a sudden break

I feel like Easter crept up this year, partly because it is actually earlier this year and also because of the drought/summer that never ends. Although it is starting to cool off a little, I’ve only worn shoes and socks twice this year – most unusual! The hot days just keep coming. But here we are, suddenly it’s Easter and we have five days off our usual routines. We are staying home and I intend to potter in the garden, read books, watch some of Mad Men, season 5, and write.

bunting_easter

My writing has taken off over the last couple of weeks, which is a relief because I was feeling a bit barren and uninspired after the summer hols and obviously needed a good few weeks of thinking time before anything was ready to come out. Writing when there is no ‘flow’ is like trying to get lemon juice out of one of those hopeless lemons which is all dry and fibrous. I write and everything which comes out is either a) a rewrite of stuff I’ve written before b) self-pitying bullshit c) banal repetitious junk.

I don’t know if I ever mentioned it here but towards the end of last year I applied for and was accepted for the 2013 Massey University Visiting Artist programme. When you have kids, it’s pretty near impossible to uplift your whole family to move out of town for residencies, but this one is in my hometown so it works. (I am still hoping I can work out a way to do an out of town residency – homeschool the kids? But how much writing would I get done if I were in Wellington or Dunedin or Auckland homeschooling my children? Answer: not much.) I have the winter residency which starts late April and goes through until late July. The residency comes with a city apartment, which obviously I won’t move in to, but I am going to use it to write in during the day when the children are at school. I can’t wait! I can write at home just fine, but do get distracted by housework, gardening, the internet, visitors calling in….the internet, the internet, the internet. The apartment has no internet connection. Hoorah!

I had to write a proposal of what I would be working on as part of the residency application and (in short) I proposed ‘a creative response to environmental decline’. It is interesting writing down your intentions for writing, because to be honest, who really knows what will happen once you begin? Already what I imagined last November when I wrote the application is changing, but in a good way…my ideas are gathering steam and substance.

I get inspired by odd things – visual art a lot – I’m a very visual-oriented person, snippets of language I note down from disparate sources, texts seemingly unrelated directly to issues of ecology but which have a tangential, emotional link for me….gah, it’s hard to describe. But this beginning phase is very much a ‘collection’ phase. I’m reading a lot and collecting random stuff which is feeding into the writing.

Anyway, I thought I would use the blog as a place to record my experiences of the residency, just as my dear, clever friend Sarah did with her wonderful comics when she was the Frank Sargeson Fellow a couple of years back. I’m not as witty as Sarah and I can’t draw comics, but anyway, it’s as much for me as for you so forgive the indulgence of it.

My first ‘duty’ as a visiting artist is to give two talks, one in Palmerston North and one in Wellington – these happen before the residency even begins, in April. (More details about these to follow.) I get very nervous about reading/talking – despite years of teaching. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but it’s always been something I’ve had to overcome some terrified, self-conscious part of myself to achieve.

Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Waves’ is one of the books which is really firing me up. When she started writing it she wrote in her diary: ‘I am writing to a rhythm, not to a plot’ and she was terrified at the beginning of ‘The Waves’, she had a notion of what she wished to achieve but no clear sense of how to go about it. Without wishing to suggest I am in any way similar to the literary giant of VW, that’s how I feel about what I’m doing now. At the moment it is a ‘sense’ rather than a clear plan – every day I try to find the courage to keep working through the vagueness and inscrutability to certainty and clarity, although I suspect the latter two will only come after the project is finished.

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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