05 July 2011

Wait, the world's still turning? What now?

Although I find Angry Atheist Stephen to be quite disagreeable, I think Melancholic 'Don't-Talk-to-Me-I'm-Writing' Stephen is probably even more difficult to be around. When I was a high school senior and slowly becoming aware of intense changes in my life I wasn't going to be able to avoid, I wrote a novella called The Silences which was nothing special really, but in the month I wrote it in the spring of 1999, I really fell in, and was, as I recall, impossible to be around. Luckily, in college, I wrote mostly short stories, which I could draft in one or two sittings and the submerged feeling would be much more momentary, as I was only trying to connect two or three different strands of the story. Well, this was true until my last year when I wrote another novella, Omerza Walking, which was marginally better than the novella I wrote in high school, but much, much more demanding with fieldwork, interviews, tours of abandoned underground mines in the middle of the winter. It was intense. Very intense.

Dissertations have been even worse, much longer endeavours with not just narrative strands to tie together, but theoretical ones. Analytic frameworks, real datasets: you can't fake it like you can in a story. And you also can't write 10,000 plus words in a week or month, much less a sitting. This PhD thesis, the first book-length manuscript I've ever worked on is more than anything I've ever attempted, thousands and thousands of words that have to hang together moment by moment. A giant swirling fractal. A black hole. I'm not sure which metaphor is right.  

I am now really experiencing submergence in a way that I haven't before. I feel like I can only write, only express myself on the screen. An affordance, perhaps, of being surrounded by Japanese speakers all the time at home now. Suddenly I am a foreigner again: a foreigner to my family, yes, but also to my work, to the thesis genre,  to everything but the sentence. Because, if I have learned one thing, it's how the sentence works. 

Well, I say that, but in the last year, my writing has had to undergo significant changes to make the thesis possible. I feel like a professional golfer having to change my swing: of course, I don't need to change my swing, I'm a professional golfer. But no, I've needed to change my swing. Luckily, I am being taught by a superb academician (certified!) who, among her numerous talents, is very good at detecting bullshit. As I am a bullshit artist 95% of the time, she's forced me to cultivate the 5% of raw talent I have. To swing without dipping my shoulders at all. Does that metaphor work? Do you see what I mean? 

So, until the thesis is done, I feel like I will be sleepwalking through my days and nights, eager to get back to my words on the screen — Arial 12 point for normal paragraphs with a six-point space at breaks, Arial 12 all caps for categories, Arial 10 point for tables, Arial 12 point italicised in all caps for systematic metaphors--avoiding my family and the sudden instability of my home life at least until August. With no context at 68 Booker Ave, I'll find context in the thesis. The thesis. You were personified in a dream last night: I slept and woke and slept, but I didn't stop writing. I ate and talked with my in-laws briefly, but I didn't stop writing. I went for a run, but I didn't stop writing.