The beautifully wheeling space station that sailed through space to the transcendental performance of The Blue Danube Waltz in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, was not a new sight. I seem to recall none other than Wernher von Braun showing off a vehicle of that sort on one of the Disney programs. But Kubrick lavished his camera's love on the vision, which underscored the ironies laid deep at the foundations of his film: we had been taken from hominids who had just discovered the murderous use of bones to a futuristic deployment of what remains man's greatest invention, the wheel. Plus ça change...
2001 came out in 1968. The following year, when the United States actually put a man on the moon, design aficionados would have been right to worry that the future was not going to look quite as elegant as Kubrick's movie promised, and, as time went by, the very idea of elegance came to seem incompatible with aeronautical advance. When the first plans for an actual space station were mooted, the sighs of disappointment were in three-quarter time. No waltzing wheel.
Instead, the space station was conceived as a kind of add-a-pearl necklace of various components, and that is pretty much what we have today. In the teeth of serious objections to its very existence, the space station - a joint project of sorts with our old friends, the post-Soviets - continues to grow by fits and starts. And over the years I have adopted the metaphor of this modular edifice as the most useful way of explaining what I'm trying to do at Portico. At at least three different points since its inauguration in 2000, Portico has gone through a fundamental metamorphosis, even though it has never been anything but what every Web site is, a collection of HTML pages. I don't know what will happen next, but then I don't have to know, because the site is already modular. Its parts snap together or keep their distance as needed. The links within the sites are like the little flying pods that, again as envisioned by 2001, allow crewmen to zip from one part of the site to another.
I've written all about that before. Now I'm finding the ad-hoc space station model helpful in a far more intimate way. I've begun to think of the behavioral models that I've been talking about in connection with my cognitive setup (which I nickname "Wellsperger's") as modules, components designed to achieve one or more purposes in harmony with the larger complex as a whole. To speak more prosaically: if I'm going to change my behavior, it's not enough to aim for a model that is merely desirable. The model, as a module, has to fit; it has to work with the rest of me. All the heartfelt resolution in the world isn't going to make a poorly-chosen model work, no matter how well it might work for someone else.
As, indeed, I found out over the past year, as my model for drinking martinis ran into increasing conflict with my body's decreasing ability to absorb the quantities of alcohol involved. The model never worked very well, but until the summer of 2006 (in my estimate; Kathleen would date the break further back), I always seemed to be able to drink my martinis without causing lasting damage. The model didn't work very well, but it didn't get too much in the way, either, and I thought that, by imposing a number of constraints (for example, I gave up drinking martinis before dinner; it was only when everything was cleaned up and put away that I could fix one), I could keep it out of the way. I was wrong. And of course I completely overlooked the hidden and not so hidden consequences, the possible liver damage, the extra weight. I could live with an ill-functioning model because, so long as I "got away with" nothing worse than blackouts (which became utterly routine; I could never remember actually going to bed), my larger space station philosophy, so to speak, could posit that, as a strangely-constituted man, I required strange compensations.
As of 18 September of this year, when I saw the X-rays of the two closely-spaced "discontinuities" (fractures) on my spine, I knew that I had to tear up the space station's philosophy's rationalizations for drinking martinis, and that I had to ditch the martini-model of drinking. Well, that was easy enough. But what would take its place? So far, what has taken its place is a glass of wine at dinner, a beer at lunch, and maybe a second glass of wine (but only if I really, really want it, which I usually don't). Is that a model? No. It is a prescription. For it to become a model, it has to fit with the rest of me. And it's here that I find that, once again, I've been unusually lucky.
As I've mentioned earlier, I was never the sort of writer who finds inspiration in a liquor bottle, or even, as I'd prefer to put it, the illusion of inspiration. My furious typing is lubricated by pots and pots of tea, with the odd mug of coffee.
But I was also never the sort of writer that I've become since the turn of the century. First, with Portico, to which I contributed sporadically for a long time, then very regularly every Friday, with occasional extra pages. And then with the Daily Blague, to which my contributions were from the start far more frequent and to which it did not take long for me to arrive at a daily commitment. Prior to the site and the blog, I was someone who wrote a great deal, but most of it went nowhere. I wasn't in search of a subject as much as I was looking for a medium. Once I found it - suffice it say that Prolixity is now the great menace. If it hasn't happened already, it won't be long before I'll have written more for the two sites than I did in the first fifty-two years of my life - and that would include a lot of long letters. I write, moreover, regularly, almost every day. Hell, I write something every day. Just try to shut me up!
I call this model of writing the "French" model, in honor of Henry Higgins's observation in Pygmalion/My Fair Lady: the French don't care what they say, exactly, so long as they pronounce it correctly. Getting it right is more important than saying the right thing. This is very clear-headed work. Now, you don't see French writers sipping martinis at cafés, do you? By and large, the French seem to able to live without hard liquor altogether. And am I wrong in discerning a prejudice of sorts about intoxication - that it's permissible so long as some aspect of romance (elation, heartbreak) is involved, but otherwise just regrettably sloppy (saoul)? (Our "drunk as a lord" is their "drunk as a pig-headed person.)
Right off, the French model of drinking suits my already in-place French model of writing. As modules, they're made for each other, évidemment. I have already mentioned how vanity and snobbery were what finally rocketed me out of a twenty-year smoking habit; health be damned. Something similar seems to be going on now. Drinking all those martinis is sheer disgraceful madness! And, even if I could trust myself drink just one, would that be such a good idea?
It will be a while, I expect, before I'm really tempted to fill a pert little glass with what, from the start, I always thought of as liquid cocaine. When it happens, I expect that the allure will rise not from a desire to taste a martini. It will come rather from the orgulous idea that I can handle it. "I'm better now." When that day comes, I'm banking on fighting vanity with still greater vanity. "Well, even if you could, only a dipshit would mess up his head with strong drink." To shift my metaphor somewhat - but not so far as might seem - I'm hoping that I'll no longer have a receptor site for that martini, just as I haven't had one for a cigarette in twenty-three years.
So long as I'm writing here, though, buoyed up by the occasional comment or email, I'm reinforcing a new model that manifestly works much better than the one it replaced. (October 2007)
Copyright (c) 2007 Pourover Press