Access the Process

A sometimes half-arsed record of the process of writing in its' variegated many forms.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Prologue to Action:

His mouth hung open. He wanted her!
right then, he wanted her!
And she was not unwilling.

they fell to, on the ground
You've seen a baker rolling dough.
He kneads it gently at first,
then more roughly

He pounds it on the board.
It softly groans under his palms.
Now he spreads it out
and rolls it flat.

then he bunches it,
and rolls it all the way out again,
Thin. Now he adds water,
And mixes it well.

Now salt,
And a little more salt.

Now he shapes it delicately
to its final shape
and slides it into the oven,
which is already hot.

You remember breadmaking!
this is how your desire
tangles with a desired one.

And it's not just a metaphor
For a man and a woman making love.

Warriors in battle do this too.
A great mutual embrace is always happening
between the eternal and what dies,
between essence and accident.
-Rumi, Mathnawi

I missed her skin. Then. I wanted the molecules of her dermis to remain behind. The quiet residue of her existence that would mix with mine intermittently in the dustclouds of our small apartment. I missed that. When she left. I missed the thin hint of tine in her voice. The way that voice could cut through a crowded bar full of drunkenness like a razor. The way that thin hint of tin went all nassally when she'd call my name. At first.

Every thing changes. And everything we think and hope beyond all clear thoughts and true hope will stay still for ever in the magic of some moment or clarity or beauty or razor-like intenseness of reality, it will change regardless. Stillness is ephemeral. change is all that ther is. Everything else is pure illusion. Just a conjurer's slight of hand, making us feel secure in our own selves, in our own time. Yet still that security slips through the fingers like the grains of sand through an hourglass. Trickling slowly through the tightest grip. The tighter the grip the faster it slips. I'd say. The trick becomes more clear as more sand passes through the hourglass. There was never any self. There was only the motion of time.

When she left, I found myself surpringly feelingless. There was just a quietness and an emptiness. No tears or high emotion. Just a small apartment that suddenly and irreparably felt big. I guess that's why she left. I guess I know that's why.

I've always been curiously fascinated by the idea of interior lives. Whenever I read history or meet people, I'm always wondering what's going on inside. What in the world is their inner world like? Is it in any way similar to mine? Sure we can line up our thoughts, sor of. We can speak them out loud; but feelings are different. Emotions are like colors. Except with colors there's a thing out there that we can all point to to agress on what's /the/ what. I mean, I can say I feel sad, but what does that really mean? And how do you know that what you feel when someone dies or someone leaves is in any way similar to what it is I feel?

You don't. Not really. Sure we can talk it out. We can describe the minutia of the feelings. The nuances of that psycho-psyio response. If so inclined. If so inclined, we can delve into the literature and language of neuro or cognitive science and find the neural or psycho-neural correlates of the emotions, but what does that really tell us? It's just a color we can point to and say there, that's blue. You see it. I see it. None of thatmeans we see the same thing. It only means we're pointing at the same thing.

Which may be why I find subjectivity so curiously fascinating. And beyond that, this notion of the sociologists that our interior lives are, in a certain way, re-representations of our exterior, liminal, interactions. Intersubjectivity. And if you think about it, it certainly complicates things. For example, when you think to yourself thoughts about what you should or do feel, it can change the feeling. What was previously part of some undifferentiated, blog-like mass of feeling becomes sadness or meancholy or ebullience or sated happiness or what have you. And these thoughts form in the ways they do because of the previous conversations we've had or television programs we've watched. So, my unique color of emotion is the reslut of the way John Hughes used to write about life and love and high school.

I still find that hard to swallow sometimes. Regardless, still, I remain forever curious. I want to know what's going on inside of hter people's heads. What they think and feel in their most private moments. In the quiet times. When they/ we're all alone. Why they then decide to do the things they do. Make the choices they make. I mean, we see the choices in the actions or the words, but how they got there; what causes world historical decisions. Or delusions. It's gotta be the quiet, offstage moments. Those have to take primacy. And we can only know that through hearsay and logico-philosophical speculation.

Maybe I just lost my salt. Maybe that's what happened. that's what she said, in her way. That I wasn't there. That there was nothing going on inside anymore. That I waslost to the world outside, and was losing my interior world as a direct result. That was basically what she said. And there was truth there. She wasn't wrong. Witness, my reaction to her deparutre. Nothing. Nada, zip, zilch, zero.

that's not to say that my interior life was evaporation, evaporating. Well, in a sense it was, but it was for good cause. I'd become obsessively focused on the interior lives of my characters. I'd become so immersed in their lives that my ownlife had slowly then rapidly become inconsequential. And that was what became, had become of, my interior life. The immersion in their lives was my life. Became my life. And so I guess it's not wrong or unfair to say that I'd lost my interior life. Just not really the truth. I hadn't lost it. I'd just subsumed it in the lives of the others, in the other. In the lives of the characters. Hell, they were more important than I could ever hope to be.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

When I'm having trouble writing

Lately, I've been expending generous helpings of time on long winded blog posts as a means towards one part of an effort to gather up some ideas on the idea of the mythic, among other things. Econ has gotten some time as well as behavioral econ, political economy, pol-econ history just now (Amity Schlaes' The forgotten Man, which is this seductive siren song of American prosperity. Yakuza!), and just in general books and ideas related to the questions of superstructural economic organization, which really can't be sensibly extricated from the superstructural problems of national political organization. I'm just saying. Can't be done. Not meaningfully. When the fields are split (and this applies more widely to all methodological narrowing known generally as disciplination and specialization), the assumptive choices that could've been answered through a wider scope of knowledge and methodology then become more problematic because, well, quite frankly, you could and probably will guess wrong.

Just quickly on economics cause it's in my head right at this moment. They do guess wrong. I've been looking at some basic economic formulas, and the pscyho-socio-political information that is ignored or assumed to be X is so far quite generally missing the mark. The formulas are not wrong, they are just at best one small equative estimation of human existence and interaction. I won't say more as I've only taken brief and small glimpses at the math in the field.

So, I've been doing a lot of studying and organizing ideas and some small, wandering blog writings. And I have done some editing of the novel(50 or so pages [of which probably 65% of the original drafts 50 pges were totally rewritten {i.e. cut and then started from scratch} and the other 35% has been partially rewritten and now feels like needs to be just cut and started from scratch]). And I have done substantial reconceptualization of the plot and characters of the first novel and some of the conceptual and structural work of the second novel. It's just that the structure of the second novel becomes exponentially more complicated than the first (and it's quite possible that if I do really get this stuff to at least fit, that this process will repeat again at the next iteration beginning the next novel and it will be that novel to the second power or the first novel to the third power or something).

So, I've been in a bit of a rut what with not being able to make real progress, because it's now time to, while continuing the structuro-conceptual work, it's time to sit down and write. And I just can't get it right right now. Everytime I sit down, and I have to write some of the material in notebooks and some on the computer so..., I just feel flat. I don't feel like I've got the mojo to start off a novel and get the motor running for a year of in-between all the other obstacles of my life I'm gonna write an, at least, acceptable first draft. A first draft that I can say: "well, this is dog shit, but I think we might be able to use it as fertilizer in the garden of the second draft."

That's what I want. That and a way we can organize society so that everyone can be satisfied with a good chunk of their lives. Really all of their lives. If everybody could be happy with every moment of their lives, that would be...a different world than where we come from.

Anyway, all this is just to say that I'm scattered right now, and I'm trying to organize the pieces in a way that makes sense both for the moment and for the future. And that's really hard to do sometimes. Really hard.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Trying to think things through on a Subway Platform Pt. II (for real)

Now that it's been almost two weeks since the subway platform incident, I'm going to try and generally recreate some sort of vague impression of the gist of what it was I was then thinking. Since that time, the work on the trilogic myth project (which I've just now decided maybe call it for the moment) has expanded exponentially. The world in which this story takes place is really starting to open up and build momentum in ways that it hadn't since the idea first started to take shape last summer. I think that's one of the difficulties in working in the longer form of a trilogy of novels vs. one novel or one screenplay, play, or short story. Even an individual novel is, as Murakami says, a marathon, but a trilogy all planned and executed together as one tightly interwoven structure is like an ultra-marathon (which is an actual thing and involves running 100 miles in one day [Murakami documents his own running of a UM in his semi-memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running]). And that day, going to see The Hurt Locker, was the day that the second phase or plateau of the project was reached, and this whole new vista opened up and allowed me to really begin the structural and conceptual plot and character work that was necessary to both really dig into a rewrite of the first novel and also lay the groundwork for beginning to write the first draft of the second novel, which will hopefully get underway this week. (There is a somewhat massive conceptuo-structural puzzle piece that has to be fully and deeply outlined before actual writing can begin on the second novel.)

So, once the film, The Hurt locker, wound up and the credits started rolling (leaving me a little shell shocked in intensity), I made my way out into the afternoon heat and high overhead sun. Going from the dark cold of a movie theater to the almost diametric opposite of a normal summer day is always a little jarring, but the nature of this film, this no bullshit verite of war, made the experience just that much more of a shock to the system. Apparently, that was just what I needed because although I went down the escalators and out and across to the common on autopilot, not really thinking about anything, within minutes of having started the walk to the Park St. T stop, I was instantly accosted by the inspiration of what was essentially a completely new ending for the work.

I've been struggling a little bit with how to approach the idea of talking about the work. I want to kind of stick to just a meta-discussion of the process, but it's also really tough, as talking about the process without talking about the content is like trying to wrestle a greased pig; Every time you get a grip on what you're trying to get across, the idea goes squirting out of your hands as you contort yrself around the actual specifics of the story. And, I think, the story works as a sort of mystery, and that it might ruin the effect just a bit to reveal all the details in advance.

Not that that's such a huge deal currently, as the possibility of even trying to get this thing published is light years away (at least probably two or three), and nobody reads this blog anyway. Still, I would hate to have to retrospectively have to scrub this site of spoilers for some future contract obligation or give away all the intrigue to some potential reader who happened to stumble over here by googling subway platform anxiety or something. Well, whatever. So, that kind of makes this conversation more stilted than I would like, but let's just say that there as I was walking through mid-afternoon crowds of tourists, students, business people, homeless people, all kinds of people this rush of inspiration came on that opened up the aforementioned new vistas, and I could see this whole amazing world and was then trying to maintain the level of concentration necessary to follow the thread of the story through this world as I made my way to the subway.

The first thought I had was that I can't get on the T right now. I need to just wander the city, preferably some part where the streets are deserted, but, of course, there's almost nowhere in the area around the Boston Common that would be quiet and empty of people on a Thursday afternoon; So I decided to just push on through and hope to at least hold onto the thread until I could get home and have the peace and quiet really necessary to the kinds of hyper-concentration that it takes for that kind of work, for me at least. Somehow I not only managed to keep the thread but really followed it to a somewhat satisfyingly robust conclusion, in terms of fully understanding the implications of this new shift which was itself a complete reimagining of how the trilogy would end. The old, vaguely outlined ending was essentially scrapped, and a whole new and way cooler ending were, for the most part, outlined right there on the T as it shimmied it's way down to Dorchester, and all I had to do when I got home was just write out in as detailed a manor as I could muster this newly outlined shift. Which was not just in plot but also in theme and sort of also in structure. And these shifts, as I said, have really reinvigorated the process and brought me back into that state of excited anxiousness to keep going that is a necessary component of staying with the grueling training and execution that is an ultra-marathon writing project.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

part II (sort of)

So, this isn't really part two, in that I am not going to being relating the thoughts and experience I had after seeing the Hurtlocker. But I did want to talk about some few ideas I had while I was riding the T over to Cambridge to meet my mum and see Aurelia's Oratorio (unfrickin' believable). My subway book is a slender volume by Roland Barthes called Mythologies. It's a collection of essays about aspects of what Barthes seems to feel are the modern day myths, which are the banalities of modern lifestyle lies (kind of a thing).

I had this idea that this is true. That mythology has been reduced to empty signifiers, and that the secularity of society has drained the mundane of the potential for the type of insight that can flash from the spiritual experience. And the repetitiveness and universalness of mythic structures (the origin of genre?) are this way to inspire a reminder in the imbiber of said myth that they are on the hero's journey already in their own life.

There's this connection between individuality, spirituality, and both the loss of individuality and the insistence on the primacy of the individual that comes out of techno-modernity. And I really had that hook while I was riding the train, but I didn't have anything to write with. Now I'm trying to recreate the sequence of thoughts, and I'm struggling a bit.

Yeah, I'm having trouble reconstructing. Let me just quote a passage of James Altas's Bellow, in which he pontificates on SB and then quotes him at length:

But there was nothing abstract about Bellow's theme: The cataclysmic events of the century- the two world wars, the Holocaust, the rise of mass society- had made art superfluous. The modern world had conspired to drown out the novelist's- his- distinctive voice: (now quoting from Bellow's letters)

The enormous increases in population seem to have dwarfed the individual. So have modern physics and astronomy. But we may be somewhere between a false greatness and a false insignificance. At least we can stop misrepresenting ourselves to ourselves and realize that the only thing we can be in this world is human. We are temporarily miracle-sodden and feeling faint.

Now I do feel that Atlas is a little rough with his subject, but regardless, the idea here that our individuality is getting lost. Individuality that is quite possibly the experience of a fully conscious self (which I consider to be the spiritual experience, but we can quibble over terminology if it's totally necessary), and this experience is attenuated and frustrated by the modern secular economic society; a society that places its highest values on materiality, which the ethnographic record tells us is the antithesis of the valuations of the saints and mystics of the world.

William James is right when he says that the saintly disposition of early christian saints to remove themselves from the world is not bad but not particularly helpful either. The problem of staying a saint while surrounded by the sins of material secularity pose a greater challenge than the pure asceticality of a monastic cell. And those saints are needed to help steer this spaceship Earth away from the abyss of foolish, infantile destruction that we are currently flying right for, at no less than full throttle.

So, what we need are saints who can live in and effect change in the way we all live in this wild, wild life we call the global society of planet Earth. We need exemplars of the saintly life who can teach how to live within the insanity of modernity and maybe help deflect the collective consciousness in a direction that's a little more sane and really rational. And saints are inspired by the symbols that deeply unlock that spirit of self, the great myths, and when those myths (those symbols of authentic artistry) really tap the universal human archetypes, they can inspire the human creature to unseen heights of generosity, compassion, and love. A level of furor only otherwise met through greed, aggressiveness, and rational self-interest.

One of the things that might be useful, that might be valuable in this direction, would be to try to bring to the mundane this spiritual perspective, and by staying present in the banal moments of life, it might be possible to bring to life the majesty of the mundane in words or images or somehow. Okay, yeah, so that was basically the idea I had on the T today. That quote kind of knocked it loose. And trying to concentrate and follow those ideas on a train full of people was no small task, I can tell you.

Friday, July 17, 2009

trying to think things through on a subway platform (pt. 1)

So, I was sort of taking S. Bellow's advice last Thursday. In James Altas's biography he quotes a letter of Bellow's where Saul writes that in order to overcome writer's block he says he goes to the movies every day for a week. Which I really love. Course, I don't have the time or the inclination (in terms of available movies) to go to the movies every day for a week, but I figured it would be good to get out of the house and my own head and try and get over a sort of obstacle that I've found in the way.

That obstacle being, of course, trying to edit a piece of work that's overly sentimental, and, as it turns out, is substantially too 'small world', uninteresting in it's current form. I don't say that just to be self-deprecating. When I wrote the first draft, as a first full draft of a novel ever completed by me, I suffered from a usual symptom of first novelitis in that I kept the world of the novel too small. Now, the fact that there is too be a series of three novels (and potentially more, as there are concurrent storylines for both the male and female protagonist, but we stay with the male as narrator, etc.) makes the need for a larger world just that much exponentially bigger. It does seem that you need to expand exponentially in order to fulfill the requirements of a longer work.

So, I've been doing little bits of actual editing. Both going through the work on the computer and doing a full dress edit, as well as working through a printout copy and doing a sort of minor tweak edit. And, as well, I've been doing substantial conceptual, world creation, work in terms of making the characters more interesting, breathing more life and detail into their half-empty forms, and expanding and coloring in their world.

But I'd been sorta' stuck a little bit recently. I was having trouble fully gearing up and getting into the fight because I was realizing just how much was going to have to be rewritten (most of the material [very little of the original 1st draft is going to be alive past draft two or beyond). It's a daunting task, especially as I'm also trying to gear up to start the 1st draft of the second novel and can't wait much longer.

So, as I said, I decided to take Bellow's advice and go to the movies. The two choices that I somewhat fumbled between were Woody Allen's Whatever Works and Kathyrn Bigelow's The Hurtlocker. Ultimately, the fact that the hurtlocker was playing at the cinema right in the area where I've set some of the novel (the place where the protagonist works is a fictional bookstore close to the Loews Boston Common) decided for me. And what a decision.

Clearly, the intensity of this movie had something to do with the explosion of ideation that occured after. Although, as I was walking from the Park St. T I did have a few interesting ideas about personality and how the main character's personality is dis-integrating (as in breaking apart and not entirely of his own control) for various reasons and also the idea that it would be both fun and unusual to try to warp yr own personality to make yrself the antagonist. In something. It being that a little dash of anti-hero might be useful for the complexity of our protagonist, Thomas. And that that anti-hero element comes out as a result of this dis-integrating personality.

So, I was having a few thoughts as I went into the plush theaters three stories up at the Loews by the Boston Common. And then The Hurtlocker got underway. Holy effin' shiite. That movie is an intensity of tautness and tight wrapped, adrenaline filled life of a solder grit and realness that hasn't been seen very often committed to film. The movie doesn't preach or moralize about the characters or who's right or whether the war's right, it stays with the individuals and examines what it means for these three people (mostly) to be experiencing this war now.

And partly the experience is traumatic for the audience because the realness of the violence is so close and not outlandishly cartoonish. So, there's this distance that you might naturally feel to your own emotions as numbness is a common response to trauma, so there was this numbness for me, but a numbness that was hiding that deeper well of (potentially) hysterical emotions of trauma. Which started to come out as the movie went along, and I became more invested with the characters. By the end, I was feeling it all deeply, all scrunched around in my big, comfy movie sofa chair with my feet up on the back of the empty chair in front of me.

So, part two will be the ideas that organically sprang from the this experience as I made my way through the Boston streets and subways to my house. The power of the ideation that grew out of the experience was such that I was having trouble navigating public spaces but was afraid to let them fully out of my range of concentration lest I lose the jist. It was really tough.

And a side note: Is it true that no woman has ever won the best director Oscar? If so, I think we've got a viable candidate (as this is one of the best movies I've seen in years and certainly one of the best war movies ever committed to film). There's been a slight shift in the masculine nature of film direction, but let's push that even farther and break that barrior. Anyway...