Author Archive: Mark Tiedemann

Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.

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The Line Between

November 29, 2009 | By | 2 Replies More
The Line Between

I have to write a new bio. I’ve been needing to do this for some time. I had a few prepared bios for conventions and such, tailored depending on who I sent them to. Magazine bios, con bios, conference bios…they all required a bit of tweaking. But they’re all pretty much out of date.

I’m going to do this during the coming week. Cull through all the details that would seem to make me an important person, someone people might wish to come listen to or see. I have a difficult time with these, which is why I write most all of them in third person. I have to put myself in a frame of mind that I’m writing about Someone Else.

Apropos to that, this past weekend I received my copy of the new documentary The Polymath: or the Life and Opinions of Samuel R. Delany. In the course of watching it Saturday and Sunday, we heard him say that he considers himself a rather uninteresting person. I found that resonant.

When I’m writing a new story, I tend to put myself in the character of the protagonist. I see myself as That Person. And almost always, when I start on the subsequent rewrites, one of the problems I have to fix is that the main characters of my stories are uniformly weak compared to the secondary characters. A couple of years ago I had a revelation about why that is. Mainly, because I don’t see myself as a particularly interesting person. So that translates into the protagonist, who is generally interested in the other characters, who then become relatively more imbued by interesting characteristics. I have to then go back and add in all the missing stuff the main character requires.

Which brings me to the writing of a personal bio.

What is it about me that is interesting to other people?

Now, I’d like to be interesting and sometimes I think I am. But in the course of the day, I don’t even think about myself much less what it is about me that makes me worth note. This is perfectly sane behavior, as far as I’m concerned. Who does go through the day cataloging their specialness besides narcissists, obsessives, terminally vain, or profoundly insecure people? I stipulate that I’m vain, but it limits itself to personal grooming, physical fitness, and an attempt at erudition, none of which controls my life, and all of which are practices I think more people should embrace if for no other reason than a sense of public politeness.

But I’m always a bit dismayed when people actually pay attention to me or think I have something worth saying. (I stress again, I want to be someone like that, I just don’t happen to “feel” it.)

So the personal bio usually becomes a list of things I’ve done. It seems a common way to deal with the self-conscious aspects of a productive life, to place your credentials, as it were, Over There In That Box. You can point to the file and say, well, if you want to know about me, look in there. And in that file you’ll find my publications, my award nominations, and the work I’ve done, etc etc., and, oh year, I live in St. Louis, I have a dog, I’m in love with Donna and so forth—which are still components, in a way, rather than actual revelations.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this approach and I certainly don’t think strangers have a right to expect more, but it’s not exactly a biography, is it? It’s more like a resume.

It doesn’t say anything about the fact that for me different music produces different kinds of writing, that if I’m trying to get inside the head of someone tormented I often listen to Ligeti and when I’m creating landscapes, I want Vangelis or Sibelius and when I need action, I find Last Fast or Joe Satriani or Bartok really helps. It doesn’t cover the fact that I use much of my music to unlock a feeling I can’t quite identify just for myself.

It doesn’t say anything about how much I like late evening sunlight shafting through miniblinds (or how the same effect, late at night, from streetlamps, really turns me on); or how the late afternoon sunlight across open fields in September strikes a kind of heroic melancholy in my mind, like the atmosphere of final days or impending loss or the denouement after a mighty adventure; or the fact that I’ve never read a book that has made me weep, but there are certain films that do it to me almost every time…

In other words, bios like this don’t say much about me.

But my stories do, if you remember that they are not and never have been biographical.

A paradox? Not really. You put what you feel into a story. How that feeling is evoked is unimportant as long as it’s true, and you don’t need personal revelation in terms of history to do it. Everyone has these feelings, and they own them, and they were all evoked differently, so fiction that talks about the personal need not be about the author to work.

But you still ought to be able to say something in a bio about yourself that makes you at least seem interesting to total strangers.

I’m still working on all this.

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God Is God, Law Is Law, and Stupid is Stupid.

November 29, 2009 | By | 2 Replies More
God Is God, Law Is Law, and Stupid is Stupid.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone.

The surprise is we haven’t seen this “solution” proposed more often as overtly.

Here is a lesson on how not to try to make intractable cultural traditions compatible with intractable reality under dubious moral imperatives.

But what this really shows is the limit of patience. People hammer away at something that refuses to yield to the methods being employed and rather than change methods, eradicate the problem.

This sort of things make it so easy to be a cynic.

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Church To State: “Do What We Want Or Else.”

November 11, 2009 | By | 2 Replies More
Church To State: “Do What We Want Or Else.”

The divide between church and state seems on the one hand to be growing but on the other narrowing, especially when you consider how intrusive established religions have been. Representatives of the Catholic Church sat in Nanci Pelosi’s office of late while negotiations for the health care bill were ongoing, overseeing what she would do about abortion.

Now this.

Any way one reads this, it comes out as a threat. The quid pro quo is explicit. “If you don’t bend to our will on this, we will stop services your city relies on.”

I have in the past believed that the tax exempt status of religions was a necessary work-around to preserve the fiction of separation. In the past, there have been instances of state intrusion directly into religions in, for one example, state funding for programs in parochial schools. There was always a quid pro quo in such offers and practices.

But never has a representative of the state sat in the office of a minister while he drafted a sermon to be sure certain details got left out or included. Never, despite massive abuses by religious institutions in real estate and related financial areas, has the state moved to revoke 501(c)(3) status. It may be that any state official who tried it would be booted out of office summarily, but nevertheless that has been the unspoken law of the land.

Seems the courtesy doesn’t go both ways. If that’s the case, I think it is time to revisit the whole issue. If the Catholic Church sees itself as providing services as an arm of the civil service sector and allows itself the conceit that it may use that service as a lever to influence political decisions, then they have implicitly given up due consideration as an inviolate institution, free from state requirements of taxation and regulation.

Seems fairly clear cut to me. Obviously, there will be those who disagree. But it’s time, I think, to seriously reconsider the state relationship to so-called “nonprofit” “apolitical” tax exempt institutions.

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Sepuku, Republican Style.

November 10, 2009 | By | 6 Replies More
Sepuku, Republican Style.

It’s been absurd for a long while, but the apparent self-destruction of the Republican Party is reaching new depths. Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina is being censured by the state G.O.P. organization for working with Democrats on a climate bill.

Here is the Fox News report.

For contrast, here is the Huffington Report.

All one can do is stare and ask “What is wrong with those people?”

Despite party leader calls for bipartisanship, we see repeated motions by the grassroots elements of the embattled party to circle the wagons and harden their resolve to do nothing to aid and abet what they perceive as The Enemy.

Which is what, exactly?

Anything, it seems, which suggests that people cannot manage their own affairs, no matter how much they might affect other people, is disallowed. If legislation is proposed to control behavior of individuals, it is anathema to the Republicans.

Unless we’re discussing abortion. Then the full weight of the state must be brought to bear to prevent individual choice.

If the Democrats are smart, all they need do is continue to discuss issues in rational, thoughtful ways, and let the Republican Rabid Dog Wing continue to vociferate mindlessly, and in 2010 there will be another bloodletting of Republican presence in Congress. All the Republicans seem able to do anymore is bang their shoes on the desk and repeat “No! No! No!”

At some point, surely, there will be a schism (much like the one we saw in upstate New York) and the sane and rational Republicans will split away from the hydrophobic microcephalics that have been destroying them for so long. That cannot but be a good thing in the long run.

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Success and Sources: the Self-Created Problem of Christianity

November 7, 2009 | By | 1 Reply More
Success and Sources: the Self-Created Problem of Christianity

I’m sure this will annoy a lot of people, some more than others.

This is one of those notions I stumble on from time to time while daydreaming or free associating. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about religion of late—as how could many people not be, what with the state of the world (he says with tongue in his other cheek, being both ironic and absurd)?—and trying to come up with some theory of it that might bleed off the poisons that seem to bubble up from it from time to time.

Someone said something to me that triggered this idea and it’s probably not original. But we were discussing Roman Catholicism and the observation was made that in its long history it has absorbed more than it has suppressed.

“Of course it has,” I responded. “That’s how it began, after all, as a congeries of pagan beliefs subsumed beneath an orthodox umbrella. It is the perfect example of an assembled religion.”

Regardless where the initial push came from, whatever its core ideology, the fact is that Roman Catholicism came to fruition as a political entity and it was a model of almost democratic universalism. The holidays (holy days) are mostly borrowings from other disciplines, retrofitted to make people comfortable with the new paradigm. Its rituals and mysteries are all adaptations of older religious ideas and practices, including a marvelous transplantation from Egyptian mythology of the entire Jesus myth (Horus—almost all of it is duplicated, including certain names, such as Lazarus, and the whole virgin birth motif, which itself is nothing particularly new). The architects of Roman Catholicism, let us assume to be more gracious than not, recognized a core set of beliefs that did not of themselves require the trappings of a religion or its concomitant institutions, but also saw that most people would prefer (or require) all that such physical and cultural manifestations afford. Romans above all understood in their bones the function of public architecture and ceremony. They seemed instinctively attuned to the idea that to get people to behave a certain way they should live within the physical representations of the philosophies behind such behavior. Romans were Romans as much because of their cities and roads as because of any political philosophy. The two supported each other. The church borrowed that big time.

But as an assembled religion, it had a problem, which was the necessity to obscure all the past manifestations, cut the ties to all the pagan practices they’d taken over, and embark on a long-term campaign to evoke cultural amnesia in order to represent themselves as The Truth. The problem with this is two-fold: [more . . . ]

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Fans, Freedom, and Frustration

November 3, 2009 | By | 3 Replies More
Fans, Freedom, and Frustration

Over on her blog, Kelley Eskridge has a video of a “Bono Moment” in which you see two distinct types of fans interacting with U2’s lead singer. Check it out and come back here.

Okay, the guy in the t-shirt obviously is carrying on a conversation. he may be being a fan, but he hasn’t lost his mind. The female is being…a groupie, I guess. Though the groupies I’ve met in my time have been a bit more specific about what they wanted and had a better plan on how to get it. In any event, the questions Kelley raises are interesting and relate on so many levels to so many different things. The fan reaction—mindless adulation bordering on deification—looks to me, has always looked to me, like exactly the same kind of nonsense people put into religion. Mindless, utterly uncritical adoration of an image and the set of emotions with which that image is connected in the mind of the adulant. You can see the same thing in politics. To a lesser degree with less public personalities—writers, painters, photographers (I never knew anyone who elevated a photographer to the level of sex god, but I have known people who got off on sleeping with painters, and of course there’s a kind of Nabokovian/Bellow/DeLillo-esque subculture of writer groupies…) and other creative types—but actors and musicians seem to get all the dedicated obsessives.

I’ve never had this happen to me. I’m not sure if I’m grateful or resentful—having somebody want to associate themselves with you in a mindless swoon because your work has made them, I don’t know, climax maybe is on a certain level appealing. But it’s appealing the same way porn is—something most people, if they’re at all sane and grounded, kind of grow out of and get over. I know I would not find it very attractive now. When I was twenty-five? You betcha. Bring ’em on.

But if I’d had that then I think I’m fairly sure I would have wearied of it very quickly. I long ago realized that sex, to me, involved the other person—emphasis on Person—and the best sex I ever had included the good conversations before and, especially, after. (There is a point, of course, where you realize that sex is a conversation, of a very particular sort, and takes on a whole new dimension, which one-night-stands, no matter how good they might be, just can’t provide.)

But the real problem with all this is that art is more than just any one thing and the artist is not the art. The two are inextricably linked. Here is a video discussing the question of artist-in-relation-to-muse which I find illuminating. The notion that the talent “arrives” and you act as conduit through which creativity happens is not, as the speaker suggests, a new one, and it’s not one I’m particularly in sympathy with—it all happens in my brain, it’s definitely mine—but I certainly find her analysis of the psychology of following through intriguing and true. Once the muse is finished with you on a given project, you do not continue to exist as though in the grip of the work. There is a person there that pre-figures the work and who will be there after it’s done that has all the needs and wants and sensibilities of a normal human being. To be treated as some kind of transcendence generating machine by people is in some ways disenfranchising. For a writer, if the well from which inspiration and material are drawn is the honesty of human interaction, then the gushing idiot fan robs the writer, for a few minutes at least, of exactly that.

But it also sets the artist up to become a prisoner. A prisoner of other people’s expectations. Those expectations always play a part in anyone’s life, but certain aspects—the most artificial ones—get exaggerated in the instance of fan adoration.

Watch Bono shift from one stance to another when he finally acknowledges the female. No, he doesn’t stop being Bono, but it’s almost as if he says “Oh, it’s time to do this sort of thing now” as he first recognizes her presence and then automatically poses for the camera, with this not-quite-disingenuous smirk. Because he also recognizes that, however silly this person is being, what she’s feeling right then is her’s and to claim it is artificial is wrong. Maybe an artificial set of expectations led her to this point, but now that she’s In The Moment, the emotions are real. If he’d ignored her or told her something snarky in an attempt to snap her out of it, all that would have resulted would have been an ugly moment, a bit of cruelty, and a lot of confusion on the fan’s part.

[more . . . ]

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Guerilla Politics With Style

October 29, 2009 | By | 5 Replies More
Guerilla Politics With Style

Over on his blog, Whatever, John Scalzi does an interesting analysis of just what Obama is doing with FOX News. I’m heartened by the idea that he’s playing the GOP in their own game of unfitness-by-association-with-a-label and winning, especially when it doesn’t actually appear that that’s what he’s doing.

You would think that the bloviations of such methane-rich mineral deposits like Rush Limbaugh would long since have caused people who might have basked in the eerie swamp-glow of Republican ascendancy to hide themselves from public view, but instead they are forming ranks. If Scalzi’s take is correct, they are simply moving into their own corner, isolating themselves, and making it easy to identify them. Those with any brains have begun to distance themselves, and the more FOX bleats about Obama This and Obama That the less sane they all look.

Still, the hard core of the GOP is still driven by ideologues who have a hard time understanding that not only are there other viewpoints but that some of them might make sense. Since that ideology is but a short space away from a belief that whether any other viewpoint makes sense or not it doesn’t matter because Jesus is coming back “real soon now,” they are utterly hamstrung. For years some of them have surely known that they needed to get rid of that wing of the party, but they couldn’t do it without sacrificing seats in Congress. Now they’ll be forced to not only rid themselves of that, but also disavow their cheerleading section. It will be a long road to recovery, but once they admit they are no longer in control of their own lives, that a higher power must be appealed to, that they have to turn this around one step at a time, we should then stop picking on them.

In the meantime, may I suggest no quarter. But let us not get ugly about it. Let’s take a page from our president and gut them with style.

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Rage and Injustice

October 18, 2009 | By | 2 Replies More
Rage and Injustice

When people ask why laws must be changed to protect behavior that seems “outside” social norms, it can sometimes be difficult to make the point that rights must accrue to individuals and their choices or they mean nothing. So when a woman is stoned in some backwater country for adultery (whether she is in fact married or not) or a young girl has her clitoris snipped off without having any say in the matter or when a child is allowed to die from a treatable illness because his or her parents believe that only prayer can save them or when people are denied basic civil rights because they don’t play the social game the same way as everyone else or—

If this were an issue of a racially mixed marriage, everyone would be aware and outraged. In this case it is not, it is a lesbian couple with children, who suffered a dual outrage—the first being denial of partner’s rights at the hospital where one perished and the second being the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by the survivor against those who callously disregarded their basic humanity. The assumption by strangers that because they didn’t fit some cookie-cutter definition of Normal that their fundamental humanity could be abridged in a life and death situation is not something that is redressable other than by law, because without a law people will make up any old justification to be assholes. And without a law, the rest of us will let them get away with it.

Read the story. Be outraged. But do not be silent.

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Too Many Rooms, Too Few Doors

September 30, 2009 | By | Reply More
Too Many Rooms, Too Few Doors

That poor guy who got tied to a tree in Kentucky was on my mind last week.

Census takers have, in certain parts of the country, been lumped in with so-called “revenooers” (to use Snuffy Smith jargon) and generally threatened, shot at, occasionally killed by folks exercising their right to be separate. So they assume. Appalachia, the Ozarks, parts of Tennessee and Kentucky, Texas…a lot of pockets, populated by people who have, for many reasons, acquired a sense of identity apart from the mainstream, and who feel imposed upon if the gov’ment so much as notices their existence. They’d have a point if they truly did maintain a separate existence, but they don’t, and hypocrisy is the least amendable vice to reason. At one time it was bootlegging, today it’s drugs, either marijuana or meth. They don’t seem to get it that if they contribute to the erosion of the public weal then they forfeit the “right” to be left alone. I really believe they don’t understand this simple equation.

Nor, in fact, do they care.

But do I believe that poor man was killed over some disagreement over political hegemony? No. He knocked on the wrong door at the wrong time and asked the wrong question and some good ol’ boys killed him. Scrawling “Fed” on his chest was probably an afterthought, and means about as much as had they written “Cop” or “Fag” or “Stranger.” Whoever did it probably thought he was being cute.

[more . . .]

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