Linh Dinh, just wrote an beautiful essay about focusing on local art called "Grounded Art." Dinh's writing has always been the kind of concrete that scrapes the skin every time you read it. His short-short story, (flash?), "Man Carrying Books" is a masterpiece I read in Flash Fiction International that has always stuck with me.

Here are a couple of the quotes from this essay that stick out:

To advance, most men gleefully kiss asses. To avoid punishment, they sidestep taboos. By natural inclination, they gravitate towards the beautiful, young and sexy, so anything that hints of decay, squalor or death, they avoid. On their walls they hang, if anything, pictures of flowers and babes.
"Grant Wood defended the local, 'Great art works from the inside out—individual, regional, national, universal—not vice versa. We shall never produce a great national art or a lasting universal art by starting out consciously to do so. We have to start by looking inside ourselves, selecting our most genuine emotions.'”

As writers and artists, our calling is to aspire to the sublime, which is "Sober, unflinching art [that] is extremely rare."

Linh Dinh's writing is awe-inspiring. Yet, I grate on a lot of things he writes and says – like COVID-19 vaccines, 9/11, and other conspiracies. He also has the terrible habit of saying incredibly unpopular, insensitive things. (Maybe it's a habit formed from an upbringing in Philly.)

But he aims to write for that "unflinching art" and has borne the consequences of his words. Before 9/11, you could find his work in anthologies; after, he is a fringe artist, living by his camera and pen and Substack out there traveling in the world. He's an artist that many Asian American writers–who are now coming of age–had read and sometimes sought out because his writing burned. Because he writes about the underclasses in a way that feels largely ignored in American literature today.

I've always tried, in person and in writing, to be open enough to hear strangers out, especially those I disagree with. Then, as those strangers become acquaintances and friends, you learn more of their oddities, their tabulations of conspiracies, and you're confronted with the question: how many of your own are displayed to others? How right are you in your own thoughts? Have you really thought about what you believe and did your best to be unflinchingly honest about that and invest it into the thing that beats in your heart: your art?

What happens when you get together, argue it out, and test your thoughts and beliefs?

All of this is to answer one question I get in Q&A's: are these characters you write based on people you know? Is the narrator you?

While JD Salinger supposedly claimed he was the only person who could play Holden Caulfield, my narrator doesn't have much to do with me. The supporting cast, too, while sometimes sharing the attributes and names of friends, is not my write-up of those people. All of them are amalgamations of people who I know and have known who are so radically different from me.

That brings me back to Linh Dinh. He's a hoot to hang out and argue with, to wander into hardscrabble places where poverty hangs in the air, to be inspired to write about the forgotten and to think about how sometimes what all might be doing is trying to teach bottles how to read.

Subversive People