Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Brits, Blogs, and Babbles

I've been creatively constipated since I graduated last spring. I have been writing, composing, and playing music much less than I used to for a variety of reasons. However, I've experienced a very recent and unexpected revival of my identity as a writer and avid reader. It's one of those exciting times when I'm discovering new interests and information while reviving old ones as well.

I thought about blogging here and there for a while, as that and other amateur writing have been a new reading interest of mine in recent months. But it was really the suggestion of my "loving sister," as I once drunkenly put it, that made me think I needed to turn all those angry Facebook status updates about my job/other things that piss me off into a marginally funny bitch-fest for those interested to read. A blog was born, and I named it Is This Desire? because I like the P.J. Harvey song/album and because I like to talk at length about my desires. (Who doesn't? I want a pony, by the way.) I hope someone is enjoying it. A little bit?

Another new love affair: history. I have always had a soft spot for historical fiction, and one of the things I love about it is reading the stories and then finding how little is rooted in fact. In the last few years I have really taken to the British monarchy and Tudor era, thanks to the hugely successful Philippa Gregory novels (The Other Boleyn Girl, The Virgin's Lover, etc.). Say what you will about her work (which admittedly devolves into glorified romance paperback aesthetics at times) - and snooty historians have had plenty of commentary to offer - it's really good shit. And, without it, I never would have touched Alison Weir's The Six Wives of Henry VIII - which is 656 pages and non-fiction, by the way. I certainly wouldn't have wound up reading it cover to cover.

It's safe to say I'm officially Tudor-crazed. For what other reason could I re-visit the same episode in history over and over? And for what other reason did I immediately check out four more books on British history? After all, the information I've acquired on Tudor politics, while still quite modest, is so disproportionate with my scant knowledge of all the other periods and figures of English history that nothing makes sense; it has no context. What about the Stuarts, Plantagaenets, and Windsors? The wars with France, Spain, itself, France again - even America? I have to know more. This is what is so great while at the same time difficult about history; no sooner does one curiosity get satisfied than five more arise.

But even this fresh obsession cannot take precedence over jump-starting my personal writing renaissance. The blog has helped, but I need some real motivation. I've found it in Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, a book on writing practice recommended by a friend. (I read another of her books, Long, Quiet Highway, on a long plane ride about seven months ago, which inspired me so much that something opened up inside of me and I wrote feverishly for hours over the Atlantic Ocean while the curious German flight attendants continually refilled my tea.)

Ms. Goldberg has taught scores of writing workshops, but she's not a pretentious academic asshole. She talks about the process of unlearning conventional writing education and using as few rules as possible. She explains that writing practice is not about sitting down to practice writing a memoir, novel, poem, etc. It is the crazy experimentation, the worthless chicken scratches and self-pitying prattle in our journals that shape our voice. There is something about the way this woman de-mystifies writing that makes me, seemingly magically and fearlessly, able to just do it. If I ever achieve even a shred of success as a writer, I will owe her a great debt.

I've started writing more in my notebooks, mixing and matching genres at will, digesting memories and encounters as they arise. And I've found that, with all the craziness that makes up one's life experience, I feel less inclined to air out my petty grievances about work now that I remember how much I enjoy discussing other topics. Not that my writing has quit being self-indulgent and laced with a certain degree of entitled bitterness, but I think I'm finally learning to accept it and harness it in any way I can. Today, for example, I opened up a purple, sequined journal I've owned for six years but haven't filled because I only write in it every few months or so. I put on a recording of Beethoven string quartets and, with a shaky hand, began discussing a difficult topic that I have been worrying about but avoiding. I scribbled twelve pages (having had to start the CD over), showered, and then re-opened the journal to write another page of additional things I had thought to add (aren't showers amazing that way?). Also, I'm now about 3/4 of the way through that particular journal.

I'm glad to be back into writing and literature. Now I just need to muster up the drive to pick up guitar, violin, and piano again. And compose. And, like, sleep. Damn. There's just too much to do and read and see and think about for one curious person. Maybe I should just forget the books and sleep and have lots of ignorant dreams.

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