A local arts collective, Feed the Artist, distributed blank postcards and asked folks to write themselves a “message from the future”.
I really like the people behind the group so I was happy to contribute. Here’s my offering—you can see all the postcards by dropping by Crandleberry’s (coffehouse & cyber cafe) and viewing the display. And a reminder that the second issue of the Feed the Artist magazine, featuring many fine artists, will be launched at Crandleberry’s Friday, March 15th, 7:00 p.m.
Hope to see you there.
(Click on images to enlarge)
Spent part of the morning going through some of the links on Beautiful Desolation. Computers…feh! Sometimes links come unglued for no particular reason I can fathom. So when you should be pulling up a PDF document, a short story or book review, you get “File Not Found” or whatever. I try to stay on top of these things but, y’know, nobody’s perfect
So if, by chance, you end up with a dead end when you click on a link, please drop me a line (blackdogpressATyahoo.ca) and I’ll close the loop ASAP.
Meanwhile…back to work.
Where does time fly? Over two weeks since my last post and, in that interval, I’ve been occupying myself with hours of scribbling. Filling dozens of notebook pages…unfortunately, very little of this material will ever make it to publication. Lots of meditations, strange aphorisms, gleanings from the subconscious. Here’s one example:
“How many failures turn out to be posthumous geniuses? Not very many, as it happens, the proportion disappointingly low.”
What does that mean? A subconscious dig from my wily Muse, a nugget of wisdom…or mere prattle? And there’s pages and pages of the stuff, much of it spiritually oriented. Many of the entries make for uncomfortable reading, nakedly honest and personal. What should I do with these raw ramblings? This is material not intended for public consumption…but at the same time some of it packs undeniable power. Save it for the archives, hope someone will find it interesting or insightful. Bury it deep, amid old tax receipts and early drafts of stories.
The end of the year is always a time for reflection for me; I settle into introspective fugues where I consider the past 365 days and look with anticipation (and trepidation) to the year ahead. What have I accomplished? Where do I go from here? Point me to the next mountain to climb…
A few things have become clearer to me during this time—the first is that I’d like to make the act, the process of writing more fun, not bear down so hard, subjecting my system to so much abuse and stress. I’m obsessive-compulsive by temperament, a perfectionist in every aspect of my life. Everything has to be done just right or I go ballistic. No half-measures, no band-aid solutions, no excuses for failure. That’s the kind of cat I am.
But that has to change. I’m older and my body is starting to manifest some of the punishment it has absorbed over the years. My fingers, neck and shoulders. My back—Christ, my back. The mental and spiritual damage has been even more substantial, but I won’t get into that. A different approach is required…and I’m not exactly the best person when it comes to new approaches (see: aforementioned obsessive compulsiveness). Maybe voice recognition software is part of the answer, I dunno. I recently bought myself a better office chair, adjusted the height of the monitor so it’s more ergonomically placed, added padding under the keyboard—that will, hopefully, allay some of the physical symptoms. But in terms of approaching my vocation/obsession from a healthier psychic perspective, well, that requires an effort of a whole other magnitude.
I need to write in order to feel settled, sane. But how can I make writing more of a pleasure, less of a chore? I’ve devoted a lot of thought to that over the past while and I think I’ve come up with a few answers, partial solutions. Some of it involves very personal mini-epiphanies that presented themselves to me, insights that are, frankly, too private to share. They relate to my spiritual beliefs, the ridiculous expectations I place on myself. The pain that causes. It’s also about deriving a sense of accomplishment from some of the fine writing my pen has produced over the past quarter century. I don’t have to keep trying so hard to prove my worth, establish my artistic credentials. The work speaks for itself. Stories like “Invisible Boy”, “Daughter” and “Bedevilled”; the novellas and prose poems. And, of course, my two novels.
Just write. Write without a sense of self-consciousness; write from instinct, letting the words flow unimpeded from their original source.
It’s all about the words. The right one in the right place. Over and over again, sentence by sentence, until something precious and timeless has been created. The masters of language show us how it’s done. They showed me. It was reading that made me want to compose stories of my own, tales no one else has told. I read voraciously, learned my craft at the feet of giants. Books were entertainment and professional development all at once.
But something’s happened over the past decade. I’ve read less and less. In the past few years I think I averaged between 60-65 books a year and that’s a pathetic number for someone who fancies himself some kinda hotshot author. I’m talking about books read for my own enjoyment, stuff not related to research or my work.
So one of the other changes I’m making for the new year is that I’m resolving to read more.
I’m taking my own, personal “100 Book Challenge”. I want to recommit to the printed word in a big way. It means switching off, tuning out. “Off the grid” days, spent hunkered in my rocker recliner, reading a novel or collection of stories.
Because I have no doubt all the hours I’ve spent reading on-line, scanning news articles and items of interest, has screwed up my concentration. I find it hard to focus on a book for more than ten pages at a time without needing to get up, make some tea, stack the dishwasher…and then come back for another crack. Ditto movies. How many times has Sherron complained because I’m pausing a film to go to the john or grab myself a drink? Okay, part of that has to do with a pea-sized bladder but I also think all that time in cyberspace has had a deleterious effect on my attention span.
I read an article in the Manchester Guardian that talked about similar matters so I know I’m not alone in this feeling. The piece quotes me old chum John Miedema, who is a noted proponent of the “slow reading” movement and I found myself nodding along at various points. And then a chap in my LibraryThing group posted a lecture by Susan Greenfield in which she talks about learning and brain plasticity. Fascinating stuff. Ms. Greenfield makes a distinction between the information one finds on-line and “in-depth knowledge” that can only be gained from reading a book. I hope folks out there are apprising themselves as to some of the new theories that are emerging relating to how computers are fundamentally changing the way we think. I think the evidence is absolutely compelling and parents, in particular, must be educated re: how all those hours playing video games and “World of Warcraft” are rewiring their kids’ brains.
Years ago, when we were still living in Iqaluit (on Baffin Island), I gave a presentation on books and reading to an audience of about twelve people. I remember becoming quite emotional as I spoke about how books had literally saved my life. I believed then—and believe to this day—that was not mere hyperbole. My childhood was hardly idyllic and my love of reading gave me, at once, an escape from worldly travails and spurred and fired my imagination.
I want to recapture that, the allure and beauty of the printed word. The thoughts and visions reading inspire in me.
A hundred books in one year? Can I manage it? Will my hellish work ethic fight tooth and nail with my desire to settle into an armchair with some Jim Shepard stories or the latest David Mitchell effort? I’ll let you know via periodic blog posts how I’m doing. My progress (or lack of same). I won’t cite every damn book I’m reading but I’ll drop in the occasional review (maybe even resuscitate my “Burning Moonlight” column, you never know). God knows, I’ve got enough good books lying around, gathering dust. I search them out, I buy them…but can’t seem to free up the time to actually, y’know, read the f***ing things. Pathetic.
But no more. I’m turning over a new leaf. 2011 will involve a serious reboot. I’ve made my resolutions and I firmly intend to keep them. Ease back on the throttle. Stop trying to impress. Create for the sheer love of creating. Rediscover the joy and wonder of my craft through reading the best contemporary authors and the finest of past masters. Work to improve myself through a process that doesn’t involve self-flagellation.
I wrote in a blog entry a couple of years ago that after more than two decades as a professional author I finally felt like the apprenticeship period was over.
But, I amend, that doesn’t mean I’ll ever be too old to go back to school.
A good day of work yesterday:
I think I nailed down the final version re: the jacket copy for Of the Night. That’s one of the great things about being an indie writer and publisher, I have complete control over every aspect of my book, from the title and cover art to the selection of layout, fonts, even the composition of promo copy. Some authors may not want the responsibility, the expenditure of time and effort, but I sure as hell do. I have final say over the content and how it’s presented to readers. I love it.
I’d decided to add an Afterword to Of the Night but for some days had been stymied as to what I wanted to say. Yesterday the dam broke and the Afterword came in a rush. Spent most of the day editing and cleaning it up and last night, just before bed, read it to my wife and sons. They had some suggestions for revisions, small corrections, but for the most part they loved it. So I’ll be adding the short essay to the end of the manuscript in the next day or two.
The book itself is close to completion, really just little niggling things that need to be touched up and smoothed over. 98% of it is finished, in the can, and I pronounce myself delighted with the end result. Of the Night is a stand-alone effort but it’s set in the Great Lake city of Ilium, just like So Dark the Night, so it’s a short and sturdy companion piece to that longer tome. It is not a sequel; it features a new cast of characters and an entirely different storyline. Perhaps not as ambitious or immediately endearing as its predecessor, but Of the Night possesses a special charm of its own and readers are going to fall in love with it. Take my word for it.
And since I mentioned So Dark the Night, let me say that it’s doing quite well, sales-wise, though it seems to be selling better in the e-book and Kindle editions than as a physical book. The times they are a-changing. The new technologies (e-readers et all) leave me cold and, candidly, I’ll keep buying books until the last forest is felled and converted to pulp. Sorry, but it’s the truth. When you buy my book, the actual “dead tree edition”, you can hold it in your hands, ogle that gorgeous cover, feel the rasp of the pages with your fingertips.
Sorry, techno geeks, your gadgets just can’t compete with that sensation.
But I’ve said my piece, given you an update so I’ll leave it there. Gadgets/technology (pro and con) is a discussion for another time, another place.
The important thing for you to know is that Of the Night is on schedule and it looks very much like I’ll meet my self-imposed deadline and will be holding a proof of the book in my arthritic hands by my 47th birthday (end of October). A short time later, it will be ready for ordering and reading.
Thrilling times ahead.
Watch this space…
Time to take that next step and address some of the stagnation that I believe has crept into my writing, seek out new modes of expression.
First of all, that means upgrading the technology I’ve been working with. My old Mac no longer made the nut; it was slow and lacked sufficient memory. Obsolete. It had to go. It was an emotional parting. For months Sherron has been pestering me to look into purchasing another computer but the price tag always made me balk. I’m a Mac guy but, let’s face it, there are PCs out there that could perform adequately for, literally, half the price of a new Mac. But…they weren’t Macs and I had a very bad experience with an IBM computer when I first made the leap to the digital age 20 years ago and I’ve never forgotten it.
We pondered on “settling” for a Mac mini but after consulting folks like our pal Rob (who knows more about computers than I ever will), we went for the pricier iMac. More room to grow and expand, better suited for some of the projects and tasks I had in mind.
A couple of Sundays ago, I bowed to the inevitable and we made the purchase on-line.
Then came the hard part: saving the files from my old computer and starting the shutdown process.
That ancient Mac served me well and I don’t know how many millions of words I tapped into it. Never any big glitches and nothing mechanically went wrong in the twelve years I used it to foist my weird visions on the world. Replaced a couple of keyboards that I battered to death, that’s about it.
My mourning period ended abruptly, however, when my new iMac arrived.
Within fifteen minutes of accepting the box from the delivery dude I was up and runnng. That’s hookup, internet, everything. And I am, as previously mentioned, a complete mechanical moron. That’s why I love Macs. Steve Jobs, I could kiss you!
I’ve spent the last couple of days getting acquainted. This machine has everything I could ask for, including the capability to make and edit movies, compose music, record readings and podcasts, desktop publish…cripes, I could put a man on Mars with it if I had the know-how and a trillion bucks.
I’ve promised myself I will be patient, recognizing that there’s a learning curve for a technophobe like me when dealing with a machine of this complexity. Fortunately, Sherron and both my sons are very adept using iMovie and Garageband and many of the other features this Mac offers so I’m hardly on my own, learning by trial and terror. Although that will be part of it too: doing something stupid and learning from my mistakes. So be it.
I. Am. In. Love. Utterly smitten with the promise this machine represents. A fresh start and an opportunity to explore other disciplines that have long held a fascination to me. And you’re invited along for the ride. My first efforts will be crude, unsophisticated, amateurish but I’ll get better, I promise. And I will share the results of my experiments with you, show you my successes and not shy away from relating my disasters. Bear with me, tell me about your own experiences, offer advice…I’m a slow learner but a stubborn one too. I won’t give up until I discover for myself the limits of this machine (if there are any), fusing it with my fertile, perverse imagination to create some original and daring work. That’s my second promise.
And as long as we’re on the subject of new beginnings, here’s my third vow: to interact more directly with people who find and comment on this site. Previously, I’ve maintained the policy of letting my essays speak for themselves and not responding publicly to those who have left comments, positive or negative, on Beautiful Desolation. I felt I’d said my piece in my essays and commentaries and to rebut a reply from a reader would be, to some extent, unfair. If I thought a certain question had to be addressed or a troll warned off, I did so through private communications with those individuals. Not any more. You wanna talk to me, offer praise or brickbats, I’m here.
I hereby declare from this post (#87) onward, I’ll do my best to answer your questions and debate and engage with readers directly and honestly. These discussions will be as well-mannered, fruitful and polite as I can make them…but I will continue to leave the “moderation” function on to weed out the nutbars and those who believe they can hide behind the anonymity of the internet to say scurrilous, despicable things with absolute impunity. The kind of slime Trent Reznor refers to in a recent post on some of the bizarro on-line communities that exist out there. My thanks to Mike Cane for sending me a link. Have a look, it’ll make your skin crawl.
The vast majority of people who pop by here are nothing like the douchebags Reznor describes–they’re curious, seeking alternative sources of fiction, perhaps drawn by my reputation for being, ah, outspoken, something of a maverick, an outsider who seems perfectly content with that status. My work, my life has nothing to do with perpetuating the status quo or offering warm, fuzzy words of reassurance. I’m here to upset your equilibrium, destroy carefully held preconceptions, rip you out of that comfort zone you’re happily immersed in.
I won’t dummy down my writing, compromise my talent or thrust my fists into soft, velvet gloves. That wouldn’t be doing me, you or anybody else any favours. I’ll present what I know, what I’ve experienced, what I’m thinking “with the bark on”, as FDR liked to say. The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
So help me God.
Today, a new page has been turned. Welcome to Beautiful Desolation, Phase II.
Let me hear from you and tell me what you think.