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Correspondence Course - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
Correspondence Course
While pruning my virtual "sticky" notes this evening, I came across many that contained the text of messages I never got around to completing or simply decided not to send. Like a number of others, the one the following excerpt is drawn from can be assigned to both of those categories:
While it would be foolish of me to state that I would definitely rise to the occasion in a Virginia Tech-style crisis -- how can we know, in the end, how we will act under that sort of distress -- I'm pretty sure A) that I would not be cowering in fear and B) that I would be willing to risk my own well-being on behalf of others, including total strangers. Historically, I've performed best in times of greatest crisis.

For what it's worth, my general response to disasters natural and man-made is either ironic detachment or passionate rage. I can count on one hand the number of times I've truly cried since leaving pre-school. And I spent the latter years of high school, when you were apparently reading and reporting on poetry, devising what I and others referred to as a "hit list." I used to have students come up to me to ask where they were on the list. Seriously. I'm not proud of playing up the idea of myself as a potentially murderous sociopath while a high-school student. But I do think it sheds some light on my emotional response to events like the Virginia Tech massacre.

In closing, let me note that, for someone who is as into facts of a math-and-science nature as you frequently claim to be, I find it curious that you would build your perception of who a person is on such a limited statistical sample. We've only talked a few times in person. And, while you have read many of my Live Journal entries over the past few years, I don't think it makes a lot of sense to draw conclusions about who I am and how I would act in a given situation in light of what I write here, particularly insofar as so much of what I write here is heavily coded.

Then again, I have often had the impression that you take statements literally, for better or worse, even when they cry out for a mode of interpretation attentive to indirection. I can't fault you for that. It speaks to the sincerity and forthrightness that you so effectively present in your Live Journal-related correspondence. But, if I'm even partially right, that quality would go a long way toward explaining how you have ended up with a picture of me that any of my long-time friends in "meat space" would refute in a second. Take the entry in question, for example. Although I did mention being upset by the news of Hurricane Katrina, I did so, at least in part, because I wanted to set up the conceit with which the entry closes:
Before Kim came home I brought the futon out of the garage for Bean and put on the DVD for Andy Goldsworthy's Rivers and Tides. It lulled her to sleep very quickly and made me feel considerably more relaxed. Now I have to go run an errand for her, however, and then rush down to teach, so my stress level is heading for another peak. It says something about my state of mind that I keep seeing a mirage of rising water everywhere I turn.
Clearly, I wanted to play off the idea of overflowing water invoked, not only by Katrina, but my "weepy" state and the film Rivers and Tides, which features a sequence in which a rock sculpture created by the artist is gradually submerged by the sea. I almost feel the need to declare, as I did above, that I'm "not proud" of the fact that I spent so much time working a conceit into a throwaway "everyday" entry. Still, that's how I write and why I write so slowly.
Frequently, as in the case of the letter in question, I labor over my message for so long that it becomes too long to send long before I'm finished writing it. Because disproportionate responses trouble me, I've learned to avoid making them in my own writing. Sometimes I forget what I've learned, mind you, but I do try to remember. Even when I'm drawing a blank, I'll let a letter lie for a few hours or, better yet, a few days, in the hopes that I'll be reminded of the reasons why it might be better left unsent. In this case, I've managed to wait nearly five months. Since I'm tired of having to keep confronting my muted words, however, I will finally provide them a destination. It may not be the one I'd initially intended, but at least the important part of my letter will have arrived.

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flw From: flw Date: September 11th, 2007 10:24 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I had a very similar experience tonight. I wanted to tell a 'blogger out there somewhere that he shouldn't work so hard trying to source the motivations and world-views of newspaper staff in Alabama, because by thinking about their motivations and world-view for ten seconds, you have just spent ten more seconds thinking about it than they will in their entire lives. No one ever questions themselves, and those that do quickly fall behind. This is why our society is lead by idiots.

But it just kept going on and on, and getting stupider and stupider. And I started getting embarrassed. And I started reacting to imagined responses and apologizing, and then trying to rewrite and rephrase things, but then it lost all meaning and impact. And then I thought, "perhaps this still has meaning and impact, perhaps it has only lost meaning and impact for me because I not only wrote it, but have since reread it. Now I am going all meta. Read it like I haven't read it yet... come on! Is that even possible? Now I am meta-meta. Let me meta-analyze my meta-analysis for meta-errors. Oh fuck this! Fuck this! FUCK!"
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: September 11th, 2007 02:32 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Welcome to the inside of my hourly existence, friend, where the "meat" of my "meat space" surrenders its none-too-solid flesh to abstraction. Even my mettle is meta.
kumaraka From: kumaraka Date: September 11th, 2007 05:24 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I almost hesitate to reveal that I don't understand this, but I have to ask about your use of the word conceit. Are you saying that by talking about floods in the context of a movie, rather than new orleans, you are being conceited?
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: September 11th, 2007 06:40 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
An excellent question! While my primary intention in using the word "conceit" was to convey the idea of an extended metaphor -- in literary studies, we call them "conceits" -- I was also thinking that it was conceited of me in the conventional sense of the term to have opted for a conceit in that context. So the answer is both "Yes" and "No," further confirming my own conceitedness. Someone please hit me with a brick.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 11th, 2007 06:44 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Ha Ha! I am literally LOLing. I think my patient next door can hear me. (Waiting on her lab results)
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: September 11th, 2007 08:11 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
_luaineach From: _luaineach Date: September 11th, 2007 06:53 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
My god! That sounds just like highschool!
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: September 11th, 2007 08:17 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Hence my current LJ icon. I'm feeling so nostalgic these days, I might even need to compose a hit list for old time's sake. Apparently, the news that my former classmate is running for Congress has had quite an impact on me. Incidentally, the wife in the photo on his running-for-office home page is his high school sweetheart, the one I reduced to tears at our end-of-year awards ceremony senior year because of the piece I'd written for the final issue of our newsmagazine.
xxxpunkxgrrlxxx From: xxxpunkxgrrlxxx Date: September 11th, 2007 10:18 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
i watched rivers and tides at ryan's, a while back. excellent. i can't imagine the patience it must take to be andy goldsworthy and do the art that he does. especially when he was constructing what looked like a spiderweb of sticks hanging from that tree. and it all fell apart.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: September 12th, 2007 03:59 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Yeah. Just watching the film is enough to triple one's Zen quotient. I love it for that reason. And for the way it teaches us to see the beauty in what cannot last.
xxxpunkxgrrlxxx From: xxxpunkxgrrlxxx Date: September 12th, 2007 04:00 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
and did you notice that one other guy's crazy out-of-control eyebrows?
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: September 12th, 2007 08:01 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
xxxpunkxgrrlxxx From: xxxpunkxgrrlxxx Date: September 13th, 2007 03:06 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
in the dvd. his assistant, i believe.

ha. sorry.
From: jsterne Date: September 12th, 2007 12:35 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

disproportionate response

is my middle name. I am really, really trying to work on brevity. I am so with you. Especially given my new role.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: September 12th, 2007 02:27 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: disproportionate response

It's hard. Because I usually feel, as I imagine you do too, that the proportionate response sells what matters short. But nuance can also be a weapon, in the eyes of those being subjected to its weighty folds. I keep reminding myself of that.
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