Monday, February 16, 2009

a bird, a rose, the jeopardy

I have had a strange weekend, though strange by whose standards I can’t really say, and my life is altogether a little strange when I compare it to the lives of fully able-bodied folk. If one can pull back from the idea that it is unpleasant and one would rather be feeling different it becomes, to some extent, interesting.

I have two novels on the go that I am trying to read, both very different in terms of content and style but both equally difficult for me to focus on. Increasingly, with novels, I find myself thinking that this is ok, the writing ticks all the boxes in terms of writerly craft, I can’t actually find fault with any of it; but my overwhelming response is: so what? Sometimes I skip about, back and forth, and it doesn’t seem to matter much in what order I read it. Talk about losing the plot. This means I get the essence of the author but not the narrative as it is written, I lose the unfoldingness of it.

On Saturday, after the scones and a walk which I knew I was pushing myself to take, I lay in bed, head full of white noise (M.E. head), unwilling to be dragged into what I knew would be a dark and tangled sleep. I had a pressing impulse to stay awake and record the moment. Even though I can barely read a story, my own narrative (it seems) still matters and writing is somewhat easier than reading – as talking, I suppose, is often much easier than listening. I noted that the air outside was quite blue as the light faded. There is a bird that sings, always at that time, as though occupied with some urgent and pressing matter, and I thought about the nightingale in the Oscar Wilde story, how the singing bird pressed itself against the thorn to make the white rose red, all for love. Red for Valentine.

I had fourteen hours of troubled sleep with dreams like background TV that someone forgot to switch off, and by late afternoon of Sunday I was still in PJs. In the evening I went to London to see my daughter singing the blues on a barge on the River Thames, Cry Me A River is playing somewhere in my consciousness, most beautifully, and I think again about the bird and the dark red rose.

On the platform at Clapham Junction, I sat down and had a hallelujah moment: what am I doing trying to write a novel? (do not answer this) Hallelujah, but wtf am I doing – writing as though I am living a normal (cognitively speaking) life? Short bursts of frenetic thought, words that fall out, apparently incoherent, but they arrange themselves into something that has a language, almost unintelligible perhaps, but. Then I remembered that this is how my brain works now; and that nothing matters but the quality of light at any given moment, the bird, the rose, cry me a river (no really, it’s fine). I think this may be as close as I can come to religious ecstasy.

Meanwhile, I have pressing decisions to make about my future and am perilously close to the state of blinding euphoria that impels me to sign up and commit to things (a postgraduate university course - stop me, someone) that inevitably come crashing down on my head.

It is a good thing that I am wearing my purple trousers. They remind me of just about everything.


Zhoen said...

Write out your story, you never know who might need to read it.

D had a prof who taught that the writing in research had to pass the "so what" test. It's what I most deal with in my own writing.

Tall Girl said...


Reading the Signs said...

Hi Zhoen - well thanks for that. It's interesting that the "so what" test would be applied to research writing. And makes sense, really. The thing is I have a sneaking feeling that it is I who cannot meet the what in the novels I'm reading - that it's a lack of necessary substance in me rather than in the writing, because of cognitive impairment. I seem to manage better with short fiction - and poetry.

Hello TG

Gael said...

A post-grad course sounds great! What are you thinking of?

Reading the Signs said...

hello Gael - erm - feeling too bonkers to talk about it but if it happens I suppose I will :)

Good to see you hereabouts.

Kahless said...

Ditto to what Gael said.

And so what if you dont finish it.

I am a starter and poor finisher. The number of 'nearly finished' DIY jobs around the house is testament to that.

Reading the Signs said...

Well yes but, Kahless, I can see why DIY jobs don't get finished. It took me about 16 years to change a lamp shade in the kitchen.

Digitalesse said...

Keep on keeping on, girl. Who knows where the writing journey will take you, or what twists and turns, or unexpected discoveries you might find?

Sometimes I feel that my own photographic experiments are mere child's play and that I'm not really trying.

Sometimes I admit that I don't know what I'm doing, or why I'm doing it, is it any good or does any of it matter? But if I don't ... what else do I have to make some kind of meaning of a life that was derailed so many years ago? Does any of that make sense?

Just keep on writing .... and who knows where it may take you?

Reading the Signs said...

I do fully intend to keep on, Digi. Perhaps it sounded otherwise, but it is really about keeping on trying to find a form that is compatible with how my energy works (or doesn't). Incorporating it in a way that is meaningful and artistically satisfying.

Yes, what you say makes complete sense.

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

Purple trousers are a prerequisite to taking any decision and to prolonging states of ecstatic bliss. I should know, I don't own a pair - which explains everything! ;-)

Write the story, Ms Signs - Zhoen's quite right.

nmj said...

I find myself thinking so what about a lot of things I read these days, whether it's novels or columns in Sunday papers. It is harder and harder to be gripped. I am about to start Stieg Larsson's Girl with the Dragon Tatoo, the literary novel I'm reading is just not doing it for me. I have heard such great things about Stieg and although I rarely read crime/thrillers I am looking forward to this.

Your observations on writing being easier than reading somehow, just as speaking is easier than listening, are spot on.

word ver: persean.

well, my paternal grandmother was persian. is this a sign?

Anna MR said...

I know you'll go on writing, Signs, in one way or another, or both, and I've no intention of stopping you in the post-grad process either (were you going to teach or take it?) - you'll either be stopped by someone else or go ahead and go for it. The only thing I can really do here is wish you more moments of your own religious ecstasy, seeskin. Which I do.

(The trouble with fiction is you have to believe it, it has to transport you, you have to care, isn't it? And it is becoming increasingly rare that I do and it does, I find, so I'm part of the so-what team, too.)

Hugs and love to you and yours from a cold and frozen North. Mwahs, too, goes without saying.

Reading the Signs said...

Vanilla, clearly you must get yourself a pair of purples immediately. There, I have spoken. And may our stories be written, one way or another.

NMJ, it is definitely a Sign, for not only are you a bit Persian, you are also a Person and the WVLs are honouring your Perseanhood. They are saying trali to me right now, which seems just a touch frivolous.

I think a crime thriller sounds just the ticket - Mr. Signs has a stack of them, but they are all quite complicated and when I try and dip in I lose the plot with those too!

Ms Mr of the Arctic (it is the arctic if we say so), religious ecstasy is the only way to go and it is totally free, unlike the other kind of ecstasy.

Very glad to have you in the so-what team, or any other team, seeskin. You have nailed it, I think, with the observation that "you have to care." I often think tis not always a failure on the part of the writer so much as brain malfunction, but perhaps it just makes me a little more discerning. Yes, that's the way I'll think about it.

Anna MR said...

Discerning - yes, that's the word. And I do think that as one's life experience and fiction experience increase, one's ability to be immediately transported by any old bit of fiction decreases. There's probably a mathematical formula to represent it.

north said...

beautiful post dear signs - poetic and spiritual and so many remind us now is really all we have so it is no bad thing to notice it and celebrate it.
yeah - like the so what? That's what Kathleen Jamie said about reading novels, she who would rather make a poem - so what, she said? You poets

nmj said...

i love this, anna! an algebraic expression to tell us how transported we will be by any given book. perfect

Montag said...

This is pretty cool.
You know it must be, since I am using the word "cool". It is a word I do not use very much, unless the situation warrants.

And this is cool.

Everyone's mind works the same way:
bursts of neon, incoherent.

Some people feel obligated to create a new genesis from this incoherence.

Some people just put it into a filing system, and let it be a prison.

Euphoria is interesting. I won't say anything else about it. I'm rolling it over my mind's tongue.

Reading the Signs said...

True, Montag, but people with M.E. do have to live with a substantial degree of cognitive dysfunction/impairment which can actually make it impossible (if they are writers) to work in the way they would if they didn't have that condition. It is very easy to lose the thread. Of course, one works with what one has and it may be that something new emerges that would otherwise not have seen the light.

Filing systems have never been my strong point.

I take the word cool as a compliment - thank you.