Archive for December, 2011|Monthly archive page

Motherf***king Watch Me

In Uncategorized on December 21, 2011 at 1:01 pm

I was once in the print room of the Royal Ontario Museum when a curator giving a tour brought out a pastel sketch of red lines radiating against a brown background (I don’t recall the artist) and said, “What can anyone tell me about this?”

I said, “Well, it looks spontaneous, but it’s not.” I pointed out that pastel is messy, and to maintain the crisp borders between red and brown, it had to have been done with considerable care and skill. The curator looked surprised; she knew that already, but I don’t think she expected anyone else to.

I’m a little wary of people who “write because they have to”; I believe in control in art as in any other part of life. Not that things should be rigid and regimented — as Joe Orton says, there has to be room for both Apollo and Dionysus in the work — but because if you don’t control your skills, don’t have mastery over your talent, then the work rules you. That rarely means good work.

Associating a creative impulse with the terminology of compulsion implies that control isn’t possible. Slippery slopes.

That said…

I write for a handful of reasons. One of those is to entertain myself, because I bore easily. Another is to communicate beliefs and values that I hold and think other people should hold too. A third is that I get an idea and it sounds like fun. A fourth, and perhaps this should be listed earlier, is that I am challenged by something — a person, a concept — to produce something difficult. And I won’t deny that the challenge is a little compulsive.

As a child, I used to roll my eyes when my teachers said “don’t use the word can’t! You can do anything!” No thanks. Even then, I knew that nobody else but me should be allowed to define my limits, but that it was rude and counterproductive not to respect my limits when I defined them.

Teachers aren’t used to nine-year-olds knowing their own minds, so of course I got in a fair few tussles about it, not all of which went my way. Oddly enough, all this battling about whether I could or could not do something led to a certain “motherfucking watch me” sentiment:

I can’t write a story about LOLcats? Motherfucking watch me.

It’s not precisely the classic response to reverse psychology; tell me I can’t do algebra and I will genially agree with you. But I’ve tried doing algebra, so I’m aware of my inability. Until I write a story that seems unwriteable or challenging, I don’t know if I can do it or not. But if someone says I can’t, well. Watch me try.

I suppose the point is that every artist, no matter how controlled or how much they believe in control, has their compulsions. Mine is the challenge, but as impulses go I guess that one’s not so bad.

My mother’s alea definitely iacta est

In Uncategorized on December 9, 2011 at 11:25 am

So I have a list of ideas for WordPress posts written down in a text file, because I’m old school like that, and whenever I’m hard up for one of these posts — because you don’t realise how much you don’t talk about your job until you’re compelled to talk about it 2-3 times a week — I consult the list. Top of the list right now is “My mother and television”.

(A note on the title of this post: alea iacta est is a quote attributed to Julius Caesar, “the die is cast”, indicating that in a game of chance, you’ve reached the point where it’s too late to change your mind.)

Different generations, of course, have different views of media, particularly such a pervasive, invasive media as television. My mother grew up in the generation that suddenly found itself, around the age of twelve, spending the afternoon inside watching TV instead of outside running around. When I was a little kid she read books like Kill Your Television and articles like When Television Ate My Best Friend, and as a result I watched very little TV as a child. I don’t recommend reading When Television Ate My Best Friend, but the sentiments aren’t uncommon: like many of my parents’ generation, it laments a childhood lost to television. I don’t think a lot of people who feel that way realise that our childhoods would not have been like theirs even if the television hadn’t been invented, but that’s an argument for another time.

The point is that my mother and I come at TV very differently. She doesn’t seem to have any filters in place, perhaps a result of when the TV came into her life. For example, we had a months-long fight about the television show Rome, because she was incapable of filtering.

Here’s why we fought: I was watching Rome because I’m a classical history geek, and early Imperial Rome is my specialty. I didn’t really care for the sex and violence in the show, but I accepted them as part of Roman life of the time and HBO’s marketing, and ignored them in favour of the politics. I was living at home when it began airing, so I was watching Rome on the TV in the living room, which has traditionally been the only television in our house.

My mum could not get past the sex, in particular. It’s not as though the sex was even close to the kinkiest the Romans got, but she saw a sex scene in the show and couldn’t get over it. “Why do you want to watch that? It’s just pornography.” (We were not a pornography-friendly household.) “Why would you expose yourself to that? And all the violence? It’s not educational, it’s just trash.”

Well, yes, actually, I would argue, it is educational, it brings an ancient culture to life with more accuracy than fiction generally manages to do, and I’m not watching for the sex, that’s not the point of the show. HBO includes what I consider to be a gratuitous amount of sex in most of its shows, but they know it sells, so I can’t really blame ’em and frankly the sex doesn’t bother me. I’ve read Catullus, if sex bothered me I wouldn’t have made it to my second year of Latin class. More importantly, sex didn’t kill the story — it didn’t interfere with the essential tale the show was trying to tell.

She couldn’t let it go. She has a unique inability to link “things she doesn’t like to see” (sex and violence) to “subconscious expressions of human feelings and emotions” (jealousy, greed, hunger, grief). She has no problem understanding the association in real life; she’s actually quite good at it. She gets it in novels, even. It’s just for some reason, when it’s on television, she can’t do it. And so we fought for months about Rome until finally I gave up and stopped watching it, because a television drama wasn’t worth taking a moral stand against the woman who was putting a roof over my head. Plus I was tired of the implication I was a pervert for watching a TV show that had sex in it.

This seems like a story more fitted to my blog than my professional writing website, but it points up, I think, that people package stories differently for different media, and they percieve them differently as well. Some stories are more “fitted” to one medium or another; it’s possible to take a story that should be a movie and write a novel around it, but it takes a lot of skill and usually never makes for as good a novel as it would have a film. And we all know what struggles writers seem to have appropriately adapting books to a visual medium. It’s one more skill in the set: knowing how your story should be told.

And also it’s important not to fight with your mum over HBO television. It’s just not worth it.

Also There Are Monsters

In Uncategorized on December 2, 2011 at 8:00 am

Between starting a new job, getting sick twice, Thanksgiving, and various other windfalls, I haven’t had much time to write lately. Some days a blog is about all I can manage.

I’ve talked before about the energy it takes to write and how to battle The Drain, and because my coherency often far outstrips my short-term memory, I went back to it the other night to see how it could help. I ended up following suggestion number four: Write Something Else.

There’s plenty I could be working on. I’m supposed to be prepping Dead Isle, and I have a half-dozen started stories and ideas. But I just wasn’t writing anything, and all the stories felt tired and worn to me, so I sat down and did something a little different.

I don’t know if most people have a fantasy life as extensive as mine; I kind of hope they do, because it’s awesome, but I suspect they don’t. My daydreams run to full-on worlds, with their own laws and casts of characters. Most of them are self-gratification, stories that don’t necessarily make sense or which are designed to fill some gap in my Id rather than make an important statement to the outside world. They’re what I mess around in while I’m trying to sleep, when I’m bored, when I’m doing the dishes (see: when I’m bored). Some of them become real stories, some definitely never should. I very rarely write them down in their raw form, because I recognise that they don’t have much to offer to anyone else.

But, seeing as I wasn’t writing anything else, I thought I’d try to set down a story that has been playing out in my head a lot lately, just to be writing something. With no expectation that anyone ever would or ever should see it, I just slammed some words down on the page, which I haven’t done in a really long time. It was like a little two-hour NaNo or something. The story was already there — mostly involving a post-disaster community which suddenly experiences a new influx of survivors, and particularly how the children of  the community are fostered and managed (also there are monsters). If I can get a good angle on it, it might become something, but I doubt it.

And anyway the point wasn’t really to turn it into something; it was just to get back in the habit. It didn’t break a floodgate or anything, but I’m a patient man; I can wait for the right moment, and then all will happen as it should. The idea is just to keep trying different things until something works. It’s not a question of block, just of motivation — but then sometimes I suppose it’s hard to separate one from the other.