Saturday, May 31, 2008

Good word

"There's nothing better than cake but more cake."

-- Harry S. Truman
Good word

"You could find better things to do than to break my heart again."

-- John Lennon and Paul McCartney, "I'll Be Back"

Friday, May 30, 2008

The great transformation

In case you hadn't heard, there's much hoopla surrounding the new memoir by former White House press secretary Scott McClellan. I'm struck by this passage in an article from yesterday's Wall Street Journal:
Mr. Fleischer said in an interview that he talked with Mr. McClellan when the book was in its early stages and got the impression that it would be "really good to the president"..."Something changed, something happened to Scott the last six put him on a different path," said Mr. Fleischer.
And also this:
In a telephone interview, Mr. McClellan's mother, Mrs. Strayhorn...suggested that writing it helped him get back in touch with his family's values of making a difference, regardless of personal cost. "I think he got back to his roots in the process of writing that book," Mrs. Strayhorn said. "He got back to Scott."
McClellan's former cronies, now foes, instantaneously rolled out their talking point: what happened to him is that some left-wing publishing nuts plied him with cash and compelled him to bash Bush et al.

But the statements of Fleischer and Strayhorn give me pause. What they could be describing is a phenomenon I know well: Writing as transformation. Many's the time I have finished some piece of writing only to find that I didn't say what I thought I was going to say.

Which is not the same as failing. Just the opposite. Writing has a marvelous, at times painful, way of clarifying my thinking.

It's true that this happens less often than it used to. I think that's because I've become practiced enough as a writer to do at least some rudimentary organizing of my thoughts before I sit at a computer. This is especially true of the newspaper reporting that is most of the writing I do these days. In working on some story, I find that as I talk to sources and gather information, the writing starts happening in my head, almost automatically.

But I also do some writing in a memoirish vein, both here and at This is where things can get tricky, because instead of using other people's testimony, I'm drawing on my own reliably unreliable memories. The process of writing about my past regularly awakens memories that had faded away, and it sometimes makes me reinterpret events I thought I understood.

So it's possible McClellan is simply a weasel and sellout who, if he had such grave concerns when he was press secretary, should have voiced them then. But it's also possible that he indeed had some transforming moment after he left the White House, and I wonder if that moment was brought on by the very act of translating memory into prose.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Out there

In anticipation of the "X-Files" movie coming out in July, last night we watched the first cinematic installment of the 1990s' most famously creepy television series this side of "Family Matters." I had already seen the film and much of the series, but Ereck had not, so this seemed a good way to get him up to speed. Turns out the new movie apparently won't continue the celebrated alien-conspiracy storyline of the series and the first film, so perhaps Ereck didn't need the primer.

But I was glad to revisit the movie. It thrilled me when I first saw it at a sleek, gloriously air-conditioned multiplex in Bangkok (before the feature there was a short film about King Bhumibol, and we all rose in respect), and I was a devoted fan of the series thereafter. There's something about the conspiracy storyline that I find deliciously unsettling to this day, the notion that various horrible events -- a virus outbreak, the devastating bombing of a federal office building -- are all the bidding of a group of solemn old white guys in a book-lined room, who in turn are taking orders from Something Out There. Great stuff.

But in light of recent developments, one of the film's details made me laugh. At one point David Duchovny explains that various dark deeds are being performed by the U.S. government, and that the bureau responsible for the darkest deeds, the most unflinchingly cold-blooded malevolence, is -- the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

After Katrina, it's clear that FEMA couldn't buy a bottle of water at the Kwik Sak, much less manage a global holocaust at the direction of alien masters. But I guess that's why they call it science fiction.

(Unless hurricanes and bureaucratic "ineptitude" are part of the conspiracy?!?!?!?!)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Hell on (two) wheels

My thoughts turn these days to Tennessee and North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountain National Park, where Ereck and I vacationed last summer. We plan to go again this year. Why back so soon? My family has kept our ancestral homestead in those mountains, just three miles or so from the Townsend park entrance, which makes the Smokies a delightfully economical -- as well as just plain delightful -- getaway spot for us. I have many pleasant childhood memories of those mountains, and returning to them is always a sentimental journey for me.

When you have a vacation coming up, do you ever think about it, like, a lot? Like, obsessively? That's what I've been doing. And one great way to stoke my imagination is to visit GoSmokies, the really fine Smoky Mountains portal on the web site of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

That's where, today, I stumbled across this article about recreational bicycling in the area. I'm not surprised to learn that the Smokies are becoming a cycling Mecca, as the article says, but I also wasn't altogether surprised to read the comments from FryeGuy, a reader who lives in the small community of Walland, near the park:
The obnoxious nature of these amateur Greg LeMonds drives the locals crazy. Don't tell the locals to "Share The Road" as you ride three abreast on a road with no shoulders and now no passing zones thanks to your constant carpetbagging belly aching to BCSD.

What other organization has the power to close the road at my house (locals be damned) so a bunch of middle-aged freaks in tight pants can "race" The Foothills track Club jerks were bad enough but at least it's not every freaking day with them.

Why build back paths and bike lanes anywhere when they're not used. Instead you jerks come to a narrow road in another county with no shoulder to try and impress you dozens of spandex clad friends.
So the guy clearly is an idiot, but anyway, the reason I'm not surprised is that I've heard of this sort of anti-bike rage before -- right here in Wisconsin, where there are regular reports of small-town folks clashing with cyclist interlopers. And Wisconsin is a bike-friendly state, with a wondrous network of rural bike paths. Tennessee so far lacks that sort of bike-consciousness, so little wonder that the cyclists freak the locals out.