When not inspired..

I do this:

I don’t quite remember where I picked this technique up from, but I’ve definitely been doing it since my very early twenties. It’s for times when I want to write or think I ought to write, but have no inspiration whatsoever. I’ve also used it as a game to play with friends. Exchanging our word lists and writing poems together. It helps to pass the time on long bus rides and can be quite fun otherwise too.

On the first column you write nouns, trying to empty your head and write down whatever comes up. You must also strive to forget what you just wrote down. That’s key. Then you cover this column with your hand and write verbs in the next one and complements in the third. The less you remember what went in the preceding column, the better it is.

Sometimes it gives me a good line to work with. Sometimes a whole set of lines. Sometimes I have a specific mood/theme I want to do and then I try to keep my words vaguely to that theme, while still emptying my head as much as I can.

Today’s word list didn’t turn out good at all. It felt like there isn’t a workable line in there and certainly no concept I could tie together. The things circled are circled for other reasons (Freudian analysis of repetetiveness for the why not of it).

But then that “Morning closes in a whisper” line didn’t seem so bad, and voila, it gave me what I had wanted and I set to work. I also ended up using it as a word bank. Otherwise “dammit”, “last bus” and “trees” might not have ended up in the poem.

I like this poem so far too. I’m not sure I will like it tomorrow, or next week, but I like the premise and promise of it this moment. And the new kind of tenderness I write with. That I didn’t have before.

I dare to write beautiful things now without flights of whimsy. Pat pat for me.

 

Head aches

This morning I woke up very depressed. It also happened yesterday and normally never happens.

My depressive slumps are always worst in the evenings and my mornings are usually the brightest times of the day. Often I wake up feeling good but gradually remember things and think myself into a state of depression by afternoon or evening. Last two days I’ve been very cheerful during the day. Almost hypomanic and carefree. I suppose the misery has to go somewhere and the hypomania is a desperate attempt to drown it out. It isn’t a truly sincere cheerfulness, even if it feels so at the time.

It did feel so at the time. Last night there was a beautiful crescent moon over the sea and I felt like twirling around at the seaside to my favourite Elton songs. But sadly, even the darkest areas of the seaside don’t feel private enough for dancing. My social anxiety was as low as it can possibly be. I was vibrant, friendly and talkative. None of the difficulties seemed to matter. I’m still not sure that they matter.

Later I watched three episodes of War and Peace with Anthony Hopkins as Pierre Bezukhov. I love him. His Pierre has always been my favourite but I’m enjoying it with even greater relish on a second viewing. Sometimes I don’t even listen to what he is saying but study the way he does a socially awkward person.

My favourite Pierre moment is when he says a brazen thing he doesn’t mean and asks himself immediately after: what did I say that for? I’ve rarely seen that done in a socially anxious person portrayal and it’s quite relatable. Sometimes I also feel it is my words that speak and not myself. Some of the things that come out of my mouth when I’m socially anxious are really not things I mean or think at all. I also like how he is unintentionally rude because he is too oblivious or awkward. I’m rude too sometimes, less for obliviousness (though that happens) but more for plain overpowering anxiety. I still recall woefully how I accompanied a girl to the train station once and it didn’t occur to me to offer to help with her luggage, even though she said that it was heavy and was obviously struggling. I was feeling so anxious I couldn’t operate on the level of situational cues and missed it completely. I can start conversations/topics too abrubtly instead of sliding slowly into them too. That’s a deliberate disregard of small talk though, so probably not relevant. Other than these things there is also much that is different in mannerism and I’m not really like Pierre, but he is definitely part of my tribe.

I’ve switched tribe in recent years. Maybe it’s not good for my mental health that my tribe includes people like Elton John, Hart Crane and Dylan Thomas and I should strive to be a balanced citizen and look up to people that hold it together better, don’t make spectacularly wrong life choices or resort to alcoholism and debauchery to drown out the world. I do look up to them, but they are not my tribe. My tribe is people that make mistakes, emotional, sensitive, self-harming-in-the-process, struggling people. When I was younger, I couldn’t see it quite as broadly as I do now. I don’t drink almost at all, for example, and including an alcoholic in my tribe would have seemed quite alien. But it’s not about drink or drugs or whatever a person’s chosen way of drowing it out is. It’s about the emotionality and sensitivity underneath and having that struggle. Resorting to drink and drugs is just sad. That entire downward spiral is. I hope I’ll never have to know.

I think all weakness is the same weakness, really. It doesn’t matter what anyone has: eating disorder, alcoholism, butt implants, casual sex, drug addiction, obsessive working out, gambling, gaming addiction. It’s all the same root and what ends up being your thing is sometimes just a matter of upbringing and the kind of influence you have around and what your priorities or interests are. I’ve been fortunate to have so much good influences around me to protect me from many things like that – except for spectacularly wrong life choices – but I do have that weakness in me. And when you see things as connected, it’s easier to be sympathetic to weaknesses you don’t share, provided the person underneath is alright.

I think my way of drowing it out is to be totally passive and watch comedy or detective shows. But it could have been partying or food, so.

 

Slowly

I’ve been reading this for the past hour:

Sweet irony and absolute fit in one.

It’s one of the earliest books I bought myself, but never read fully through, which I’m sure its author, as an advocate of slow-pace anything, would approve of. It so happens I wrote an essay about idleness for university and did this at my grandparents’ on the last few good and hopeful summer days my grandmother had. I had fibbed a little to stay with them, saying I couldn’t write this at home because of the racket. But in truth, I’m used to the average rackets, and really wanted to hold on to what I felt was getting inevitably lost.

It’s ironic to be reading it because I ought to be really busy right now. It’s an absolute fit because I couldn’t be further. I’ve lived this book and worse.

It started on Monday when I still had an excuse. I was seduced by the sweetness of daydreaming when I ought to have started to research for my thesis. After the hectic weekend and the perfectionist’s panic episode that got quite bad at one point, a few hours of daydreaming seemed well-earned. It wouldn’t stop though. A few hours became a day, two days and five. I had no resistance to the peace of it. It felt like nature had given me an antidote to stress and my body was producing its own anaesthetic.

I quite stopped caring about the thesis and failing it the second time. It wasn’t going to be my failure or fault. It simply wasn’t fair play that others get three months and I got three weeks. I thought so much, so very much, wrote a lot of texts in my head too, and daydreamed a little for intermissions, but I never thought of the thesis. It was like being in a lazy cocoon. At the back of my mind, I knew it was stolen, and every day I was making things more difficult for myself.

Today I wondered if this is what burnout is like? Do you just walk out out of the blue? You totally lose touch and stop caring?

I’ve casually followed some course-related discussions on the forum and felt quite inferior and out of place. These people are interested in this topic! They read extra materials! They have all these clever opinions. And then there’s me recommending others that you don’t need to read through the thick English-language textbook, but can pass the course with just reading the slides. Like Delboy at the theatre asking if anybody fancies a crisp.

The entire time I’ve been studying psychology, I have struggled with this attitude problem. I know too well what my interests are and what I’m never going to need, parts of the brain, for example. And my mind filters out the latter and does not want to waste time on courses like this. But this attitude feels immature. Specialization is good but I’m not at that stage. So I feel like a schoolkid among all those people with more mature attitudes who manage to take an interest in a wider variety of topics.

I just like to think really. To think and understand. I don’t care about where the parietal lobe is.

This semester I like my psychometry course very much. Whatever I do with the rest (two), this I want to do. Its a very rewarding experience in its immediacy too. I recently learnt what a Z-score is and how to calculate it and felt like I understand a new piece of what seemed like elite code. And it’s always a “wow, I see, I see” kind of experience for me, no matter how small the new piece acquired. There’s something so calming in working with numbers too. I think I’d enjoy doing that for a hobby in old age. When others go to a knitting circle meeting, I’d go to a statistics and trignometry group, with lovely nerdy bespectacled Miss Marples. If such things existed, of course. Amateur mathematics.

I suppose I will try to do something next week. It will soon be over at least regardless of the result. This cheers me up a little. Come October, I’m freeeee.

Panic

I had a very small, completely insignificant, an insult to the real thing, panic attack earlier today.

It’s not going to be interesting what I write, but I have to write it in the hopes I can get it out of the system even a little.

I found out on 4 September that I can write my research paper in autumn after all. I hadn’t a topic. I hadn’t a supervisor. The deadline is 30 September.

I managed to get myself a supervisor this week, which is more than I managed in spring. I was really glad and thankful, but I find it unethical to land with this insane deadline on my supervisor. I don’t want to force him to work exclusively with me during the next three weeks. I can afford to work more intensively, but I just can’t expect the same of others. So I’ve decided to go it alone as much as I can. I want to turn up for our first meeting with some kind of a draft already. I don’t see any other way. It’s possibly next week. And I’m so completely lost and have no idea how I can do this.

If people were considerate and sane at university, the normal procedure would be to go to your supervisor and discuss your idea. I’m at this stage. I have a topic: episodic and semantic memory in personality testing. I have a couple of hypotheses. I’ve read a few of the most important articles. My supervisor would help to narrow me down and tell me what can and can’t be done and what might be worth investigating in this topic. Then I’d research it and allow it to settle. Make some minor shifts in focus perhaps. Then I’d draw up the project. But with this idiotic three week deadline, I’m deprived of all that. I have to go straight from an idea to a draft without any support or exchange of suggestions.

No, writing this doesn’t help. It just makes me feel worse. Let’s try about the good things.

I failed that course in spring when they had a normal deadline of three months. I couldn’t find a supervisor, but I also didn’t really want to, so was almost relieved no one replied or wanted me. That’s probably why I’m so chivalrous right now when someone actually wanted to work with me.

And this topic is much closer to my real interests than anything I considered in spring. So it was right that it worked out this way. I feel good on that front. And somehow I will make it for this deadline, I know this, but it’s gonna be full of crises like today’s. I especially don’t know how I’m going to manage to lift myself from a know-a-little to a know-a-lot in the 2-3 days I have before the meeting. Hence the panic. That might even be the hardest thing.

 

Sincerity

That’s what I’m like when I’m not wearing any masks or doing a persona or trying to write well:

// What has also made me proud, a few lost days aside, is that I’ve still been capable of doing things when feeling like this. I write, even if everything I produce is awful and the experience is frustrating. I read, even if my mind wonders and it’s hard to focus and there’s a lot of pain.

Some things I’ve enjoyed too: watching all the Miss Marple episodes, trying some Partners in Crime episodes with my favourite David Walliams (he always makes me smile), listening a lot to Elton John’s music and daydreaming about him, spending time with my cat, reading Nathaniel West’s Day of the Locust was also pleasant. It’s a rather depressing book about people with Hollywood dreams, but I wasn’t depressed by it. I kept imagining the naive simpleton in this book (named Homer Simpson, by the way, after whom the Simpsons cartoon character got its name, though they are not much alike) looked like the young Elton John. This probably contributed to liking this book more too. That character was very cute.

I don’t think I will ever stop being a teenager at heart. //

 

The tone is different. It’s free of any affectation, my usual elliptical style, and irony, and self-deprecation, and all these things that are part of my armour.

The contrast made me think but I’ll have to think about it some more yet.

Also, it’s really hard to resist the urge to comment on this extract and add the parts I’d add when writing here. That Elton thing in particular is a small challenge to leave well alone.

(taken from an e-mail correspondence)

Odd readings

Yesterday I was good. I managed to read through a whole book in one day. The booking being Nathaniel West’s The Day of the Locust.

I was a little afraid of this book and hesitated before picking it up. It promised to be depressing in the usual gritty way. The way that hasn’t got a single speck of hope or a likeable character on it. My mood has been pretty down in the dumps lately, so I wasn’t sure that’s the book I’d want to be reading right now.

But I liked this book. It’s one of the very few of its kind I have liked. It didn’t depress me and I think it’s because I read it completely wrong. Schoolteachers like to say that there is no wrong way of interpreting literature. This is a falsehood and they’d have had to own up to it if faced with some of my takes. I think I read it with an innocence/sincerity that is not expected of a modern reader.

I also liked the narrative voice / tone of this work and I suspect that is what made all the difference between The Day of the Locust and your average misanthrope’s depress-fest. It wasn’t the typical detached and uncaring style of someone studying life forms under a microscope. It also wasn’t judgemental. I got thinking that it (the narrative) works for me because it doesn’t go on the same level with its subject matter. It’s not part of the swamp of mundanity and sordidness. It’s outside it. It’s compassionate and kind towards the victims. Reading it was bizarrely non-depressing.

One of the most well-known quotes from the novel is this:

Only those who still have hope can benefit from tears. When they finish, they feel better. But to those without hope, whose anguish is basic and permanent, no good comes from crying. Nothing changes for them. They usually know this, but still can’t help crying.

Yet I found it hopeful rather than irredeemably pessimistic. And I can’t think why. I’ll try a wild stab in the dark: if you acknowledge that so many people are unhappy, because the world is shit and has cheated them out of a wholesome life by feeding them on cans of Hollywood dreams, that they don’t mean to be doing these corrupt and vile things, but are victims, not agents. Well. If the novel brushes against the possibility of such an interpretation, then that kind of interpretation brings it to my court of humanism and away from misanthropy. I suppose, if the author can feel a degree of tenderness, and I as a reader can feel it, then maybe within that tenderness is a little hope? The sort of hope that comes from being in this together.

I might be taking it too far, but I think the victims vs. agents and sympathy vs. detachment/disapproval could be the reasons for why I liked this book and almost no other on a similar theme.

I did skip one scene though. I’ve got a few things I always skip in books and films: animal cruelty, violent torture and rape. This book had animal cruelty and since I pretty quickly figured out where this was going, I skipped to the next chapter. I don’t need any of those things in graphic detail to feel their horribleness.

It’s quite a nightmarish, violent, apocalyptic work, really. And these should be the foci of a correct reading, but my reading was mostly dominated by this flicker of hope, and more shamefully still, finding the character of Homer very cute, and the protectiveness of Tod towards him to be very cute also. Maybe those two things were parts of my perceived hope, too.

Early fresh thoughts like these then.

 

 

Patterns

I think I just have to accept the cyclicality of my moods and energy levels. Previously I’ve hoped I’d find something to stabilize myself a little, but this hasn’t worked out. While that hope was alive, I wasn’t making the best of any state as far as pursuing my dreams went. In total I experience four states:

1) low energy  + normal mood (most common)

2) low energy + depressive slump (happens)

3) high energy + bad mood (rarest; also known as my masculine energy phase)

4) high energy + high spirits (happens)

 

The problem was (is) that when I’m having low energy + depressive slump I don’t do anything for obvious reasons. I also don’t do anything useful when in a regular low energy phase. The inspiration is not there and everything feels like a chore. I’ve just exited that phase, so my memory of it is fresh. This time there were days I tried to write in spite of having no inspiration. Sometimes I managed to add one or two lines to an unfinished poem. Some of those weren’t half bad, and one line is better than none, but I felt like I had brain fog. It was really hard to be bright.

Typically when these moods go away, and I have high energy (and high spirits) again, I’m so stunned by the contrast that I don’t do anything useful either but spend most of such times being frivolous and rejoicing in feeling like a normal human being.

And that is why: I cannot change the cyclicality of these things, but I can can change how I approach them.

It’s easier with the high energy phases. I manage to work during those periods now because I acknowledge it’s the best time for it and that times like this will come again, so I don’t have to cling to it like someone that found an oasis in a desert. It’d be good for me if I could tune it down a little bit though and not verge on hypomania. But it’s not really a problem. I control it.

What to do with the low energy phases I really don’t know. I’ve been thinking that perhaps it is enough if I use the high energy phases for working on my creative projects and that’d be that. So, essentially stopping to try and beat myself to it during the low energy periods. Typically, I just end up feeling bad about how useless I am and how I’ll never amount to anything. And that can leave a mark on high energy periods too.

So my current strategy is to focus on the high energy periods and use them well. I’ve only very recently learnt to do it and I don’t trust very fresh improvements. So I won’t be adding new changes on top of it yet. Regardless, I do see potential to use the low energy phases better too. Just, go about it slow.

Today is an excellent day, by the way. I feel like I’m coming close to the fun I had in June again, but I doubt it’d last for three weeks ever again. Still, I take what is given. Starlit walks ahead this weekend. And trips and things and my new poem about falling downstairs that I came up with last night and feel optimistic about.

*

Other: I’ve been reading Martin Eden and it’s so exactly everything I expected it to be that I don’t even know how to feel about it. I suppose I’d have felt disappointed if it hadn’t been what I expected, but I also feel it’d be nicer, better, if it could exceed these expectations. Or I don’t know. When a classic Western is exactly what I expect it to be, like Stagecoach, I don’t complain. I start complaining when characters are miscast, too cruel, plot is implausible, internal logic is violated, but I never complain when I get the tropes and storyline I wanted to get in a well-executed way.

 

Relatable

(Scott Dikkers, How to Write Funny)

 

This short page very nicely sums up all the thoughts I’ve had in the past two months that have changed my attitude towards being a writer.

When I wrote of my journey in finding what I wanted to do in life, I forgot to include something. It doesn’t flatter me exactly, but I treat it as a necessity in attaining a more realistic perspective. Thing is, I feel absolutely thrilled and full of joy when I discover some poet has written a bad poem or some comedian done a lacklustre sketch. As nasty as it might seem of me to take pleasure in another’s weaker moments, I don’t do it with malice. Rather, it gives me a warm feeling for the person and humanises those I’ve put on pedestals.

What this little snippet also made me think of was that in poetry, as elsewhere, you can’t always get it right, but need to go for the sum total of your work and maintain the standard of that. Last weeks I’ve written a lot and felt quite pleased that I have managed to lift my overall standard and that some of the atrocities I wrote a few years ago I probably would no longer write. Never say never, of course.

The best poets aren’t known for all their poems but a handful of masterpieces. My recent favourites, Crane and Dylan Thomas, can be excessively cryptic. When they manage to be lucid or hit upon the right musicality, it’s a masterpiece, but when they go too far into idiosyncractic shorthands, it’s a bit of a flop in the context of the rest of their work. Their flop would be my success, though.

Anyhow, this comedy book is quite relatable so far. The intro is nice and his style isn’t a tiresomely witty show of his own personality (which, I believe, a lot of such books, as well as self-help books, do suffer from).

What am I doing developing myself in comedy and poetry when I believe these are among my greatest weaknesses? God knows. Trust the process, I suppose. I want to – is my reason.

Illogicalities

Me: watches Little Britain to excess and writes silly verses inspired by it.

Also me: is put out by swearing in Good Will Hunting and the TV version of Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution.

I really can’t stand gratuitous swearing and Good Will Hunting is disturbingly full of it. In Little Britain, it’s organic and belongs where it is and often has a boyish innoncence to it, but quite a few works make me feel like the swearing is just there as a dare, a conjunction, to show that the author can. It’s distracting.

I did not like Good Will Hunting for a number of other reasons besides the swearing. The boys weren’t believeable. They didn’t look like troubled youth, but like the good guys being slightly naughty but then going back to their books and eventually becoming businessmen and lawyers. I didn’t believe the genius character either. Nerds who have read so many books don’t look/act like this. I’m probably stereotyping and can see that under some rare circumstances they could look like the guy that dates the cheerleader, but if that rare case was true, it has to be at least suggested by the story. The plot was also so predictable that there was no tension for me and I couldn’t finish it. Just not my film at all and I wanted to like it.

I did like the caramels line. It’s something I could see myself using. Asking people out for a coffee or drink is tiresome when you could ask them out for ice cream or cat spotting.

Becoming

The other morning I picked up the complete poems of Hart Crane beside me, opened it at a random page and didn’t understand a thing he was saying. Fair enough. It happens with any poet that you sometimes miss their point. I tried another page and poem but didn’t understand a thing either. I tried a third, possibly fourth, until I told myself it could be the early hour and gave it up.

In the afternoon, I casually browsed my old English textbooks, read Skelton, Marvell and the like until Milton. The morning with Crane had depressed me a little beforehand: how can a person like me that cannot understand other people’s poetry expect to write any herself. And now, here was Milton to remind me how pathetic I was.

It is so: I understand what Milton says but I cannot appreciate him. I don’t have the ability for it. I only know that he is great because others say he is, but I cannot pick it up myself. I can pick up Crane’s excellence (in spite of not understanding all his poems, I love how he sounds and the things he does), but not Milton’s. Before the obvious suggests itself, I will counter it by saying that it is not a matter of taste. I dislike T.S.E. but his Love Song of Alfred Prufrock is a masterpiece, and Waste Land is pretty good too. I can keep personal taste out of it.

Obviously I felt pretty downcast and my opinion of myself as a writer sank further until my freshly-found counter-arguments started pouring in:

“Look here, how did you feel like when you opened your neurobiology textbook for the first time? Yes, that’s right, just as you do now – “I don’t understand a thing”. And what happened? By the end of the semester you were able to read it, understand it and do your exam for an A. It just took some work.”

“And didn’t that favourite poem of yours by Crane require a little study too at first? You needed to look up “eidolon” and “cleaving” in the dictionary. Now you know it so well it’s easy to forget the first reading wasn’t 100% smooth.”

“You are a beginner. It’s okay not to understand Milton. Everything has its time.”

I felt much better looking at it like this.

And looking at things like this has managed to fix the problem of my debilitating self-doubt. I still got self-doubt, but it’s not debilitating and I can write under it.

I grew up a Wordsworthian. This means, among other things, that I believed poets were born, not made. I had internalized all the myths of the artist of the Romantic era. I thought that good poets just sat down and wrote good things.  That the proportion of effort and study required in comparision to whatever raw talent could produce was low. Oh sweet blessed naivety, eh?

When I wrote a bad poem, I took it to mean that I was hopeless, so I wrote very little or gave things up midway. The natural course of this was that I stopped seeing myself as capable of writing poetry entirely. I used to humorously define myself as having a poet’s soul without being able to write poems. My dream was to be a children’s author and create a character as memorable as Anne Shirley or Sherlock Holmes, but poems were clearly out of my league.

To summarize my error in the shortest way possible: I got the ratio of talent vs. work all wrong. I wasn’t completely insane and did think work/study was important too, but more like in the form of polishing on top of what talent could do.

I feel silly writing about it, but it was, for a very long time, my truth. The new truth hasn’t fully internalized yet, so I do need to have the above conversations with myself a lot. Remind myself how much a beginner I am and how it is okay to be bad.

This stage of my journey has also made me realize that there are some activities out there were beginners get a lot of support, encouragement and appreciation. And then there are those where you are pretty much expected to be good before you come public with your thing. No one expects a first-time surfer to be any good, for instance. If you take up surfing as a hobby, your coach will evaluate you by beginner standards and compare you to other beginners or yourself at an earlier time (not to professionals). Writers don’t really have that. I feel like I need to publicly, explicitly claim my status as a beginner to be permitted to be imperfect. And furthermore, to be permitted to be proud of my improvements too. Even if my work is not yet up to the expected level, if it’s better than anything I’ve done before, it’s an achievement to me. But I feel this all I must forcefully claim to myself.

It is also quite lonely at the start. For many years I dreamt of finding someone who believed in me and would teach me or write with me. I felt I could do nothing without such a person because my self-doubt wouldn’t let me. When I had given up on it, I did find a person who believed in me and who encouraged me to pursue poetry over prose. That was quite a novel thing and I resisted it initially. Probably still do (but I’m studying/writing poetry currently to practice in general). I wrote my best poem to date in response to his excellent suggestions. But he didn’t become my teacher. I have become my own teacher and it’s going well as far as our cooperation goes. My role is mostly to treat myself as a beginner, make sure I compare my writing to my own previous work (not Emily Dickinson’s or Yeats’s!), challenge myself to try writing different things, procure myself new books and authors to learn from and all this with a deliberateness I haven’t felt before.

I have come to see poetry as a craft (like embroidery or music-box making) and myself as a crafter. This is giving me back my ability to be meticulous and slow. When I was about twelve, I was good at embroidery and enjoyed doing it. At about twenty-three, I had lost it. I recall trying to finish an older abandoned project and being frustrated I couldn’t achieve the same quality any more. Partly due to my job, perhaps other factors I can’t name, my approach had come to be about bold sweeping strokes, about getting a thing done. I had an impatience for the result. It was all about making it look good on the outside, while nevermind the minutiae or how one gets there. Obviously, it’s not a good approach to embroidery, while it may work for knitting (it does!). Poetry is closer to the former.

My writing experience these days is approaching, brushing against rather, the feel I had for embroidery at twelve. Not quite there, but closest I’ve been and it feels good.

What else is there to add? Oh yes. Hart Crane. On the evening of that same day, I read that he was actually known for his “difficulty”. Many far more competent people (like critics and such) hadn’t understood all he wrote. This made me cheerfully uplifted. Ah-ha. So mine was discerning criticism then, not sheer incompetence.

It’s a beautiful little craft.