I am a feeling a little inert, probably because there are a number of things to wrap up this month. I have my first Contextual Studies-type lecture to give to BA students in January, the Writing for Practice Forum to fully take responsibility for, a contribution to propose for the next issue of Phenomenology and Practice, and an exhibition to plan with the 2020-21 Exposed Arts research group. These four tasks require different parts of my brain to be active, so they kind of make me feel a bit torn apart. At the same time, all these things would be wonderful to have achieved. So, maybe I should just tackle them one by one… I’m using Milanote to make things more manageable:
I think I’ve had enough of frame switching research as the focus of my activities. Maybe even research altogether.
I am thinking of spending the Christmas holidays (quarantined as we are here in Tier 4) as a writer’s retreat. Even with all these little side projects, I am going to make Anomaline my main focus this month, and maybe going into next year – we’ll see.
One thing I tried out this month was 750words.com, which has been bookmarked on my browser for months. As it’s been a long time since I dedicated myself to my novel, which I started almost six years ago and which has been repeatedly interrupted (and naturally, a lot of changes happen in six years, especially between the ages of 21-27), my relationship to the text is complicated. I decided to use 750 words as a way of getting back into it, which is a site for private free writing; that is, just dumping thoughts without thinking about quality, for 750 words a day. I’ve only done it for a couple of days so far, but it helped me get some things out of my system. It didn’t really matter, I think, what I wrote about (although I did mostly write about writing the novel), it just served to get me over being too precious about writing. Just physically tapping the keys for some 25 minutes seemed to dispel certain apprehensions I feel before deciding to commit to writing. I did then work on my novel, and actually had a very interesting time doing that. Now I feel like doing it more, maybe even obsessing a bit over it and putting all the other tasks I set myself second. Because of the nature of 750 words (quantity over quality), most of what I write in those sessions is not worth sharing here, but here were some ideas I had about Anomaline that did stick with me, starting with thinking about what scared me about it…
Scary thing #1: I started writing this novel in 2015. It frightens me to realise that it’s already five to six years old. That means that I was about twenty one when I started writing it – now I am twenty six-going-on-seven. It seems like an important chunk of my life and development as a person occurred in the space of those years. I guess this means several things. For one, I changed as a writer throughout that period; my style and intentions vary wildly across its chapters as well as its lifespan. To some extent I now feel like I’ve hijacked the novel of some other twenty one year-old, and almost feel guilty that I’ve altered its style and purpose so much from what she intended. Another part of me responds: well, there’s nothing to be done about that. She’s gone forever and we’ve only got you now, so the least you can do is at least finish it for her.
One idea I just had is that I could actually incorporate this fact into the novel. I am not exactly sure how, but maybe the changes in the writer, spanning years, is part of the story, is not hidden from readers. Maybe the register need not be smoothened over in an illusory attempt to make the novel seem as though it was written in an effortless stroke, from start to finish.
That latter idea is interesting, because usually I think of the inconsistency of my own voice in this text as a serious problem. Maybe I could simply stop thinking of it as a problem and incorporate into its fabric the poignancy of some of my own ageing; I literally aged with my protagonist… it could be communicated through the letters. She could say it to me, reflect the fact of my ageing back at me, i.e: it was not her who aged in the forest, but me.
Scary thing #2: The size of the novel. It’s what… some 80 000 words? Sounds like a good thing, prolific. But in the end I don’t know how much of that is actually usable. Another, more important, fact is that I am now experiencing what it’s like to not be able to contain your entire work in your head, as it’s too big. This must be true of all novel writers, that you can only ‘have’ your own work piecemeal. You can only work on the concrete practicalities of it in myopic bits. My feeling so far is that I just need to get over that. Accept it.
At a later date in the month, I thought about the chapter I am working on now (When a Person Becomes Whole):
Right now the protagonist is feeling afraid, because for the first time she has something to lose. She has landed into herself, the world is becoming coloured and visceral. She is massy and her thoughts have a greater opacity than before; she is less airy and transcendent and now more earthy and invested. She becomes attractive to the more airy things of the world, who yearn to invest her with their spirits; a similar yearning she once had. A deeper sadness will enter her purview, that of mortality. The plants will begin to wither for the first time. The dog will be buried. The hologram cannot work in the house because he is a kind of timekeeping instrument (the house is chronomentrophobic). But as the world comes into its own, perhaps he too starts ticking. The house begins keeping time. My protagonist and I share the experience of ageing. We begin to sense the ending. We talk about it. But the AI in the basement interrupts the neat closure of things. My protagonist frees herself from me. That’s all I ever wanted though.
The protagonist has something to lose now, all at once her body becomes dear. Her encapsulation is fused with her being, there is no separation. Maybe. Does she learn this care from the AI first? The next thing might be to visit the basement. To start from lethargy and implant subtle strokes towards care.
Then again, it’s true that a text is not necessarily composed ‘top-down’; i.e., it is not necessarily so that plot, or structure, comes first, with its logic, to then impose a framework for the ‘meat’ of the text. I think sometimes I work best organically, myopically, tracing a meandering route through miniature happenstances until it dawns on me, as it does my protagonist, that something larger is taking place. Maybe that is a more exciting way to write – from a place of discovery rather than execution.
And at an even later date:
I am entering the phase of the novel where A and the AI are going to meet. It’s an important section for me. And I suppose it requires of me just to be there – I am not sure I can really prepare for it. In general, this isn’t a story I can have dominion over. The whole point is for me to be the medium, the conduit. You know, every single attempt to have a top-down view of the novel has utterly failed – every attempt to categorise, plan, structure, timeline. Either I feel such activities take me away from the novel, or I just go blank – I can’t see anything anymore. I’ve got to admit that I have no idea what the protagonist will do – I need to go there, observe, to find out. I can’t take shortcuts, or speed up time, or predict. I have to take every step she herself has to take, word by word, to discover what she is going to do and why. It simply has to be a myopic process, just like living one’s own life is. Isn’t it interesting that none of us know, really, what we are going to do until we are in the situation itself? Or, isn’t it interesting how we can surprise ourselves with our own reactions to things. It’s what M calls ‘you have to wait and see’, his definition of agency. It’s a pretty good one, and it characterises much of my relationship with my character.
The Trickiness of Balancing Creativity and Professionalism
Not a month goes by when I am not thinking about this one… another excerpt from my 750-word blabbings:
I am not deluded by the belief that I am somehow outside of capitalism, that I don’t serve the same mindless order as everyone else dependent upon it. That’s the confusing part, there are times where one feels one cannot completely be a child. Self-promotion as an artist, for one, and then just the earning of money, for another. The latter can be somewhat fixed by teaching art, which has wiggle room for a deviance of its own, a deviant teaching. But the first is trickier – this decoupling of the professional self-promotion side of practice, and the playful side of art making. I’ve had this conundrum for years. My thought now is that, at the very least, I wish that my art making time is not considered a job, or obligation. It should (for me) be considered a source of entertainment, and of course some deeper fulfilment; simply, it should be my top choice for spending time. I would be doing it for me. I would do it on Christmas, or any holiday, because it’s fun. It’s what I would do as a kid, to get away from obligations like homework etc.
But I wonder if the self-promotion side can also be playful. That’s much harder to bend my mind towards – there’s a greater desperation behind the motives for professional success, I feel, that makes it difficult to be playful about it. Difficult, but not impossible I suspect. I guess there’s a certain shame in failing at that game; or, more substantially, a fear of the loneliness of never sharing this work with others. If I am honest with myself, I’ve already ‘shared the work with others’ a lot, I think. In ways I probably cannot account for, this work must have influenced others in small ways, directly or indirectly. So, maybe it’s wrong to think that, if I don’t reach critical acclaim, I won’t have ‘touched’ anyone with the work. Maybe it would do me good to take the professional side of things less seriously. Or less agonisingly, is what I mean; it’s not inherently bad to be serious about something. Or, it’s not necessarily opposed to fun; being serious about something. Fun and serious? Maybe that’s the combination of sentiments that dominate a committed artist’s life.