Showing posts with label ME. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ME. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Looks Like a Dave Sim Hand

So, Andrew, when are you going to start blogging again?

Over the last few months of 2014 this blog was causing me more unhappiness than fun.  I found myself taking down an extended essay on Richard Dawkins and (for different reasons) a short piece about Star Wars because I wasn't able to deal with the criticism they came in for. Some of the things which happened made me feel physically unwell and unable to sleep. The "limits of good taste in comedy" piece never went up at all; even the epigram had people telling me I'd gone insane. Yeah, in retrospect, starting a piece on offensiveness by saying something incredibly offensive wasn't the cleverest idea I ever had. And of course, that was last year, when it was all political correctness and trigger warnings; and this is this year when words are only marks on paper and can't hurt anyone and no-one has any right not to be offended. I'm doing it again, aren't I? 

And there's the problem. I think I'm sometimes quite interesting and sometimes quite funny. More interesting than mumble-mumble-mumble but less interesting than Philip Sandifer, say. But in order to sometimes be quite interesting I have to give myself permission to free-associate wildly and see where I end up. If I feel I have to rein myself in I never get started. 

All of us struggle with the voices in our head saying "how dare you think anyone cares about anything you have to say?" "what are you wasting your time writing about that for when you could be writing about this?" "this thing isn't nearly as good as that other thing, I should give up if I were you". But nowadays the little voices appear in little boxes underneath your essay. The little voices saying you are brilliant would be just as problematic if you believed in them, but no-one sensible does. A musician I admire once thanked me for being honest about his record. That pleased me. 

That's one reason why I've enjoyed the new thing of podcasting so much; it's just off the cuff conversation and folk music doesn't have the bullshit associated with it that the other fandoms do. If you like my blogging, I wish you would listen to it. It's only "about" folk music to the degree that one my "Doctor Who" articles are "about" Doctor Who. Some people think that it isn't kosher to listen to a review of a gig you didn't go to because why would you be interested in gigs you didn't go to; and some people, in fact, some of the same people, think it isn't kosher to listen to a review of a gig you did go to because you already know what happened so why would you want to know what happened?

A vicar once told me that he was very pleased when someone told him that they didn't agree with his sermon. That probably meant that they had listened to it. 

Remember Natalie? Buddhist lady who wants everyone to write. Her advise is to just sit down and write. Not to be confused with Dorothea; Freudian lady who wants everyone to write. Her advise is to just sit down and write. Or indeed Julia, hippy lady who wants everyone to write, whose advise is to just sit down and write. I gave my copy of Brenda away. I think that she thought that the best thing was to just sit down and write, but in a terribly middle-class about it. Dorothea thought that if you just let yourself go, then your Right Brain would automatically say brilliant things through you. Natalie thought that if you just let yourself go, then your Wild Mind would automatically say brilliant things through you. Julia thinks that if you just let yourself go, then God will say automatically say brilliant things through you. (This works even if you don't believe in God.) 

There is something to be said for this kind of stuff. The Higher Power thing is as necessary for us writers as it is for you alcoholics; not as a theory about how evolution happened but as a way of not answering the question "Whats writing for?" "It's kind of like meditation" "It's kind of like psychoanalysis" and "It's kind of like praying" are the closest things to answers anyone is likely to come up with. 

But she did us all a lot of harm. She told us that it was all about sitting down and letting words flow out like endless rain into a paper cup, and that there was nowhere you could be that wasn't where you were meant to be. You don't become a swordsman by years of study and training; it's not skill and experience and technical knowledge that makes you a great pilot. It's all a matter of faith. Just switch off your conscious self and act on instinct.

It comes all comes back to that damn movie. Everything always comes back to that damn movie.

I was once at a church meeting, and someone said "shall we plan a structure for the Easter meditation, or shall we just allow God to lead us." Quick as a flash the Vicar (a different Vicar) said "Why, don't you think God can lead through planning and preparation?"

Who was it who said that the greatest impediment to a religious revival in England today is the fact that the word "Vicars" rhymes with "Knickers"?

Even Neil is in on the stunt: see him only the other day saying that either you can make the process of writing unnecessarily complicated or you can just sit down and write. But that's not the question the clueless newbie is asking. The clueless newbie is asking what this mysterious "just writing" thing involves. Does the Neil really just sit at his desk and produce words all day and eventually realize that he has pooed out a book? Well, okay, that might very well apply to Ocean at the End of the Lane, but Sandman and American Gods and the spider one show signs of him having taken some trouble over them. And that's all the clueless newbie wants to hear.

I heard Robin Hobb at Worldcon, a very good writer impressively uncontaminated by silly notion of Making Good Art. She has kids and animals and a busy life, but her characters are always in her mind, and in odd moments she writes down a few sentences about what happens to them next. At the end of the day, when she has time to herself, she types up that day's notes. Eventually she has the draft of a novel. I don't believe that I could ever write like that; for me it's about the sensation of typing, of getting lost in a huge swirly labyrinth of me and feeling that my fingers are much, much cleverer than I am: but it's the kind of thing the newbie wants to hear. What "Just write" and "Make Good Art" are really saying is "Oh, it's mysterious and ineffable and I can't put it into words."

I once read a book by John Braine. I think he was the man who wrote Room at the Top, which I have never read, and nrbrt intend to. He said that you write a novel in two stages: first draft; synopsis; final draft. First of all you sat down and batter out your novel making it all up as you go along; and then you read it, summarized it, fiddled around until the plot actually made sense, and then you rewrote it, and sent that second draft off to the publisher. I believe in that much more than I believe in all those cork boards with pins telling you what colour eyes the heroine has and the name of her second favorite citrus fruit. 

If I had spent more time with that and less time with The Way of Becoming a Wild Writer things might have turned out differently. The Internet didn't help very much, either. 

It's like we've discovered a new drug; and the only options we can think of are total abstinence or lotus eaters indulgence. We were the first, and as it happened, the last, generation of "TV natives". Our parents thought of TV as something of an impostor in the living room. Do you really need pictures on the radio? You surely can't be going to sit and watch TV all day? But we weren't "watching" TV, staring passively at it. It wasn't like that. TV was a place. It was the place we lived in. It was where everything happened. And even if what was happening that day wasn't anything you cared about, like the election or football or a documentary on barrel organs -- you had to go there because it was where all your imaginary friends hung out. 

That is why Jimmy Savile is so uniquely traumatic. Not just because he was a child molester; or because he was a prolific child molester; or even a famous prolific child molester. He was an absolutely central part of the place where we all lived called Television. It was never really clear what it was that he did, but he was almost certain to be on hand when you dropped by. The revelation that he was only in it for the under age sex has rather poisoned the whole thing retrospectively.

The next generation neither sit google eyed in front of Blue Peter and Songs of Praise; nor do they fear TV as a mind sucking alien. It's just a thing that delivers content. They still Watch Telly in the sense that we still Go To The Pictures, but telly isn't for them what it was for us any more than cinema is for us what it was for Grandpa. They can handle the Internet. We can't. Oh, there are a few old people who don't see the point of it and are pretty sure it will all blow over in a few weeks anyway and who write articles for the Guardian about how they survived a whole afternoon without their mobile phone. There were people in the Olden Days who had sworn terrible oaths that they would never allow a TV into their house. (My Uncle Bill refused to have a television, I believe for socialist reasons. My Aunty Laura, more sensibly, had one but refused to actually switch it on.) But most of us are more like middle-aged men in the first and as it turned out only age of TV, slumped in front of our screens with the Radio Times on one knee and the TV Times on the other knee. O-mi-gud we can sit here and watch movies and porn and music and porn and sport and porn and comics and porn all day long and never leave our desks again, and now Apple has invented a little baby one that we can take to bed like a hot water bottle and hug like a teddy bear. It's me who is intoxicated by Marvel Unlimited (I only bought my IPad for Marvel Unlimited started) like a junkie mainlining ecstasy because o-mi-god I can read every single issue of Captain America and I have to do that as quickly as possible so I can read every single issue of the Fantastic Four. The digital natives aren't excited by this stuff: why wouldn't you be able to read a 40 year old comic if that's what floats your bag. It must be one the internet somewhere?

I am not worried about little toddlers running their finger over the front page of the Guardian in the hope that it will make the pictures get bigger. I am not worried about bigger kids who think that "doing their homework" means cutting and pasting a paragraph from Wikipedia without reading it first. I am much more worried about the ones who have found an HTML version of Pong or Space Invader on their Dad's laptop. They are ancient games, not very good to begin with. World of Warcraft or Minecraft well; yes of course. A Dungeons & Dragons game that goes on forever with an infinite number of little metal figures that you don't have to paint; a box of Lego you literally never get to the bottom of. Who wouldn't be addicted to that. But it sometimes seems as if anything which keeps finger twitching and eyes vaguely focused on a glowy thing does the job just as well.

"Just write". And once we have just written, just publish. And a lot of our creative power is spent just writing on Twitter, just writing on Facebook, just writing on Usenet. Ha. I am the only person in the whole world who remembers what Usenet even was.. C.S Lewis left 2,000 pages of unpublished letters. T.S Eliot is up to volume 5, but he hasn't been dead quite as long. 

I could announce that I am giving up blogging and writing a book about, oh, the peritext of Jackson's Lord of the Rings or a novel about, oh, 1980s comprehensive schools, sexual repression, and the first edition of Dungeons & Dragons. I promise I won't although I am quite pleased to have finally found an excuse to use the word peritext. But even if I did start a Project I would be confronted by Page 1, Chapter 1 and suddenly start doodling away about a thing I read in the paper about Mary Magdalene and political correctness, and nothing would happen. 

Before you ask: I have precious little to say about Peter Capaldi, and will probably get around to saying it eventually. I think that the thing that Russell Davies turned Doctor Who into — a dating comedy about a series of women so preternaturally perfect that almighty god falls in love with them — while a perfectly good premise for a show is not the premise for a show which terribly interests me. Matt Smith was so luminously brilliant that for three years I was prepared to pretend that I hadn't noticed the problem. Take him away and what you are left with is nothing I care very much about.

"Oh, but Peter Capaldi is excellent."

Yes. I absolutely accept that Peter Capaldi is an excellent choice to play the romantic lead in this sci-fi dating comedy. I'm just not quite sure what the Cybermen were there for.

"Ah, but Doctor Who has been many different things over the years; you don't specially like the thing it is now; but you are bound to like the thing it is next, or the thing it will be after that."

Well, no; no, I don't think so. "Rose" set the template for what New Who is about so brilliantly and so perfectly that eight years later we are still watching a series of variations on a theme, Nothing short of cancellation and eighteen years off air is likely to erase that. Our early instincts were right. Billie Piper destroyed Doctor Who: not because she was terrible but because she was wonderful. 

So anyway.

Episodic collections of essays that might eventually get gathered into books are where it's at. For the time being. Probably. And since I've made the pact with the demon internet I suppose this is where they will continue to happen. Mostly. I have a few ideas about what collections I'm working towards. Hopefully that will become clear over the next day or three. But one thing I am doing, I'm afraid, is leaving the comments mostly switched off. This was the advise of the cleverest person I know, and I am very much afraid he was right.

"Yeah" he sighed "I don't know any writer who's happy. But what else is there to do?"
Natalie Goldberg - "Thunder and Lightening."