Wednesday, November 16, 2011

on diaries and writing

 "Really, I think of myself of being essentially a reader. But, of course, as you are aware, I have ventured into writing. But I think what I have read is, of course, far more important than what I have written. For one reads what one likes, and one writes, not what one would like to write, but what one is able to write."
                    - from the lecture “A Poet’s Creed,” delivered by Borges while at Harvard University in 1967-68. All eight lectures from the period are up for free at ubuweb. They're damn good.

I rarely meet people who keep diaries these days. (I have never met a diarist I did not like, but I think that is some kind of self-affirming subconscious arrogance that I don’t care to think too deeply about.) The common misconception about diaries, is that they are somehow an inherently feminine thing, which is absolute bollocks, as anyone who keeps a diary will tell you.

I takes a lot to create and keep a physical embodiment of the contents of your mind. Of course, it depends on the attitude you approach the task with. Diaries are as vastly differing as the people that keep them. Even between days, my writing tones and styles and subjects change drastically. Sometimes I just think about what I ate, sometimes I just think about the people I met, sometimes I just think about completely abstract notions of philosophy and sometimes I try and address the purest source of the emotions I feel. Sometimes an entry about birds and nectar will end with me talking about where I want to live when I’m 100 years old (its Panama, duh) and sometimes I write for pages and pages about the boys I have crushes on. And you know what? ITS ALL COMPLETELY VALID.

What my diary reveals to me, is not only about myself, but about human nature. It’s intimate and intense documentation of the workings of a human mind, and it can be an incredibly strong tool. For one thing, it makes it awfully hard for you to lie to yourself. It reveals to me, personally, just how drastic and intense my opinions can be, and how much they can change in short periods of time. My diary shows me a timeline of when I felt great and when I felt like dying, and in that way, it can bring you to a very powerful state of truly knowing yourself.

In an ironic kind of way, I always thought about what it meant to actually “know yourself”. Does “knowing yourself” mean that you can predict your own movements? That you are familiar with your own opinions and that, were you forced to write an autobiography, you could do so? For me personally, learning about myself was just as much a journey of learning about humanity and the human experience and what makes us humans, as it was about me individually.

It sometimes requires bravery, though. In asking questions of yourself and of the world – I mean really asking them, seeing them written by your own hand in front of you – you have to be prepared for both answers, and a complete lack thereof. The more I write, the more I come to make sense of the world around me. Yes. And yet, since writing, I realised that I am often plagued with a deep lack of understanding of anything at all. More commonly though, in terms of humans in general, I cannot understand the motivations behind their actions, I struggle to come to terms with their choices and opinions, and in the most fundamental sense, they baffle me. Just when, after months of writing, I think I have them figured out, I can read a single article on the BBC, and realise that I am back at square one. That the human mind will eternally evade accurate scrutiny.

It’s times like this, when you find yourself writing about the joys of being baffled. When I almost feel carefree with the knowledge that I will never truly understand anything. When even my most admired authors and poets, to whom I have attributed the highest levels of understandings of humanity, can still be surprised by a cheating husband or screw up their cake recipes, or be incapable of dealing with grief. The human experience is the messiest of all. Knowing that there is no higher plane of understanding makes me absolutely relish the idea of a lifetime of questioning! There is no pressure, only a process of constant betterment and a constant increase in understanding. The dream being, of course, to be a writer.  I only hope, that such understanding might coincide and run simultaneously with the quality of my work and the jingling gold in my pockets. One can only dream…

So how is it, I wonder to myself, that I have come so far in my admiration and attachment to this particular pastime, when it is now only November? I mean, before I began the epic journey that this year has been, I was never much of a diarist. Aside from my month in Africa, I had never kept a diary of any real kind. I always read a lot, but for day-to-day life I almost regarded it a kind of chore to record my mundane doings. I began this (blogging and keeping a diary) process of documentation-of-my-life on the 1st of January, when I left Australia. The first, was a diary entry of my blubbering like a small child/fool/drama queen whilst on the plane to Singapore, and I won’t read it again until I’m on the plane back to Brisbane. (Sometimes I like doing cliché things like that.) Since that fateful day, I have written (almost) without fail, something every day. Either on this blog, or in my own Moleskines (I’m a snob for stationary and I shan’t apologise) I have created a set of markings which, in the most wonderful of ways, are totally unique. Not because of any special ability, but because they are wholly mine, and there is only one of me.

What this means, though, is that it can be a very self-involved habit. Absolutely. Yes. In a simple-to-see way, it’s kind of like me just talking about myself for a long time. In the beginning, I was kind of embarrassed about it because of that. I suppose I still am, a little bit. I think the only thing saving me from this being an actual obstruction to my writing habit, is that if you’re the kind of person that doesn’t value the written word and the search for meaning in humanity, then I don’t give a shit about your opinion. A person who loves reading will never begrudge a person for taking the time to write, no matter what it’s about. Anybody with a genuine interest in philosophy will understand the need to map out thoughts to try and understand them. Haters gonna hate. In this case, haters aren’t gonna read anyways. I get defensive about it. Yeah. Whatever. Shazam.

Writing has become something very intense for me, and I have never been more sure that anything else would have a permanent place in my life. I find myself irritable and uncomfortable if I have gone for a few days without writing, as though there is physically, in a very real way, literally, too much in my head. When I write it is like releasing water from a breaking dam. My brain being that dam. Not appreciating that metaphor? Fine, it’s like you’ve been waiting in line, busting to go for hours and just when you think you can’t hold it any more, a cubicle frees up, and you can finally piss. My brain being that bladder. That’s not a very classy metaphor, but it’s just too accurate not to use. I’m not sure if accountants feel an undeniable urge to crunch numbers, but I know that musicians and runners and chefs and all kinds of people feel this same thing. When you find something that is more than a hobby, more than even a passion. Its kind of just a part of who you are. Which sounds super lame, but on this point, I think you either understand what I mean or you don’t. Some people are just undeniably drawn to certain things.

I always thought I was drawn to food, and often fantasised extensively on become a chef, but when I realised I had been a vegetarian for more than five years, I realised that I had obviously placed that passion second to something else. I can bring myself to tears, thinking of how many delicious meals I have missed, because I when I look at “Lamb” on the menu, I think about a Lamb, then I think about my puppy, then I think about killing my puppy. And I just can’t do it. Obviously I didn’t think that experiencing the world of food was of actual real paramount importance… I mean, writing doesn’t require the slayage of puppies, but it sure takes a fuckload of time – and time is (unanimously) the most precious of all commodities. Not once did I ever think writing wasn’t worth the time. Not once. I think it’s a very easy tool for a person to identify where their real passion and drive lies – with what they choose to spend their time on. Think about it. What do you spend your time on? Really.

Having said that, I’m not sure whether to feel blessed or damned to have discovered this passion at the age of almost-twenty. Objectively speaking, I do think nineteen is young. But when I think about the genius writers and poets in this world, many of them have achieved what I can only imagine, by the time they were 20. Should this get me down? No! Of course Not! Does it get me down? Yes! Of course it does! Another way to look at it though, is to think about all those people who discover their real callings at totally inappropriate ages in life. And they might have to quit a job they worked hard for. Or totally uproot their lives. Or console themselves somehow because it simply dawned on them too late. In that regard, I consider myself totally blessed indeed. I have a full life of writing to look forward to.

I’m also glad that this obsession of mine happened to be writing for a very practical reason. I used to love dancing. I wasn’t good enough to make a profession out of it, for sure, but do me a favour and imagine two people. One is a fifty year old writer. The other is a fifty year old dancer. BAM. I know. The same applies for all passions that rely on physical prowess. Athletes of any kind must be painfully, constantly aware, that they have a certain window of opportunity in which to truly lose themselves in the craft. Of course there is coaching and teaching once one is past their own personal physical prime, and I would never undermine the value of such professions and the satisfaction they must bring. But surely, it is a weight that weighs on the mind of any young up-and-coming. How long will these kneecaps hold out for? How many times can I break my foot before it just won’t heal again? When will sheer willpower no longer be enough? Unless I lose my marbles (in which case I’m doomed anyways) I can write until kingdom come. The willpower is all that I need. Apart from maybe glasses? Yeah - I’ll probably need glasses soon, but I’ve already planned for a heavy-framed batwing look so that I can do the whole sexy librarian thing. I’m almost looking forward to it. But I digress. In a practical way, writing is a kind endeavor. As though it has a conscience. Writing is a friendly person that says “Come in from the rain, my child. I have some soup and pudding for you. Oh, I do like your glasses.”

The unkind thing about writing (well, one of the unkind things) is that it is troubling. In the same way acting (which I’m relatively familiar with) can be a great drain on your emotions and mental stability, I think writing can also be. It do not think it coincidence, that many great writers are alcoholics and smokers and quite insane. Reading about writers takes me on a rollercoaster of emotions. Biographies, and especially autobiographies, of writers can be just so damn intense. It’s bewildering. Totally and utterly confronting. Most recently, I read Stephen Fry’s The Fry Chronicles, and I think that particular autobiography is about as tame as they come. I have a biography of Dorothy Parker on my ‘pending to read’ list, and I ADORE movies about authors. In a silly way, though, I kind of feel like a lot of books I read are really autobiographical. Not in the facts (I mean, you know, Tolkien wasn’t a damn hobbit) but in the style and the themes of the books. The book is often the child of the author, and in this way, very reflective of the creator.

I also always read the “about the author” sections. For me, now, reading a book is also a journey into knowing the author. It didn’t use to be, but now it’s like googling the actor after seeing the film. I want to know about the whole process of the work. I want to dismantle the miraculousness of it, so that I might still find it amazing, but then also understandable.

So now I realise that this is the fourth page of writing (for blogs I always type in Word first then save it and copy+paste to the blog template – that way if the internet crashes like it usually does in China, my work is safe) and I have no idea who would read all of this. It was mainly for me. I had so much in my head about my ideas about writing, that I had to write it out. You know, break the damn, clear my mind metaphor etc etc.

I’ve just finished reading “The Finkler Question” which won last year’s Man Booker prize, so I’m gonna talk about that soon, and yesterday I re-watched the 1992 version of Wuthering Heights because I heard there was a new adaptation being released soon. It was always one of my favourites. I also just read a chapter in “Faulks on Fiction” by Sebastian Faulks which is all about Heathcliff – you know, a deconstruction of the character and his opinion of it, and that gothic idea of a lover. And the combination has stirred within me some interesting ideas, which I also need to get out of my mind. So just to let you know, if that kind of thing doesn’t really interest you, don’t bother reading it when the “on Wuthering Heights” post pops up as ‘new/unread’ on your RSS feeder. There will be no pretty pictures of carpets and no funny tales of camel riding. Sorry to those of you who are more visually than verbally stimulated.

On that note, enough is enough. Now that I’m done with the Xinjiang-related posts, I also have a lot to record about my life here in Jinan. You know, uni and silly things about China and stuff. For example, Chinese Vogue – it’s crazy and insane and terrible and awesome! Also, the crazy thing happened when I went to get my laptop fixed a few weeks ago. The whole campus is turning winter in front of my eyes too, so I’m itching to get some more pretty transitional photos on file once things are totally crisp and white.

Promises promises… but for now, 再见!

1 comment:

  1. Bri, reading this and everything just clicks! and that is what I adore about the whole process. You have a wonderful gift. Cannot wait to muse, read and write with you on the beaches of Phuket :)


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