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Why I’ve Never Read Harry Potter and the Deathly Stone of Secrets

For some reason, many of my friends seem to believe that I’ve read all the Harry Potter books. For the most part I play along, not wanting to get into any confrontational situations. I don’t want to step on my friends dainty toes and I don’t want them stomping all over mine.

Kids these days…. Credit: baloo-baloosnon-politicalcartoonblog.blogspot.com

In truth, I once tried to read the first book, but didn’t get to far. I must have been around ten years old. I’d seen the first (and possibly the second?) movie, but for some reason I had assumed that the book would be way too smart, and boyish and difficult for me to handle. Then one day, my  younger brother’s (probably unread) copy was lying around, so I picked up and started reading. I was actually pretty impressed. It wasn’t above my reading level. And I actually liked it.

But then an unforeseen predicament arose. I got bored. Reading it felt too easy. I’m not really sure what this means, or what it meant to ten-year-old me, but I distinctly remember feeling unchallenged and putting it down and never picking it up again. I don’t even know where this copy is to date. My family does not (and has never) owned any of the other Harry Potter books. My siblings and I are perhaps the only products of our generation, living in North America, who have not read this cultural phenomenon of a series.

I am very entertained by the fact that, because I’m ‘a reader’ and a future English major, my peers assume I commiserate in their love and admiration for Harry Potter. I think that our interpretation of these facts about me are a little off base. The way see it, the facts that I’m ‘a reader’ and a future English major are why I have still snobbishly avoided reading this series. I also I have better books to spend quality time with.

Along the same lines is this little scenario: Knowing that I read, a girl in my gap year program asked me if I’ve read Fifty Shades of Grey. She was literally aghast when I told her I hadn’t and made a general inquisition to those in the lunchroom, beginning with the question, “Okay, who here’s a reader”.

Really, this was the cutest thing I’ve ever witnessed. I’m sorry — very, very sorry — but the term ‘books’ is not synonymous with the term ‘literature’. The fact that someone reads a lot means nothing in my highly pretentious mind. And to me, Harry Potter is not literature. (Although, I will be the first to admit that Anne of Green Gables, i.e. my most favouritest book in the world, is not really literature either. But that’s entirely different. Obviously.)

Anyways, going back to “HP”, I find it very entertaining to think about how far back my snobbery goes. Even as a little kid I was pretentious with regards to reading material. Sorry, the little hipster in me seemed to say, this is just too mainstream. This was before I was conditioned to be pretentious and judgmental in order to feel good about myself and my life-choices. This was before I even started reading real literature — what already was I reading back then? Junie B. Jones? Little House on the Prairie? And yet, I closed Harry Potter and the Something or Other a few pages in, already thinking that it was just not good enough for me.

Of course, it’s not like I’ve ever read the books, so I can’t truly comment on this without coming off and kind of ignorant — and seeming ignorant is something I try to avoid when possible. Which is why I’m choosing this forum to make my somewhat pointless point. Real life conversations about such things freak me out. I don’t know how to think on the spot and then make my mouth say the things it should. I’m terribly afraid to offend people and spit all over their personal preferences and tastes when we’re face to face. And they tend to respond to my points, because apparently that’s how conversations work.

Also, I try not to ruin my friends’ illusions about my commiseration in their fandom. And I’m pretty good at playing along. I think my brother and I had a marathon of all the movies a few years ago (although I really can’t recall how the series ends, maybe I didn’t make it to the end) so I do know enough to keep up. One of my good friends even sends me Mean Girls/Harry Potter mash-ups on a regular basis, knowing how much I love the former and probably assuming I feel the same about the latter.

So, to be very open with you, this post is in response to situations I keep finding myself in. My friends (and teachers and teachers’ children) here keep finding out that I’ve never read these darned books and they are always being so shocked about it. So this is my crummy rebuttal that the people to whom this response is directed probably won’t even get. But those of you on my side will get it. And I much prefer preaching to the choir over preaching to the ignorant masses anyways.

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Eating Up “The Waves” by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf’s The Waves is just a really long, complicated poem. By which I mean, I didn’t completely understand it, but it sounded really nice.

It follows six friends through their lives, from childhood until death, and is narrated by each of them in turn, in strange, trance-like streams of subconsciousness. These streams of sub-consciousness are told entirely using direct dialogue that does not seem as though it is actually being spoken. Breaking up chunks of this ‘dialogue’ are chunks of narration that describe the scenery, the waves and the sun on its journey through the sky, which mirrors our heroes’ and heroines’ journeys through life.

The words and sentences ebb and flow together like the streams of consciousness that Woolf alters between. But where waves can be messy, her tight prose weaved seamlessly together like the cotton threads in a gauzy, flowing scarf.

But, to write up another comparison, my experience with the book was kind of the opposite of how one views a pointillist painting. From far away, seeing it as a whole, it becomes a blur of metaphors and symbols that I can’t grasp. But up close, in one little sentence at the top of a page, a phrase a few paragraphs down, an excerpt later on, I bit into delicious morsels of truth.

Obviously there was a whole feast of truths and ideas, covered in brilliance sauce. But, for a little not-yet-an-English-major like me, the morsels were all I could get at. All I could appreciate. They were sweet champagne, bubbling over in seductive flutes, that anyone might sip. The rest was a deep red wine with notes of this and that, which my inexperienced palate couldn’t yet detect.

But I’m learning that that’s okay. I’m young, I don’t have to know and understand and appreciate every nuance in every piece of literature I read. I can take and enjoy my morsels and come back for a second plate of more substantial dishes later. Because the sumptuous spreads laid out in books never spoil. And you can come back later for seconds and thirds and even fourths. And what you gain from this kind of face-stuffing goes to your brain not your hips.

A Birthday Party for Miss Austen

If you aren’t already aware that Jane Austen was born two-hundred-and-thirty-seven years ago today, you’re obviously not as devout an Austen Addict as I am. Ordinarily I’d suggest that if this is the case you can just leave my blog, right now, but today I’m feeling generous — it is a day of celebration after all — and I realize that few people can possibly be as obsessed as I am.

I don’t know about THE world, but Jane certainly changed MY world. And clearly other people’s worlds as well. When I met new people at school this year, Jane often found her way into our conversation at some one point or another. My new acquaintance would then either nod in slight recognition of the somewhat ubiquitous name, or begin gushing about how absolutely delightful Pride and Prejudice is. The latter is what happened with one of my teachers and her daughters when we met a few months ago.

And so, in honour of this auspicious day, these lovely ladies baked a cake and we all got dressed up and had a tea party this afternoon. And let me say, I have never attended such a lovely tea party in all my life. Actually, compared with our afternoon tea, I don’t think anything I’ve ever attended or hosted could even be considered a tea party.

They took out their fancy china for the occasion and we drank from the dainty floral tea cups with our pinky fingers in the air. We put on classical music. We lit candles. We placed flowers on the table.

Tea Time!

We all dressed up — though none of us really got the period quite right. There were shawls and big, floppy hats that were more to the stylings of Anne Shirley than Elizabeth Bennet and we had a southern belle join us in a long, poufy gown. I attempted an empire waist look, placing a thin belt high on my waistline over a purple dress. Nonetheless, we all looked charming in our outfits of choice.

And then there was the food. Chocolate cake dusted with powdered sugar. Lemon pie. Cucumber sandwiches. And you can’t forget the tea. And the china sugar bowl. My family, for some reason or another, doesn’t have good china or sugar bowls or fancy tea sets, so that their family has such things, and that we used them, was very exciting for me.

The Food

The Food

And then we looked at my pictures from my pilgrimages to England where I visited Miss Austen’s house in Chawton and the filming locations for Pemberley used in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. We had a marvellous afternoon. And then, to finish off our day we went to Anthropologie, were I got myself a present in honour of Jane’s birthday. The belt I bought was, after all, called the Pierced Floral Corset Belt so I think it was quite fitting.

Thank you Jane, for writing some of the greatest novels ever. You’ve played a huge role in shaping who I am over the past few years since we met when I was fifteen. You’re the reason I started reading Literature. You’re partly responsible for my decision to major in English when I get to university next year. You inspired me to begin writing.You inspired two incredible, bonding-filled trips to England with my daddy. Your novels have taught me so much about life, myself and those around me. And you gave me a great opportunity to have a really fun tea party today in your honour. Happy birthday, Jane. And thanks for everything.

Did you do anything special to celebrate Jane’s birthday? Have you ever? Do share!

Some other posts wherein I gush about Jane and her novels:

My Favourite Books

P&P&ME

Fictitious Crushes

Happy Birth(and Death)day to The Bard (wherein I discuss my visit to Miss Austen’s former home in England)

My Life in Books

The Jane Austen Book Club

For the Love of Jane 

Babysitting on a Sleepy Sunday Morning

Yesterday morning I did the insane. I woke up at eight o’clock on a Sunday morning. To babysit five children between the ages of one and ten years old. Of course, I only did this because they’re great kids who rarely give me much trouble and I’m happy to do a favour for their wonderful parents. And, despite my melodramatic, hook-to-draw-the-reader-in opening line(s), it actually went pretty well. I happened to be half-asleep, but it was okay, because it was 8:30 on a Sunday morning, so the kids were too.

When I got there, the TV was on and everyone was still hanging out in their pyjamas and it was well implied that I didn’t have to do anything crazy like make them get dressed or turn off the TV during the two hours that I would be there. So we mostly just sat around in the den, watching retro Goofy DVDs, reading adorable picture books and taking turns playing Angry Birds on my iPhone — I was obviously excluded from the latter activity. Perhaps I sound like an awful babysitter for just letting these kids sit around for two hours doing what you may consider to be nothing, but I was very pleased by how the morning turned out.

Goofy and his son Junior, circa the 1950s
Credit: http://manicexpression.webs.com/

I normally make kids actually get up and do stuff when I babysit — we go to the park, we do arts and crafts, we make a pillow/blanket fort — something other than just sitting around. But I was so tired and it was just so peaceful (a word I don’t often have the privilege of using in reference to babysitting); there was no way I was going to ruin that. There were five small children — siblings, at that — all in one room; they got along with each other beautifully and we all managed to quietly occupy ourselves for upwards of two hours. No screaming, no fighting, no crying. I count it as a success.

It was actually an ideal babysitting gig. The kids behaved themselves and acted like calm, socialized human beings (which can’t always be taken for granted with a less-than-one-year-old, three-year-old, five-year-old, eight-year-old and ten-year-old present). We (I) read adorable picture books in very dramatic, performance-y voices. And the less-than-one-year-old, a tiny, angelic little girl — who I believe is around ten months old — fell asleep in my arms.

This wasn’t a new experience for me on any level, I’ve spent quite a lot of time over the past ten years holding cherubic little babies and rocking them to sleep, but for some reason — perhaps due to my own sleep deprivation — it was absolutely magical. I held an entire human being in my arms, a whole entire person who would grow up and be a teenager one day — just like me.

Heck, we’ll both grow up to be old ladies someday and the 17 year age difference will by then be hardly anything. She’ll grow up to have her own perspective and point of view, to have opinions and ideas and a whole slew of idiosyncrasies, strengths and weaknesses. Though she can’t talk yet, and seems like more of a doll than a real, live person, she has all that potential wrapped up in her tiny package of little fingers and teensy feet and almost-gone soft-spot. And, potential aside, even as I held her, she was already an actual person, already unique, already developing her person skills (like eating and sleeping and breathing — my own favourite skills). And I held all this in my arms.

I think what amazed me most was that I wasn’t even thinking about it that much. I wasn’t sitting in a quiet room, focussing on keeping her asleep. I wasn’t contemplating the tiny-ness of her finger nails, or the rhythms of her breathing. I couldn’t be — I had four other children to tend to. And yet, while I slowly, carefully walked through the house, getting and doing things for her older siblings, and then sat on the couch reading them a picture book, which I held over her little body on my lap, this tiny person was content to just lie sleeping in my arms, unconsciously trusting me to keep her safe.

For the past few months she’s refused to even go to me for a moment, screaming as soon as her mother or father placed her in my arms, and yesterday, while both of her parents were out, she just went to me. And she didn’t just let me hold her tentatively, she trusted me so implicitly that she complacently gave herself up and drifted off to sleep, so smoothly without any ceremony and with little more coaxing than my carrying her around the house with me.

It was a quiet babysitting job, thoroughly uneventful. No retrospectively funny, nearly disastrous stories, no melodramatic diaper-changing incidents, no major antics to laugh over with my friends. We just hung out, these five children and I. We snuggled on the couch, watched some TV, read some books, played some Angry Birds, did some sleeping. But sometimes it’s the very little nothings that are really something. The things that happen regularly that are so singular. It was just a cozy, sleepy Sunday morning.

Sitting Around on the Couch 101

Credit: agweb.com

You know how they say the grass is always greener on the other side? They’re wrong. It isn’t always greener — just most of the time. Like, sometimes your neighbours go away for two weeks, so they aren’t watering their grass and there happens to be a heat wave. Then, chances are, their grass is looking pretty brown and however ungreen your grass is, it’s probably still greener than theirs.

I think the reason this idea has become so overused and clichéd is because we’re always comparing ourselves to others, whether the green grass is on their side of the lawn or ours. Good and Bad, Wealth and Poverty, and Green and Ungreen are all pretty relative terms and ideas, so we tend to look at others when we measure ourselves.

For what seems like every other person in the entire world, it’s the first week of school. Yesterday was the first day for both of my younger siblings, who go to the high school where I spent the past four years. And a bunch of my friends are starting at university today. I’m doing a gap year programme this year, and the place I’m going doesn’t start until mid-October. So yesterday, while everyone else spent the day either at school or making last-minute preparations for it, I sat around in my pyjamas until four, watching old episodes of Community on Netflix.

It’s funny how I’ve had the exact same level of freedom for the past three months, but now that everyone else is back to school, I feel a shift. Technically, for me, yesterday was exactly the same as the day before and I was no more free to sit around on the couch yesterday than I was the previous day, and yet it feels different. My freedom feels more free when compared to my friends’ and siblings’ imprisonment in classrooms.

Because everyone else’s grass is on the brown side, my grass is looking pretty green. But, because I’m human, and especially because I’m me, their brown grass looks kind of nice right about now — mostly because it’s on the other side of the fence.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a completely normal person (well, sometimes I am) and I hate school just as much as the next teenager. Especially high school and especially the “elite” (i.e. “phony”) private school I went to — it kind of reminds me of Pencey Prep in The Catcher in the Rye. I probably hate my (former) high school much more than other kids who go/went there. But, while I do hate school in principle — the waking up early, studying for tests, interacting with morons — I tend to enjoy learning and I tend to be an “overachiever” type. Not a good overachiever, who never procrastinates and is super organized and actually wins awards for participating in/leading school activities and getting good grades. But an overachiever to the extent that I don’t count my three consecutive 90% Honour Roll certificates as actual awards (and yes, that was an explainabrag right there).

I love Community.
Credit: http://www.capturedcaptions.com/

And this over-achieving isn’t really because I define my life based on school and think that my grades are a judgment on who I am as a person (well, not anymore…), it’s because I tend to be a weirdo who genuinely enjoys learning. I do well in school because, in subjects that I care about, I want to do my best and I want to actually learn something. I’ve never liked back-to-school time in principle because it signifies the end of summer and therefore the end of freedom and sleeping in late. But, once I can get past the fact that summer’s ending, I kind of like going back to school. September’s exciting. You see certain friends you haven’t seen all summer, you have a new schedule with new courses and new teachers, and hopefully some of the old teachers who you loved so much last year. I kind of miss that. The beauty of going back to school is that there’s often a very comfortable mix between new and old.

I’m so over high school and would not want to be going back to that retched place, but it’s kind of weird not to be going somewhere. And then, the overachiever in me feels like such a slacker for not going back to school while everyone else is. Sure, I’m heading off to my gap year programme in a month, where I’ll learn for the sake of learning and really grow, and then I’ll be off to University the year after, but still. 

My brother came home from school yesterday with some friends and needed me to drive them somewhere immediately. It was three in the afternoon and I was still in my pyjamas. And then one of his friends whom I had never met asked me if I’m in university, to which I responded “no, not yet, just sitting around watching TV all day, ’cause I don’t start school until October.” While to most kids this may sound like a dream come true, to my ears I sounded like an incompetent loser, who is doing nothing with her life. Pardon my melodrama.

I know, I know. I probably sound ridiculous complaining about how much time off from school I have and how much leisure I have to just sit around watching TV. It’s great, it really is. I think (thought?) this extra time off would be incredibly beneficial because I really don’t feel ready to move away from home yet and start with the next stage of school/life.

I think (thought?) this nice, long summer break would be a nice, comfy transition between the end of high school and moving away to start the rest of my life. It’s just weird not to be going back to school in September like I always do and like everyone else is. And I think I might be getting what Holden Caulfield might call a “goddam inferiority complex”. Of course, it could just be that your neighbour’s grass really does always look greener, even though from their point of view it’s looking kind of brown. And maybe instead of complaining about how ungreen my lawn is, I could stop comparing it to my metaphorical neighbours’ and see what happens if I actually try watering it.

The Jane Austen Book Club

The Jane Austen Book Club… What do I think? Well, I read the book at some point in the past two years, last summer maybe? The fact that I don’t know specifically when says something right away, because I tend to track my life based on what I read when. When a book doesn’t make it onto that timeline that tends to mean it either sucked or it just wasn’t worth remembering — oftentimes it’s both. So that’s how I felt about the book: for what it was — chick lit that’s sole purpose in life is entertainment — it was just alright, nothing all that special.

Then I saw the movie. It was one of those rare instances where the movie actually surpasses the book — at least from where I sit lazily on the couch. So that’s where I’m going with this. I’m going to share my thoughts on the movie. But, for once in my life, I’m kind of having trouble forming thoughts. It was kind of really bad, but kind of really good. And I’m afraid to profess either of these opinions, because I don’t really feel strongly either way, but would hate for you to have a strong opinion (or even any opinion) that’s the opposite of whichever I choose and then you’ll think I’m stupid for either liking it or disliking it. That’s probably absurd of me. You probably don’t care one way or the other. You’ve probably never even seen this movie.

Credit: romancegirlsguide.blogspot.com

To summarize, there are these five women who all have issues in their lives, especially their love lives, and they start this book club, to ease the distress of their various circumstances. Oh, and they only read Jane Austen books in this book club — if nothing else, the book/movie is aptly named. They do this thing where they read one of Jane’s novel’s each month and each of them is responsible for hosting one meeting, so they each lead the discussion on one of Jane’s novels. But, (oh no, whatever shall they do?) they need six club members (because Jane wrote six novels) and they only have five. So then this Grigg guy comes in. And adds in some Emma-style drama, because he likes this Jocelyn character, but she tries to set him up with her friend and misunderstandings ensue — can you guess how that plot-line ends?

It’s a cute movie, really it is. I love how it starts with this montage of all the noise and technological annoyances that come with modern life — in contrast, I imagine, to the quiet, “simplicity” of life in Jane’s novels. I say “I imagine” because this wasn’t a theme which was really pursued. I’m not sure that there were any themes that got actually, truly pursued. And that’s okay. I guess. It isn’t a very literary work or anything and I’m probably missing the point. But I’m going to over-analyze the heck out of it anyways, because (according to my mother) I have to over-analyze everything. The book, from what I remember, seemed to be completely just for entertainment, the movie, on the other hand, seemed as though it was trying (so hard) to aspire to something more. It could also be that it really was a deep, serious, literary masterpiece and I just didn’t really get it — but I think it’s pretty safe to assume that it’s the former.

I think the problem is that, for me, it just doesn’t really stand on its own. By which I mean, that it’s nothing without Jane Austen. Yes, yes, I do get that that’s the point, but what I mean is the storyline of the movie itself is just nothing so special. I just couldn’t really care for the characters. And it isn’t really about anything. My favourite parts are when they’re talking about Jane and her books. This isn’t really a problem, per se, but it almost feels as though all the author/screenwriter wanted was to have characters discuss Jane Austen. And she wanted those characters to be similar to Jane’s heroines. And it’s a great idea. With loads of potential. I just don’t think it worked so well. There were too many characters, with too many problems and with some of them it was glaringly clear which characters they were like (especially because it’s spelled out for you) but with others you are (or at least I am) just so lost. Because a lot of the characters in this movie were similar to more than one of Jane’s characters. Which, again, in itself isn’t such a problem, it just felt as though it was trying to be deep and complex but was more just shallow and slightly confusing. Maybe if I watch it again it will be clearer, but I just don’t care to. Because it doesn’t seem like it’s confusing because it was done well and all the characters are just that complex, it seems like it’s confusing because it was just done sloppily.

You’ve Got Mail comes to mind for comparative purposes — although there’s really more of a contrast. It’s all about books and there are a whole bunch of really incredible Pride and Prejudice references. It’s done perfectly, because there aren’t so many references that Jane Austen is being shoved down your throat. Rather, P&P is a delightedly apt, not too overt (but not too subtle either) inter-text for that movie. Forgetting for just a second that P&P is my favourite book and these references are what make You’ve Got Mail my favourite movie, these references are completely vital. They develop Kathleen’s character and they develop her relationship with Joe. You see how she feels about Jane, you see how he feels about Jane, you see them discussing Jane. And, of course, they have this adorable hate-at-first-sight, Darcy-Lizzie relationship going on, that can’t help but end well.

Cover of "You've Got Mail"

Credit: Amazon

What works so well about the Austen references in You’ve Got Mail is that they come second. Yes, Kathleen is kind of like Elizabeth and Joe is kind of like Darcy, but that isn’t the entire point of the movie. It isn’t even most of the point of the movie. P&P got added in because it was relevant and it works to enhance (and add some depth and awesomeness) to the movie. Whereas in The Jane Austen Book Club, the Austen references are the movie, while the actual movie’s storyline and original characters come second. All the similarities between the characters in the movie and the characters in Jane’s novels seem contrived, and the entire point seems to be fitting this movie to Jane Austen, instead of fitting Jane to the movie.

Also, going back to over-analysis of themes, I know it isn’t a literary work, so applying what I know about the major literary movements is probably kind of moot, but I’m going to do it anyways. It kind of seems to be a clash between today’s postmodernism and Jane Austen’s “Jane-Austen-y-happily-ever-after-ism” (I can’t figure out which movement Jane belongs to — I refuse to believe it would be romanticism… would it?). It’s all about love and marriage and human connection in today’s society, where almost half of all marriages end in divorce. It’s about being alone versus being in a relationship. It seems to try so hard to be postmodern in its view of such things. But then it contrives the ending so that everyone ends up happily together with just the right person. It ties it all up just so neatly, which, — aside from being anything but postmodern, it is a rom-com after all — is ironic in light of a conversation earlier in the movie, where they contemplate the messiness of love.

Final thoughts? I don’t even know. It wasn’t really good. But, they talk about Jane Austen… How can I complain about a movie where the central focus is characters gathering around to talk about Jane, her life and her works? That’s probably why this subpar movie didn’t completely die upon arrival — we Janeites just can’t seem to help ourselves.

Have you ever seen it? What did you think? Are you an ardent lover of all things Jane? Do you think that has any impact on how you felt about this movie? (I’d love to hear what someone who isn’t in love with Austen thinks of this movie — but would any such people even bother watching it?)

For Whom Do We Write and Why and How?

Writing’s paradoxical. Write for yourself. But have the reader in mind. But write for the sake of writing. But make sure it’s good enough to be read and (hopefully) published. Of course, that’s creative, fictitious writing. What about blogging? Blogging is extra egotistic. You can say whatever you want, about whatever you want and publish it by yourself as easily, and as quickly, as you can click a button. And then you actually expect people to read what you’ve written. People you’ve never met, who know nothing about you and have no reason to care about what you have to say. People who really have no business caring about whatever problems you’re either making light of or melodramatizing for their reading pleasure.

Blogging is probably, for me, the ultimate combination of writing for others and yourself at the same time, from the moment your fingertips touch the keyboard. On the one hand, it’s very much a thing of vanity, in the same way self-publishing is often referred to as  vanity publishing. You do it so you can say (and/or feel), hey look, there are people who read what I write — don’t I feel special for having readers? Aren’t I such a great writer? I’m published, on the internet, for the whole world to read! But, while it is very self-centred in one sense, you also tend to be be very aware of the fact that people will read what you’re writing — and very soon. You’ll “publish” it as soon as it’s “perfect” or sometimes just “good enough” and people will read it (if they do at all) somewhat immediately. It doesn’t have to go through any third parties. No one has to validate what you’ve written. No one censors it. No one even looks it over for spelling errors. This sounds pretty powerful, but in itself, it isn’t. Because you need readers. Readers are what makes it powerful. Without readers, you’re just some loser, sitting at a keyboard. Writing for yourself.

Credit: students.washington.edu

But what about “real” writing? Fiction writing? Fiction that you don’t plan on self-publishing online? Who do you write it for? For yourself? Or for your readers? Who knows if you’ll ever even have readers? Who knows if it will ever even be published? And if it is published, so what? What then? Will it last? If it’s in a magazine, will it ever be read more than once, before the magazine is tossed to the side to make way for the next issue? If it’s a book, will it sell? Will it survive? Or will it shortly (or even not so shortly) go out of print — which to me sounds like the most horrible, tragic thing imaginable.

And what matters, anyways? Success when a book is published, during the author’s lifetime? Or a book that doesn’t go out of print for years and years, even after the author has died, but didn’t have much acclaim while the author was living? Of course, I’m thinking of literary fiction here. In principle, I think that’s all that really counts. That’s all I think is worthy of a writer’s time. I know this probably sounds very snobby, and I’m probably stepping on a few feet (something I tend to accidentally do literally). But I stand by that. Because, while I’m on this whole, existential, why do we write, “to be or not to be” style rant, I may as well throw the literary vs. “mainstream” fiction debate into the mix. I mean, yes, sure, people who write bestsellers must enjoy their vanity-filled, money-making fifteen minutes of fame. But then what? What happens when those fifteen minutes (or in some cases fifteen years) of fame end? Some may argue that those few authors are pretty damn happy, sipping champagne from the top of their piles of money. “Who cares that they’ll be forgotten?” some people say. Well I think, that if they’re real, introspective, insightful writers, then they should care. What about leaving a legacy? Don’t people care to change to world? To leave something behind? To touch other’s lives for longer than the time it takes them to get from the front cover to the back?

I probably sound like a bit of a naïve, idealistic teenager. But I know this, which tends to get in the way of that wonderful, youthful idealism. In fact, this idealism takes a hit from reality quite often. And, perhaps because of the way I cleave to this idealism, reality tends to come at me like a slap in the face and leave me sore for days. I sit up on my (very) high horse, criticizing authors like E. L. James (the woman gave the world the pleasure of Fifty Shades of Grey), whose work I would never condescend to read, and yet I often wonder who am I to criticize? At least this E. L. James woman has taken pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and had enough discipline to sit down and get out enough words to fill three entire “novels” (if they’re even deserving of that title). And yet, here I am, criticizing myself for criticizing her, and I can’t even do that without poking fun at her and her books.

I’ve been focussing my writing energies on blogging lately and with less feeling I should be doing it and more just doing it. But then I feel as though blogging isn’t real writing. I feel as though it “doesn’t count”. Because, after all, who’s going to read my blog a hundred years from now? Is there even anyone who’s still reading my posts from a month ago? The awesome, brilliant posts that I put so much love and effort into and care about with all my heart and soul?

And so, with this slightly pressing upon the back of my mind, and feeling a little unsettled that I haven’t written any fiction in the past few weeks, I opened up a notebook, hoping to try out a writing prompt. When I opened the notebook, I found a little sketch I had been working on recently, but abandoned (or got distracted from) after about a page and a half. It was a great idea. Very meta-fictitious. Very satirical. Very awesome. So I started adding to it. Tried to move it forward. But I couldn’t. Because I started thinking too much. What was I going to do with it? Who was going to read it? Could I really make it good enough for people to actually get it? For people to actually enjoy? Could I really pull it off?

Cartoon credit: offthemark.com

My problem, and I assume it’s a very common problem and why there aren’t even more people who have written books, is that once the initial excitement wears off, after the moment of inspiration passes, I get tired of it. I can’t seem to keep going. I get bored of what I’m working on. No, bored probably isn’t the right word. What I get is stressed. I do this thing where I forget how to breathe. I forget how to keep my butt where it is and keep going. I imagine that I’ve forgotten how to write. Because, instead of focussing on writing, I’m focussing on editing the only three words I have until perfection. I’m focussing on what’s going to become of what I’m writing once it’s written. I’m focussing on how certain people may perceive the sentence I’m about to write, but haven’t even gotten onto the page yet.

Writing is a paradox. You need the idealism. You need the inspiration. But you need to be realistic. You need to be persistent. You need to sit down and (very unromantically) get some words onto the page. You have to sit for hours. Sometimes you have to avoid people. And stay away from the internet. But, funnily enough, I think the idealism, the naiveté, the total abandon is most important while you’re unromantically plowing through pages, cranking out some words, trudging through the first draft. It isn’t how you’d idealize the writer’s life, but it’s what needs the most idealism. That’s when you have to stop caring what will happen to it and just write. Write for yourself, write thinking of the best possible fate for your darling brainchild or write thinking nothing at all.

Then rationality and reality can probably return when you edit. Then you can set the inner critic loose and think about what’s going to become of it. All the hoops you’ll have to jump through. All the revisions you’ll have to make to your precious baby. But by then, you’ll have something. And you’ll be proud of it. And (after some time has elapsed and you can look at it realistically again and not as a peace of perfection that’s just emerged from your brilliant brain) you’ll be able to make changes. I’ve seen copies of (and original) manuscripts from classic, brilliant authors and they’re all the same. The rough drafts all crossed out and rewritten and scribbled over so much, you can scarcely see the original text. I imagine very little of what we read was written the same (or even included at all) in the first draft. And yet, there was once a first draft. Even writers whose work is being read years after they died started as a terrible, awful rough draft. And those masterpieces couldn’t have been edited and become what they are now without those original drafts, because without those drafts, there would have been nothing to edit.

Of course, realizing and writing all that was the easy part — now all I have to do is internalize it and try to take some of my own advice. What about you? Do you have any sage wisdom to share? Why do you write? Who do you write for? How do you get through those first drafts? And, most importantly, do you think blogging counts?

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