Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Saturday 12 January 2008

Everyone is on the stage. There's no one left in the audience.

Everyone needs to have a rant every now and then. Please join me on one of mine.

Writing, and by that I mean putting pen to paper or rattling away on a keyboard, is easy, child's play. Pretty much everyone can read and write. All you need is something to write about and voila! You’re a writer. And of course as soon as you're a writer then you need to get published because that's what writers do, real writers anyway.

Why doesn't everyone who has ever heard Beethoven's Fifth Symphony suddenly decided they want to be a composer? Or what about everyone who's been exposed to Édouard Manet's Olympia? Do they drop everything and splurge this week's wages on a set of oil paints and a stack of canvases then try to convince the woman next door to strip off for them for art's sake?

Most don't because they realise there is something more to being an artist or a composer and maybe the woman next door simply isn't that kind of lady. No one (unless you're the next Mozart or Picasso) sits down and just does it. But to write all you need is an old school jotter and a pen. That's what Beckett wrote Waiting for Godot in. That's what my old mum wrote her poems in. What can be so hard about it?

I've actually been all three in my life and, yes, writing is, for me at least, the easiest of the three but it is not easy. I have, I'd like to think, a modicum of natural talent. That's a help. It helps not having to search for 'modicum' in a thesaurus for starters but simply having a decent vocabulary does not a great writer make.

Why back in the 1900s were there not more writers? There was no TV, no internet, no movies, no games consoles – what was there to do but sit around and write poems and stories and novels? Why, now there is too much to do, is everyone scribbling down poems and stories and novels in their lunch breaks? It doesn't make sense.

Or maybe it's this … maybe the guys back in the 1900s had nothing to write about. Imagine that, all the time in the world to write and nothing to write about. And those who did write wittered on about babbling brooks and fields full of daffodils and things that would just get laughed out of court these days.

Could it be that today's poems and stories and novels and blogs (ooh, ooh something new to pour all our angst into) are all a reaction to the modern word? Who the hell has time to wander lonely as a cloud these days? And if I suddenly decide I must go down to the sea again, it's an hour bus ride to Glasgow Central Station and then a forty-five minute train ride to Saltcoats and, really, Saltcoats beach is nothing to write home about.

It seems everyone's a writer nowadays. Because there's nothing any one of us can do about the way the world is, the only thing left is to bitch about it. On July 31, 2006, Technorati tracked its 50 millionth blog. There are more than 2 blogs created each second of each day: about 1.6 million postings per day, or about 18.6 posts per second. The New York Times reports that, according to figures released this spring, a new book of fiction is published in the United States every 30 minutes. A conservative reckoning of the number of books ever published is thirty-two million; Google believes that there could be as many as a hundred million.

What the hell is there left to say?

"I have nothing to say, and I am saying it." - John Cage


millar prescott said...

Ahhh, Saltcoats; I remember as a wee boy trapsin' to the seaside wi' ma mommy and daddy. Aw that effort and expense and all I wanted was to watch the tolis as they flowed oot the pipe into the sea.

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for that beautiful imagine, Millar and for the benefit of all the non-Scots out there:

Tolie: a Scottish colloquialism (mainly Glasgow) for a wee poo

Akemi Ito said...

Not everyone is on the stage- writing is like mental illness, there's always a percentge of the population afflicted. it's just that with the high population, and the means for writers flocking into groups we notice each other. Shakespeare claimed there were only five stories to tell, and we just vary the themes. Maybe in todays world we've a lot more thematic variation, ie, girl falls in love with boy- over internet?

Thnaks for the Link add, Jim, returned the favor = )

Jim Murdoch said...

Of course everyone's not on the stage but it sometimes feels like it in the same way 'everyone' in Los Angeles is an actor, they're not, most of them are wannabe actors.

And as for the five basic storylines I believe we're up to thirty-seven. George Polti listed in his 1921 book The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations but he never thought of 'Mistaken Identity'.

I prefer William Foster-Harris's The Basic Patterns of Plot (from 1959):

1. Happy
2. Unhappy
3. Literary "in which, no matter whether we start from the happy or the unhappy fork, proceeding backwards we arrive inevitably at the question, where we stop to wail": (Ulysses)

Dave King said...

I find I want to write and I want to paint and I want to fiddle around with photographic images (my "Digital Doodles" - see my blog)and usually I want to do them all at the same time and I don't know what to do about it (usually)and I don't have time to watch television - though I do, to be sociable and to feel that I live in the same world as everyone else, which often I don't -. Sorry I didn't have time to put in all the punctuation.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

It is difficult for me to respond to your comments as it is all too easy to become petrified when focused on how much crap is published... why add more to the mix? One easy reaction is to just be pissed all the time. That is not very friendly. So I have had to think on your comments for a few days.

In NYC, Williamsburg, Brooklyn to be specific, it has become very artsy... it was about that time that we moved out of the area... attending a local party I met aspiring singers, painters, actors, artists who when you talked with them you found out that they were also carpenters, waitresses and car mechanics. I would tell them that I was a stonemason. I would rarely if ever tell any of them that I am a writer. In my world one talks about the real job that pays the bills, not the pretend desired one.

I am reminded of a young man who aspired to canoe the length of the Mississippi. It is a likewise romantic inspiration to head for the stage with no conception of the length or difficulty of the completed journey. Or simply how deadly romantic wrongheadedness can be -- as per Madame Bovary. Though the overwhelming wave of expectation and hope to convey to the world something of value that the world of humans would respond to is a noble inspiration regardless if all one has to present is a meager smattering of recycled garbage.

I am also reminded of how valuable the private journals of obscure individuals sitting in their rooms and writing about the often mundane passage of their days has become of such value to cultural anthropology let alone our own understanding and appreciation of our ancestors.

What I like to fall back on, myself, is Ezra Pound's dictum that literature of value is that which a writer cannot help but find themselves in a desperate need to write.

A friend tells me a story about a sailing competition in which their coach kept them out the night before drinking, singing and dancing. The next morning of the competition the crew was all hung over. The crew of the other boat had gone to bed early and everyone felt fresh. My friend's crew won the competition. He afterwards asked his coach, "How could that have happened?" The response of the coach, "Did you do anything that you did not need to do?"

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for that, Gabriel. Actually the bottom line to my blog is a very simple one. I have no problem with anyone blogging about anything they see fit. My issue is more with how the data is organised on-line. For months now I've been searching for bloggers to try and attract more readers to my site. I have looked at hundreds and hundreds of sites and been frustrated that I can't find what I'm looking for. Even where there are tags that I can use to narrow down my search they are too broad. A lot of the stuff I come across is the kind of stuff that in the old days would have gone into personal journals and I have no problems with what they do, I just wish I could filter out most of it and get to what I'm looking for quicker.

Anonymous said...

Painting, composing, acting -- these art forms haven't experienced the same populist invitation that writing has -- what would the painting parallel to blogging look like?

Cheap tools (no easel, paint, brushes) and familiarity with the medium (no musical instrument, years of practice, knowledge of theory) make writing more accessible to people. I don't think it's bad -- I think that people who try to write have a better appreciation for people who can write. Maybe that's naive.

Also, I think it's easier to convince yourself that your own writing is really good than it is to convince yourself that your sketch of your dog is really good.

Jim Murdoch said...

Good point, Lydia, and, of course, the thing about writing is that the author always knows what he means so it's easier to delude himself into thinking what he's written is better than what it is. I know, I've been that writer.

Anonymous said...

I write because I have a lot to say, its easier to get it out coherently to more people and it makes me feel good. 100 years ago the average person may not have been able buy a pen/pencil or paper. Further still many would not have been able to write or had access to method of publishing, look at where most of the old writing comes from, the rich upper class. Writing is popular now because its more accessible and passive, giving people an opportunity to complain but not actually do anything to make change .

Check out my online novel, its about overcoming depression you can find it at My Walk

PS everything we write is a lie but it can tell the truth.

Jim Murdoch said...

Good points, Sandy. Thanks for adding them. As for your P.S., I've been preoccupied by the whole problem of how lies can contain truth for years. Here's a poem I posted a few months back which you may have missed:


Writers are all liars. We all are.
But at least they are honest liars.

They write down those necessary lies,
the kind that move men to leaps of faith
or excuse us when we fail to jump.

In the end it doesn't matter that
they let us down in the cruellest ways.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Writers are all liars.
Don't believe me.

Speakers are all liars.
Lay your tongue down and open an ear.

I'm just going to say this once.

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for the rewrite Glenn. Us liars need to stick together.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

I like sequels by different authors.

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