Saturday, December 1, 2012

Final report, part two.

 It's taken me a while to post this. Below is the testimony I gave at Call to the Audience on October 16, 2012. So this blog and this project hereby go into hibernation. Perhaps to be awakened at another time, who knows. Thanks, everyone, for your kind support.

Final Report, Part #2 of 2
Tucson, the Novel: An Experiment in Literature and Civil Discourse

Good evening, Mr. Mayor and members of the council. My name is Shannon Cain and I live on Paseo Redondo in downtown Tucson. This is the final segment of my final report on the literary performance art project called Tucson, the Novel: an experiment in literature and civil discourse, which was funded by a grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts.

Last week you heard my account of how real life events caught up to my novel and how it all threw me into an artistic tizzy and monkeyed with my genius and got me all blocked, etcetera. Which is true, but it’s also only part of the story. The rest of it is that I realized the book just isn’t great. I always wanted to give Tucson a great novel, and after the shootings that desire turned into an imperative. It’s good, for sure, and I’m sure somebody would have published it. I do think it’s good. It’s just not great.

It’s hard to set aside a project you’ve put so much energy into. And so much time. But I know these last six years haven’t been wasted. They taught me to be a better writer, for one thing. They taught me about Tucson; they reconnected me to my own community. And those pages—all those stories within the story—may some day end up reincarnated as something else. Perhaps as another collection of stories. Or perhaps as a different novel, one with a certain disturbed young man not as a secondary character but as its protagonist.

The project was called an experiment in literature and civil discourse. In fact a professor of public affairs from Virginia Tech wrote a paper on the project at presented it at the annual conference of the American Sociological Association this past August. She asked me what I learned about civil discourse. I told her that I sometimes felt foolish, and even irresponsible, because I was taking time away from real issues. Important issues. Why should the bus riders union or the environmentalists get fewer minutes because I’m insisting on this weird narcissistic exercise?

I told her I found answers in a place I didn’t expect. When the Occupy movement came to town, I eagerly let it hijack my project. My activist self took over. And here I started to feel hypocritical. Why was Occupy and not some other issue worthy of me ceding my 3 minutes?

Well, I tell you I learned more about civil discourse in the 3 times I was here as an Occupy member than I did in the 33 times I appeared here to read the novel. The Occupy movement as it unfolded inside these chambers was I thought a stunning example of how a community’s righteous anger can be expressed forcefully yet peacefully; directly yet respectfully.

Ironically, all I need to know about civil discourse I learned in Occupy. I told the Virginia Tech professor that ultimately it seemed to me that it matters less why you come to this podium than that you’ve come at all.

Thank you for listening.