I am not really an “Ohio Lit Blogger” in that I report on the literary scene – such as it is – Columbus or Ohio generally. But I do try to make Ohio connections on occasion and take advantage of them when I can. So when I heard that Dinty W. Moore was going to do a reading at Ohio State I made sure to attend. It turned out to be an enjoyable evening with readings by Dinty and Joe Mackall (I hope to have more about this author soon).
In this unconventional, nonsequential, generational autobiography, AKA cultural memoir, Moore, a professor of English at Ohio University, describes growing up as a child of the 1950s. Panic characterized his youth, as he watched the symbols of safety and security on televisionâ€”Leave It to Beaver, Father Knows Bestâ€”while his real world fell apart. His mother had left his often-inebriated father, but couldn’t handle raising the children herself. Paranoia was the theme of his teen years, as JFK and King were assassinated; the draft and the Vietnam War drove young men to extremes; and characters like Charlie Manson, Squeaky Fromme, Mark David Chapman and John Hinckley Jr. all took aim at public figures. Moore’s own paranoia was only heightened by using LSD and smoking dope while tooling around in his VW Beetle. Miraculously, desire began to overtake panic; he discovered a passion for writing, which has focused him ever since. Moore lays all this out in a series of free-form, almost playful essays; only there’s something serious here, too, as he realizes our history seems to repeat itself: the Patriot Act sounds like 1984 and Iraq feels like Vietnam all over again. In the end, Moore (The Accidental Buddhist) takes readers on a quirky, entertaining joyride.
After the reading I stopped to say hello and he graciously agreed to answer some questions. After some delay I finally managed to send him some and he quickly responded. I offer them below for your enjoyment. I hope to offer a review of Panic and Desire soon. In the meantime perhaps this will pique your interest.
1) When people at parties ask what you do for a living how do you answer?
It depends on the party, of course. I am a writer â€“ I write books â€“ I teach writing. The answer seems to shift. To be honest, I am proud to be the author of five books , but there is always that moment, when you tell a stranger at a party, or on a plane, â€œI write books,â€ where they ask the title of one of you books, and if it isnâ€™t a Stephen King or John Grisham blockbuster, they look disappointed. Well, I donâ€™t like that moment.
2) How would you define/describe â€œcreative non-fictionâ€?
Essentially, creative nonfiction involves bringing the entire literary toolbox â€“ scene, voice, metaphor, lyricism, attitude â€“ to the writing of truth. The creativity comes in the presentation.
3) Are Panic and Desire real towns in PA? Was it really just chance that you found yourself physically in a place you had inhabited metaphorically for a long time?
Yes, they are real. I wouldnâ€™t call it chance â€“ I deliberately veered off the road one morning, out of curiosity, to see what these two towns â€“ crossroads really â€“ looked like. But if you are asking, â€œDid I know that I would write this book, or that I would land on this metaphor?â€ No, I didnâ€™t know that at all, it came much later.
4) Why is Nixon such an important figure for people of a certain age and/or generation?
Well, the truth of Nixon is pretty spectacular â€“ going back to the Alger Hiss case, and to so many seminal Cold War events of my parentâ€™s generation. And he was the foe of John Kennedy, who became so important after his death. And then Watergate. This man was connected so closely to so much amazing history.
Beyond that, he has an iconic persona as well, as the angry father shaking his finger at his enemies, as the sneaky bastard who (not directly, of course) shot the college kids at Kent State, robbed the Watergate apartment building, lied about bombs in Vietnam. He represents everything we used to distrust about people over 30, and everything we now distrust about our leaders in Washington.
5) How do you think Hollywoodâ€™s portrayal of fathers has changed over the years? What does that say, if anything, about society?
Weâ€™ve come a long way, from the perfect, compassionate, buttoned-up Ward Cleaver to the father on Roseanne who hid in the garage to drink beer, to Homer Simpson, to Tony Soprano. In an odd way, it may be healthier to demystify the father â€“ it makes room for those of us who are trying hard but canâ€™t be perfect.
Of course, there is a downside: the way that â€œrealityâ€ television is portraying all of these celebrities nowadays â€“ fathers, mothers, sons, daughters â€“ acting so horribly, childishly, irresponsibly, destructively, might give us too much permission to act in the same ways.
Honestly, I donâ€™t have the answer. Popular culture fascinates me for the signs â€“ the meanings â€“ it sends out to the world, but the good and bad of it is hard to pin down.
6) Initially you balked at the idea of becoming a father. Can you describe the path that led you to decide to be a father after all?
My wife is stubborn. She kept asking. I wanted her to be happy. Thatâ€™s the whole of it. And thank goodness she did all of this, because fatherhood has been a wonderful experience.
7) Why do you think we are foolish to trust our own perceptions? Is there a middle ground between complete objectivity and everything is relative? Do you believe in Truth with a capital T?
No, truth with a capital T is impossible, because no one sees with 100% clarity. I think we have a pretty good inner crap detector, however, and if we listen to our instincts â€“ and at the same check our own motives so we can avoid self-delusion â€“ we can recognize what is basically, almost entirely true much of the time.
8) Is humility an important part of clarity?
Yes. You need to humbly consider that you may be wrong. You need to humbly consider that you have been over-reacting. You need to humbly consider that the other guy or gal has a very good point. You need to humbly consider that you havenâ€™t thought it all the way through.
Humility allows you to change your mind, to challenge your own longstanding beliefs and assumptions, and it is through these actions that spiritual and intellectual growth occurs, in my humble opinion.
9) You edit a journal called Brevity. Why is brevity so hard?
Brevity, in writing, takes a lot of editing. It takes a lot cutting away your own hard work to get down to the core. It takes a lot of cutting away even sentences that you like.
10) You worked as a journalist at one point. If you were given control of a newspaperâ€™s book coverage what are three things you would change or implement?
1. More reviews.
2. More coverage of why reading matters.
3. More coverage of book events in the town where the newspaper is published, to foster community and interactivity.