You Know, I’m Really Pretentious.

I think I’m okay with that, for the most part. I’m allowed to be pretentious, since I’m capable of recognizing pretension.

I’m capable of editing my own pretentiousness into submission, is the important thing. I can write in whatever the hell mood I want to, so long as I know how to look at it later, discover something of what I was trying to say, and fish it out from the murky depths of whatever else was in my head at the time of vomiting. Which may be pretension, and some of it may stay stuck to the revised product, and that’s still okay.

Reading makes me a much better editor than writing does, for certain. It is much, much easier to kill your darlings once you’ve seen for yourself a thousand times what other people’s spoiled darlings look like.

I think it took me a long time to knit this connection together: what I read is what other people write.

To be fair, it’s a multipartite conclusion. Other people write so many sorts of things, and so do I (though fewer sorts, by necessity). I read so many sorts of ways, in so many moods.

But editing, now. Editing is the overlap between writing and reading. Editing is trying to reverse-engineer the bones of the document, trying to pick apart its skin and knit it together again when it’s done poorly or in a way that bespells disaster for the writer or reader later on. Reading, and reading, and reading, eventually turns at least a little bit into editing. Or at least, it does when you’re reading unvarnished, un-big-published work like what’s on AO3. Which is the bulk of what I’ve been reading these days.

Writing, and writing, and writing, might eventually converge on the same mean. I do know that after reading Impro, I want to write a great deal more. For every twenty times I think it, I do it once. Or about that. It’s fun just to spit out words, and see what they say. I don’t make so little sense as all that. Eventually, I might make more; but it seems so much easier to write oneself to a standstill. It seems obvious, even mathematically so: there will always be more to read than to write.

Maybe the problem is misconstructed. Given a finite amount of time, could I spend it all writing? I think so. A larger collection of potentials on one side of the scale doesn’t necessarily translate to a larger collection of actual possibilities. I could write, and write, and write, and never stop, and eventually converge on something that I like (whether what’s changing is the writing or my liking, and most likely both would); and given the nearness of one human mind to another, and my relatively unanomalous nature, somebody would like to read it. It almost doesn’t matter. I could just write anyway, it’s cheap enough.

It’s amusing to think so.

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Ideas are Overrated

You know the greatest fear?

The greatest fear is thinking you once thought something that might have changed the world.
It’s too terrible a truth to face up to. We shy away from it. But you see, I have. I read the thoughts of people who looked to change it, who succeeded, if in nothing else, in leaving their mark. And I know I’ve thought what they thought.

This is the fear.

It is an opportunity that has passed me by. It is a wound that I might have healed. It is people, who have suffered or died or lost their faith without another to replace it, because I did not care to pursue or develop or share what I did.

It has happened to many times too count. It has been happening since I was a small child. Of course it has.

I am not exceptional. This must happen, if not to everyone, then to a great number of people.

And yet the world continues to run as if having thought of something first is worth something, as if it is possible to trace an idea through its million conceptions to some ultimate parent. I live in a world where the creator is cast automatically as the best defense for an idea; where the creator’s particular version, with all its baggage and peculiarities, is a privileged ‘canon’ which can be revered and reviled in its entirety, never reshaped. It is not a world where people behave as if they have thought of many things before. Or if it is, it is one where they can’t admit to it on pain of death.

If the world behaves as if the originator of an idea bears rights and responsibilities to it, one can choose to hold oneself to that standard. One can fear the overwhelming weight of the error they have made in not pursuing the potentially transformative idea they have re-encountered in someone else’s work. Or, one can see if perhaps the standard has erred in measuring what you expected it to measure. Most of the time, we don’t stop to ask what a standard is measuring in the first place. Once we do, the solution to a flawed or missapplied standard should be obvious.

In this case, there is another fear whose shoulder is pushed up against that door: the reluctance to acknowledge that the passing thought we see echoed was never our own; that notions of claim do not reach inside one’s mind to cast a protective shield around the contents of our mental closet. Our ideas are not unique, not necessarily and not even in practice. Therefore, they are not our own.

There, in a stroke we are free from the yoke of our own imagination.

And so the pattern goes: freedom is bought at the price of identity. Independence from the outside is achieved by turning you inside out, by blurring the boundaries between within and without. It’s quite simple: a few feats of magic, and the world is a different place without having risen from one’s chair, without having to exercise anything beyond one’s faculties of comprehension. And if the old notions of claim, ownership, and control were to apply, one could argue I’ve taken over your brain. But you see, all that’s happened is that you’ve understood.

And that’s all that we’re talking about, really.

Arctic Monkeys and How Catharsis is Overrated

So I was going to write about a book, and then I was going to write about my brother. Instead I’m going to write about Arctic Monkeys. Of these three, I consider myself least qualified to talk music; but who gives a shit what I think of what I think?

The thing I like about Arctic Monkeys is that they don’t consider the happy-sad scale to exist, or at least to apply to them. Their songs are heavy, minor-key-ish, complex in the sort of unobtrusive way that only makes itself known when you try to sing them. They’re syrupy, rolling viscous into your ears and over your tongue no matter how objectively upbeat the tempo.

Best of all, when I’m in a shitty mood, listening to them doesn’t goad that feeling into growing. I don’t feel like getting cynical about them, because there’s nothing much to get cynical about: the rhetoric is all armored, self-possessed, the instrumentals largely devoid of tremors and echoing silences. No self-conscious avoidance of repetition, but they aren’t lazy about their lyrics either. No complaints, no sarcasm, only fearless introspection and observation; only self-possession. They present a path to follow, in search for a target of art that isn’t concerned much with catharsis.

I had my original tentative topics shortlisted because I wanted to write about ritual and sacrifice, about trading the concretely valuable for something invisible. I was concerned with things that can’t be assigned value unless it’s after the fact, as a side effect. But in this phase, where I’m listening to these guys again, I suspect I’ve been concerning myself with that way of thinking overmuch. The way they do it feels more organic, and also less inherently terrifying.

Instead of modeling art as a prize on the other side of an impossible terror, looming from a direction it’s hard to even look in, art is what breathing is, what eating, walking, driving, making coffee, math are: something you do already, and could get good at if you wanted. It reintegrates with everything else that humans do with their days.

Siren

It calls to you from the empty space beyond railings. It’s there, waiting, between the cars, tangled with the motorbikes, in every gulf of city road and every chasm of dark highway whose surface sings at the stroke of approaching wheels like the strings of a double-bass. It weaves long, slow spells around the piling trash and unwashed sheets of the cubicle you live in, until it convolves the world into a point of fiction; until your bowels don’t have anything left to process and the clawing of your belly seems as much a dream as anything else.
Because you have to, inasmuch as you have to do anything, you walk on by.

This Past Year

Funny story – this New Year’s, I was alone in my room, sleeping off and on, browsing the web, reading New Year’s articles everywhere I saw a link to them, watching Guardians of the Galaxy on my laptop, and trying desperately to pretend by turns that I had no work or that I was working. New Year’s eve, more often than not, usually ends up looking like this to me. I enjoy all the stupid traditions and accompanying silliness that Christmas brings on for the secular celebrators among us, but the holiday-fatigue and the lack of a really structured way to deal with this holiday usually means that, whoever I’m with, we usually pass it the lazy way. Most of the time this means parked in front of whatever movie special is airing with my family; this time, well, I was in campus, and I had no plans to leave it to go be lazy somewhere else.

It’s been a funny sort of year, hasn’t it? Generally speaking, there isn’t much to look back on that doesn’t depress. The victories and fortunes, by comparison, seem so trivial. It feels as though we ought to go around in a state of eternal reaction to the calamities and injustices that seem to be all that the news has brought us for the past twelve months; the dissonance that comes when I realize that I’m not, is problematic in itself.

So much noise has been made about it all, you see. In the noisiest nation of all, we have protests and riots that bring entire towns to a standstill to recognize the simple fact that racism is alive and kicking in their country. A former Warsaw pact nation overthrew its Soviet-remnant government. Before the year was out, no fewer than three flights failed to reach their destination, all in terrifyingly dramatic fashion. A terrorist organization given lease of life in the Syrian conflict has managed to establish itself efficiently and pervasively as the conductor of the dance that is war and terror in the Middle East. Twice, large populations of schoolchildren died en masse: once through criminal neglect on the part of their caretakers, and once by the hand of those who valued their lives at the cost of a bullet and the fear of the world. I am now, in a stroke of fiat, a resident of a different state than the one I was born in. So much more happened; this is all that comes to mind right off the bat. We need little more to convince ourselves that we are living in the middle of history. By now the old Chinese curse is a cliché, so apt it’s tiresome: may you live in interesting times.

But for me, the year was about picking myself up, putting myself together, figuring myself out. It was about realizing that once you’ve made a decision, you have to follow through on it. It was about learning the art of making plans. The news, once endlessly fascinating to puzzle into a picture of the world on any given day, has this year become a dull background beat that only ever reaches the level of being ‘food for thought’. It’s like a long-running soap opera somebody else is watching, or a webcomic that you keep forgetting to check the updates for. The reason is that now, when I hear about dead children or dying countries, when I hear about Mars orbiters or comet landings, I can’t afford to think, I should do something about that. I have enough to do already, and no space left for feeling guilty about not participating. With the time I have, I find out what I can; then I tell myself, This is the world I live in. Then I continue on my way.

I am detached, a little myopic, about it all. But there are advantages. I don’t ever think I’ve had as definite an impression about a year as I have about 2014. It has felt disillusioned, angry, noisy. It has felt as though some collective patience has been exhausted, and there is no taboo too sacred to break anymore, no story too powerful to tear apart. It has been a year where news and editorials start looking like an Arundhati Roy book: well-sourced, cogently argued, and above all pissed off. It seems like I’m always asking myself, hasn’t the world always been this way? And then I see people ask in turn, why the hell should it continue as it always has?

We do live in interesting times. Apathetic and uninvolved as I may seem, I’m doing what I can to be part of them. I’m following along. If there is a lesson to take away from this year, it is not to turn away from the unpleasant, even if all that’s unpleasant is knowing how you’re going to react to it. I get my news in headlines, and move on with my day. I learn, and remember, that the world is unjust, and that I am unjust. And I try to figure out how much I care, as honestly as I can, about any injustice I confront; so that the day I find something I can do and want to do, inertia won’t trick me into moving on. In the meantime, I decide what is important to me, and figure out how I might achieve it. As well as I am able, I plan.
Here’s to 2015, and getting where we’re going.

Follow Through

Last semester ended in a way that was all about the fatigue. Two weeks before the exams, I was already thinking, be over already. One way or another, I got through those; in supremely protracted fashion, I’m finishing up the loose ends (.:cough:. final submissions .:cough:.) in the early part of the next semester. Disgusting of me, really.

Hey, at least I got through three of the Ender’s Game books?

Funny story, actually: I finished Ender’s Game itself before my second-last exam. I started it, and finished it, and only then did I begin to, you know, review. I don’t know why it sounds like I’m boasting about this every time I bring it up; you see, in my head I’m just so flabbergasted at my own behaviour that I wish someone would explain it to me in terms I can grapple with. Perhaps it has something to do with this elusive phenomenon people call ‘not giving a shit’? I don’t know.

Logically, it should be easier to talk yourself through a follow through. The meat of the problem is behind you, and all you have left are the pesky details, right?

Yeah, good try.

Usually, what you have left are the keystones, the important bits or the impression-making bits; you have to contend both with ending fatigue and performance anxiety, against which breathing and talking yourself through it starts to sound much less attractive, and the ostrich technique starts to look really appealing.

One method of prevailing in the face of these obstacles is to give in until you reach that peculiar Shangri-La of emotional mastery, ‘not giving a shit’. I have not yet hit on a reliable way of doing this without also deciding that most varieties of pants, most locations outside of the bed, and most forms of productive output, are also not worth a shit.

Another way is to obtain a benevolent dictator – somebody who will tell you to work, and you listen to them because you are their subject. In this country of two it is preferable to share nationality with the sort of dictator that will not inspire you to revolt; but this is, again, a rare white elk among potential potentates, and you will likely stage many rebellions before either finding your ideal overlord or up and declaring sovereignty.

Still there is an option open to you, though this one I’ve only ever heard about; Folk whisper in the night, and madmen rave in high-walled internet gardens, about the unicorn that they chase in their dreams and new year’s resolutions; fleet of hoof and silent of breath; silver of coat and golden of horn, it leads the unwary into ever-deeper forests of implicit bias and self-reinforcing habits, where all manner of pitfalls and pratfalls lurk. They name it Will. Give chase if you must, but please don’t talk to me about it. I’ve given up that path long ago, and now try only to trick myself into working, sometimes with lies and often with truth.

I really am rather good at procrastinating. Here’s hoping I’m not completely disgusted by this post in five years’ time.