This is a follow-on from a post that helped me find my blogging voice again. You don’t need to read that one though. It was more thinking out loud where this one is basically the same but slightly better structured. The continuing theme is that we all get into a rut sometimes, overthinking or letting our emotions run away with us, or both.
Writers block is about disconnection, because writing, and even art generally, is about leaving the boundaries of your own body. Heck, all communication is about that. It’s probably what defines humans above all else – our ability to empathise with things. Empathy is a relatively new and very accurate word. It’s about putting yourself in the shoes of someone or something else. Not just sympathising “oh it must be hard” but realising “oh, it is hard. It really is.” Also I suppose knowing when you know nothing. “That’s just way beyond anything I’ve experienced, but here’s my sadly academic attempt at describing it. Because an attempt is better than ignoring the possibility of truth.”
Words are referring to and so trying to make you think of, and partly experience, things which are not immediately happening to you. Even if someone else is talking about you as you do things, they’re talking off-point. You’re drinking and they say “Ian is drinking”, it doesn’t describe the sense of thirst, it describes the sensation of drinking, or it could be a sarcastic reference to your alcoholism. It pulls you into the speaker’s perspective and away from your own. And that’s incredibly useful.
Empathy is like having a soul or a spirit, you know. Because empathising is extending whispy non-physical energies than can interact with and generally access physical things. Empathy is magic, and so art is magic. Talking a bit like Alan Moore here. Your ability to accurately understand someone else and so tailor an interaction to them, is magical. Or can seem so when you do it proper, because it’s so subtle and yet so powerful. The perfect gift, the manipulation into something, or the feeling of love and safety and acceptance you read in a friend snoozing on your couch. That’s magic, okay. That stuff is pure brilliance.
And that’s art. When successful it takes you somewhere. Teleports you or possesses you or releases you. All these phrases for the same sort of process. Someone else connecting with your experience through and/or despite theirs…powerful.
There’s a good old movie called Excalibur. Proper Northern-European. Yeah, that manages to be a cultural thing. Merlin the magician helps by creating symbols, by helping with masquerades, and by creating fog. He doesn’t shoot lightning bolts from his arse, he appears in the right place at the right time and says the right thing to people who don’t understand the world in the way he does. This is no Gandalf fighting the Balrog. This is the man who taps into the power of the Dragon – pure life energy – in his sleep. He quietly glows while Gandalf desperately struggles. He gets how things connect. He empathises. And he only turns up when he thinks it’s appropriate. Which is why he’s only struck by something as fictitious as ice magic – being turned into a block of ice – when he loses his power to empathise in a fit of madness, caused by deep betrayal. The only time when he loses his aura of mystery is when he stops empathising, falls into despair, and lets his own emotion overwhelm him uncontrollably. It’s like when Spock panics, but much cooler. (Sorry Spock, you’re still really cool, which is why I’m mentioning you out of context.)
So, let’s look at a poem.
The Curly Auburn DJ
My nostalgia for you
Particularly, hugging me at work when you’re tired
Sharing sandwiches and mugs
Because you don’t like too much cheese
Being okay with my saliva
Dirty fingers from polishing your shoes sometimes
Because I want to
Sonorific MTV memories
And your little unexpected gifts
Especially, innocent shameless on tired weekday evenings
Warm, rainy nights behind open doors
Lonely blue guitar rockstar singalongs
And romantic pointings beloved of Elvis
Lookalikes of lookalikes
Striding through streets
And being alone with our lagers, hands
Specifically, kissing me with your hat on
At home, in private, with no-one to see though windows open to the night
With moonshine and lamplight on the sill
The felt catching on my forehead but sliding over, not down
Silently looking into your eyes
Feeling your body, privately, for the first time
Through softened wool or cotton and layers
You watching as I hold you and touch you
You would want to understand
And you would
A little, or more
Us dancing to your quiet music
I don’t like this one. I don’t like most of, if any, of my poems. They’re all trying to describe pristine moments or feelings, and they only get there part of the time. It’s like Stonehenge maybe. You only see the brilliance and utility when the sun shines just so, what like once a year. This one, I’m not sure if it makes it to communication proper. It’s basically only going to work – maybe – for the one reader who can catch all the references. Maybe you can read it and like parts of it, or maybe like me you read through it and see flaws that need correcting. I’m trying to present something for you to empathise with. I’m trying to make some magic. I need to try harder. Problem is, emotionally sensitive area. Ice block time.
Whereas another poem I’ve showed you and talked about before, I’m working on an update that’s tasty. Tasty because it’s honest, communicative.
EDIT: I’m cheating a bit as this is an old post that I hadn’t finished, until now. So, the first of what may or may not be many updates to Consul Orange is already here. I hope it’s as tasty as I suggested. Probably not, but I’m a pessimistic guy when it comes to this stuff. So maybe.
It gets ice block because I unfortunately enjoy being in love with people I’m not supposed to love. Nothing weird. Jane Austen, Darcy, -style nothing bad. Just stupid really. And if the love succeeds, if the hunt concludes, if the chase is done…well…not exactly what’s the point but…chasing is fun. Heck if I could just write beautiful love poems, no issues, no questions asked, wouldn’t that be a bit boring? Well, maybe not. But that’s how the grass looks from this side of the fence. There’s always a struggle therefore, there’s always an emotional vulnerability, there’s always the chance that I’m fucking up by saying what I’m saying. It’s a bit of a gamble you know? And I do enjoy a bit of a gamble, well, within what are really very safe boundaries.
How does this tie in with empathy and writers’ block? You may well inquire. Well, on the loving from a distance thing, I find myself becoming good friends with people, and one day I realise I know them really well. Basically from loving them in a mostly non-sexual way (love seems to play a huge role in my life) I get to learn a huge amount about them, what they like, how they tend to act. I get an insight into how they think. I get strong empathy. Sometimes. These are people who can then pull me out of any block or depression because just being with them hooks me up to the 230V and suddenly I’m ready to go again. That’s like art/communication but with very low distribution. I mean it’s putting all your effort not into a single work, but into another person.
Specific acts and methods are all well and good, however: what you need in life is a balance between your means of emotional satisfaction and your ability to pull yourself away and analyse stuff. You need those two seemingly incompatible sides of your being to interact regularly, and help you achieve what you want. The good friends I love are a microcosm of that. I’ve got to a place where there’s balance – albeit tentative – and so I can get the most out of what’s happening. And, you know, just feel good.
So, two sides: the distant, analytical empathic effort is great but you can’t drain all sense of self, you can’t become some distant contemplative creature like a transcendent god, because you’re not that. And you’ll just get really sad. Some writers fall into this trap I think, hiding away in the shed in worlds of imagination. You can’t really know what other people are feeling if you’ve not explored your own emotions and interpersonal interactions. Basically, you don’t want to spend so much time flying out somewhere that you forget your way home, run out of fuel, and other metaphors.
On the other side, you’re asking for trouble if you just go all emotion and all running around activity. You’ll end up stuck somewhere doing something you don’t understand, and eventually you’ll not feel great about it. Some writers become celebrities and get so busy with gala luncheons they forget how to make decent work, or they plunge into alcoholism. Any emotional excess – pretty self-explanatory why it’s bad, no? Charles Bukowski says he did a lot of his sexy poems for smut magazines because he had to pay the bills, which included bar tabs and booze money, but then he’d still manage to sneak in a grander theme somewhere in each of those poems so he could still express something more meaningful. Even in what some might call the depths of degradation, the man basically held it together: maintained a kind of purpose/perspective/balance.
This is fucking dualism, mate. To some extent. Mind and body are separate in some ways, but are also connected, must also work together. It’s not a contradiction, it’s a complicated web of biological and nervous connections that we don’t fully understand yet. Mind-body. Two separate things, connected. Balanced, hopefully.
Now, after that inspiring talk…can you feel the creative struggles fading away? Can you feel that Hegelian synthesis pushing its way up through the hole left by flawed arguments assuming contradiction? If not, I’ve got an off-the-wall suggestion: read the Great Gatsby (again if you’ve already done it) and try and work out who the characters are, what happens to them. For example, who’s responsible for the big murder at the end? Is Nick actually a massive gay? Is Daisy the victim of ceaseless manipulation, or a ruthless social climber? Or anything in between…
It’s a great book for refusing to give clear, straight answers about what happens. And it’s got a pretty beautiful setting throughout. It was a contradiction 101 for me: I learned, well, realised, that contradictions generally aren’t final. They’re a sign that something is more complicated than it seems.