New year, New Yorker, and peacock PhDs
Misty morning, Royal Roads, January, 2013
o we made it.
This post is the last in a long serious of abandoned drafts that have sprouted up in the past few weeks.
2012 was a long and intense year; it drew to a close, with the finality and sanctity of a little lifeboat levelling out at the end of a typhoon.
My new job as started, after plunging headfirst into a sea of new faces and fumbling through a wash of acronyms, I finally feel as though I’m beginning to swim my way to shore. I only took a quick three days at Christmas, and in the holiday office-lull I finally made some headway in getting my feet on solid ground. It was a beautiful way to start the new year.
Ogden Point, Victoria, BC – December 2012
I spent a portion of the break travelling, a portion alone, and the past three weeks working through decluttering my existence. Needless to say, it’s been a reflective, belly-button gazing kind of month.
No one ever seems to tell you that or remember that bit about travelling-in spite of all the new adventures, new people and new places you’re ambitiously out venturing towards, inevitably you spend a huge chunk of hours in controlled, cold, public environments, staring at flight schedules, the inside of busses, highways and waiting in solitude. The holidays are exhausting and relaxing in part due to these extremes. What moments you have with people are often intense, emotional exchanges, insulated by vortexes of sterile solitude. Layer this under seasonal memory, apocalyptical apprehensions and the longest days of the year and you have yourself a complete, contemplative, crystalline disaster.
Our brains are the most metabolic, oxygen intensive organs in our bodies, and thinking takes time. This is something I always forget. All of our rush rush rushing everywhere and multi-tasking and fear of silences and empty spaces and no space to think.
We’ve kept our white brick walls empty for the past eight months, sub-conciously for this purpose I think. There is so much texture to white empty spaces, so many imperfections to dwell on. The not-so-perfect pattern of the brick is predictable and calming. Like staring at the white slats in our ceiling, the silence and controlled environments of travelling are so good for this type of processing. In the past decade I cling to them, their predictability and the solace of their silent sanctity.
Insert some emo Eno (Music for Airports?)…
So this month things are settling into their new routines. I’m adjusting to my new schedule (headed to bed much earlier!). I’ve also finished a two week cleanse and started running again. I was lucky enough to be sent away for a training course up at Royal Roads University (RRU) for the week.
Appropriately, we’ve been wrapped up in foggy, cool mornings. RRU is actually designated a National Historic Site, and hosts the (original) X-Mansion from the X-Men. Before I went, people had always raved to me about how beautiful the campus was. I brushed it off, but when I arrived I was taken aback: it is stunning. Each morning after my bus ride, I walked about a half hour down a seaside ridge ridge, through a rain forest into this beautiful old estate. To add to the allure, peacocks roam the grounds, looking as though they should all be puffing away on pipes and discussing Voltaire .
Peacock PhDs, RRU, January, 2013
All this futile thinking and learning as culminated in a bit of a reading hiatus since I started work. In part, I’ve picked over my bookshelf of low hanging fruit (i.e., the accessible books I was anxious to read), and I’m left staring at quite a few tomes I haven’t mustered up courage to crack (i.e., Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, and DFW’s Infinite Jest).
In efforts pre-emptive mitigation, right before Christmas I picked up Wonderful Town, a 2001 collection of New Yorker stories that focus on New York. For some reason New York always reminds me of Christmas. Maybe something to do with the singular symbiosis of cities. Christmas also spurs me (and many folks I believe) into a bit of a nostalgia. It’s the only time of year I feel driven to re-read novels. The New Yorker seems to provide a nice compromise: new stuff from old authors and a low commitment way to get literary.
As previously mentioned, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the New Yorker, and other literary periodicals, but I think I’m beginning to understand them. Fiction writing is hard. Absolutely, incredibly, intolerably difficult. Not for everyone, but for alot of people. Even those authors I really look up to. The New Yorker was founded as a venue for authors to air their stuff. An unfunded mechanism to bounce ideas around, to try things out, to get feedback. Not all of it is fantastic: some of it is, some of it is crazy, but all of it is inspiring. It encouraged me in my recent forays into prose and made a few of my literary giants seem less large in real life. In seeing some of their stumbles, their rehearsals, the bits that didn’t make it into the final draft; not all of it is great – but it gets better.
I was recently corresponding with a pal (i.e., friend and fellow writer) about my looming April 1st personal deadline to start a fiction project. Part of it is this: of the millions of books that exist in the world, the few hundred we read in our lifetime are (hopefully) among the best. Reading the anthology has reminded me that everyone starts somewhere, that not every day is your best day, and there is virtue in all the work that you do. You just have to do it.
The other thing I loved about this past week, was listening to their fiction podcasts. Each month a published author reads a previously published author of their choice. It’s fantastic, because I get to nerd out and hear David Eggers reading Roddy Doyle, Junot Diaz attempt a French accent and Pamuk read Nabokov. Personalities that previously only existed in “sacrosanct Times New Roman” warmly flesh themselves out into full personalities, emulating one another, spinning themselves into a web of people and storytellers. It’s a little astonishing really, to hear narratives I have only ever known in my standard inner monologue, suddenly spring alive into a diverse range of accents, ages and cadence.
Without fail, my iPhone tended to die part way home. The January rain of the we(s)t coast delays and skews transit schedules beyond predictability. The blue-lit busses smelling of lip balm and egg salad were often almost as good as the podcasts: unfettered people watching. The more I revert back into the Real World, the more interaction I have with Real People (i.e., people outside of academia) the more I am completely fascinated by the depths of our differences and the synchrony of our similarities. The duality in our endless scope of choices that perpetually serve to limit and marry us to the outcomes of the rest of our lives.
I will miss the commute, but I am ready for the sunshine.
Literary sabbatical adjourned. Books back next week!
Thank you all for indulging me in the vanity of a new year’s post.
All the best for 2013.