Notes on a decade

Born near the turn of a decade, the decades of the marked years neatly match my own personal decades.  The 2010s were pretty much my 30s.  Probably I was less in tune culturally than I was in the 2000s / 20s.  Or maybe I was REALLY tuned in.  Who can say?  Sometimes re: “current events”, they did feel like little more than backdrop to my own personal dramas.  If nothing else I was present for a lot of cool moments, the finales of The Office and VEEP, for example.

For that I’m grateful.

Helytimes was launched in 2012, out of a desire to claim a space for myself on what we still called “the Internet,” plus a sense that figuring out how to write online would be important.  Haven’t quite made it to ten years yet, which I remember setting as a benchmark to strive for.

The 2010s decade, if we’re being flexible, has to begin with the September 2008 financial crisis and aftermath.  The bad guys really did get away with it.  That’s a fact we’ve had to sit with all decade, and I think it’s an ugly, unpleasant fact that lies beneath a lot of the roiling turmoil since then.  A small percentage of people rigged the economy and were reckless with the lives of others, and mostly left others holding the bag and were never held to account.

Did it all begin here?

The decade was really split by the shock of the 2016 election.  A troubling, disturbing shock, even to the guy who won!  When I consider that was almost four years ago it feels weird, I’m still kinda not out of the initial dizziness that Donald J. Trump is the President.  It feels like it warbles the universe to even write that and have it be true.

Historywise, what was this decade?  Was it good?  Was it bad?  Was it tumultuous?  Are we brimming with more hope than we were in 2009?  If you were making one of those CNN docs of the decade, what would you have to include?  The fact that it is kinda hard to answer does – well I don’t want to say it disappoints, but it might suggests this was not a decade of great innovation.

Art and culture of the 2010s?  How were they distinct from the 2000s?  I can’t name the true trends in music, or even film or TV.  What about literature?  Here we are in 2019 and who’s a hot young writer?  Sally Rooney?  Jia Tolentino?  Is there anyone else who pops out of this decade in literature?

Technology-wise, 2010 was very different for me than 2000, when I didn’t own a phone.  But I don’t think 2019 is that different from 2010.

The big ticket of the 2010s, it seems to me, is “social media.”  My phone regularly reports to me that I spend five or so hours on it A DAY, and I don’t think I’m that unusual.  Twitter, Insta, TikTok, etc.  Gaming streams? Social is where people live.

Is sorting the decades by their cultural touchstones itself kind of a Boomer idea?  Feels like it became strongest with “the Sixties.”  As David Halberstam pointed out in his book, it wasn’t like nothing was going on in the ’50s, it just felt like that for a certain generation which hadn’t yet come awake.

maybe thinking about “decades” is itself an old idea, we’re so fast now we’re on years, months, days, moments.

Moments.  Were the 2010s the decade of moments?  We could capture and share moments better than ever before.  I remember a tech bro pitching me an idea in Austin for some kind of photo storing service.  “I was getting so sick of missing moments,” he said.  Within a few months another person pitched me essentially the same idea, though neither time did I really understand what the problem was, exactly, nor the solution.

One quality the 2020s will need is hope.  One of the best things there is is hope, and here’s hoping for a decade of amazing moments for Helytimes readers, and well heck, why not wish everyone a peaceful, happy, prosperous decade with just the right amount of excitement.

I put on Spotify’s best of the decade and man, I’d forgotten this one:

CeeLo’s “Fuck You” if the link dies, as they inevitably do.


Nissan

A Datson Model 11 by HKT3012 for Wikipedia

The best business story of last decade snuck in under the wire, when Carlos Ghosn, the former head of Nissan Motor Co. and Renault SA who was out on bail in Japan awaiting trial on charges of financial misconduct, popped up in Lebanon just before New Year’s after being smuggled out of Japan in, apparently, a large black case used for audio equipment.

As Matt Levine put it.  Interested in the mysterious case of Ghosn the Nissan outlaw, I started looking into the history of Nissan.  A key figure is an American engineer, William Gorham.  Gorham traveled to Japan several times as a boy with his dad, an Asia manager for Goodyear tires.  In 1918, he moved to Japan with his wife and children, and got involved with Gonshiro Kubota:

Gonshiro Kubota, a successful businessman who founded and led his eponymously-named firm into becoming the largest manufacturer of agricultural machinery in Japan was eager to enter the automobile market. At the time, the only two mass-production Japanese automobile manufacturers were Isuzu, and Kaishinsha, founded by Matsujiro Hashimoto. Kubota hired Gorham as chief designer, with Gorham designing the vehicles and setting up the manufacturing plants for Gorham’s three-wheeled automobile. Along with other Japanese investors, Kubota and Gorham would found Jitsuyo Jidōsha, who would manufacturer the three-wheeled automobile as the Gorham, and a four-wheeled automobile of Gorham’s design as the Lila. Jitsuyo Jidōsha and Kaishinsha would later be merged into a predecessor of the Nissan Motor Company.

A vivid picture:

In David Halberstam‘s 1986 book The Reckoning, Halberstam states: “In terms of technology, Gorham was the founder of the Nissan Motor Company” and that “In 1983, sixty-five years after [Gorham’s] arrival… young Nissan engineers who had never met him spoke of him as a god.

In May of 1941, Gorham renounced his US citizenship.  Reported in the NY Times:

He stayed in Japan as the US and Japan went to war.

After the end of the war, the United States government declined to charge him or his wife with treason since they had become Japanese citizens before the war began; in fact, he ended up working in a liaison position with the headquarters of Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers Douglas MacArthur regarding industrial problems

Gorham:

 

 


They Britney’d the abandoned KMart!

Not sure the photo captures the majesty of seeing it in person.


America as casino

Now we finally have a former casino operator as our President.  It was inevitable.  Gambling is really at the heart of America, IMO.  Even in the ancient myths of the desert Southwest we hear of The Gambler.  The thing is, this isn’t really a country, it’s a casino.  Anybody* can come here and take their chances.  Any immigrant to America was weighing the odds and taking a big chance.  If you win big, congratulations, if you crap out that’s on you.  Maybe that’s why we don’t have nationalized health insurance, and why we tolerate rule by billionaires.  It’s a feature, not a bug.  Social safety nets for societies.  Casinos don’t have a safety net.

Before Trump, Bill Clinton might have been our most casino-adjacent president.  He liked to describe himself as the man from Hope, but he was really from Hot Springs, a kind of local Arkansas Las Vegas from before the age of Southwest Airlines.  His mother spent her time at the race track and the house where young Bill spent his time had “a bar on which stood a rotating cage with two huge dice in it.”

I’m not saying I love that America is more of a casino than a country, but let’s accept that reality.  Maybe a winning political messaging could come out of something like “MAKE THE CASINO FAIR” or “A FAIR CASINO FOR ALL!”  It’s hard to look around and not think the casino is at least a little rigged, or at the very least that current management is crooked.

Or how about CLEAN UP THE CASINO! or EVEN THE ODDS!

 

 

 


Tom Wolfe

The people in the psychedelic world had been religious but had always covered it up.  There was such a bad odor about being frankly religious. I mean Kesey would refer to Cosmo, meaning God; someone in the group used the word manager.  Hugh Romney [a.k.a. Wavy Gravy] used to say, “I’m in the pudding and I’ve met the manager.”

On unusual style / carrying yourself as a reporter:

When I first started at Esquire, I made the mistake of trying to fit in.  And given the kind of things I was sent to cover – stock car racing, the Peppermint Lounge, topless restaurants in San Francisco – not only did I not fit in no matter how hard I tried, but I would deprive myself of the opportunity to ask very basic questions that the outsider can ask.  You just discover after awhile that people like to be asked questions they know the answers to.

Elsewhere:

be an odd, eccentric character… people will volunteer information to you

On American literature:

In France they discovered Faulkner – not as we would, as a very complex and somewhat arty writer, but as a primitive who had barely emerged from the ooze, somehow, to write.

At the same time they were admiring the energetic, classless and low-rent, rude, animal side of American art, our artists were striving like mad to shed all of that and to stop being hicks and rustics.

re: The Painted Word and From Bauhaus to Our House

I want people to pay attention to what I think is my sole contribution in these areas – showing how certain fashions, certain styles, certain trends come about.  They’re not like the weather.  Most of our critics and historians seem to think that styles are like Bermuda highs.  That it’s the spirit of the age and so cosmic in nature that you don’t have to think about how it happened.  You just note that it happened, and if the weather is serious enough, you bow down.  What I keep saying is that styles are created by people.  And the task of a historian – which is all I picture myself as in these books – is to find out who these people are and what the competitions were that brought the styles out.

On advice to young journalists:

You should get up your courage and approach the biggest magazine you can think of that might be interested in the subject.  Approach a junior editor rather than the man at the top, because the junior editors are in competition with one another to discover new writers.  Even if you’ve already written it, present the story idea to the editor, because editors like to feel that they’re part of the creative process. Wait a decent interval of about two weeks and then send them a manuscript.  Magazines will be in a receptive mood if you have approached them ahead of time.  They’ll want it to be good, they’ll want to buy it, and they’ll want it to be a success.  There’s a continual shortage of good writers and good journalists.  It’s really not an overcrowded field because there’s not that much talent to go around.  A lot of it is having the determination and perseverance to do the reporting.

There are several references to an article I’m not sure I’d read before, about carrier pilots operating off the USS Coral Sea, dodging missiles over North Vietnam, “The Truest Sport: Jousting with Sam and Charlie,” which you can read here on Esquire’s website.

Status competition, that’s what interests Wolfe.

Making writing appear spontaneous:

I wanted the writing to appear buoyant, free and easy, spontaneous.  Creating the effect of spontaneity in writing is one of the most difficult and artificial things you can do.  I was much relieved to learn that Celine used to spend four or five years rewriting his novels in order to achieve the effect of someone just sitting down across the table from you, spouting up the story of his life.  Writing is an extremely artificial business: it’s artificial by its very nature – you’re taking sounds and converting them into symbols on a page.  To make that transference from one sense to another and reinvest the words with vigor and rhythm and spontaneity is quite a feat.

more:

my intention, my hope, was always to get inside of these people, inside their central nervous systems, and present their experience in print from the inside.

[after he wrote an attack on The New Yorker, and everybody came after him]

I suddenly found myself denounced by the likes of Joseph Alsop, Walter Lippman (he called me an ass in print), Murray Kempton, a distinguished columnist for the New York Post.  Richard Goodwin called up from the White House to denounce me; E. B. White; even J. D. Salinger, whom the press hadn’t heard from for years, sent in a telegram denouncing me as a yellow journalist.  I really felt that perhaps the world was coming to an end. All these eminent people descended upon me, and I felt the sky was falling in.  Then a few days later I woke up, and nothing had happened.  It dawned on m that it’s very difficult to get hurt in a literary fight. In a strange way, all the shouting and shooting and the explosion were part of the literary excitement.

(funny that one of the criticisms, J.D. Salinger’s term, was that Wolfe’s attack was “gleeful.”

The next two are from an interview with Ron Reagan in “GEO, 1983.  The prompt here is about Pol Pot and the then rampant Khmer Rouge:

So much of the political thought and fashion among writers and other commentators in the United States is based on the idea that liberty has always existed in a kind of mist over the left.  In this country there have been very few ideologues, but there has often been a Marxist mist, the idea that there is something wonderful about socialism that if pursued correctly will lead to liberty, peace, harmony and the betterment of man in a way that nothing going on in modern industrial nation can.  In the past ten years it’s been discovered that socialism, when put into effect by experts, leads only to extermination camps.  This has been a terrible blow to a very fashionable idea.  That’s why it’s embarrassing to dwell on Pol Pot.  Pol Pot is not a maniac.  He’s a man who studied the future for his country for years starting in France, and the whole Khmer Rouge movement was probably as rational an undertaking under a Marxist ruler as has ever occurred.  Everywhere the experts have put socialism into effect, the result has been the gulag.  Now to point this out is to be regarded as right wing.  I regard it only as obvious – so obvious, in fact, that you have to be crazy to avert your eyes from it.

On why writers like Hemingway and Mailer are interested in fighters and “people who got their hands dirty”:

For this analysis, I go to Sigmund Freud.  He said that writers and artists are people who discovered as youngsters that they lost out in the hurly-burly of the playground.  They discovered, however, that they had the power to fantasize about such things, about the fruits of power, such as money, glory and beautiful lovers.  In a way, that resonated with the fantasies and dreams of other people who were not so talented.  When they are successful in presenting these fantasies to the public, they end up achieving through fantasy that which they were previously able to achieve only in fantasy.  But somehow it’s not enough to be known as someone who is a skilled fantasist.  That is second best; it would have been much better to have ruled the playground.  So they constantly try to prove to themselves that they can rule the playground if they really try.  But only rarely do you run into an obsession like that.

Wolfe later mentions he things handguns should be banned:

I think if manufacture and sale stopped, the price of the ones remaining would go up on the black market.  If it became a felony nationally to possess a handgun and there was a public call to turn them in , I think you’d be surprised at how many would be turned in.

Wolfe had really done his homework to develop his styles.

I really made a concentrated effort to get in the game.  I adapted a lot of things I had run across in graduate school.  For example, there were these early experimental Soviet writers like Aleksei Remizov, Boris Pilniak, Andrei Sobel and the Serapion Brothers.  One of them, Yevegeni Zamyatin, was best known for We, the book that Orwell’s 1984 was based on.  From Zamyatin, I got the idea of oddly punctuated inner thoughts.  I began using a lot of exclamation points and dashes and multiple colons.  The idea was, that’s the way people think.

The four basic techniques of novels Wolfe tried to introduce to nonfiction:

The first is scene-by-scene construction.  In other words, telling the entire story through a sequence of scenes rather than simple historical narration.  Second is the use of real dialogue – the more the better.  The third, which is the least understood of the techniques, is the use of status details.  That is, noting articles of clothing, manners, the way people treat children, the way they treat servants.  All the things that indicate where a person thinks he fits in society and where he hopes to go socially.  The fourth is the use of point of view, which is depicting the scenes through a particular pair of eyes.

Re: psychedelia and mus:

Without that world, without Ken Kesey and the Grateful Dead, there would have been no serious music by the Beatles.  They take off from the Grateful Dead, starting with that album Revolver.  Everything from Revolver on comes out of the American psychedelic world, to which they were turned on by Bob Dylan – in person, in private.  Not by listening to his records, but by getting involved with him personally.

One more:

Here’s another thing that’s now like a foreign notion.  The seven deadly sins are all sins against the self.  And this is an idea that’s vanished pretty much.  Lust for example.  The reason that lust in Christian religion was – particularly in the form of Catholicism that originated the seven deadly sins – was considered a sin was not that some man would be leading some nice girl from Akron into white slavery, or the pages of pornographic magazines, but that he would be hurting himself by wasting his spirit on this shallow and pointless, base passion.

I hope editor Dorothy Scura doesn’t mind me quoting so extensively from her book, which is itself a roundup of other interviews.  My goal is simply to share some of these wonderful insights with likeminded readers.

True Wolfeheads can find more content here.

 


Charlie Rose Memories

 

There was a period when I was working on a novel, not working a steady job, and I figured, “I should make sure I at least hear an hour of human conversation a day.”  That was the time in my life when I watched the most Charlie Rose.

The Charlie Rose Show website used to be elegantly organized.  It’s still good, but there was a neat way it used to be indexed, there was section called like “writers on writing” I appreciated.

Charlie Rose has now been banished for his crimes which sound bad enough.  Sometimes in the wake of what’s (perhaps unfortunately) called “the MeToo movement” I hear like “well what about due process?!” or arguments along those lines.  But shouldn’t our public media gatekeeper/narrative shapers be not just merely not sex pests, but in fact above reproach?  Couldn’t we have higher standards for our public broadcasters?

This got me riled about about Brett Kavanaugh as well — like, can’t we find someone for the Supreme Court who can’t be credibly accused of anything?  I believe it is possible!

Anyway.  Here are some memories of moments on Charlie Rose that stuck in my craw:

  • The Franzen/DFW/Mark Leyner “Future of Fiction” episode
  • When John Grisham was on, and Charlie asked him “what advice would you give to an aspiring writer?”  Grisham said, “figure out where you’re going to get your paycheck from.”
  • Charlie needling David McCullough about selling the rights to John Adams to Tom Hanks.  McCullough was going on about how Hanks came to him with the book all marked up and noted, and how THAT was what convinced him.  Charlie: “But surely some money changed hands, David.”
  • Charlie would often say to a guest, who was just back from Iraq or whatever, “take me there.”  (In fact, I think Charlie himself even called attention to this technique.
  • Charlie referencing his “girlfriend”
  • In a Remembering John Updike episode, David Remnick (or maybe Updike’s editor, or both) noting that Updike wanted to “get it all down.”  Like, all of life, his every thought.  Is this a good instinct?
  • Charlie saying “c’mon, Toby” to Tobias Scheeman’s bullshit justification about why he had sex with a Papua New Guinean tribesman in Keep The River On Your Right

Annoying

I had a thought about human nature.  It has to do with people who are “annoying.”

When a person perceives they are failing to win someone over, or not connecting, often their reaction is to double down on trying to ingratiate.

They become desperate to find connection, shared humor, to offer something of value, anything, to try and repair this.

But this, to the annoyed party, only makes them more annoying.

In their fear and insecurity, the annoyer make the problem worse.

If you think you’re annoying to someone, you should back off.  This is what the annoyed wants, and it offers the best hope of eventual repair.

There might be a larger meaning here, that our frantic solutions to problems often make them worse.  When we perceive we’re causing a problem, maybe our first move should be to stop doing anything.  Withdraw, pull back, cool out, consider.  It takes great discipline to do this though, it’s very rare.

This perception comes from being on both sides, both finding someone annoying and feeling they kinda knew it and watching them overreact, and feeling more annoyed.  And from cases where I suspected I myself was found annoying, and how my urge was to “turn on the charm”!

I used Fran Drescher as a gif here because I feel like “annoying” was kind of part of her brand, but let me be clear, I don’t find Fran Drescher annoying, I think she’s cool, and one of the most gifable stars out there.