants to do too much, but the Christmas spirit still somehow survives.

Jonathon suggests the role of art is to show the truth about life, to strip away sentimentality, but I would argue that revealing the “truth” in this sense is only one aspect of art. An equally important role is to show what life “can be,” to hold up models of what we want our lives to become.

Despair is obviously a part of everyone’s life. The truth, though, is that my own life has been as much joy as angst. For instance, as a child my parents fought to overcome poverty, and I only got toys once a year, at Christmas. My mother even gleaned and cracked walnuts most of the year so we could have Christmas presents.

Looking back I can certainly remember many disappointing Christmases because my expectations were too high. After all, what child would be overjoyed at receiving his year’s supply of socks wrapped up as gifts? I didn’t know that that we were "poor." I just wanted the same toys my friends got, poor or not. For some reason, eating often came ahead of toys.

However, I still have fond memories of receiving the Fort Apache that became my favorite toy, and, later, the Lionel train that I can still hear running downstairs every Christmas Eve. Is it surprising, then, that I’m still sentimental about Christmas and have gone out of my way to make Christmas as special for my children and grandchildren as it was for me?

So, what’s more “real,” the years when I was disappointed that I didn’t get the perfect gift that I was longing for, or the years when I did get those presents that I still remember years later? Are the years I remember any less “real” than the ones where I was disappointed?

I would argue that both are real, and both are the domain of the true artist. The artist does not have to choose one or the other to be an “artist,” though contemporary art critics certainly seem to have come down on the side of angst and despair. Emphasizing one at the expense of the other, though, seems to be a distortion of reality, a distortion of truth, whatever that might be.

Pardon Me, but My Obtuseness is Showing

I’m going to try to pull a Jeff Ward here and tie together a bunch of disparate crap to explain my obtuseness, as if it needed an explanation. When I wrote yesterday’s entry I was unaware that Mike Golby was undergoing a crisis of sorts over at his web site.

So, when I read Jonathon’s entry about “families” I was unaware of much of what appears to have motivated him to write. The problem is that my “virtual community” has grown way too fast, and I’m having trouble reading all the entries that I normally read. It used to be in the “good old days,” say a month or so ago, I used to read all of the sites I link to every day, and sometimes more than once a day, particularly because I was never sure when they would update their site.

The list has grown and I keep another longer list of sites that I visit many times before I ever link to them at my site. At the moment, I’ll have to admit that I’m beginning to have problems keeping up with reading them. I’m no longer reading ever site every single day. Unfortunately, the problem has been exacerbated by a new favorite toy, NetNewsWireLite, a RSS newsreader. I’ve begun to use that tool to tell me when some of my favorite sites have updated their page. Unfortunately, only a small number of sites use that technology. In regards this apology, it’s particularly relevant that Mike Golby’s site doesn’t tie in with this newsreader. To make a long story short, I’ve begun to rely on this reader far too often and find myself neglecting some of my favorite sites only because they’re not listed there.

Another problem I’m having with virtual communities is that we don’t always know the same people or follow the same conversations. The incomplete diagram below indicates part of the problem. Jonathan has a different circle of friends than I do, even though we share a number of the same acquaintances. To complicate matters, even though I never address some of these people directly, I have followed their conversation on other sites, particularly Shelley’s site, and I’ve occasionally followed their pages directly. I even know, for instance, that Joe Duemer and I both had David Wagoner’s classes at the University of Washington. The problem is that it’s not always possible to follow the conversations carefully enough, and we pull a “Shelley” and end up with a foot in our mouths, he says as he tries to extract it without magically disappearing an entry.

Mike Golby is one of these shared “acquaintances,” but obviously Jonathon was doing a much better job of keeping up with his writing than I was. It wasn’t until after I offered my rebuttal to Jonathon’s, and Joe Duemer’s?, argument, that I realized I was probably only a footnote in it and Mike was the main content. Of course, I realized this only when I finally got around to catching up with Mike’s page late last night.

While I stand by what I said yesterday, I am in full sympathy with Mike’s stand and agree with Jonathon that Mike’s site is a vital part of the blogging community. I first encountered Mike when he made a reference to my discussion of Kerouac’s On the Road because we had very different views of the book and of Kerouac. At first I was a little taken aback by the stinging rebuttal of my review, but as I’ve read his site I’ve slowly realized why his view was so very different from mine. He comes at the book from a very different background than mine. Having read his site has even made me see Kerouac from a different perspective. In many ways, Mike is the “Kerouac” of blogging, offering us many of the same insights that Kerouac brought to the wider community.

As I’ve noted earlier, I do temper what I say on my site somewhat because friends and relatives occasionally read my blog, but it would be a terrible loss to the blogging community if Mike felt like he could no longer be honest and forthright about his feelings because of the objections of a few family members.

Unfortunately, Jonathon is also right that the “perfect” family is probably over represented on the web, while there is far too little exposure to those who are struggling to transcend their background. As an ex-teacher and ex-caseworker, I know that far too many people are caught up merely trying to survive and have neither the desire nor the ability to express the pain that they are feeling publicly. As a result, they are often stereotyped and shoved aside while less-deserving, but more vocal, “chosen” people try to design the world to fit their needs and punish those who don’t fit in.

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