on the outskirts of every agony



“On the outskirts of every agony sits some observant fellow who points.”

-Virginia Woolf

Indulge me while I write a little bit about what I’m writing, and reading towards my writing. (If you don’t find artistic process stuff interesting, perhaps click away now.)

I’m thinking a lot about time, lately; the human experience of time versus Greenwich Mean Time. Perceived time versus clock time.

I read a book a few years ago about time which blew my mind. I’ve never been able to see time as I used to since: ‘Pip-pip: A Sideways Look At Time’ by Jay Griffiths. I return to it often to re-read my favourite passages.

(Jay Griffiths is my favourite writer. I love her in a completely blind, biased, engorged, passionate, ridiculous way. If I could ever write anything which is 10% as good as what she writes, I would be very happy. Her book ‘Wild’ is my favourite book – if I could crawl inside that book and inhabit those words, I would.)

The internet is changing our experience of time, particularly social media. Social media presents an eternal connected present, however facile. It’s a very different inhabited present from the inhabited present of meditation or the Buddhist notion of ‘nowness’. The eternal connected present of the internet, in partcular, social media puts us in a strange condition where we both are both together and alone. The illusion of ‘togetherness’ is very beguiling, even bewitching, and yet the emotions which arise after consuming too much internet/social media is one of profound emptiness or loneliness. It’s an ironic state: together/alone; connected/isolated; intimate conversations/in public. Irony is the plague of contemporary life. We can’t express any emotion whithout couching it in our layers of awareness to make it clear to others that we know we are expressing emotion, don’t worry, reader, we are tightly in control here, there is no emotional bull in the china shop, our feelings are caged in the bars of the meta-meta-meta. Even when we are sincere, we are ironically sincere and therefore we are not sincere. Social media frequently drives me nuts, and yet because I live in a different city from the majority of my friends – I am glued to it, hungry to stay connected to my faraway friends and yet, honestly, the small lines of type which are my interactions with them often leave me feeling hollow. (Here is where I should insert # hashtag firstworldproblems to connote that I acknowledge my angst is minor on the scale of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and that I am potentially whining, but I won’t. Oh whoops, by mentioning that I should insert it there but saying I wouldn’t, I did. Oh fuck. Modern life is rubbish.) This internal state of connected has created a synthetic condition called ‘FOMO = Fear of missing out’. We no longer trust that our friends will contact us IRL = in real life with their happy news or their problems or their musings on the novels they are reading, so we glue ourselves to the internet to stay in our friend’s lives, whilst simultaneously removing ourselves from our own. Ironies heaped on ironies. Then there is schadenfreude, too, the scourge of social media, pleasure from the pain of others – and also the bystander effect of watching people suffer online and not commenting, not engaging,  just watching them flail in public like a landed fish. It’s sociopathic, and a completely normal part of our every day lives.

I don’t know what the answer is to these painful ironies of the ever-connected present of the internet, or if there is an answer or even if an answer is required. I do wish people would be more honest on the internet and less performative….but when does that honesty become a kind of performance? Am I performing now?  Or was I then in that now which just passed? The Buddhist concept of inhabiting ‘now’ encourages surrendering to the present as it is, without fantasies about the future or replaying the past. It’s extremely hard to do, but very healing if you can manage it. As our brains present a constant non-linear bricolage of memory, fanstasy, projection, visual images, random associations and neuroses, it is not easy to surrender to the present moment. It is work, it is effort, it is surrender of the most extreme – which is why most people avoid it. To fully inhabit the present moment as it is, is to let go of any sense of control we have over our lives. We don’t have control, not really. All we can do is ride the waves.

The Waves.

The other book which I am re-reading and obsessing over is ‘The Waves’ by Virigina Woolf. ‘The Waves’ is Woolf’s most stylistically daring book: ‘I am writing to a rhythm and not to a plot’ she said at the time of writing it. Much is made about it’s pure stream-of-consciousness style, which renders it unreadable to many people, however, I think what is far more notable and interesting about the book is Woolf’s experimentation with conveying time. The novel covers the whole lives of the characters but from their internal lives only, there is no external plot. When I read the book in my twenties, I was mainly in love with the beautiful, yes, poetic, writing and the taught, fearless wisdom in the book, but re-reading it recently, it’s the book’s portrayal of time which is really striking to me. She somehow channels the impressionistic and emotional and roaring and constant stream of perceived time and memory in a way which is profoundly moving.

I am also reading this guy. 

So, I’m trying to write poems which explore some of these ideas about time, not in terms of teasing the ideas out intellectually, didactically, but in terms of style. Like Virginia Woolf does in The Waves, like Shena McKay sometimes does (especially in Old Crow), like Ali Smith does in her genius short stories. High hopes, I know, but it’s good to have high hopes in the beginning, right?

I know my own perception of time has changed profoundly in the last few years to the extent that I thought I was going mad for a while, but then I went to a course about grief and learned that memory loss and changed perception of time are common effects of grief. It was a great relief to find out I was experiencing a normal, recorded symptom of a profound emotional state, and not going bonkers, although I still have some hard days where I feel like my grip on sanity is slippery. I have come to terms with the idea that I will never get to experience time in the same way again and this coming to terms is partly why I want to explore it in my writing.

I’m trying to connect all this stuff to environmental devastation and the ways that capitalism is a human-created cancer which is slowly killing us all. So yes, it will be a nice light read. (Sarcasm to deflect the true intensity of the passion I feel about this subject. Must not get too het up about anything. Keep it casual.)

Thank you if you read down to this far. Like I said last post, it’s the school holidays and the lack of thinking time is hard hard hard, but this is some of what I’ve been reading and thinking in between preparing food and playing with spud guns and trips to the park and so I thought I’d spew it onto here to try to grab a hold of it a little bit. Cheers. x





7 thoughts on “on the outskirts of every agony

  1. I had no idea memory loss and changed perceptions of time are effects of grief. I’m so glad you told me that, so that like you I can feel a little more assured that I’m not going crazy. Lots of food for thought in this post, I’ve actually been thinking a lot lately about how we share ourselves on the internet and how caught up we’ve all got in playing that even cries of/for authenticity and ‘realness’ are part of the game. It makes me sad (I got a little teary reading this) when I think of my connections with people I love being somewhat solely online based and that there is such a fear on my part of trying to break out of it in case it isn’t received well on the other end. On the other hand I’m all ‘I LOVE THE INTERNET’ because, I do. I’m so grateful for the connections I’ve made because of it and for the life I’m able to try and live because of it. There’s still and always will be I think, that pull between those two feels that I’m not sure we’ll get to shake.


  2. Great post! Love how you balanced the heavy thoughts with spud gun action. Brilliant. My column in the Martinborough Star next month mentions that grief has many strange unknown repercussions, one that doesn’t pertain to you of course but it’s interesting nonetheless. It can make people want to have an affair or overbond inappropriately with others or buy a mental sports car or run to the other side of the world etc. Not only just recent grief, but significant grief anniversaries. We are all such complicated little creatures really aren’t we! And my thoughts about social media and connections, its kind of like when “they” switched us from records to cds and we didn’t get much say!


  3. oh, how did i miss this post? it’s wonderful. i like it when you write about the creative process and your deep thoughts.
    the easy access via social media to schadenfreude, bystander effect and general hollow-feeling friendships is something i think about a lot, but haven’t been able to really articulate, until you did. thank you!
    looking forward to reading what you’ve been writing on capitalism/environmentalism.


  4. Hi Helen, I never tend to leave comments on people’s blogs or anywhere else really because I am a bonafide technophobe and terrified that I will say something stupid that will haunt me forever (probably quite outmoded logic but there you have it). But this is such a great post especially your discussion of FOMO and the strange new territory that social media has mapped out for our friendships. I really appreciate your honesty, it really is such a relief to read a blog that isn’t agenda driven. And like tiny happy says above, you have this great ability to illuminate a major issue simply by teasing it out and approaching it with clarity and honesty. I recently joined facebook again and I’m mildly scared of it. I don’t really understand how it works and I’m never entirely sure who can see what. I think if I was to be honest with myself, I really only joined because of FOMO. And on another note, I really appreciate how generous you are with sharing your writing process. I hope we get to meet up one day for a cuppa (in real life!) and a yarn about such things.


  5. Thanks, Therese – I appreciate you leaving a comment. I hate facebook, too and am definitely only on there because of FOMO – especially around writing news – so many opportunities and updates are only released on social media now, you can’t rely on websites anymore. Hey, best of luck with your book launch and all the stuff that happens around it! Thanks for stopping by the blog, x Helen


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