The Future of this Blog

Few people have blogs anymore, or maybe I just don’t follow as many as I used to. Still, I’m far removed from the days when I would churn out a post a week. Lockdown would’ve been a great time to revitalize the blog, and yet the revitalization (for me) came from a Neil Gaiman Masterclass and the resumption of my survey of movie adaptations of the plays of Eugene O’Neill.

But that was for Murmurs from the Balcony. This blog didn’t see such a resurgence.

Part of the reason is the nature of these blogs. Dreams of Literary Grandeur is proactive. I pick something to write about, and I write about it. Murmurs from the Balcony is reactive. My pieces on there are a response to something, whether it’s a movie or event or book or play. Eugene O’Neill is a project with an ending. Dreams of Literary Grandeur is all the stuff that isn’t planned. As such, it can be erratic.

When I first started writing this blog, the subheading was “One man’s attempt to become a professional novelist, poet, and playwright.” As it became apparent that very little of the blog was actually about becoming a professional writer (minus my periodic updates on my novel, which is currently hibernating or dead), the focus changed (hence the Robert Schumann quote about “the duty of the artist”). Before the split between criticism and personal essay occurred, this blog had everything on it. I’d have a passing thought and would write about it. And though I only wrote a few posts directly concerning Japan (despite a project idea to publish posts for three years starting in 2015, 10 years after I went there), I created this blog about a year after I came back to the States (initially on Blogger), still riding that creative surge and (later) the large changes that were happening in my life at that time, such as going to the Wesleyan Writers Conference for a day or moving to Seattle from the East Coast (this from someone who, minus a trip to Portland to see if I wanted to live there, had only been as far west as Louisiana, on a Spring Break road trip taken my senior year of college – which is now, to my surprise, over 20 years ago).

Like many things I write, I haven’t revisited most of these posts since I hit the publish button, the exception being my SIFF entries when I was celebrating my 10th continuous year of covering the Seattle Internation Film Festival by republishing some of my favorite posts from years past. In hindsight, that would’ve been an excellent time to hang up my hat on the festival, for the next year, COVID hit, and while I covered the 2022 shortened version of the festival, (2020 was canceled, and I couldn’t secure a press pass for 2021, which was virtual only), it very much felt like that era in my life was over (though I’m very proud of those 2022 entries).

I’ve been in Seattle long enough to have seen several eras of my life go by. The very beginning, when I was staying with friends in West Seattle, the 5 1/2 years I lived in the U-District – which covered the Meetup era – to the post-Meetup era, when I started hanging out more with friends found in those groups than in the groups themselves. I saw a city with a healthy independent theater chain reduce itself to one, with buildings shuttered and one burning down. I went from unemployed to somewhat employed to steadily employed and back to unemployed (during lockdown) before becoming employed in a year where I thought I’d be stopping everything to pursue writing (I’m glad I didn’t; my previous experiment to that effect almost drove me mad and made me realize I can’t write if I have nothing to write about). And now for the first time since Japan I have a full-time job and am being paid a decent wage, but still don’t have any benefits.

Of course, the biggest change is that I got a cat 😉 Okay, so the biggest change is that I went to being perpetually single to being less than six months away from my wedding.

In light of that, the future of this blog may seem unimportant, but that would be like saying sleep is unimportant. I have this blog as an outlet for my writing, and I write because I must. Even when not writing on a screen or a piece of paper, I’m writing in my head. The arts help us make sense of the world, but my writing helps make sense of my world.

So now that I’ve gone through the history of this blog and the history of my life through this blog, what’s next? All I know for sure is that I’ll continue to write, whether here or elsewhere. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll see a prose piece in print this year.

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A Touch of Madness

“True literature can exist only where it is created, not by diligent and trustworthy functionaries, but by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels, and skeptics.”-Yevgeny Zamyatin, “I Am Afraid”

It seems that to build something unique and lasting in this world, you need to be a bit mad. Such is the conclusion I came to upon reading this article about Scarecrow Video founder George Latsios.

If Latsios had used his earnings to pay his taxes and been more fiscally conservative in his approach to buying movies (he’d travel to Japan just to buy rare laserdiscs), Scarecrow would’ve looked more like Blockbuster — and been the poorer for it. Financial ruin is never a good business strategy, but Latsios’s unwillingness to be practical is what allowed for the rarity of Scarecrow’s collection. As his ex-wife Rebecca Soriano put it, “He wasn’t afraid to do whatever he felt, and that’s the reason Scarecrow exists. If he didn’t have the nerve to do it, Scarecrow wouldn’t be there.”

One wishes he’d had someone else run the financial side of things (people with vision tend to be awful at the practicalities of life), but despite bad financial decisions in the past and an economy that no longer supports video rental stores in the present, Scarecrow remains, while other stores have closed. And it wouldn’t have existed at all without George Latsios.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

Memories of 9/11

I was slightly more than half the age I am now when 9/11 occurred. I’d graduated college in May of that year and was living with my parents, attempting to start my career as a writer and author of novels and short stories. I had no outlets but writing, and so my writing suffered. Instead of being distracted by my smartphone or social media (both of which didn’t exist back then), I had to contend with dial-up Internet and boredom.

Still, it wasn’t all bad. I was planning to visit some of my friends from college in late September. I also decided on something fortuitous. I decided to keep all the emails we sent back and forth, starting after graduation and continuing through the beginning of 2002.

It seems appropriate that the year I entered “the real world” is when the real world went to shit. This was the start of the Patriot Act (with parts still enforced to this day), the TSA, and ICE. After the USSR fell apart in the early 90s, people growing up then (including me) thought that the world would be less dangerous and more hopeful. 9/11 changed that.

I had an on-again, off-again regiment when it came to writing, but that Tuesday I was prepared to wake up early and do some writing. From my diary entry for Tuesday, September 11:

When I woke up at 9:25, Mom told me I had to come down + see this (not telling me what). What I saw was a replay of the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center + exploding out the other side. Dad called around 10 to see if I had seen what was going on, forgetting Mom went in late today. After he called, the third plane hit the Pentagon, thought at first they didn’t know what had happened (or did Dad call after this?). The fourth plane later crashed into a rural part of Pa.

Mom was there when the 1st tower of the WTC fell (about 10:15 or so). She had left by the time the 2nd one fell (at 10:29). Throughout the day, I watched the TV, stunned. Dad came home early from work (I think around 12:30 or 1). All airports had been closed in the US w/ no domestic flights taking off since soon after the Pentagon was attacked. Military were dispatched, the Speaker of the House +VP + Pres were brought to different secure locations, Congress adjourned, NYC essentially shut down – as did D.C.

What I remember most about that first week were two things. One, I used to hear planes fly past my parents house all the time. Those sounds stopped. And two, how fearful I felt because it took a few days before we had a full picture of who was responsible. I’m pretty sure I experienced PTSD watching all the news programs interviewing survivors and showing scenes from Ground Zero. And remember, I was planning to visit friends in late September, yet at the time, all flights were grounded. From my diary entry of Thursday, September 13:

Had a hard time getting to sleep last night. I doubt I will sleep easily again for a long time. I fall asleep scared. Although I have still decided to fly down to Dulles + back, my fears about hijacking last night while trying to go to sleep manifested themselves despite the fact that I never would have been on those flights…

Planes only started flying again maybe a week before my visit. The plane I took there was pretty empty (maybe 25% full). The woman sitting next to me introduced herself, shook my hand, and wished me a safe flight (as I did her). Then the pilot got on the intercom and along with the usual information concerning the weather and ETA, he told us the flight would be very safe, as his wife was on board.

This trip was my first visit to Washington, D.C. The National Archives and the Washington Monument were closed (though the former might’ve been due to the time I arrived), and the White House had snipers on the roof. I did get to see, however, the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial. The latter deeply impressed me.

First, the wall is only one block tall. Then, it gets larger and larger as you descend, and more + more names are listed. Then you ascend, + the reverse happens…Seeing all those names there an eerie calm fell over me. I felt I was in a holy place + tried not to speak too loud or too much lest I disturb the place. In fact, I didn’t take a pic until we were past it + I could get the whole thing (or most of it) in my camera [lens]. However, it just looks like a black wall from where I took it.

When I headed back to the airport on Sunday, I got a spectacular view of the sky. In my diary, I mention it looking like a painting. And while they did have curbside check-in…

Dulles has really high security. My little buttons on my jacket + jeans set off the metal detector (I guess they did, as I was wanded + patted down). I felt safe flying, though. Full flight. I got middle seat. Guy w/ window seat…talked to me a bit during the flight. He has a 7-year-old who’s a little freaked out over what’s happened + his dad flying.

And then I saw an even more impressive sight from the plane.

As we descended through the clouds to land, we could see horizontal rain (that looked like snow) and a red glow illuminating strands of cloud parallel to the plane + horizontal to me. At first, I thought lights on the plane were causing this to occur, but those lights were white. This phenomenon stopped for a bit, + then reappeared. This time, though, I could see where this red light was coming from – the sun…I actually saw it set from the plane, illuminating all the clouds between it and us. It was absolutely breathtaking.

As we dropped below the clouds (after it had set), there was still a red glow above where it had disappeared. Above us, a single long bank of puffy cumulus clouds w/ no gaps in their ranks glowed a reddish-pink. After we landed, my dad said he had gone outside a few times to see the sunset cuz it was so amazing.

After seeing that sunset, I knew we’d be okay, but oh what blunders my country made after 9/11! We used goodwill for revenge and fought unnecessary wars, the first of which only ended last month. Our fear became anger; we made others suffer because we suffered. The ramifications of the Patriot Act continue to haunt us. Guantanamo Bay is still open.

Here is the concluding paragraph of that September 30th diary entry. I’m not sure that my attempt at profundity in the last sentence works, but I stand by the sentiment:

On the aisle seat next to me was a man of Middle Eastern or Near Eastern descent. I wonder how he felt flying w/ us. I know how I felt flying w/ him. At the airport (Dulles), I saw all different kinds of people pass by my gate, including Orthodox Jews + a really colorfully-dressed woman (who was on my flight), + I saw all of them in a different light. These were the people of the world; many were the people of the U.S. All different, yet all one people. Hopefully, one day, we will all learn to appreciate + respect our differences, realizing that we are merely many different snowflakes coming from the same cloud.