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!

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.