Writing, Good and Bad (2015May09)


 

 

Saturday, May 09, 2015                                           12:52 PM

In the last thirty days I’ve typed 81 pages, approximately 24,000 words. You’d think I had something important or entertaining to say. But I have, unfortunately, reached a point where I’m able to capture some of my stream of consciousness and hold it steady long enough to type two or three pages of (mostly) coherent commentary on whatever subject is drifting through my mind at any given time. There’s a difference between just writing, and writing about something. Having recently begun an attempt to write something specific about a single subject, I’m made aware that stream-of-consciousness writing is not actually writing. Actual writing requires the writer to take a step outside of one’s stream of consciousness and write with intent—far more arduous and demanding than simply jotting down thoughts as they cross one’s mind.

So, as with many things (music, art, lifestyle…) I am not learning to write—I’m trying to unlearn bad habits in writing. Well, perhaps ‘trying’ is an exaggeration—I’m writing stream of consciousness right here and now! But I’m just taking a break from the effort of writing something other than the obvious. Question: Is it wrong to do something the wrong way as a respite from the hard work of doing it properly—or can I do both? We’ll see, I guess.

I went through my blog yesterday—I wrote a post about drinking tea and half-way through I started to get a bad feeling that I was repeating something I had written before. So I went through my blog to check the other posts related to tea. It turned out that I hadn’t actually repeated myself—I only thought I was because I was in the same stream of consciousness from which I’d written the other posts. My comments and observations were unique, but they all related to the frame of mind in which I contemplate the ancient cultural art of tea—the growing, the buying, the brewing, the methods, the taste, the varieties, et.al.

But tea accounts for but a handful of my posts. Many posts are political, philosophical, or music-related—and over several years of blogging, the probability of repeating myself is far greater than with, say, tea. Then there’s the drawback of simply talking about the same subject all the time—my son once complained that he didn’t want to read any more of my blog posts concerning the evils of Republicanism and Capitalism. He wasn’t complaining that I was unoriginal in any specific way, or that he didn’t like my writing—he was just sick of that subject—and who can blame him?

Thus, I try to avoid politics in my new posts—aside from tiring my readers, I feel that evil is something we should avoid obsessing about, no matter how excited we get about specific evils. It’s the same reasoning that made me stop watching crime procedurals on TV, like “Law & Order” or “Criminal Minds”—I figure it can’t be good for my mental health to watch shows based on murder and other violence. The shows make heroes out of crime-fighters, and that’s all well and good, but the overall subject matter is murder—and I don’t want a lot of that floating around in my brain. And since I don’t want to be an audience for evil, it makes little sense to be a propagator of such.

On the other hand, there’s a reason for all the murder shows. Conflict in drama—in storytelling in general—is a sine qua non. You can’t have a good story without a struggle. You can’t tell of a glorious victory unless it is also a narrow escape from disaster. Two people who fall in love and live happily ever after isn’t a story, it’s a sentence. And while modern entertainment has some pretty simpleminded premises and plotlines, even Hollywood needs more than a single sentence.

I have no idea why social media has suddenly gone dark for me. At first, MySpace and Blogger seemed delightful toys. The re-connecting with long-lost acquaintances, the connecting with new people of shared interests—both presented as technical marvels, bringing everyone closer and giving everyone a voice. Increased bandwidth made uploading every little essay, artwork, graphic image, audio or video recording a matter of moments—I have uploaded my share—hundreds and hundreds of them.

People read them, saw them, listened to them—they liked them, shared them, and commented on them—a dream I didn’t know I had, came true: an audience inside a box on my desk. In the world in which I grew up, a sickly, un-talented artist could only annoy his or her immediate family—now, people like me can annoy the entire globe. But I loved it. To date, I’ve uploaded 1,673 YouTube videos, with 70,335 views and 60 subscribers since 2009. My blog on WordPress has 576 posts and 80 followers since 2012. It wasn’t until now, in 2015, that a sense a futility has crept in and tainted the ‘innocence’ of my uploading ‘spirit’.

The only trouble is: my writings appear now on the same screens as Shakespeare and Poe; my drawings appear on the same screen as Da Vinci and Escher; my piano-playing is side-by-side with Horowitz and Glenn Gould. I could get more followers and increase my Klout score if I simply posted links to Shakespeare, Poe, Da Vinci, Escher, Horowitz, and Glenn Gould.

But when did I switch from “sharing my interests” by uploading my own junk, to worrying over the reactions, the interest, the attraction of my posts over someone else’s? In a way, uploading original content makes me a performer—and as I became conscious of having an audience, I naturally fell into the mindset of one who performs. It’s the old Heisenberg Principle—the act of observing a thing changes the state of the thing. My awareness of being observed changed the way I felt about what I uploaded.

It wasn’t only my awareness of an ‘audience’ that changed my view—I also became aware of the ‘competition’, if you will. The above-mentioned ‘great artists’ are a tiny sample of the enormity of culture online. I didn’t even mention the hundreds of pop artists, the thousands of comics and graphic novels, the many museums with images of their entire collection available online. Symphony orchestras by the score, performing uncounted classical masterpieces are, even so, outdone by the Guttenburg Experiment, a free online source for every English-language book in the public domain. Every book. Every. Book.

So, yeah, my perspective was altered by my growing awareness that sharing online isn’t just a personal act—it is also a small addition to the entirety of Western Culture, most of which has found its way onto the Internet. That stuff wasn’t there before—my stuff didn’t suffer so by comparison. Now it does.

Beyond the use of the Internet as an audience, there is the social aspect. My social awkwardness was greatly reassured by the distancing effect of social media. But even a couple of prisoners, communicating by tapping Morse Code on the walls, will eventually grow familiar and get personal—social media only starts out as distancing—it ends up as the same collection of repressions, politenesses, sensitivities, obligations, and awkwardnesses that comprise real socializing. Arguments are had, illnesses are discussed—even deaths in the family come fast and furious when you have hundreds of Facebook friends. Being obligated to wish someone happy birthday every day will start to make it seem like a chore. And with all that agita, all those people are still miles away, in different states, different countries—even different continents. There’s no touching.

I’m still drawn to my PC, hoping for distraction, looking for attention, or just conversation—but when I sit down and take the mouse, I don’t know where to click anymore.

Recently, I let myself be convinced that I might write something in the professional sense—a bit of fiction—and my editor’s prime directive was, “But you can’t share it all over the Internet, like you do everything else!” So I can’t tell you anything about it, Mr.-and-Mrs.-Nobody-Reads-My-Blog. And here I experience a strange phenomenon—my blog posts are casual ramblings wherein I ‘share’ with the universe—they make me feel less isolated. But writing something I can’t share with anyone (except one person who’s going to be judgmental about whatever I share) makes me feel more isolated.

In school we are often told to ‘show our work’. In the world of grown-ups, you never show your work—a professional never shows the public anything but a finished product—otherwise, it ‘ruins the magic’. To prove the rule, there will sometimes be an exhibit of say, Michelangelo’s sketches—or a book of T. S. Eliot’s unpublished poems—but such exceptions can only exist after the artists in question have established their greatness. Once a person’s name becomes more than an identification, that name’s ‘brand’ can be stamped on anything, tee shirts included, and marketing will take care of itself.

Taming the wild elephant, Anonymous, c. 1725 - c. 1745 Source Graphic courtesy of : The Rijksmuseum Website

Taming the wild elephant, Anonymous, c. 1725 – c. 1745 Source Graphic courtesy of : The Rijksmuseum Website

Portrait of a Lady, Anonymous, c. 1635 - c. 1645 Source Graphic courtesy of : The Rijksmuseum Website

Portrait of a Lady, Anonymous, c. 1635 – c. 1645
Source Graphic courtesy of : The Rijksmuseum Website

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