Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Getting Underwater

This is the truth: I'm not really enjoying the single class I'm taking this semester.

I've tried on several different explanations for size and have settled on two unrelated reasons. 1) The material is not engaging me really at all, in ways that are not the professor's or anyone else's fault. I liked studying Ulysses closely - the sensation was a series of reliefs (relieves?), an experience I might unpack in a later post - but it didn't really light up my brain. Our most recent read, To the Lighthouse, I found impenetrable (probably my own duncery there) and thus I did not enjoy studying it. It was like I'd come to class having read a completely different book than the one the professor discussed. Although I loved the first book we read, The Good Soldier, we really used it as an example for wider literary issues rather than reading deeply into the book itself, which disappointed me.

Merrily we roll along into The Waste Land, which I've read, and I liked the actual poem but found myself bored by what seems to be the point, which is all the allusions and notes and etc. And the latter is, I'm sure, what we're going to focus on in class.

I think we can all agree this is beautiful, but pretty weird

2), just as crucially, I'm itchy to write and I want to be doing that instead. Between work and recovering from work and school and recovering from school and doing so many social things lately and keeping us in groceries and clean laundry, though, I'm having a hard time finding space for it. It's making me disgruntled and that's bleeding over into my experience of school.

I need to do better at elephant-eating. A hundred words a day, or something. But when I think about working that way, I think about my mom, and virtual reality.

When my mom is working, there's this effect of a satellite delay between when you speak to her and when she responds. "Hey, Mom?" [one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four Mississippi, five Mississippi, six Mississippi] "Yes, honey?" She doesn't even necessarily look at you or stop typing when she responds; it just takes her that amount of time to come out of the fifteenth century and back into the present moment to recognize that someone has spoken and she's bound to reply. She's explained to me - although it didn't really need to be explained, because I've watched it happen - that she has to go through a definite process of disengaging to answer whatever it is that you need from her, and then it takes time to re-engage with the work before she's back where she was. Even an interruption like "Where's the extra soap?" or "Want another cup of coffee?" will lose many precious minutes for her.

She says it's like being underwater, like scuba-diving: all above the surface is dull and far away, and she'll get the bends if she comes up too fast. My own metaphor for this phenomenon is like The Matrix, or some cybermovie from the 1990s where people have to plug into the New-Fangled Information Superhighway with a complex set of gear - something over your eyes, fingers into stable gloves that don't move, ears and nose plugged, something down your throat, etc. Body horror machinery that you need an assistant to get into and out of. Not just a little plug in the back of your neck, and not quite as immersive as that gross red goo with a jillion wires where you live until Morpheus wakes you up: something in between. Disengagement takes time, and re-engagement takes time. It's a process, an effort, an upsetting bother.

Pictured: my mom's metaphor mixed with mine. A.k.a. the cyber-dolphin from Johnny Mnemonic.

When I'm really, totally inside my fiction writing, my immersion is as intense as my mother's. But it takes much more time than a satellite delay to get me inside that zone - over half an hour, easy. The process of plugging in is often so laborious that I buck at the idea of doing it just to write a few hundred words before I have to stop and meet an outside responsibility. Especially for the secret project, which is such a different kind of writing than what I've done before that I need 110% of my concentration to even do it.

I must learn how to overcome this, though, and write a little at a time. I must. That's how my life looks right now, that all I have is dribs and drabs of time, not chunks of it, and I need to be using them.

Sigh.

In book news, I read Middlemarch over the last four weeks. I totally loved it. It was a pleasure. Beneath its old-fashioned exterior is a pen of such strength and wit and insight that it blew my mind.

Middlemarch was also my Big Book for 2015, so that's out of the way. I'm thinking of one of those huge Russian novels for 2016, Anna Karenina or War and Peace or some such book. I've heard all good things about those novels and I even read about a third of Karenina at one time, but I just don't have a lot of interest or motivation regarding them as of yet. Meanwhile, it's shaping up that I'm going to read the other two volumes of Remembrance of Things Past over the next two summers. Three years of Proust! I wish I could have read it all at once, but this is an acceptable compromise.

Wish me luck at getting underwater in April. My self-imposed deadline is starting to look unrealistic. :(

1 comment:

Shetachai Chatchoomsai said...

I have read the story you published on Kzine and really enjoyed it.! I hope you would get through the slump, I think as a student also we all had that tough period of doubts and insecurity, but of course I am still young in this area of study and discipline, and I know I have a lot to learn from expeirenced writers like you and the peers in graduate program, who are all awesome. By the way, To the Lighthouse is one of my favorite books! And I am a huge fan of Virginia Woolf. We can share our opinions :-) I also know how famous Proust was from your post, and plan to read him soon. Anyway, love reading your post. Best. Pete.