DISCOURSE as quilting

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remnant 5: “an artist has an obligation to be en route” [George Carlin]

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It makes me immeasurably sad that George Carlin has died, as he had to, as we all must.

I cried spontaneously and without warning for several days after Kurt Vonnegut died, as he had to, as we all must.

And that sudden welling of tears and sadness came again at the end of this video of Carlin being interviewed by Jon Stewart:


This is not an exaggeration: Beyond the great fortune of my having been born to Rose and Keith Thomas; having been raised in their home surrounded by Green Eggs and Ham, Go, Dog, Go, and then too many other books, card games, and board games to mention; and having sat in the classrooms of brilliant, kind, and powerful teachers (namely Lynn Harrill, Harold Scipio, and Pat Taylor), who I am and why I care about this world through the power of words can be traced without a doubt to my mother’s proclivity for not doing as she was told—we used to “split a beer” like friends when I was in early high school and she introduced me to George Carlin albums that we would listen to and laugh like friends.

Eventually I had most of Carlin’s albums memorized in the 1970s, and I also added Richard Prior’s routines. This blatant plagiarism led me to be the sort of class clown who used other people’s words to deflect his own fear that everyone else would figure out that he was mortified of himself, of who he was (or was not), and who he would become (or not).

In junior high I was fitted with a full-body back brace for scoliosis and the next four years were mostly low self-esteem and the tensions of nerdom fitted into a quest to be an athlete that likely was the roots of the panic attacks I would not experience until I was 38. But I recognize now that the war with myself was going on for a long time before it had to get out.

As I was watching the Carlin video above, I had been contemplating a blog post here about a new war with myself—fear that my public writing about education is not activism, but a wate of time; fear that my poetry has always been and remains a waste of time. I wanted to write about the role of activism and the pursuit of Beauty (art). And then Carlin uttered these words: “an artist has an obligation to be en route” (about 6:08) to Stewart’s question “Why do you still care?…Why do you still care so much?” (about 5:38).

While Carlin hedges slightly about himself, he gives the answer of an artist. Carlin was* someone for whom words matter and someone who was compelled to produce words.

At the end of this clip, Carlin says “this job is called showing off” (about 9:15), and then, “the only A’s I got, and this is a little corny. I got their attention, I got their approval, their admiration, their approbation, and their applause.”

This compulsion by words, of words, and through words is a compulsion of the artist, but it is also a compulsion of communication, forming a community.

My most recent fears about my life of words was prompted by the online comments at a posting of my work of activism about really terrible legislation being proposed in my home state of SC. The antagonism and failure to communicate (online commenters tend to argue against things never said in the posts being addressed) in the virtual world of blogging often leave me discouraged—doubting as Addie Bundren (a character name that possible sets a record for nimble writer games) does in William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying the possibility of words: “That was when I learned that words are no good; that words dont ever fit even what they are trying to say at.”

Yet, I carry with me now three books—Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart, The New Jim Crow, and a biography of James Baldwin. I often carry around and read 3-5 books at a time.

I am also thrilled to giddiness that The National have a new album coming out soon and R.E.M, although defunct, are re-releasing Green.

Like Carlin, I would not suggest that I am good or even effective at this thing called writing, but also like Carlin, I would never deny that these words I quilt together are not decisions I am making. Writing is compulsion.

And while Thornton Wilder’s Our Town may ultimately be a writer slipping over into being self-serving with his message, I have always been compelled by a key scene involving Emily, who grows from childhood to falling in love to marriage and to her own too-early death.

In the final act, Emily views her life in replay from beyond and exclaims: “I can’t look at everything hard enough.”

She then turns to the Stage Manager and asks, distraught: “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every minute?” And the Stage Manager replies, “No—Saints and poets maybe—they do some.”

Our Town always makes me cry, as well, as I often do when some songs are on my iTunes playlists I have built for people I care deeply about, or for myself.

And I can say to a very few people something like “I gave you the Milan Kundera novel because I was looking for some way to say ‘I love you’ and was afraid ‘I love you’ just wasn’t enough.”

And so when I slip into my Addie Bundren cynicism I am likely saved by the words that surround me.

“In the spring of her twenty-second year, Sumire feel in love for the first time in her life. An intense love, a veritable tornado sweeping across the plains—flattening everything in its path, tossing things up in the air, ripping them to shreds, crushing them to bits,” opens Sputnik Sweetheart and my heart surges with anticipation and hope as it does each time I select “I’m Not Calling You a Liar (Just Don’t Lie)” by Florence + the Machine.

And I continue to find myself typing out the poems that come to me whether I want them to or not, and many times they are speaking about words—words said, words not said, actions taken, actions not taken.

recollection (dreams blossom like a garden)

“i am in a perpetual state of remembering

drafting and revising the pieces to this puzzle

that reassemble a map to all these places

like a memory called and recalled in a dream”

intimacy (men&women)

“i buy you every book i read

building a library to you and for you”

R.I.P., George, and Kurt, and thank you for speaking to me and with me.

And I will continue to quilt something new and buy books, create iTunes playlists, and cry at a movie I have seen dozens of time…And remain a human compelled by “words.”

Eventhough “bootney farnsworth” at the ajc online thinks I’m a “limo liberal.”


Caring so much it makes nearly everyone else uncomfortable, en route.

*As I copyedited, this was originally “is” as I do not want to think of Carlin in the past, I suppose.

Written by plthomasedd

April 8, 2013 at 3:26 pm