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!

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.