Amiable Chat Down 9th St.

Focusing the narrative on its geographical heart.

I was thinking we could either go for a walk in Prospect Park, or we could get some coffee.

I didn't really want to sit in a coffee shop, to be honest. So I'm glad you said that. I get fidgety on caffeine, we just go right. You can see the park from a block further, at the end of. 9th St. There's the PAL Supermarket, which I visit almost once a day, unfortunately, and the Gowanus canal. Which is sometimes gray with oil. I do, I live right under the Ftrain, almost.

I went to Carnegie Mellon to interview with the Rhetoric Department, but the guy who met with me was old, he'd started the department, and it was a painful interview, he had sized me up as too young and ignorant, which I was, and he treated me that way, which I didn't deserve. He wanted the interview over.

My father was a professor, many of my friends were professors. I never knew what life was like outside of an English department. As if I was raised in a forest by particularly effete wolves, away from the society of work and paychecks. I went from that interview to the Carnegie Mellon library, the ugliest library I have ever seen, a library without a single soulful characteristic, and looked at some journals on rhetoric, feeling useless. Then I found a piece of paper in the copier, and wrote a poem on the back, about the futility of this fucking endeavor, with the words "all paper and coffeecups," and left it in a stairwell. I'm positive no one read it. It just made the trash when the janitor came around, and I went back to my little apartment in Alfred and soon moved to New York, and that was it.

I have no distinguishing marks except for a tattoo on my left shoulder, an "f" in a circle. What do you think that's for?

I came to New York, and everything before that is shadowy. I try to reach out in my head to people I knew well, a woman I was with and there's nothing, it just all scatters, like trying to pick up mercury. I lived in Jersey for a while. I moved a year later to here, more or less by accident, and I was single and maybe the most boring young man you could ever meet. So I started writing on the Web to tart myself up, through words.

Dave Eggers lives up here, a few more blocks up, on 9th St. It's funny, there's a bastion of youthful literary success on the same street, definitely closer to the park. The brownstones get nice, more trees on the street, less trash. There are famous authors all over the Slope.

I dreamt about, well I like this thing I do, on the site. I try to find reasons for it, but they're either too low or too high, base or academic. Have you ever seen Life, on a computer, the cellular automata program? It shows patterns of life and death in little one-pixel cells, according to set rules about who lives or dies. Writing is like that. Words are 250 newborn babies per doublespace page and here I am with the role of dictator and engineer, forced to kill some of the weakest, so that others will grow strong, and then making the babies mix up, splicing in code from dead men and women who did the same thing 100s of years ago, all colors and sounds of words, all as an amateur.

The sentences that survive and those that don't, a tiny Darwinian cosmos, individual letters A to Z not adenine, cytosine, guanine. And thymine. At 26 letters, a single book is 6.5 times more impossible to figure out than the human genome, and that's taken year. The Chinese. Those letters. But you, meaning I, need to remember that you can still write a sentence despite the fact that linguistics isn't sure how it all works. Just as you can still make a child without understanding genetics. Understanding the biology of sex doesn't enhance the sensual significance of getting some. The same is true with words. Deep structure and cognitive pleasure technologies and deconstructing the signifiers are great, but came after the story and then insisted they were always there, before. But the stories were there first, or else they would be describing nothing at all. Would you rather get laid or read a biology textbook? Sometimes the biology textbook is nice. Especially if it has pictures of medical catastrophes or tardigrades. The little creatures that live on your eyelashes. Called water bears. Or moss piglets.

I'll never be renowned or notorious, because I don't have the fire, the desire to have you look at me that way, but that's no reason to be a gray shadow of a person, an invisible soul. I grew up with typewriters and computers around me; I took to the Web like a thirsty throat to water, and but we're in the park. So. Speaking of, my throat is dry so I want to see if the fountains are on. Or if you want there's, we can cut through and look at the lake, and that way we go over the Long Meadow.




Ftrain.com is the website of Paul Ford and his pseudonyms. It is showing its age. I'm rewriting the code but it's taking some time.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


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© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


@20, by Paul Ford. Not any kind of eulogy, thanks. And no header image, either. (October 15)

Recent Offsite Work: Code and Prose. As a hobby I write. (January 14)

Rotary Dial. (August 21)

10 Timeframes. (June 20)

Facebook and Instagram: When Your Favorite App Sells Out. (April 10)

Why I Am Leaving the People of the Red Valley. (April 7)

Welcome to the Company. (September 21)

“Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?”. Forgot to tell you about this. (July 20)

“The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. An essay for TheMorningNews.org. (July 11)

Woods+. People call me a lot and say: What is this new thing? You're a nerd. Explain it immediately. (July 10)

Reading Tonight. Reading! (May 25)

Recorded Entertainment #2, by Paul Ford. (May 18)

Recorded Entertainment #1, by Paul Ford. (May 17)

Nanolaw with Daughter. Why privacy mattered. (May 16)

0h30m w/Photoshop, by Paul Ford. It's immediately clear to me now that I'm writing again that I need to come up with some new forms in order to have fun here—so that I can get a rhythm and know what I'm doing. One thing that works for me are time limits; pencils up, pencils down. So: Fridays, write for 30 minutes; edit for 20 minutes max; and go whip up some images if necessary, like the big crappy hand below that's all meaningful and evocative because it's retro and zoomed-in. Post it, and leave it alone. Can I do that every Friday? Yes! Will I? Maybe! But I crave that simple continuity. For today, for absolutely no reason other than that it came unbidden into my brain, the subject will be Photoshop. (Do we have a process? We have a process. It is 11:39 and...) (May 13)

That Shaggy Feeling. Soon, orphans. (May 12)

Antilunchism, by Paul Ford. Snack trams. (May 11)

Tickler File Forever, by Paul Ford. I'll have no one to blame but future me. (May 10)

Time's Inverted Index, by Paul Ford. (1) When robots write history we can get in trouble with our past selves. (2) Search-generated, "false" chrestomathies and the historical fallacy. (May 9)

Bantha Tracks. (May 5)

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