Saturday, January 29, 2011

"Till I come, give attendance to reading"

"This sentence, though, which comes after his warning to minimize the use of adverbs in your writing, may be my favorite: 'I'll concede this: The right adverb, fresh and adroitly placed, is one of life's finest small pleasures.'"

Writing, as has already been suggested, is becoming a rather important part of my life. Sometimes, it is easier than others.
I once had a friend who was convinced that he had, through "listening to the universe", discovered the meaning of life, and that it was the number 67. This, of course, greatly resembles certain plot lines in both Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide series, and the Jim Carrey's film The Number 23 (which I admit, I have never seen). I'm pretty certain that it has something to do with Oprah, as well. In any case, my friend let me in on his secret, insisting that now, having discovered the truth, he saw the number 67 everywhere. Furthermore, he discovered, through "listening to the universe" even more carefully, that the actual secret to life was not 67, but rather, simply the number 7. I suspect, by now, he has discovered, like the kings of the upanishads, that the real, real truth is actually 3, or better yet, 1.
Why, Gentle Reader, have I related this tale? Because, now that I have, for two weeks, explored in this space the subtle art of writing, my world seems full of writing references, articles on writing, articles about articles written about writing, and, of course, the painful process of writing itself, as I have a term paper due quite soon. Like my friend, having discovered writing about writing, I see it everywhere.
To the point where, frankly, I grow weary. Yes, writing is hard sometimes. Yes, undergraduates generally cannot write well. Yes, poetry is awesome. Enough.
So, in a effort to escape, I have found my thoughts turning, not to writing, but rather to reading. I have wanted, all week, to write that reading is the opposite of writing, the flip side, the white to writing's black. I am not sure this is the case, however. The two are either related in a more complicated way (I think this is true) or are too different to really be compared in this fashion (maybe. I am not quite convinced).
For the first time in a while, I find myself in the company of people who read. While I have always read, although I occasionally take breaks due to academia, I have not always had people to share my reading with. It is nice, for a change, to be able to do so. My recent return to both children's lit and poetry as reading material is in no small part due to this new development.
Is writing about reading to become the new writing about writing? I hope not, Gentle Reader. Although I suppose it depends on the whim of my Muse...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

"If tomorrow wasn't such a long time..."

Two posts about writing, a week apart. Which suggests that I am, in fact, not writing very much. True, I am reading far more than I am writing. But in reading, one sometimes finds inspiration:
"Stories, like people and butterflies and songbirds' eggs and human hearts and dreams, are also fragile things, made up of nothing stronger or more lasting than twenty-six letters and a handful of punctuation marks. Or they are words on the air, composed of sounds and ideas—abstract, invisible, gone once they have been spoken—and what could be more frail than that? But some stories, small simple ones about setting out on adventures or people doing wonders, tales of miracles and monsters, have outlasted all the people who told them, and some have outlasted the lands in which they were created."
- Neil Gaiman, from the introduction to Fragile Things.
Forgive me the substancial quote. But Gaiman here deserves quoting at length, because, like John Brownlee, whom I quoted last week, he touches upon some of the small truths of writing. Brownlee discussed the inadequacy of the writer to write, and in his own way, so does Gaiman. For the act of writing is to craft a fragile thing. Gaiman, however, offers the writer some hope at least, some small chance that the words crafted will somehow survive. Underlying this all, of course, is the question of why writers write? I realize that I cannot be described, per se, as a writer. I am, more accurately, someone who writes. I do not write professionally, although I have on occasion been paid to do so. And my chosen career as scholar, done well, should involve no small amount of writing.
I suppose the question then becomes: Why do I write? Is it because I have a Muse, and relentless task master that she is, I must write, or explode from the internal pressure of ideas and brilliance, spattering my desk with brains and formidable truths? I do, Gentle Reader, have a Muse, but I doubt I would explode from the force of unuttered, unwritten words. Is it because, in some way, I seek to leave some bit of myself, some small notion of who and what I am for the world to see? To leave some insignificant mark, a scuff, a scratch, on the shiny surface of the future? Is it because my ego demands that my voice, so much clearer than the rest, be heard, and heeded? Or is it simply that I take some pleasure in seeing words form, on screen, on paper, or in the minds of those who hear me speak? To imagine that these black marks might translate into an idea, a mental image, or, God forbid, a small truth?
It might very well be a bit of all these things. They all seem to have some merit, in their own way. In any case, I am relatively sure that my writing does no great harm, and since it does bring me some joy, I shall continue to lay these words, these twenty-six characters and sundry punctuation marks, side by side, fragile though they may be.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables"

"The MacBook Air might be the gadget that I’ve spent my whole life waiting for. It’s a device that with silent elegance addresses every demand — both spoken or unspoken, both realized and unrealized — that I could ever make upon a tool meant to allow me to pursue a lifelong passion… and it’s a beautiful thing indeed when a tool imbues its function and becomes one with it.
But in the MacBook Air’s perfection as a writer’s machine, it just as silently, just as elegantly robs me of the crutch of imperfect tools to explain my own mediocrity. The MacBook Air might be the perfect laptop for a writer, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m not nearly as suited to the task of writing as it is."

-John Brownlee, Unevenly Distributed

I am, of course, a fan of the Mac, as it would apear are some of those who visit this space from time to time (Hello, Denmark!). In some ways, they do have a "silent elegance" that "addresses every demand — both spoken or unspoken, both realized and unrealized".  And that, I suppose, is why they are seemingly quite popular.
But neither this post, nor the passage above, is really about Macs.
Allow me to repeat part of this quote, as I feel it will help highlight its capability to inspire awe: "The crutch of imperfect tools to explain my own mediocracy".
Writing, for me, like the author of the above passage, has often been a rather difficult task. This post alone, a brief enough one at that, has been two days in the making, and longer-form work can be down right painful.
Nevertheless, writing (and it's counterpart, reading) have almost always been important element in my own life. In particular, this last year, when I finally made some sustained effort to write in a voice and venue not strictly academic.  The written word has become, in both the production and the consumption, a source of great comfort, and great elation. Recall, perhaps, the transiency of writing in the snow, or the simple joy of storytelling. Indeed, when I contemplated adding a series of photos to this space, I decided against it, as it had been resurrected a a place to write.
Writing is not, however, as easy as it seems. 300 words in a blog post is not to severe a task. 5000 words on the normative masculinity of Catholic saints, perhaps, is a little more daunting. 65000 words for a dissertation, more daunting yet. Word count, of course, is not the all and end all of a writing task. Personally, the more I care about the piece, the more I think that the piece represents me, as a writer, the harder it is. Agonizing over simple word choice. Worrying that it is getting away from me, losing focus. These are the hardest pieces to write, even if they are only 300 words.
I do not often see my Mac as a crutch, disguising the mediocracy of my own ability as a writer. But I do understand where that writer of those words is coming from, and why, on somedays, he might feel that way.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Guard yourself at all times..."

From Letters of Note:

"Guard yourself at all times. A lot of people believe that beauty is some kind of conspiracy -- along with friendly laughter and peace." - Kurt Vonnegut

Monday, January 10, 2011

Come What May...

I was directed to this today. I rather like it. I don't read much Buber (any at all, really; never have). But I like it.
Taken from lambsamongwolves

The loving person is one who grasps non-relatively each thing they grasp. They do not think of inserting the experienced thing into relations to other things; at the moment of experience nothing else exists, nothing save this beloved thing, filling out the world and indistinguishably coinciding with it. Where you with agile fingers draw out the qualities common to all things and distribute them in ready-made categories, the loving person's dream-powerful and primally-awake heart beholds the non-common. This, the unique, is the bestowing shape, the self of the thing, that cannot be contained within the pure circle of world comprehensibility. What you extract and combine is always only the passivity of things. But their activity, their effective reality, reveals itself only to the loving person who knows them. And thus they know the world. 
In the features of the beloved, whose self they realize, they discern the enigmatic countenance of the universe. 

-Martin Buber

Now, the other night, I was attempting to convince my friend that his description of the self in love, which, in his words, locked away some small sense of apartness that defined that self against the other, some notion of reserve, did not constitute love as such, but merely some form of relationship. His reserve, as he stated it, came from a place of protection, that is, he would have something of himself left, if the other decided to up and leave him. When I suggested this was incorrect, he argued, perhaps rightly, that the self cannot be completely lost in an other, and that the two need necessarily remain distinct on some level. My point, however, is that perhaps one needs to make the effort to totally give one's self to the other in love (Buber's beloved), and make no attempt to reserve any piece of the self, and certainly not out of some attempt to protect one's self from future harm. 
For me, this self-protective withholding is the antithesis of Buber's grasping: "The loving person is one who grasps non-relatively each thing they grasp. They do not think of inserting the experienced thing into relations to other things; at the moment of experience nothing else exists, nothing save this beloved thing, filling out the world and indistinguishably coinciding with it." My view, as it stands for the moment, anyway, suggests a non-relativity, in that the total giving of the self, without concern for potential consequence or future danger, does not seek to place the "experienced thing", the beloved, in context.  It does not seek to place the beloved in the context of future danger to the self.  My friend's system, on the other hand, seeking to protect, knowing that the self needs to be protected, implies context, relationality with the larger universe, contrary to what Buber is trying to suggest.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

"But I Know a Change is Gonna Come..."

My friend, who has a certain way with words, told me today that I would be well to establish a routine, for,  then, I would be like a dog, who, according to him, do well with routines.
I suppose they do. Flynn, my mother's dog, seems to like his routine just fine.
The only routine I seem to have been able to set up so far is to sleep in.  I have, of course, just come off of two weeks vacation, in my ancestral home.  There, I seem to be unable to establish any sort of routine at all, despite the constant good example set by the aforementioned dog.  In reality, I don't really need a routine while I'm there, as my usual goal is simply to relax as hard as I can, which lends itself quite well to routinelessness.
Back now, to the metropolis, however, and already neck deep in a semester I seemed to have forgotten about over the Christmas break, I desperately need to establish something that looks like a routine, if only to fool myself.
For I have, Gentle Reader, returned to that wonderful state of Graduate School wherein one works entirely on ones own, with little to no supervision and deadlines that are at best several months off, and worse yet, are quite soft.  I traditionally do not deal well with these soft sort of deadline, as my Master's thesis proved.
Nevertheless, I feel that I learned something from that endeavour, and am positively brimming with enthusiasm for this new phase of my studies.
Still, if my routine consisted of more than sleeping in, that would be a good start.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

"The slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets"

"When we learn to tolerate boredom, we find out who we really are." - Naomi Alderman

I have made an effort, this holiday season, after a long semester, to relax. But, in a an active way. Not simply to do nothing, but to do nothing.  Relax. Admittedly, some of my relaxing involves doing things that enjoy, such as walking in the woods, cooking, or, a newly discovered past-time, sewing. But I have also be exploring, recently in general, not simply this holiday season, I have tried not to be afraid of boredom. To be bored, to truly do nothing and think nothing, engage in nothing, is not nearly so bad as many seem to think. I suppose, these sorts of ruminations depend, as does so much these days, on what one's definition of boredom actually is. Let's maybe, for the sake of argument, go with "Boredom is an emotional state experienced during periods lacking activity or when individuals are uninterested in the opportunities surrounding them.", which I found on wikipedia. I like it. Inactivity. Uninterested in the opportunities surrounding them. This latter, I try to avoid, actually. I don't really see any reason not to be interested in ones surroundings, in the opportunities around one.
One one of the aforementioned walks, my mother and grandmother both commented on how my friends might not find my vacation to be very exciting. This was a concern of my mother's as well, this summer, as I spend the bulk of the vacation relaxing.  She worried about excitement. I suppose I understand where they are coming from, but in all honesty, I am quite content to relax, to walk in the woods, to enjoy the quiet moment my life here in the country offers me.
There is plenty of time for excitement. Now is the time to relax. Like it was a thing.


"Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and days of auld lang syne?"

-Robert Burns

I have spent the last month telling my friends and acquaintances that I would not miss 2010. The year started poorly, to say the least, and that coloured, in one way or another, every moment.
I believed, firmly, that this was true: I would not miss 2010.
But, as I sit, and write, Gentle Reader, on this, the first day of the new year, I am not so sure. Yes, there were events in my life this past year that bordered on the unbearable. And yes, that fact touched every other aspect of my life.
But there were good times.  Moments of sublime beauty, moments of shared happiness, moments of profound joy, and moments of realization, of enlightenment. There were moments that I would not give up, not for anything, not under the threat of pain a thousand times worse than I have ever known.
There have been moments, Gentle Reader, in 2010, that I shall remember fondly for the rest of my natural life.
Will I miss it? Perhaps not. But I wouldn't do it over again, differently. Still, I am glad to see you, 2011.
Happy New Year.