That last is a great story. A shining moment. And interesting because North and his cronies, or thugs, or whoever was watching over him at his bookstore event, knew they were being mocked and weren’t happy about it — but I sense the irony would be lost on the Oliver Norths of today. In the 1980s, when the president and his minions subverted the Constitution, there was at least a sense of shame that could be inferred from their excessive protests and smug indulgence in barely plausible deniability; these days our subverters are barely made to pause over their crime. The country’s so burned out on scandals that nothing fazes it, in much the same way Douglas Ginsberg couldn’t get on the Supreme Court in 1987 because he smoked pot, but six years later Bill Clinton could admit smoking pot and still become president.
What’s most striking about this binder, though, is the somewhat breathtaking shifts in purpose and narrative taking place not just from page to page, but from part of one page to the spot one inch to the left: class notes, personal notes, notes from interviews, commentary on how I felt about a class or what someone said during it, sketches and doodles, snippets of conversation real or imagined, reminders, puns, plots, phone numbers of forgotten people, extended bits of fiction, remembered lines from movies or songs, lists of things to do, mathematical computations ...
Even I’m dazed by it, and I’m me — essentially the same person as I was just over a decade ago, as proven by my deep if inevitable empathy with the rants I’m rediscovering. I ranted about technology then, too, and about being crammed into coach class in airplanes. I also took time off from ranting:
I must not look over there again. To look over is instant, crawling, squiggling, squirming death. Oops, I did it. But it’s okay.
And with almost no context I instantly know what was going on: I kept looking over at some female classmate. I can do the same sort of thing now with exactly the same mild panic and shooting thrill.
If anything has changed it’s that I’ve calmed torrents of thought into a linear trickle. The impatience on these blue-lined pages jumps off like sparks every time a page turns. It’s overwhelming. A little bit mystifying, too, I confess. Above sketches of magazine cover designs, which are themselves over an obscure note that on “Dec. 3 I go w/ ‘Care’ in wp481,” some class I took, which is itself next to the giant, scrawled name, “William,” is:
Ilha Mohja — you think you’ve got it tough? The headless horseman glasnost chuckles. But there’s no excuse for sloppiness. If that’s the way the cookie crumbles, we’ve got to find cookies that WILL NOT crumble. When he comes down, he comes down hard. When he thrashes around like a shark on a wounded man, a man leaking blood and a shark breathing it and the man deep inside a dangerous gullet — well, he does that hard, too. Gorgon. Gorgonzola. Soul. Solely. Solely soul. Roly-poly. Gorgonzoli. There are no bad designs. There are only bad designers. Guns don’t kill people ... guns don’t kill people ... guns don’t kill people ... I DO! The irony is — it’s unbelievable. What does wifferent about it? About wit? About ... shit.
And people wonder why I never did drugs.
I have no idea what I’m on about there, but I distinctly remember being in classrooms with lecturers speaking at length about information already known or too obvious to write down (another page reminds me that one teacher took pains to tell us “reps” was short for “representatives” in media lingo, and a different teacher taught us “grafs” was short for “paragraphs”) and feeling my mind search desperately for ideas on which to feed. It turned to free association to see if it held any surprises, an act that had the benefit of looking as though I was taking notes. I’m sure this was my inspiration and relatively sure I didn’t consciously know it at the time.
I free associate less now, since I’m less frequently in such situations, but I sense that’s the only reason.
In my free association, in other words, I sense continuity. I have no idea what I was talking about, but I know what I was saying.