27 July 2011

Sarito Carol Neiman : Shredding the Envelope

Difficult beginnings! Image from 28DaysLater.

Shredding the envelope:
Difficult beginnings
Ruminations on news, taboos, and space beyond time.
By Sarito Carol Neiman / The Rag Blog / July 28, 2011
Author, editor, and actress Sarito Carol Neiman -- founding "Funnella" of underground newspaper The Rag in 1966 Austin -- will discuss "Politics and Spirituality" with Thorne Dreyer on Rag Radio, Friday, July 29, 2011, 2-3 p.m. (CDT) on Austin's community radio station, KOOP-91.7 FM, and streamed live on the internet.
Five years ago, almost to the day, I decided to create a blog. I called it “Shredding the Envelope,” for reasons partly explained below. Then all kinds of life intervened, and I got too busy trying to keep the boat from being swamped by the waves to have anything to say, never mind the spaciousness required to say it.

Now the boat seems to have washed up on this rather nice beach, with big blue skies full of puffy white clouds... and a gracious acceptance by The Rag Blog of my offer to re-start Shredding the Envelope as a regular column in its pages. Full disclosure: I have repurposed a piece from the original as a way of starting here. (For reasons that will also become clear below!) The original was subtitled “Ruminations on news, taboos, and space beyond time.” That still works for me.

I kept thinking, Gosh, how do I start this. Because the nature of my particular paralysis -- not just around starting a column, but around any other thing I haven’t already done at least once -- is the Desire to Get It Right the First Time.

Which of course arises out of all sorts of internalized judgments, educational mishaps, inherent character flaws, ego disguised as humbleness, and an unhealthy obsession with unearthing the most elusive nuances of my own motivations (not to mention the motivations of others, but for some reason those always seem much easier to see than my own).

Combined with astrological accidents and the fact my kindergarten teacher told me “nice girls don’t shout.” You get the drift.

Now, psychobabble aside, there are two kinds of writers, I’ve noticed -- and by writers I mean people who actually write for public consumption rather than in diaries, or gossipy emails to family and friends: (1) those who have trouble starting, and (2) those who have trouble wrapping it up.

I’m the first type, obviously.

Those who have trouble with the middle, by the way, aren’t really writers. To be a real writer, you have to give up control at some point. Having trouble with the middle is a symptom of being a control freak, and it’s nearly impossible to be a writer unless you can push the pause button on your inner control freak. Then, of course, you can always press “play” again when it’s time to tidy things up.

Whew! Now I’ve got that out of the way, I can start.

Why “Shredding the Envelope”?

Because you can push for a lifetime, but you’ll still be trapped inside the confines of an envelope. And that very envelope is what’s got us all trapped -- individually and collectively -- in the messes we’re in. The envelope is made of our most cherished ideas and assumptions, the inherited truths of our upbringing. It’s the place where culture and counterculture clash, and words are used more to define opposites than to acknowledge complementaries.

Envelopes are designed as a background for labels, expected to have destinations, categories, a limited specificity of content. The only mystery that exists in an envelope is from the outside of it, before it gets opened. And these days, most of that mystery has disappeared. When's the last time you got an envelope in the mail that didn't tell you quite plainly, even when it was trying to be tricky about it, exactly what was inside?

If you’re into bodybuilding, you can keep pushing the envelope. If you want to fly free of labels and categories and inherited content, you gotta shred it.

Besides, I’ve always had an affection for the shredder from the first time I used one. What better way to dispose of a bunch of boring and mostly burdensome paper than to transform it into stuff that suggests a tickertape parade or a piñata, and can even be used to protect delicate and fragile things from breaking... like Christmas ornaments. You can have whatever feelings and opinions you like about Christmas, from Scrooge-ish to Fundamentalish, but don’t tell me your favorite bit isn’t the ornaments and lights.

I started to wonder who invented the first paper shredder, and found this:
1908 • An American, A.A. Low, is credited with inventing the first paper shredder -- his 'Waste Paper Receptacle' -- which was issued a patent in 1908. Utilizing a feeder and a roller with blades, paper could be reduced by use of either a hand crank or an electric motor. This, however, is neither the beginning nor end of the story of the shredder. It is also thought that an earlier version of the paper shredder was invented by an Austrian military officer in 1898, who used a foot-powered machine to destroy ballistics designs. A.A. Low never went as far as bringing his 1908 patent to manufacture, and so the first commercially produced paper shredder was produced in 1936 by a German, Adolf Ehinger, whose inspiration came from a kitchen pasta maker.

By the way, this history of the paper shredder comes from a charming and informative Time Line of Waste -- created by the English. All the American entries on the subject that appeared in the first couple pages of Google results were essentially “infomercials” for paper-shredder vendors.

A couple of entries below the invention of the paper shredder is a link to “Wartime efficiency drives,” which features a very cool gallery of American WWII posters. They will perhaps remind you to wonder if “keep on shopping” was really the most creative push of the wartime patriotism envelope that the Bushniks could have come up with. And they might even help you understand why the “greatest generation” can be so curmudgeonly about the state of affairs we’ve come to over the past six decades or so.

[Sarito Carol Neiman (then just “Carol”) was a founding editor of The Rag (along with now-Rag Blog editor Thorne Dreyer) in 1966 Austin, and later edited New Left Notes, the national newspaper of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). With then-husband Greg Calvert, Neiman co-authored one of the seminal books of the New Left era, A Disrupted History: The New Left and the New Capitalism and later compiled and edited the contemporary Buddhist mystic Osho’s posthumous Authobiography of a Spiritually Incorrect Mystic. Neiman also studied acting at HB (Hagen-Berghof) Studio in New York City where she appeared in several stage productions and in the movie Moonshine which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006. Neiman currently lives in Junction, Texas. Read more articles by Sarito Carol Neiman on The Rag Blog]

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