Day: Mar 25

1 interval from 25 Mar 2001 (Sharply Filthy Ottoman)

10:40 am

Nearly everyone, myself included, is sure that their field of interest is the world-changer, the hammer of Thor. Environmentalists save the earth from everyone else; computer scientists are abstracting out human thought; advertisers communicate the values that move our economy forward. Deep grammar is what makes us human, say some. Hard physics, say others. More efficient production of consumer products will get us to the future, say even more. Globalization, religion, the Internet, whatever.

I'm reading Boswell's life of Johnson and it's clear that people haven't changed. Stories haven't changed a lick. That's why literature can exist across time - and I love the way that modern moralists write about literature's communication of "timeless human values," as if writing were a moral endeavor, as if Shakespeare's chasing-the-wench-around-the-table scenes were only written to serve a larger, loftier goal rather than to stiffen the bourgeois bard's tender quill. As for Johnson, it's easy to be a stern moralist if your youth was spent as a half-blind spastic married to a withered widow. The chippies aren't exactly leaping on you in your late teens, when the burn starts. My friend worked at a whorehouse; she said, "the johns are not what you'd expect - they're often very attractive; they need to be comfortable naked, in front of strange women." The rest of us point the finger, feeling superiorly inadequate. Me, I've found it easy to condemn the sins of others, from my pudgy perch, while desperately wishing to join in the fun. Yet I'm also glad I've kept out of the exhausting empty trouble that accompanies the life of the sophisticate....

All that human progress must be placed in the brains of newcomers. Enter teachers. Knowledge is only as permanent as its usefulness, whether we use it to lie or to reach further. We have the Internet, express trains, long distance phoning, hot water. And closeted racism and long lines of poor people hoping a new bag of rice falls from an airplane. Whatever. Easy answer. Astrology remains, will remain, a comfort to those who prefer order in their stars. Journalists idolize greed-heroes like Jack Welch, Bill Gates, and Larry Ellison, and we dance around the simulacrous maypole of celebrity. What is Julia Roberts wearing? She's wearing your skin. And all this technology resurrects no dead; my grandfather will breathe no longer. "No! Wait! It will! Nanotechnology might...." But that's not the point. I don't want a technological answer; I want a spiritual one. I'm an athiest. It's my cross to bear.

I could tell you over and over why my work is important, but had I been born brain-damaged and died after a brief vegetation, paper lungs collapsing, I wouldn't be missed, would I? So when I write, I seek to make myself important. Unavoidable truth. Who the hell am I? The highest purpose in life is to evaporate into the embrace of cosmic grace, as taught the cryptopantheistic Presybyterians. So, every word I type feels like a grievous sin of ego, as if I am placing myself higher than you. But I'm not; I just am simply not; I am really trying to be useful, to turn this mass of cells into something good, better than myself and smarter, turning my processes inside out to find the patterns that spiral around inside. You could do this, too. It's just work and habit, not sacred inspiration. I am not marketed or shoved down your throat. I sit at the edge of things, showing up after a deep zoom into the Mandelbrot set of the Web.

It's such a fundamental literary sin to write all this, all the self-reference and vague, too. I know you don't give a fuck. People sometimes apologize to me for not reading Ftrain. So? Why would I care if you read my site or not? I don't do it for you. I do it because it's a way to be more human, to be less mediated by machines - ironic given the medium. And I realized at some pt that I can't be you, and that fans meant nothing of substance; the shine of the footlights make you little more than dark outlines. As a result, I am the only one who ever reads my own work. You are reading yourself when you stop for a visit. I want to burn through all this thinking, but it won't happen unless I wallow here for a bit. And I am wallowing, snorting, huffing, looking.

When I was in advertising, I used to look for meaning in the wrong places. "AOL chat helped me work through cancer!" I told myself stories about the client to give them a moral cast. We would feel that we were doing something wise. "I dislodged the fish bone from his throat by hitting his back with a Tyco(R)-brand toy!" "Art History helps young people understand their culture." "Organic foods give people options." "Biotechnology helps feed the world." Advertising is not lies; it's just moral projection into an amoral entity, the brand. It prescripts no more than religion.

And it's all extra, anyway. Food, shelter, clothing - nah. Food, fucking, and someone to talk to. And a warm place to sleep, without tigers.

I follow difficult theories - evolution - until I reach the pt where I have to give up my cherished beliefs. Then I stop. But lately I keep driving, even though it may be a cliff at the end of the road. I fantasize that time is a kind of driving. But no breaks; daylight savings aside there are no more hours in the day, than fate will allot me. I'm terrified after a point, as the creaklines show up at the edges of the eyes and the muscle reactions show hints of slowing. Too much is related in IQ, cholesterol, weight, bank account, number of friends, interest rate, APR, square footage, cost-benefit-analysis, tax bracket. These are not stories. They are numbing, free of narrative, less human than a coil of wire. I want them out. Just for a single hour I want no more numbers tagged onto me, no more theories. Did anyone tell you about deep grammar when you were 2 years old? Did daddy bounce you on his knee and explain the theta function? Did you crave calculus? You wanted to know what happened to that damn rabbit. Where did it go? Down there? No. Where is the rabbit! ARTRGHHG. Find the rabbit. NO! NO! Rabbit? Where is it! Dump truck. Potty, bye bye, bye bye.

I've lost the urge to continue with my big world-changing point, which had no chance of changing the world. I'm all excited about something I can't put my finger on, and can't sleep. Words arrive: narrative recursion economics sex; I dip my tiny straw of ignorance into the salty sea of wisdom and vainly try to suck and suck and suck. And please, all the knowledge in the world can't help me tell a good story. The consequences of sorting it out are textual objects like this, shells with shells inside. But perhaps the meat of the nut is a fire by a lake, faces illuminated orange, hands moving wildly; I can't hear what they're saying but I see them inside, the tiny bodies moving, no bigger than my thumbnail.




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)

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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)

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