Dec. 2nd, 2010 10:19 pm
j4: (badgers)
I don't normally actually revise old posts in place (rather than tacking a "PS" or "ETA" on the end) but I've gone back and finished yesterday's post so it can stand as one thing.

Today's prompt is:

December 2 Writing.

What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?

And to be honest I think I'm going to skip that because it's starting from the assumption that everything I do should contribute to "my writing", and that's not where I'm starting from. I write when I can, not because I'm trying to produce something great but because I like it and I think it helps my thought processes; but I do lots of other things as well, and if I have to become more narrowly focused to become a Great Writer then, well, I'm never going to be a Great Writer, and I think I'm at peace with that decision.

I did the post-a-day in November because I felt as though there were lots of things I wanted to write but I never got round to them; and in practice a) lots of them turned out to be rubbish when I got there, and b) I was so fixated on posting something every day that I ended up concentrating on Just Getting Something Done which meant I was avoiding writing the potentially-better stuff because I knew I couldn't do it justice. In a way it was a success because it helped me to get rid of some of the rubbish -- getting a bit closer to 'inbox zero' on the directory full of half-written fragments -- but I don't think it did much good for "my writing". (As you can tell from the scare-quotes, I feel like talking about "my writing" like that is a bit precious given that it's not my identity or my job, it's not even a particularly fervent hobby. I don't talk about "my singing" or "my reading". I'm not criticising people who do talk about it like this -- it just feels odd to me, for me.)

Of course, having said that I'd skip this prompt I've ended up writing more as a result of it than I manage on most days. There's probably a moral there, but I'm not sure what it is.
j4: (clutter)
I have a folder on my chiark account called lj_temp. It's full of bits and pieces of things that might have been intended as LJ posts, and (because I am bad at sticking to my own filing systems) drafts of awkward emails or comments, lists of things, ideas, all kinds of mental detritus. I think of it as a drawer full of good ideas which, if only I had the time or energy, I'd sit down and work through and transmute them all into pure blogging gold. In practice, when I come to look at it, it's a directory full of text files containing half-written comments/emails. Half the time I don't even remember the context which prompted them. Take this, for example:
Sometimes the person who's experiencing the emotion doesn't know the whole picture either. People can get jealous and upset and angry with very little real cause.

I agree it's rarely practically helpful to tell them straight-out "Your emotions are irrational", but equally I don't think it's helpful to say "Yes, keep on feeling that jealousy and anger, you've got a right to your emotions". The wetness of water, the greenness of grass... I see these things as morally neutral in a way that I really don't believe adult emotions are.

Isn't there room for some kind of middle way? Admitting that you -- or someone else -- feels something but also recognising that it's irrational and unhelpful, and not nurturing the unhelpful feelings? I'm sure you accept that your garden will always have weeds in it, but you probably don't put fertiliser on the weeds & cut back the flowers to make room for them. Initial reactions to events are hard (possibly even impossible) to choose or control, but once the shoots are showing it's often possible to nudge them in a more appealing direction.
I'm sure this made sense in the context of the debate to which it was doubtless intended to contribute, but I can't remember it (I have a terrible memory for conversations these days), and I didn't make a note of it -- I've quoted the file there in its entirety (it was even written with HTML markup, so clearly intended for LJ). I'm reasonably sure I never actually posted it, though, because I generally end up chickening out of posting things like that -- because disagreeing with people on the internet nearly always descends into nastiness and ends in tears (tears for me, at least; probably a sense of self-righteous victory for the other guy -- and it is usually, but not always, a guy). But that's a blog post for another day (or rather, a blog post to chicken out of on another day). Right now I'm thinking about these fragments.

They're sitting there, using a few KB of disk space, doing nothing. Worse than doing nothing: they're a mental buffer between me and getting things written, muffling the sound of my thoughts like a thick drizzly fog. They are heavy like a dressing-gown at 3pm, a comfort blanket that's become a ball and chain. They make me feel as though I have a basketful of good ideas if only I could get round to doing anything about them when in fact I don't; they're worse than that idea for a novel that everybody carries around with them in their head, they're more like an idea of having had an idea for a novel. Like dreaming you wrote a symphony and being unable to remember it in the morning. The handful of "ideas for novels" I have in my head are all things I know I'll never write down because they'd turn out to be rubbish.

Those fragments remind me of what, for me, is at least one aspect of the "overwhelming question": what would I do right now if I'd done everything on my list? If I didn't have anything to procrastinate about? What would I write about if I didn't feel I should clear that backlog first? It's all very well saying "you don't have to clear that backlog first": I've tried that, it doesn't work. The backlog's there.

What should I do with all those fragments? Post them (and pull them apart) here? Delete them? (No, I'm not going to print them out and set fire to them or anything like that, it may be symbolic but it's also wasteful and pointless.) They're probably all worthless, but then what is 'worthwhile' to write?

[Poll #1641161]

I'm not promising to act on any of your suggestions, but I do promise to read them.
j4: (dirigible)
The area where we live might be described as shabby, but I prefer to think of it as unfinished. It's not that it's in any sense incomplete; it's not one of these raw-edged toytown estates where the houses haven't settled into their surroundings yet and the weeds are dwarfed by the clods of still-fresh earth... quite the opposite. It's a collection of houses which were built between the wars as council houses and gradually sold off in bits and pieces over the years (I'm hazy on the history); they started out all the same (more or less) but have diverged over the years as people have bolted bits on, knocked pieces off, removed and rebuilt and revised and reimagined until they look like a kind of terraced Exercises in Style... or at the very least a kind of oversized egg-decorating competition. Everybody has added something to their house: bright flowers, trees, hedges which started out neat, gravel, paving, paint, pebbledashing, a low wall, a gate or two, a lean-to or a shed, an outbuilding, an extra room. Many of them have added more temporary effects to their exterior, too; there are front gardens with chairs, tables, mattresses, sofas, televisions, panes of glass, planks, bricks, overgrown trailers full of pipes, chained-together bicycles, cars on concrete blocks with nettles where the wheels would be, motorbikes imperfectly shrouded in plastic sheets. It could be depressing, but it's not; it's just life, as it goes on from day to day, moving things from place to place, repurposing things, putting things in a different order. Building little by little, letting things fall apart; pushing back the soil, letting things go back to the ground. Waves of energy, whirlpools of entropy.

It's unfinished in the sense that it's a work in progress. All around are loose ends, projects half begun (or even half finished), things not quite thrown away.

I am fascinated by this sort of detritus, writ large across the estate but writ smaller (in the various but usually tiny incarnations of my handwriting) across A4 sheets, post-it notes, the backs of envelopes, tissues, whatever I've had to hand at the time. And, more recently, 'written' in countless text files -- digital artefacts which somehow manage to retain some of the spirit of those torn scraps of paper in their forms and names: the descriptive (or optimistic) .txt and .html files, the tentative .tmp, the files with no extension, filenames with cryptic sets of initials, long filenames full of underscores... archive.tmp, README__list, lj_bio_1.txt, oxbridge-and-self-worth_2.tmp, loose_ends. The names made perfect sense at the time but now I can't tell whether archive.tmp is about archiving, for archiving, already archived. With the paper, it's easier to learn the shape and colour of the fragments and lists: that large pink post-it note with GRAND PLAN (among other things), the torn-off white scrap that just says weltenschaum (did I mean weltenschau?) -- I've carried them around for so long that they're like an inbox full of scars. With the text files, it's easier to search through them for a specific word (if I can remember it), but they're more flat, all the same size; with a standard directory listing of just filenames they have barely any weight or shape to distinguish them.

On reading some of these files, I often can't remember whether I've already used the text on LiveJournal. Sometimes I can't remember what I was talking about at all. Sometimes the text sounds confident and assured, and I'm surprised I wrote it so well. Perhaps I didn't.

Our house is cluttered with adjectives and slightly verb-stained nouns.

Sometimes I feel as though I'm carrying round boxes half-full of failure. Other times they're boxes half-empty of plans.
j4: (kanji)
Paralysed by choice, I end up writing nothing. The blank page is not an absence of words, but the space where all words could exist. It's all of time, all possible futures, all the things with which you could fill that time. It's a snow-covered field, and your feet will make one path across and around it, just as soon as you start walking; you can backtrack, retrace your steps, jump sideways, change your mind a thousand times, but all those indecisions will leave their mark. The blank page is your bed, the head-sized space on the pillow; the white sheets are unforgivingly unfillable when unoccupied, the margins are too narrow when they're full. The blank page is your skin, and it scars easily.

Given two hours of time, I am quite capable of filling them by agonising about the fact that I can't fit everything I want to do into those two hours. Unable to choose, I end up choosing nothing: not even choosing nothing, merely defaulting to nothing. Two hours of staring at the wall, the blank page; or of listmaking, dithering, weighing up the pros and cons: sorting a pile of stones into the right pocket and the left while the stream of time flows on.

To start anything is to fail to start something else: I do not endorse this belief but it clings like cobwebs to my head and hands. To start anything is to fail even at that thing: to start is to move from the ideal to the actual, to step down from the pedestal of potential perfection. Between the idea and the reality falls the shadow: it falls on the cave wall, falls like a blade, the execution of an idea. But to fail to start at all is a double failure: not just the failure to live your life but the failure to be born. Nobody can know about the perfection of the idea until it is obituarised in its imperfect actualisation.

To begin a narrative is to condemn it to an ending: to tell a story is to write its death warrant. Is it better to stifle it at birth?
j4: (badgers)
It is with a huge sigh of relief that I realise that today is the last day of NaBloPoMo. The closest I got to a SMART objective for the exercise was when I said, back on Day 1: "That's really all I'm aiming for this time: 30 (or more!) posts and a bit of mental decongestion". This will be the 32nd post this month, so that's the first target met (and since I'm already over the target I don't feel too guilty about today's being basically a meta-post); after all, I only specified quantity, not quality. What about the second?

Well, you win some, you lose some )

I haven't noticed anybody else on my flist doing NaBloPoMo (though there are people who probably do post every day), but I've been watching [ profile] monkeyhands's NoFePhoMo (No Fear Phone Month) with interest. It seems like a more useful exercise because a) it wasn't just a target for the sake of having a target, and b) it actually got some phonecalls made which needed to be made; whereas I doubt if anything was improved by my having written another few thousand words of rubbish. Nobody would have minded if I hadn't made any of those posts. I have some kind of residual feeling that writing is a Good Thing, that creating is better than consuming; but if all I'm doing by "creating" is consuming people's time (and wasting space on the great big hard disks in LiveJournal Central, too, I guess) then what's the point?

And when I find myself asking "what's the point?" it's probably time to go and do something else, like have a cup of tea and go to bed. My NaBloPoMo is officially over. Maybe next month I'll have time to catch up with some of the last 30 days' comments.

ETA: I am out of the loop and/or I fail at friends-lists: [ profile] oxfordslacker has had a successful NaBloPoMo too. Hopefully not blogging every day (apply brackets appropriately, YKWIM) will give me more time to catch up with other people's LJs...

Post script

Apr. 6th, 2008 10:23 pm
j4: (back)
Also, I found this scrawled on the corner of a page of a notebook, and had completely forgotten I'd written it, let alone what it was heading towards:
To say that the beloved is beyond the reach of poetry is the oldest trick in the book (or out of it); and to say that it is old and yet it is true in this case, that is the second oldest trick. And yet (at one more remove) this is his beauty and his strength, that he stands calmly to one side of the smooth superlatives of eulogy, he stands aloof from the dance, observing; he will not be verified, he smiles wryly and turns the page, and at that fingertip's touch the page catches fire.
Still true, I reckon.
j4: (kanji)
While I'm doing reviews... I don't really, deep down where it matters, think of myself as a writer with a readership: I think of myself as just some random broad with a blog, boring my friends over a beer in the corner of some kind of virtual pub. So it came as something of a surprise to find that some of the people who had participated in the choral concert that I reviewed the other week had read my review, and my first thought was to feel a pang of remorse for having been so dismissive about the Harmonia Quartet. Yes, they sounded slightly underrehearsed; but I've sung a lot of the music they were singing, which on the one hand means that I'm more likely to hear tiny mistakes, but on the other hand means that I appreciate the difficulty of what they do. And they were certainly enjoyable to listen to, and at the end of the day, that's what it's all about. All I can say is I'm sorry, guys, and I'll gladly buy any of you a flagon of the finest foaming fa-la-la if we find ourselves in the same pub.

It was probably a timely reminder, though. The lines between performers and audiences and writers and readers and critics seems to be getting extremely blurred (not that that's necessarily a bad thing, or indeed a good thing); I still have trouble thinking of my friends' bands as "real" bands, but there clearly comes a point when you have to admit that they're as "real" as it gets. And, in the other direction, real bands have livejournals and myspaces; they read blogs, they meet people, they make friends, they make typos, they flame lusers. They put their trousers on one leg at a time like the rest of us. Real authors whose books I've read have commented on my blog: that's a bit scary, and it's a bit humbling to be reminded that among the people I'm boring are people who actually know what they're talking about; but it's also empowering: if they can, I can. It's not news that famous people (whatever that means) are real people (whatever that means) too, but it's getting easier to cross the line at many different levels. The fourth wall's been rubble for a long time; now more and more of us are joining in the stage-invasion.

All of which is just my observation, rather than drawing towards some grand theory. Maybe all that separates me from the Real Writers is that they're more likely to bother to finish what they're saying, whereas I'm more likely to think ah the hell with it and make another cup of coffee. Maybe one day I'll finish saying something worth saying. Maybe one day I'll start.
j4: (hair)
And this is the other angle from which I could have told the story. Needs a lot of work, but if I don't post it now, I never will.
j4: (kanji)
Remember learning to write? Your parents or teachers make you trace over the printed outlines of perfectly-formed letters time and time again until, after lines and lines of exercise-book pages, your shaky pencil shapes grow so close to the dotted letters that the deviations from the line can barely be seen. Eventually you're ready to write those same shapes without the safety-net of the dotted letters; and when you do so, your letters may well revert to being a little more uncertain, a little more irregular than they were previously. On the other hand, because there's no longer any underlying image to which to conform, it shows less when you do deviate from what is, after all, only someone else's ideal. You're free to form your letters in whatever way you choose. Eventually your printing becomes neater, and your handwriting settles into something fairly consistent, though it slowly shifts and changes over the years as you refine one bit or another; perhaps you try to neaten it, or make it more romantic, or make it more angular; perhaps you change the pen you use and your writing changes a little to reflect that; or perhaps it's not even conscious, perhaps the shapes of your writing shift like the ponderous movements of continents, and you don't even realise anything has changed until by chance you find a memo to yourself from 10 years ago and you can barely believe it's your writing. And, of course, it isn't; in so many ways, both physical and psychological, you're barely the same person now as you were then.

The only way to improve your handwriting is by practising, but only you know what sort of practice works best for you. Maybe tracing letter-outlines helps you, or maybe you prefer to just write and see what happens; maybe you practise in private where nobody can laugh at your mistakes, or maybe you find that writing to other people helps to motivate you to keep improving.

New Year is an arbitrary blip in the calendar, a milestone (or millstone) that's as meaningless as adult birthdays. But I still make New Year's Resolutions: I like to draw the faint outlines of where and what I want to be, so that later I can see how well my subsequent tracings match the suggested shapes; and I like the external accountability of bringing my progress (or lack of it) into the public eye. Sometimes, somewhere along the way, I have (consciously or otherwise) decided to follow different paths from those I laid out; this doesn't necessarily constitute failure, any more than deciding to write in italic script (perhaps because one prefers the look of it, or the feel of it under the pen) signals a failure to write in upright lettering. The important thing is to distinguish between lapses which damage the desired outcome (e.g. writing a 't' without its crosspiece might render it indistinguishable from an 'l', which would make the writing harder to read and hence make communication more difficult) and lapses which don't (e.g. whether your 'w' is a zigzag or two overlapping 'v's, there aren't really any other letters with which it could become confused). I leave the extension of the already over-stretched analogy as an exercise for the reader (and writer).

So how do the letters line up? Here are last year's resolutions, reproduced here with commentary.

resolved! )

And now this year's Resolutions, with more commentary. This year's are a complete ragbag of resolutions, and there are far too many of them, but I figure that if I aim at the stars, I might just hit a tree. I don't really expect anybody to read all this (though obviously you're all free to do so); I'm writing these out more for my own benefit than anybody else's.

resolvent )

I haven't really made any resolutions about friendships and relationships, or thoughts and feelings, because it's so hard to quantify things; however, for the sake of external accountability, I do intend to make more of an effort to keep in touch with old friends as well as meeting new ones, and I want to be more reliable about getting in touch with people when I've said I'll do so. I also want to get more of a grip on my self-image, but that's heading out of the realm of New Year's Resolutions and into cognitive therapy. If I think it won't be too navel-gazing, I may write about some of that here.

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