On Writing.

“Maybe there is no Heaven. Or maybe this is all pure gibberish—a product of the demented imagination of a lazy drunken hillbilly with a heart full of hate who has found a way to live out where the real winds blow—to sleep late, have fun, get wild, drink whisky, and drive fast on empty streets with nothing in mind except falling in love and not getting arrested . . .

Res ipsa loquitur. Let the good times roll.”
—H.S. Thompson.

Gonzo Papers, Vol. 2: Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ’80s, 1988.

When I first started my Masters in Creative Media: Writing at RMIT my writing professor asked me what kind of a book I was writing. Well, actually, he asked everyone that question.

He was kind and delicate with me, which was what I needed at the time. It took me some six weeks in to the semester to work up the courage to read, though I’d arrive to every class with something prepared I just couldn’t seem to open my mouth when it came time to present. I’d stand at the bottom of the stairs, before ascending up in to the tutorial, psyching myself up, breathing as calmly as I could, but ultimately feeling like I was going to throw up or have some sort of explosive episode in the toilet cubicle, involving both ends.

This went on for weeks. Six, as I said.

I remember the morning I decided that today would be the day.

I remember the cup of macha on the back deck and the furocious appetites of my pet ducks, Graeme and Gorbachov, as they gobbled up their breakky.

I remember that it was cold and that I wore a chocolate coloured dress and a lime green bra for the occasion.

I remember the brisk walk in to the city from my place and the sound of the traffic and the trams.

I remember wondering who else was doing something terrifying with their day.

I remember thinking it wouldn’t matter anyway. No one comes with you. You go to those places alone. Wherever they be.

I remember marching in to class and announcing that today was my well overdue debut.

I read first and I read well.

And then, the most peculiar thing happened.

I couldn’t hear.

My ears went hot and red and the sound of the room fell muffled and fractured.

My professor paused for a long time and then said my writing was revelationary.

I didn’t really understand what that meant, but figured that’s what I was there for, to learn new words, learn new things. And to be scared. Hot-eared.

He insisted I read every week for the remainder of the semester and that the nature of literary nonfiction, or memoir, whatever you care to call it, is intense, frightening, terrifying even. And that in his opinion, the kind of book I was trying to write may take some time. And that at the ripe old age of 24, as I was at the time, that wasn’t such a bad thing. He asked me why I struggled with my confidence, creatively, and why it had taken me so long to read.

“Because I’m shy” I answered, rather inarticulately.

“I’m one of the worlds least likely shy people. I really am really fucking shy.”

He laughed.

The tutorial laughed.

And I noted to myself how much I liked the fact I was surrounded by so many adults. And that I could swear. And that that was ok. Everything I’d just done was ok.

And just like that,  my ears softened and returned back to their natural state of heat. I could hear. I could hear everything.

As I left the university that day a charming young published author by the name of Daniel Gloag followed me as I walked. He asked me if I minded if he joined me. I said no. He said that he wanted to tell me something. Something that helped him finish his first book. He said irrespective of who someone is and what they’ve done and what they think the only criticisms you are ever to allow yourself to consider are those regarding structure. Narrative, plot, language, dialog, that’s all yours, he said. Ignore everyone.

Shortly after this event I had a minor altercation with my scriptwriting professor. I liked her immediately. And she, disliked me almost just as immediately. She’d worked extensively in Hollywood and for NASA. And she had a penchant for singling me out at times and asking me really confronting questions that would make me clam up and want to cry. She asked me to stand in front of the class one day and draw a storyboard of my “great novel idea.”

So I did.

She asked me what made me think this story was better served as a novel rather than a film script.

I answered by saying I’d never considered it, this story, as a film. It was a book. My idea was a book, not a film.

She asked me what gave me the audacity to think this story was book-worthy.

The word audacity playing over and over in my mind.

au·dac·i·ty

[aw-das-i-tee]  Show IPA

Noun:

1. boldness or daring, esp. with confident or arrogant disregard for personal safety, conventional thought, or other restrictions.

2. effrontery or insolence; shameless boldness: His questioner’s audacity shocked the lecturer.

I asked her for a dictionary.

She asked me to answer the question.

And just as I was about to she cut me off and generously clarified that a memoir was a work of literary non fiction written by someone brilliant at the end of a great life.

I thought of Anne Frank but said nothing.

I was much too scared to really stand up for myself in those days, and so I just let her bang on about how much more suited to a “film script” my “Tokyo story” would be.

But here’s the thing, and I apologise for not being able to provide a direct link here, as the embedding has been disabled by request, but here’s a valuable little statement my mate Christopher Hitchens has to say on the choosing of writing as a career, which I think is fitting:

Hitchens on writing: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hty8vc5sy_w

and this:

and this:

oh and this, another excerpt from my favorite film of all time, Waking Life:

The following is a chapter from T.F. Rigelhof’s new book, This Is Our Writing. It also fits, I feel:

“Leonard Cohen re-invented himself as a singer-songwriter at the age of thirty-two because he couldn’t make a living as a poet and novelist in Canada without either (a) turning into a hip Adrienne Clarkson impersonator at the CBC or (b) finding himself a niche somewhere in the academic hierarchy and becoming an Ur-Ondaatje. Instead, he borrowed money and headed off to Nashville with his guitar. He got as far as New York’s Chelsea Hotel. In retrospect, the make over of Leonard Cohen the writer into Leonard Cohen the singer seems inevitable. At the time, it was anything but a sure bet. He had a singing voice even Bob Dylan fans disliked, he was an indifferent guitar player with a five chord repertoire, he was a decade older than anyone else who was hip and too bourgeois to be beatnik, he’d never played with professional musicians and was so heavily into tranquillizers that he’d picked up the nickname Captain Mandrax. In 1969, Songs of Leonard Cohen sounded so wasted and wounded, so used-up, nobody I knew could listen to the album straight through. Those of us who cared enough about Cohen’s writing to worry about the writer figured he’d never make it back from the wired high where he was mainlining melancholia. That’s when I started thinking of Leonard Cohen as ‘fabulous novelist, ferociously funny, too soon finished.’ ”  

“… Anyone with an ear will know I’ve torn apart orchestras to arrive at my straight, melodic line… I walk lighter and carry a big scalpel… I don’t know anything about people — that’s why I have this terrible and irresistible temptation to be a novelist.”

– Leonard Cohen.

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Comments
One Response to “On Writing.”
  1. Leanne Moffat says:

    I love this!! Fantastic. Wow….

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