Today I went to the mall for the second time in about six months, with the other time in preparation for flying abroad. I suppose I should note that after visiting the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, going to the mall is neither impressive nor oppressive, and the salesfolk were respectful if not timid by comparison, but the mall still made me feel dirty.

Growing up the nearest actual mall was forty minutes away. Going there or to any mall was a trip, usually borne of some necessity. Due to the distance the mall was not a usual hangout, although going to Burlington for me tended to be synonymous with going to the mall. As it stands now with my two-legged means of transportation and the mall sitting literally on the opposite side of town, the distance is nearly as great as it was growing up. I have lived in Columbia now for a year and a half and I have been inside the mall twice, which is coincidentally two ties too many in my current mindset.

Malls are simply depressing. Wrapped into one sprawling bundle is American culture. Crappy fast food set next to shops that tempt us to buy things we don’t actually need, and an air of sterility and plasticity. Yes, the best word I have been able to come up with that describes urban American culture as I currently see it is pasteurized. Basically when I was in Turkey (and various other places with markets) there is a sense that the place and practice is organic, while in the American (and, I might add, litigious) mindset, everything ought to come wrapped in plastic, gussied up with flashy signs that are as fake as the product.

The same goes for the food. I eat exceptionally quickly, which has been remarked upon on multiple occasions, however I also like good food. I do have weaknesses for Taco Bell and for fried cheese, but on the balance I will go out of my way to find good food, with good ingredients and, if possible, a good atmosphere where there is respect given for the food in the kitchen. Part of this is presentation. One complaint I have with some people in quick service restaurants is that they have no care for how they make or present the food, which, while sometimes encouraged by the customer, then creates a certain expectation for the customer. I firmly believe that the problems between society and food service are reciprocal and that one of the big issues is respect for food. I expect the food I eat and the food I serve to have a certain aesthetic appeal. Sure, a sandwich is never going to look the same as, say, a steak at a five star restaurant, but it ought to meet a certain minimum level.

Respect. People ought to respect their food, their taste buds and their bodies (again to some level, i.e. is that 44 oz soda really necessary?). One of my favorite spots in Columbia is the Uprise Bakery. I have heard a number of perfectly legitimate complaints about the shop, but they make their own breads and pastries and tend to use good ingredients. There is an earthiness to it that, at least to my mind, comes partly from organic approach to food (and I am not talking about whether or not they use organic ingredients).

Story Solving

One complaint I have often heard about certain books and movies is that they are predictable. The audience sees where the story is going and what the protagonists are going to do, whether the foreshadowing is too strong or the misdirection is too weak. Sometimes the people complaining will still concede that the work is good, but more often I hear that the entire work is ruined.

I don’t have this complaint. Then again, most of the time I either don’t or am unable to “predict” what will happen (note: those are two different things).

The crux of the matter, as far as I can tell, is whether the reader (or watcher)is more interested in the story or in the execution. I am interested in the latter. I look for well-imagined worlds and characters the the author then mixes in interesting ways. I don’t mind if the story is just a reinvented version of the same themes and tropes, because I am interested in the characters more than in the story. I also believe that while each author may be able to make their world and characters their own, there are only a limited number of stories possible and most stories pick up on earlier tropes and story structures, either absorbing them entirely or rearranging and bringing together elements from different story traditions.

So, why does it matter that (should you look) you can predict the story? If the boy meets the girl, loses the girl, slays the dragon and wins the girl back, then that you know what the outcome will be, but isn’t the journey more important? Relish the story for its own merits rather than complaining that it is predictable.

Intents and Purposes

I have not been writing on my blog recently. There are a variety of reasons for this, including the demands of graduate school, several alternate places that I write and some issues that I have run into in life, but perhaps the biggest concern for me in regards to the blog is the sense of purpose. When I started this blog I meant it to be a way for me to think about and talk about history while I did not have a formal platform. It was that general and as a result there was a sense of aimlessness. The one thing I did not want was excessive narrative of my own life. As I have gotten back into school the content changed slightly, and I spent more time reflecting on academia and society, as well as history. This is closer to what I want, but I am still not sure.

My ideal would be to help foster my own blog network among people I know who are writing and thinking about various topics, connected through mutual readership, commenting and supporting one another and collaborating whenever possible. In this goal, I have a standing offer to host blogs for other people. My dream in this event is to also host a forum community connected to this blog network that would (hopefully) foster collaborative and peer-review opportunities, as well as the opportunity to participate in academic debate. There are a number of problems with this goal, though, particularly in that my colleagues, much as I am, are pressed by their own work even if they are inclined to blogging, the internet or this sort of collaboration. There is also a fundamental lack of participants in general. The most successful forum communities I have or still do participate in have dozens of regular participants and hundreds, if not thousands, of members and occasional contributors. Of course this will not deter me from creating this forum with the hope that eventually something will come of it. Now, if only I had time to set all of this up.

But those are the goals for the aspects that are beyond my control and I still have uncertainty about my own blog, in part because I have heard horror stories about intellectual property and research projects stolen because they were posted online before publication. Now in my experience there tend to be five type of historian-academic blog:

-Relating everything that happens in the modern world to whatever project the author is currently working on
-Discussion of the academy and classes
-“This day in History”
-Commentary on politics and society
-Posting links

Now most blogs blend two or more of these different elements and, inevitably, mine will be no different. I started this for history and that will still feature prominently simply because it is central to my life, but more and more I expect that I will write about more diverse topics, including academia generally, self-review, book discussion, methodology, and commentary about society. Whatever piques my interest is fair game, though I expect narrative of my life will rarely feature. The key here is that I will also rarely feature straight narrative history. If some story comes up in my research then I may recount that, but that is about it. More often I expect my historical discussion to be in the form of contemplation and working through various arguments.