“Tell all the truth but tell it slant”–a break from the Pandemic Diary

Sometimes, posts, articles, opinion pieces—ideas for novels, stories—go nowhere. You keep on putting words down on paper—or screen—but they don’t really connect. There is no spine—no blood. They are stitches in an inanimate rag doll that, no matter what you do, will not come to life.

When that happens, I think the idea is not yet finished incubating. It’s not ripe, not baked.

This is draft three of today’s post. Draft one ate itself. Draft two started out strong. But in the end, had neither legs nor heart.

Draft three, to be frank, is not turning out much batter. I’m coming at it sideways. I’m starting to tell the story by talking about how some stories don’t want to be told. Aren’t ready to be told.

My advice as an occasional professional writing instructor in such cases is to—move on. Accept that right now, this is a rag doll. Throw it away or put it in that drawer (or file folder). Move on to something else, anything else.

But sometimes, an untold story stands in the way of all the other stories waiting to be told.

Does that make sense?

I think this story—it’s not going to come out in this third draft either—is such a story.

I’ve been in this situation before, with bigger work. After the flood, when I carried a novel inside me but I thought I was supposed to write a memoir about the flood and trauma. Was it a year, then, of false starts? And then, finally, the novel, in bits and pieces, out of order. But all there, all out. Even when it was done and sold, I thought I had left so much untold—and I thought, again, that I was supposed to write another story about the flood. But I wasn’t—I was supposed to write about an artist who couldn’t see colour, another novel, fiction that told the true story better than a memoir could. That one took months of fake starts, three near-complete first drafts thrown out, so many attempts to come at the story sideways, before it finally came, and I was able to move on to other work.

So now I know how to write around the story that isn’t yet ready to come. “Tell all the truth but tell it slant,” as Emily Dickinson wrote, “Success in Circuit lies.” I explore its themes and problems in indirect ways, in other work. It’s a way of working on other pieces while the untold story demands that you give it all your attention.

“Hush, beloved,” I coo to it. “This is all about you. Don’t you see? Everything I write, think do these days? It’s all about you. Everything.”

I tell students and other writers to not anthropomorphize their work. To not think of their stories, novels as their babies. That way lies madness, because of the publication process involves many, many people telling you that your babies are stupid and ugly, totally useless, nobody wants—also, have you thought about loping off your child’s right leg and sticking it in its left ear?

Madness.

I don’t think of my work, while I’m working on it or once it’s finished, as my progeny.

But I do, while immersed in it, think of it as my lover. I woo it. It seduces me. We experience great joy and misery together. We drown in each other, cannot exist without each other—all is bliss, even the shitty, bad parts have a perverse joy to them.

Then the work is done—some satisfaction—and then… I’m done, and the work is done with me too. It has moved on to being the beloved of readers, and I have moved on to the next idea, the next story…

(This is what makes submitting, promoting, marketing, all of that so hard. It’s like pimping an ex-lover. “Was really into them at one time. Can’t really remember why anymore. Um. Fuck. Let me think. What was it about them that stopped my breath, made my heart pound, soaked my panties? Um… Any chance we could talk about my current flame, my current WIP?”)

We’ve moved on, the flame has burned out, the mutual passion is gone… but that doesn’t diminish the fact that when I was in the work, it was everything to me.

Tell the truth at a slant.

Draft three.

Closer. Not quite there yet, but closer.

Close enough?

xoxo

“Jane”

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic: The Mostly Uncensored–Ok, I Lie, I Totally Censored It, What, You Think I’m Stupid?–Process Journal

July 15, 2020

I’ve spent the last seven days unplugged and locked in my friend’s apartment, writing. Well, not literally locked in. I left for walks and things. But mostly I wrote. Also napped. But mostly wrote.

The documentation of the process is exhaustive and exhausting, and it’s mostly for me, and not really for you–but if you’re struggling with shit, and reading about other people struggling with shit makes struggling with shit easier for you? Dive into my diary.

As you’ll discover somewhere around Day 6 or 7–writing doesn’t actually exist until a reader reads it. 😉

But now that I think about it–most of what I’ve written isn’t really appropriate for the eyes of internet strangers. So here’s the deal–y’all can look at the pictures. 😉

If you’re in one of those places, though, and your life will be utterly incomplete without the voyeuristic experience of ‘watching’ me pick at my scabs, email me at nothingbythebook@gmail.com and ask for the password to the protected posts. I might give it to you.

Or not.

Fun and games. 😉

Yours in the struggle,

“Jane”

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RETREAT IN THE TIME OF THE PANDEMIC DIARY; Table of Days

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 1: In which our heroine wants to be alone (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 1.5: In which the heroine arrives at her destination, and needs wifi to watch porn (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 2: In which our heroine doesn’t matter (yeah, this one too)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 2.5: In which our heroine plays with bad gardening metaphors (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 3: In which our heroine defends her addictions (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 3.75: In which our heroine tries hard not to identify with Virginia Woolf (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 4: In which our heroine regrets this, but not the other (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 5: In which our heroine is a writing machine and also, actually wants to work (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 6: In which our heroine tortures a client and finishes all the things (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 7: In which our heroine counts words and embraces uncertainty (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 7.25: In which our heroine has one year to live (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 7.75: In which our heroine changes her mind and jumps in a river (protected)

You: Navel-gaze much?

Jane: Too much. It does seem to an essential part of the process though. 

Pandemic Diary: Creative process in uncreative times—especially when that creativity’s supposed to pay the bills…

In the process journal: A page and a half of rambling about—I’m not quite sure, either why I hate Facebook or why I hate people. Big X. Note to self: “This is not going anywhere.”

Visit to JuliaCameronLive.com. Surely, my guru has something for me? Yes. “The Power of Creativity in the Time of the Coronavirus.” Goddammit, she just peddles the Morning Pages, again, and you know, I haven’t stopped, although I do do them wrong intermittently, even though Julia says there is no wrong way to do them. The second tool she offers—another standby. Artist’s Dates. But of course. What else would Julia recommend, has the woman had a new idea in the last 30 years?

“It is my hope that during this period of uncertainty we lean into our creativity, awakening our spirit so that we feel more deeply alive.”

Ugh. Julia. Did you just tell me to lean in? Also, I feel dead inside, and also, I want to smash things not lean in or create—I feel betrayed.

Next stop: Maria Popova’s Brainpickings.org. “A Young Poet’s Love Letter to Earth and to the Double Courage of Facing a Broken Reality While Refusing to Cease Cherishing This Astonishing World in Its Brokenness.”

No. This does not suite my mood at all. Next? Who can I try next?

Matt Inman’s The Oatmeal, of course.

Well. That’s more like how I feel… except it’s probably not what I need.

Oh. “Eight Marvelous & Melancholy Things I’ve Learned About Creativity.” Yes. This. Let’s have a read…

Oh. Matt.

“In the context of your work, you don’t matter.”

Ouch. WTF?

“If you’re like me, then my advice is to buckle up, motherfucker, because you’re destined to die under a mountain of false starts and sad, exasperated poetry. You’re destined to put your personal life in the backseat while your creative spirit gets blackout drunk and takes the wheel.”

from the The Wondrous Utility of Self-Loathing” section

 

Actually, yeah. That helps.

So do the parts about killing your darlings and not making babies, and the business of art.

But especially, that. Thanks, Matt.

Except… I still don’t really want to do the work.

I don’t want to get out of bed, have a shower, turn on the computer.

I’m doing a tech/social media detox starting tomorrow and I’m claiming I’m doing it to clear my head and get myself into a creative space fuelled by boredom—but honestly? I just don’t want to do the social medial and marketing aspects of my work.

I don’t want to do any of the work.

And usually, I’d give myself the advice to just ride the allow period, it’s part of the process, just read poetry, smoke cigars, dance naked in the kitchen—but I don’t want to do any of that either.

When I say I want to smash something: I want to smash that feeling, that mood.

Myself.

Next? Hafez:

Last night, pansy addressed flowers and itself displayed
My swinging in this world, so and so’s hair would braid.
My heart was a treasure chest of secrets, the hands of fate
Closed and locked and its key, to my Beloved bade.
Physician sent the broken me to my Beloved and said
My panacea and cure, only by Your hands are made.
May he be healthy, and happy, and in bliss
That his healing hands upon the needy laid.
Take your own advice, O incessant counselor
Sweet lover and wine, whosoever forbade?
Passed by poor me, and towards my rivals strayed
Said, “my poor Hafiz has given his life, I am afraid.”

Ghazal 113
Translation © Shahriar Shahriari
Los Angeles, Ca January 23, 2000

Um. I don’t know how you’re interpreting that, but I sure hope it’s not the way I’m interpreting it…

I’m running out of gurus. Colette? Frida? Jane? Anaïs? Can one of you please send a demon down (or up, I guess?) to yell at me and tell me to get to work?

Her: The blog’s not work?

Jane: No. One, I don’t get paid for it; two, whining about how you can’t, don’t want to work is not work. Get with the program here.

What I have learned, over a career that now spans two centuries and three decades—I’m not really that old, not yet, I was just almost a child prodigy—almost a true story—is that the only cure for when you don’t want to work?

(You’ll hate this.)

It’s to start to work. Open the notebook—laptop. Get the dry paintbrush out of the jar. Pick up the rake. Fold the first sock.

(I probably meant to write towel—but I like that image—and who folds socks, by the way? Anyone?)

That, in the end, is the difference between the professional and the amateur. The working artist and the wanna-be artist. The published author and the eternally aspiring one.

One learns to work when they don’t want to work… and the other doesn’t.

I don’t want to work.

I don’t want to play, either.

But. Here I go.

Words.

xoxo

“Jane”

The love affair continues: Philip Larkin’s Annus Mirabilis

It will be over soon, I promise. He only wrote 100 poems and two very short  novels, I have devoured it all. And I’m leaving him, more and more often, for others. But bear with me for a few more verses…

Annus Mirabilis

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(Which was rather late for me)—
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP

Up until then there’d only been

A sort of bargaining,
A wrangle for a ring,
A shame that started at sixteen
And spread to everything.

Then all at once the quarrel sank:
Everyone felt the same,
And every life became
A brilliant breaking of the bank,
A quite unlosable game.

So life was never better than
In nineteen sixty-three
(Though just too late for me)—
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP

 Philip Larkin
High Windows, 1974

NBTB-Annus Mirabilis-Philip Larkin.jpg

Enjoyed?

“Jane”

P.S. Despite the three-in-a-row Friday poetic assaults, I’m not really here. Nothing By The Book is taking a page from old school un-social media and doing a rerun summer, while I spend the hot days getting a tan, running through sprinkles, selling one book, writing another, reading two dozen more, neglecting my garden, falling in love, jumping off cliffs—you know. Everything but blogging. But, you get reruns of my favourite stuff (and, apparently, the occasional poem…), so everyone wins. Likely keeping up with Instagram—NothingByTheBook—connect there, if you like? Or Twitter—  or/and .

Another Friday gift to you from my new lover: Philip Larkin’s Homage to a Government

Because… timeless. Apparently. Which is rather terrifying, think you not? Anyway.

Read:

Homage to a Government

Next year we are to bring the soldiers home
For lack of money, and it is all right.
Places they guarded, or kept orderly,
Must guard themselves, and keep themselves orderly.
We want the money for ourselves at home
Instead of working. And this is all right.

It’s hard to say who wanted it to happen,
But now it’s been decided nobody minds.
The places are long way off, not here,
Which is all right, and from what we hear
The soldiers there only made trouble happen
Next year we shall be easier in our minds.

Next year we shall be living in a country
That brought its soldiers home for lack of money.
The statues will be standing in the same
Tree-muffled squares, and look nearly the same.
Our children will not know it’s a different country.
All we can hope to leave them now is money.

Philip Larkin, 1969,
published in High Windows, 1974

 

NBTB-Homage To A Govt-Philip Larkin

P.S. I’m not here. Really. You didn’t see me. Don’t tell anyone. Nothing By The Book is taking a page from old school un-social media and doing a rerun summer, while I spend the hot days getting a tan, running through sprinkles, selling one book, writing another, reading two dozen more, neglecting my garden, falling in love, jumping off cliffs—you know. Everything but blogging. But, you get reruns of my favourite stuff, so everyone wins. Likely keeping up with Instagram—NothingByTheBook—connect there, if you like? Or Twitter—  or/and .

Interlude: “They fuck you up, your mum and dad”

I fell in love yesterday, and I can’t wait until September to tell you about him. OK, so he’s been dead since 1985, but little things like that don’t stand in the way of true love. Never. You might know him already, of course—and if you do, goddammit, how could you let me live this long without introducing me to him? I may never, ever forgive you…

If you don’t know him, please, allow me to introduce you RIGHT NOW. Ladies and gentlemen, parents and children of all ages, meet Philip Larkin, via  “This Be The Verse”:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

 Philip Larkin, “This Be The Verse”
First published in the August 1971 issue of New Humanist,
Most easily found in his 1974 poetry collection High Windows

 Now, most of us, most of you reading me, of course, didn’t listen and we all have kids of our own… and we’re sure, four out of five days, 10 out of 12 hours, that we’re fucking up. Big time. Right? Here’s a nugget of wisdom, loves, that I got from my brilliant friend and the closest thing my arrogant self will admit to a mentor, L.: our kids will need therapy. For something. The definition of parenting success is that they need therapy for something OTHER than what we need therapy for. In other words—let’s give them new neuroses, not the ones our parents gave us. 😉 Isn’t that a goal most of us can meet? I think so…

 If you would like to learn more about my new beloved—apparently, Britain’s best-loved poet of the last 50 years, and, according to The Times, Britain’s greatest post-war writer (I plead being Canadian, rather than utterly ignorant, for not meeting him until yesterday)—there’s a detailed  Wikipedia entry on him  and there’s a bit  of his verse in quotable chunks on  GoodReads. And here’s an Observer article, In Search of the Real Philip Larkin. To really drown yourself, of course, you need The Collected Poems (the 2004 edition, I have learned, is considered superior) or the like, but here’s another wonderful taste, via the Poetry Foundation.

Philip and I have plans for the rest of the day—forgive me, editors, clients, children. They involve words. But he’s whispering in my ear that I should leave you with one more verse:

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.

“Aubade” (1977), Collected Poems

 And an excerpt from a private love letter:

Morning, noon & bloody night,
Seven sodding days a week,
I slave at filthy WORK, that might
Be done by any book-drunk freak.
This goes on until I kick the bucket.
FUCK IT FUCK IT FUCK IT FUCK IT”

– Philip Larkin: Letters to Monica

You’re welcome.

xoxo

“Jane”

NBTB-They fuck you up-Philip Larkin

P.S. I’m not here. Really. You didn’t see me. Don’t tell anyone. Nothing By The Book is taking a page from old school un-social media and doing a rerun summer, while I spend the hot days getting a tan, running through sprinkles, selling one book, writing another, reading two dozen more, neglecting my garden, falling in love, jumping off cliffs—you know. Everything but blogging. But, you get reruns of my favourite stuff, so everyone wins. Likely keeping up with Instagram—NothingByTheBook—connect there, if you like? Or Twitter—  or/and .