last week, i went to see craig mod speak in a lecture titled “post artifact book design thinking” at the school of visual arts. sounds pretentious, right? it, surprisingly, was anything but. sure, there were bespectacled, bearded, clarks-wearing, full-sleeved design students, but also a dude next to me who reeked of booze and kept burping, and an older lady behind me with one single grey braid who agreed with everything craig said – i know this because her “MHM”s and “AHHH”s almost drowned out the speech.
anyway, i was a bit worried that the lecture would be all over my head, font-this, typeface-that, but it wasn’t. craig – who, if you don’t know, is a writer, designer, publisher, and developer collaborating with flipboard, and a really good public speaker – lived in tokyo for ten years and opened with the concept of “furusato” – loosely translated, “native place.”
as most things japanese, this word – or even signifier – goes way beyond surface meaning. furusato is an all-encompassing feeling of HOME, of comfort and welcome and nostalgia all rolled up into a cozy down sleeping bag you never want to get out of. you can experience furusato in any context; it’s not limited to your literal hometown. while craig was busy relating furusato to the “artifact” of his discussion (i.e., “book”), i was busy just thinking about furusato.
i feel it in florida. i feel it in the south, a region i spent so many years of my life trying to get away from. when i was seventeen, i moved to california and mercilessly teased for my down-home sayings; “y’all”, “fixin’ to”, etc. i quickly learned that “you guys” and “i’m going to” alleviated this; besides, who cares, i hated florida and everything it represented to me at the time: repression, judgment, claustrophobia, ignorance. listen, i was seventeen.
but then something changed. it took a long time, but i started to actually love florida again. it was furusato. my bestest friends in california, they all turned out to be from florida. it was a certain sense of humor and cultural references, our childhood and manners and all that other stuff that bonded us like super glue. there’s something special about finding homes away from home. i guess that’s why i’m now writing a book set in florida.
more recently, i experienced furusato on a press trip to hawaii. so weird, right? like i love to lay on the beach and be all “hang loose, brah!” and get a hot tan. duh. ok, not really. but it was more than that. everything was exactly as it was supposed to be. i never felt out of place, awkward. i felt – like the title of the book about a man we were in hawaii to learn about, norman collins – homeward bound.
so i’m thinking about all this at the lecture, how the green hills and tiki torches and beach sounds of a place i’ve never visited before made me feel furusato. i was thinking about it in my head and it all sounded much better then; i should have written it down.
i caught up with craig again when he started to discuss the pre- and post-artifact system. in non-lecture terms, it’s like this: author → writing process → ARTIFACT (book) → stuff that goes into making a book → readers. he noted that there are four things that make up the pre-artifact stage: whiskey, self-doubt, self-destruction, and manic highs. a funny take on the writer, no? i mean, whiskey, ha ha, right? anyway! he talked about the breakdown between the pre- and post-artifact and how it was taking place RIGHT NOW, right this second, in a digital world where readers and their interaction with the author is becoming more and more important and NEEDED. it’s real-time fiction time, so to speak.
now, that erased any warm feelings of furusato i was starting to develop. hold up there, craig mod. we’re losing the idea of the writer in a darkened cave, churning out his craft; we don’t HAVE to be that writer anymore? readers are involved in the writing process. neil gaiman does it perfectly: “guys, i’m writing chapter seven, and i need an unusual vegetable. any suggestions?” seth godin. lots of others. and this is the way it’s going now.
is this a good thing, erasing hierarchies and ultimately producing a book that verges on collaboration with your readers? how amazing to be involved in your favorite author’s process, right? “i came up with that courgette!” you develop camaraderie, loyalty; you move artifacts. and let’s talk about that word “artifact” for a minute. i understand the purpose, the archeological ties, etc. but even calling a book an “artifact” removes all romance, all mysticism. it becomes a product immediately. i can’t fault craig completely for this – he DID point out in the lecture the tactile appeal of books, the smell and feel. yes, yes! i love my books. i can’t get rid of them. i’m almost a book hoarder – help, a&e!
(<3 edward gorey)
but ok, listen, back to interactive fiction. is this just a big mistake, another way of minimizing the value of the author, the writer, the art and the ideas? are you okay with balancing it out, like the stew of an mfa workshop: a little from student A, a little from professor B, a lot from that cute girl you want to impress? interaction also assumes, in my opinion, that this is something you’re doing with the ultimate goal of SELLING – because as i mentioned before, the more goodwill you foster, the more artifacts you will sell.
i want that writer in a darkened cave, with a typewriter even, but also feel forced to embrace the interactive. am i alone in my anachronism?