recent reading, ongoing thinking

readinggirl

I haven’t been writing about my writing much lately because a) I’m not sure it’s that interesting to anyone but me and b) I try to save all my energy for the actual writing project but anyhoo…a small update…

This year for me feels like a year of withdrawal, processing and deep thought.  I decided to focus inward on the current writing project. It’s a bit scary because I am writing prose rather than poetry, so I’m kind of in unchartered territory for me. (I am also feeling sad that poetry has left me for while, but I have been doing this for long enough to know that it will return. Lately when I try to write a poem, I feel like I keep writing versions of poems I’ve written before. When you are boring yourself, chances are no one else is going to be that excited either!) I have no idea of the ‘market’ for this meandering, tangential stuff I’m writing but I try to flush out those kind of concerns and focus on getting on with it! Over the winter, I had the Massey Residency and that was a wonderfully immersive and productive few months. Things have been a bit more hotch-potch since then as freelance work and Life have to be negotiated, but I plod on!

I noticed a theme in my reading recently – lots of books with ‘Wild’ in the title! I am reading and writing about nature/bioregionalism/ecology/contemporary spirituality….so I guess ‘wildness’ is a thread through all of these things.

The Wild Places, by Robert McFarlane

Wild, by Jay Griffiths (This book remains my favourite book IN THE WORLD EVER.) 

Wild, by Cheryl Strayed

Wild Mind, by Natalie Goldberg

Coincidence? Or maybe it’s just that I would read anything with WILD in the title? Ha ha.

Robert McFarlane’s book led me to…

Waterlog, by Roger Deakin – a remarkable account of Deakin’s desire to swim in as many wild waterways as he could across the UK. (Roger Deakin was an incredible person who seemed to live almost in an alternate universe where he was part-tree himself. What an amazing man.)

In fact, this is the trajectory so much of contemporary nature writing takes – a person leaves the urban environment and takes off to the waterways or the wilds, the forests, the mountains and then experiences the edges of their pathetic humanity and learns a pile of stuff about themselves. It’s compelling stuff! Escape, edge-dwelling, deep nature….

tree_reaching

As inspiring and firing as these books are, though, I cannot write this kind of book. I am a mother of two children, tethered by family to a small suburban piece of land in a medium-sized, unsensational city. So my challenge is how to extrapolate a compelling narrative from my own situation.

To my rescue (to some extent) comes bioregionalism, Urban Resilience movements and Transition Towns giving me a steadfast political framework to staying put in the urban environment and making the best of it, or making it better more to the point.

I am on the hunt for any books which address the URBAN ‘wilds’, or ‘domestic’ nature narratives, so please do suggest some if you know of any.

One I read and thoroughly loved recently was ‘Feeding Orchids to The Slugs’, a book about a woman becoming a Zen Retreat cook.

I’d love to know if there are more New Zealand books in this vein. I read THIS ONE by Harvey McQueen recently, it was charming, but a little too restrained for my taste.

How do you write a compelling nature-based narrative when you live in suburbia and can’t stray very far? This question is at the heart of my project.

So far, I’m finding it’s all about ATTENTION, rather than literal travel. That the ‘wild’ is as much within as without. I cringe a bit writing that, but what the hell, it’s what I’m experiencing as true.

‘To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.’ -Mary Oliver

treeroots

I would gratefully receive any book suggestions around any of the above stuff. I feel like I need to devour another few hundred books to get to the bottom of my thinking around this stuff, and it all feeds the creative fire!

(If you got to the bottom of this, you are a trooper and I thank you over a million times for your attention.)

 

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on the outskirts of every agony

clock

 

“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