After I finished writing the second or third draft of my famously unread/unpublished novel (I’ve since written another which is in the same category and like a breeder bunny I imagine a new litter is on the way of similarly cached phrases) I had a brief email interchange with the author David Shields.
He was generous enough to send to me a few of his works, which I greatly enjoyed but which made me laugh, not because I didn’t appreciate his kindness or his writing (oh I did indeed!) but because one of them was titled The Thing About Life is That One Day You’ll Be Dead. This arrived soon after a rather milestone birthday, how a propos.
The second reason for my amusement over the rather random way these books arrived at my door was the fact that his latest work, Reality Hunger, a brilliant manifesto about art in all forms and its relationship to reality, to originality, to this complex life we live, included an interesting premise regarding the novel. Shields questions (questions is a mild word, actually he slaughters) the relevance of the traditional, linear narrative (a.k.a. my unread/unpublished traditional, linear novel). “Best wishes and good luck with your own writing,” he wrote in the book, which still sits next to me in my writing corner, yellow and mocking. (I say this half in jest, actually his books, if anything, helped my writing, giving me permission as it were to forge ahead in whatever direction my writing took me.)
The reason he came to mind was because he discussed, somewhere in there (or so is my recollection which may be flawed, but I’m sure that would fit in just right with his theory of appropriation without fear of attribution or accuracy) was a discussion of how we tell the same stories, that all “creation” is really derivative, that the originality comes in its telling. (OK, forgive me if my memory has twisted this, and attribute it only to me and me alone if I am wrong.)
Derivative. Same stories. Like the filter bubble that Eli Pariser has made so popular (his description of it no doubt reiterated in thousands upon thousands of blogs and articles) I find myself of late trapped in a cage. I feel unoriginal, something I never used to feel. It bothers me not out of vanity (oh I’m well beyond any desire to be original in that way) but because I feel stagnation creeping into my thoughts, into my writing.
Now granted I am no longer 20 and traveling the world, but rather have roots which are harder to pull up (although I do as often as I can) and responsibilities which limit my horizons. Like many I use the internet to expand these, to read and watch and learn and energize myself with news and stories and images well beyond my sphere.
That’s all fine, but the messed up thing is that my sources are the same as those of so many others. I read about something and find it fascinating, then blog about it or instapaper the article to read later, only to find that so have many others, as it pops up here and there on the (I thought) selective reading sources I access. My media diet may be different from that of the average Shoprite shopper but it is equally as boring and mundane within a certain circle and in dire need of expansion and experimentation. My fiddleheads are wilting.
I find myself influenced by what I read, which in turn influences what I read next. I never used to read the “latest and greatest” novel being buzzed about, but now I have many books on my shelf that sit on the shelves of so many. How boring. I do not want to fit tidily in a niche, in a demographic, and want to regain some of that originality of thought and perspective that I always had, but how? Can’t just hop on the next flight to some obscure destination (and anyway, that’s been done, over and over, and blogged about). Travel is a sure way of broadening perspectives, but right now not a short-term option.
What I can do is retreat a bit. Examine what I feed my mind in the same way I protect what I feed my body. Work on my media diet so that it is more focused, less time-consuming, remaining relevant yet leaving room to reach other lands not already staked out by this or that commentator. Something happens and it’s tweeted and retweeted ad nauseaum, an opinion is written and is repeated so many times that we become numbed to its meaning.
Perhaps I exaggerate. We share sources but the breadth of sources has vastly expanded in this digital age.
Nonetheless it is alarming to me that we are all feeding from the same trough day after day. In the same way that European cities are beginning to look the same, and US towns all contain the same stores, the same books in their libraries, we who listen to NPR and read The New Yorker and The Atlantic and Andrew Solomon and watch TED videos to get jazzed up are equally as homogenized. Different bubble, same shit. In a sci-fi nightmare we will all end up Stepfordized, our conversations endless loops of the same words without meaning.
So if I don’t blog as often its because I’m going to dig into my bookshelf, pushing aside the bestsellers, am going on a “master cleanse” for a bit so that I can regain balance and focus. And when I do blog I hope I can be more original and less predictable in what makes me tick or tock. If I fail, forgive me. Maybe originality is overrated. Maybe I must resign myself to the mundanity of my bubble world and should just dance within it.
“I suppose it is out of laziness that the world is the same day after day. Today it seemed to want to change. And then anything, anything could happen.”
(Sartre, from Nausea and as quoted by millions of people already on the net…ughhhh)