•January 6, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I’m going to post at least once a week for 2011, in order to develop my academic skills and increase my productivity and confidence as writer more generally.

I know it won’t be easy but I look forward to developing my skills and becoming more consistent with my work.

This idea comes from the WordPress “Blog a Day” challenge, although I’ve relaxed the commitment a bit to fit my schedule. I don’t know that I’ll be following the daily post suggestions ( all that closely, since I want to use the challenge to develop my understanding of course material and theory. That means I’ll largely just be getting back to the focus of this blog- but perhaps with a little more inspiration.

Here’s to a “writerly” 2011!


Facing down the fear…

•August 4, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Slaying my writing dragons and poised for victory (but only after one last epic battle)…

Cultivating the Writerly “I”

•July 18, 2010 • Leave a Comment

“You know what I do when I have writer’s block?” Throw on some Beatles and write something completely unrelated. Just to free up my mind to start writing “for real” again.”

So says my friend, himself a pretty accomplished writer, I’d say. And I know I’ve heard similar advice before, but maybe I have to revisit this idea, of writing, not without a purpose or goal, but “just because.” So that’s what I’m doing. And y’know, I’ve never thought of writing to the Beatles before. Who can focus on fustration, anxiety, or deadlines when “Across the Universe” is playing in the background. That’s what I thought.

But instead of writing something unrelated, I’m going to try and get back to why I picked this subject matter. I’m writing for a history class. Okay. So why do I like history? I guess I’ve always been pretty inquisitive-I’ve always been interested in understanding the past. I can remember reading books about First Nations cultures in grade five, reading encyclopedias about China and Japan in grade six and seven, reading about paleolithic discoveries in Siberia and France even earilier.  My interests were pretty eclectic back then-I would be learning something in class and spend hours of my free time searching for more books on the subject, and reading whatever I could find. I recall spending hours reading about ancient Egypt so I could come up with the best sarcophagus picture for my grade 7 art class. I played that Civilization video game whenever I went to visit my uncle (we didn’t have our own computer at the time). It just seems like history has always been a part of my life.

Perhaps I just had a drive to understand everything-even things I wasn’t being told in class. I needed to go beyond the subject matter (I guess I was bored?), and later this evolved into a more sophisticated need to understand, at least on some level, structures, processes and politics that shaped our world.  I developed an urge to question what was common sense, I sensed I had at best, a partial knowlege of the world, and I started to reconsider (at least superficially) the sources of this knowlege (these were my punk rock years. 😉  ) . I knew that there was so much going on in the world that I barely understood, and I wanted to know why we weren’t being told these things. Particularly, this translated into a curiosity about the media- I wanted to know what we weren’t being told in the news and why.

This feulled my “alternative media” phase -At this point I was reading Punk Planet to get a different perspective on the issues I kept hearing about, yet didn’t feel I entirely understood. In doing so I went beyond the Eurocentric focus of my classes and discovered political issues and struggles that were going on around the world. I joined social justice groups and started learning about women’s issues in Afghanistan (and this was before 9-11). Some combination of my environment, and my own curiosity, created this drive to know more about the issues shaping the world.  At this point I was more concerned with present-day political conflict than past civilizations, but the underlying drive behind everything I was reading was this-in order to understand what’s going on now, you need to understand what lead up to it. (I was quite interested in the Middle Eastern conflict at the time, and this point was especially salient in this case-there was no way to understand what was going on with Iraq (a contentious issue, even before the 2003 invasion, due to the sanctions imposed on the country at the time), without understanding history behind the Amercan’s foreign policy, why the country was strategically important, etc.). And this urge to understand kept me looking back into the past.

 Admittedly, until recently I was largely concerned with 19th and 20th century history (my child hood interests notwithstanding). It’s only been in the last year or so that I’ve gone further back. Not that there’s a lockstep relationship between ancient and modern world history, I just wanted a broader approach. I realised I never fully understood, for example, why fuedalism took shape, why the Roman Empire fell, how Christianity expanded, and so on-these were formative aspects of western society, but in my urge to understand non-western cultures, I’d kind of passed over them in my studies. I started to get the sense that I wanted the full “liberal” education, that there was a reason some texts, ideas, etc, are “canoncial,” and I didn’t want to continue being functionally illiterate in important aspects of my cultural heritage. I’d also been studying modern european and particularly, colonial history, and realising I couldn’t really understand the 19th century European social structure unless I had a better understanding about how it took shape. There was an intellectual hole that needed plugging, and I’m trying to do it by studying the forerunners to the industrial captialist system that I’ve taken for granted.

So I guess, despite my frustration, I still love history, I still feel I *need* to understand these things. Now hopefully this motivation will get me through my paper… 😉

Thinking it through.

•June 20, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Every once in a while when I’m writing, I feel like I’m on a roll. I let the thoughts spill, letter by letter, until I feel satisfied that I’ve managed to get out what I had in mind. At the time it feels like I’m on the verge of an amazing insight, simply because, in these moments, writing feels easy. I realise later on that there’s no necessary connection between ease of expression and insight once I actually revisit the work. Everything is disconnected and vauge- in an attempt to get it all down, I’m not clarifying my thinking.

I guess that’s why it’s called prewriting- its imprecision reflects its exploratory nature. I know my main idea is buried under all this expository superfluity-now how do I tease it out?


•June 19, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Need to get back at it. To tell myself that I am an achiever, that I’ve done good things, that beauty and insight are the products of my mind and hands, once I get going. No one can stop me or make me feel small unless I let them. My future is still my own, even if takes a little longer to muddle through.

…and worn out in the service of the muse…

•January 12, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Back from Bs. As. … feels like I’m already losing my sense of that place, as if my memories, that immediate sense of “being there,” is already slipping from my memory.

When I got here I was tired, but once I saw my mom and Dave, I was happy to see my family again, to see my cats, to see Jesse, to experience a place that was familiar, realising that Calgary would always be home, no matter how my heart wanders. I greeted everyone familiar with a new kind of fondness, I appreciated them in a new way. The house, the stereo, my room, everything felt “just as it should.” I’ve arrived, changed but still grounded in this place.

When I awoke from my nap, after dreams of flat topped roofs, Jony’s family, the transplanted European architecture of el centro, after experiencing all my photos replaying in my dreams, it really sank in that this was it. I was home, and with it came a profound sense of missing all that Buenos Aires was, and all it represented in my thoughts and heart. I greeted real life again with a profound sense of lonliness, but not the kind I had experienced in Bs. As., which stemmed from my inability to communicate anything but the simplest of thoughts and requests. This kind of lonliness stemmed from a deep sense of loss, of realizing that the trip was over and my immediate sense of connection and identification with the place and the people I met there was severed, and would I become increasingly detatched with the passing of time. Each subsequent moment represented a loss of memories, and with it a loss of my experiences, lessons and connection with Bs. As.

When I had left on the flight, I’d cried a little as left Jony’s family, wondering if I would ever see them again, acknowledging how deeply they’d imprinted themselves on my heart. Yet at the same time, I felt that the reality of leaving had not completely sank in. I knew the real sadness would come later once I could fully comprehend what leaving really represents. What I felt at the airport was a sense of loss, a sense that, “this is it,” but also an anticipation that the full acceptance of the implications of this would come later.

As I acknowleged the start of my severance from this place, that this would only accelerate in the loss of memories, I recalled a quote from Wendell Berry. He had said our transportation technologies had made it so easy to travel from place to place; yet the mind itself was not attuned to keep up with the rapid progression of physical experience that rapid travel allowed. Our bodies are keyed to 100 km/hr, but to fully experience a place we need to walk in order to allow our minds to fully appreciate and experience where we are, to fully account for the progression from place to place as we travel. Our modern travel leaves us with a sense that our minds are still stuck in the places of the past while our physical senses are already elsewhere; this is a part of jet lag, and even culture shock. We simply just can’t keep up because our minds, the way we process sensory information, haven’t kept up with the pace of travel. So I knew that on the surface I knew we were leaving, but I knew that at this time I would not be able to fully comprehend the profound sense of changing from one reality to another, from the reality of life as it had come to be in Bs. As. and the reality of life in Canada.

Nonetheless, as the plane left, Jony handed me my camera, and it felt by now so familiar and strangely trustworthy to me, as if it were an old friend. I took pictures out the plane’s window with a new kind of urgency, as if it was my camera’s responsibility to forstall the inevitiable forgetting of this place, and I needed it to create as many tangible records as possible. I watched a film on the plane that was set in Buenos Aires, only to see what had become my second home one last time. I wasn’t ready to lose it yet, and I’m still not ready, though I know by now I am losing B.A.

It wasn’t until I woke up with memories of my dreams of Bs. As., of photos, people and life there, and the accompanying sense of sadness, lonliness and loss, that I recognized that at this point, my mind and heart had finally caught up, that I was starting to accept and process my new reality. My new reality was grounded in Canada, grounded in my family, my old friends, obligations and responsibilities, grounded even in the appearence of these familiar surroundings. What had been a welcome sense of “being home” when I first saw my old house, was after my nap also a source of profound sadness. I made mate and drank it the Argentine way, as if by establishing in Canada what had become a familiar routine over there, I could also maintain my psychological sense of conenction to that place, as if I could cement my memories of that place for good and prevent what I knew would be an inevitable forgetting.

Already I can feel that the reality and demands of here are already replacing my connection and identification with that place, and it feels like the part of me that really connected with Bs As is already slipping away; hence as time passes I’m losing a piece of myself as memories fade. I experience this right now almost as a mixture of acknowlegement and sadness, as my mind is now accustomed to home and all its trappings and familiarity, I inevitably mourn for the loss of reality as it had come to be over there. After all, my routine over here is much more worn, experienced, well-trodded and tenacious than the life , routine and connections I’d established over there, and simply by being in my familar surroundings, this place almost accelerates the forgetting of Bs. As. And yet I still know that this is home, that I need to be here now, that my trip wasn’t always fun, to say the least, and I was ready to leave. So what would I like to write now, how can I recall all that I’d learned, experienced and felt as I was over there? It will be impossible to record it all, but is there a place to start?

On the modern mind/ Contemplating Fear: Summing up Hegel and Nietzsche

•October 14, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I feel I’m in a state of meditative insanity. Hungry and tired, I decided to run on the eliptical while reading Nietzsche, and the idea of the heroic self-made, constantly self-seeking superman caught my imagination, as it tends to do when I willingly engage with it.

It forced me to push myself, and in doing so I experienced a mental state I usually only find in the (supposedly self-less) postures of yoga. It was a feeling of losing hold of my identity in the sense that I was unwittingly detaching myself from habitual fears and self-defeating, critical attitudes by virtue of the fact that there was so much else on which to focus: the ideas on those pages, the effort involved in keeping balance.

My imagination became entranced by this idea of a constantly renewing search for self perfection, one which neccessarily requires a stripping off of old identities, seeing the connections between this philosopher who seemed to have, from what I could understand, a problematic ethic – from a slave’s perspective, anyway, he might argue -and this dicipline of compassion and connectedness to others that yoga embodies. It was because right then, at that momement they fundamentally shared for me this ethos of self-overcoming. In that sense, they shared this urge to progress, a pushing forward of the self.

Philosophy pierces my mind these days; I unpack Sarte’s intentionality, Nietzsche’s superman and Goethe’s classically-infused, critical romanticism against a background of the questions that plauge me at the level of everyday life: given that we all have to grow up sometime, how does a person do this while maintaining the sense of youthful bravado that seems to fuel confidence and creativity?

As I notice myself aging I find the creative urge is slipping away. At one time I wrote “just because”-to unpack my thinking and determine my own beliefs about world events, philosophy, art culture, subculture, that whole host of topics that might engage the curiousity of young minds, minds that need to do something with all that free time. This paralyising fear, I don’t remember always experiencing it. Maybe I’m not recalling my younger self accurately, but it seems like at one time I wrote voraciously because I just had to, it never occured to me that it was bad, or at least I never feared my  writing was so bad that I wouldn’t share it anyway, which is something I routinely do these days. In class I stop myself before I say what I fear may be the “wrong answer.” I kill my latent thoughts before I start to write what might just be another “bad idea”-though I’m simulteanously plauged with an awareness of the irrationality of this behavior. I’m writing now because I’m compelled by an urge to prove to myself I won’t let fear get the best of me.

What is it about aging that has killed my creativity? Is it time? I find these days there’s never enough, there’s too many obligations, my heart is weary the moment I awake. I lose my enthusiasm for the things I love; I lose the nerve to get up and try again. What do I do to maintain that creative urge? We all need on some level, don’t we? It becomes a vicious circle when people drop the things they love as life makes ever increasing adult demands, the passion those activities spark will diminish, and with it, the motivation to start that new project. Fears creep in and it’s harder to get them out, to put them in thier rightful place as a check on the romantic, creative  impulse, not a killer of it. On some level we requre a bit of foolish impulsiveness in order to make; every act of creativity is a daring that neccessitates confidence.

And this is the fundamental appeal of these authors for me; it’s not so much an issue of metaphysics, or history that intregues me the most, but the way these authors speak to my own fears and dare me to clean up my own house. They challenge me to articulate where those fears came from and force me to account for their stranglehold on my life.

And this is where my thesis comes in. I think I always want the thesis to be that “Aha!” idea that comes with sufficient poring through books and books, stacks of ideas. I want it to demonstrate some perfection of book learning, without a tinge of the messiness of process, of everyday life, of imperfect self.  However, in actuality it usually occurs in rather effortless way, dispite all my attempts to force the idea it will never come at the moment when I think I need it most, but afterwards when I’m doing something else.

When I think about it, the thesis is really an after-effect of all that labour; it takes time for the mind to suss out what’s really at stake amongst a miscalleinity of ideas and research. It will always have “process” written all over it, but this is a neccessary requirement of original work, not something to avoid or stifle, and certainly not an esxcuse to stifle the work itself.

All this time I’ve been wanting to detach my writing from my life, but when these writers are discussing nothing less significant than the status of the self and what happens as we start to become aware of ourselves as distinct entities, there’s no way to make the work not-me, something other than a synthesis of my intellecutal and workaday life. It simply hits too close to home. By engaging with these authors, I’ve neccessarily had to come to terms with so much fear that lives inside my own mind-the process of writing anything will do that to me-but these authors make that processes much more profound, because in truly engaging with these authors I have to confront the fact that I can no longer run away from myself.

And at times I answer that challenge through an exceptional bout of fear-based paralysis, because I’m afraid my own mind will never do such great works justice. Yet there’s this quiet voice in the back of my mind that keeps telling me that to retreat out of fear is to totally miss the point of these works. And this is where this fascination with courage and bravado, embodied by these  works, fits in. It’s this ethos of action, of not knowing the answer and doing it anyway, that redeems all cowardace; action is the best shot we have at freeing outselves from ourselves.

What these authors are fundamentally driving at, I think, is the following. Hegel argues that the whole of history is the process of individuals, the sum total of humanity, becoming more aware that they exist as separate, distinct entities apart from family obligations, tradition, fuedal relationships, etc: moderinity is about the reification of the self.

According to Hegel, I now have the ability to think of myself as this discrete human being, I can conceptualize the existence of something so novel and problematic as free will, because I am the product of this long march of civilizational progress to self-awareness.  Over time we have come to think of ourselves as distinct from community, class, family or territorial leadership, and with that we’ve developed a sense of having individual interests.

From this perspective, even angst is a privilege of modern self-conciousness, angst being nothing more than the self turning inward and worrying about its condition. Angst is like turning to the self for guidance and worrying because the self can’t come up with a satisfying answer. Hegel would argue, I think, that there was a point in society where we all just acted, we didn’t worry about what to do. Most of us looked to tradition and authority, who I guess would have been slightly more self-aware, yet would also have thier own conventions of ritual and tradition to which they’d turn. Every once in awhile you’d get a figure like Socrates who questioned all convention, and while they set the stage for greater self awareness they threatened a status quo reliant on the old ways for any meaningful thought and action.

Self-conciousness becomes revolutionary because it enables freedom, as a concept, to become not only desireable, but feasable. We’re  longer living for God or even our own community, our wills either become our own, or we come to think of something so novel as a “will” being the possession of something so novel as an “individual”-even if we haven’t figured out what to do with it yet.  From here it becomes possible to live in our own minds, from our own minds-and here you get the scientific revoultion, where the rational mind becomes the basis of knowing, and later on, the first person author, the autobiography, where the self is doing nothing but exploring its own mental state (Ong aruged the second point, Hegel argued the first). As far as I understand, an idealist might argue that this newfound sense of self-the concept reasonable individual-goes a long way to perpetuating the great changes in material existence throughtout history. All of a sudden we can trust our own reasons for acting, and now we can do anything, discover anything.

The Enlightenment assumed that by refocusing authority on the individual, we would not only start to desire freedom but become better able to achieve it. but fundamentally in our own minds-in the sense that the mind is the beginning and end of all inquiry, and the fragmented, yet striving for freedom self-living the vestiges of Condercet’s thought, perhaps?-is what we mean when we speak of the “modern mind.”