Wednesday, June 30, 2010

coming soon...

I will write about the recent Mancunian mishappenings that have surrounded the making of my novel. But first I must go to bed.

Finishing the novel

Well I seemed to have finished the novel! I've written 6,500 words since yesterday's post. I just had to keep going till the end. I was right, I'm 24,000 short of it being marketable novel length. I need some ideas on how to make it longer. I've told my tale. I guess I need someone to read it and tell me how I can tell it in more detail? But what if you're not a descriptive styled writer? Hmmm (chin rub majestically). It's time to stop writing and start thinking.

Monday, June 28, 2010

50,000 words in

It feels good.
I'm not sure if I'm getting better or worse. If my style is changing or my characters are. Their voices have changed but that was supposed to happen.
I've actually written 51,387. I think I'm only three chapters from the end. I reckon it's going to be 56,000 words. I'll be 24,000 short. That means I'll have lots of extra descriptive words to put in afterwards. I think I'll enjoy it. I'm not sure I'll find that many though. How hard is it to find those extra words which make it up to the size which publishers accept as a novel?

Friday, June 25, 2010


I like this word. I just discovered it. It's an academic term but it sounds more romantic. I should really read some journal articles on it. But I don't have to, so I won't for the moment. Albrecht described solastalgia as a global condition concerning how we deal with climate change on a mental level (there's the more obvious physical level too). How do we prepare for it emotionally and psychologically and how do we pass this knowledge down to future generations? Derren Brown mentioned on his blog post today a scientist who thinks humans will be extinct within 100 years. Better make the most of now. Does that mean it's good that I'm up at 4AM?

On transcribing Damien Hirst

I have been transcribing various Damien Hirst interviews over the past few days; mostly they are about how he has been inspired by Francis Bacon - how he uses sculpture more malleably so it looks like rotting flesh. Life to death. In transition. Often it is rotting flesh.
Artchive at “A Thousand Years,” 1990

What have I learnt from this experience? Well, I have learnt a bit about the art of conversation - could this help me with written dialogue? I noticed this once before when I transcribed some interviews for a sociologist, that people don't talk in sentences. And they definitely don't talk in paragraphs. So as the transcriber, how do you know where to put them in?  It involves some sort of judgement. It's too late to ask the interviewee what they think. And even if you did, they would be viewing their words retrospectively and trying to perfect what they were trying to say and they may regret what they said and look for ways to break up the meaning by splitting up sentences in to certain sections. And not only do people not add punctuation very clearly when they string words together, they also don't string the words together very logically. Often, Damien starts a sentence and doesn't finish it. Or he starts a sentence, introduces a subject and a verb and then when he tries to place them in context he adds in the words 'sort of' or 'you know' and they seem to suffice as the sentence's end. I like painting because it's you know, sort of like, you know. No I don't actually.

Does Hirst like painting? Well he does do a bit of it - the spot and spin series, for example. It seems to involve spotting and spinning. With paint. This was new to me though. I thought of him as more or a conceptual sculptural installation based artist. In one of the interviews, the interviewer asked him about the fact that he doesn't make the art himself. He replied by saying that an architect doesn't build houses. But I know an architect and she does get involved with the building process. And also, she had seven years training to know how to conceive, design, measure, survey, assess. Damien just seems to do the conceiving bit. I'd like a piece of rotting meat, a big glass box with some sort of electrifying poles in it and lots of maggots on the verge of turning into flies please. There, it's Francis Bacon embodied in sculptural form. The next remark he made in relation to the why don't you make the art yourself question had more weight, I thought. He said that no artist can make art without help from other people in some form or another. It is true, if an artist wants to be successful, they need people to help market / sell / curate / describe / review their art. Otherwise, they'd just be an olde style, poor suffering artist working in a damp attic which gives them pleurisy, who doesn't make millions until after they're dead. Contemporary artists take contemporary measures. They are professional self-spin doctors.

Writers are encouraged to do this too. That's why I started a blog. I kept reading advice on how to be a writer and they said work on getting interest in your novel from day one. It's not really working here. I should probably post bits of the novel but then I would be giving it away or leading myself open to theft (chance would be a fine thing). There were other marketing tips I was given as well, like - know your genre and consider whether you are commercial or literary or somewhere in between. And we thought writing the plot and characters into a contingent, unique narrative was the difficult bit?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Looking for a consiousness

Dear Beccy

I am happy that you have created me, first conceiving of me and then making me into the person I am today. I have grown and learnt lots through these pages. I also am aware that I sometimes occupy your mind beyond the page, when you are swimming in the pool and looking for something to consider or when you are relaxing on your sofa with your morning coffee and you need to think about something nice to help see you through the day. 

However, now that I am here, I would like to occupy someone else's consciousness. I think I am ready to brave the minds of others and I think you are ready to let me go a little, to test me out in this way. I could learn even more about myself through being exposed to different opinions. I need to be reflected upon so that I can hold the mirror to myself too.

Any thoughts on this?

Kind regards

7 more random things about me

I'm doing two posts today in case I don't have time tomorrow, what with transcribing Damien Hirst interviews, voluntarily doing an open day for art and design research degrees, applying for jobs, and, oh, writing that novel.

I know it's self indulgent but when I did the 7 random things about me in the Versatile Blogger Award post, I kept thinking of lots and lots and in some kooky or otherwise egocentric way, I found it rather enjoyable. Perhaps it is therapeutic. I think it helps me to write about other characters when I'm clearer about my own.

watch out for kimchi breath!

1. The only food I truly cannot bear to eat is aubergine.
2. I rarely fancy men under the age of 45.
3. The birthmark on my neck has faded as I've got older.
4. I don't feel loneliness.
5. I prefer winter to summer and spring to autumn.
6. I worship my tabby cat the way the Egyptians would.
7. I am addicted to chili condiments, whether they be kimchi, hot pepper sauce or spicy chutneys. Over the past week I have begun having chili condiments with everything I eat. I just ate chili relish on toast.

And here is a recipe for kimchi!


Keeping up the narrative

Writer's flop
Ha hah (in the voice of a 1950s Robin Hood after taking a smart shot of his arrow)! I think I am getting over my recent spell of writer's block. On previous posts I mentioned how I stumbled, firstly after the 30,000 word mark and then after the 40,000 word mark. That was really bad because I felt I had nearly run out of plot, and the characters - which I held so dearly and whom I had missed if I ever took a day off previously - were starting to bore me. Not any more! I found the solution was to keep forcing myself to write the words, however painfully and however incompetently, until I passed the slump. Early this morning, around 3 AM, I had the real breakthrough. My writing started becoming fluid again (or at least fluid by my standards!) and I added a small nugget of narrative.

The small nugget of narrative
came from something I had written in a lot earlier in the plot. It had at first a clear purpose in its unveiling of one of my protagonist's personality traits and also for providing rationale to her task or journey. I thought it had served its purpose but I decided to follow it up later on in the story. This has now enabled various loose ends to string together unexpectedly, interweaving into the overall plot. I am pleased with this. I now have a clearer idea of how the next to last (and not just the last) chapters pan out. I had a gap between the middle of my story and the end part, prior to this. That's right; I'm certainly no planner.

Ending first
I am going to end the novel sooner than I had anticipated. I'm aiming for a short novel of around 80,000 words but it looks like I'm going to write the last chapters and be finished within 60,000 words. This would place my story between the no-man's land of novella (around 20,000 to 40,000) and novel (80,000 to 120,000 - otherwise apparently it becomes classified as an 'epic'). I could call it a novel/novella hybrid but that wouldn't wash with publishers, if I ever decide to try and actually get the thing published. Anyway, a writer said to me recently that it is OK / normal for the first draft to be around 55,000 words (and this was before it was looking like mine actually might be). Once you have laid down the basic plot and developed the characters to a believable degree, then you can call it a first draft. When I redraft I will need to add detail. It could be called padding it out but this makes it sound like upholstering and I think it's less clear-cut or rigid than this. But I think it could work for me because even though I use detail, I have often felt that I don't elaborate enough. This is partly my writing style. I don't like to be too flowery or superfluous. But there is definitely a sense, when reading it, that it is rushed, that sometimes the plot almost tumbles over itself. So I think I will make a start on ending it and then I will return to the beginning again. The second time I come to the end I hope it may look quite different.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Versatile Blogger Award

                                        The Versatile Blogger Award

Thank you to 365 days of novel writing who gave me an award for being a versatile blogger! It's my second unexpected award to date during my lifetime! I think it's a great idea because it demonstrates to people that there are other bloggers out there who read your posts. The blogosphere is quite a big and lonesome place. As a new blogger I often wonder what I'm doing here. It's like having a conversation with your computer. The award involves selecting 15 blogs which you like to read regularly and which you think are versatile. It also involves saying a few things about yourself - this helps us I think as writers. For me the blogs which I follow are the ones which I have chosen to follow already- selected as being the ones which I like. And the ones which I like would need to be quite versatile for me to like them.

 With this award comes a few duties. Those are:

1. Thank and link back to the person who gave you this award.
2. Share seven things about yourself.
3. Pass this award along to fifteen bloggers who you have recently discovered and who you think are fantastic for whatever reason!
4. Contact the bloggers you’ve picked and let them know about the award.

 Seven Random Things About Me:

1. I drink coffee like water. As much as I am a coffee fiend, I don't enjoy the special South American citrusy, glamourously packaged kind. It's Italian blends all the way for me: Lavazza or Ily.
2. I smoke on special occasions or when I'm drunk.
3. I have been going swimming 2-4 times a week for the past ten years. I love it when the pools are nearly empty.
4. I have always enjoyed writing much more than reading because creation makes me feel like I'm alive. I tend to read non fiction more than fiction even though I am currently writing fiction. I feel very guilty for this.
5. I am a bit obsessed with Canada even though I have never been there.
6. I understand the Korean alphabet but that doesn't help much.
7. I like academic theory but only if I can use it sparingly. I'm more of an empiricist really.

 Hmmm. I might do another seven tomorrow. This is fun.

Now for the fifteen bloggers (in alphabetical order):

A Foundation
En Uk's Art Blog
Forgetting the time
From my somewhat serious mind
Lemon Hound
Literary Rejections On Display
Love Fool Forever
London Korean Links
Manchester Lit List
Mike's Bloggity Blog
Studio Notes by Shai Coggins
Single Mother On The Verge
Writing a Novel
365 Days of Novel Writing

Last paragraph written

I could see my reflection in the shiny window pane which kept out the black night sky. I narrowed my eyes so that my face looked blurry, vague, and I tried to make out his face amongst the fleshy contours. I could see the tension and the trauma skulking behind tightened skin and tear ducts which were on the brink. He needed to let go for the sake of everything. Especially his trial, where he needed the sympathy of others. I couldn’t bear to think of him locked in a random room somewhere. It could have been me. I could have at least been a suspect with my connection to the corpse and the psychic community. But they knew it was him from the beginning; it is nearly always those closest to us. They mar us the deepest, one way or another. I placed my fingertips on his reflection and circled around his eyes and forehead. I didn’t care who saw. Adela softened my fingers so they felt like taffeta. I tried to comfort his image but in doing so his image comforted me in some way.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Looking for luck

I am not sure if I am freelance as a teacher and as a writer or not. If you don't get paid for writing, then are you still a freelance writer? I get paid for teaching, which is something, although I don't get holiday pay. How does one get paid for writing? I approach people but they go vague on me or they don't answer my email so I just end up doing stuff for free. It could mean that my writing isn't good enough. How do we really know if it's good enough or not? Someone said to me recently that's there's no such thing as good or bad writing. You say what you need to and someone out there will want to hear it. Since Modernist and Post-Modernist movements in literature, anything goes, e.g. stream of consciousness, non-linear narrative, plain sentence structure, even poor punctuation and grammar to get in line with the characters' ways of thinking - BUT I still think that there are definite yeses and nos in fiction writing. I'm not going to go into this here but I will do soon.

I'm 32 and most ficiton writers I know have been published several times over. Most academic writer have been too. I wonder if I am getting too old to 'get a break.' But then I haven't been writing for long. But I have been volunteering in the arts sector, since I was 20 and I never seem to secure any paid work here. I don't seem to meet publishers looking for story writers. I am moaning, yes. I wonder if a little luck will find its way to me in my 30s. Do we make our own luck? I do try.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Poem for a Korean magazine on the subject of happiness (they accepted it but I think they went bust!)

Happiness is

When the sites of rejection are replaced
with the spaces of anticipation
and the realisation prevails that the next instant
does not have to be accounted for

When crossing borders becomes the necessity
and not the objective
and the bodies encountered are founded
rather than misplaced and elapsed

When uttered truths are recognized
and registered in the eye which reflects
and are not discarded
by the lips which urge new declarations

When every horizon is denounced
as a uniformed goal and we focus on
embodying the silhouettes
which adjoin and highlight the vista, our prospect

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Answer Thing Part 2 (because it wouldn't let me put it in one post - it ran out of characters!)

• Plot. I'm not sure why but I find this stressful. I think there's always that fear of continuity errors, that I'm going to contradict something massive that's already happened by accident. I was talking to my ex-supervisor about this and he said: "what like, crap, I forgot I killed her off in chapter two!" If only it were that obvious. It's the little things like days of the week, how many siblings the characters have, stuff to do with their interests. That's where detailed plans come in useful. But I don't work well with those. They tend to stunt my thinking processes which means that they become a contradiction in terms. The plot does tend to evolve itself via the writing of the characters. What the characters do becomes the plot.My plots tend to be about:

- people watching each other and incidents occurring as a result of this. The question of whether they are being stalked. What is stalking - do we all stalk each other to some degree?
- investigations - whether academic focused or otherwise.
- a few deaths and illnesses along the way. How the characters respond to this.
- betrayals.
- twists - unexpected results.

Right, now, at this very moment, I'm getting confused between themes and plots. Plots are schematic; they are about process, an unfolding of events, right? Somewhere amongst this unfolding there needs to be a crescendo. A writer recently suggested that this be just after the third quarter and that it should be followed by a calm. I think with my novel it will be at the end. I need to investigate whether this is feasible in terms of reader satisfaction.

I think I've done OK so far with my plot, considering. I'm a little stuck for the next two chapters though. The first half was fine and the last couple of chapters should be OK. Now how can I write the chapters in between without just filling in the gaps? I'm seeking the answer.

The Answer Thing part 1

So I started writing a short story as a break from writing the novel and now the short story is looking similar to the novel in plot, character and theme, only a little sassier in style and with more dialogue. What is more, I am a little stuck with the narrative on both of them. What is the answer? The short story itself is entitled The Answer Thing. It is about a woman, about my age and class - she may as well be me, and she needs answers. But she is not looking for answers. The moral of the story is that she should, in fact, be looking for answers. There are only two characters and they are both women - like in my novel, except there are other characters in that one too. The second character is a mystery, opening up lots of questions for the protagonist and, hence, possible answers. It's a bit existentialist. So what has writing (present continuous) two similar bits of prose taught me about my interests and about myself?

  • Themes. I like these. They are my favourite part of forming prose. They are also possibly the least useful aspect on which to focus. I once had a conversation with Iain Banks at a book signing and he suggested that a writer should start with the characters and from that the plot and themes will follow. He seemed to think that the themes take care of themselves. But what if the themes are what drive you as a writer?

  • My themes seem to be about:
    - the diversity of belief systems - coping mechanisms which people adopt and adapt in order to survive as individual agents.
    - preconceptions - that people are quick to judge and pigeonhole others but sometimes they ignore the ones who are a bother to them the most.
    - fear of the unknown and working out how to deal with it. I suppose that's the same as the first theme above.
    - the soullessness and directionless of the post baby boom generation. I'll go into this more in another blog post.
    • Characters. I like these too. I wonder if my characters are just different streams of my personality, exaggerated and expanded upon. At the moment, they don't tend to be based on any particular people in my life, at least not consciously.My characters seem to be about:
    - women
    - of the age where they are expected to be bearing children, getting married and pursuing a successful career. This has become a bit of a slapstick, chic-lit cliche, post Bridget Jones. I'm not interested in writing chic-lit. And I don't see it as particularly funny. This post-modernish plight of my characters is more influenced by Douglas Coupland's GenerationX, alongside my own observations (I studied Sociology, you know!) Anyhow, things becomes cliches for a reason. There is definitely an issue with this age group in the 21st century -  underachieving, overeducated and underpaid and being loveless in an age where lovers are sought like brands.We see them as products on the production lines of online dating sites and endless binge-drinking nights out. But they rarely live up to our standards. We keep buying into them, before discarding them and looking for a more robust product.
    - supernatural entities. In both my stories there are characters who are not entirely human. In the short story the second character is ambiguous and a bit mystical. In my novel there are actual spirits with whom my psychic protagonist communicates. Are they really there though? They are ambiguous too. Ambiguity is good for the reader; it gives them the opportunity to make their own mind up - to seek answers. But why am I interested in the possibility of the supernatural? Well, isn't everyone?

    Monday, June 14, 2010

    I'm trying to make trying allowed: an anti-academic poem

    I wrote this in the first few years of my PhD, when I was angry with reading post-structuralist texts. Hmm, not sure it works.

    I’m trying to make trying allowed

    I’m acting. I’m acting because I’m sick of speculating.
    Acting’s been replaced by structures, then post-structures
    There’s no such thing as activating
    or making a fuss
    about the confiscating
    of our ability to be able.

    I’m feeling. I’m feeling because I’m tired of theorising.
    But feeling’s been replaced by symbolic interaction
    which there’s no point despising
    because that’s forming a faction
    of the symbolic satisfaction
    of which we have no control.

    I’m angry. I’m angry because anger doesn’t exist.
    But anger’s been replaced by the discourse of discourse.
    It’s a relative fist.
    It’s divorced from our thoughts
    which are always missed.
    They’re only materialised through their retroaction.

    I’m laughing. I’m laughing because otherwise I’d be crying.
    But laughing’s been replaced by irony and pastiche
    and everything’s a referred text
    Except dying
    which is outside of the niche
    of niche-ness.

    I’m writing a poem. I’m writing because I think I’m creating
    but creating’s been replaced by copying
    and fabricating
    and stopping
    the flow, which is really just pontificating
    and isn’t really driven.

    I’m fucking. I’m fucking because it makes me feel like I’m here.
    but fucking hasn’t been replaced by anything.
    Is that clear?
    Or is clarity a disparity
    Or is it a fear
    of accepting that we’re animals, with a conscience?

    Sunday, June 13, 2010

    Korea, London and London Korean links

    This is a short post and it's related to the thesis more than the anti-thesis although that figures too and as the anti-thesis stage of my life unfolds, who knows what will happen in relation to my possible lives in Britain, Korea or anywhere.

    Lee Lee-nam: Kumgang Mountain Tanballyong pass Video, 5min 30secs

    During the thesis, I wrote Korean art articles - mainly reviews of Korean art exhibitions in London - for Philip Gowman who established the site londonkoreanlinks. It's a blog about all things Korean for people who want to read about Korea in English. It has become an essential online space for Koreans as much as for English speakers who like Korea, especially if they live in London. My thesis examined the presence and proliferation of a large number of Korean artists and curators migrating to London, to practise or curate their art or art knowledge. I won't say any more about it than this because if you're interested there's a link at the bottom to my stuff and later this week there will be a post which summarises my thesis.

    My interest in Korea remains, although my passion for art has waned. I now feel like vomiting every time someone says the word. I'm waiting for this to pass. It's a normal reaction, right?

    Saturday, June 12, 2010

    Novel versus Thesis

    I've noticed similarities and differences between writing a thesis and writing a novel. Yesterday I bumped into my ex-main-supervisor and he said that by writing a novel I'm keeping up the discipline and I'm continuing to experiece the process of writing. So if I want to return to academic writing, at least I won't have forgotten to write. In fact, I may be able to bring new flavours to it.

    So what are the similarities in navigating these two very different projects?

    • They are both expected to be a minimum of 80,000 words. Impetus is needed for their completion.
    • They both require a beginning, middle and end of sorts.
    • They both need to develop their narratives/arguments incrementally and logically to give a sense of progression.
    • They both need to be consistent throughout in terms of style and genre/subject, although more so with a thesis as novels can be experimental and self effacingly post modern.
    • They both involve research.
    • They are both experimental.
    • They both offer a message. In a thesis it is a structured argument based on the collected data. In a novel it is a theme which arises from the plot.
    • They both need to be continually checked for continuity errors!
    • When done effectively and industriously, the author tends to see little day-light and becomes removed from the real world.
    • Momentum is needed for both.
    • They can both be therapeutic endeavours.

    And the differences?
    • You don't have to dissect/criticise the works of other authors in a novel in order to carve your position within it.
    • You don't need to quote in a novel. However, you can if you feel it brings life to the story. I use short, zen poem/koan and Korean soji quotations in my novel because one of the protagonist's spirit guides only communicates with her through spoken words with a zen philosophical slant. I am still not sure how to reference these quotations.
    • You don't need a bibliography in a novel, or do you , if there are quotes?
    • Theses tend to have visual representations of data to enhance understanding. However, there are graphic novels which arguably do the same.
    • Novels don't present the research data transparently. Any research collected tends to be embedded into the narrative rather than made explicit.
    • Theses require a transparent writing style. Novels are expected to be more subtle, stylised and murky.
    • The messages of the thesis should be clear and spelt out. The messages of the novel should be open to debate and implicit. 
    • One is fiction and one is non-fiction but there are definite overlaps and these labels can be contested (which may be another blog post).
    • A thesis conveys a message via trying to verify and/or falsify empirical and theoretical truths. A novel conveys a message by creating new, imagined truths which sometimes contest the notions of verification and falsification themselves.
    • A novel tends to be more self exploratory, however latently. A thesis tends to be an objective account and more usually written in the passive voice.
    • Writing a novel is creative, writing a thesis is reactive.
    • Writing a novel is reactive, writing a thesis is creative.
    If this was an essay I would now try to synthesise these similarities and differences in the context of other recent debates. This is not an essay. It is a blog. Essay versus blog?

    Friday, June 11, 2010

    A schtyk-ler for surname meanings

    OK this is a short post because it's very late and I've been working on an academic article today (shock/horror) and on my novel a very little too (thankfully it's still there). I was thinking in the shower about my characters and how I relate to them or how they relate to me. There are two protagonists: Clover Hardy and Rebekah Schtyk. Clover Hardy is trying to write a PhD thesis (I wonder where I got that idea from) and she also works as a clairvoyant, whilst Rebekah is a skeptic investigator. Clover has had writer's block and hasn't written any of her thesis for a few months. This is a bit like me - since I've been writing the novel, I haven't written anything academic despite that the pressure is on to submit peer reviewed articles, post PhD. In fact, I've gone as far as to make a feature out of my lack of academic output by writing a blog called writing the anti-thesis. But yesterday, I wrote a scene where Clover opened up her thesis file and did some work, demonstrating that she is progressing as a character in relation to what is occurring in the narrative. I wonder if today is the first time I have written academically because of the scene I wrote for Clover yesterday. Perhaps, it has unleashed some latent block in my subconscious. In releasing Clover, I've released myself. Or is it the other way round? Who is setting whom free here?

    That then got me thinking about my other heroine, Rebekah. If they are on an equal footing as protagonists then why is Clover's behaviour affecting me, the author, more? It is true, I have always sympathised more with Clover's sentiments, not necessarily because I am more psychic than I am skeptic but because Clover is generally a more perceptive and kinder person. But then I realised that Rebekah has my name! Of course, I knew that her forename was the same as my full forename but with a different spelling. But I don't think of myself as a Rebecca and a Rebekah with a kah is even farther removed. Furthermore, when Rebekah's name is shortened, people call her Beccs. People tend to call me Beccy or Bec. However, I have also given her a surname which relates to my ancestory. Schtyk was my mum's maiden name. Her Dad was French-Ukranian-Jewish although not necessarily in that order. He was also a communist, being from the Russianish neck of the woods at that moment in time. I have wished for a long time that I had my mum's rather than my Dad's surname because Schtyk is pretty rare. And also because it's not fair that only men's surnames can be passed down through generations. There's only a few Schtyks with that spelling in the world apparently. My second cousin Zena Schtyk has looked into that. Kennedy is so pedestrain. Is it Irish, is it Scottish, it's definitely celtic isn't it? Who cares. And I don't like being Dr Kennedy because that's my Dad, who also has a PhD. Or it's Dr Karl Kennedy off neighbours. Dr Schtyk would be cool. Although there's the liklihood I would get some stick for it (pun intended). Schtyk spelt with an i instead of a y seems to have more takers as a surname, although Shtik with an i and withoug a c also has other word meanings:

    shtik: (Yiddish) a little; a piece; "give him a shtik cake"; "he's a shtik crazy"; "he played a shtik Beethoven"

    shtik: (Yiddish) a contrived and often used bit of business that a performer uses to steal attention; "play it straight with no shtik"

    shtik: (Yiddish) a devious trick; a bit of cheating; "how did you ever fall for a shtik like that?"
    So I think I prefer Schtyk with a y. It is so rare that I can't find its geneological meaning. Kennedy, on the other hand, means Great Ugly Head from some celtic clan.

    Monday, June 7, 2010

    Seeing Erica: Review of Being Erica, seasons one and two

    ‘Knowledge rests not upon truth alone, but upon error also’ – Karl Jung

    The deal
    Being Erica is a 45 minute seriocomedy with a trickle of sci-fi, about a 32 year old woman who, ultimately, changes, and who is forced to reflect upon the process of these changes within her time/space continuum. Erica Strange (Erin Karpluk) asks herself why she made the choices she did in her past and considers how she would make them differently if she could return to them. And she can return to them, thanks to an extra special therapist called Dr Tom (Michael Riley), and that’s where her tempo-spatial options become a bit unconventional, giving Erica the capacity to be less like Bridget Jones and more like Doctor Who. It is droll and it is relatable, but it is also philosophical and judicious. Our life stories are complicated and part of this is because they are unpredictable and subject to the lives of others; and this is something Erica comes to realise more and more. She learns that being Erica is about being her truest self, but it is also about not being Erica - about how other people see her and respond to her, for better or worse.

    Being in your 30s
    I first saw Being Erica advertised on E4 on a lacklustre October night in 2009 when I was tired from lecturing and also tired from just turning 32 myself. I nearly went to bed but I decided to give it a glance, mostly because I didn’t recognise any of the actors I’d seen from the pre-clips and because it was a relief not to have to look at the cast of Friends. I didn’t know until I saw the CBC logo at the end of the closing sequences that it was Canadian; we don’t get much Canadian TV in Britain. It’s about time we did though, and I’m pronouncing that ‘aboot’ time. Of course, I could see myself in the protagonist straight away, being the same age and also being without all the presence of those socially inflicted markers of responsible adulthood; a prestigious profession, a flawless husband, a house with a garden and the embodied accomplishment of your family’s expectations regarding those things. But I also liked the fantasy element in the form of time travel which both complimented and counterposed the reality of Erica’s life. I'm not the most avid sci-fi fan, so the fact that the geeky specifics of time travel itself was kept to a minimum worked well for me. As someone who inhabits academia, I also revelled in the use of assorted philosophical quotations; ultimately, it’s good to hear some of the scholars I’ve read intermingled into the dialogue of a TV drama. When I got to the end of the programme I was hooked but it was because when Erica travelled back in time to change something embarrassing from her high school years, the thing she wanted to change transmogrified into an equally mortifying scenario forming an unexpected turn in the narrative (thanks to its creator Jana Sinyor). This wasn’t the perfect outcome which Erica, or myself as the viewer, had assumed. Yes, she had changed her actions with the better intentions of a more mature mind, but, seemingly, equally ill fated consequences resulted. Or did they?

    Being Errored
    Regardless of what fate - or something like it - might throw at you, you can always learn from the choices you make and sometimes you just learn that you are doing the best you can. In Erica’s case, she is able to take this knowledge back into her future, enabling her to, not necessarily make different decisions of those pending, but to view these new decisions from a more robust perspective. Part of this fresher viewpoint is to move beyond the unnecessary expectations of others. At the end of episode one, an aloof lover decides to ask her out for another drink as long as she puts something more suitable on – she’s in her pyjamas – and she replies saying, “well at least I’m dressed” then gives him the brush off.

    So Erica has an advantage. She doesn’t just draw from her past and remembered errors to navigate her present, as we all do, she draws from those past experiences in the context of their reinvestigations. Erica-then and Erica-now meet somewhere in the middle, whilst propelling her character forward. As a result, life gets better for Erica. Season one sees her work her way up the career ladder of a publishing house, gaining responsibilities and recognition along the way as she chooses to present herself fairly but confidently; she finds new love with an old acquaintance; she overcomes jealousy issues she has with friends and works through some latent tensions she feels towards members of her family and in-laws. Despite the anticipated dark finale of season one, where she revisits the most poignant of her regrets (no spoilers here!), her affirmative learning curve appears to continue into season two. This season keeps the interest of the viewer because it challenges the formula and the boundaries of the first season’s episodes, experimenting more with time travel and with the past experiences of the second most important character, Dr Tom. Towards the end of season two, you notice that some of Erica’s newly realised dreams are starting to dissolve. Again, the narrative resists our expectations of a happy ending and of the kind of archetypal plight we would see in a Hollywood heroine, whose linear storyline would either involve peppy, go-ahead 'success' or admission and subordination to a more powerful romantic, male counterpart. In fact, this last point is further contested in season two when we realise that Erica’s seemingly omnipotent and somewhat infuriatingly slick therapist has his own time travelling therapist - and it’s a woman - and this helps him to seem less smug. These episodes, where Dr. Tom's past is revisited, acted exquisitely by Michael Riley, not only give his character texture but they form a part of Erica's emotional evolution and they work to disperse the binarity of the Erica / Dr. Tom relationship. So through the two seasons Erica progresses as a spirit and as a conveyor of wisdom herself. I was contented with the season two finale because it raised many more questions than it had answered, one of which being: do we really need to accomplish the conventionally designated criteria of husband/house/profession in order to be fulfilled as individual women? So far, thankfully, the answer seems to be no, it's about seeing your individual accomplishments more cogently. The other question, which both seasons raised, was, do we always make decisions to the best of our abilities?

    Being Beccy feels different to it used to, since watching Being Erica. It is because it has encouraged me to ask questions about my own past choices but also it has forced me to consider the nature of regret itself. In the beginning, Erica writes a list of every regret she has. So I have asked myself what my own regrets are and I have come to the conclusion that I don’t have any, not because I believe that my life has panned out in the best possible way based on the decisions I have made but because I know that I never made those decisions lightly. They were the best decisions I could have made under the circumstances of my place within that particular time and space. Maybe I’d make completely different choices if I went back to 13 with a 32 year old head (and I might revisit this in another blog post), like Erica can, but as Erica learns, the outcomes can still be equally unpredictable. What is important is that we take something away from our experiences, because they make us more full-bodied as life’s observers and participants. This can only be an attractive thing for a writer too.

    Season three has been announced and it is currently being filmed in tantalising Toronto. It should hit Canada’s CBC this autumn (or fall). America’s Soapnet, which has recently finished screening season two, will probably get it a season after that. But what about the little, old UK? Well, aside from the news that they're planning a UK remake set in Glasgow from the makers of the fantastic Spaced - called You Again - E4 says it will show season two of Being Erica this autumn. Thus, the third season, which reports to be the most ambitious so far, is possibly a long time in the future for us. There are, however, ways of, shall we say, channelling these future seasons to our present, British located electrical devices. The internet knows no tempo-spatial bounds. A bit like Erica and Dr Tom.

    The image used above was the only relevant one I could find which was licensed for creative commons. Any permission to use other images on a range of topics would be appreciated.

    A student once asked me ...

    "Why do I need to read Roland Barthes? Who is Roland Barthes anyway? I can come up with as good ideas as him. I don't need to read what other people have thought. I'm a one off."

    This was a result of me suggesting that it might be beneficial for him to read some key Cultural Studies theorists, such as Barthes and Baudrillard, to assist him in writing his essay on the 'meaning' of the lego brand (his choice, not mine.)

    It was a difficult question to answer. Partly because it's one I have frequently asked myself throughout academic life and not just because the whole citation and referencing thing can get a bit tedious or because no one really understands Heidegger or Deleuze anyway. It was a question I remember us discussing as undergraduates; what if we could come up with the theory of Plato's forms without having read Plato, or Marx's theory of capitalism without having read Marx or any (other) Marxists? Surely our theories would be as valid as theirs because we would have come up with them ourselves, regardless of whether someone else said them first? We would be just as original as thinkers? And what if we can come up with wholly new ideas with which to begin? (slim chance) Well, yes, we would certainly be good at thinking up ideas, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we are good thinkers. Moreover, it doesn't make us good academics. Socrates, Darwin and Levi Strauss were original thinkers but they were also good scholars and the two tend to compliment each other. They didn't just sit around consuming beer (and whatever else) with their mates, revelling in the wonders of their own wackiness - although they probably did that too. They read, researched, collated, dissected, contested, experimented, compared, contrasted, synthesised and discussed a broad range of literature which was made available to them at that time (and there is more available to us which could make it harder or easier depending), before then coming up with their own theories. They no doubt had the same sensation of gestalt but it was a more informed gestalt. They were more likely, than my student, to be aware of their scholastic scope but also of their limitations. I tried to get this point across to the student, or something like it but I wasn't entirely cogent nor convinced myself. It seemed to shut him up though. And he was a very, shall we say, talkative one.

    But he was actually a very innovative thinker and surely creativity is an important part of academic learning? Or is it? How could I have answered this student's question without putting a dampner on his creative thought? Perhaps, too much academia is wasted on recycling, I mean citing, previous scholars' work? Well, I guess it's a balancing act and part of getting the correct balance is being able to judge the quantity, quality and relevance of literature from the academic canon in terms of its relationship to the quantities, qualities and germinality of your own thoughts. It is also important and expected to contest and critique others' theories; only with more nuanced intentions than my student had. There is never really an excuse for indolence in academia. But, arguably, it's always worth an endeavour.

    If I'm a student, my subject is R.E.

    Sunday, June 6, 2010

    days away from writing 2

    Traversing in Edale - It is OK if the rock moves as long as you know that it moves

    Yesterday we went to Edale. One of the reasons was because I'm writing a scene in my novel which is set in Edale so I needed to take some mental notes. It was also predicted to be a sunny day and recently on sunny days I've been writing in the dark. We went walking up a hill beside the valley but it was so muggy we had to keep stopping - and reflecting. Sometimes people walk so hard they don't notice what they're walking through. We ascended then came back by following the stream along the valley where the air was cooler. It was very rocky; there were big rocks and small rocks and medium sized rocks and there was rubble. So we clambered over and under and past and beyond the rocks and along the way we contorted our bodies in a menagerie of ways with which they were not familiar. Today I ache. It was fun with a capital F though. It was like traversing in rock climbing - not dangerous enough to need a rope but still tiring and it required some kind of skill and balance. We had to keep changing sides of the river to find the most stable rocks and reeds to walk upon. We laughed a lot along the way as I did a transatlantic voiceover, a bit like the one on Jack Osborne's Adrenalin Junkie. "When strategy meets fear." It's an exaggeration but there were a few close calls. Some of the rocks we stepped on to cross back and forth over the river were slippy or wobbly. It is OK if the rock moves as long as you know that it moves. We had to test our grounds before we stepped (is this another writing analogy?). We also came across an angry ram who chased us towards a hill which was covered in heather and feeding bees. We did some heather climbing, grasping the roots up the steep slope but we were on shaky grounds, literally, so we ended up sliding down back to the bottom on our backs and bums. The ram had gotten over us by then. Not our finest hour. I found earthy residue in my knickers in the pub afterwards. The Nag's Head in stoney housed Edale. It does some 'awesome' chips.

    I'm looking for another blog

    days away from writing

    The car-off
    Last bank holiday I went on a car-off. We got in a car and looked at the map and decided to go to Bramall Hall as it was near and I'd marked an essay on it written by a student who seemed to like it. The essay was about how space is marketed. The hall was dashing, in a Victoriana, woodenish, medieval-revival sort of way. But we didn't go inside because it was a sunnyish day and it cost four pounds. We walked around the lake, evading the family units with their noisy dogs and noisy children, where we could. There were some very sweet goslings and we watched them struggle to waddle onto the side of the bank. They were triumphant and it was the highlight of the trip.

    If I was a blue bordered oblong rather than a red bordered one, would I have to vote Tory  or support Chelsea FC?


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