By Way of Introduction
I am having some trouble writing. The trouble began on Monday when I was asked to submit five pages of prose for my creative writing class by Friday. It is neither the proposed length nor the lack of time that I find troubling, but rather the now-apparent fact that I don’t know what to write about or how to write it, both specifically and in general.
I am now writing about this trouble in the hope that I will write my way out of it. I think my therapist would agree this is a very good idea.
My current writing trouble is due in part to my conflicting desire to write insightful, serious prose, and flippant, asinine commentary about my life. For example, I could write either a meditative and lyrical essay about the long afternoons of my childhood, or I could tell you about the pair of knickers that blew onto the balcony last month.
I am also very wary of trying to be funny.
An uncle once asked me what my friends were planning for the summer holidays, and when I replied I had no friends he laughed and called me a great wit. I realize my fatalism is often misread.
Although last week a friend did tell me my self-loathing was palpable.
As I see it, I have only one fatal flaw. The diagnosis is simple. I am unapologetically and terminally sentimental.
The cause: An excess of Roland Barthes and the audiobook of The Virgin Suicides played on repeat.
This flaw manifests in a tendency to write long, sprawling sentences with many adjectives, to describe myself as a hopeless romantic, and to come up with sincere and insipid phrases like heartbreak is a good writer.
In a strange and meaningless turn of fate the R on my keyboard has jammed (each R has subsequently been copied and pasted in place). It would be more significant were it S, or A, or even D. More telling, more literary.
For the time being there is no miracle cure. The treatment is symptomatic. Avoid Frank O’Hara’s poems, and make sure to swap literature (particularly French literature) for more innocuous, less purple prose. An Introduction to Mechanical Engineering (Second Edition), A Beginner’s Guide to Birdwatching, back issues of Architectural Digest.
Horoscopes are probably best avoided too. My horoscope in last Sunday’s newspaper began: The love planet is taking an extended break in your sign.
Yesterday I found myself on the Goodreads page for Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking (I don’t smoke).
Carrie: This is really, truly a terrible book that uses very transparent psychological trickery to convince you to stop smoking. But, it totally worked on me so it gets 5 stars.
Igor: The best book i ever read! i’m not even a third into it — i’m already a nonsmoker! i feel no cravings, i’m not miserable! it’s like magic! i’m not using my willpower! i’d never have believed that i’d write this review, but it happened!
The webpage also lists recommended quotes from the book, the first being There are people who can make love standing on a hammock, but it is not the easiest way. I’m curious to know who these people are. This is a very impractical metaphor.
Easy Way to Stop Smoking has sold over 15 million copies, and is, I think, a perfect illustration of the power of content versus stylistic merit (which is moot).
Included in my list of innocuous reading material are emails and texts. I like to reimagine them as obscure contemporary poems.
Among my favourites:
I have been eaten by sharks.
thank you for the email. even your emails are written so well, like your writing.
send me more some time.
or coffee some time.
happy women’s day.
as you can see,
my writing is not so good
probably because i am a man
i am more suited to manual labour tasks
i’m writing this on company time
which is nice
because i bill them
also its less obvious than facebook.
(I read a poem last week that used found text. I thought it was very clever. I made a note to try it too.)
It is hard for me to name the exact cause of my recent writing troubles. It’s hard for me to name things in general. I have a cat I called Idaho. I like the sound of American names and this one is extra good because it is made up. The first governor of the state claimed it was a native American Indian word that meant sun comes over the mountain, but really it doesn’t mean anything. However, the name didn’t stick. Within a week she was just The Cat. And when I got another cat she became Big Cat. And now everyone just picks their favourite name and calls her anything. Orange, Ginger, Pussy.
I’m not sure this is the right time or place to talk about my cats.
On a more serious note, I suppose I might try to write the contemporary condition (whatever that is). Stylistically I think that could work, given my tendency to skip from topic to topic with little to no thought for continuity.
My sister once told me my writing reads like badly syncopated jazz. I took her to mean very avant-garde.
Of the three people who congratulated me for getting accepted into the creative writing course, one was the alcoholic who lives on the fourth floor of my building. He was in his pyjamas and we were in the elevator. It was midday. He seemed honestly excited for me, and his red face flushed even redder. It was really quite touching.
Me to my sister, who is standing in the kitchen: How am I supposed to write anything half-decent in only five days?
It doesn’t have to be decent, she replies, it’s an exercise in process. It’s about getting the words down and experimenting with form. And then, after a pause, I am surprisingly wise sometimes.
Yes, I agree, sometimes.
She is busy turning the kitchen upside down, or set-dressing as she calls it. Taking things out of the cupboards and piling them on the countertops in haphazard formation. It’s got to look stylized, she explains.
If I were writing a blurb about this piece I might say something like In this short and frenetic essay, the author overwhelms the reader in a staccato stream of consciousness, jumping inelegantly between topics in a sustained and cynical crisis of writing. Which almost makes it sound quite good. And calculated (which it isn’t).
Later on the phone to my mother:
I tried to write something serious but it was too sincere.
Have you tried drawing how you feel?
I recently read a short essay by Proust, written when he was twenty-four. I was relieved to note it wasn’t a very good essay. I am also twenty-four, so it follows I can write not-very-good essays and still have a chance at literary genius later in life.
Last night my friend Amy told me she has a book called Writer’s Block that looks like a block of wood. This is odd, I think, because I always imagined writer’s block had more in common with a blocked drain than a block of wood (or even cheese).
My mother told me about a book that offers literary cures for common maladies. For each ailment, from warts to insomnia, the book recommends required readings as treatment.
On the phone with my mother (again):
This is surely an artwork.
No, it’s not.
You can’t cure warts with novels.
Perhaps it includes nonfiction too?
This is either a very dumb idea or a very excellent artistic concept.
Looking up the book up online I was curious to note that one of the remedies for writer’s block is Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle. This was my favourite book when I was younger. I have read it five times.
Also curious to note the disclaimer at the bottom of the page: Feedback on the success rate of this remedy would be greatly appreciated.
0/10, would not recommend.
I got back home from work close to midnight. My sister was on the couch.
You’ll notice the kitchen is clean, she said. I am actually quite tidy sometimes.
Yes, I agreed, sometimes.
I have only written four pages, much of which are taken up with paragraph breaks. The beginning is somewhat lacking but once the piece gets going I think it works in a chaotic way. There are wobbly red lines under most of the words, which makes me look entirely illiterate, but it’s only because of the missing Rs.
I am having some touble witing. The touble began on Monday when I was asked to submit five pages of pose for my ceative witing class by Fiday.