I disagree with those who draw a distinction between traditional and "vanity" publishing. Book publishing is a business like any other. What it really comes down to is, not vanity (all publishing is vanity, really), but whether you want to avail yourself of professional services and let someone else take the lion's share of your profits, or whether you want to try to do it yourself, as an entrepreneur. Do you trust your ability to edit professionally? And do you want to be bothered to do the work of editing? (It's a lot harder and more time consuming than people may realize.)
Proponents of traditional publishing make the claim that professional publishers market their author's work. But except for the biggest (money-making) authors, it's not so true. And, in any case, the authors must promote the book for the publishers--and, again, unless you're a well-established author, you'll probably end up paying your own travel expenses.
Print-On-Demand technology enables authors to self-publish far more easily than in the past with the use of traditional printers. If you're comfortable with the do-it-yourself idea, and you have confidence in your ability to edit precisely and follow through with the marketing, you can successfully publish and sell your own book.
This idea appeals to me: I am an On-Demand kind of guy, in a qualified kind of way. I like to do everything myself, to a fault. I don't like anyone else becoming involved in my business (professional or personal). If you want something from me, ask; but ask carefully. If I want to do it, I will. But don't demand it. I bristle at that sort of thing.
[End of this particular rationalization.]
I like to write things that people have to work hard to understand. If it's too easy for readers to understand what I'm writing about, I feel like they might think I'm just an ordinary writer. I don't so much care if people don't understand me--in fact, in a way, I sort of prefer they don't; but I can't bear the idea that someone might think I'm ordinary.
And yet, despite these preferences, I don't actually try to write obtusely. It just comes out that way as I try to express what I feel like I have to say in the most complete and exact way possible. And I don't (want to) rewrite too much (only enough to express ideas that I forgot in the first round and to perfect the exactitude of the language), not so much because I don't want to deviate too far from my original ideas as because I've already been there and done that and now I've already moved onto other things.
My life, since it is somewhat hermetic, at times lacks a lot of interrelational detail, which is the content that most writers rely on to feed their narratives. My content tends to rely more on cultural, literary, and psychic (i.e., internal--and perhaps external) phenomena.1
I used to write these short, terse, succinct, self-contained, polished, single paragraphs, which I then loved and would read again and again, perhaps changing a word or two every few weeks. And then I got too confident in my writing skills and expanded my style toward the expression of a motive that wants to unify the universe. And now I write these long-winded pages that incorporate my notes into an ongoing controlled stream of developing thought. But I miss the old style that encapsulated existence.
Yet I love to construct these long complicated pieces that require transitioning fragments (my journal entries) together to produce a kind of thought-record of my life; but it's a lot of work that involves precision thinking and motivation. And as the years pass, I seem to be getting lazier and lazier (less anxiety-ridden, and therefore less "driven" to relieve the anxiety by controlling my world/mind via writing).
I'm continually experimenting with alternate forms of artistic expression, most often based on others' work I happen across. I look for writing and art specialties and imitate others who seem to have found their niche, developing new styles/methods. But my "auto-bio" journals are much like Harvey Pekar's comics in intent and function--the documentation of my life; yet I spend a lot of time trying to do what he and others do in a different way. I should be satisfied with what I do. I waste a lot of time experimenting, but I always return to this basic journal format and, secondarily, to its derivative, my "terse poetics."
I've been gradually developing my journal method over many years, slowly evolving it into a kind of ongoing "novel" of my life. It's kind of like what Pekar does with American Splendor, but far more prosaic and it's not entirely my own life; it's as much a compendium of influences gleaned from the news I read, watch, and listen to, from literature I read, from art I encounter, and from more general cultural information in which I am more or less immersed. I absorb and re-express cultural influences. In this sense, I'm doing the kind of thing that Bob Dylan did in his prime when he wrote all of those great songs that reflected the (counter-)culture of America. [Do I think well of myself, or what?]
So far, my journal method only approximates what I really want it to do. I can't quite zero in on exactly how I want to do what I feel I need to do. But it's far closer now than it was, say, ten years ago. The finished product is a far more integrated whole than it used to be. Now, I feel like it's time to take another step forward and convert the ongoing product into a novel-like format. But the method has to be exacted in "present" time; that is, I don't want to have to be rewriting and polishing a damn novel once or twice a year. (I theorize, based on past experience, that I generate enough material in my journals for one or two novels a year.) I want the method to create the novel as I go along, with a final reread or two after it is completed--nothing more. To this end, I intend to incorporate as allusive references, structures from literature, etc. that I (have) read2 into the "novel" (or into sections of it). I've used this technique in the past (e.g., in the journal-generated novellas "The Pilgrims of the Day" (still to be published) based on Norman Mailer's The Armies of the Night and "In the Neighborhood of Altered Dreams" based on the work of Kathy Acker and Can Xue.
The purpose of attempting this change of method is to avoid the necessity to rewrite extensively after a time span of journals are finished. I want to do something like Kerouac did in his marathon documentation, but with far more control re rewrite; but I want the rewrite to be procedurally incorporated into the method as it goes along: write > rewrite > post to website > transfer to novel format at the end of the period. Done. No lost motivation that leaves projects unfinished for years at a time. I have a problem finishing things. Maybe it's because I want my art to reflect (my) life, and life is forever going on and on. (But probably, it's just the Asperger's.)
But maybe I don't really want to write novels. Maybe it's not my true format. Maybe I should just settle for writing "books" that are collections of my pastiches: The Collected Shorter Works of Jack Sun (sub-title: whichever cryptic label applies, e.g., a non-linear anti-narrative... plus a date range, e.g., 1996 thru 1997.) Maybe.
But I should just finish this damn novel I've started anyway. (Obviously I'm getting bogged down and demotivated here. So what else is new? As usual, I want to go on to other things.) I need to persist and see the novel through. But I don't want to! [He stamps his foot.] It's starting to (be a) drag, slowing down my writing speed.
So, as a solution to my demotivation, I change the basic structure that is trying too rigidly to influence the content. Instead of sticking with the story line of the pseudo-protagonist (an earlier motivational device was to switch out protagonists), I introduce the empirical author (the meta-narrator) directly into his train of thought.
And it works and takes me in a whole new direction toward a pastiche as opposed to screenplay structure. Now that I can wander more freely, the words are flowing again. So, I (further) develop my new combo-style/format, which includes the looser pastiche technique to incorporate other writings into the structure.
The new method combines my previous pre-planning (I hate that word) device of structuring scenes like a screenplay along Aristotelian lines with my freewheeling pastiche style of weaving raw journal entries, odds and ends, and material from Google searches, and then combining all of that with the nanawrimo method.
But, to my mind, reaching the magic number of 50,000 words in the nanowrimo challenge isn't such a good thing to do if, when you do it, what you end up with is a flawed novel that requires so much rewriting that it becomes demotivating. I'd like to reach the goal, but with a solid first draft, not some poorly structured piece of shit.
Or else, I could see writing a total stream of consciousness anti-novel whose basic plot structure is merely an excuse to allow the sap to flow freely and/or to serve as a device to incorporate disparate material into the guise of a novel, ala Kathy Acker (which is what I'm doing anyway, but in a more disguised form).
I want to write books, but not necessarily novels. I like the idea of having written a book, and the actual heft of the finished product. And most fiction books are novels. So it's only natural that I would think to write a novel. It's an idea that permeates the writing culture. Other forms are pretty much disconsidered as legitimate popular lit.3
This is why Life Stories ended up being a "novel" that's a disguise for a collection of short stories that others have told to me about themselves over the years that have influenced my own life. That book is my life story told through others' stories, each twisted a little bit to fit emotional and psychological (and in a few cases, actual) facts of my life.
I had all of this short fiction, but I'd wanted to write a novel. And I ended up writing a book and calling it a novel, and justifying that decision via the lame rationalization that it was the story of my life, fragmented--which it is; but just. It's a difficult content package to get the mind around, even when you know the code. But it is true.
My purpose, when I write, is as far from research as anything can be. I write to express ideas that would otherwise either clutter up my brain or become disconsidered if I did not process them into written words; and research only adds to that confusion. Any stories I tell are merely convenient containers for these clotting ideas. If a story, as it takes on a life of its own in the process of my other work, ends up wanting to demand research, I write around it, glossing over knowledge I do not possess. I'm not about to allow a second derivative of my art to distract me from my primary purpose by dictating its own terms. The same goes for details, which if they do not flow naturally from the ideas and images I want to relate, are too boring to bother with. In college, in courses that required scholarly references, as items of a curriculum intended to teach research skills, I made up the sources. I was particularly adept at creating believable citations that were obscure enough to prevent professors from going to the trouble of verifying them, which they were unlikely to do anyway; and even if they tried, how do you prove a negative? The inability to find a reference source does not make it non-existent per se. I may not have learned the skills the courses intended to teach, but this skill that I developed is amenable to fiction writing and to the documentation of my life, which is not necessarily a different thing. (To some extent, perhaps to a very large extent, we are all intimate little fictions.)
Increasingly, I imagine myself existing as a function of others' existences/ideas, usually those of writers (since, I suppose, I spend a whole lot more time reading that I do socializing), almost as if I'm "channeling" them. I started my most recent novel just as I began reading Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker. I set the book aside for a while after having read only three pages and when I started reading it again, I discovered that themes and even some situations and experiences in Acker's book had already appeared in what I'd written. In this case, it could have been mere expectation on my part since I'd already read much of Acker's work. But the very same thing happened with some Anais Nin material and, although I did read an autobiography of her, I never actually read anything written by her and was looking forward to doing so because the descriptions of her work mystified me; I couldn't comprehend the "mystical" and "poetic" nature of her writing and wanted to know what that meant. So when, after I finished writing my novel, I began reading Nin's House of Incest, I discovered that not only her did description of her narrator and main character corresponded to mine, but that some of her text described exactly what I had been trying to do (mostly unconsciously and only consciously concluded later) before I read the Nin book, I couldn't help but suspect that I'd channeled her; unless she possessed me from the grave in an attempt to continue the work she'd been doing before she died. I'd had a similar experience last year with Emily Dickinson and, in fact, I often have this fantasy about writers and other deceased celebrities.
It's possible, of course, even probably, that it's all more of an intuitive experience than actual channeling or possession. In fact, if you press me on the point, I'd have to hypothesize that these "phenomena" are exactly merely that, an intuitive grasp of the "text" of another person without the conscious awareness of the source or hints to it that you'd been previously exposed to. So, I'm channeling and/or being possessed by (i.e., intuiting) Acker, Nin, and even old Ben Franklin: Franklin's autobiography was the creation of the character he wanted to be. Apparently, he was disorganized and haphazard, but strove to be a model of organized perfection, defined himself as such, and sold the definition to the world, recasting himself in his youth as an industrious and "together" young entrepreneur--not a complete fabrication, but an exaggeration. For example, he admitted he had a problem with humility, but he said he learned how to fake it. Humor, of course; but with a grain of personal truth. I've learned exactly the same thing. And I've been trying to learn, have been toying with this idea for years, to let other people take credit for my ideas in situations where it's expedient, where what gets accomplished is more important than whose idea it was in the first place--even though the entire concept flies in the face of my determined ego. I discover on a show on C-SPAN, at the same time I learned of his "humility" and disorganization, that this was also one of Franklin's little gems of wisdom.
I engage a lot in this kind of Franklinian behavior. I (have) devote(d) a whole lot of time to creating and maintaining several personas (conscious self-images that I project into physical reality) that belie or at least mediate the socially awkward person that I am: my favorite is the hippie biker dude: "So what if I sometimes don't relate well in social situations; ya wanna try and do something about it?"; and then there's the intelligent, book-bound reclusive academic psychologist who spends all of his time (not really, that's just the appearance; I spend most of my time wasting it) pursuing his further education; and then there's the anarchist who hates all politics and believes that the only solution for society is to blow it all back to post Stone Age existence; and the quiet gardener-sage-guru. Enough. I have a lot of dreams I continually try to turn into reality.
This is a bit poignant in light of a dream I've just had. (Or maybe not; maybe these ideas preprogrammed the dream.) I awaken out of the dream but remember none of it except the words "psychic mechanics." Never having run cross this phrase before, I thought, what does that mean? And, in a semi-hynagogic state, I answer, "the medical art of altering texts and moving objects around in the psyche to achieve real world behavioral results." I can't wait to get through my brief morning rituals to get to the computer to type out this idea. I need to explore it further to see what I can make of it. But first, the more important cup of coffee; and then, the dream is gone. I can't get the feeling of it back. There are no threads of psyche to pursue.
I leave for later the research on the net to see if anyone else had used the phrase. Of course, when I finally get around to it, as I always am in cases like this, I am disappointed to find that the term has been around for a long time (a gap in my education), and that my personal invention of it is superfluous. [The internet is proving to me that you can't invent new words or phrases and maybe even ideas. Everything has already been thought of and posted. That's hyperbole, of course. And to test it, I'm going to make it a point to do just that. Stay tuned.] Psychic mechanics was, among a lot else, a theory of Johann Friedrich Herbart. So, what? Did I channel him in my dream or something? I'm going to have to do more research on this guy.
The apperceptive mass was part of [the] theory of psychic mechanics proposed by Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776-1841) to account for the workings of the mind. Herbart believed that the basic units of the mind are ideas. He agreed with the empiricists that they come from experience. He departed from their view concerning what happens once ideas enter the mind. Herbart claimed that at that point ideas have a life all of their own, and thereafter are never destroyed or completely forgotten.
This has been verified by recent research that indicates that habits, once broken, are easily restored because the patterns they formed in the brain remain and are sensitive to environmental cues that re-establish the behaviors.
I try to pay close attention to the internal cues I know of that clue me in to what's going on in my unconscious mind. This has been a big part of my life thus far, because I just know there's got to be a whole lot more to me than what I know I am. I know this, in part, because others frequently point things out to me about myself, either intentionally or unwittingly, or I discover them on my own while trying to figure out who they are and what the hell they're up to. (They're always up to something.) Mostly, when I deal with others, I pay attention to the attention they pay to me, because there is no better way I know of to learn what's going on inside me than to discover it through another person's point of view. If channelling is ever proven to be a real phenomenon, that's the way, I hypothesize, it'll work, via mutual attention. (This would assume, of course, that the dead are capable of attention, which I seriously doubt.)
I'm a closet exhibitionist. I like to pretend that I don't like to show off, but I do. But since I'm also introverted, writing is one of my primary ways of showing off; it allows me to continue to keep people at a distance while yet attracting their attention. Pretending not to show off is one of the ways that I draw attention to myself, by remaining at a distance (or "distant" when I'm close up), appearing to be a laid-back, unassuming entity. I am that--or more correctly--I have had that history; but only because my personal psychology created and maintained those conditions. If I could have changed it, I would have. I would have all the attention in the world directed my way, except that it would tend to overwhelm me and I would have to hide away even farther. Nevertheless, I would still want it. I'd flirt with it, staying just far enough away to keep it active, because if you get too far away, the world tends to forget you; and, as much as I pretend to believe that would be an ideal kind of life, I do not really want to be forgotten.
I tend toward the depressive and frequently need to motivate myself to maintain an even keel, and hiding away is my primary method for accomplishing this. Except for some of the things I write (non-fiction), I reveal myself to a point just beyond secrecy, always ready to dart back into the shadows. It's a (perhaps dysfunctional; but maybe not) survival mechanism, and I'm very good at it. I balance myself on the edge of the sword of risk and security, which requires, at least at critical moments, a keen awareness and an anxious mentality that drive me into stress mode if I maintain it for too long; thus the retreat, to protect myself from the ill-effects that would become chronic if I maintained a continuous social presence. It's fortunate that I have the intelligence to be able to accomplish this tightrope act, although sometimes I allow my own attention to lapse and take a step or two too far and get myself into a bit of trouble that I have to work hard, cleverly using my wit and intelligence, to get myself out of.
But I'm sometimes too intelligent for my own good, because I tend to easily see through the subterfuge that society creates to keep people in the little niches that are constructed to contain them. And because this disturbs me (and at times, when I allow it, outrages me), I keep far enough away from it, to protect my fragile inner self. [Oh, I'm such a drama queen...er, I mean king.]
But hiding too much away has it's down side. You can't promote yourself so well when people don't know where you are, and especially when you're not in their face demanding their attention. Thus, I have developed a social philosophy that has little chance of gaining any currency in the world today:
If people want to sell their innate talents and/or acquired skills in order to increase their personal wealth and enable their prosperity, fine. I have no problem with that. I'm not a communist. But if you don't want to do any of that, if you're happy to sit at home and just get by with the minimum of amenities, healthily surviving, for whatever reason, whether it is because you are depressed, or neurotic, or psychotic, or simply normally disturbed by the state of the world, you should be able to do that too. Capitalist society should not be compulsory; it should be a voluntary enterprise. It sometimes depresses me that it is not:
Abraham Lincoln, it is reported, suffered at times from severe depression. But it is argued that, rather than allowing it to get him "down" (which it did, of course) he used it to fuel his accomplishments. It's a popular idea that depression debilitates; I've never found it to be the case, except when I had to perform the mundane, time-bound tasks of a steady job. It's not depression that bothers me so much as it's the necessity to mold my personality, my biology, and even the very essence of my being to a social calendar and production expectations that feel totally unnatural to me, not to mention the fact that these kinds of cultural enterprises demand that we put ourselves out there in front of people and command a certain amount of direct attention, a process that often disturbs me since I like attention to come at me at very oblique angles where I can observe it and bask in it in my own private way without ever having to acknowledge that I'm even aware of its existence. I don't like to have to work too hard at commanding the attention I require.
Depressive people tend to have little energy, yet they use that energy wisely and do not waste it. I try to focus my attention on what I want to do and disregard what "society" (or my superego) tries to demand of me. This creates a bit of guilt in me. (Depression repressed > guilt.) The personal work I accomplish is as satisfying in this way as the social work I used to accomplish was boring and "repressive." The real world (that is, the world that is not of my own creation, the one I do not want to live in, preferring my own more fantastic one) is a depressing place. Who wants to live among terrorists blowing buildings up around you, let alone stupid, ignorant, arrogant, cold, callous, uncaring, manipulative assholes? [I know, I know, I'm projecting here. So what? It's my website, I'll deny myself in any way I want.] I consider my view of the real world to be a fundamentally accurate one and people who run around reporting on a different kind of world while wearing rose colored glasses are the self-deceptive ones, not me. And I think I'm the better for my more accurate insight; it's adaptable to see a depressive world: it keeps me on my toes, alert, aware, watching out. In this regard, it's a bit like paranoia, which I also tend toward--but only when I'm stressed.
There's been a movement lately to re-define depression, to make it out to be something less than this "positive" picture of it that I'm painting here. This movement wants to classify depressives as severely ill and not people who take a heroic stand against a formidable but defeatable enemy. To this stance I say, "Hockey pucks!" These are the people, the Prozac generation, who intend to make us all happy and productive little doped-up citizens who whistle while they work--at insipid, stupid, insignificant, little jobs that we will think are so great because our minds are drug-mushy. (In Brave New World, I believe they achieved this state with a drug called 'Soma'.)
Writers, artists in general, tend to be depressives; it drives their work. I write, like many writers before me, to deal with my demons. I create long-winded books that disguise them in fiction, twisting and tweaking them into compliance to conform to the way I think they should be. Depression is not (necessarily) pathological; at least for me it hasn't been. I use it. Maybe the problem these postmodern Pollyannas see is not the personal illness they think it is, but a societal one, an entire culture, started out on a dead-end path a long, long time ago, finally gone very, very wrong. But can they really be called Pollyannas, despite their "positive" Better Life Through Chemistry outlook, if they insist on seeing only the very worst personal side of this very general "illness" that I prefer to think of as therapy against a sad-sick world? They themselves are happy, of course, because they have a vested interested in the billion dollar industry that provides the chemicals that the society is based upon. (And maybe because they sample the product as well.) I'd be happy too if they gave me some of that windfall. It's easy not to be depressed when you can afford high quality foodstuffs, a large warm house, and all the legal drugs you want. They are the winners here.
But I am by no means a victim of their evil little plot. I choose to be the way I am. (Well, sort of. It's probably all just a big rationalization to justify the way I have no choice but to be.) Victims are people who run around complaining about their conditions rather than doing something about them. Victims may not deserve what they get, but they are nevertheless still responsible for protecting themselves against what happens to them, for ameliorating the damage, and for getting over it and moving on, once [or twice, or multiple times; victims tend to make the condition a habit] they are victimized; and when they can't manage to do these things, when they just can't seem to pull themselves together, they affirm their loser status and make it all that much harder for me to feel sorry for them. It's just another example of survival of the fittest. The fit, if they ever do manage to end up victims, as a result of a true accident or a temporary lack of judgment or attention (fit and unfit are relative terms), quickly act to negate the damage done and reverse the effects, making the event as short-term as possible; they don't let it drag out any longer than is absolutely necessary. The unfit wallow in their misery for as long as possible, because it gets them the attention they crave when they can't get it any other way in their loser lives. The inordinate need for attention is what leads them into "accident" conditions in the first place. I avoid accidents (because most accidents are self-induced), mostly by writing. It uses up my time productively while keeping me out of the dangerous mainstream where, distracted, my attention can flag. (Distraction is a trait of victims, but with me it's a symptom of a physical condition; in order to prevent becoming a victim, I must take extra precautions.) And writing hones my awareness of events and patterns in my life and clues me in to what's really happening to me (or what I'm really doing to myself) before it's too late. I write books and books of this kind of stuff. But no one knows it: it's too well disguised. (I hope.) But it gets me (some small part of) the attention I crave.
PBS' Nova's "Newton's Dark Secrets" informs that Newton spent a significant portion of his time in spurious pursuits that he concealed in coded writings because he recognized their dangerous nature, given the society in which he existed: alchemy, for example; or religious heresy that still, even today, may be seen as counterproductive, if not outright antithetical to science. But was it so much wasted time, after all? Or did his off-topic pursuits contribute in ways we know nothing about to his overall knowledge and research that we want to call his genius? And were his esoteric studies, after all, not so much wasted time as they were incomplete research on matters he was, and we still today are, not capable of understanding.
[For example, he concluded that the world will end (i.e., Armageddon will occur) in 2060. My own research indicates 2057. (Don't ask. I, too, fear persecution, the modern form of which, though it may be less physically threatening than in Newton's time, is far more psychologically insidious today.) Conventional scientific and/or rational thinking indicates that the precept is entirely mythological. But as efficacious as modern science is, it leaves large gaps in the experiential world of the human psyche; and the more precisely it defines a scientific world through its specialized disciplines, the wider the gap grows.]
Okay, so maybe Newton was a genius like they say. But he was also a workaholic, and intentionally so; he applied himself to his work to keep his mind from wandering onto more commonly human matters. How would it be if I did that? Well, first of all, I'd have to conquer my "energy level" problem. I've done that in my past, but only with the aid of incredible amounts of caffeine, and always to my chronic physical detriment. I'm not sure how I'd do that now. But, perhaps more importantly, I'd have to consider the nature of my work. In a sense, I'm a workaholic now (still), if I allow myself the luxury of defining my work as that which I am already doing: I spend any number of hours writing and editing; I spend a further number of hours on the internet, performing various networking, research, and work maintenance functions. And I spend most of the rest of my time, when I'm not doing basic personal and household maintenance functions, in various forms of "fantasy," which includes listening to music and watching tv, all of which I consider (rationalize) as a kind of research.
When defined in this way, all of my time is spent at my "work"; I am a dedicated task-master. And this may not be so far off from what Newton did, though his work was of a slightly different nature, more ultimately beneficial to society, although the jury is still out on my work in that sense (inklings of grandeur); yet still, my science is of a different nature, being psychological--but, then again, so was his, in his own place and time when science was far less developed. So, am I too a genius? I don't think so; or only marginally, if you define the word on the basis of IQ, which is a spurious practice. But the point is, how much of a genius was Newton, if his work is the product of long hours of dedication, like Einstein and Edison, and probably everyone who has made significant contributions to the arts and sciences?
Newton spent his time in studied seclusion in (large?) part because he had a fear of and/or not too much use for conventional society, and so used the excuse of his work to avoid it. Ditto, me. How many of these hours did Newton spend not in study and research so much as in reverie? He spent long hours doing logarithmic transformations, not for any "work" purpose, but because he simply loved to do it. Is this any different than a writer spending hours doing, say, crossword puzzles, not to improve his command of language, but simply for the enjoyment of it? And doesn't this kind (non-)activity nevertheless contribute, not only to the overall purpose, but to the art/science as well, since it is, after all, a training mechanism for the mind?
How many of the great people of history did their work a few hours a day or less and spent their time truly idling? What does idling mean, anyway? For an atomic physicist, it may mean daydreaming ten hours a day; but a writer might consider that time a fundamental part of the work. And so might a physicist, if the work is, for example, of a cosmological nature that requires large amounts of time in contemplation to come up with (i.e., imagine) pre-defined advancements to an esoteric theory that has yet to be verified by experimental evidence. So who's to say when a person, scientist or artist, is wasting time as opposed to working? Possibly not even the "idler" him or herself, who might believe that time is wasted, when it's not.
I suspect that Newton's genius, like many, was not so much a result of high intelligence as it was of a complex of traits, idling among them; it's just that, in Newton's case, the idling took a specific, functional form. And what of his concealed "wayward" pursuits? In light of his complex larger self, is it so wrong to think that he may have been onto something, a subject matter of which modern scientific thought has not yet a clue? If your answer to this question is yes, look out. You just may be the Inquisition.
My own personal inquisition is going full force now. When I'm like this, I question myself continually, and the answers that I write down become the content for my work. I'm in full manic mode and have been for quite a while, sleeping four to six hours a night, currently finishing up a rapid new novel that, unfortunately, is going to require extensive rewriting, the thought of which is starting to get me down (I hope not), because the traditional format is not one I've tried in a long time and I don't look forward to trying to unify it thematically, jumping back and forth between sections, laying in foreshadowing or following up on notes inserted during the first draft that require that I add material for the previously identified potential foreshadows, eliminating character inconsistencies and developing their sketchy psychologies with back stories and interpretations, as if I am their analyst (I am), thematically unifying the content... It's a monster of a job, writing the old fashioned way. How did anyone ever do it before word processors? Imagine the necessary paperwork organization skills you'd have to have. What a lot of extra extra time.
I don't know now if I'm going to do all of that. I'm feeling like, now that I got the basic story down, it's enough. I've been trying over the past few years to develop a postmod pastiche method (most of the evidence of which appears on my website as monthly journals stitched together by transitioning daily journal entries) that I can use to avoid rewriting altogether, except for routine editing for grammar, spelling, and minor form considerations; that is, a procedure that produces a style-less, or multiply-styled kind of anti-novel (more simply, a book) that is a slice-of-life accounting of a main character (essentially me, though perhaps somewhat fictionalized) with a periphery of character and environmental satellites circling him (or her)--all ala Kathy Acker or Pier Pasolini's final novel (although Pasolini's last book was a postmodern compilation, not because he admired the form and wanted to produce the postmod manuscript that he did, but because he died before he finished it).
Where am I going with all of this? I keep trying to roll these ideas all up into one big method/procedure ball, but it keeps unraveling, because it's not a snowball gaining size as I push it up the developmental hill so much as it's a ball of string I'm assembling from bits of thread I come across, teetering at the top of the precipice of ...whatever; the metaphor is getting away from me, rolling itself away downhill... Forget it. I understand that writing a traditional novel is a whole lot more work than I'm willing to undertake and/or able to sustain. But I keep trying to do it anyway, spurred in an odd moment by a fleeting insight that starts me off and then leaves me to my own devices (which, thereafter, I continually try to tweak into something else, some "better" postmod format that more suits my basic nature).
When I start out on a project in this way, even when I "finish" it (the first draft), eventually I become bored and set it aside to "mature" and never get back to it, because I move on, my own self developing, and the material becomes stale instead and seems too amateurish in light of subsequent skill development, and I don't want to go to the trouble of rewriting it. It's better, I think, that I continue to try to develop the pastiche style/methodology and produce works that are relatively completed upon the finish of the first draft. That seems to be my niche in the writing world. This is the point I'm quickly arriving at right now. Do I really want to spend all that time and energy rewriting this damn novel, or am I going to set it aside again and go back to pursuing my (idle) dream of finding a better method? (I'm trying here to motivate myself, but it's not working.) I need to try to find myself a different preoccupation. But every time I do, it never seems to pan out and always I return to writing.
Last spring's garden project didn't serve so well in the long run, and now I have house guests for the winter: I brought the goldfish in, put them in the aquarium, and drained the pond just ahead of The Big Freeze. (No. Nobody died. That's not a metaphor.) So far, I've come across two separate local offers on the internet to take them off my hands, and I seriously considered doing just this, but something prevents me. I don't know what. I don't know why I want to keep them. It's not like I have this big investment in them. I want them for next year, sure. But they cost me only $1.35 for all six, and the small amount of food I fed them over the summer couldn't have amounted to anywhere near a dollar. I fed them less than once a week, and they more than doubled in size by living off mosquito larvae (that's why I got them in the first place) and bugs and wayward plant detritus (leaves, etc), that happened to fall into the pool--oh, yeah, and all the red and carpenter ants that had the unfortunate destiny to have crossed my path.
So having to buy a new batch next year isn't the reason I don't want to get rid of them. Maybe I'd rather not give them away because, well, they've, like, become pets or something, although I don't consider them literal pets, because I can't pet them. I mean, why do you think they call them pets? They do, however, seem to develop a kind of affection for me, so they could be(come) metaphorical pets; that is, goldfish do this. Tropicals seem to me to be cold, callous creatures in comparison. They go about their distant lives, content to exist among their own kind. But goldfish are curious and will watch you from the side of the tank, follow you about, and when you stare at them, studying them, they stare back and seem to be studying you too.
Maybe the difference between goldfish and tropicals is the nature of their living conditions, which creates a kind of reverse psychology. Tropicals require warm water, so they feel no need to search beyond their immediate environment for something else. We might say that they like their siestas. Goldfish tolerate extremely cold water; as long as they don't literally freeze, they can survive. So their conditioned propensity may be one of constant vigilance, having been naturally selected to look beyond themselves for "warmth." I know, it's a hair-brained, totally unscientific theory, and probably not at all true. But I like it. I'm going to quit writing now and go and look at my fish and pretend they really like me. I'm so pathetic.
When I brought the goldfish in, I also brought in the two potted blueberries after the second freeze hit, and now they're beginning to produce fruit (which they hadn't done this year, it being only their first)--and without any leaves at all. They're totally barren except for the few tiny fruit buds. I think I violated their freeze/thaw cycle. I've been doing a lot of violation lately. Mostly, I violate my own train of thought when I go off on tangents and never get back to what I started out doing. It's more than a bad habit, it's the way I am.
[This is what I intended to write the other day. But that effort went in a slightly different direction.]
The other night, at around five a.m. [so, actually, that would be this morning; or, it would be if it were the middle of the summer, because I consider it a new day at dawn; I'm still as vexed as I've always been by this odd practice the human species has of arbitrarily setting definitive time limits like the midnight hour or noon or New Year's Day], I finished the novel I'm writing; or, rather, I finished the first draft. It's good, the best one yet, even if it tends more toward the conventional than most of the others. I finished it in record time: 23 days. Now the hard work begins, the rewrite.
I had a few doubts while doing it; they still linger when I work on long projects. It's not that I don't think I can do them. I've done lots of them. It's just that I'm always thinking that I don't want to work that hard. But, whatever I do, I'll keep on working. I only hope I can actually truly finish something one of these days. But, it's that old adage again: art is never finished, only abandoned. In that case, I'm a prodigious artist: I have so, so many abandoned projects.
I'm struggling hard with ideas for how I can develop my standard novel/postmod pastiche method. I make lots of notes that try to capture ethereal insights that come to me as I'm falling asleep, allowing the brain to give up its tight grasp of pre-formulated definitions. And when I awaken, I transfer those notes into digital form and cut and paste and rearrange and twist concepts until I get a bit exasperated and give it up until the next time I have quasi-insights. So, here it is again, the unripe fruits of the tree of method development:
Oh, yeah, I almost forgot: in order to provide some basic structure, so that the "novel" ends up being a semblance of what it claims to be, I need a technique that marks where I and the reader is in any given story (arc; or maybe anti-arc is the operative word here). This is the main compromise between the traditional and the pastiche styles. The tradition provides the (semi-)structure and pastiche provides the (more or less unstructured) content that fits (albeit nebulously) into the pre-determined form, changing it as it goes along in the same way that characters names change, morphing the structure it's trying to hang itself on, as if it's just too hot and so melts structural beams until the whole building, though still standing, looks like a misshapen mess, something out of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. [Yes! That's exactly the kind of fiction I want to write. Richard Brautigan, look out. I'm on my way. (I know he's dead. Look out, anyway.)] The basic, starting structure is that of the standard screenplay: six or seven plot points (determined ahead of time or as the writing progresses. It doesn't matter; it's going to be messed with anyway by the content); 45 to 60 "scenes" [which slip in and out of each other in a way similar to the transitioning content--in fact, probably in most cases identical to it--so that one scene may end up being defined as a "following shot" (I'm using that term metaphorically here) on a character as s/he travels from point A to B to C, which, in a traditional screen play might comprise three to five scenes].
And, finally (I hope), I may need an initial purpose for writing the "novel," which also may melt into a misshapen mess or be lost sight of all together. Even if my purpose is simply to stitch together a bunch of dreams that I don't know what to do with, or a collection of journal pieces that wouldn't fit into any other format, it's a purpose nonetheless. But I'm thinking more here of something like "I want to write about how George W. Bush is an asshole I'd like to meet one day after he ends up drunk in a seedy bar on Sunset Strip" (that's just a fantasy of mine) or "I want to explore/experience the justice/vengeance motive re being pushed beyond individual limits re aggressive intimidation, political manipulation, etc." (that's the initial purpose of the novel I just finished, which I failed at due to material I excised to meet time/scene constraints and because the characters' agendas took over;5 but I'm going to rewrite that material back into it--maybe; if I rewrite it at all) or "I want to write about serial murders, sexual addiction, and unrequited lesbian love" (which is what I actually ended up writing about in the book I just finished. And wow! Is it ever hot!)
So, to summarize (I've got to go back and pull out all of the key points to create an abstract I can use as a procedure--until I give up on it and add it to the collection of past procedures, all very similar to this one, that didn't quite work out, probably more because I lost the motivation than because there was actually something fundamentally wrong with the procedures. Writing, after all, is more about sitting down, or standing or lying, if you prefer, and actually writing, than it is about developing the procedures to do it--which is what I'm doing now. I may have fooled you into believing that I'm developing a writing method here, I may have even fooled myself for a while; but what I'm really doing here is writing, peculiarly, perhaps, but that's okay; in fact, it's what I prefer). So, anyway, again, to summarize:
Weaving diverse materials together is the essence of my work method. To the greatest degree possible, I use everything I've written as material for my books (or websites). [For example, a lot of times I write out responses to e-mails and forum comments in my laptop journal while lying in bed awaiting sleep. But on those fairly frequent days when I never get around processing my journal entries and I fall behind, they may get skipped over and go unheeded for weeks, or even months (or years). This is one of those comments. I have to tuck it in somewhere, I just can't let it lie around gathering dust.] It seems that this is the kind of thing that Kathy Acker did also, and to a great extent I learned how to do this from her: Acker thinly disguises her writings ideas beliefs opinions as being those of her characters, packs all of her writing odds and ends into her books, including the stuff she writes about how (methods) and why (motivations) she writes, which she leaves as veiled hints as to what she is doing. Her characters are all about her, her own outer and inner life, to whatever degree symbolically or metaphorically rendered. Other writers try to "objectify" the world, striving more for an externally mimetic art; but aren't they just deceiving themselves and their readers, do they ever really succeed at objectivity, isn't all art of necessity internal mimesis, can we ever know the world from an objective point of view, isn't all writing essentially the internal state of the author, who attempts to objectify the way s/he sees it so that it more or less appears as if the reader is outside his/her6 own mind?
The reader, of course, is always outside the mind of an author (ignoring for sake of convenience metaphysical considerations), which turns out to be very convenient for authors who, for whatever reason, want their work to appear to be "objective." But it never is, it's only a fiction; all writing is fiction in this sense, even the stuff that admits to being internal, because it's not internal, it's being read outside the author. Maybe sociology, psychology, philosophy, and theology might more successfully argue this point, but from a purely writing theory perspective, the definitions of internal and external become meaningless when analyzed at this level. This is Acker's legacy: she works at this level and shows us how writing method can be used to jump the gap between internal and external. This is what I want to do, not only for writing purposes, but for psychological ones as well; or maybe not at all for writing purposes, because if I could jump this gap, I doubt that I would even need to write in the first place.
I hang precipitously between hope and despair. The world drags on, but I persist in my fantasy that I am going to get all caught up with my past journals before the spring, when I no longer need to hide inside and work sixteen hours a day.
But then I think, what's the difference if I spend my time fantasizing for long hours on end or write out novels I will never publish, or even bother to rewrite? It's the same damn (in)activity, either way. I've pretty much given up on the hope of ever finishing any of the many projects I've started. Oh, maybe I'll actually finish one or two; and so I've concocted the idea of an anti-collection:
All my writing is work in progress, developing ideas and fantasies concretized into art, but never finished, except when the content is finalized into a specific format and the fantasies freeze and die. Then it has to be resurrected in a different form in order to become affective/effective again. But to go to all the trouble of polishing the content into form seems like such a waste of time to me. If the purpose is solely artistic, okay; but it's not. It's the developing storyline into which I insert the content I want to write that I'm interested in, not the finished product (which is what the reader, probably, wants).
So, I'm thinking: maybe there's a better way; maybe I can develop a style, not so much unlike an online journal in form, that reports on the state of the fantasy/story, or pieces of it, interrelated scenarios of the ongoing content and background (back stories), perhaps to be later revised as the story line develops and transitions into something else, a kind of story on the run, a changing dynamic that is never actually done, but started over again and again, each iteration slightly different in the content it uses to fill in the form.
The "art" then becomes, not a finished "novel" so much as a collection of drafts that approximate (sections of) the story, the totality of which is collected into several (or many) volumes, the entire set of which is never to be completed, if only for lack of time. In this way, editing can be done in the way I do it now, for spelling, grammar, and sense, but without a concern for consistent plot, storyline, etc. (which is what bores me to death about writing).
By this method/mechanism, I can have several (or many) different plots/fantasies going--which I do, some portion of which is actually written down, but never developed enough in the conventional sense to present to the public; that is, never "resolved." All of my projects [I currently have 65 of them in my computer writing folder, but of them less than half are viable projects, and the most of those remaining, though of significant size, are aborted attempts, the content of which could be dumped into the other projects] can be "formalized" into (more or less) readable material, to be developed (if ever) as I find the time and motivation to work on them--or not. And when any one of the projects reaches a given number of pages, it can be published as the next volume in the series.
Eventually, I'll accomplish everything I want to accomplish; or else I'll die. And, if I die, or rather when, it won't matter (to me) then what I accomplished. It's only because I'm alive that I care--too much, because I sometimes get upset that I'm not accomplishing as much as I might, if I were not so laid back about it most of the time, ironically trying to pace myself so that I'm not overly stressed so that I end up creating the conditions that lead to my (earlier) demise. It occurs to me that it's my life, not my writing, that's the work in progress.
Days pass by during which it seems as if no progress is ever made. Then one day, just as I'm just drifting off into sleep late in the morning, having slipped onto a daylight sleep schedule, Joyce calls. I don't answer. The message informs me that she wants to know where I bought a book about Pittsburgh that I'd given my brother the previous week. She wants to give a copy of it to someone for Christmas. After a long four-hour nap, I get up and call her. But there's no answer. Then I get on the net and look up the book, but it's sold out at the place I bought it.
Then, during the course of my evening's attempt to organize a small part of the clutter I've created over the past few months, I happen across some Valium from an old prescription and, since I haven't been sleeping well lately and Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching and I need to get onto a daylight schedule so that I'm able to prevent falling into a tryptophan-induced trance during or after dinner, I take half a pill late in the evening, hoping it will knock me out (which they usually did back when I took them) and put me back to sleep for the rest of the night.
Well, it doesn't work. I'd been working since I'd awoken and had been winding up my work spree by cleaning, chopping, and storing or cooking into soup the bounty of leeks I harvested last week, and I continue on, trying to get at least half way through them, which I do, meanwhile mellowing nicely. But, alas, no sleep. I'm too well rested.
In the morning, after a relaxing night of mental activity, Joyce calls again and we have a long (half an hour, which is incredibly long for us), multi-faceted conversation that, I note to myself several times as we talk, I have the unusual experience of actually enjoying. After I get off the phone, I think, that was quite pleasant. And then I realize: it was the Valium. If that's all it takes to make me a sociable person again...
I've been thinking about my increasing lack of social standards: Is aging causing my increased propensity toward sloth? Or is sloth causing me to age? The former, probably. Because I'm going to age, no matter what. It's inevitable. But it's only sensible to slow down as you age, isn't it? I mean, the way I behaved when I was young was crazy. Who wants to work that hard? Maybe for better rewards. And I know why people want to play that hard, but, well... As for exercise, does it improve health or increase stress? Normally, the former. But my back is a mitigating factor. [These are old notes I'm processing, clearing the cobwebs.]
Now, I'm trying to remember what I'm thinking right now.
It's right on the tip of my brain, but escapes me like the past.
Traditional people try to convince me of the errors of my ways. This is the history of my life that I must come to terms with: People demand that I be like them, or they'll refuse to know me. I wasted a lot of time trying to communicate feelings and beliefs. Eventually, I learned that it didn't really matter and shut up. It's futile to try to convince ignorant, superstitious people of the concepts I happen across and want to believe I discovered. The time is not right. Maybe several hundred years from now when a majority of the human race has come to understand the basic flaws of religion... But will it ever be so, or is a large portion of mankind destined to remain in the trance state that demands mind candy? Probably so. It may be a genetic thing, and not a matter of ignorance at all. And several hundred years hardly seems enough time to effect positive genetic advancement in this regard.
But then, if there is a God gene, as recent research supposes, we could engineer ourselves away from ignorance. More likely, though, the wisdom of our great leaders would desire the opposite for the masses. Brave New World. I doubt, though, that there's a God gene or, if there is, that it is solely responsible for religious adherence, because (a long time ago) I used to think I was (sort of) religious, and now I'm not. Did I experience a spontaneous genetic modification? Or did I simply educate myself out of a superstitious frame of mind? (Maybe the answer lies in that "sort of.")
As usually happens with me, the Thanksgiving holiday broke the manic mode. I don't know why this happens. Maybe the mode is nothing more than a developed ongoing habit and has nothing at all to do with any kind of affective disorder. Maybe it's just the simple stop of forward momentum. Or maybe not.
Or maybe it was the novel, after all; the constant daily necessity of pouring out thousands of words, expressing unconscious themes I attribute to characters instead of to myself, projecting my contents in order to keep the fantasy going. It's a kind of high, to live for a daily purpose you believe in. And that purpose ended with the first draft, but I kept the affect going, transferred over to my own personal life,
until I drank two cups of real (brewed, not instant) coffee on Thanksgiving and talked to my sister-in-law in the kitchen for several hours straight after my brother went off to bed and the kids went off to do their own computer and/or tv stuff. We talked about a wide range of subjects, analyzing and interpreting the behaviors and lifestyles of a number of family and friends, another form of outpouring that left me drained and needing to recover. I usually accomplish this by watching a lot of tv and trying to remember my dreams (wherein all of life's answers lie):
I'm lying in bed, watching CSPAN and waiting for "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy" to come on. But I can't stay awake, so I set up the VCR and doze off to Brian Lamb interviewing some government official from the Budget Office who is saying he's originally from Pittsburgh. The next thing I know, I'm at db's house with her nieces and nephews, getting ready to go on a road trip to Washington, D.C. We start out down Third Street, the staid adults in the front seat and db and I in the back with the kids. Although db and I are separated, we feel affection for each other that is nice and comfortable, and it extends to the kids, but not to the adults in the front seat. We make the trip to D.C., and then we're back on Third St., starting out again. We again make the trip to D.C. again, and then we're back on Third St., starting again, as if we hadn't yet gone. I say, "Does anyone think it's strange that we've already been to D.C., twice." No one knows what I'm talking about and everyone thinks that I'm the one who's strange. At the corner at the light, instead of going to D.C., a third time, we stop at the fire hall. There's some kind of a festival going on. I go inside with the firemen (none of whom I know any more; they're all new, younger members) and a lot of civilians, many of them teenagers. I feel awkward among them, but I find a guitar and start to play. This is not out of the blue because others have been playing instruments also, it being a kind of music festival. But I turn out to be so much better than the rest of them and unique, since I play and sing old songs, one of them being Dylan's "Don't think twice, it's all right." [Don't think twice about going to D.C. twice?] I'm a hit and all of the young girls flock to me, and all of the other teenage boys (I'm a teenager too here) want to be me. Then, we're back on Third St., starting out for D.C. again. But this time, instead of being in a car, we're in a box-like container, the design of which I drew out before I fell asleep: an artists' box, one side of which is an easel that swings opens on hinges to reveal a compartment below it where paint, brushes, and supplies are stored. Everything, all of us, all of the dream I'm having, all of everything I need to do when I awaken, stores neatly inside the box into it's various divisions, or else it sits in a tray that stores away above them, below the easel, when it is folded down inside it.
I awaken thinking about my early life: I wasn't all that handsome or anything when I was young (I've improved a lot over the years in this regard, I think), but girls found me attractive anyway. (I think they may have been drawn to what they thought was a shy innocence, but which really was repressed anxiety. Or maybe these are the same thing.) It occurs to me now that I had (and still have) an amazing (if unconscious) talent for exposing my inner self, even as I hide myself consciously away. I think I may accomplish this by disallowing facial expressions and/or body language to reveal what I'm really feeling and/or thinking, adopting a non-reactive deadpan look to hide myself so that communication is forced to take place intuitively (ala a form of personal communion). That's my theory, anyway. I could be completely wrong about this; but this is something I think (and dream) about a lot, so I'm probably on the right track here. I write, in large part, to overcome this personal psychology. This is, I believe, the essence of my life (this week.)