Saturday, August 18, 2012

To Blog or Not to Blog

I stopped blogging this summer. Not by intention, but because I found myself working on projects that didn't lend themselves to blogging. But is that true? Certainly in the Spring, when I was writing for jacket2, the blogging model--write and edit at nearly the same time, then "publish"--was in effect, despite the sensitivity of the material, mostly having to do with Hawai`i's literary politics. So why not-blog? If there are answers, aside from the obvious--getting out of the habit (in more than one way, perhaps)--then they may have to do with questions of time more than of content. Or of how time comes to be content. (I suppose both pronunciations of that last word might apply.)

Blogging is a form that lends itself to honoring the moment as it occurs. When I made books out of my blog posts, I edited a lot out, but never added words, thoughts, exposition. There's an honesty to the present that ought not be altered through future tweaking, unless that becomes another post for another moment. In writing about my mother's condition, I found that Alzheimer's lives only in the present; to write about it otherwise felt less than honest. My problem with Alzheimer's books is more than that they are usually more about the caregiver than about the person with the illness; it's that they are retrospective. Alzheimer's is the disease that erases retrospection, not one that calls for it. My memory cards are also involved in the moment of composition, even as their obsessions are with the past, how it enters the present abruptly, sometimes overwhelming it. These decayed epiphanies comes as much out of forgetting as they do remembering. If your muse forgets, then allowing for those absences of language, event, affect, all matter, even if they are located in the immaterial gaps between sentences. A conceptual Garrett Stewart thesis applies, where it's not the sounds of the words that elide, meaning more than two separate words can. The gaps, whether in blogging or in writing memory cards, create meaning when two moments come together in space, if not time. This is a bit like Ron Silliman's idea of torque, except it de-emphasizes parataxis in favor of conjunctions between seemingly unattached elements.

This summer's projects developed otherwise. One, editing a posthumous collection of poetry by Steve Shrader, a poet who lived for over three decades in Waimānalo, writing amazing, Ashberyesque poems near the end of his life in 2007, turned into a sleuthing project. Shrader, famous among his friends for the precision of his work as a graphic designer, artist, and photographer, left no indication (except one date at the end of a single poem) as to when he had written these pieces. Wanting to find out when and where he wrote the poems, I began driving around O`ahu, talking to his friends, looking at places where he'd lived and worked, trying to reconstruct a time frame. What I found were people summoning up the past--one friend of Shrader's wrote afterward to say that our visit had stirred up his memories, his anger at his friend's leaving him--into a present that doesn't yet exist, that of the poems set inside the covers of a book. Research is what comes between. I could have blogged about that process, but his friends were talking to me, not into a public space that they will enter only much later. While I often want to tell my students that their ethical stipulations about using others' voices are too strong, provide cover narratives for anxieties having little to do with their subject, in this case, I wanted to give these voices their privacy. At least for now.

The second project was to put together an anthology of poetry (and some prose) by white poets in Hawai`i. (I'm calling them Euro-American, because that emphasizes an ethnic, historical background to whiteness.) There's a tenderness to that topic (as in a bruise that's easily poked) that made me want to weigh every word before I set it down, or after I set it down, then threw it across the room like a pitch by a closer with two men on and no outs in the 9th inning. Considering the colonial history of this place, to use a verb like "discover," even when it means "I've discovered where I want to live," can be problematic. There's a reason why we no longer celebrate "Discoverers' Day" in Hawai`i. Tone was an issue, too. The rhetoric (mine and the contributors') could not be angry, needed to be even, fair, self-reflexive. But it also needed to be honest. So the work of balancing flashes of frustration with a sense of our moving toward a constructive goal--alerting readers to the fact that a lot of really good white writers have written in and about Hawai`i, and that their work has been shaped in myriad ways by their experiences of living here--was not easy. While the Shrader project ostensibly recovers a past for readers of poetry inside and outside Hawai`i, as well as showing how radically different traditions can be joined together, the anthology is future-directed. My utopian goal (by now I know it's good to have them, but not to fret too much over the disappointments of not arriving) is to shift the direction of local and Hawai`i writing, to make it--counter-intuitively, considering the limitations of ethnic categories--more open. The projects do come together as a vision of what might be added to Hawai`i's literature. My phrase for this act of editing something into the world is "positive critique." But the time sense involved in these two projects moves in different directions: we look to the past in order to map possible futures. The present, or what might otherwise be blogged, is less crucial to these projects than was the work on Alzheimer's.

The anthology is now with our designer, Allison Hanabusa (who mercifully, perhaps, doesn't fit our category); the Shrader volume will get going quickly once we have the digital copies of his poems. And then there are chapbooks by Ya-Wen Ho and Erin Yuasa to do, and a book by Lehua Taitano. So Tinfish is busy, and the blog is back. I'm hoping to blog about my teaching this semester, along with whatever else comes up that lives inside the moment of considering it.

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