Sunday, September 28, 2008

Three Morning Pages

As recommended in the The Artist's Way, I write three longhand pages each morning upon waking.

Lately I've wanted to write (in this blog, not the morning pages) about Villaraigosa's failure to plant a million trees, or about my success foraging wild cherries, or about how little pity I have for investment bankers.

But my writing energies are now focused on producing a solid entry to VQR's Young Reviewer's Contest, so as a stand-in for a real blog entry I'll simply transcribe one day's pages. According to the artist's way, I am not supposed to read the pages until at least 8 weeks after I write them, nor am I supposed to share them with anyone, but oh well, I broke that rule.

You can tell that these are unedited, and that I'm sometimes searching for something to fill the page.

------- 9 / 23 . morning pages -------------

The problem is that I feel like "words aren't coming to me" when I expect them to come as easily as reading prose makes it seem. In the good prose I read they follow one another at a rapid rate, all quite eloquent and sensible. This produces the illusion that a person could speak those words in monologue or conversation quite naturally. But actually (as Marisa pointed out in one letter), the pleasure of writing is that it produces that illusion but is actually the product of long periods of musing and revision. See, I crossed several things out already in these few sentences. I guess an element of "good" writing that is pleasurable to read is the crafting of a spoken-seeming flow in the voice. This is why even newspaper writing can use the dash to portray a thought that interrupts itself. We do that in speech. We also pause at times and at the end of sentences. Thus, we have marks like the period and comma. But isn't it strange how formal writing does not attempt to have signs for intonation, volume, speed, etc. It's true that there is a limit on the extent to which sound can be transmuted into writing, but we could definitely go further, and in informal communications people improvise. Common in informal writing but prohibited in formal is the use of capitals and font size to indicate volume or emphasis. We also do not allow cross-outs to depict process in formal writing. There must be some rhyme and reason behind the things we allow. Perhaps this could be a field like linguistics that looks at many systems in an attempt to draw (inductively) conclusions about the way humans process writing in general.

The economics professor incorrectly defined inductive and deductive reasoning yesterday. This disturbed me. I find strict and rigorous understanding of concepts like that to be very important. First of all it gives you access to vocabulary that scientists and philosophers use. Second of all the actual concept itself enhances your analytic ability. That seems obvious and obviously important. Thus its disempowering and actually disturbing to watch these analytical concepts be shoved under the rug in the interest of efficiency.

Then again maybe all the people are sitting in the classroom not paying too much attention to Anza, or putting much stock in him. They won't be pulling out his definitions in conversations with strangers. Maybe the glazed look on their faces signifies that they too want to get their A and move on to bigger and better things.

C and E are having breakfast in the other room. I'm at C's desk, which sits under a window. On the outside just next to the window is a shed / shack. It blocks some of the sunlight and view of a palm tree.

We talk about "progress" in writing. But sometimes its achingly difficult because one does not know what the "destination" would look like. I want to write Amro and say that after I received his email, and the attached review, I "made a lot of progress on the review I'm writing." I know that's true. but then I look at what still needs to be done and I don't even know what doing it will be like. That's why exercise is very appealing because it is made so clear what one should do. Run this route, lift these weights, perform these drills. Until you get to the very high levels it is almost impossible to fuck up, although there are varying degrees of success, various quality levels of training.

Yesterday, listening to Fall Out Boy and Coheed and Cambria, I realized that punk is really the music I love best, that literally moves me. They are the folk songs of my generation, with their simple architecture and relatively straightforward verses and choruses. Coheed and Cambria are layering more complexly and doing some metal things. But really it is the heavy climaxing choruses of punk rock - high distortion, tonal and repetitive bass, high snare, loud and borderline raspy singing - that make me feel like a part of a unified generation. We need songs for our causes and struggles, songs for our time, and I can't imagine those songs being written in any other genre.

People want to listen to more fashionable, inventive, cutting edge bands. Like Modest Mouse or Panda Bear. I like those too. But if Bob Dylan can be so universally acclaimed then there must be some general recognition of the fact that careful mastery of a simple genre is an astounding form of art. Like printmaking.

Whenever I have coffee and food with morning pages I have less to write. Maybe Hemingway was right: skipping a meal makes you sharp. Discomfort makes you sharp, I agree with that. This is why I need more discipline to WAKE UP and go through the day a little bit tired sometimes.

I miss Lizzy. She was perfect to live with. She was clean and socially conscious and values quality family time and public transportation. We have more in common than we would have thought at 9 and 13, when all I wanted was to rebel. Now rebellion in some quiet forms has come upon her, unsummoned, and she wears it well.

The other problems with coffee and food are: 1) they make me feel guilty for being served, 2) I have to shit while writing and it does not sharpen me, it distracts me.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

DFW, in memoriam

Salon writer and admirer Laura Miller has already written a beautiful elegy for David Foster Wallace, who hung himself last night.

I learned about his suicide over the phone from a friend, a fact that seems appropriate considering how many times Infinite Jest doubts our ability to connect as humans in a world saturated with technological middlemen, a world where news reaches us on our teleputers as we watch them, alone.

In his work, he engaged with despair readily. His suicide does not surprise, given the dark and hopeless moments he often portrayed in his fiction.

I do not pretend to be qualified to eulogize him. In fact, I spent the better part of this year reading and attempting to review Infinite Jest, and I never reached a point where I felt comfortable making claims about it. I disliked the feeling it gave me; I rejected its message. But I could not shake its effects free, and suspected that that was the ultimate marker of art.

But I will make a recommendation here, to whoever reads this. Out of respect for one of our time's most talented writers, we should read his advice on how to live, and follow it for an hour or a day, if we can. Before his death, David Foster Wallace did at some points advocate a kind of hope. Not the kind that fits in campaign slogans, but the kind of hope that exists, humbly, despite an extremely detailed and attuned awareness of the infinite number of arguments against it.

Your fitful fiction enlarged our concept of peace, by excavating all of its alternatives. Rest in peace.