There is a secret bond between slowness and memory, between speed and forgetting. Consider this utterly commonplace situation: a man is walking down the street. At a certain moment, he tries to recall something, but the recollection escapes him. Automatically he slows down. Meanwhile, a person who wants to forget a disagreeable
incident he has just lived through starts unconsciously to speed up his pace, as if he were trying to distance himself from a thing still too close to him in time.
In existential mathematics, that experience takes the form of two basic equations: the degree of slowness is directly proportion to the intensity of memory; the degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting.
”—Milan Kundera, from Slowness (HarperCollins, 1996)
Our business is to see what we can do with the English language as it is. How can we combine the old words in new orders so that they survive, so that they create beauty, so that they tell the truth? That is the question.
And the person who could answer that question would deserve whatever crown of glory the world has to offer. Think what it would mean if you could teach, if you could learn, the art of writing. Why, every book, every newspaper would tell the truth, would create beauty.
“For language to have meaning there must be intervals of silence somewhere, to divide word from word and utterance from utterance. He who retires into silence does not necessarily hate language. Perhaps it is love and respect for language which imposes silence upon him.”—Thomas Merton, “Disputed Questions” (via litverve)
INTERVIEWER:Wordsworth spoke of growing up “Fostered alike by beauty and by fear,” and he put fearful experiences first; but he also said that his primary subject was “the mind of Man.” Don’t you write more about the mind than about the external world?
BARTHELME:In a commonsense way, you write about the impingement of one upon the other—my subjectivity bumping into other subjectivities, or into the Prime Rate. You exist for me in my perception of you (and in some rough, Raggedy Andy way, for yourself, of course). That’s what’s curious when people say, of writers, This one’s a realist, this one’s a surrealist, this one’s a super-realist, and so forth. In fact, everybody’s a realist offering true accounts of the activity of mind. There are only realists.
“Without discomfort your comfort becomes your main weakness. Change is uncomfortable and discomfort is necessary for change. Change is possible, but it is never easy and it is never comfortable.”—The Virtue of Discomfort - Jacob Lund Fisker
There are two birds in your head, raven and crow, and only one of them is yours. A ghost and a robot doing battle, singing like telephones, the phone is ringing, a headache word. You are dancing with the birdcage girl, banging your head against a cage that isn’t there. You want to say yes: yes to the bathtub, yes to the gumdrops, no to the laughing skullheads.
The holes in this picture are not flowers, they are not wheels, and the phone is ringing ringing, a headache word, it’s ringing for you. This is in the second person. This is happening to you because I don’t want to be here. Is there anything I won’t put words around? Yes, there is.
”—Richard Siken, opening two paragraphs to “Black Telephone,” from the “Editor’s Page" of Spork (No. 1.3, Winter 2001-2002)
So I’m really very into the Quantified Self movement, although I’m not quite a QS data-meister. I’ve owned a few wearables— a Fuelband (which died late last year) and an UP band (which died recently, sniff), and I’ve usually always got some kind of tracking experiment going on. I’m currently making use of Reporter, Oda, Moves and a few Numbers spreadsheets to track the highs and lows of my daily activity. That said, perhaps the most accurate indication for my mood and productivity is my web-based output. When I’m firing on all cylinders, the writing happens, blog posts flow, and pictures get taken. When I’m manic, the creative outputs drop off, one by one, and yet it’s such a soul-warming thing to write, to capture a beautiful image… it’s exactly what I need when buried under a seemingly infinite pile of things to do.
The weather’s changing (for the better) here in London, and though I’m currently still manic, the compulsion to get the camera out is returning. I’m dusting off my photoblog and the Flickr account (member since 2005!) and hoping to crank out a few new images in the not too distant future. I’ve just scanned through my most recent memory active card, and I’ve come across a backlog of images that haven’t yet seen the light of day, largely drawn from the poetry events I’ve supported/managed/run over the past couple of years.
Franklyn Rodgers once challenged me to do more documentary work. I think I’d like to do more along these lines. More to capture some sense the worlds I find myself living and working within.
INTERVIEWER:You describe seemingly fantastic events in such minute detail that it gives them their own reality. Is this something you have picked up from journalism?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ:That’s a journalistic trick which you can also apply to literature. For example, if you say that there are elephants flying in the sky, people are not going to believe you. But if you say that there are four hundred and twenty-five elephants flying in the sky, people will probably believe you. One Hundred Years of Solitude is full of that sort of thing. That’s exactly the technique my grandmother used. I remember particularly the story about the character who is surrounded by yellow butterflies. When I was very small there was an electrician who came to the house. I became very curious because he carried a belt with which he used to suspend himself from the electrical posts. My grandmother used to say that every time this man came around, he would leave the house full of butterflies. But when I was writing this, I discovered that if I didn’t say the butterflies were yellow, people would not believe it.
“Such a small, pure object a poem could be, made of nothing but air, a tiny string of letters, maybe small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. But it could blow everybody’s head off.”—Mary Karr, from Lit: A Memoir (Harper, 2009)
“For me, the writing life doesn’t just happen when I sit at the writing desk. It is a life lived with a centering principle, and mine is this: that I will pay close attention to this world I find myself in. ‘My heart keeps open house,’ was the way the poet Theodore Roethke put it in a poem. And rendering in language what one sees through the opened windows and doors of that house is a way of bearing witness to the mystery of what it is to be alive in this world.”—Julia Alvarez, quoted in 1998 in The Writer magazine, with the quotation republished in “Great Writing Tips from 125 Years of The Writer,” in the magazine’s April 2012 issue. (via apoetreflects)
RIP Harold Ramis, via The Believer (http://the.blvr.org/Nuwq3s)
THE BELIEVER:You had that great line in your New Yorker profile, “Sometimes what people perceive as my smile is a grimace of pain.”
HAROLD RAMIS:That about sums it up. But part of my smile is also about how absurd it all is. I think I got in touch with that absurdity quite young. Sometimes it’s hysterical irony and sometimes it’s a painful irony. Life has all of these contradictory feelings and contradictory results. People spend their whole lives struggling to get what they think they want, and even if they get it, they find that it’s either not what they wanted, or it comes with so many unwanted consequences. We’re always shut off from pure joy.
“All things pass, and it feels like the time of the blog has in some sense passed too. Who has time to write, when you can pump out status updates which let your friends and family know exactly what you’re thinking and doing at any moment? And why bother to think through what you’re going to say and express in in a few hundred words, when really all anyone cares about is the pithy headline, the punchy hook. “This blog is 12 years old. The reason it’s still here will surprise you.””—
I’d like to believe that personal/individual blogging is still a popular form of expression, but I certainly appreciate the sentiment of the extract above (and the entire article). Who needs to think their way through a long-form piece of writing when they can reblog1 something that’s popped up on a dashboard (“me too!”) or tap out a 140 character statement of the moment and move on?
I started blogging in the early noughties, inspired by Josh Santangelo of Endquote.com, the first blogger I can remember reading with any regularity. Josh wrote about his hopes and aspirations, loves and losses, and all the messiness of his inner thought and experience. I was a bright-eyed wannabe writer with a penchant for the web, confessional poetry and any other writing that gave me insight into the inner workings of people I didn’t know. But Endquote was less an opportunity to practise voyeurism, more a reminder of the way that emotive writing can show us how different we are from the other people we share the planet with, and yet how un-alone.
Last time I checked, the Endquote.com I knew was gone, replaced by a generic (professional) holding page. Checking again today, I find that Endquote is now a Tumblr property, complete with images of sharply styled young women, selfies, nods to sartorial inspiration and Soundcloud embeds. I miss the old Endquote (though I wonder if the writing as it was would have the same impact on me now) but this new iteration is still Josh. An absolutely contemporary expression of self.
The personal blog, as it existed, isn’t exactly dead, but it’s probably not the dominant form of expression it once was. That said, long live the blog.2 …3
Nothing against reblogging here. Reblogging may as well be the new common intertextuality. ↩
This started out as a much longer piece. Honestly. I’d love to say I edited it down from flabby imperfection, but the truth is I committed the schoolboy error of drafting the original through a web back-end in Safari on an iPad, while switching between tabs, as if taunting the god of all things technological to swallow everything I’d written. Which s/he did. D’oh. ↩
Could be just me, but it looks like Tumblr doesn’t like Markdown footnotes. Grrr. ↩
“Language is the element of definition, the defining and descriptive incantation. It puts the coin between our teeth. It whistles the boat up. It shows us the city of light across the water. Without language there is no poetry, without poetry there’s just talk. Talk is cheap and proves nothing. Poetry is dear and difficult to come by. But it poles us across the river and puts a music in our ears. It moves us to contemplation. And what we contemplate, what we sing our hymns to and offer our prayers to, is what will reincarnate us in the natural world, and what will be our one hope for salvation in the What’sToCome.”—Charles Wright, The Art of Poetry No. 41 (via bostonpoetryslam)
Very true. I’m reworking my “professional” website at the moment, and one of the time-consuming jobs is having to go through my history and decide which projects are appropriate for my portfolio. There’s so much I’ve done that I’ve forgotten, regardless of scale or prestige. And that’s the value of this kind of exercise. I hate updating résumés and CVs, but it’s necessary— not only do these documents serve your own professional efforts, but they’re useful reflections on everything you’ve achieved, challenges for you to think about what you define as important.
I’ve just recently returned from a week out leading an Arvon course. If you’re not familiar, Arvon is a residential creative writing institution founded by Ted Hughes, with a number of different centres in remote locations around the UK. There was a period of time when I used to run Arvon weeks quite regularly, but it’s been a while since I was last there, so a recent burst of Arvon invitations has been welcome. The week I’ve just returned from was different from any other Arvon week I can remember leading. The participant group consisted of foster-children and their carers; an age range spanning from six to mid-sixties, split between three rough bandings— adults, teens and little’uns. It was an intense week (lack of internet and mobile network notwithstanding), but so rewarding.
Everyone wrote. Even the adults, those with English as a second language, who may have been forgiven for thinking they were just there to chaperone the kids. And what stories they all had. What poems they wrote. For an afternoon, I sat with the group of adults and spoke with them about life stories— how the children in their care need to document their lives so they have something to look back on. I’d like to think that I gave them a few tools and techniques for compelling writing, but I know they also left me with a reminder of how important our writing practise is.
As a writer— as someone who’s supposed to chase the writing day in, day out— it’s perhaps too easy to lose sight of what the individual poems actually mean; how much they weigh, what place they carve out or impact on beyond the paper or screen they’re written on. But experiences like this serve as a reminder of how powerful and valuable this work with words can be. And how that power doesn’t have to be manifest on a spotlit stage with an audience of thousands. That value doesn’t have to be attached to publication in a journal or anthology. I’m talking about what poetry can do (or be) for everyday people who push (or are pushed!) to write it, nudged to engage with parts of their experience they didn’t think it was possible for them to capture in words. And what happens when they succeed, when they stand back from what they’ve written and see themselves or people they know there, recognisable and yet unfamiliar. Even if they never pick up the pen again.
The way to develop good taste in literature is to read poetry… For, being the supreme form of human locution, poetry is not only the most concise, the most condensed way of conveying the human experience; it also offers the highest possible standards for any linguistic operation — especially one on paper.
The more one reads poetry, the less tolerant one becomes of any sort of verbosity, be that in political or philosophical discourse, be that in history, social studies or the art of fiction.
“Learn how to use e-mail.
Decide why you are on the planet.
Have fewer meetings with fewer people for less time.
Slow down. Do less. Be here now. Achieve more.
Insist on clear, explicit brain-friendly actions.
Have a life beyond work.”—
But experts believe the success at keeping the death toll relatively low– 40 cyclists have died at the hospital in 10 years- is masking a lack of focus on preventing collisions.
They called on the Mayor and Transport for London to help build a comprehensive database of cyclist injuries. This would record factors such as whether the crash involved a HGV, car or pedestrian, the personal details of the cyclist, what happened before the collision, and if helmet and high-visibility clothing were worn.
Ross Lydall, Evening Standard, Thurs 6th Feb
Makes sense, and in a data-driven society, only a matter of time. It may sound morbid, but as a cyclist, whenever I hear news of yet another fatal traffic accident, I find myself wondering what actually happened, and whether there was anything the cyclist could have done to protect themselves.
I’d imagine a database like this could have an impact on cyclist safety, provided people actually took the time to examine the findings and stats. Cue call for sexy data-visualisation. And iPhone app.
“The tablet couldn’t possibly shoulder all the expectations people had for it. Not a replacement for your laptop or phone — but kinda. Something you kick back with in the living room, fire up at work and also carry with you everywhere — sort of. Yes, tablets have sold in large numbers, but rather than being a constant companion, like we envisioned, most tablets today sit idle on coffee tables and nightstands. Simply put, our love for them is dying.”—
Some fair arguments made, but I respectfully disagree. True, I’m can’t put money on the future of tablets in mainstream markets (although it could be argued that as an owner of each major revision of the iPad that’s been released, I already have). Are tablets laptop replacements? No, although so many people I know with tablets set them up with keyboard cases, with the effect of replicating that laptop form factor. However, I’m also not convinced that tablets simply represent a hardware bubble destined to burst as large screen smartphones gain traction.
I’d like to believe that there’s room for the tablet as third device pitched somewhere between the smartphone and desktop/laptop computer, in much the same way as prosumer cameras exist as a niche between affordable point-and-shoots and high end professional equipment. The fact that tablets severely dented sales of netbooks surely indicates that there’s a market for reasonably powerful computing devices that are bigger than phones and yet small and light enough for easy transport. And can we really discount the pervasive nature of a large touchscreen? When you think about the number of children being raised with tablets as pacifiers, there’s definitely room to imagine how tablet computing might have a firm grip on the future…
“Nhất Hạnh teaches that you can wash your bowl with the objective of having a clean bowl, or you can wash your bowl with the objective of washing the bowl. If you are only concerned with the end project — a clean bowl — then what becomes of the time you spent washing it? The time seems to disappear, as if a snippet of your life was not even really lived. On the other hand, if your mind, body, and sense of presence are honed in on the washing itself, every part of you comes alive to the vibrancy and sensation of the moment. Therefore, instructs Nhất Hạnh, the most important thing to think about while washing the bowl is washing the bowl.”—
Beautiful reminder of presence, of appreciating the moment for what it is. Lots of thoughts about time and how my time is used, recently. And the thought that mindfulness, like this, surely serves (creative?) writing well.
“Today brings some sad news: Editorially is closing its doors. The application will remain available until May 30, at which point the site will go offline. We encourage all users to export their data.”—
Speaking of collaborative writing apps, sad news that Editorially has fallen.
I drafted a post elsewhere about the alarmingly short-lifespan of some of these tools. I say alarmingly as no slight to any of the developers or forward-thinkers involved— it must be a tough thing to have to write an apologetic letter to your existing loyal userbase on the basis that it simply isn’t big enough to keep the lights on. But I’m certainly more wary about the tools I recommend these days, having spent a month convincing an entire community of young poets to abandon our Facebook group in favour of an alternative solution that promptly posted a death notice a few weeks later. I’ve since gone on to roll my own solution, using Wordpress— it’s open source (read: free), albeit carrying a higher price tag in terms of an investment of my development time, but at least my new solution sits on a platform I own, and I can tweak it to my heart’s content, rather than firing off feature requests to an already beleaguered developer.
Hate to be one of those guys, but if the shiny new tool you’re looking at doesn’t seem to have some solid way of generating revenue for its owners/developers, experience suggests thinking twice before betting the farm on it.
“The brilliant stories that make use of the possibilities of digital technology will fall victim to the obsolescence of that technology. And that’s okay; lots of what I experience here – online – is ephemeral, just as all the comics I’ve given away and traded in or sold have been lost to me. But I keep the issues of comics I think will matter to me, that I love. I need to get better at doing the same for the things I love online.”—
Popular thinking suggests that whatever exists online stays online forever. That depends on what the value of forever is, really. Forever could be just long enough for that inappropriate Facebook photo to tank your chance at a new job or relationship. But with the rate at which networks, platforms, standards and even the very devices we use to access the web change, forever may not be as long as it used to be. Something to think about when producing work for the web.
“The post-postcolonial character is open to exploring influences outside expected norms, and he demands the freedom to stitch those influences together as he sees fit. He embraces the multiple: “Do you see my colours, my dazzling terror?” the poet challenges. Yet, at the same time, he realizes that his brash experimentations—particularly those requiring a move away from the Caribbean landscape—inspire a problematic kind of performativity. “Watch my style, my chalkface charade, rude / work harvesting hymns. Break way. Look good,” he boasts (48). These lines suggest that, if the tristesse of the postcolonial character lies in his unintended mimicry, the tristesse of the post-postcolonial character lies in his self-conscious masquerade. What prevents his masquerade from becoming wholly disingenuous, however, is his understanding that he is permitted to wear multiple masks, just as he is permitted to speak in multiple tongues. Identity need not involve identification with one nation.”—
Also: “In the post-postcolonial framework, a relationship to a single place is often rendered impractical due to social, cultural, or family dynamics. Campbell’s post-postcolonial characters are comfortable, therefore, with citizenship in a suspended space, an experimental state of heterogeneity, ambiguity, and uncertainty—a self-conscious process of constant becoming.”
“I think memory is the most important asset of human beings. It’s a kind of fuel; it burns and it warms you. My memory is like a chest: There are so many drawers in that chest, and when I want to be a fifteen-year-old boy, I open up a certain drawer and I find the scenery I saw when I was a boy in Kobe. I can smell the air, and I can touch the ground, and I can see the green of the trees. That’s why I want to write a book.”—
“The vast accumulations of knowledge—or at least of information—deposited by the nineteenth century have been responsible for an equally vast ignorance. When there is so much to be known, when there are so many fields of knowledge in which the same words are used with different meanings, when every one knows a little about a great many things, it becomes increasingly difficult for anyone to know whether he knows what he is talking about or not. And when we do not know, or when we do not know enough, we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts.”—T. S. Eliot, “The Perfect Critic" (via grandhotelabyss)
“This juxtaposition of space and text—each poem in the cycle adheres to the same format—creates multiple effects. First of all, and by far the simplest of all possible explanations in my mind, would be that open space creates a field for the reader to imagine the absent, roughly two-dimensional, visual surface that triggers the writing. But a far more interesting explanation, made possible by Bleakney’s aesthetic choices, is that the field created by the space allows the speaker to create a three-dimensional absence which she may fill with her own internal weather, a process in which the speaker becomes the painting’s ego, and eventually even a superimposed alter-ego for the painter herself, who remains mostly absent, in terms of fact. Throughout the cycle—other than a reference to her birthplace, we get very little information about the painter herself—but she remains ever-present through the speaker’s entreaties. The speaker evokes Owens directly, or more particularly, the Owens she is in the business of creating”—
“To me that’s not the problem with what books are doing. I don’t think people are trying to convey a message. I think people are just showing off. Writers are trying to show their skill. They’re trying to show off—“I’m a great writer”—and they’re not trying enough to communicate.”—Sheila Heti