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House Party

Last Saturday I was a participant in a panel discussion, as part of the Richard Hugo House's Annual Inquiry. Oh shit -- you know, I totally meant to announce this last week, so my local readers could come see me. Well, the nice thing about having both a blog that allows backdated entires and a complete lack of scruples is that I can just go ahead and create that post now, and then pretend like it was always there. Done!

I was originally scheduled to be the token blogger on a panel called "Persona in Media." I was looking forward to it for two main reasons. First, the question to be explored by this panel was "Does writing about yourself automatically put you in a world of inauthentic, fabrication and fiction?," and, insofar as I make up like 80% if the stuff on this site, I thought that I could provide a fairly definitive answer ("Yes"). Second, another panelist was to be John Richards, morning DJ at KEXP, and I pretty much revere that guy.

But, for whatever reason, it was eventually decided that I was going to be on another panel instead, this one called "Persona in Culture." In retrospect, it's probably best that I did not wind up on the panel with John Richards, as I probably would have spent the whole time trying to impress him.

Q: Matthew, while I agree that all journalism is inherently subjective, wouldn't you agree that honest reporters can and should work to identify and isolate their biases so as to at least strive toward the goal of objectivity?

Me: I think Alvino Rey addressed that issue best in his song "My Buddy," found on the B-side of The Arcade Fire's limited-release 7-inch single "Neighborhood #1," which I own on vinyl. Wouldn't you agree, John?

John: Uh, I'm pretty sure that's song is an instrumental.

Me: Yes. Exactly.

Unfortunately, there was also a problem with my being on the culture panel: namely, the average cup of yoghurt is more cultured than I am. Yes, there was a time when I saw arthouse films and read books by Milan Kundera and spent Friday evenings watching experimental theater that didn't make a goddamned bit of sense to anyone, but these days the closest thing to the arts that I experience on a regular basis is Ernie singing "The Honker Ducky Dinger Jamboree" on the Sesame Street "Silly Songs" CD. Still, I figured that I could bluff my way through the event.

I took my seat on the six person panel, next to moderator Brian Goedde, who was sitting on the end. As we began, Brian asked the panelists to introduce themselves, starting with the person farthest from him. The first was a professor at a local college; the next had two master's degrees and founded a Writers Institute; another was the 2005 Grand Slam Poetry Champion and author of several chapbooks. When they got to me I was all, like, "Hi, I write a blog where I tell fart jokes and mock people for giving money to charity!"

It was kind of liberating -- by this point I realized that I was so far out of my league that I just kind of settled into the role resident philistine.

As it turned out, having a boorish rube on the panel was a great boon to the moderator. He would ask some thought-provoking question and, while the rest of the people would furrow their brows and gaze into the middle distance while actual thoughts were provoked, I would rush to fill up the dead air by gamely offering up some profoundly uninformed opinion, thereby allowing someone else to follow up with "well, I think I would take exception to Matthew contention that contemporary fiction is quote-unquote 'totally gay' ..." or whatever boneheaded thing I said.

At one point Brian Goedde hesitated before answering a question and then justified his delay with, "I just don't want to blurt out something without thinking it through ahead of time" and then I said "As a blogger, blurting out things without thinking them through ahead of time is pretty much my medium" and then everyone laughed. Laughed with me, I'm sure.

Also adding to the fun was that fact that there was a whole side discussion going on about James Baldwin, so people from the audience would occasionally chime in with "I couldn't agree more with Baldwin when he talks about how themes of personal importance include the significance of community identification" and I'd be sitting there thinking, "whoa, I totally don't even remember saying that."

Anyway, a great time was had by all, and it's too bad that they'll never invite me back again.

Scorecard!

The Fancy Words Matthew Used While On The Hugo House Panel To Sound Smart And Their Actual Meanings

Word: Laconic
Context: "... a great writer, but fairly laconic."
What Matthew thought it meant: Terse
What it actually means: Using or marked by the use of a minimum of words; brief and pithy; brusque.
Verdict: He shoots, he scores!

Word: Polemic
Context: "... I think Americans respond better to political humor than to straight polemic."
What Matthew thought it meant: Overly didactic speech or writing.
What it actually means: A controversial argument, especially one refuting or attacking a specific opinion or doctrine.
Verdict: Close enough!

Word: Artifice
Context: "... people want authenticity. They are tired of artifice."
What Matthew thought it meant: Fakery.
What it actually means: An artful or crafty expedient; a stratagem.
Verdict: Doesn't mean what I thought it meant, but it still kinda worked. Kinda.

Word: Obstification
Context: "... don't want your writing to get bogged down in obstification."
What Matthew thought it meant: Using so many big words in an effort to sound smart that no one knows what the hell you are talking about.
What it actually means: Nothing! I was searching for "obfuscation," which means "to make so confused or opaque as to be difficult to perceive or understand"
Verdict: I would refer to this as "ironic," but why compound one misuse of a word with another?

Posted on October 18, 2005 to Storytelling





Comments

"I know this might be, like, totally polemic of me, but I prefer laconic writing to obstification, because I'm like, completely without artifice, know what I mean?"

Wow. I can't believe I just sounded so clever. Thanks Matthew!

Posted by: Jay on October 18, 2005 7:34 PM

uh. homer like yeti. yeti make homer laugh. me drink beer now. homer eschew obstification.

Posted by: Homer on October 18, 2005 8:32 PM

Heck, you're probably one of the most authentic guys out there, even with all your fun made-up stuff. At least you admit that you made it up. And, like, take pleasure in it. Thanks for the laughs!

Posted by: KatieKat on October 18, 2005 8:49 PM

I totally LOVE "Honker Ducky Dinger Jamboree"!

Posted by: Anonymous on October 18, 2005 9:06 PM

i'm just wondering how many of the other panelists had no idea you were misusing/creating words. nothing against them, but if they were listening, i bet they were thinking, "look at the big brain on Matt!"

Posted by: samuel luigi on October 19, 2005 1:17 AM

Wow, obstification. If you're not careful you'll wind up with a "Matthewism" calendar, just like a certain President we roll our eyes at.

Posted by: C. on October 19, 2005 5:14 AM

Is "Ladybug Picnic" on that CD?...thekeez

Posted by: Jeff Keezel on October 19, 2005 9:35 AM

Matt, I thought you were one the best people on that panel. Brian's a great writer but I thought his empanelment (how's that for a fancy word?) left a bit to be desired. For one, he let the conversation stray way off topic... it wandered from Real/Fake to a bunch about activism and spoken word poetry. I had hoped to hear you get into the dichotomy (another big word) between being humor performance blogger and a sincere real person who writes touching stories about your son. And how you can switch gears between the two in a blink without losing audience. Where were those questions? Sigh.

And I'm kinda tired of yet-another-Capitol-Hill literary talk that involved lesbian slam poetry (some are fine, but it seems to be so common to be boring at this fine) and that was more than half the panel.

Yeah, more smart-aleck bloggers, deeper discussion and better questions. That's what I want.

And FWIW, I thought you came off as one of the more intellectual people up on stage.

Posted by: dunsany on October 19, 2005 9:46 AM

Word: Furor
Context: "the people would furor their brows"
What Matthew thought it meant: furrow (1 a : a trench in the earth made by a plow b : plowed land : FIELD
2 : something that resembles the track of a plow: as a : a marked narrow depression : GROOVE b : a deep wrinkle "furrows in his brow")
What it actually means: 1 : an angry or maniacal fit : RAGE
2 : FURY 4
3 : a fashionable craze : VOGUE
4 a : furious or hectic activity b : an outburst of public excitement or indignation : UPROAR
Verdict: probably a typo and highly amusing in context.

Posted by: Daphne on October 19, 2005 11:02 AM

1. Holy shit, Matthew: You were on a panel with Sharon Olds? NOW I am impressed with you.

2. "Ladybug Picnic" is so TOTALLY on that tape with "Honker Ducky Dinger Jamboree."


Posted by: Carny Asada on October 19, 2005 11:39 AM

I so love that you misused words. And your making up words that sound like words you thought you might know, but didn't. How many times have I done that?

Posted by: miel on October 19, 2005 11:47 AM

I so love that you misused words. And your making up words that sound like words you thought you might know, but didn't. How many times have I done that? I remember when I was in college I had a professor who would use all these big words I didn't know...and sometimes I'd look them up and they wouldn't be in the dictionary ('lucrid' was the one I remember) and I was SURE that they really existed but I just didn't have a good enough dictionary. The guy was a college professor. He even graduated from Cambridge! If anyone knew the right way to say words and what they meant, it would be him!

Now that I'm a college professor I totally know better.

Posted by: miel on October 19, 2005 11:49 AM

I bet "teeny little super guy" isn't on there, though. I bet the the pinball song where they count to 12 isn't there either. And what about "Captain Vegetable"?

They need to make Sesame Street nostalgia cd's.

Posted by: pips on October 19, 2005 12:49 PM

Mathew, the quintesential sesquipedalian or merely a malapropist?

Posted by: bob on October 19, 2005 1:06 PM

Matthew, you are my new hero, and I don't just say that to every blogger I comment on ... damn I love that LadyBug Picnic song ... I also have a little one - she will be three in January and thinks its hilarious that she is learning Spanish at daycare and I am not ... anyway, I love your blog and you remind me a lot of my best friend Simon back in Australia ....

Posted by: Alexandra on October 19, 2005 1:50 PM

You can cut yourself some slack on artifice.

1. An artful or crafty expedient; a stratagem. See synonyms at wile. 2. Subtle but base deception; trickery. 3. Cleverness or skill; ingenuity.

Posted by: Zed on October 19, 2005 5:22 PM

Dude, you can backdate your posts?

Then you must have the power of TIME TRAVEL!

Just link from the old post... in the past... to the new post... in the FUTURE! Ten days difference and I was able to get there in like, the time it takes my browser to scroll the page. F***'in awesome!

Thnk about it man... TIME TRAVEL.

And when you go on your poetic timeskipper's vision quest, send me back some new episodes of Futurama, 'cause I swear that's gotta be where they're keeping 'em.

( Totally worth holding the shift key down for )

Posted by: jdbo on October 19, 2005 9:23 PM

LOL ... Obstification. You make the writer in me feel better about himself. Great post.

Posted by: Jim on October 21, 2005 9:18 AM