Saturday, 30 November 2013

Missing the point

I guess I knew that trying to ignore the creative and motivated act of novel-writing and just surf on the writing energy of the crowd, while compiling an autobiography, wouldn't really work.

I have patched together some bits and pieces, and done some thinking about it all, but this hasn't proven the same kind of experience as the previous years, which were frustrating at times, often exhausting, and didn't always end up with finished work to be proud of, but every time I did experience some kind of breakthrough on certain days. A character coming to life, an unexpected plot twist that started to write itself.  Those moments made the process worthwhile.

So I feel a bit of a cheat, really, as I have not sat down every day to seek those brief revelations, but have been also cutting and pasting bits that I had already written, stuff from Scrivener, and so on.

Still, it got me back into looking at the material again, so I can't consider it an entirely wasted month.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

In My Own Way

I loved the title of Alan Watts' autobiography, "In My Own Way" for its ambiguity.

I seem to have problems of getting in my own way when it comes to completing an autobiography, too.

I did make a good start, and put it in Scrivener, thinking that such a well-designed piece of software might make it a pleasure to return to, etc.  I routinely do bits of research, or recall phases of my life, although a lack of diaries does make it impressionistic, rather than accurately detailed.

Although I have used NaNoWriMo to motivate myself (I remain pretty dogged at keeping my word, once I have made a commitment) and have completed five imperfect 50,000 word novellas, I always thought it was breaking their local rules to work on non-fiction within that community.

Indeed, if you take the original rules literally, they specifically exclude memoirs and autobiographies.

Find me on NaNoWriMo

So, not feeling motivated to attempt that fiction mountain again, I thought perhaps I should take a break from NaNo, and just turn the same energy to shaping up my life story.   I went into NaNoWriMo, only to find that it now has a NaNo Rebels space on the forum, where others breaking the basic rules can still gather.

That seemed like a good idea to join.

But here I find myself, five days in, and I only wrote the 1667 words you have to do each day on the first day.  Then I got side-tracked, by a friend suggesting we make a Facebook Page for a small show we worked in during the early 1970s.  The Raree Show.  I guess I could kid myself that it counts as 'research'.

I have had fun putting it together, but still await contributions from other people, to get the momentum rolling.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Write that book!

As may appear obvious from the fact that the last post to this blog happened in March, I have slipped away from that writing pastime almost completely.

Of course, most of us write hundreds of words a day, one way or another, but that doesn't add up to a finished piece. Most of it remains ephemeral chatter, or topical communications.

But the calendar rolled over into October, which makes it countdown time to NaNoWriMo again.

I have taken on this writing marathon "challenge to self" five times now, and each time I have completed the 50,000 words in a month, although I could hardly say I have written five books.

I mostly enjoyed the process, but have never managed to motivate myself to really address the re-write problem.  ("All writing is re-writing").

For the first couple of times I also explored the whole self-publishing route through Lulu, just to end up holding a hard copy of the book - not because I expected anyone to actually read them (they remain the equivalent to children's art stuck on the fridge).

Bobby Campbell made me covers, etc., but it remained a simulation of the necessary processes.

I also discovered the joys of Scrivener, and began work on an autobiography.

But it all stopped again.   Somewhere between the day job, the dog walking and the wine drinking, I can't find the time to get back up to speed.

So I have a month to decide whether to try it again!   Why not join me?   It's quite a laugh.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Other people's trivia

I still feel amazed at the fractal complexity of the human world (let alone the natural world).  I watched a bit of Antiques Roadshow, and as usual gasped at the range of extraordinary things that people have spent their time commissioning, or making, which now change hands purely as investments, and get assessed by experts who know their trivia inside out (with perhaps a few reference books to double-check).

What is just old stuff to many of us, has all kinds of mysteries embedded for the expert and the collectors.

You find the same thing in art (sorry, Art) where a whole language elicits the fine details that escape the non-expert.  Similarly classical music, say, or opera.

You could say the same for wines, and the delicate verbal distinctions of connoisseurs, or food (flavourings and spices), and so on.  There's a Cannabis Cup held annually in Amsterdam, where people don't just get stoned, but assess the high of plants from different breeders.

Listen to the football pundits assessing individual players, teams, managers - attacks, defence - the importance of the different leagues, and so on.

Star Wars fans collect a wide range of models, with all kinds of small variations that seem important to them, which others would not appreciate.  How much is perceived investment, or simply competitive, and how much sheer pleasure in 'just noticable differences'?

If you belong to one of these groups (and many more like 'em) you know how meaningful the distinctions seem to you, and cannot understand that other people do not perceive, or care about, the subtleties ("It's a bottle of wine", "Why is kicking a ball around so important?" "it's just an old chair", etc).

We may feel astonished, or aghast, that other people cannot perceive the importance, or the distinctions, that we make - which might explain why it often comes back to using money to measure things.

We are supposed to be impressed by the price or value of the antique, or the bottle of wine, or the transfer fee of the footballer, or the Tracey Emin artefact - even if we would not willingly spend our own money that way (assuming we have any).

The examples above probably give a clue to the things I remain a 'barbarian' about - I would include "Top Gear" (a car is a car is a car), for instance.

I often can't see what the fuss is about.

Having said that, the stuff  on the Antiques Roadshow, that the obscenely rich people got other people to make for them, back in the day, can sometimes have its charms.  I do like a bit of quality, me.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Run that by me again...

One of the problems about working on an autobiography (after you get over the idea that it's just a vanity project) is actually working through memories - particularly remembering moments when I was unkind, or unfair, or just plain stupid.

The process reminds me of Castaneda's 'recapitulation', or psychoanalysis, or even that thing the Scientologists do, with an e-meter, where they make you work through upsetting emotional memories over and over again, until they have no more influence on you.  Flat-lining, I guess.  NLP also has various ways of reworking memories and traumas to remove the continuing influence.

I have memories where my toes still curl with embarrassment, for instance, or I get pale or flushed. 

So, along with the delightful memories of better times, moments I wish could have lasted for ever, I also have to confront all these flawed behaviours and incidents and choices. 

Even worse, in describing them, do I put myself down, laugh at myself, or try to justify them?   And do I even have the ability to do that? 

I know my mother used to dismiss my attempts at explanation, as often as not, as though it equalled refusing responsibility for my waywardness.

I am enjoying the process, but it has turned out much slower than just making up stories about imaginary people!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Out Of Order

In working on the autobiography (tales for the grand-children) I seem to have got stuck somewhere, and it appears to be before I was born!

I started studying the Second World War (from which I emerged) with very thin pickings in terms of family legends, and have become involved in the details, rather than the big picture...

I won't go into those details now (vegetarian ration books?  Was my dad too old for call-up, or a conscientious objector who became a fireman in The Blitz?  What was the work my mother was doing, welcoming refugees, entertaining in the underground bomb shelters, etc?)

I am also trying to avoid a particular shape that I have noticed in many autobiographies:
  • Start with a high point, the part of the story people may have heard about, or want to hear about.
  • Next, the chapter many readers may skip, the dry research of great-grandparents, etc, with few enlivening tales to brisk up the family tree and bits of social history
  • Early days, leading to school and those future glimpses (little did he know...)
  • Back up the tree, by luck or hard work, to the peak experience of the exciting opening chapter (which I have already told you about...)
  • Life since that heady time
I can feel myself nodding off, just at the thought.

Apart from the obvious problem about how much you can say about still-living people, I still can't resolve how much should be about me, and a unique perspective, and how much about my generation, my country, and so on.

I may have to set myself some kind of target, a daily word minimum, which works so well when writing NaNoWriMo novels.

And then I get bored with my own anecdotes, and want to go back to that fiction I wrote last November...

And there's 300 words I will never see again!

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The Great Secret

Somewhere back in the 60s or 70s in a magazine (maybe Oz?) I saw a cartoon which had a seeker on a quest, finding a guru so he can ask him the Secret of Life.  The guru answers in his own language, leaving the seeker none the wiser.
Eventually he finds someone who can translate for him, so he will finally understand the secret wisdom imparted to him by the guru.
The traveller repeats the answer the guru had given him, to the interpreter, who says he can translate it into English.  He thinks for a second, and then says "I don't know.  Nobody knows."


I was reminded of this when I stumbled over a copy of  Maurice Maeterlinck's book
"The Great Secret." 
He is not someone I know that much about, but as the book is out of copyright you can download it for free, if you are curious.

I have browsed it so far, but not read it completely.  What intrigues me is that for all his research into religions and the occult, his conclusion seems to be that from the earliest times people have known that at bottom the universe remains a mystery, and that any possible explanations, extrapolations, theories, dogmas, and other models remain little more than guesses (when they are not out-and-out lies, bluffs, cons and shams).

All of which goes well with my own brief moment of insight, years ago, when I told myself to Accept The Mystery, and stop trying to solve the existential problem, or become enlightened, or manipulate the world to my own advantage, or any of that.

There ain't no answer.
There ain't gonna be any answer. 
There never has been an answer.
That's the answer.
Gertrude Stein

Maeterlinck actually reveals his conclusion early on in the book, before expanding on all the accretions and denials which have come to surround the simple truth:
 This suspicion, which will recur more than once as we probe more deeply into these religions, would explain the dread cry of occultist tradition, of which we have we have already spoken: "Osiris is a dark god!" Can it be that the great, supreme secret is absolute agnosticism? Without speaking of the esoteric doctrines, of which we are ignorant, have we not an all but public avowal in the word Maya, the most mysterious of Indian words, which means that all things, even the universe and the gods who create, uphold, and rule it, are but the illusion of ignorance, and that the uncreated and the unknowable alone are real?
But what religion could proclaim to its faithful: "We know nothing; we merely declare that this universe exists, or, at least appears to our eyes to exist. Does it exist of itself, is it itself a god, or is it but the effect of a remote cause? And behind this remote cause must we not suppose yet another and remoter cause, and so forth indefinitely, to the verge of madness: for if God is, who created God?
"Whether He is cause or effect matters little enough to our ignorance, which in any case remains irreducible. Its blind spots have merely been shifted. Traditions of great antiquity tell us that He is rather the manifestation of a Cause even more inconceivable than Himself. We accept this tradition, which is, perhaps, more inexplicable than the riddle itself as we perceive it, but which seems to take into account its apparently transitory or perishable elements, and to replace them by an eternal foundation, immutable and purely spiritual.
Knowing absolutely nothing of this Cause we must confine ourselves to noting certain propensities, certain states of equilibrium, certain laws, which seem to be its will. Of these, for the time being, we make gods. But these gods are merely personifications, perhaps accurate, perhaps illusory, perhaps erroneous, of what we believe ourselves to have observed. It is possible that other more accurate observations will dethrone them. It is possible that a day will come when we shall perceive that the unknown Cause, in some respect a little less unknown, has had other intentions than those which we have attributed to it. We shall then change the names, the purposes, and the laws of our gods. But in the meantime those whom we offer you are born of observations and experiences so wise and so ancient that hitherto none have been able to excel them."
While it was impossible thus to address its faithful, who would not have understood its confession, it could safely reveal the secret to the last initiates, who had been prepared by protracted ordeals and whose intelligence was attested by a selection of inhuman severity. To certain of these, then, it admitted everything.
It probably told them: "In offering mankind our gods we had no wish to deceive them. If we had confessed to them that God is unknown and incomprehensible; that we cannot say what He is or what He purposes; that He has neither shape nor substance nor dwelling-place, neither beginning nor end; that He is everywhere and nowhere; that He is nothing because He is everything: they would have concluded that He does not exist at all, that neither laws nor duties have any existence, and that the universe is a vast abyss in which all should make haste to do as they please. Now even if we know nothing we know that this is not so and cannot be so. We know, in any case, that the Cause of Causes is not material, as men would understand it, for all matter appears to be perishable, and perishable it cannot be. For us this unknown Cause is actually our God, because our understanding is capable of perceiving it as having a scope which is limited only by our finite imagination. We know, with a certainty that nothing has power to shake, that this Cause, or the Cause of this Cause, and so forth indefinitely, must exist, although we are aware that we can never know it or understand it. But very few men are capable of convincing themselves of the existence of a thing which they can never hope to touch, feel, hear, know, or understand. This is why, instead of the nothingness which they would think that we were offering them were we to tell them how ignorant we are of all things, we offer them as their guide certain apparent traces of purpose which we believe ourselves to have detected in the darkness of time and space."
The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The named is the mother of myriad things

Thus, constantly free of desire
One observes its wonders
Constantly filled with desire
One observes its manifestations

These two emerge together but differ in name
The unity is said to be the mystery
Mystery of mysteries, the door to all wonders