Two weeks until deadline.

This blog has been quiet in the past few weeks — mainly because I decided to move my research journal offline, into a diary. I felt I was holding back too much on how I felt about the writing and the reading and the general rhythms of my Honours research. So yes, these reflections are now hidden in a handwritten research diary.

The exciting news is that I presented a research paper at Critical Animals in Newcastle on the weekend. The panel was titled “Authorial Ethics” and it was exciting to see the different ways we interpret the author and the concept of ethics. One of my fellow presenters spoke about the author’s identity — if there is one — in a world where art depicts life. In other words, what is the author but a filter for all of their experiences? The other presenter on the panel (also from RMIT) talked about the conceit of documentary making and auto-ethnography — basically, what it means to construct the self on film. I spoke mainly about the ethics of borrowing other people’s stories, and representing family members as characters on the page. Being part of the panel was an insightful experience, and I look forward to presenting again soon.

Fortunately, I have just been accepted to speak at RMIT’s Placing Nonfiction Symposium in December. The paper I will present here will be about Virginia Woolf’s moments of non-being, from her memoir collection, Moments of Being. Here is my official proposal, for a better idea:

What are the limits of nonfiction? Where and how is “nonfiction” – a concept founded upon a negation – placed, and what is at stake?

“Every day includes more non-being than being,” Virginia Wolff writes. In her memoirs of childhood, this non-being is “the invisible and silent part” of her life. The moments that are remembered simply through sensation, as the moments that passed between the memorable, “life-changing” events. In my research, I am exploring how to write about these moments of non-being through memoir. I have reconstructed an array of scenes from my childhood home. These scenes depict the non-being of drinking tea, fluffing up cushions, practising scales on the family piano. These were everyday rituals that I had never reflected upon before, and I don’t quite recall the details. Perhaps these scenes frolic between non-fiction and imagination, however, excluding these non-events from my memoir would leave readers with the risk of a causal narrative, a story that ignores the complex rhythms of both everyday life and writing from memory.

My entire Honours project is due two weeks from tomorrow, with exegesis alongside. It resembles a book now, complete with chapters, page numbers and white space. I have sent around a PDF of the final draft for new eyes to read (sister, housemate, etc), and I ran into an writerly friend yesterday who offered to take a look. I am unsure about how much is left to do — the arguments are there, the references are perfect, but having read the whole thing through so many times, I can no longer find new information. There is so much I have learned this year that has not made the final cut of probably a warm night. My nonfiction work was inspired by David Shields, but in this final draft he is only mentioned twice in passing. My research was also inspired by an earthquake, but the resulting memoir is mainly about me. I am waiting to hear the thoughts of the few readers who are taking a look at it — but at the moment I worry I have edited my writing down to something unexceptional. That probably means the work is reaching its final edit, when I can completely understand all of my ideas and therefore no longer find them exciting.

Advertisements

One-week hiatus.

I took a week’s hiatus from my blog. The main reason for this is that I sent myself a very big deadline for yesterday — to write the eight middle chapters of my exegesis. Our full draft isn’t due until next Friday, but I wanted to set myself this extra deadline so I get some sleep next Thursday night. Also, I’ve gathered (through trying to write about my creative work) that I only discover what I’m trying to say through writing about it — so now I can use extra editing time to sharpen those points and link them into a stronger argument. I met today with Francesca, and we talked about what will need to go into my introduction and conclusion to frame the chapters. What is really coming out in my work are different ideas about time — momentum and rhythms of time, the passing of years and the loss of time. I’ve titled each of my exegetical chapters to begin with ‘when…’ because these all talk about time and refer to characters set in different times. Each ‘when’ refers to a different period.

My nine creative chapters have all been published here. The publication of the final three was anticlimactic — a steady, gentle flow of readers, according to my stats page. A minor critique from Tom, who is offended that he only appears in one piece and is asleep in said piece. A blog follow from someone in Oman, too late. There will be one more piece to the memoir, a small one, which I am still composing. I haven’t yet decided if I will publish it online too.

The headspace of Week 6.

I published Seven online yesterday, and have actually received several positive responses since from people who I didn’t realise were reading Probably a Warm Night! (This is both nice and worrying.) This is good. I have also already had my little breakdown for the week (which may or may not have involved sobbing on my boyfriend’s carpet and calling him a troll for challenging my opinion about something I read online). And then last night I attended my very first life-drawing class with Shannon, which was fun. I’m discovering that doing something I’m not good at (like lifting weights or drawing naked people) can be refreshing. Maybe because I know it won’t result in a grade or in disappointment? 

Anyway, I’ve sent a deadline now with Francesca. By Sep 10, I will:

1. Edit all memoir chapters and publish them online, regardless of whether or not I think they’re ready for publication. I have five to go, so this should be manageable.

2. Write exegetical responses to the first eight chapters, and be working on the ninth. 

3. Create a table of contents, and think about how to present this work. The final presentation could include small extracts to introduce pieces.

Lots to do!

Image

 

A little lost.

Very lost with the latest chapter of my exegesis. I’ve decided to return to it when the rest is fleshed out — I’m not quite sure what the point is I’m trying to make in this chapter. It’s mostly devoted to explaining the use of the future tense in ‘A girl called Seventeen’, but I can’t find the words to communicate what I’m trying to say. What my reasoning is, and where the ethics are. I’ve attempted to finish it five times this week, but any references I’ve found don’t really support what I’m trying to argue. I suppose I’m using the writing to work through what I was thinking, but I haven’t quite got there yet. Upon reflection, I think it’s the only chapter I’m struggling with — the chapters that come later I have already laid out, and the arguments are mostly formed. It’s only this chapter that’s just grating at me and slowing me down.

When you are in the middle of a story, it isn’t a story at all.

When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else.

Bringing my exegesis together this weekend — I’m grouping my research into an intro and nine small chapters, to present woven between my memoir pieces. The quote above, from Margaret Atwood, applies both to my project and where I am now. Right now this process is a confusion, but in a few months’ time I will be able to recount the last weeks of university clearly. They will form, in some way, a story. In the same way, my characters (Fifteen, Seventeen and Ten so far) are written into story that only arrived at this form later. At the time, each experience was ‘a dark roaring, a blindness…a house in a whirlwind’. This quote begins the trailer below — Ed invited me to see this film at MIFF, but I was out of town. Will definitely chase it up.

What I’m discovering through writing my exegesis:

1. There is so much about this topic, both on the fringes and smack-bang in the centre, that I don’t know.

2. I cannot write at home. Hanging out washing immediately becomes a higher priority.

3. Tea helps, even if I forget to drink it.

4. I am too critical of myself, too often.

Writing and editing and ordering and lifting weights.

I presented two creative pieces and one exegetical (draft) chapter to my lab class today, with positive feedback to the creative work and helpful, constructive feedback to the exegetical work. I have been worried about the tone and content of the memoir pieces, so hearing that I’m pleasing readers is really building my confidence. While I feared self-indulgence and monotony, others found the stories ‘personal and captivating’. 

Feedback for the exegetical chapter was mainly the suggestion that I give more examples and clarification — which is something I’d worried I’d overdone, so I was surprised to hear this. Be prepared then — examples galore are on the way!

I’ve been reading the acknowledgments and commentary around Jo Case’s recent memoir, Boomer & Me. It is a memoir about her son who has Asberger’s. The story is told lovingly and openly and honestly, and invites the reader to relate to the experiences depicted. The response from critics and readers is very positive. But what I haven’t found to be questioned, is the fact that this woman has published a memoir about her young son. Regardless of good intent, is this an ethical issue? What has Case done to evade this ethical question? What boxes has she ticked? How has she overcome the ethical problem of writing about someone else — someone who is a minor, and who is under her care? 

I’m feeling creative this week, and less stressed. Yesterday Francesca and I worked out a structure through which to present my project and exegesis, and also the form. We talked about the constant references throughout the project to childhood crafts, the aesthetics of Japanese culture, and also the physicality of writing — I’m thinking about referencing these in the presentation of my work, through making the ‘volume’ (or three) by hand. I also published this memoir piece

Less stress also achieved by preparing all my food in advance this week and lifting weights at the gym! Distracted from impending deadlines by eating lamb shank soup and watching muscles grow.

Hello, stranger.

Hello, stranger. I know. It’s been a while.

I’ve been trying to work out why I haven’t written for so long, and I’ve found the reason(s) to be a mixture of self-doubt and self-preservation. I’ve faced the blank page too many times in the past two months, freezing up at the white screen, wondering what the point is of what I’m writing. Analysing subjectivity, I reached the point about a month ago where I was analysing my own every word, trying to find the reasoning behind each of those words, the experiences that had led me to type that exact sequence of letters onto the page. I think I went a little crazy, analysing myself and then analysing that analysis and so on. And then it became too much for my computer, which crashed. (That’s not an excuse, but it was probably a side-effect of this neurotic journey my writing has taken since May.)

Aside from the overanalytics (word?), I’ve also been away because my memoir project has led me to deal with material — memories — that are unfiltered, uncensored and potentially hurtful to some readers of this blog. My research question continues to evolve, but at this point asks: in writing subjectivity as content rather than unintentional subtext, how can I transcend the paradox that is ‘writing the truth’? To answer this question I am writing down memories without editing. We tend to edit our memories for logic, propriety and consistency before we recount them to others, and I think this editing leads to the omission of the important details — those that indicate the fallibility of memories, the irrationality of emotions and the presumptions we make based on our personal experiences of the world. I think this is where our subjectivity lies and I think it should remain explicit or at least ‘clearly implicit’ in our stories. Sometimes what ‘makes sense’, whether it be linear or rational or provable, isn’t necessarily ‘most true’.