Archive for April, 2009

Didion Redacted

April 29, 2009

“We are not talking here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consumption, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful pensees; we are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker.”

I blush at this because it’s just so breath-takingly good. Oh Didion, your way with words is a joy and a curse.

Like P&C I too feel slightly withered after reading her, it’s painful to be confronted with writing that puts all one’s own petty attempts at it into sharp relief – she sort of buffets you about the head with the smallest (and weightiest, I like that term) of phrases and she leaves you sighing and melancholic and buffeted and wishing you could drink straight bourbon like she can.

Are keepers of notebooks really a different and lonely and rearranging breed though? I’m not too sure about this but I do like her point about this breed of hers being awash in ‘some presentiment of loss’ – I know this feeling, I don’t always observe things and then worry they’ll be gone (or already are) and go and write them down in my notebook and try to thus fix them and keep them so I don’t lose them but I know that compulsion well, and that feeling of losing moments exactly in the instant I experience them.

For me, this essay captures so well the paradox of the notebook (or diary, or pensee record, or journal, or blog etc etc), the one that often stops me from filling one up with delightful bon mots and charming anecdotes and profound insights; that is that in writing in one, one is always so conscious that it is both the most self-indulgent/pointless/navel-gazing/dripping in upper middle class angst/privileged way to spend one’s solitary moments AND that it is, as Didion says, a delightful way to resist the expectation to always put others before ourselves, to ‘affect absorption in other people’s favourite dresses, other people’s trout.’

“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.” This is the lesson I’d like to take from her precisely because I’m certain I do everything I can to stay far far away from my previous others – like the one who tried to start a ‘movie diary’ that’s now a recipe book and which I grimace over every time I flip to the review of ‘Lost in Translation’ [the one that says it was ‘bittersweet’ and ‘altered my perception’] instead of to the recipe for chickpea casserole.

But yet, my latest notebook isn’t going much better if I’m honest – it starts with ‘profound’ quotes from GUESS WHO? Erm, Joan Didion of course along with some David Foster Wallace (I seem to think quotes can speak for me better than I can speak for myself – is this just another example of my diffidence to others’ thoughts and ideas as Didion points out?) and apart from that, there are some random PhD related rants hidden towards the back; apart from this I am actually TOO SCARED to write in it – I actually don’t want to mess up the nice clean pages with what I already assume will be a combination of derivative drivel and quotes…sigh…I’m not really getting anywhere now am I?

Maybe when my others appear “…hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night”, instead of picking up my notebook, I’ll just pick up Joan instead.
[I could also just chill the hell out and start messing up my prissy clean little pages with some mind strings – F**k Yeah]

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Joan Didion’s ‘On Keeping a Notebook’

April 29, 2009

Now that I’ve read this, I wish I’d written in notebooks during my life. I’ve kept some ill-fated diaries, books of bad writing, scrapbooks, teen boredoms and notebooks of mundane lists from time to time, but nothing resembling Joan’s slivers of everyday life that obviously honed her acute powers of watching and her sense for the weighty and the dramatic in minor events between people. The fact that reading this essay first made me feel awed and then ashamed for not being as cool as her pissed me off because what that says about me is that the first thing I do with a thoughtful, wonderful piece of writing is to wish that I had written it and despair that I never will. Which may just be a sign that I am a writer and therefore a solipsist. Or it may be a sign that I don’t yet have self respect, as characterised in ‘On Self Respect’. But since the latter remains a bit opaque to be, I can’t be sure. Explain it to me.

“Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted at birth with some presentiment of loss.” I can understand the urge to rearrange the truth by writing down a version of it that better suits yourself, but how does keeping a notebook indicate you are afflicted with a presentiment of loss? I suppose Joan’s referring to the creative impulse of those who are compelled to write or draw or carve wood or be creative in whichever way necessary – the urge to remake the world. What I like here is the slightly neurotic inference that notebook-keepers are a bit belligerent, that they are grumpy to find that everything is as bad as they had suspected and are intent on making a new truth as a sort of correction, an antidote to disappointment. Notebook keeping or storytelling as a rebellion, a refusal to accept things as they are.

I think this essay is about the act of writing as a way of remembering. “To remember what it was to be me.” Joan distinguishes between the boredom of writing a diary and the act of keeping a notebook by equating diarising with recording mundane events and large details, and note-keeping as observed details, the embroidery of experience, the moments caught then lost, the breaths of truth, the shit that we don’t remember. I think she was saying that not only did she keep notebooks to remember what it was to be her, but to remember what it was to be alive, what it is to be alive – to grasp onto the greasy pole of mortality by recording a moment even as it slips through our fingers. Like grains of sand through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.

Some random extracts from the notebook I currently keep in my handbag so as to always have somewhere to write things down:

– A story idea during my placement at the Taranaki Daily News: “Waitara river entrance improvements: feasibility of reinstating half tide wall at Waitara following submissions from users”
– Description of a bar I was reviewing: “Fabric of a Lisa Ho dress, granite, cross section of turd, ant farm, lava, chain mail curtains”
– “For a certain group of young NZers, Helen Clark is not just a political figure, she’s a cultural icon”
– pina colada necklace
– Leonie: “Relationships are all about bringing the other person down.”
– $73.78

KNOWING… what?

April 13, 2009

I saw this movie last week.

The scenario is that this man finds this list of numbers that predicts all of the big disasters of the last fifty years and then sets about trying to prevent the last three predictions on the list. His whiney little son is somehow involved. There are also a couple of horrific and unnecessarily realistic and graphic scenes of mass death. At the end, the whole world gets fucked by a giant solar flare. Yes. Everyone dies.

Reasons why KNOWING is a pile of horseshit. (NB. KNOWING must always be written in capitals to denote its weighty sense of its own importance and deepitude).

1. Why is Hollywood so obsessed with disasters? Whether it’s natural disasters or otherwise, apparently we can’t get enough of random death on a large scale. Why is this? Granted, the knowledge of your own mortality is a terrible burden and it’s scary to think that your death will probably be random and pointless, blah blah. But is it really necessary to dwell on all the ways that we might die violently at the hands of nature/terrorists/a virus/monsters/freak accidents? Is this really entertainment?

2. Why is Hollywood so obsessed with numbers? We seem to be in the thrall of people who can make sense of numbers and mathematics and physics and shit and revere them as gods. Mathematicians. Numerologists. Austistic people. In a funny way, I think it’s the same as our fascination with disasters – both seem unknowable and incomprehensible. We are intrigued by an autistic person who knows thousands of prime numbers in the same way we are mesmerised by horrific tsunamis unfolding on the evening news. The random strikes again. Maybe if we break the code, we can stave off our own impending deaths.

3. Nicolas Cage. What happened? You were so good in Moonstruck and Adaptation. We know you can do better. So why do you make movies like National Treasure 2 and KNOWING? I truly don’t believe that when you die, you will feel like you made your contribution to society. You will feel like made a shitload of money. And foisted this nasty, stupid mish-mash of a disaster-death-fest on us. Dick. By the way, you don’t make a very plausible physicist.

4. So, at the end, this little boy and girl get taken away by some creepy guys with silvery skin and bleached hair like Spike from Buffy. The dudes then shed their skin and turn into glowing beings re: The X-Files. They take the kids onto this big spaceship thingy that looks like a crystal or maybe some sort of mystical cactus. They then drop the kids off on a new planet, and the children run away over a paddock towards a tree. I assume this is The Tree of Knowledge or some shit. I almost expected the little girl to like, EAT AN APPLE or something else really SYMBOLIC.

It was so heavy-handed, I felt like I was being hit across the face with the Bible. But not in a religious way – in a stupid way. The writer of this movie seems to think that God was an alien. Or that angels are aliens. Or something.

At the very least, he seems to be having some deep thoughts, like: we think we know stuff, but actually, do we REALLY know stuff?? Are aliens real? Is there A God? Are they THE SAME THING? Also: We’re all gonna die someday.

Like, whoa.