February Reviews

Lately I’ve been more consistently rating non-fiction 5 stars. I can’t tell if I’ve just been reading great non-fic or my fiction desiderata has increased, at least for 5-stars. I’ve yet to have rating a book 5 stars that I haven’t previously read. Is this growth? Degeneration? Or is this my taste changing as I get older? When I have the time, I think a post talking about what a rating system to me actually means is in order. On to the reviews!

Villette by Charlotte Brontë [4/5 stars]

 

15990651

I am both enamoured by the depictions of loneliness—of being a stranger even to one’s friends—and deeply frustrated by Lucy Snowe. Written after her sisters’ and brother’s death, I suppose Brontë would know a thing or two about loneliness, which makes the book that much more haunting and intriguing. Seriously, there are some biting passages about loneliness, the grim spectre that isolates you in fog, worst of all when you isolate yourself.

But because of Lucy’s indifference, her lack of concern to make herself in any way presentable or even likeable, you really have to work for it. Lucy Snowe might hate you but I think she might hate herself a great bit more. Great book, bad romance. Seriously, the main love interest is so grating and inconsistent.

On Writing by Stephen King [5/5]

611omwufpcl

A wonderfully intimate (I know, I know, it’s a cliché to say that but still!) and instructive book about being a fucking writer. If there’s one person that will be able about writing, you’d want one of the bona fide writing machines Stephen King. Even when there were points of disagreement (and I think he’d encourage you to do so, within reason), the book never bores and King’s easy conversational tone helps through some of the technical aspects in the middle. This latter content was less interesting to me because I’d learnt a lot of these things already. I’m not being arrogant, it’s just that a good portion of these tips are directed at people a little further back in their writing journeys. But seasoned writers, you will walk away with something useful. By and large my favourite parts, though, were the memoir. Learning about his personal failures, not just his literary ones, was quite touching in its own way. He’s a man who’s seen a lot, clearly. It’s always encouraging when someone is quite open about failure.

This seriouslu lit a fire under me creatively, making me want to write whenever I got home. Writing is often seen as the wealthy person’s game but King was dirt poor and had a family to take care of in his early writing days. This does come with a caveat that he’s a writing machine but it shows it is possible to do writing even if you’re not in the best situation.

Absolutely recommended for any writers out there, even if it is just to refresh yourselves on some of the basic principles. You don’t have to have read King, you don’t even have to like him, but you can definitely learn from him.

Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet illustrated by Brian Steelfreeze & written by Ta-Nehisi Coates [4/5 stars]

29246432

A touching tale of identity. Less action-oriented and more character-led then a standard superhero comic,  it follows T’Challa’s searching journey through a collapsing Wakanda. Similar to the film, the comic explores identity and how it relates to sovereigns and nations: what is the role of a sovereign to their nation—and indeed what is a nation? Who should govern it and why? These are exactly the kind of questions worth exploring in a property such as this.

That ponderous and unhurried style I’ve come to associate with Coates is on clear display here. I liked it a lot. I would like to see more.

 

Advertisements

January Reviews

A new year, an older but more renewed me. Yes, it truly is that 2019 energy … but still only two books. I am reading a classic and I keep forgetting that they take longer than I want to do. January had some other highlights, however.

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman [4/5 stars]

Cover Spread Starfish.indd

As a writer, a good book usually either makes you envious or inspires you. As I’m currently writing a YA contemporary, it did a little of both. See, a good book makes me envious in a “how did they do that?” which inspires me to keep going. This is an example of such a book.

Starfish is a quite affecting tale of a young woman, Kiko, and her journey to self-acceptance. The prose is clear and uncomplicated with delicate flourishes that convey the emotional swirl of when you’re a teen and you see your crush, for example, to great effect.

By and large some of the best parts of the book are the relationship between art and the artist, including the artist’s loved ones. The descriptions of art, for example: At the end of most chapters, there are descriptions of what Kiko draws that convey her emotions and are in general a treat to read! They contrast her abusive and claustrophobic home situation well.

Seeing Kiko interact with aspects of her racial identity (she is mixed white & Japanese-American) and come to accept herself, even against people’s (and mainly her mother’s) standard of beauty, was really quite wonderful.

On the flip side, I do have conflicted feelings. When I finished it, I’d been wracking my brain all day as to what it is but something about this book that was not sitting right with me. I think I’ve narrowed it down to three points: Jamie, the mother, and Emery.

1.) Okay, Emery I like a lot but my criticism is that she moves out of the story-proper about 100 pages in and sort of … disappears which is a shame because there could have been more in-text about Kiko’s and Emery’s relationship even when distance is a factor. I just feel like she was displaced with Jamie when he became prominent which is a genuine shame.

2.) I don’t know how I feel about Jamie. In some ways he seems too perfect, in others, baffling. He almost doesn’t seem completely real. I understand that he is filtered through Kiko’s narration and she does make the distinction between wanting someone and needing them but still … There’s something about him that feels a bit sanitised. I can’t put my finger on it.

3.) Lastly, the mother was perhaps too one-note for the impact of her awfulness to sink in. I would recommend reading it to understand a little more about what I mean. But again she seems both more and less than a person. Towards the end of their arc, there’s real potential for nuance that gets wasted and it’s sad. As it stands it is sad and I think intentionally so but also, when considering the potential for that plotline, I think it’s a missed beat.

With all that being said, look at the rating! This is a wonderful read. Hiroshi and his family are great. Kiko’s a good character. It helped give me a kick up my butt to start drawing again. All in all, very enjoyable.

Arcanum Unbounded by Brandon Sanderson [4/5 stars]

30363288

Look, I’m not saying Brandon Sanderson’s my favourite writer but I also have read a great deal of his books, okay? Anyone who’s read a few of his series know that for most of his books, there is a central mythos that ties them together in an interconnected universe, called the cosmere (or as I like to call it: BSEU*). The links are subtle, and usually feature a character called Hoid, however there are books where the hints of a wider world are more prevalent, like in the ambitious The Stormlight Archive. Every mention, every appearance of Hoid in different books is a teasing thread that leads us along as readers, the source of this thread no doubt coiled snugly around Sanderson’s finger.

So when a book that consolidates some of those worlds in the cosmere and gives it a connective tissue, not to mention expands that universe, I was overjoyed.

Arcanum Unbounded is a collection of 9 pieces of short fiction (short stories and novellas) with prefaces by a scholar in-world about the cosmic systems and the magic types, with afterwords from Sanderson about the composition and background of the story in question. As is with any collection, not all stories are created equal.

This showcases Sanderson’s many skills as a writer but also some of his weaknesses: his ability to create complex and compelling worlds with interesting characters, magic, and plots, but that is counterbalanced in some cases by a lack of dedicated space. By and large one of the best stories was The Emperor’s Soul, for example, partly because it felt complete with the conception and execution. In short, Sanderson is an excellent novelist, a very competent novella writer, and a decent short story writer.

Which is not to say that isn’t it worthwhile. As with Starfish, you need only look at my rating to see I very much enjoyed it. Finally, it’s worth mentioning that this is not ideal for someone who is new to Sanderson: read at least the initial Mistborn trilogy.

Once again, happy new year everyone. Hope life has been treating you well.

*Yes, that is the Brandon Sanderson Extended Universe; no I am not proud of that; yes, I apologise to my friends and family.

2019

A new year is upon us. Normally this is when I talk big about all the shit that I want to do going ahead and this will be a post partly about that, but the primary focus will be appreciating what I have done already for a change. The movement to developement isn’t meaningful without acknowledging what I have. This is part of my growth. As a result, this post might have a looser structure in comparison to previous New Year’s posts.

Despite my failures, 2018 was a year of successes. I got a lot done! Like a lot, a lot. But I didn’t feel particularly satisfied or adequate. I had bundled up all my self-worth into my achieving some financial security which is just a downwards spiral. Being in financial straits is no picnic, let me tell you, but at some point I had to make peace with the fact that it will a big part of my reality. Mostly it was a case of being worried about it was jeopardising my chances to get out of this situation. It is unclear when I will but I need to have the clearest mind possible going ahead. I am okay where I am. It’s not the best, neither does it mean that improving my situation would be unwelcome, but I am stable. I’ve been broke all my life and I’ve got by despite that fact. I’ll be okay.

Creative blues

But! Obssessing like this is making me ignore what I did well. Let’s have a look at the heckin’ chonker:

Lux Complete (1 of 2).png

As I mentioned before, I started this book in 2015 but soon put it down, realising it was a larger task than what I was prepared for. Sequels are a tough deal because they do a lot: not only reintroduce characters and plot threads, but continue them as well. A duology is a little tougher to close out because you have to reintroduce characters and plots, continue the story, and move it to conclusion, all while satisfyingly closing the whole series. I think I subconsciously knew the difficulty in 2015 but didn’t understand properly until I started again in 2017. Like I enjoyed myself—it was an interesting challenge, I mean—but on top of the other draining aspects of 2018, it was really tricky. I am proud to say that I hacked away at it, bit by bit.

I’m gonna quote Brandon Sanderson to make myself feel better but this is good advice for creativity in general, not just writing:

“Once in a while writing isn’t fun. But having written is always worth it … What you don’t want to become is one of those people who always thinks about how fun it is to have written.”

I was definitely tempted to stop but I think it was better for me to have kept going. I am pretty moody but I am much worse if I haven’t written. Oftentimes, I feel better for having written. Even if I don’t feel better, it’s always worth writing in the long run. I do want to say it explicitly: this is for ME only; don’t break yourself thinking I’m saying this works as other people’s general rule to creativity. On the extreme ends of pushing through is exhaustion which is just no good for anyone.

An important aspect on the other sise of this is to remember to zoom out and appreciate what has come before. Having finished my nearly 200k book I was relieved that it was done but not particularly elated. I still had lots of work to do. I needed to get it ready for readers, I had redrafts to do, etc., etc.

The weird and annoying thing about being a creative person is that you are your own worst critic. It sort of works in your favour sometimes but mostly that annoying asshole that you despise who nitpicks everything in others becomes your reality about yourself. This leads to an inertia which prevents you from creating. Seeing how things could be better, or envisioning a new reality are aspects of creativity; creativity is an essential ingredient in making art, and yet when it is applied to one’s own craft, it’s arguably the single most stalling factor of the creative process. You can see it better therefore what you made is clearly not good. Like obviously that’s false but you try to convince any artist in the throes of their creative blues and you’ll see how deeply they internalise it. It’s so frustrating. Rationally you’re not always going to be inspired, or make your best art on the first go, but the doubt is still there.

A lot’s going on and I can narrow it down to the two ways in which comparison occurs: 1.) comparison to oneself 2.) comparison to others

1.) Comparison to oneself

Sometimes when you’re creating, you just do something you love, that you think is awesome. I’ve written poems that I’ve been proud of, hell even lines, most of which are still in the finished versions. So when I start a new poem, I see a dud or an unfinished line and get disheartened and don’t want to improve it because I got it good in an earlier poem. As an artist I’m supposed to grow not get worse. The thing is, though, your aim should be to look at it as plainly as possible: every act of creation will be different. Every poem, novel, every line or sentence will require something different from you so comparing it to past processes makes sense in a way—you learn as you make—but that cannot be your benchmark.

I’m mad because I forgot who said it but success is not a linear line but a spiral or a squiggle that goes in all such ways but generally errs upwards. The more you do, the more likely you’ll progress, but that does not mean that you will not experience setbacks or difficulties.

In 2019, I want to focus less on the words I’ve written and instead the regularity with which I’ve produced them. I want to focus on having written. Even when I’ve hated what I produced when I’ve pushed myself through a hard session I’ve never regretted having written. I encourage you to keep this mind for your various creative practices. It’s going to be a personal measurement of accountability but crucially forgiveness. Punishing yourself will lead to more creative deficits because you’re trying to push yourself to do things that you clearly are not ready to do yet.

There’s a quieter and potentially more insidious kind of comparison as well: comparison to some future self. Your future self will likely be better at the craft than your current self or you’re thinking about things you’d want to do in the future. This is again an example of your creativity but can be unfair to yourself because when imbalanced, it undervalues what you’re capable of in the present. The future self is aspirational and can be a good motivator but you will always fall short if you think of it as a thing you have to be right now. See, the future self can only be realised by actions today. You have to take it a day at a time. Be kind to yourself. Focus on what can be done today. The future self is helped by putting down foundations in the present, like a decent work ethic or an acceptance for the present success.

2.) Comparison to others

This is again where the rational and non-rational mind diverge and you lean into observing other people’s successes. Here’s the thing you need to fix in your mind: people will broadcast success more readily than failure. It might be how we are wired, I don’t know, but it is most certainly how social media wants us to interact with it. This means the effort that goes into generating that success is missed. We see results and not processes. The process is MOST of creating and yet it is the aspect that is most missed. It’s probably because it’s not glamorous or sexy. It’s why creators like V.E. Schwab are so popular because they’re so open with the struggles of creativity. Even a NYT bestelling multi-book author has doubts and fears. But guess what? She still writes. Even when it hurts like hell she still writes.

This is not to mention that comparing yourself to someone who is published is not good for you. Someone who is published is on the other end of the writing process: not just successive drafts, but queries and/or edits, and proofs which then concludes in publication. Because often you see the end product, you forget about the process. This sounds trivially true but every time you compare your draft to someone else’s finished book, you are doing yourself a great disservice. (I am saying this mostly to myself.)

Everyone has their own creative process and comparing yours to another’s is just fuel for slowing yourself down further. Repeat the mantra: having created is always worthwhile. Even if it’s 10 words in an hour or the shittiest words in an hour: it’s way better than spending that hour frustrated at having not created. Every finished draft is a success, time spent writing should be looked favourably upon. These are things we know but don’t pay attention to enough.

Personal growth

More than anything, though, I am really interested in things other than my creative growth. That is a constant. But I have been ignoring my own needs on a personal level. If I am not balanced, that will effect everything else. Some of my friends are doing the same and taking that really inward look for the year ahead instead of just setting themselves big goals.

I’ve boiled down the three core ones: get better sleep, stay more active, and stop selling myself short.

Sleep, I think, is the most crucial of the three. Getting better sleep will help enable better habits going forward. I am scaling back the lateness of my getting up bit by bit. It will help me stay motivated going ahead. It’s frustrating because I know that I am able to do it but have become a little demotivated. But ah well. A work in progress.

Being more active is surprisingly the one I’ve taken most up to. Don’t get me wrong: I won’t be a gym rat any time soon. I hate exercising but I do enjoy having exercised. Doesn’t that sound familiar? I can feel the strength developing in my body, my posture is improving, and my mood is in general a lot more balanced. Healthier body, healthier mind, more creativity.

The third one is harder to catch because it’s more unconscious but there are aspects that I am consciously working on. One strand of this will be accepting my own achievements. I know I can write more than about 100,000 words a year but then undermine the 100,000 I end up producing. But also, I am able to write a 200k novel while writing poetry, alongside doing charity work, and writing other miscellany for this blog, too. I am a varied person and I shouldn’t undervalue myself because of a lack of monetary gain.

There has been a theme with everyone’s conception of 2019 that I’ve been picking up, from friends to known creators: 2019 is less about resolutions in terms of projects to do and more about intention and personal growth. Hannah Witton was talking about the “why?” of the year, for example. Basically, a year of more intentional actions over naked ambition. I think people are taking a break from the “I’m going to do absolutely everything” kind of resolutions to more specific and curated, legitimately achievable goals. This means, of course, smaller things. It’s a fine balance, I think. You can shoot high if you want but achieving anything at all should be focused on and built on, like building something brick by brick. Bigger isn’t intrinsically better. Sometimes it just is bigger.

This is part of my problem with success: that it must be a big and beautiful thing, when really it could be small. There are two questions you should ask yourself before you get to the “how” of your goals: what and why? Why do you want to do this thing you set yourself to do and what does it mean to you? If you can’t answer at least one of those then you should really reassess them.

Moving forward

I have been swept up in the throes of rejection but now I want to invert its role in my life. I’m trying to develop my grit which is part of why I’m going to put myself forward to aim for rejections this year instead of successes. The aim of this is simple: instead of focusing on succeeding outright and getting defeated by rejection emails, I am focusing in on the rejections themselves. The reasoning is manifold, but centres around developing grit and determination: you have to be proactive to get a number of rejections in your inbox or in other words, it pushes you to be more productive! (This post relates to pitching one’s writing specifically but can easily translate into job applications.)

So that’s what I’m aiming for. I’ll set an average of about 2 per month, so 24 this year. I’ll round it up to 30 to make it more ambitious. As of writing this I’ve got two rejections already: whoop! By focusing on achieving my goal I actually feel better for it. Because despite rejection, you are achieving something which is why it doesn’t hurt so much. It also means that because you’re so productive, you are developing certain skills much faster.

So here I am again, at the start of a new year, full of hope and possibly naïveté. But come what may, I’m ready for you 2019. Come at me.

Links and further reading:

Here is the post that started off the aim for x amount of rejections (this one is 100 and for writing but again, this is easily translated).

This article is about productivity and how you can help combat self-sabotaging activities (or procrastination).

Here is a bonus one on work, specifically “hustle culture”.

After the Interlude: Reflecting on the Poetry Project

New Year’s is done and dusted and the first part of the poetry project is done. For those of you who need context, here is the post explaining what I’m doing.

I wanted to take stock of the scope of the project and reflect on its progress.

From a technical standpoint, I am quite impressed with what I’ve achieved. I’m past the one year point of writing poetry so my newness is not so much of an accolade, however I will say that I have more of an affinity for poetry than I could have possibly imagined before. In poem 1 for example, I think it blends the various themes well and represents the ambitions of the project well: poetry that had a sense of narrative with pictures that supplement that narrative. I quite like the sense of journey you get from the photographs. For those who don’t know, it’s quite a linear journey from the centre to a bit just on the outskirts of the city centre. I wanted to highlight the difference between the glass and smooth walkways of the centre to the brick locations that were a  bit rough around the edges but full of life and character.

Poem 2, on the other hand, is technically good, and while it’s right on theme doesn’t quite make reach the heights of the others. But it’s a learning process, I suppose.

Speaking of photographs, I would have liked more photographs. I found myself surprisingly strapped for photos when I was going through things week to week. More front-end photographs will be needed next time, I think. For some reason I forgot about the fact that 80% of my 1000+ photos are research. I have an idea of the next part’s subjects so I will know what to capture and that will help with the assembly of the posts.

As for the actual posts themselves, as I said above, I enjoy the techincal skill of them but they’re not as emotional as they could be. I realised this when I went to poetry meet-ups that poems usually come from a very personal place. I touch on it but I want to lean more into it. I don’t think it will cheapen the project at large. One of the stories is about heartbreak and I’ve barely scratched the surface of the rending and transformative aspects of that experience. I’m good at writing about things from a historical perspective but hide from the more piercing emotional aspects of such a situation. More emotion! More personal! More upsetting for the reader! These are my vows!

Here is a contents page for the project so far—for easy navigation!

Part 1: The City of a Thousand Trades

1.) Forward! To The City of a Thousand Trades, and, A City of Colour

2.) The Brotherhood’s Teachings in Four Parts

3.) 16

4.) Big City Plan

5.) William Caxton Fan Club

6.) Meditations on a Modern Person, or, the Many Masks of a Mortal

7.) Yet Another Derivation of Ozymandias

Interlude: Hollow City

Part 2 will be called The Imperial Dream, after an info card that I saw for Joseph Chamberlin, a prominent politician who was responsible for many things, one of the most notable is he contributed to splitting the Liberal (which would later go on to form part of the Liberal Democrats) and Conservative parties.

DSC02440.JPG

Here is a little tease for what’s to come:

It’s like a metaphor for life, really: you try to move on your path, stay out of people’s way, but some dull-eyed fucker’s got to have their say.

I make no promises for when it’s going to get started again but I hope it’ll be early Feb. Take it easy.

2018: Failure and Growth

This will likely be a two-parter with the 2019 New Year’s post.

So let’s talk about failure!

I experienced a lot of growth in 2018 that I hadn’t paid attention to because a good deal happened through successive failures. On the other side of them, they’re kind of funny and instrumental in a way, but when I was going through them, there was not a hint of joy or wisdom I could extract from them. The reality that all creative people come to understand eventually is that being creative requires one to fail. It involves suffering: for your art and because of it. This is true about life as much as it is about art, though.

I have failed a lot in 2018, personally and professionally. Take my career ambitions, for example. I have failed interviews in a lot of ways this year for avoidable reasons. That’s another pain of hindsight: that the mistakes you made were ultimately avoidable with the correct information. Worse, if that correct information was in reach. When you were in the situation, you appeared to act as best you could given the context.

The pain of my financial non-existence has forced me into sitations I was not fully prepared for. I have been in situations where I felt I did my best, where I was not up to par, when I felt I was up to par but got sloppy with the specifics. These are but three interviews and I’ve learnt a lot because of them. I wish I had more opportunity to practise but I will take them as necessary fuel* to progress. It hurts like hell when you get those rejection emails, or worse in my opinion, when you see yourself failing during the interview—you’re drowning and you can’t do anything.

The last interview I had, for example, was promising because now I have necessary affirmation of my abilities and desirability. Before, I thought I was just an upjumped nobody punching well above his weight, but now I know that I have qualities that employers would see as both desirable and useful. That’s a big thing for me that I cannot overstate.

It’s hard to not get frustrated by the inefficient and obtuse welfare system, which has only done more to add to my sense of failure. The problem of having little money is the feeling of shame. Shame that you were not better. See, if you were better then you would not be in economic straits in the first place, so you would not have to feel shame: you would not be in a shameful situation. It’s something we don’t speak enough about. But normative values have a stronger hold on you than truth does, unfortunately. I’ve said many times before but pain gives the sufferer tunnel vision, and the narrowness of that vision is typically proportionate to the amount of pain experienced.

Shame is a cruel presence. I’m going to say this even if it’s overused: Your ability to secure employment is not representative of your ability to do those jobs, and most certainly not representative of whether you deserve them. I had become slothful through dejection, not willing to try because what’s the point. I felt like I “knew” the road ahead (see: full of failure) so why try?

To say that I didn’t expect to be going into my third year of unemployment is an understatement. Like many my age, I had anticipated potential financial difficulty—if not working towards my dream career, then with a minimum wage job, making the most out of what little I got by hanging with my friends and writing lots when I could. But when even that didn’t seem attainable, I was lost in the swamp. I was falling well short of my ideal and that was sapping my spirit. Having little money takes a heavy blow to my emotional state. I did not realise how heavy until last year. But I am over the worst of it now, I think.

I know I am because I am able to see what I did do which were no small feats. Like the first post, I felt that these accomplishments were forcing positivity in an erstwhile unpleasant situation. My intention was honesty. An honest post on balance needs to acknowledge everything, not just the good or bad individually. So, I should look at stuff that was good as well, which was numerous. For example, in the latter half of the year, I did some charity! Me and three others raised a grand (there were cash donations as well as the money we raised on the fundraiser). I think because it was another set of tasks coming at a time when I was knackered meant that I didn’t enjoy it much. I am trying to appreciate what I helped bring into reality. I actually put something into the world. Maybe it’s small in the long run but I helped people.

Poetry: I began the poetry project! Not long after the last post, I sort of experienced a mad rush and finished the first part. I’m enjoying what I’ve got so far. I will be getting back to that hopefully by February. I am working on a review post of the project so far (more to follow, hopefully sometime next week).

Beyond that, I have joined an informal poetry group that meets fortnightly! Getting to meet other poets and workshopping some of my own has been beneficial to developing my craft. I’ve also been to poetry events (when I can!) and have performed just once. The poem was very average and my performance was worse but, hey, I’ve performed my poetry. It’s the first step in many, I hope. My ambitions for this are to have a smooth translation from the feelings in me flowing to the page and then conveyed to others through my voice.

Essays: I burned out. I am not going to make concessions, I am just going to try harder. They will be done when they are done.

Writing: As I said before, I am not ready to submit short stories. But in better news: I have finished my manuscript! I wanted it done by my birthday in summer but I finished in November instead. No wonder it took me so long: it was 195,000 words. 1-9-5. THOUSAND. I started this book in 2015, stopped, wrote a different book in 2016, then started this one anew in 2017. I did it!

Not only this book but the series that it was part of. Admittedly it was a two-book series but the series began in its current iteration in 2013 so it’s been a 5 year battle. Latter versions will not take so long, I hope but I’m quite pleased with the overall product. It’s a bit hefty at nearly 400,000 words in total but especially the latter half of the sequel feels representative of my current writing skill. Now, as a result, I have millions of ideas for other books set in the same world so this is overall a great thing. I’m very excited again for my fictional world.

As of the new year, I’ve started redraft that 2016 novel I mentioned above. Looking back there are admirable qualities but it’s actually quite cringey so I’m revamping old scenes and creating anew other scenes.

Music: My guitar strings broke which killed my urges to play, even after buying a replacement set. Regularity is my primary ambition. Nothing more.

Drawing: I think part of my arc will be decided what sort of art I want to be doing. I’ll think about that long-term but in the short term, pencil just needs to go on the page.

Keep in contact with friends: I think I’ve been okay with it. But some of my friendships are not well-adapted to conversation over the internet. I think I’m coming into money so I would like to try to reinvigorate ones that are waning and need that physical presence to maintain that longevitiy.

The flip side is the friendships I have had that have deepened immensely due to, hilariously, my unemployment. Not having cash and limited autonomy sucks but I’ve grown in other ways: found the poetry stuff and people, developed my friendships that I likely would not have been able to if I wasn’t unemployed in virtue of having little social mobility.

The lesson here is that there are gifts in life that are there if I am willing to look for them. I will try to relax more, enjoy things around me instead of focusing on being unmoored. Nick Drake had it right: our ocean will find its shore.

Hope you are all well.

 

*I have realised that simulated interviews do nothing for me because I normally know the paramaters or the person and there are no stakes. Trust me, the interview is basically a whole different thing when you have to make an impression on people you’ve met moments ago and your livelihood is at stake.

December Reviews

My final two reads of 2018 were not the cheeriest, I must admit, but still great. Have a peak.

 

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin [4/5 stars]

19161852

It’s hard to put into words my exact feelings. The short answer is that I enjoyed it. In equal parts bleak and brilliant, vague and original, you have a very intriguing world and premise.

Told across three perspectives (one in the uncommon second-person) the story unfolds steadily, if a little slowly at points.

This is a character-led story but worldbuilding is front and centre here. Set likely tens of thousands of years into the future, the themes of oppression, discrimination, people’s hubris and cruelty, were so culturally significant.

As I mentioned, there are three POVs but they are not all created the same. Essun “you” starts out well but loses steam a little in the middle, Damaya starts out slow but gains traction, while Syenite’s is the consistent height of the book, with my favourite parts involving her and her companion Alabaster. One other criticism is that it is I think needlessly vague in points. There is a lure early on, a mystery about the world and characters that cleverly unravels but there is a lot that is revealed to you strangely, especially towards the end.

I understand that this likely means that I will have my answers in the following books and hopefully they are negated as we expand on the mysteries of the Stillness.

But boy, what an intriguing book.

We Were Eight Years In Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates [5/5 stars]

35000775

There are times when you read a book at precisely the right time. This book is a mix of memoir and collection of essays. Set over the Obama presidency, Coates selected eight of his articles, one for each year, that represents issues surrounding race and how Obama casts light (and shadow) on them, with an Epilogue in the form of an article about Trump, the “First White President”.

The book begins “as all writing must” in failure, unemployed and down on his luck. This is the first of eight Notes of where he was in life between writing the various pieces. While his articles are engaging, where this book soars are in the personal medidations between them. The one thing I love about Coates is the fluidity of his writing, how easily he can put down complicated ideas it would take me four or five times the amount of time to put down, things like the complexities of race and bundling that up with being a black writer, or Obama embodying that common adage of blackness: to gain respect one must be twice as good, but half as black.

He is at his best when he intermingles the reporting and the essay. He admitted it himself about “The Case For Reparations” and achieves it to a lesser extent with “My President Was Black” (again, at his admittance), easily his two strongest articles, but I was fond of them all, like the profile of Michelle Obama.

As you can expect, the difficulties surrounding attitudes about race are upsetting and genuinely surprising. Coates is a cool and even hand but his anger is unmistakable. The salient issue that runs through this book is that America has a race issue but it’s not prepared to even acknowledge it, let alone deal with it. The only way it can improve is if it does. That is the seed of hope after all the horror inside. That it can get better. But we cannot wait. To quote Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: now is the time to talk about what we are actually talking about. Excuses won’t cut it any longer.


By the end of the year, I had pretty much burntout so my reading for 2018 petered out. But I read past my goal of 35 books! As a quick post-script, I was intrigued by the fact I  have not read any 5-star fiction that wasn’t re-read titles. Non-fiction were the 5-stars for me. I hope 2019 brings me some great fiction.

Thank you for following along! I have been bad at updating but sooner or later I have to reckon with how much 2018 took from me. I feel much better, more energetic and optimistic. Here’s hoping you’re having a good time—or that you will.

November Reviews

Yes I am still playing catch up … Last month’s reviews are coming up next week.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace [4/5 stars]

2457487

I have reneged on my resolution to write an extended essay on Wallace’s divise epic because the internet doesn’t need more pieces on it, I don’t think. I also have a mountain of other essays I’m more interested in writing more immediately.

What I do have is Thoughts.

Infinite Jest is sometimes described as a comedy and it is hilarious in places but by far the funnest thing about IJ is that it took me three years to read.

Strip away the immense size, the fragmented narrative, the sometimes several-page sentences (yes) of small type, the fact that there are endnotes that are sometimes a narrative onto themselves, the technical jargon, and you have a very humane story.

I think that’s the heart that Wallace wants to convey but boy does he fucking make you work for it. The core narratives all display many different ways in which humans are vulnerable. I’m told (and John Green confirms) that the nuances of mental illness are well-conveyed by Wallace. I think I can understand that on a conceptual level and is what I understand from how authentic the depictions of addiction are as well: there are some horrifying passages about addicts that have a level of authenticity that supersedes the technical brilliance.

The narrative structure is interesting. Set in a near-future, the story unfolds through three core perspectives: a tennis academy, a recovery house, and Canadian separatists. The themes of entertainment, passivity in the face of entertainment, and isolation ring across all three. They loosely are all joined by a film of the book’s title that is supposedly so entertaining that people want to do nothing else but watch it until they die.

The reason I gave it four stars even after 3 often frustrating and laboured years is that you cannot come out of this unchnaged. Love or hate, you will have Thoughts. I think that was the purpose of the book: to be intentional content. I’ve mentioned before that Wallace had an addiction to television and the book seems to be a reaction to that. Instead of losing yourself mindlessly to TV (in our age, social media and our phones), he’s clubbing us in the head with this intentional content. And I mean clubbing. Weird that I enjoyed getting clubbed.

My life has changed around the book more than because of it but it’s been an almost prop throughout the latter half of my university years and beyond. The project to make a work that engages to not just think but to be more empathetic and not become passive agents to our vice is in his heavy-handed way kind of noble.

So with all of this, I think that the script would seem largely superfluous. Interesting, but superfluous. I say this having read a fair portion of his short stories and essays. I know the syntax’s complexity is superfluous because the latter third pares down the pages-long sentences but still maintains that Wallace-like maximalism. Another way I’ve come to look at it is that it reads like thought than specifically to be read aloud, which makes the elliptical structure of scenes and phrases understandable. It’s like you’re being invited into someone’s head for all it’s horrors and wonders. For that, Infinite Jest is a book that will have a lasting effect on me.

It is sui generis in the weirdest way that shouldn’t work. It’s way Too Much but I guess so is life.

Now, I say all this with the caveat that my admiration of his work does not give a pass to the ways in which he was abusive. How one will engage with his work going ahead is contested. I unfortunately don’t have an answer. It’s difficult and a decision you as a reader will have to make. I have yet to make mine. I’ve read his work and drawn value from them. Knowing more about him as I got to the end of the book definitely sours what his work added to my life up until that point. My frustration and confusion I suppose is small price to pay for wrongdoing coming to light.

People are so complex, wonderful, and awful.

number9dream by David Mitchell [9/9 stars]

“Life is the pen, reality is the page.” 

30751333

This is an almost companion piece to one of my favourite all time novels, Norwegian Wood. The comparisons are not made emptily: Eiji is a 19-year-old adrift, just like Murakami’s Toru. Both of them turn 20 throughout their coming-of-age tales, and both books are named after Beatles songs. But to say that number9dream is a copy of Norwegian Wood would be a disservice to the skill and originality of Mitchell’s second book. Eiji, for example, is a much more active protagonist, although Tokyo and its inhabitants are larger than life and drag him along quite a bit.

I would say that this book can be summarised as a meditation on life and stories. Eiji, an imaginative youth, is in Tokyo in search of his father and gets mixed up in all sorts of madness, partly his imagination, most of it true. The book weaves through 9 different parts with as many flavours, from Blade Runner-esque cyberpunk to metafiction (which is the weakest part of the book. I understand the Message but it’s still the worst part for me).

Over the course of the book, he becomes more grounded and finds a purpose beyond the grand narratives of stories and fancies of imagination: he reckons with his past and his reality. He must write his own narrative by living his life, an important lesson: you can’t do it all in your head. It’s a whirlwind of imagination and of brilliant sentences: “The sun steam-irons the street through its rain-washed lens”, “A single night is stuffed with minutes, but they leak out, one by one.” Conveying being broke in a big city is hilariously on point as well. Longing for betterment and your goals and constantly falling short is well-realised.  I am glutton for these kinds of stories.

Like John Lennon, Eiji is haunted by the number 9 that recurrs in various ways: the numbers of the time adding up to nine, for example, the place he is from has nine letters, the area is from is called Kyushu (Nine Provinces), etc. On my inital read-through I thought there was a significance to the nines but it’s more a motif that pays homage to Lennon and I suppose I did get feverish trying to spot all the different instances across the book.

A wonderful, touching, transformative novel.

Minsk by Lavinia Greenlaw [2/5 stars]

800163

Abstraction in the first 2/3rds or so notwithstanding, there are some lovely poems in this collection. Not all for me, unfortunately, but good enough.

Argh, it’s a shame! Greenlaw interviews so well! I’m sure there’s stuff of hers that I’ll really engage with.

 

 

#AcresofInk Writing Challenge: Week 52

Full list of questions here; last question here.

Week 52 | Happily Ever After… Is it possible for every character to get what they want?

So this is relevant as I finished my book—the sequel, and in turn the series—recently and the ending is … bittersweet. Some, in fact most, endings are pretty good, I would say. But not everyone gets what they want because that’s kind of the point of the conflict in the first place. I feel like it would strain believability to give everyone a happy ending, you know? But I’m not averse to giving a little. 

I think a good ending is one that doesn’t give everyone everything. I feel like I followed along with some people instead of it all neatly tying up. Maybe “neatly tying up” is misleading. I don’t mean that there are no endings, just if there is a sudden inversion of someone’s philosophy and worldview without exploration, you’re going to unmoor your audience.


 

And we are at last done! It has been much longer coming than I would have liked (you know, finishing it in the 52 weeks of 2018?) but ah well. I found a lot of the answers instructive in thinking deeply about the world and components of my book. It’s a useful, if stressful exercise, especially with all the other pressures of 2018. While I enjoyed it, I am pleased to be done. I was so swamped with other things that missing a week would make me stress and I’d fall behind …

Anyway! On to other things. As always, links are above and you can revisit every answer to the questions. Hope you have enjoyed following along.

#AcresofInk Writing Challenge: Week 51

Full list of questions here; last question here.

Week 51 | Your villain was born a different sex. Does your story change?

Like the protagonist question, no it does not. The changes are so miniscule that’s it negligible. Again, the Goddesses are women so there might be more of a motif thing than anything more significant.

It does pose the question of if it’s not super significant then why not? My gut says that in short I just want it to be so. But I wonder if I have a deity of one gender, does that mean that the societies at large have different views of women (regarded in higher esteem, for example)? A worthy philosophical question to think more on.

#AcresofInk Writing Challenge: Week 50

Full list of questions here; last question here

I won’t let it beat me!

Week 50 | The character you’d least like to meet in a dark alley

Huh, well. Most of them are pretty dangerous people and a snap judgement could lead me to belive the worst in them. I would say the worst is a character called the Necromancer. Tiny bit of spoilers here but it’s not major because she technically appears but ah … blahblah. I mean, come on, think about it: someone with “Necromancer” as their name is not someone you want to be messing with, huh?

She could take me over or-or summon an army of the dead to take me out.

See, unfortunately, there’s not much to say for this one!