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I went live with mad in pursuit around the beginning of August 1999. By October my hit-counter was scraping the 300 mark. I was registering here and there, joining this and that. A sudden thrill: getting invited into a new writing collaborative. The collaboration topics (didn't matter what they were, really) generated good writing writing that forced me to pull things out of the past and look at them with a new eye.
A turning point was being asked to join a new webring called "Memoirs." Scrounging through my past for material was suddenly validated. It was then, though, that I realized transcribing old trip diaries may not be the most creative path to take. They weren't memoirs; they were just a record. So I decided on yet another tack with my Pakistan/China diary: serialize it as a memoir, taking that raw experience but telling it from today's perspective.
But the problem is, my dear, that you can't become much of a memoirist if nothing much has ever happened to you. You better become a damn good storyteller to get people interested in your life.
Okay, so I have to make the most from tidbits. My husband has led an intimidating life by comparison: medical school with life & death tales from the ER; army service in Taiwan followed by a paralytic disease it took him courageous years to recover from; decades of travel related to international health systems, where governments fell around him and friends were persecuted by the likes of Idi Amin and Augusto Pinochet; and a career capped by national acclaim in health services research.
One night he read one of my Pakistan entries in which I described having to plunge our hands into a hotel room toilet bowl to aid the flushing process.
"You're writing about that??? I can't bother to remember something so trivial," he said. "Real travelers don't dwell on things like that. They just keep moving."
"Then write your own damn memoirs."
But he won't. He'd rather drink a bottle of wine and weep through the soundtrack of Evita and ramble on about "all the beautiful people" and "all the noble efforts" that he saw destroyed in Africa and South America, while I diligently compose a web page about how I once saw a cockroach on my dinner plate in Ecuador.
I don't know where all of this will lead. I guess that's the point.
So what about your original black and white design?
In Bali, the stone statues of Hindu gods are garlanded with flowers and dressed in checkered sarongs. I was there in 97 and asked our driver about it. He explained the intimacy of the Balinese with their gods. The black and white checks were important because they represent the balance of good and evil "the head and the stomach," he said. In Bali, the stories and the dances show the conflict between good and evil, but good never "triumphs" over evil the balance is simply restored. I was thinking of this as I designed my first home page and decided to use a black and white pattern.
Susan, sometimes you think too much. You get all academic and say stuff to yourself like: "I'll make a web site into the representation of my 'village...' I'll depict my cosmology and the order of the universe... I'll make every element symbolic... make it work on several levels." Really, are you trying to be an artist or a theologian?
Well, people want stories. Don't you think they're interested in my exploration of good and evil? How my trip through Indonesia helped me answer the question about whether humans are basically good or basically bad? And how my answers are embedded in the design of my site as a symbol of my own inner conflict between sweet and salty, saint and sinner?
You could have just quoted the nursery rhyme that your mother thought described you best:
All right. I'll move along ...
I love the idea of community, especially learning communities. At work I struggled like crazy to incorporate learning community concepts: The best way to grow is to be part of a team who can balance its striving for a shared vision with a spirit of open inquiry and dialogue. A few months ago I discovered a 1969 college notebook and, in it, a proposal for an experimental learning community. Id lined up faculty and a bunch of my friends to take part. It read like something I might have written in 1996 for work.
But youre not really a good group person at all.
Yeah, Im a misfit, always out in left field somewhere dreaming up ideas. With some groups, the misfit can be a catalyst for change, but someone with more charisma -- or more authority -- always gets the credit. The learning community I invented in 1969? The faculty stood passively by, my buddies got cold feet, and I embarked on my learning experiment solo. But the next year (after I graduated), the faculty member whod become my friend revived the idea and with great fanfare made it work. I was so excited and wanted to join their weekly meetings. But he, my friend, was too nervous about it and asked me to stay away. Out in left field. It's the same in my job.
But online communities are different, right. The internet is the great equalizer. Misfits are especially welcome.
Okay, so I join one online community and I propose my great little idea for a collaborative project. Idea ignored, no problem.
Onto a new community, better established and more interactive, but still struggling with the non-collaborative collaborations. Brashly, I step into the fray and propose my idea again. Great! Its snatched up by someone. In some behind-the-scene dialogue, I suggest the rules. Now its out there attributed to the energetic snatcher-upper and I once again fade into the background. (Not that I mind I only now realize how it fits into an overall pattern.)
Oh, now youre sounding like a big crybaby. Its the way of the world. How many people get elected to public office without an original idea in their heads, who get their speeches written for them and their platforms designed by some backroom wonk? Stick Broadcast News into the VCR. The really smart guy whos paid all his dues loses out to the dumb guy with the great face.
Im just outlining the facts. I long for community but never fit in or I want more than my colleagues are ready for. I want the Algonquin Roundtable. I want the Paris community of the 19-whatevers: Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. Picasso and Braque and Matisse and their iconoclastic pals. Im looking for people passionate about their craft, who will take the time to engage in one anothers work and provide serious feedback. I want fellow community members to work on how to be critical of one another for the purpose of growth and to be able to endure the occasional impatient jibe without quitting.
What are you doing about it?
<Sigh> I dont know. Im not a great writer, not a great visual artist, not a great technician. But I see such potential for a new art form that allow lives to unfold before us in a way that brings greater meaning to our own lives (you know why we read books). It has to be more than the Thomas Edison Interactive Site click here for a tour of his Menlo Park lab. I like the drama of the sites that track climbers up Everest, knowing that tragedy could unfold before you any day but my life is no climb up Everest, as oxygen-starved as I feel now and then. But the breakthrough artist is going to make his or her site have that kind of narrative power not just a string of random incidents and Flash gewgaws.
So what are you doing about it?
Guess I better end this saga and get to work. Anyone out there want to join my, er, Algonquin Roundtable? Ill buy the first round if you let me be Dorothy Parker.
Postscript on my 55th birthday, 11.3.03: I have finally come out from behind "Maddie" to reveal myself as Susan. While this site did not drive a new art form or give birth to the virtual Algonquin Roundtable, it was the workshop that ultimately created Cosmopolitan Productions and gave me the courage to take early retirement at the end of this year. I am still writing... and still having conversations with myself.