Tag Archives: excuse making

Words Aren’t Working

Words and I aren’t having the best of relationships right now.
It started out decently at the beginning of February but by the end had deteriorated.

1. I learned a poem by heart. I spoke it aloud in the car, rolling it over and over. Then I returned to other poems I’d learned already and had let fall away. They came back quickly, settled right into my mind and slipped out of my mouth easily. They fit in the small trips I need to make every day. I said them even while on my bike, though quietly and under my breath (and between breaths if I was riding fast). It became an exercise in letting myself hear my own voice, in playing with the words and their meaning. It was a poem about giving oneself, about committing fully to this experience of life. It spoke to me but I’ll share it another time because the part of me it spoke to is a little wounded right now.

2. I’d set aside new writing for a bit. It was alright. I mean, I know professionals can’t do that, but I needed to keep up with other things and I’ve not graduated from hobbyist-status. I was still working on editing my own stories, though, for Shifted Visions. So, although I wasn’t acting as a midwife to words, I was at least a governess, seeing that they turn out right and can be presented in polite company.

3. I was working on a paid editing job, a translation. Translations are finicky, especially when the translators are working INTO a language in which they’ve not attained near-native fluency. It’s easy to go wrong and I started to see my approach to words change. I could imagine the text as a whole, as having its own completeness in its original form. It was a carrier of meaning in a context in which its shape made sense. Like a vessel, a bowl or cup, maybe.

So, imagine such a thing.

For the sake of illustration, though the original text I’m working with is not nearly so artful as this example, imagine that it’s a beautiful and meaningful thing, like this:

Gold_cup_kalardasht But then, in order for it to be comprehended and used in another place with its own cultural context, it has to be translated. And imagine that translation requires the item be taken apart down to its “base layers,” in this case down to the atoms of gold. At that level they’re still gold, but they have to be manipulated and moved. The words, in their own way are melted by the translator who passes them from one language, through his or her body and consciousness, and transforms their shape into the new language. They become new words.

What I inherited from the translators was something like this:

Golden-Bowl-of-Hasanlu

It was pretty mangled.

My brain now had to approach the words like this:

1364614919_c0812bcd5a_z

I have to admit, this is not the way to engage the part of you that likes to invite words to work their own magic, without force. That part of me had to just sit tight and hope the editing would get done soon.

4. And then a dear friend died – unexpectedly and tragically early. It wasn’t supposed to happen, like that or now.

I had been sad to leave Göttingen, where much of our three years there had felt sheltered and warmed by her and her family. I had assumed we’d meet again, had hoped to have her daughter stay with us this coming year for half of tenth grade, figured we’d meet up and travel a bit. But no.

I had to bear the news to all my family members. There are no right words for that. I wrote a condolence card to her husband and two daughters – to my friends – the best I could do from this distance – and in that effort I found that words don’t work. They don’t do the right thing, they don’t solve the problem or heal the hurt. They’re weak and ineffectual. I mean I said nice things but really, what we all want is for terrible things to not happen, for them to not shake and change our lives in this way.

5. One of our cats got seriously ill with a virus that is often carried by cats without effect. When it “mutates” and causes symptoms, though, it’s incurable and fatal. I had to make the decision to have him put to sleep before he suffered more. I know, cats don’t “rank up there” with people, but if you have any animals in your life, you know they’re people, too. He was special to me. We were friends.

We brought our cats back to the US with us from Göttingen and losing him felt like one more uprooting from what we loved there.

Again, I had to tell family members. I had to tell the cat though few of my words have ever made a lot of sense to him. I made sure that he knew in all the wordless ways how much we all loved him.

6. I kept everything running (admittedly it’s run on frozen pizza, some forgotten appointments, lots of tears and a sad kind of lonely inability to help anyone else’s grief). I’ve still had to drive here and there but couldn’t bear more than half a phrase of any poetry coming out of my mouth. I don’t want to say them. I don’t want to say much.

7. I am ‘conversational.’ I talk to people. I write down phone messages, notes for my master gardener class and comments in the margin of the translated text. The editing is not yet done. My head, though it stopped hurting from the inside, feels like it has been used to bang on bad English.

My heart still hurts and I’m wary about words.

8. I wrote this blog post.

 

****

image credits:

Gold cup kalardasht“. (Achaemenid golden bowl with lion imagery). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Gold Bowl of Hasanlu from Ancient Origins (it doesn’t appear to be original to Ancient Origins and it’s not labeled with a creative commons license but I’ll remove it from this blog if needed).

blacksmith photo by Daniel Burgui Iguzkiza on flickr, with creative commons license

The Trap of my Imagination, Where I am Safely Perfect

278_Spirialling_Steps_of_the_Amedee_LighthouseThis morning, as the end of a year approaches, I woke into an insight as framed in the last few days of reflection and consideration. The insight pointed out that part of me thinks it’s safer to leave GOTS and all my other bits-and-bobs of writing unfinished. I’m pretty aware of this pattern of stopping again and again though I’ve not yet  overcome it.

Fishing around for my motivation to finish GOTS I saw that there is a contradictory inner force pulling the strings, ruling through my own abstention from taking power, my own abdication.

GOTS has this strange quality of never, never ending, while simultaneously taking 60,000 words (so far) to go absolutely nowhere. It’s a non-story, in fact. But if I keep it unfinished, in a permanent state of “draft,” I never have to deal with that. A perpetually hopeful, childish, “I don’t want to grow up and finish something attitude”  keeps everything I work on in a state of incompletion.

dollcar

Short stories are always just drafts, poems are drafts, CTRH (my first “novel-thing”) is a broken mess of a draft that is, not surprisingly, without an ending. GOTS is so flawed that I can’t see my way to complete it because its “completed” state will prove that my writing is a waste of time.

I “refuse” to put action in the story (observing “it just keeps slipping away”), I never make something happen, and my characters don’t act decisively and with commitment (yes, my characters appear to be reflections of my own worst traits, don’t worry, I won’t force you to read it), because doing so would send them on their way toward being just as crappy in their final form. Short stories don’t get shown to anyone, they sit in rough or final drafts or are idealistically compiled into  fake “anthologies” which go nowhere though their mother has high ideals. Everything inhabits a fluid and open spot on my to-do list. Eternally in progress, unjudgeable, safely tucked away.

If that’s the case — and it is the case — now that I’ve identified the problem, what needs to be done to fix it? Two ideas popped up in the course of assessing this situation.

1. I need to submit short pieces to real markets and not just self-pub them (to my audience of 4 blog-readers). Self-pub is in the works for some things, but self-sabotage requires external assistance. If I rely on myself for everything, the process breaks down at some point – something stalls when that outdated mindset wants to keep everything “safely” In Progress.

2. I need to finish a crappy draft of GOTS. It needs to crawl to the finish line. I’ve come to judge it, to think poorly of it, to disdain it because it’s such a pale, broken simulation of what it was supposed to be and keeping it un-done allows my mind to hold onto what “it could have been” and what it  “could be,” the ideal I’m capable of creating in a perfect world where I’m a perfect me.

This means that, for my own peace of mind, to overcome this pattern of cowardice (always backing away, always turning tail with a cheery smile on my face as I look to New Ideas that don’t put up a fight), I have to start calling some things DONE. Play is all well and good and I love that part of creative work – that it engages playfulness – but at this late date, I also need to grow up a little and claim my work as *Something* and not just let it dissolve so I can avoid disappointment through avoiding completion. Not having done this and  always focusing on process, I’ve also avoided the kind of joy that is only available by wrapping something up and feeling the syncretic reality of process joined with final product.

brokenprototypes

It’s time to stop fooling myself with my fantasy world in which I pretend all is well in the workshop, that all the kinks are being worked out eternally, eternally in service of how good my ideal is and, “shhh, don’t look at the broken, misshapen, flat and unworkable prototypes on the factory floor. They’re not mine, I don’t know how they got there.”

If I want to inhabit my creativity, if I want to actually do real work and not live in my head (where it is very, very safe and very, very stifling) then I’m going to have to finish something and let it exist as itself in the world.

That’s what 2014 is going to be about.

***
image credits: Amédée Lighthouse stairs, photo by Eustaquio Santimano, originally on flickr, here, but it wouldn’t load for me. It was also here. Creative Commons license.

the armless driver (WHO is driving this ship?) is also on flickr from donpezzano/Don Urban. Creative Commons license.

the little broken dolls are from the blog Ullabenulla. The blogger, Ulla Norup Millbrath uses such things for her own artwork (lesson: use it all, even the broken pieces!!). Not cc licensed, but hopefully use with attribution is ok.

Wandering. Aimless or Inspired?

Superficial Dimensionality - by Dan Kuzmenka

As a tracker of my mind’s wanderings, I’ve long carried the assumption that I’m a flighty sort, easily distracted but harboring the idea that I ought to buckle down to something; that doing so would be better. Though better WHAT, I’ve not been able to answer. This thought has teased me incessantly – that in order to feel fulfilled I must accomplish something.

In part because we’re taught early on that we can grow up to be anything (translate: you must grow up to be something), I always thought there was something unmanageable about my utter disregard for following one path to its logical end.

The logical end, of course is The End, and as that’s the case, perhaps it’s better to make the most of the trip. If it’s going to include a lot of odd side-trips, then so be it. But this devil-may-care attitude about my tendency to be “distracted” isn’t my de facto state. In fact I waffle a lot on whether or not I’m just unfocused and kind of lost.

Usually I harbor a kind of worry at the back of my mind that I’m not paying the right attention to whatever it is I’m SUPPOSED to be paying attention to. That I’m diffused and aimless and won’t amount to “much.”

In an effort to sort out judgments from characteristics, excuses from attempts to be optimally functional, I spend far too much time obsessing about what exactly is going on in my head.

Part of the process involves some map making, finding out that there are certain landmarks to the terrain of paying attention.

For example, there are moment-to-moment “distractions,” the kinds of things that make my mind wander away from something  I’m doing right as I’m doing it – something Robert at The Solitary Walker talked about the other day. There are day-to-day ones, the kind that derail a day’s plans with other urgent matters – or that postpone dinner because the mail was delivered; and ones that force-quit the projects of months with a new direction that seems more relevant to the trajectory that has taken priority.

I’m learning to take this in stride, as something my mind might require for happy functioning, though I’m trying to balance that notion with an awareness that it’s also possible to be easily waylaid by stalling. Accepting that I am attentive to many things and require maintenance of a high degree of mental stimulation (which equates with a limited tolerance of self-defined boredom) has a benefit of simply removing “one more thing to stress about” from my mental space.

Is it better to accept one’s “flaky” nature and benefit by no longer stressing about it? Is it even flaky to be an explorer?

Consider Curtis Hillman’s take on it. “He once explained his penchant for reinventing himself in an interview. “I originally went to school for creative writing and film,” he said. “I then spent 10 years pursuing music, and, after failing at that, I did various random jobs. I got into design out of desperation — I didn’t want to wait tables or pound nails.””

Does trying new things, following one’s interests encourage unfinished business?  Isn’t that one of the fundamentals of trying to understand one’s life while engaged in the midst of it?  A lack of perspective makes it hard to view the trajectory.

One image that I thought was appropriate in this case is of an object in space that orbits more than one central point.

In similar fashion I tend to gravitate to subjects and projects that are within the pull of certain connected topics. This explains why I got caught up in the notion of an object with multiple orbits and tried to find a nice graphic to accompany the image, read up on the physics of orbits and browsed physics and astronomy sites to find one.

I didn’t have any luck and I’m not sure if that means I just didn’t look in the right places or if that’s an unrealistic metaphor. But it sent me off on a wild-image chase BECAUSE cosmology/astronomy is one of the central bodies I periodically swing past on my way to and from others. Anyway, the notion of strange orbits and the many models of orbit patterns I found are certainly tasty, and the irony that eccentricity is an orbital element isn’t lost on me.

Some orbits result in pretty things! 

How about you? Do you oscillate between topics and interests? Careen madly through space? Are you absolutely mentally loyal to your work-in-progress and incapable of straying? How do you manage when your preferred working method is challenged?

I’m relieved at having discovered in the last year or two that I fit comfortably in the spectrum of people with many interests who are sometimes called scanners (Barbara Sher’s term), polymaths, people with “too many aptitudes,” multi-potentialites, etc.  It’s liberating to know I’m not really a flake though the challenge is figuring out how to work with it.

***
Image sources.  Fractal art (Superficial Dimensionality and The Fabric of Space) by Dan Kuzmenka who posts on DeviantArt where some of his work is available for download.  The GIF (or at least it’s supposed to be a GIF, I’m still tweaking) is from UC Santa Cruz professor emeritus, Michael Nauenberg.

meltzoffhuckster

self: scientist, publicist…person

This is a post from 2012, and as I work to re-post-ulate this blog, I find it’s still relevant.

 

It has come to my attention (self-reflectively as is appropriate to post-modern solipsism) that I have nothing to add to the internet’s cache of information. I don’t know if that indicates my lack of social utility, a failure of creativity, an utter retro-square mindset (the opposite of which would be a rush to expose, through all electronic social networks just the things I wouldn’t share with my real life ones) or if it’s just wishy-washy dilly-dallying on my part, a fear to commit what it takes to stake my space, forge my “Brand.”  That and the overwhelming sense one can get by spending even a small amount of time online: it’s all already been said, why bother?

But I am bothered. I have things I want to share, conversations I’d like to be part of and they all get waylaid by all that’s involved with putting more words online.

In some ways starting this blog was like undertaking an advertising campaign without a product to market.  No invention, no novel idea (well, there is an idea for a novel, but I digress), no empirical data or dogmatic conviction. Just a life, just some thoughts, just a notion that blogging could be a viable way to connect with others.

It isn’t – or at least not in any life-changing, honest-to-goodness way. It’s illusory – I go away for months, nobody notices. A regular reader goes away for months, nobody notices. We can’t, we’re off to the next best greatest new thing to relieve us from the agony of boredom. We’re looking for the day’s True Truth, revealed in Twitter feeds, that will grant us momentary status in the nebulously networked, self-referencing universe of “oh, look at me!”

I wonder where this is heading, what’s the inevitable outcome of the requirement that we spin our lives to collect “friends,” that we push ourselves to be cutting edge, ahead of the curve. What are we sacrificing (what does the cutting edge cut away)?

Though they often leave me woozy, I like big questions and the possibilities they bring to our awareness. Mostly I don’t understand the universe – there’s consciousness (I think!), there’s matter, there’s energy, there’s emptiness and perception – all jumbled together with enough regularity to make us think we can get a grip on it and with enough anomaly that we sometimes get our convictions served back to us on a platter.

I was entertained (oh, is that the best we can get these days?) by a piece in The New Yorker (2010) in which the author reported on what he called “the decline effect.” By now Jonah Lehrer’s… shall we say, journalistic indiscretions, have become well known (see here and here if they’re not well known to you). But at the time, and being a slightly nerdy skeptic of “absolute” knowledge (as in, I like/benefit from but am untrained in science and I also accept other epistemologies), I fell for Lehrer’s notion that the universe might be throwing the “rules” of the game just ’cause it can, in all its way-out-there vastness. But just because an idea sounds good doesn’t make it valid. No brainer, right? Yet isn’t that a fundamental problem for humans?  All it takes is one glance at the varieties of philosophical ideas that have been promoted by one person or another through the millenia, all the styles of governing proposed, soteriological prescriptions offered, utopias envisioned to see that we love to take an idea and show all the ways the world proves it correct.*

Ironically, Lehrer made that same point in that same article, “Just because an idea is true doesn’t mean it can be proved. And just because an idea can be proved doesn’t mean it’s true.” I quote him here not to push home some sort of weird relativistic notion of truthfulness and provability (and that quote rightfully garnered a huge backlash); with remarkable accuracy we can explain and predict how matter behaves in this world because of information we have gathered with scientific inquiry – the scientific method is not really being challenged as Lehrer suggested.  Non-material reality, though, is of course, not so easy to pin down or interpret – and this is both because of the “problems” of subjectivity and wrapped around what subjectivity actually is.

This is a symptom of deep cultural uncertainty that leaves many scrambling for explanations or ways to cope.  For many, though, it’s been a springboard to a thriving career path that leads to

the dubious promised land of the convention hall, where the book, blog, TED talk, and article are merely delivery systems for a core commodity, the Insight.

New York Magazine’s Boris Kachka wrote a little over two weeks ago in an article on Lehrer’s downfall and the culture that created it, that “[t]he Insight”

is less of an idea than a conceit, a bit of alchemy that transforms minor studies into news, data into magic. Once the Insight is in place—Blink, Nudge, Free, The World Is Flat—the data becomes scaffolding. It can go in the book, along with any caveats, but it’s secondary. The purpose is not to substantiate but to enchant.

Lehrer, far from alone in his travels

was scrambling up the slippery slope to the TED-talk elite: authors and scientists for whom the book or the experiment is just part of a multimedia branding strategy.

Kachka posits that “he was less interested in wisdom than in seeming convincingly wise,” compelled and compounded in part by a culture in which writers (particularly staff writers for magazines which focus on the intersections of technology and science with social sciences and consciousness studies) “function as boldfaced brand experts in everything from economics to medicine to creativity.” [all emphasis mine]

blah.

I think that my self-fueled dilemma about blogging arises because the nature of the media is predicated on the existence of audience. I hope I’m not playing the role of the wallflower who claims that “dances are so stupid!” just because nobody asks her to dance, but that I’m honestly not sure how having an audience observe the inner workings of my mind affects said workings. Can I dance freely when I know others are or will be watching?  Do I really have to retire to a cave?

Oh, did I ever mention I overthink?

It’s hard not to when cases like John Locke (the contemporary writer who gained a following after receiving lots of positive book reviews, which he paid for) and Jonah Lehrer show up with some regularity, when ‘surface’ is the soup of the day and ‘substance’ is dropped from the menu.

Maybe I just have to have the attitude of a three year old – you know, if I close my eyes, nobody else is here.  Dear audience, forgive me. I know you exist (well, I take it on faith maybe), I just want to be careful… I don’t want to dance because somebody’s watching.

Meanwhile I’m off to update my SEO stuff.**

—–
*cynicism on this front brought to you today by the 2012 US presidential election campaigns.

** I take full responsibility for the irony of this conclusion.