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Havi Brooks

NOº 2527

Wait, wait: Who Does This “Jesse Castaldi Keen” Think She Is?


Jesse Castaldi Keen is a writer who works in higher education in Portland, Oregon, and lives a little bit south of there. Things that used to define her that she hasn’t done seriously in several years: piano, poetry, sewing, letterpress, zines, mail art. Things she’s been doing more recently: attempting the delicate art of balancing work and home and toddler and love and self. Partly that has included adventures in Shiva Nata and writing at http://www.myseedhouse.wordpress.com.

My Two Cents

There’s two reactions to report:

(1) Phew… Someone I don’t even know. Never even met.

(2) Wow! Someone I don’t even know! Never even met!

And there’s two places those reactions originate:

(1) The writer in me.

As Holden finishes off The Catcher in the Rye:

D. B. asked me what I thought about all this stuff I just finished telling you about. I didn’t know what the hell to say, if you want to know the truth, I don’t know what I think about it. I’m sorry I told so many people about it. About all I know is, I sort of miss everybody I told about. Even old Stradlater and Ackley, for instance. I think I even miss that goddam Maurice. It’s funny. Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.

I’m a sensitive sort. Prone to nostalgia and sentimentality. The last few Self-Portraits have involved writing about people and places and memories in which/whom I have a considerable personal investment. Writing “artfully” (whatever that means) and accessibly about that sort of stuff is a really fun and intense challenge for a writer — at least it is for me. It also always helps me figure things out, things I lots of times didn’t know I had to figure out. All that’s great and I wouldn’t trade it for a whole lot of things.

It’s just that I’ve never really given myself such a task before:

  • Write three 1000-ish word personal essays, all with bona fide beginnings, middles, and ends, and that all somehow do justice to three people you care a lot about. All in the space of a week — the week you turn 40, no less.

Turns out that’s hard. On a lot of levels. I’m really glad I did it. But it was hard.

Writing a little something about a (nice, talented, smart) person I don’t know from Adam’s housecat = Phew.

Also there’s the whole Mixtape thing. When you’re making a mixtape (CD? MP3? iPod whatever blah blah?), you’ve gotta — well — mix it up.

One of my teachers in grad school used to quote Ezra Pound a lot when she was talking about long poems:

All long poems need moments of greater and lesser intensity.

Same thing with Mixtapes. As with Self-Portrait projects.

(Also: PS/FYI/411 — I’m liking both of those metaphors for this project: Self-Portrait project as extended/serialized epic poem. Self-Portrait project as Mixtape. Tomato. Tomahtoe.)

(2) The social media dabbler in me.

A friend of mine makes fun of those television commercials wherein a new techno-gizmo (or wireless plan, etc) is presented as the missing link to the millennial age of peace. There was that one Coke commercial back in the day: I’d like to buy the world a Coke. And that was somehow going to make everything okay. Vietnam. The Middle East. Nixon. Everything. These new-millennium techno-gizmo commercials are like that but on steroids.

Like my friend, I’m dubious of that. The Seth Godins and Clay Shirkys of the world seem excited about the transformative properties of social media. I’m pretty neutral. I use it because I can see that it’s the playing field for a writer. It doesn’t make my life 100% easier or better or anything else. Lots of times it makes it harder.

But. With all that said.

Two things that are good (what’s with this two things meme?): I think I do write more (and, therefore, maybe more better) because I have a “platform” and because I make “public” commitments to certain projects on that platform.

On a more human level, though, there’s the reassuring idea that there are a lot of “yous” out there. Maybe they’re not all in your city. Certainly they’re not all in your life. The population density of “yous” varies from region to region, depending on a subtle interplay of demographic, socioeconomic, and climatological factors. Etc. But knowing that they’re — “you’re” — out there, that “you’re” not all that exceptional — that’s a “Phew…” that pretty quickly turns into a “Wow!”

Therefore:

Jessie Castaldi Keen’s 30 Things — and therefore the social media mechanisms that enabled them/her to find me — turned a phew into a wow. And I’m humbled and happy that she/they did.

FYI/411