#1 sunday, march 5: thoughts of sorts
a statement of intent //
My brain has looked something like this recently:
The docs I write in are full of unfinished lists and sentences. There are papers strewn across my room on which I have jotted various notes and doodles, perhaps in the hope that, at some point in the near future, I will gather them all up in my arms, sit down at my computer, and let my magnum opus pour forth. A thought-Ragnarok of sorts, in that it’s the creative day-to-end-all-days, the final battle, the culmination of all my years of gathering disparate scraps of thoughts and haphazardly copy-pasting article URLs into my article-url-gathering-spreadsheet (and also of actually reading said URLs).
But the thing is, I’m never actually going to do that. Creative Ragnarok will never come.
This seems to be the biggest killer of my creativity these days: the disorganization of all my thinking starts and my seeming inability to gather them into some larger narrative. In some ways, i’m sure, the short-form nature of modern media has changed not only the way I consume but also how I produce. My goldfish attention span must also affect the rate with which I jump from tab to tab and from idea to idea, spying little shiny thoughts and immediately abandoning the previous one. The sheer velocity at which new thoughts come streaking into my head, and the equal velocity at which I file them into separate spreadsheets and documents, is enough to max out whatever little creature inside of me is responsible for creativity (I like to think of it as a somewhat formless, muscularly underdeveloped hedgehog-y thing). I seem to spend most of my “creative time” creating new systems with which to organize my creative thoughts, and less and less time actually following these thoughts through. It’s as if I have my own personal attention economy inside my head, and in the midst of it, the little creativity hedgehog has become a deer in the headlights.
Or maybe it’s not disorganization that is killing my creativity, but my fear of disorganization. Georges Perec, who I reference way too often, wrote small essays on whatever came to his mind. “Thoughts of Sorts,” as one collection of his is titled. They’re bound together by his signature attention to the banal and his matter-of-fact sense of humor, but they strike me as thought scraps – as pieces of thinking he has, at some point, jotted down, and then taken the time to continue thinking about.
His resulting “philosophy” is not always a longform masterwork, but a collection of small noticings and wanderings; a collection of shiny objects, as well as non-shiny ones. He delights in the inventory, in the list; he asks us to question our everyday, such as in this passage from “Approaches to What?”:
“What we need to question is bricks, concrete, glass, our table manners, our utensils, our tools, the way we spend our time, our rhythms. To question that which seems to have ceased forever to astonish us. We live, true, we breathe, true; we walk, we open doors, we go down staircases, we sit at a table in order to eat, we lie down on a bed in order to sleep. How? Why? Where? When? Why?”
And, to me, it seems his philosophy is contained in the very form of his work. Just think thoughts, he seems to urge us. In thinking them, in writing them down, in allowing ourselves to delight in the various shiny objects and corners of the world, they naturally become part of our larger narrative.
Author Darran Anderson, in an article on the lasting importance of Perec, wrote this about how his own writing process was transformed by the essayist:
Reading Perec’s collection of essays Species of Space broke me out of the impasse I had found myself in. I packed up my haunted river book, accepted it as lost and melodramatically threw it off a pier into the sea, and I began again; this time writing an entirely new book about the past where terrible, wondrous and everyday stories would be told via the conduit of objects, thus bypassing the perils of direct disclosure. Written in a month-long bloodshot frenzy, after three or four years of involuntary suspended animation, Inventory was guided by restrictions as well as the friendly ghost of Perec. The idea was to treat it not as a book but instead a collection that I was merely assembling from the hoards of junk in the attic of memory.
About a year ago, I took part in a conversation with the New York Times columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan through my job as a writing coach. She said a lot of mind-altering things, all of which I jotted down and will share someday, but one thing that struck me was this (copied from the notes I wrote post-conversation):
“Kaplan said that writing is nothing but editing. It’s taking something that has no structure – life – and imposing a narrative on it, a common thread. She said few lives have common threads; in her lifetime, she’s met exactly one person whose life was a cohesive story. Writing is all about editing our lives into a thread. It’s cutting, rethinking, rewriting, rewording, restructuring. Nothing is original, but the structure we give it can be.”
This, at first glance, seems to go against what I was saying about disparate parts; it suggests that the ultimate goal is to create a larger narrative. But it also makes me think these two things:
Life is inherently chaotic and non-cohesive. I need to abandon any hope of things naturally taking on a structure and narrative of their own. In fact, perhaps the beauty of life and of thoughts is that they are inherently disparate – just random objects you collect and place in your attic.
There is a step between collecting objects and creating a narrative that I am forgetting exists, though I take part in it daily: the gathering of said objects from the attic. To create a narrative, you have to bring them down into the house, maybe onto your desk, and just look at them.
Anyways, this all has been a very long-winded way of saying this: I am tired of letting the chaotic nature of my ideas and thoughts stop me from actually making stuff, and so I’m going to try to start gathering them together, in whatever disparate form that takes on, and just hitting “send.” This is a way to clear the attic of my mind. In this way, this newsletter/blog thing is my own “thoughts of sorts.” I have genuinely no clue what I’m going to put on here. That’s the point; I’m not making a system for something that doesn’t exist yet. Maybe in the process of this, some narrative will emerge. Or maybe many of the objects will just remain as objects to look at and then move on from. The point is, I’ll be making something; the little hedgehog won’t be standing wide-eyed and frozen, and instead of being afraid of all the chaotic directions my mind goes in, I’ll be delighting in them.
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