Tuesday, February 27, 2007

God and murders and things

I think that part of the reason I've never read In Cold Blood is that I don't really like reading about murder, really. Capote's masteful writing makes me want to keep reading this book, but it's so disturbing, on so many levels, what atrocities people are capable of. And I'm not even very far into it; they've just found the bodies and are in day two of the townspeople's reflections.

When we were young -- too young, some would say, for it to be healthy -- my sister and I developed what might be called a small obsession with the Manson murders. We pored over our mother's copy of the book Helter Skelter, although I definitely skipped most of the actual reading apart from the descriptions of the killings, and I just kept going back to the section in the middle of the fat paperback which had the crime scene photographs. Then there was the TV movie. It really is quite good, as TV movies go, and who could not love the Vincent Bugliosi character after the way he puts "Charlie" in his place? My sis and I could proudly recite the details of those August 1969 nights, including the victims' names, the places in the house where each body was found, how Linda Kasabian got immunity, who shaved and carved what into their heads...

Yeah, I know. Creepy. I was, like, ten. I also was, bizarrely, allowed to watch pretty much any horror movie I wanted. (But The Last Temptation of Christ and Fatal Attraction were out of the question.) I saw, admittedly at home under Mom's supervision, Nightmare on Elm Street...The Shining...The Exorcist...and boy, were some of my friends jealous. I think I have friends whose mothers STILL don't want them to watch The Exorcist. I grew up with that movie. I even remember the first few times; my sister (two and a half years older than me) was pretty into it but all I wanted was to watch the intense scenes with the priest and the head-spinning and, yes, the projectile vomiting, but my mom would be like, "Come on, get in here and pay attention to the movie" as I wandered about to, oh, I don't know -- maybe play with something more appropriate for a NINE-year-old?

The consequence of all this? I think there are two. One, I was pretty much constantly terrified at night during my pre-teen years. I was forever checking behind the shower curtain as I got ready for bed (Psycho, one of my mom's all-time favorites). During the light of day it was all well and good for my sister and me to imitate the twin girls in The Shining -- we'd stand at one end of our hallway and call to our mother to watch us do "Come and play with us, Danny! Forever. And ever. And ever." -- but at night I would lie in bed petrified, heart racing. If I wasn't healthy and in good shape from gymnastics, swimming, softball and the like, I might have catapulted myself right into heart failure. As an adolescent, desperate for independence, I had decidedly mixed feelings about staying home alone. None of this affected me during the day, but at night? I was a goner.

So that's the first consequence. The second is that I think I got them out of my system. Both the horror movies, and the murder fascination in particular. I can't remember the last time I went to a scary movie or even a creepy one in the theater. It must have been The Sixth Sense, or 8mm, I think. I liked the former, but the latter just disgusted me. And when I do watch them, which is rare, I don't get scared. I am 100% blase. I see now that you work yourself up into that anxiety; it's a conscious choice. I have no concept whatsoever of how adults can be scared by movies. It so seems part of childhood to me. I have no interest.

So here I am reading In Cold Blood and thinking -- wow. The writing is great, and I'm glad I've finally got around to reading it, but why didn't I read it when I was an adolescent? I remember my mother reading it. Maybe I got burned out after The Shining. I'd been watching that movie for years and when I was twelve I decided I was going to finally read the book, for my book report. We were all in the junior high library selecting books and I informed my teacher that nothing appealed to me and I was going to read a book I already had at home. When I told him which one, he insisted I get a note of permission from my mother. Which she happily provided. But of course I was up until forever late the night before the report was due, so not close to being finished. That was a long book! My pals selecting young adult fare like Cages of Glass, Flowers of Time may have been on to something!

So now I read and I just shudder. Creepy creepy creepy. Murder is creepy. The fact that the True Crime section exists is kind of weird. However, as I said, Capote is remarkable. And the book is not even that creepy yet. There's been hardly any description of anything disturbing at all. And that's what's almost more creepy of course, because you know these people were murdered, and you know vaguely how, and you're just floating along reading about this until-now-idyllic town in western Kansas, and you really get the sense of how it is for the townspeople, that this event is just so misplaced, so shocking, so wrong.

Quoting people's responses, a lot of the Holcomb and Garden City folk express their dismay and horror and shock that it was the Clutter family of all people. One schoolteacher says,

"But that family represented everything people hereabouts really value and respect, and that such a thing could happen to them--well, it's like being told there is no God. It makes life seem pointless. I don't think people are so much frightened as they are deeply depressed." -- p. 88

Now, of course, in my youthful, blood-and-gore watching, fearmongering, terrified, ghost story and Ouija board-loving, convinced-something-was-coming-to-get-me-in-the-night state, I happened to believe deeply that there was in fact a god, a God the Heavenly Father to be precise, and I also was pretty well convinced that his son Jesus was murdered and bled and died for us all. Is it a coincidence that both of those worldviews have disappeared from my life? Who's to say?

But I do think it's interesting that when I read that line, I knew exactly what that woman meant. Even if "no God" doesn't resonate with me as some sort of ultimate betrayal by the universe.

Also, I must say that I rather enjoy the postmistress Mrs. Myrtle Clare. She's all tough and sassy and weathered and thinks everyone is just working themselves into a needless frenzy.

But I wouldn't have related to Myrtle when I was ten.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

"Oh, the dissatisfied with the satisfied..."

Is it scary that I relate a little bit to Perry at one point?

I mean, I find him sinister of course. I was just last night noting how masterful Capote is; he can describe without slanting his writing or passing any judgment, and he's already conveyed that Dick and Perry are sinister, while Nancy and Kenyon and the other Clutters are not. Such evocative writing. Astonishing. But in the letter Willie-Jay writes to Perry on the eve of the latter's departure from prison, he says:

"You exist in a half-world suspended between two superstructures, one self-expression and the other self-destruction. You are strong, but there is a flaw in your strength, and unless you learn to control it the flaw will prove stronger than your strength and defeat you. The flaw? Explosive emotional reaction out of all proportion to the occasion. Why? Why this unreasonable anger at the sight of others who are happy or content, this growing contempt for people and the desire to hurt them? All right, you think they're fools, you despise them because their morals, their happiness is the source of your frustration and resentment. But these are dreadful enemies you carry within yourself -- in time destructive as bullets." -- pp. 43-44

I mean, come on. I think people have said some of those exact words to me. Not the least of which people were a couple of my Borders general managers. Which, if you think about it, could be fitting because working at Borders was kind of like being in prison sometimes. And here I am at law school all the time regarding the fools around me with utter contempt.

Yet, I have decidedly mellowed on some levels. I still think "if you're not outraged you're not paying attention" and all that, but I'm also remarkably content on the whole emotionally, and I don't know that I would have described myself as remarkably emotionally content, say, ten years ago. Is it because I discovered mindfulness and meditation and yoga and other buddhist-tinged things along the way?

I took a lot of flack when the "morals" and "happiness" of the BYU Happy Valley people were the "source of [my] frustration and resentment." But I also think I changed things for the better by fighting back and standing up for our persecuted selves during my freshman year. AND changed myself for the better.

Can it be that this is a dangerous tendency, that toward passionate outrage? It often makes people uncomfortable, I'll grant that, but I always just think those people are secretly jealous that they don't stand up for what they believe. You know, another friend of mine was just blogging about this: why is it acceptable for people who don't care to tell the people who are outraged they're out of line, but it's not OK for the outraged to condemn the apathetic?

Back to Perry. Are we the same, and only the circumstances of our lives (or was that the whims of fate?) drove us to different results?

I see the other side of the coin, too. In my aforementioned remarkable contentness, I feel like people are often put off. Example, law school, where it's like a daily challenge to find someone who can actually relax and not take everything so seriously 24 hours a day. I feel like when I'm galvanting through the world road-tripping to Indigo Girls concerts and trying new things and moving to Asia and doing what I like and really believing that we can all change the world if we put our minds to it, people who are settled in their cozy homesteads behind their white picket fences are peering out at me and silently disapproving. Sometimes even not so silently.

I never wanted to hurt anyone though. Willie-Jay definitely calls Perry out on wanting to hurt people.

I think maybe I have more to say about this, but I first need to sort it out from its current state of total jumble inside my head.

But I think Perry and I both do give a damn, despite any indications to the contrary. And I think the same can be said for a lot of humans who do and who do not go astray.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Dude, where's my human hive?

On page 32, Capote describes Dick and Perry as "scrubbed, combed, and tidy as two dudes setting off on a double date..." This is interesting to me because of the use of the word "dude" and how it has evolved, about which some of you know I've long had a theory.

First of all, reading this today you might skip over the word "double" entirely as the notion of "two dudes" on a date is not that strange, if thinking of two men, although then you would say wait a minute, Capote so didn't write that then did he? Then you realize it's a double date they're setting off on, of course. With girls, presumably.

But also, "dude" is not just a guy here; it's that whole city-slickin' and primped connotation, right? I would be so fascinated to go back to the 1950s and early 1960s to hear that use of the word "dude."

Now, in the 80s, "dude" joined the Valley Girl-style speech. "Like, omigod, totally fer sure" etc. My generation will say the sentence, "Dude, that was amazing!" And we are nowhere in there referring to a male of any sort. It's just an exclamation. It's perfectly synonymous with "Wow, that was amazing." Or, in the 50s, maybe, "Gee, that was amazing!"

I discovered that we differ sharply from the previous generation in that respect --and I developed my theory -- back when I worked at Marketplace. One day I said, "Dude, something something" and my co-worker friend born in 1967 said, "Don't call me dude." Only, I so wasn't. And it was interesting to me that she would even hear it that way. I began to explore. I knew my sister (born 1972) used it the way "my" generation did. Where was the cut-off? I've since decided anyone born before 1970 lives in a different world vis-a-vis the word "dude" than those born during the great and glorious decade of bell-bottoms, shag carpet, and disco.

Also, I think the pendulum has swung back, though I think the early 80s kids still use it in that not-referring-to-any-person way. I hear, Hey! Where's my car?! while people around me hear Hey, buddy! Where's my car?

I'm reasonably certain this is endlessly fascinating to only me.

I also like the next two pages, wherein Capote describes sleepy little Holcomb, Kansas, which we all know is about to get not-so-sleepy, and the neighboring bigger town of Garden City, where despite citizens' denials class distinctions are in fact observed as clearly "as in any other human hive." Capote talks about people praising the good schools, friendly people, fresh air, and so forth of the community: "I came out here to practice law. A temporary thing, I never planned to stay. But when the chance came to move, I thought, Why go? What the hell for? Maybe it's not New York -- but who wants New York?"

I might venture to answer that. It's funny how often this has come up lately. I have such a major, vast appreciation for the wide open spaces and the small towns from which my family members hail and all that. But I do think, in the end, I could raise my hand and say, Me! Me! I want New York! I just don't need that so-called simple life that Capote is really evoking during these first few dozen pages. So many people want that. Are nostalgic for it even if they've never had it. I like visiting it, and then moving on.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

East is East, and West is West

So far, reading In Cold Blood, I am struck by many things, not the least of which are Capote's excellent writing and how much reading this 50s/60s-evoking book reminds me of reading Peyton Place. But I am also struck by how vividly I picture the West and am so glad I have lived both in the West (all over it, in fact) and on the East Coast.

I have more to say. Don't worry. But, as my friend Maija's t-shirt said, "Don't mess with Kansas, either!"

Love it.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

In Cold Blood, that's good enough for me!

When it came time to select a C author, I did consider a few. Colette, for starters. Always have meant to read something by Colette. And the big one, whom I consider the runner-up: Conrad, specifically Heart of Darkness. I have no idea why I've never read that. There are a lot of people in my life who have no idea why I've never read that. I have even owned it before -- and failed to read it. Suckage!

But really, as I perused the 'C' shelves, when my eyes fell upon Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, in that moment my decision was made. Everything else that was on the table was cleared off, in one fell swoop, like so many shattering dishes and clattering spoons.

And, well, there is the point to consider that In Cold Blood isn't really a novel. Well - oh well. It's such a literary book. It hangs out with novels. It's written by a writer of novels and just lots of other things too. (Funny, that's what I aspire to be.) I accept it for my literary A-Z blog quest.

My edition: a paperback, with ISBN 0679-745580

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

(Happy) (ending)

OK, um, I finished Naked Lunch. I think. It's hard to tell, really. I mean, it's not as if there's a plot, or story. That would apparently be too traditional. And my man Burroughs was clearly about breaking with the traditional.

Furthermore, the edition I have, the so-called "restored text," has seen fit to include NINETY pages of "original additions and introductions by the author" and "Burroughs texts annexed by the editors." None of which, I might add, I feel particularly compelled to read. But the book itself (as it were) is only two hundred pages. I don't think the additions and such should be half again as many pages as the book. That's just asking too much of my poor, graphic-images-addled brain. And p.s. it's kind of like when someone buys Cliffs Notes for, like, The Catcher in the Rye. The notes are longer than the book. What's the point?

Anyhoo, I could rant about Cliffs Notes, or I could rant about Burroughs. Or maybe I'll rant about nothing and just go enjoy my snow day.

I did read one of the "original introductions and additions by the author," before I read the book. I read "Letter From a Master Addict to Dangerous Drugs" which is dated 1956, before the publication of the book. I decided to save the other "original introductions and additions by the author," which were apparently written in the 1960s, after the book, for after I read the book, see? But now, I'm like, um, OK, do I really care? Yeah, not so much.

PERHAPS I will idly read some of them only while I am on the train on my way to the bookstore to purchase In Cold Blood. That's right, the man Truman Capote is my choice for 'C.'

And yes, I am ashamed to admit I haven't read Capote yet. But I am suddenly far less ashamed that I hadn't previously read Burroughs. I'd still hang out with him, I'm pretty sure. But now I picture it'd be like, me and Allen (Ginsberg, you plebes) in one corner of the bar totally getting all passionate and arguing about something, much to the eye-rolling "There they go again" dismay of our gathered friends, and maybe Neal(Cassady of course) would hang at our table, too, but he'd kind of be bouncing around talking to everybody, while then Jack(Kerouac. tell me you knew that one) and William S himself would disappear for hours at a time into the darkened back rooms and crevices of our world to indulge in other things, and I'd be all, "Where'd they go?" all the time and roll my eyes right back.

That's what I'm doing, I guess, to Naked Lunch, to appropriate a concept (and half a quote) from Pretty Woman. William Burroughs is disgusted with the world? Indeed. Me too. But I roll my eyes right back.

Monday, February 12, 2007

I'm amused by how much this book could offend people...

And I imagine that Naked Lunch did in fact offend many people when it first burst onto the scene, as it were. I still find it so repetitive and random that it's tiresome to read at times, but occasionally I come across really wacky and hilarious passages. No need to explain who's speaking or what's happening in the story, because there aren't really characters or a plot per se in this book, so I'll just share the fun.

A random person randomly starts talking about religious figures. He's like, Christ? He should have been at a trashy carnival... "Step right up folks, the one and only Son of Man will cure your..." Well, and then he gets a little vulgar, which wouldn't be appropriate for my family blog, so I'll leave it to your imagination.

Next, he says Buddha is a "notorious metabolic junky" who is sitting there in the lotus position manufacturing his own junk in his cells to keep himself high, and getting away with it because he's declared himself to be a holy man, now, dig?

And then, "Mohammed? Are you kidding? He was dreamed up by the Mecca Chamber of Commerce." - p. 96

It's really funny. But maybe you had to be there. I don't see how that could possibly be the case though, as that would imply some semblance of continuity or sense in this book, both of which are decidedly lacking.

Good times.

Monday, February 05, 2007

What can you say about a maniac?

When I think about this book, I want to say things like, "Wow, Burroughs is a total freakin' maniac!" but then it's like, well, duh.

It's such a weird book. Its random, fragmented, crazy-vision, piecemeal approach to storytelling is so not what I'm in the mood for right now. I didn't realize that until I started reading this. So, once again in my little literary project I have found myself reading slowly. But it's not that I don't like the books I've selected. It seems like that, doesn't it? Oh, well. Things aren't always what they seem. As any of these psycho addicts(or all they are just Burroughs?) in the book would surely tell you.

Also I have learned the spelling, or at least a spelling, of slang words that I now realize I have only ever heard spoken and never seen/written. I would share, but this is a family blog. Although one could make a convincing case that by deciding on Burroughs as my B author all notions of family blogness basically went out the window.

Oh yeah, and sometimes the things he writes are just painfully cringe-gross. I'm talking not just violent sex acts but also all these maniacal doctors and surgeons pop up from time to time doing really weird things and they are rendered quite vividly. I have involuntarily made some intense faces on the bus and subway while reading. I have possibly even gasped. I have elicited looks.

I would love to comment on the plot, but I have yet to discern exactly what that is. I'll get back to you if I figure that out.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Spinning Heads

Some aspects of reading Naked Lunch are amusing.

But I still suspect it resonates better with people who've done crazy obscene amounts of drugs. Or who really want to.

Anyway, it's a little boring, nonsensical and repetitive, but it has randomly brilliant passages that pop up here and there. I imagine life with the Beats might have been like that.

Friday, February 02, 2007

"They didn't know the music was in my soul..."

Yeah. Well. Did I mention I haven't done enough drugs to catch all the endless references in this book?

I don't have much to say so far, thirty-something pages in. Except, at the risk of blaspheming all that is beatnik and holy and good, my initial reaction is a very Catcher-in-the-Rye-like "What's the big deal?"

The great thing about the above paragraph is that the only thing I could say here to offend more people than saying this "amazing vision" Naked Lunch is not all that great is reiterating my belief that J.D. Salinger just doesn't do it for me like he did it for previous generations. Oh, well. Onward!

"Did you do too many drugs
I did too many drugs
Did you do too many drugs, too
You were born too late
I was born too soon
But every time I look at that ugly moon
It reminds me of you..."

-- violent femmes, 'american music'