I am grateful that you have visited my blog. I hope your visit is a successful one. Please feel free to comment, contact or otherwise interact with the site and with me. I'm beginning to spread my wings photographically, so please take a look at Paul's Photos on Flickr (on the right). which will lead you to my presence on Flickr. Again, your comments, feedback or whatever are very welcome. Let us assist each other in our pursuit of our own truth, our own Dreaming. Peace!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Thank you Mr Banville. And My Mother Might Thank You too

I was watching a documentary about author John Banville last night. I don’t know much about Banville and have never read any of his books. However, he struck me as such a sincere person—a decent man—who believes writing is art. Well his writing anyway. I liked that.

Anyway, he talked a little about his background and mentioned his mother. He related a story, a memory really, about the time he feels he actually ‘separated’ or turned away from his mother. He was four or five and his mother had just kissed him. He pulled away, and said to her that he didn’t want to be kissed anymore. He said it’s a sad memory, but an important one.

I, too, have a similar memory. Not the same and more a kind of mirror to Banville’s, but here it is anyway. I was ten or eleven and it was time for school. I stood in the kitchen and my mother was combing my hair. I was a tall child and as she combed, I said to my mother, ‘If I get any taller you’ll have to stand on a chair to reach’. She stopped combing and in a testy tone said, ‘I hope by then you can comb your own hair.

At that moment, something shifted inside me. I guess you could say, looking back, that I suddenly realised I had to try to stand on my own two feet from then on. But, at the time, I felt rejected, hurt, confused. Unlike Banville, who chose to separate from his mother, it seemed my mother was separating from me. Of course, a more objective view of the incident might conclude that this was simply the overwrought reaction of a busy mother trying to get three young kids off to school and out of her hair.

Then, as I thought about this story, I suddenly remembered another one concerning my mother. Many years later an older (but not necessarily wiser or more mature) me was in another country and tried to call home after suffering a tremendous emotional upset. I called collect; my mother answered and refused to accept the charges. I literally reeled away from the phone in shock. I really did. Almost fell over. I couldn’t believe it. It truly hurt for a long while. Of course, later I realised (once again objectivity came to the rescue) that she had guessed I would want to speak with my father and he wasn’t there. Trouble is, it took me a while for that realisation to arrive and sink in.

Banville reckons that the artist always has a problematic relationship with his (and I think he does mean his) mother. Old Mr Freud might interject here to remind us that all men have problematical relationships with their mothers. Not sure if I can say if that’s true or not. I don’t know many men intimately, and I know even fewer mothers.

When my mother died about 15 years ago. No, it was 18 years. Time flies doesn’t it? Anyway, when my mother died, I was with her. Stroking her hair and whispering reassuring words into her left ear. When her breathing stopped, I knew—I felt—that she’d gone, her ‘energy’ or life force was no longer there. And I felt nothing. Not numb exactly, more like indifference. Well I was pleased her suffering was over (and she really had suffered), but other than that it was, ‘Oh well, that’s that then’. And you know something? I don’t think I’ve grieved for her. Not yet anyway.

My mother was what people like to call an ‘ordinary’ woman. God, I loathe that expression, but you probably know what I mean. Another expression I loathe is ‘simple person’, but I guess, she was that too. So, here’s another little story that I am not sure is connected, but it is one I feel compelled to relate. One day my mother and youngest sister were visiting my partner and me in our apartment. My mother sat opposite me with my partner beside her. In those younger days I had less sensitivity than I hope I have now, and I shared those stereotyped views of her being a simple woman. I am ashamed to say I thought of her as a bit ‘stupid’ even. It shames me even saying it here. Anyway, I forget the conversation or what my mother actually said, but it was something I disdained. I  smiled at her and winked at my partner.

My mother saw the wink, and instantly I knew that she knew what I was thinking. I was ashamed then, and I am now. Neither she nor I ever mentioned it (we only saw each other rarely anyway), but I’ve never forgotten it or forgiven myself.

As I said, I’m not sure it’s part of this story, but I guess it could be seen as an element of a ‘problematical relationship’ with one’s mother.

I think I owe something to Mr Banville. He’s got me thinking about my mother. He’s got me thinking that perhaps some of the issues I have as an artist just might have to do with my relationship with her. I often feel that a huge part of the artist’s work has to do with grief and its expression, meaning, resolution and all that. Could it even be that some of the block or inhibition, or frustrations I feel as a writer (artist) might just, at least in part, be a result of that lack of grieving for her, the lack of coming to terms with our shared pasts? Maybe. Which means, of course that a coming to terms with that past and finding a way to grieve, might be found in the practise of my art, in letting words do their work. And that would lead to an opening up of my writing, to a greater freedom of expression. A kind of virtuous cycle? Maybe

Anyway, thank you Mr Banville

Monday, May 10, 2010

Fingers poised? Look before you leap - I mean click

I wonder, have you heard about the columnist at a major metropolitan newspaper in Australia who was ‘let go’ because she sent some ‘controversial’ messages via Twitter while at a TV awards night recently? No? Well I’m not surprised: it’s hardly Earth shattering, and it isn’t really important on any number of levels if you ask me.

What I want to talk about here is a follow up opinion piece I read a few days later. In it the commentator, while putting the responsibility squarely on the offending Twitterer, writes, ‘... the availability and immediacy of the technology intrude upon the normal choices and judgements which people make.’ He adds: services like Twitter, Facebook, emails and the rest, ‘bring into the public realm many things that would previously remain private.’

Of course, he’s right there isn’t he? You read all sorts of stuff out there in cyberland and it ‘ain’t all pretty, as the saying goes. This guy goes on to say that we are at ‘an evolutionary disjunct between old notions of the public and private spheres and the means of communications now widely available.’

Therefore it seems to follow that it’s not your fault if you blurt out something that you might later regret or that is offensive or libellous or otherwise insensitive. Or is it? Well, of course it is. You, like me and everyone else, are responsible for what we say and do whether it’s online or in person or on a postcard!

Anyway, the writer of this opinion piece then tells a story about US president Franklin Roosevelt. As we all know Roosevelt had polio and used a wheelchair. However, for public speeches he stood with ‘discreet assistance’. Apparently, one day he actually fell over and lay sprawled and helpless in front of the assembled Washington press corp. Of the dozens of photographers there guess how many took a photo? Go on guess.

Not one. That’s right: no photographer thought it was relevant; they all—each and every one of those hungry ‘vultures’—judged that it was a personal matter and therefore not to be reported. You can bet that if a world leader fell in front of the cameras today it would be in your inbox, on YouTube and plastered all over the Internet before he or she was back on his or her feet.

I was out with my camera a day or so ago, down the river and aiming my long lens at a magpie. I got a couple of frames off, then just as I was about to press the shutter for another one, the bird was gone. So, I didn’t press the button. It was then that it struck me: those Washington photographers made the same choice: there was no photograph, so no need to press the shutter.

You know something? I have always thought that if there was one tool that shouted ‘availability and immediacy’ it’s the camera. This isn’t a new idea: it’s about the decisive moment and all that. Photography 101 you might say.

So how come it’s so different with the buttons on your mouse or your mobile? Especially as you have to type a message into the keypad before you get to send it. If you ask me that’s a lot less immediate than the camera shutter. What I’m getting at here in my usual long-winded fashion is this: if those photographers could make the decision in the heat of the moment to not press the button, why do we need to make excuses for us ‘modern types’ with our keyboards and mobile keypads and whatever?

Of course, the answer is we don’t. As I said, we are all responsible for what we say and do. I suppose a good motto to follow in our online or other communications—and in life generally— would be ‘Do No Harm’. Or at least, do as little harm as possible.

Now, I am not saying here that I’ve never said anything on Twitter, or on Facebook or any other place, that was hurtful or insensitive or judgemental or in other ways just not good to say. Mind you, I think that on the whole I pretty much stick to my little motto, Do No Harm (it’s not mine of course, I just adopted it).

And for those times when I have failed, I apologise very sincerely. I do not make excuses; I can choose to press send or click OK or whatever after I’ve typed a message (note my italics please), just as I can choose to press my camera’s shutter button.

Let’s not have any more of this ‘evolutionary disjunct’ stuff. Though, when you think about it, we actually are at a lot of those type of places right now, don’t you think? It’s just that I would rather not use this particular disjunct (I love this word) as an excuse to be sloppy when it comes to how I communicate with friends and strangers alike in cyberspace, or in terrestrial space, or even in my head!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Let Me Tell You a Story: It's a Good One!

Has anyone seen Walk the Line? It’s a great movie that tells the story (or a version thereof) of the life of Johnny Cash. Yes, I know: not everyone is into country music. This movie, however, is an intriguing insight into the life and work of a troubled artist—an artist who was a genius in this blogger’s humble opinion. Anyway, grab the DVD and you can make up your own mind.

There is a scene in the movie in which Johnny is about ten or so. He’s talking to his brother who is maybe 14. The brother is studying the Christian scriptures (he wants to be a preacher when he grows up, but dies soon after in a horrific accident) and Johnny says, ‘Why you studying so hard?’ His brother looks up from his reading and says,

‘You can’t help nobody if you don’t tell ´em the right stories.’
Yes, I thought when I heard that, you have to tell them the right stories. But, what are the right stories? It’s a good question but, fortunately, there is a simple answer: they are all the right stories. For us writers, visual artists, filmmakers or other tellers of stories, there is only the need t tell the stories, whatever they are, whenever they emerge.

The ‘them’ of poor brother Cash’s reply are those who get to hear/see/feel our stories. They may be the intended audience; they may be people we have, at the time of telling, no idea about. This is especially so for anyone brave enough to post their creative output on the internet. And that’s the joy of it don’t you think? We tell the story (in whatever genre or using whatever medium) and it takes off all by itself, impacting on who knows who, in what ways we can’t say. And where and when it lands? Well it has its own life now: it’s no longer in our control.

I just wrote that ‘all’ stories are the right ones. I don’t mean by that that I think anything goes. I have my moral and ethical standards that dictate what stories I tell (and what stories I choose to hear). Of course we all do don’t we? Having said that, I do not suggest for a second that I can judge what stories you or anyone else should or should not be telling. That’s also up to you. I may not agree with you, nor you with me, but that’s life.

And it’s also true that the stories that ‘help’ people come in all shapes and forms and are about an unlimited variety of subjects. Then there’s the matter of timing. How often have you read something inspirational just when you needed some guidance or advice? Or what about those times when you are feeling a bit low or under the weather and you come across a story that makes you smile or otherwise lifts your spirits? I’ve often been in need of a good cry only to come across a sad movie or story or a moving tale of one kind or another.

So, let’s keep telling stories. They are all the right ones for us to tell. Somewhere, just the other day, I came across another quote (forgive me: I don’t know who said it, or even remember where I found it) that reads:

If there is a way to improve the world, it is by telling a good story.
Now, once upon a time on a dark but not so stormy night ...

PS I saw the movie in Dharamsala India. On a postcard home I wrote a little rhyme about some writing work I was doing on local environmental issues for a local magazine:

He walked the line
did Johnny Cash.
But here in Dalai Lama Land
my words will help reduce trash.

I did say stories come in all shapes and forms didn't I?


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Need to Read

Hello my dear followers.

This blog post comes to you from August last year when I was keeping a blog on another platform. It (believe it or not) only struck me today that there are a lot of posts over there that deserve to be reread by me and perhaps shared with you.
This is one such post. It’s actually a topic I’ve been dwelling on once again lately. So, without further ado, I give you ...

I have said to myself a lot lately that I should be reading more. After all, I am a writer: reading comes with the territory and is really integral to writing-at least if one is going to at least attempt to write well and with a broad base for the thinking, ideas, information and so on that should inform written communication. As well as this, there is the love of books that I have always had. There was a time (no, not so much a time as a long periods of my life, long spans of time) when I would always be reading. Every spare moment, on the bus, in the park, in a cafe, walking even, at home, anywhere, I would be reading. I got through a book every day or so…well sometimes anyway. And I read widely too. Not so much the ‘classics’ but all sorts of stuff anyway, just wherever my fancy or available books to read lead me.

So, why haven’t I been reading that much lately? Hard to say, but there are a lot of distractions. Usually these are of a trivial, superficial, meaningless nature. Only occasionally have they been of such importance as to give a valid reason for not reading. I guess in summary, I have been hijacked by the mundane, I have allowed myself to be seduced by the urgent while neglecting the important; I have wallowed in self pity at the expense of an occupation (reading) that would have lifted me out of that pit.

But, now I am on a new kick. I am beginning to reacquire the habits of long ago when reading was really such a vital part of my life. Right now I am reading the Scroll Edition of On the Road by Jack Kerouac [that is, I read it last August!]. So far I am still reading the rather academic essays in the front. These are interesting, if a little dry. They will I hope inform my reading of the scroll itself. I have read the published version of On the Road many many times over the years, and the Scroll will be different: different grammatical structures and rhythms, the real names of the characters in the story, one long paragraph (as in the whole damn thing being the one paragraph), more detail on Neal Cassady and different emphasis on various aspects of the story as Kerouac originally wrote it but which was cut out of the published version in 1957.

I’m finding it is helping me get back into the swing of reading in depth, and with thought. It sounds like I haven’t been reading at all, and this isn’t the case. In fact I probably average a book a week, but often they don’t really register on any deeper level, and I often read several at once (one in my day-pack, one in my studio, one in bed, one in…) which means none of them really get the attention they deserve. Time to narrow it down a bit. Why not take the one read at bedtime out to the cafe in the mornings when I (and this is another joyously renewed habit from another time) take a predawn walk and stop to read and write in my diary while enjoying the almost deserted morning cafe on the river? It gets read faster and more importantly it comes to occupy my thoughts on a deeper and more impacting level.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Kerouac's #13: No Need for Inhibition

It’s been a while since I tackled one of old Mr Kerouac’s Belief & Technique for Modern Prose List of Essentials. We’re up to #13 now. If you would like to check out the commentary on the list from the very beginning, please feel free to do so. Here’s the link.

Anyway, #13 says:
Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition.
Sounds simple enough: just write without thinking about grammar, or style or sentence structure; just go for it without thinking of any of that kind of stuff. Why, you can even forget punctuation. Sounds like a liberation don’t you think? No more fretting over the right place (if there is one) for that comma; no more dread of the passive voice. Freedom at last.

No, sorry it ‘ain’t that simple. Well, it is, but it isn’t. You see, there is a kind of mythology around Kerouac that says he wasn’t one to worry too much about sentence structure, or grammar, or punctuation. And some people say his stuff isn’t very ‘literary’ either.

Well, from what I’ve read, he was an absolute fanatic when it came to grammar and commas and all things to do with structure and style. I mean, how do you think he created such amazing rhythms with his words if he didn’t know his grammar and syntax? And not literary? Blimey, he didn’t just read all the ‘classics’ (ancient and modern and in several languages), he assimilated their styles, their energy and life. I’ve read several Kerouac biographies, and it seems to me that this guy just soaked up all he read, a true master reader really. (I envy him that really: #14 on the list is about Proust, and all I know about him is that he was a writer. Not read a lot of the classics myself)

Of course, the words we have to focus on here are remove and inhibition. And we need to remember that Mr Kerouac is talking, in this list, about the actual act of writing; he isn’t referring to the final result. Naturally we bring to our writing all that we are, all that we’ve learnt over our lives and all we’ve experienced. So, if we are grammar nuts, syntactical swats or literary lounge lizards, then our writing will be informed by it all.

So, we have to remove, get rid of, block out, all those influences? Well, I think it’s impossible: they are part of us. Instead we have to put them aside gently and temporarily from our conscious minds—as we put words down on the page (or the screen). They are going to be there anyway of course. It’s just that we don’t really have to think about them as we write.

Actually, now that I think about it, so many writers, me—and probably you—included, think too much as we actually do the writing. On my screen right now, I see the green and red underlines of the word processor’s spell checker (maybe I can turn them off temporarily?). Even that bit of superficial knowledge inhibits.

I don’t actually have the answers to how this removal of inhibitions can be achieved. I think it’s bound to be a constant struggle for all writers who want to just let it flow. Of course, I could say we should stop talking about it and just do it. I guess it just takes practise doesn’t it? Actually, that sounds pretty much like the answer to me. What do you think?

Another thought: if you promise yourself you will really edit, rewrite, make it as good as you can make it (bearing in mind that life is too short for perfect writing), later, once the words are out there on the page or on the disk (somewhere that is, other than in your head or heart), then perhaps you can give yourself permission to let it flow right now.

Now, excuse me. I have to get on and spell check this lot.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

It's All Politics - But Make it a Small 'p' Please

I just read how one of the, shall we say, more repressive regimes in South East Asia is loosening up a little. Sadly, it seems it’s more of a ‘bread and circuses’ kind of tactic: let the young folks release some of their pent up energies on harmless things like music and dancing and they won’t worry about having no bread (or education, or future, or ...) At least that’s what a commentator in the article says.
      Anyway, there’s a surge in hip-hop places, FM radio stations are booming and there’s an annual festival of underground music, including punk bands. Sounds good on the face of it doesn’t it? Well, maybe it is, maybe it isn’t; time will tell I suppose.
      Along with this seemingly upbeat take on the music scene, the article also told me that there had also been a little loosening up of the restrictions on political discussion. Apparently the government, normally paranoid at the mere mention of politics of any other kind than their own, now tolerates open meetings between intellectuals as well as letting smaller (and I guess less threatening) political parties to exist and meet. This is all okay, they say as long as you don’t start to criticise the government of get involved in any kind of ‘anti government’ activity. Small ‘p’ politics is okay; just stay away from the kind with the big ‘P’.
      You might, by now, be asking what’s this got to do with a writer’s life or how it involves us lucky ones who don’t have to live in that place. Well, in the same issue of the newspaper (to which I subscribe because it came at a huge discount for a set time. Sometimes it's overloading for an obsessive like me who has to read every word of interest) there was a column that asked the question, what is the value of political art?
      This piece was suggesting the possibility that overtly political art, art that tackles political issues that have a capital ‘P’, merely produces a predictable burst of outrage from the already converted. On the other hand I hope, along with the writer of that column, that art that seeks to change government policies that are unjust or art that promotes peace and so on, do have some impact on the decision makers. I do realise, however, that it is most likely a rare occurrence that any piece of art has had such an impact.
     You’re right: I could have taken the time to research this question and come up with (hopefully) some examples (please feel free to enlighten me), but really the main point I wanted to talk about here is that I think all art is political—albeit with a small ‘p’
      If an artist’s work comes from her or his genuine response to their experiences of life, whether from their family history, relationships, membership of a group or culture or any other factor that has helped shape their lives, then that work by definition is political. It says something about life and the living of it. It speaks of the complexity of the human condition.
      The last paragraph of the column really struck me and I would like to quote it in full:

‘The honesty of an experience expressed through song, through image, through film, through theatre or through dance can be the most powerful political message of all.’
Without wanting to get political about it, the writer has left one important phrase out of his otherwise very profound statement: through writing. I know, songs have words, so do films and theatre, but some of us writers write books, stories, poems, tweets, and blogs. You name it. We word workers are into everything!

But I think it’s just nice to remember we are all activists, just by virtue of being writers. It’s a good thought don’t you agree?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

We inhabit the corrosive littoral of habit: But we don't have to!

Recently I saw a painting called We inhabit the corrosive littoral of habit. It’s a bit of a mouthful for the title of a picture I admit. I’d heard the name before, but until I saw the painting again (the other time I saw it I hadn’t bothered to read the label ... as you do) I had assumed it to be a quote of some kind. The painting, and presumably the title, is by James Gleeson, Australia’s foremost surrealist artist. And now I’ve checked him out on the Internet, I see that he painted some pretty wild stuff. Check him out.

Anyway, those words have intrigued me for a long time. My trusty Shorter Oxford Dictionary defines littoral as, ‘of or pertaining to the shore of the sea ... existing or occurring on or adjacent to the shore’. The littoral zone is the area extending from the high-water mark to the low-water mark. It’s a kind of halfway house of a space. I guess you could say, for instance, that the waiting room at the doctor’s office is a littoral zone: it’s that space not quite of one world where you can linger (sometimes forever) before stepping over the threshold to another

Gleeson had the idea that habit is a littoral zone. And I think he might be right. We all know how habit keeps us from experiencing things new, or different; how it blocks us from change and adventure. Habit keeps us in a kind of permanent halfway house where we might feel safe and comfortable (or we may not: I guess it depends on the nature of the habit), but it keeps us from living fully doesn’t it? And, as Gleeson says, it can be corrosive: eating away at our lives little by little, keeping us from happiness and from fulfilling our potential—whatever that means for each of us as individuals.

For creative people (like us writers) there are many habits that keep us in that littoral zone: procrastination, paying attention to our lack of confidence, our mistaken belief that we have nothing to say, our false conviction that nobody wants to read our stuff, the phoney idea that we ‘aren’t quite ready’ to put our work out there. Need I go on? I don’t think so. All these are extremely corrosive habits that have kept me (just as an example you understand) in that littoral zone, that halfway house of doing less than I could, of dissatisfaction with my life as a writer.

And it is corrosive isn’t it? It destroys what little inspiration and passion there might be. Well, I don’t know about you, but it’s got to stop. Right here, right now. I’ve decided that littoral zones have a purpose—sometimes. But it’s not a place I want to dwell. Of course it’s one thing to say that I’m going to dump all the habits that keep me in the halfway house; it’s quite another to actually get them dumped. But you know what? I’m going to give it my best shot—or rather my best words on the page? Yes, that’s it. Words on the page. After all, that’s what we writers do isn’t it?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Oh My Art I Vow to Thee: A Promise You Want to Keep

I’m going to see Ravi Shankar in concert (check out this Youtube video to hear this amazing man play) in a couple of weeks. It’s a birthday gift from my partner. Last year we saw Leonard Cohen. Yes, I know, I am very lucky: I may not go to many concerts, but when I do, they are the biggies. And I am grateful for the chance to see these extraordinary people.

So, because Ravi Shankar is coming up, my eyes are open for anything in the media about him. Sure enough, just this last weekend there was a profile piece in the paper. It’s a fascinating story, his life. But what really caught my eye was Mr Shankar’s final comment to the interviewer as he left the room. His remark was about his one regret in life:

This, mind you, from a genius who is about to turn 90 and who has been performing, writing and composing since he was in his 20s. And before that, he was an accomplished dancer. His creative output, his gifts to the world, put most of us so-called creatives to shame.
‘I wish I had been more creative. My mind is always working on new ideas. I wish I had done more.’

But, of course, any creative person will always think they have never done enough; there are always ideas that don’t find their way into the light of day. And if that’s the feeling people like Shankar have who never stop creating, what does it say about those of us who aren’t quite as productive? What about all the time we spend complaining along the lines of, ‘I can’t write/I’m blocked/the words won’t come/blah blah blah.

Well, it does feel like blah blah doesn’t it? Here we are literate, full of ideas and with the resources to express them (ie pen, pencil, computer ...), and still we go on about how hard it all is. Well, let me say that from now on, I am going to spend a lot less time complaining about not being able to create, and a lot more time on actually creating—or at the very least focusing on the creative process whatever that might entail.

Now, I know what you are thinking; it’s not always so easy, creativity isn’t a tap you can just turn on and off at will. Well, that may be true, but I wonder what would happen if we really make an effort to devote ourselves to our art/craft/whatever we call it? We might still be blocked, we might still have trouble translating our ideas into words or pictures (or whatever we do), but at least we are going to be on the right track. We will be in the zone, as they say.

Not only that, but we will have no cause to regret not being creative. Of course, I think what Mr Shankar is really saying is that he hasn’t had enough time to manifest all the creative ideas he’s had. And it is certain for most of us that this will always be the case. But if we devote our lives to our art (and that means spending time thinking, reflecting, observing, being - all the things creative people do to live a creative life, even if it's not actaully 'creating'), then what we are meant to produce, we will. Simple as that really. Or at least I am thinking it is simple.

I have on my wall a mandala I coloured in with pretty colour pencils. I’ve made a kind of collage of it with a few bits and pieces stuck on (I’m a word person really, not so hot with the old visual arts thing). Across the bottom of this ‘creation’ I have written:

Oh My Art, I Vow to Thee

And I try to honour that vow, every day.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

What's the time? Who cares: Just Write!

I’d like to share with you an extremely thought provoking quote I found recently:

‘When I sit down at my writing desk, time seems to vanish. I think it’s a wonderful way to live one’s life’

This is something the author Erica Jong said. I don’t know where and I don’t know when. But it is a great quote and contains a lot of truth. I’ve said it’s thought provoking because, while some of us writers would agree with her sentiments that it’s a wonderful way to live a life, many of us might take exception to the idea that time vanishes when we sit at our desks. And then a third group would say, yes, sometimes time goes by really quickly when I’m writing, but other times it’s like the proverbial pulling of teeth.

I would say without hesitation that I am in that last group. I love writing and sometimes the words flow and the time it takes doesn’t even enter into my consciousness. Then, when I finally do look up (or I should say away) from the screen, I see that time has literally flown by. Other times it almost becomes a torture as I (sometimes literally) watch the clock as I plough through another session of staring at a blank screen with its flashing cursor (or is that the cursed flashing thing?). Then there’s the line-by-line edit that doesn’t seem to be working, a 500 word mini review that has somehow gotten itself written as a 1500 word feature. The list of torturous scenarios goes on.

However, when I read Jong’s quote I had this idea that it is how we view time and our writing that dictates our perception of time’s passing—not to mention the enjoyment we get from our writing as we write. Of course, it’s a cliché to say that time drags by when one is watching the clock or indeed when one is having a less than wonderful time. I wonder, though, does it need to be that way?

I don’t think it does. Watching the clock, agonising over the unpleasantness or difficulty of a task, thinking about what we would rather be doing, and so on, is hardly allowing us to fully focus on what it is we are doing; it also takes us away from the present moment. And, really, shouldn’t be fully present if she or he is to really allow access to the words that they have within and which are only awaiting the chance to come out?

If any occupation lends itself to being fully in the now, it is writing. But you know, even as I write this I am thinking about the lyrics of the song I’m listening to. It’s not an easy thing, this being in the present. I guess all that we can do is try.

We can begin that effort by a continual vigilance. When we find ourselves drifting away, watching the clock, complaining internally about how hard the job at hand is, we can simply bring ourselves back to that task. And I mean the minute details of it. Like, really noticing that comma I just typed after ‘Like’—as I type it! Feel the key, watch the comma appear on the screen; really read the words as they appear on the screen; feel your bottom on the seat; whatever it takes! The key is to be here now.

Nobody will ever convince me that a line-by-line grammar and punctuation edit is supposed to be fun. But, you know, there are times when it is at least not onerous, when it becomes a challenge. In fact in the case of this particular task, the more present you are, the quicker the job will be and the more accurate too!

And what about when we are caught up in the beauty and fun of the process of writing itself? Well time can fly by, or vanish. Again, it’s about just being with the process, being in the here and now of the flow of words. Try it. I’m going to.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Kerouac's #12: Trancing, Dreaming, Fixating

Here we go with Kerouac’s Belief & Technique for Modern Prose # 12 (go here to read all my commentaries on this groovy list). In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you.
   Ah, don’t you love it? Actual permission from the master to sit and do nothing, let the old mind wander, and basically stare into the void. Dreaming of the day kind is very cool. And not only that, it’s absolutely vital to the writerly life. Thank you Mr Kerouac.
   I am also on a bit of a Thoreau kick lately and a book mentioned previously has really resonated, really hit the spot and taught me so much about Thoreau and the life of a writer. The book is The Book of Concord: Thoreau’s Life as a Writer. Please read it if you are a writer or want to be one. Anyways, the author makes a comment about how, when Thoreau was living on Walden Pond, some villagers in Concord assumed he was, ‘idling away his time’. He goes on to add that ‘idleness was an important part of his work’.
   Can you dig that? Thoreau is about to write one of the most famous and most influential books in the history of humankind and the guy is ‘idling his time away’. Well, I don’t know about you but I know for sure that he worked harder than many of those criticizers ever did. Just like a lot of writers I know, including (I admit modestly) me. And so did our friend and master Kerouac.
   Any writer worth his or her salt (what does that mean anyway?) knows that they have to be a very keen observer of the life before them if they ever hope to write anything worthwhile. Doesn’t matter what genre they work in; the principle is the same.
   And the ‘tranced’ bit is worth a bit of thought as well. Old Jack doesn’t say we should have this left-brained kind of analytical approach to what we’re seeing. He says get lost in the view, go dreaming man, just dig the scene. You know what I’m saying here people? We all do it. We just don’t often let ourselves do it with any sense of freedom, any sense of the old daydreaming thing. In other words, how often do we actually sit in a trance grooving on what’s in front of us?
   Now, back to Thoreau. For sure he kept a lot of detailed and technical notes of a nature observing kind (he’s apparently quite respected among natural type scientists for his observations, theories and discoveries. But don’t ask me what that’s about: not my scene). But he also did a lot of trance like dreaming on stuff going on around him.
   Here is another quote from my latest fav book: ‘A man’s (read person’s/writer’s/artist’s/etc) hidden contemplative life should equal the visible and active one; that coherence made his [Thoreau’s] work successful’. Of course, there are many ways to interpret this statement, but I think I could argue that ‘tranced fixation’ is a very good way to access one’s own internal life. And it sure is contemplative too I think.
   Sometimes when I write I get a weird feeling. I will type something (being able to type is such a gift. Have a look at my post on this subject) or write a few lines in my Journal or whatever. Then I’ll read what I’ve written and think, ‘Where did that come from?’ It’s not like I don’t remember writing it; it’s more that it feels like it’s come from some other place than my own conscious mind. My guess is most writers and artists have experienced similar amazements at their own creations. Kind of like channelling or automatic writing I think sometimes. And I dig that idea very much!
   But you know what I am getting at here. It is by allowing ourselves to actually go into that trance-like state, by opening up to the dreaming (another groovy use of the word eh?), by allowing a fixation on that which is before us, that we give ourselves a better chance of producing something special. Or at least something that resembles the writing we are capable of.
   Time to go now. Gotta go trancing and fixating. See ya all.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Dear Diary: How You were Born

I guess for most people Henry David Thoreau is best known for the book he wrote about his time living on Walden Pond, called funnily enough Walden. And I suppose most people would have no idea that all or pretty much all his writings, lectures and so on came from his Journal. Note the capital: he himself called it The Journal. I recently read a very cool book called The Book of Concord: Thoreau’s Life as a Writer, which is an examination of, yes you guessed it, his life as a writer. What made it extra interesting was the way the author (William Howarth) used The Journal as his way into Thoreau’s writing and life.
  As fascinating as this book is, I don’t want to talk about it today. I want to tell you about one of the things that popped out of the book for me: the reason Thoreau started keeping The Journal in the first place. It seems that one of his neighbours in Concord was Ralph Waldo Emerson (imagine that if you can ... wow is the word that comes to mind). Anyway, one day Emerson says to Thoreau, ‘What are you doing? Do you keep a journal?’ Now, it seems that up until this moment, Thoreau had been running around telling everyone he was a writer and examining nature and the life of the town. All that writerly kind of stuff. But he hadn’t been keeping a journal.
  So, he answered Emerson by beginning The Journal. And, as I said, all his writing from then on came right out of that journal. Sometimes, believe it or not, he literally tore pages or passages out and stuck them together to form the final manuscripts. Now, that is called having supreme confidence in what your own work.
  Anyway, after I read that it got me thinking about my own journal and how I came to begin it. As I sit typing this, I can see my journal on its shelves. There are 69 separate volumes, mostly school type notebooks, some exotic ones from travels in India and a few odd looking volumes. Hard to believe I’m now on volume number 70. This is my personal journal; my writer’s journals are another matter. Just like to make that distinction, though of course for a writer there is bound to be a lot of crossover isn’t there?
  In late 1980, I returned to Australia after a few months in New Zealand during which I experienced a traumatic break up. Hanging around at my parents’ house and feeling like a ‘wet week in a thunderstorm’ (if you get my meaning), my mother out of the blue one day said, ‘Why don’t you start keeping a diary?’
  Of course you don’t know my mother, but you can believe me when I say that this is most definitely not the kind of thing I would have ever guessed she’d even think about much less suggest to her son as a way of for him to deal with his grief. But, just like Thoreau after his chat with Emerson, I went right out without delay, bought a school exercise book, and began my diary (I often interchange the terms diary and journal). And I’m still at it, as I’ve said.
  And you know what? Looking at my Journal now, I feel a sense of pride in myself. I may not have (yet) written a best seller, or penned a poem that has won competitions, or even been able to make a decent living from my passion for writing. But what I can say is this: I have consistently for thirty years (almost) now kept a record of my life. Sometimes it’s been an extremely detailed account and written every day; other times there have been gaps with just scant little notes to record my doings, thoughts and so on. But, at least it is there. I have a profound sense of achievement when I think of my journal. Maybe I need to adopt the capital like Thoreau: My Journal.
  My final word must be then, thanks Mum. I know I thanked you when you were alive, but it can’t hurt to announce my thanks to the world (as much of it as reads this blog anyway) can it?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Visionary Shivering: Kerouac's #11

Visionary tics shivering in the chest is #11 on Kerouac’s Belief & Technique for Modern Prose list of “rules”. All my dedicated readers will know I’ve been doing an on/off commentary on this list for a while now. Check out the list from the very start if you like .

This one is somewhat timely for me: back in November, I had a little tube put in my heart to help the blood flow more easily. I’m fine now (thank you for your concern) Of course I had no ‘tics’, and not a whole lot of visions either (which is a shame really), but I dig what Kerouac is saying here. You gotta get that it’s a metaphor, you know? It’s about that idea, that vision that hits you all of a sudden; it’s the one that gets you all excited, hot and bothered and that sets your heartbeat racing.

Old Jack is kind of saying it’s necessary to have this kind of shivery visionary tic. And if you’re a writer, it is going to happen. At least sometimes. Trouble is, you can’t depend on it: it doesn’t come on a regular schedule or on demand. The vision that gets you shivering comes from some totally alien place either deep within ourselves or from some unseen and universal source. Either way, they come on their own and all we can do is be open and ready, fingers poised over the keyboard (metaphorically speaking) to take down its dictation.

One of the ways we can get ourselves ready to receive a vision is to, well, keep our eyes open. Of course, again, it’s not just the physical eyes we’re talking about here. Although, now I think about it, it’s a good point isn’t it? I mean as a writer I have to see what’s going on around me in the material world. But, there are other eyes we have, and many of us don’t use them anywhere often enough. If we want to open the eyes in our minds and in our hearts and in our souls even, we have to just be. We have to not think we have to always be doing stuff to learn, to research, to study, whatever.

I don’t mean by all this we have to be “meditating” all the time. But what I do mean is it’s important to just be more often than we usually are. That’s it really. Doesn’t require a whole heap of explanation does it? More and more these days I see the value of just keeping all my eyes open. If we want the visions that get us shivering with excitement and anticipation at the words we are about to pour forth, then we just have to wait upon them.

Recently I read somewhere an expression I have come to use as an almost constant reminder to myself: wait timelessly. Not impatiently; not by always doing something to “prepare” or whatever; not always noticing the passing of time (which for you quantum mechanical types is a tricky concept anyway). No, it simply means to be. It means waiting timelessly for those visions that are there somewhere just waiting on us to be there ready to receive them.

PS Seems this little rave is full of split infinitives (according to my spellchecker). But who says there’s anything wrong with splitting your infinitives?