crashing into mundanity and digging my way out

appropriated from lucia via flickr

After I finished writing the second or third draft of my famously unread/unpublished novel (I’ve since written another which is in the same category and like a breeder bunny I imagine a new litter is on the way of similarly cached phrases) I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(questions is a mild word, actually he slaughters) the relevance of the traditional, linear narrative (a.k.a. my unread/unpublished traditional, linear novel).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)



14 thoughts on “crashing into mundanity and digging my way out

  1. it was nice “diving” into your thought. i guess considering the fact that we humans get influenced by the things that our senses grasp, it will be very very hard to find something that is purely original. i hope i made sense there. anyways good luck and thanks for the read!

  2. What an interesting piece you’ve written here. I’ve had some thoughts along these lines, but then I think what a miracle it is that with billions of people on the planet every one of us is unique, and the place we are most unique is in our minds. How amazing that with a mere 26 letters in the English language we get libraries and bookstores full of books, each one different. Yet I too have been a little discouraged about the duplication of ideas and difficulty in being original when we all have access to the same information.

    I fall back on the belief that as long as you yourself are a unique individual, and your art comes from your own mind or the way your own mind interacts with the data it absorbs, your work will an extension of yourself. Look at the study of classics. They have been read and written about for centuries, and yet it is important that each generation to read and interpret them anew. Because we are new people and new things are always happening. The story continues.

    I have not read anything by David Shields but I am going to take a look at the two books you mentioned. They both sound interesting.

    1. Yes it is amazing that a finite alphabet can continue to provide us with the tools to produce endless works of literature! Same with music… same notes yet an infinitesimal creation! (I actually also find that each person looks so different despite the fact that we have the same elements…it’s all in the combination).

  3. Fantastic Post! And while I agree with your points, especially the homogenization of us (especially bloggers), sometimes that is the respite we’re looking for. I know a lot of book bloggers who don’t know a single person in their “real life” that likes to read. So, for them, it’s a dream come true to get online, discuss books they’re reading that lo and behold, a whole bunch of other people are reading, or discuss magazine articles that won’t be met with a quizzical eyebrow lift from their loved one. Because their blogger friends HAVE read them, and they have ideas of their own, and voila, a discussion and a meeting of minds results.

    But, this can get old. It’s all about perspective and stages. Right now, you’re in the INEEDAGODDAMNBREAK stage, and I’m in the THANKGODYOUKNOWWHATI’MTALKINGABOUT Stage.

    KNow what I mean?

    1. Book blogs, news blogs, all expressions of opinion and thought are great and definitely open up new horizons for all of us, especially those who don’t have that conversation within their non-virtual circle of friends. How amazing is it that we can share ideas and thoughts with so many so easily!

      Love your stages! šŸ™‚
      I don’t know that I need a break, but rather that I need to work a bit harder so that my sources of information (and inspiration) are crafted a bit more to be wider ranging so that I don’t fall into the filter bubble.

  4. Your post made me think of my high school days, where the kids that wanted to be original and different ended up just creating another clique of people who all looked and acted the same (in our school that was the “goth” group).

    Sometimes I feel that a quest for originality and authenticity leads down a path of sounding even MORE like someone else, someone obsessed with the same quest.

    It seems to me that to “just be” is the most original and authentic.

    Listen to the cool underground music, but also dance about to K$sha without apology. (maybe not that EXACTLY, but you get my meaning.)

    Lovely post!

    1. Totally agree that the quest for originality (or coolness or popularity or whatever) usually has the exact opposite result. And yea, the dancing to K$sha thing I totally get (were you spying on my when I was hopping along to her music vid on the treadmill?)

  5. I think you have captured the struggle of our human existence. A bit of a jump but you’ve nailed it. I was pondering my own blog posts and ‘themed platform’ recently and pondered a second blog for all the other writes I have stored away in my head but then I said NO WAY, too much work, so I’ve opted to do what I want so that I don’t have to deal with being void of thought. Also, I’m with Groucho Marks.. I spent my entire lie on the fringe, why bother trying to fit in now.. Aside from confession which is probably too much since we haven’t formally met yet, this is a thoughtful write. I still think it addresses the bigger issues of us mere mortals šŸ™‚

  6. Now let me say something…I have read a shitload of blogs lately, but no one but you seems to be viewing life this way. All seem to be content with their findings, their muse, and sense of hilarity (including me.) So, if you need an “Up-Up Speech” just call on me. I love what you think about and how you express yourself. We all would love to travel for the insights and adventure it brings, but when we pull from our backgrounds, what we dream of and hope for in our futures, and maybe even dig into our past lives, the wisdom and wonder is there, without a Eurail pass. I can understand being discourages…we all fall into that bad boy from time to time, but pull yourself up, dust yourself off, and press your fingers to the keys. If anyone has anything to say, it is you!

    1. ohhh myyy did I come off as whiny? Hope not. I am frustrated a bit, but mostly it’s not about me. Really.

      I’m concerned because I see how the promise of this brave new frontier of information on the net runs the risk of becoming just as limiting and provincial as the gossip circle at the village tea room.

      Now more than ever we need to make an effort to break out of that filter bubble and control of information. I guess in effect we’ve all become quasi journalists and need to dig around a bit and stick our noses in places others have not in order to learn more, to find inspiration.

      But then again, most don’t care, and that’s cool. I just get scared when I see how differences are lost when we’re all corralled into neat boxes. I also have kids, and I want to make sure that they branch out from the standard world of facebook/youtube and learn how to broaden the source of their news and inspiration while plugged in and when not.

      You know I’m such a fan, atoll annie!

      1. You did not whine whatsoever. I totally understand how you feel about technology and the angst with the masses all filtering through the same few experiences. I thought you wrote about it brilliantly. That is why I said what I did. Not because I was finding judgment or criticism of your path. It is fascinating to me and I want you to continue to plow through. I love what you write about and how you see the world. Regardless if you believe it, I think you have a unique voice and perspective. Keep finding inspiration wherever you can and then write about it. I’ll be here to read it.

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