What I Read This Week: 13th January

Happy new year; the hiatus is over. This morning, seized by an unusually strong desire to leap out of bed and see the world before afternoon descended, I leapt out of bed and went for a run along the river. I like the camaraderie of running along the river, especially in the morning or at dusk, when the air is full of the sound of heavy breaths and rhythmic footsteps. The river is still high at the moment, but men sat at regular intervals along the towpath, fishing and smoking. I cut through Iffley Village, which really does seem like a little village, very remote - but not five minutes later I was back on a bustling suburban road, running past a car dealership, where a man in a cheap grey suit held a clipboard, checking his merchandise, preparing for an imaginary onslaught of Sunday customers.

There's a lot on writing this week, I guess. Maybe because I've been thinking, since they say January is the time to think about this sort of thing, about how to be a more active writer this year, how to make sure I remember to pay attention to that aspect of who I am and what I do. But then again, January is also the time for guilt to manifest as smugness, for extreme measures, purging, forgetting. The swimming pool is chock full of people who won't be quite so gung-ho in February, and everyone is on a diet, everyone is giving up drinking or smoking or Twitter, everyone is perfect, just for a month; everyone becomes the thing they think they want to be. I can never seem to give anything up (or, more precisely, I can never seem to see the need to give anything up, to force change for change's sake), and I always wonder if everything after is not a bit disappointing - or maybe it's a relief to be able to gradually slide back into the comfortable self, to reaffirm the rightness of certain habits and rituals, certain ways of being.

- The Writing Life, The Agonies of Process, and A New Year’s Resolution (Sarah Menkedick at Vela)

I am seized now and then by the notion that if I move to…Senegal! The Oaxacan Sierra! India! and seclude myself in some rustic abode with nothing but books and time and basic food it will be simpler and easier, but when it’s not 11 p.m. and I haven’t had several potent microbrews I am too wise to believe this. There is a difference between the need to hew to a particular lifestyle, ascetic or frenetic, and the hope that all the complications of writing can be solved by setting. We can read about writers’ mornings, noons, and nights until the end of time, can eat talismanic greens or sip whisky at precisely the golden hour or chant incantatory phrases but ultimately we will be making it up moment by moment, page by page. This is, in the end, why this is worth doing: because it is so hard.

Is it selfish to say that reading this made me feel better about my own writing practice, my own struggle with my own book? I wasn't very nice to be around all the time when I was working on it - I was snappy, shifty, mean, which was really just a way of being insecure that didn't seem so needy. I felt intensely that it shouldn't be so difficult, that most people don't find it so difficult, most people would have breezed through the task I'd set myself in half the time with twice the enthusiasm and conviction. Which I guess is why it's comforting - in a sort of uncomfortable way - to know that other people do find it difficult.

- Three Semi-Related Thoughts Upon the Occasion of Getting Very, Very Old (Lindsay Zoladz)

Earlier this year, Nathan Jurgenson wrote something that stuck with me, about how Facebook (but also, I think the Social Internet writ large) “fixates the present always as a future past.” There is this pressure to make sense of everything in the moment, to accelerate the creation of the meaning we derive from an experience. I think — and I already told you I am 26 so maybe this is just an old lady talking, right — the overwhelming deluge of all this “Fuck! I’m in My Twenties!” stuff written and liked and reblogged by people who are actually in their twenties accelerates this unnecessarily, and creates these self-defined, self-fulfilling norms. So I wonder if, the way I could only separate the universal and particular shittyness of public transportation only after I left DC, I won’t know what it meant to be in my 20s until I they’re behind me. Maybe the stuff we’re saying “fuck!” about is just what it’s like to be a conscious adult in this moment of history; maybe this is just the way we live now.

- My Heroes. Your Stamps. (Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic)

One of the problems with a title like "senior editor" or with working at a place like The Atlantic or with assuming mantles like "writer" or "public intellectual" is people expect those kinds of credentials to mean that the bearer is in possession of a super-abundance of information about great thinkers and great writers.

- On Writing in the Morning (Roxana Robinson at The New Yorker)

I am not yet in the world, and there is a certain risk involved in talking: the night spins a fine membrane, like the film inside an eggshell. It seals you off from the world, but it’s fragile, easily pierced.

Someone - one of my parents, I think - emailed me a link to this piece a week or so ago, and I finally got round to reading it. It's pretty, but it makes me uncomfortable, too: something about the preciousness of it, the sacred-ness. I'm not that sort of person; I don't operate that way. I'd like to be able to write in the mornings, for instance, but I wake too full of anxiety: I can't write until I've made sure that other things are taken care of, until I've cleared a space. Maybe this doesn't happen until afternoon, evening, midnight. But I wonder about writing from within a membrane, about being secure enough in your sense of self and work to cordon off a period of time and say that nothing else can come in but the art and the instant coffee. That takes a certain kind of confidence, don't you think?