On alarms and obsession

Heya,

“Take the first sentence from your favourite book and make it the first sentence of your post.”

I don’t really have a favourite book. The book I’m reading right now is California by Edan Lepucki. I don’t remember what the first sentence of that book is. My favourite first sentence of a book is, “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger follower.” There’s just so much there. A weight to the way the words follow one another. A foreshadowing that is too light to even be termed such. A shading of words in a desolate space.

But The Gunslinger by Stephen King is also not my favourite book. It’s up there, but it’s not my favourite. Especially given the progression of the series.

But that’s verging into spoiler-ific territory, so I won’t continue. Except to say that The Dark Tower series is among Stephen King’s best work, cumulatively, and that you should read it if you haven’t.

All my favourite books are sci-fi fantasy, and I don’t have any of them with me right now.

I’m currently in my best friend’s apartment. I have been awake for … eighteen hours. Which is far from the longest I’ve been awake, but probably longer than I should be awake. It has been a stressful day. I am an organizer for a music festival event thing, and … well, if you’ve ever been involved in anything like that, you understand, and if you haven’t, I probably can’t explain it. Certainly not when I’m as tired as I am right now.

My friend has fallen asleep, but I have other work to chip away at before I can crash. I’m also waiting for another friend to text me so that I can let her up into the apartment. Which, who knows when that will be.

Tomorrow should be better. More helpers, less hassle. Everyone a little more settled in, including me.

I said that I don’t have a favourite book at the start of this post, and that’s true. I don’t have a favourite book. Like so many things that I like, I reach a point with most books where I enjoy them but don’t feel that fervent devotion to them that I feel characterizes a favourite. For a span of time my favourite movie was Memento. Now, whenever anyone asks, I either say that it’s Princess Bride or The Nightmare Before Christmas. There are certainly other movies that I’m enamored off, that I find more stimulating, but those two movies have been such a lovely part of my life for such a length of time that, even if I’m not in love with them in a kind of wanna-fuck-you way that I think characterizes infatuation and adoration even in the mental sphere, they add up to being my favourite.

I don’t have that with music. I went through a massive Doors phase when I was about thirteen (I know, weird time to go through your Doors phase, right?), but now the only song by them I can listen to in it’s entirety is “The Crystal Ship.”

I regularly become obsessed with things. Right now, I’m vaguely obsessed with Chambord. Particularly the Gin and Tonic and Chambord that I discovered the other day and am drinking right this moment. While exhausted and waiting for the text that will let me sleep.

I say discovered. It’s the simplest thing. Get a tumbler. Put some ice in it. Add an ounce of gin (Bombay Sapphire), an ounce of Chambord (I don’t know if there are varieties of Chambord or if some family in France holds the patent), and the fill with tonic (Schweppes. Any other tonic is just sugar and nonsense). Add a lime if you have one (I didn’t). Drink. Feel at one with the universe. Finish you drink and feel really fucking tired. Repeat.

Or something like that. Kind of obsessed with Chambord right now. And peacocks, though that’s super recent. And with making my friend watch Orphan Black.

Speaking of my friend, she set an alarm for herself because she was going to take a “power nap” and then go out while I did some work, and her alarm has been going off for about five minutes now. “A Kiss with a Fist” by Florence and the Machine. For the last two and a half minutes, I’ve been going through all of the alarms available on my phone and playing them at high volume next to her ear. She has not woken up to any of them, not even the classic iPhone “Alarm” alarm that sounds like the nuclear plant is melting down. I didn’t think anyone could sleep through the nuclear plant melting down.

So that wasn’t a response to the prompt, really. But it kind of was. A little, tiny bit.

Love,

B

P.S. She just turned her alarm off.

P.P.S. Her alarm went off again, and she turned it off again.

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Favourite books from undergrad

Heya,

I should really be working on a research essay for one of my classes.

But I am just having so much trouble caring about it. Which is never a good sign. It usually means I’m going to end up writing something weird just to make it fun for me.

I did my undergraduate degree in World Literature. In World Lit, we read a lot of translated books, and a big part of why I was interested in the program was because, while the English department’s reading list was filled with familiar names, World Lit featured a number of authors that I’d never heard of before.

Like any university reading, some of the readings were good. Some of them were exhausting. A handful of them I absolutely loved.

  • Borges. Not an original recommendation, but he is awesome and he deserves a sizable chunk of the praise he gets. A sizable chunk.
  • MAUS: A Survivor’s Tale
  • Khirbet Khizeh by S. Yizhar
  • 69 by Ryu Murakami
  • The Storyteller by Mairo Vargas Llosa
  • Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar
  • The Abandoned Baobob by Ken Bugul
  • The Pickup by Nadine Gordimer
  • Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee
  • Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Okay, I should really write that paper.

Love,

B

“meatspace”

Heya,

Have you guys ever heard the term “meatspace”? In case you haven’t—cause I hadn’t—the idea is that, more and more, we operate in the digital world and the physical world. Because more and more of life takes place online for so many of us, it becomes necessary for a distinction between the reality that we operate within online and the reality we inhabit with our physical bodies.

“Meatspace” (which always makes me picture ground beef in my clothing) is where we are. It is where we eat our food and wear our clothes and read our books. It’s wear we drink and sleep and reproduce. Cyberspace, on the other hand, is a space in which the physical realities of the human condition can be compressed. Distance becomes, in many senses, meaningless. Realities like weight (like in the case of books) can be minimized to the point of nonexistence (ex. books vs. eBooks).

Something I’ve been finding interesting in my publishing program is that there’s tacit, possibly/probably unintentional, minimization of “meatspace.” Even the term “meatspace” can be seen as somewhat pejorative. That’s part of what I think is so strangely perfect about it. It seems almost derogatory towards the physical state of being.

The fact is, we still live in meatspace. We still perform the acts that sustain our lives in meatspace. Until we hook into the matrix, that will be an undeniable fact of human life. We are in meatspace, and the majority of our largest problems are there, too.

There’s a problem of multiplicity in publishing right now. There is just so much stuff, so much fiction, so many essays, so many blogs and books and badgers (honey badger don’t give a fuck) to demand our attention. Before the explosion of ePublishing, there were already more books in the world than any one person could read in a lifetime. We have more movies, more televisions shows, more pictures and pieces of artwork than we could ever have the attention for and even if we did, mankind has a notoriously shitty memory. So when is it enough? And, with so many services moving into the cyber, how do we continue to exist in the meat? How do we orient ourselves in the reality of physical distance when cyberspace has the capacity to compress those distances, at least for some of the senses? And how do we sustain ourselves?

I think it’s the issue of sustainability that is nagging at me, and contributes greatly to my various existential and/or quarterlife crises. I personally think that everything is cyclical, and that we’re in a cycle of change. Gutenberg’s press prompted a cycle of change in publishing, and I think we’re in another one now. Not just in publishing but in many, many fields. Something that we’ll have to figure out along the way is how the cyber and meat relate to one another, how they connect to one another, and how they can sustain one another.

In my class today we talked about how the cultural capitals of the past always had a surrounding hinterland. Paris was surrounded by vast stretches of sparsely populated agricultural areas, London had places like Manchester to sustain the rapid growth and cultural consumption. Someone argued that Silicon Valley was/had been the cultural capital of the technological era, and that it had the world as it’s hinterland. But how do you live in that hinterland? We’re in the strange position of privileging the local as far as meatspace goes, and seeking employment in cyberspace. There has been a systemic devaluation of things like books, just because of the sheer number of books being produced, and it has negatively impacted the possibility of the existence of a career creative. But then, the career creative is a recent occupation. Some of the most famous artists of the past were starving, or had the patronage of politically/socially/economically powerful figures, some of them highly questionable in character. So maybe it’s just another cycle, another pattern being repeated. Everything is a remix.

I don’t have any real conclusions about this right now, this is a stream-of-conscious ramble on a topic that has been weighing on me.

If you have any thoughts/contributions/etc. let me know in the comments!

Love,

B

Binge-watching the golden age of television

Heya,

I watched Orange is the New Black on a whim yesterday at my friends house. It was awesome. I’m actually going into a bit of withdrawal from it right now. Because I don’t have Netflix, or money to get a Netflix subscription. I considered camping out in front of her television and binge-watching the whole first season, but since she goes to school in London and will be going back in a few days, I think that maybe her parents wouldn’t be cool with me hermit-ing it up in their house.

Or maybe they’d be totally cool with it. They’re nice people. Still, it would be a little odd, even for me.

This is an amazing time for television. If I didn’t have to take care of my dog and go to school and feed myself (I didn’t realize that was the order of my priorities, but I’m not entirely uncomfortable with it), I could probably happily lose all muscle definition in my entire body from sitting and staring at the TV.

Breaking Bad is over, and the void still looms in my psyche. I’d gotten used to the constant buzz of anticipation while waiting for new episodes of that show.

I wonder if the “Golden Age of Television” as it’s so often called, will transition to books. I mean, in a sense, it has. There are more books being published then ever before. The publishing industry is in a bit of a state, but it seems to me that people are reading more, more widely, and in more varied forms than ever before. There are so many options for getting new books. But the curatorial aspect is kind of lacking. There are so many books, and so many of them are probably good, but it can be really hard to find them because of the vast quantities.

I think that the ease of publishing is a double edged sword. It means that there’s so much possibility for new, interesting works, stories that take risks and don’t necessarily conform to accepted practices as far as storytelling goes. But there are so many people who don’t understand how to tell a story flooding the market. Everyone seems to have written a book lately. And sometimes it seems to have been done with the mistaken assumption that there’s a lot of money in books. Which, generally speaking, there isn’t. Even when a book is a bestseller, it doesn’t even approach the kind of numbers that a Hollywood blockbuster brings in.

I don’t remember where I was going with this.

I really want to watch Breaking Bad all the way through again. Maybe I’ll binge-watch that while I manufacture reasons to go to my friends parents’ house to watch Orange is the New Black on their Netflix.

Love,

B

Reading, writing and New Year’s resolutions

Heya,

My mom gave me my 2014 wall calendar two weeks before Christmas. She didn’t feel like wrapping it, and I was cool with that. It’s a nice calendar. Like nearly every calendar I’ve received from the age of about nine, it has tigers on it. I’m starting to notice how many of these images are recycled.

What my mom couldn’t have foreseen when she gave me my calendar, but maybe should have, was that I would immediately open it. I did this, first, to write in birthdays, because I always forget them despite the alerts I’ve got set up on my phone, so I try to note them down in a couple dozen places so that I can’t help but notice one of the reminders. It’s not that I actually forget the birth date, it’s that I usually have no idea what the current date is. I spent most of today sure that it was January 2nd, but it’s actually the 3rd.

After writing in birthdays, I decided to start working out my goals for the year. My goals for this year started out pretty simple: I want to read more, write more, and build my communities.

Things quickly got out of hand.

Reading

I made a bunch of piles of the books I wanted to read in my bedroom sometime in the summer, then gotten so overwhelmed at school that I barely touched them. I decided that, since my ability to make decisions takes a nosedive when school is on, I would list out all the books in my reading piles (that sounds unappealing) and try to portion them out throughout the year. I tried to change it up (one sci-fi book a month, one fantasy, one play, one history, etc.) but I didn’t have enough of some categories for that to work. Anyway, I’m supposed to read about fifteen books a month, which will put a dent in my to-be-read piles but will still leave some left over. And I probably won’t get through all that, but I’ve mentioned before that I’m prone to extreme, and extremely unrealistic, goal-setting. But I’ve always sort of figured that if you got halfway to an impossible goal, you were in pretty good shape.

Writing

I never used to have trouble finding time to write. In high school I wrote a lot. I didn’t like school, and I didn’t like to bring schoolwork home with me, so I usually tried to get as much done in class as I could. So I didn’t usually have much homework when I got home, and I had a lot of time to write. I wrote more than 500,000 words over the course of my high school career.

University was, and is, different. I suddenly had to work at home. There was no real time to get school work done in class. Class was for discussing what you’d read. And I worked on one of the student literary magazines, and had a job at a bookstore besides. Suddenly there were things interfering with my writing time, so long an uncontested part of my day. But I didn’t really notice, because I was writing a lot. It just wasn’t stuff I particularly wanted to be writing. It was essays dissecting books based on different literary theories. Some of my classes gave the option of doing a creative response instead of an essay, and I grabbed those opportunities every chance I could, but they were few and far between.

I had never had set times to write before university because I had never needed set times to write before university. I’d just had time. And so I slowly fell out of the habit of writing something of my own every day. I wrote essays or read books for classes (some of which I am eternally grateful to my professors for exposing me to, some which I still don’t think should have been published at all), went out with friends or just tried to get some fucking sleep. Every university student I’ve ever met has been at least a little bit sleep deprived. I imagine it makes for interesting papers.

I had ideas for stories. Reading always makes me want to write, and discussing books with other interested and intelligent people only enhanced that tendency. I always had an extra notebook and I jot down ideas as they came to me. Then I’d get home, look over what I had written, and resolve to do it on the weekend. Or during the reading break. Or in the summer. Whenever I got a chance.

Only I didn’t get a chance, because work will fill whatever time you give it, and I wasn’t setting any aside to write.

This is something that only really became clear to me recently, the fact that life won’t make room for what I want, I have to make room for it. It’s the kind of thing that I always knew but didn’t know.

First I decided that I should make it a goal to write one thousand words a day. Then, being prone as I am to overextending myself, I decided that I would gradually increase the number of words I was supposed to write a day so that by the beginning of next year I would be writing two thousand words a day. And I could continue to increase the word count infinitesimally every day the following year until I got to three thousand a day, and so on and so forth.

Then I had my realization about how useless it would be to set goals about how much to write without setting aside time to write. So, after looking over my schedule, I’ve decided that, during the week when I have classes, I can set aside a block of time from 7-10 and probably not be completely overwhelmed.

I wrote the word count on my calendar and the block of time in my phone and in the agenda that my school gives out each year.

Building communities

There are a number of writing communities out there, both for critiquing and making your own story available to an audience. Some of them are scams, some of them are well-intentioned but not necessarily helpful (at least for me), and some of them seem pretty fucking cool but I don’t know whether they’re worth the effort. All three varieties have plenty of people on them, whether writers or readers or both.

I’m not going to break them down here. This post is long enough already. For all intents and purposes, all you need to know is that I’ve decided to take part in the latter two groups.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a lonely-garret writer, not a coffee-shop writer. I don’t really like to talk about my work in progress unless I have a specific problem. Though I don’t actively think about it this way, it almost feels like to talk about a work in progress while it’s doing well would be to jinx it. I don’t like to receive feedback on something until I’ve done a first pass, because I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing at that point, so I’m in no position to know whether or not someone else knows what the fuck I’m doing, which might lead me to lend their words too much weight or not enough. But I do like helping people untangle plot lines and offering constructive criticism. And I imagine that writing critique groups probably talk about books a lot, so that’s cool.

I like the idea of making a story directly available to the audience that reads it, of serialization and interactivity and all that jazz. I have difficult not wanting to change everything in the first draft after it’s done, though. I thought about the ideas that I already have, and they were either too plot-y or not really suited to the medium. So I think I’ll fly by the seat of my pants with the audience ones. Just start something. See what happens.

And I’ll let you know how it all goes.

Love,

B

P.S. In the interest of keeping you in the loop, I’ve written 3501 words in the last three days, read Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, four chapters of A Brief History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, and about half of Alice Munro’s Still Life. I am slightly behind on my reading but ahead on my writing so I think it balances out. I have started accounts with a couple of online writing communities and commented a bit. I haven’t posted anything of mine yet.