The way I write now

Or: Arnauld le flâneur.

(Edward Gorey caught unawares.)

On 3/15/17 in “Lauren la flâneuse”:

[from Wikipedia] Flâneur … means “stroller”, “lounger”, “saunterer”, or “loafer” [the person of leisure, the idler, the urban explorer, the connoisseur of the street]. Flânerie is the act of strolling, with all of its accompanying associations.

Here flânerie refers not just to the act, but also to the reporting of the act — to a literary genre, of which I am an exponent.

Background on the title, from Wikipedia:

“The Way We Live Now” is a short story by Susan Sontag which was published to great acclaim on November 24, 1986 in The New Yorker. The story describes the beginnings of the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s, as the disease began to claim members of the New York cultural elite.

The story is told entirely in the form of fragments of conversation, mentioned and whispered by numerous friends of an unnamed man who lies sick in a hospital bed. Although AIDS was new to many who read the story when it first appeared, “The Way We Live Now” remains a signature work in the literature of the epidemic.

Sontag borrowed her title from an 1875 novel by British writer Anthony Trollope called The Way We Live Now.


Observing the furnishings of my house, the scene out my window and out my front door, and throughout my neighborhood and the area. Finding things, people, scenes, social encounters, plants and trees, birds and animals, clothing, buildings, businesses, events, restaurants, names, advertising, public art, whatever, that provide something of note — especially of linguistic or social interest — to trigger reflection and commentary. (Always carry a notebook to jot things down!)

Collecting things I (over)hear or recollect or have come to me unbidden that trigger such reflection and commentary. Things I come upon in reading (especially in the New York Times, the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, the Economist, Out Magazine, the Advocate), in art books (especially of male art), on social media (especially Facebook and Google+), on blogs (especially Language Log), in cartoons (in my daily comics feeds), in talks at Stanford, at meals, in fan fiction, on the radio, in television shows, in movies, in the theater, at concerts, at protest demonstrations and gay pride events, in the public outposts of popular culture (diners, fast-food restaurants, cafes, donut shops, motels, laundromats, bowling alleys, convenience stores), in underwear ads, at shapenote singings, in intentional or inadvertent phallic symbolism, in toys and games, in sexual encounters and fantasies, in the design of ordinary useful objects, in tracking the history of my family and of people named Zwicky, in poetry, in jokes, in memories triggered by smells or tastes, in gay porn, in museum exhibitions, in images of penguins and mammoths and rainbows, in parodies and burlesques, in the music that plays throughout the night for me and often during the day as well. Things friends bring me. Questions people ask me.

It’s all raw material. And the things I encounter in this figurative strolling present themselves not as discrete bits and pieces but come alloyed into complexes: things of personal significance to me, of linguistic significance, and of social significance (having to do with gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, region, age, class, political affiliation, and so on) all melded together, so that talking about one thing will bring others in its train. Hard-core gay stuff will probably come with linguistic footnotes, and linguistic analysis will often be accompanied by observations on gender and sexuality.

Flânerie is both amorphous and multi-form. It’s the expression of one person’s — the flâneur’s — perceptions of and responses to the world around them, but perceptions and responses informed by knowledge of many kinds. It’s not squishy emoting, but it’s also not academic discourse, journalistic report, or simple narrative of personal experience. It has an accidental quality — the flâneur comes across things by chance (or, psychologically, by free association), and one thing probably doesn’t hang together with the things around it —  that some people will find tedious or challenging (hard to comprehend) or both. But it’s now my literary genre of choice; it’s congenial to me, and as an old man no longer beholden to anyone, I claim the right to revel in my strolling.

This is the way I write now.

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