From Boone to Bangkok: D.A. Blyler
D.A. Blyler can do something not many Americans feel free enough to do: he can sit at a bar and openly criticize the news announcers coverage of Americas foibles and troubles.
Blyler doesnt turn a jaundiced eye toward the world, as his sense of humor readily shows, yet he has a perspective on current events and modern American society that has gained him thousands of readers across the globe. His insight has also led him to become a popular columnist, with his work appearing at such well-known Internet stops as Salon.com, 3 AM Magazine, and Newtopia Magazine with such articles as The Seven Vices of Highly Creative People and The Seven Habits of Sensitive, Celibate Men. But first he had to come to Boone, NC, in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, leave it for the Czech Republic, return, then go to Thailand, hitting a few dozen other countries along the way.
All that traveling and world experience has led him to see America in a new light, gave him material to write about, and taught him enough about himself to finish his first novel, Steffis Club. For the soul of a writer, traveling is always good, Blyler said. And I never did work hard at writing until I left for Europe. The problem is simply good material. What we have in the United States today is what my publisher Kurt Palomaki calls the McDonaldization of culture. We all wear the same clothes, eat the same food, watch the same TV shows, and bite our collective tongues for fear of political correctness.
Blyler was attracted to the High Country for its vibrant arts community and lived in Boone from 1993 to 1997. During that time he was English graduate student, with a minor in Philosophy and Religion. While he never actually graduated, he was active on the local writing scene and published a book of poetry. He also taught a few Introduction to Literature classes and got a certification in teaching English as a Second Language while serving as an art gallery director.
Blyler went to England for seven months and traveled Europe with artist and filmmaker Marcus Reichert. He was drawn to the Czech Republic because he was fascinated by the Velvet Revolution, the way the people were able to overcome Marxist communism through peaceful resistance. He took a university job in the Czech Republic teaching English and found the needed distance and freedom to express his ideas.
Faulkner could write about his mythical southern town of Yoknaputawpha because it was rife with eccentric characters who said what they wanted. These days such eccentricity would ostracize an individual or land him in the hoosegow as a threat to the State. Its not that way in Europe, even though the U.S. is doing its best to Americanize and sanitize it. And Southeast Asia is even more unconventional, which is one of the reasons Ive now made my home in Thailand.
While overseas, Blyler makes an effort to embrace the local culture and not be content to hang out with the other expatriate Americans, whom he often feels have no respect for the new social environment. I meet expatriates who dont know about the country (theyre visiting or living in), theyre not there to learn anything about the world around them, Blyler said. I start learning the language and go around with my dictionary. Im not some arrogant westerner who thinks everybody should speak English.
He returned to Boone for a few months in 2000 to begin writing Steffis Club. The novel is loosely based on his experiences teaching in the Czech Republic, in particular the brothel district in the famous beer town of Pilsen. Its based, he said, on fictionalized versions of experiences he had and people he met, including an atmosphere of morality that abhors violence but openly accepts prostitution.
With witty social commentators becoming an endangered species these days outside of a few mainstream magazines, Blyler said that freedom will suffer if voices fall silent. I think the fall of Bill Mahers Politically Incorrect from ABC speaks volumes, he said. Maher was one of the most intelligent and wittiest commentators on television, but he lost his show essentially because he was revealing the overblown Bush rhetoric, that the mainstream media soaked up, for what it was. That America is being dumbed down is a hypothesis thats been bandied about for the past 20 years. Now it is a sad, simple fact. Let me give you an example.
When former president Jimmy Carter was in seventh grade, his teacher saw that he had exceptional ability for a seventh grader and wanted to give him something more challenging to read than Johnny Tremaine, or whatever 13 year olds were reading in those days. So she gave him War and Peace. Can you imagine a teacher giving a young teenage boy War and Peace today? It might come in handy to beat the head of the kid who stole his Playstation on the school-bus, but thats about it.
Blyler said that his students in Europe were much more knowledgeable about culture, even American movies, books and art of the past, than were his students at Appalachian State University. Jay Leno, of course, has illustrated our national stupor dramatically in his street-walking interviewsthe results of which are truly horrifying. But perhaps the main reason for the lack of wit among social commentators is that the majority of the American public takes itself excruciatingly seriously, and this runs counter to any cultivation of wit, not to mention good mental health.
Blyler also said the Bush administration has planted a seed of with us or against us, which accuses those who want debate of being unpatriotic. America was built on dissent and now dissent has disappeared, he said. From his travels in Asia, Blyler believes Thailand is not as heavily influenced by American culture because the people already feel they are successful, having never been colonized and referring to their country as the land of smiles.
He said he never felt in danger overseas, even when Americans were being warned against traveling abroad. He said the only time hes felt culture shock was flying into Los Angeles International and being struck with the proliferation of advertising, cell phones, and the lack of solitude among people. He is planning on a book signing event in the area, and the book is already on sale via Booksurge.com.
When he leaves America in March, Blyler thinks hell stick to his banana plantation in Thailand for a long time. I really love the vibrancy and immediacy there, and the really good food, he said. I was reading weighty, existential works, and Thailand gave me some much-needed levity. Its like a weight is thrown off my shoulders.
When explaining his desire to live overseas, he goes for a cliché made famous by that most Americanized of publications, Readers Digest: Laughter is the best medicine.
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