Contemporariness

February 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

Recently I have been reading contemporary fiction. Perhaps this isn’t such a ‘big deal’; but, for me, it is quite a change, especially after last term’s sojourns in Bronte land and Woolf country. Reading such works as ‘What a Carve Up!’ by Jonathan Coe and Pat Barker’s ‘Regeneration’ has placed me firmly in the (near-)present which I am relishing. It means that I can justify reading all 150 pages of Julian Barnes’ ‘The Sense of an Ending’ for leisure. I finished it last night and spent two minutes a little shocked and confused. I was expecting this grand ending, something catastrophic such as Adrian was alive all along, or that Veronica had murdered him or something. But, no. I won’t give it away but the language of the final few pages is suitably ambiguous (to my mind, anyway), particularly with the inclusion of Adrian’s accumulation integers. I finally solved the puzzle but my eventual understanding did not bring me any closure or finality. If anything, I felt perplexed. It did not feel as though that ending was meant to be the ending (perhaps the clue is in the title – the sense of an ending, not quite but almost tangible).

A lot of the novel (or novella?) dealt with memory and time, a pertinent theme that keeps reappearing in my set texts:

“We live in time, it bounds us and defines us, and time is supposed to measure history, isn’t it? But if we can’t understand time, can’t grasp its mysteries of pace and progress, what chance do we have with history – even our own small, personal, largely undocumented piece of it?” (p.60)

This idea of our own ‘average’ lives being largely ‘undocumented’ ties in with Adrian’s diary and its significance to the entire plot. Tony’s desire for and legal right to the diary pushes the narrative along, giving him a purpose to keep pursuing Veronica, to keep searching for the truth of their shared past. There is also the notion of life as a mathematical problem that could be solved, perhaps, such as the moment when Tony considers his life in terms of adding or increasing:

“Had my life increased, or merely added to itself? … There had been addition – and subtraction – in my life, but how much multiplication? And this gave me a sense of unease, of unrest.” (p.88)

Notably the novel ends with ‘There is great unrest’, unrest within life, within people, within morals and within maths (presumably). Adrian’s vision of life was quite clinical in its philosophy – I think that Tony’s mum was on to something when she said he was too clever, considering the numerous ‘geniuses’/exceptionally perceptive and intelligent individuals who have committed suicide, Woolf and Plath for instance. So, I can’t really relate to Adrian’s deductions and sums, weighing up whether life was worth continuing based on an equation. But it does offer an enlightening point about the meaning of life. The fact of Tony’s peaceableness was reiterated throughout, until he had wandered into the realm of passivity and convinced himself that this was peacefulness. The novel, to me, is about mistakes made when young that shape and alter lives, our own lives. Seemingly small decisions, such as the angry, bitter letter that Tony sent to Adrian and Veronica, return to haunt us. It reminds me of the butterfly effect – one beat of a wing changes things. Everything counts.

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Fear

February 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

It is 9.31pm on a cold February night. It snowed today and I am trying to write. I am trying to write a personal essay in the least flowery, verbose way possible. For me, this is rather tricky. Even the way that I speak is verbose; I am a wordy person. I like to talk, at length, and often struggle to formulate my thoughts and to express them concisely. Yet this is exactly what I must achieve in my personal essay.

I can foresee the Creative Writing II module being the most difficult module I have taken. Not only am I putting my thoughts, my words, my self out there, vulnerable and bare; I am asking two authors to mark it. They gave us the ‘terror talk’ and I told myself I could do this, that I am capable. But there are moments, as everyone, everyone, knows, when this kind of thing is terrifying. I find myself wondering whether this was a good idea. To use a cliché (something I should really be avoiding), I am out of my comfort zone.

Today my tutor told our workshop group that if there was something we did not want to write, something we thought we could not write, then we should write it. There is something that I would like to write but it feels so muddled. I am not even sure what is memory, what is real, what is imagined. It feels like there are numerous gaps that I may have simply filled in, plastered over. So then, when I write these things down, I am no longer writing a personal essay but an essay on how I want something to be, or how I imagine it would have been.

I said in class that I was finding it difficult to fit the personal with the universal, of finding that hook that draws the reader in and makes them care. Otherwise, what is the point? It is just self-indulgent fluff that no one wants to read. Apparently this is because I am worried about trust – nail on head (oops, another cliché – language is riddled with them!) So I am going to take Natalie Goldberg’s advice, fill one notebook this month, write about my parents, about my old house, write about things that I thought I never could and trust in myself and hope to goodness that the reader sees something, anything.

Back soon x

Back (but not) for good

January 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

Alas, I have returned to St Andrews for one final hurrah. It is my last semester in this seaside town and I will miss it. This semester feels odd – I know it is the last, yet in many ways it remains fundamentally the same. I suppose most students in their final semester here will be partying it up as much as possible, trying to squeeze out the last dregs of university existence before being plunged into ‘The Real World’. As for myself, I have a plan for next year: more studying. Yes, that’s right – another year of the hard slog. I must be mad.

This semester is particularly exciting because of the modules I am taking: Creative Writing and Contemporary British Fiction. Both of which I have been longing to take since I entered third year. We received a ‘terror talk’ from Jacob Polley, one of the Creative Writing coordinators; needless to say, I am terrified. Although, he did reiterate everything I already knew: this will be hard; you must work a lot. I found it interesting when they told us that it will be quite a vulnerable process; we need to delve inside ourselves, to fish out our ideas from within. I am also filled with excitement. Writing has always been a passion of mine; but recently it has faded from my everyday life to become something I do only occasionally or only ever think of doing, instead of actually doing. The only reservation I have about the module is grades. I want to do well and I am terrified not only that they will hate everything that I produce – but that I will then receive a shitty mark for it. But, I must continue. If I chickened out now, I would never forgive myself. And then there is the Contemporary British Fiction module which I can tell is going to be engaging, absorbing, fun. Our tutor is so enthusiastic and the rest of the class is vocal which always means you have to do as much work as possible in order to stand out and do well. I am currently finishing ‘Regeneration’ by Pat Barker and then we move on to Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body. I am also going to attempt to read Cloud Atlas soon because the movie comes out in about a month (perhaps less) and I simply must read it beforehand.

I shall attempt to post whatever creative nuggets I produce (haw haw) during this semester.  But now I shall leave you with this poetic, lyrical (in no way affected) passage from Jeanette Winterson’s wonderful Lighthousekeeping:

‘I’ll call you, and we’ll light a fire, and drink some wine, and recognise each other in the place that is ours. Don’t wait. Don’t tell the story later.

Life is so short. This stretch of sea and sand, this walk on the shore, before the tide covers everything we have done.

I love you.

The three most difficult words in the world. But what else can I say?’

‘Ghostwritten’ in brief

January 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

Well, it has been a while. I have been quite busy in this new year. I am 22 years old (soon I will reach an age when calling myself something ‘years young’ becomes ironic). I went to Leeds and then to Bath which were both lovely. I received an offer from the University of York for a Masters. I got a first in my dissertation (hells yeah). And the final semester of my undergraduate degree begins in one week. So, things are rather great!

I recently read David Mitchell’s ‘Ghostwritten’ (not one half of Mitchell & Webb but an actual author – although I am sure David ‘The Comedian’ Mitchell could be a proper author if he wanted). It’s on my Contemporary British Fiction course for my final semester and I thought it was rather mind-boggling wonderful. In fact, I was quite literally full of wonder of it. The whole thing is split into nine narratives that all mingle and blend together, connected rather obliquely. So, we begin in Okinawa where we meet Quasar who is part of a cult, The Fellowship, led by His Serendipity; his faith in this doomsday cult propels him to commit terrorism by planting gas in an underground train. To me, the book hinges on this opening, particularly since its ending establishes a cyclical element, beginning and ending with the line, “Who was blowing on the nape of my neck?” The section Night Train follows the story of a night-time radio show host, Bat, who receives odd calls from the mysterious ‘zookeeper’, a nameless noncorpum (like the voice in the Mongolia section) whom I think must be His Serendipity. These nine stories bring spirituality, mortality, faith, science, superstition together to produce a fizzing mix that represents humanity. It reminds me of ‘Cloud Atlas’, also by Mitchell, although I haven’t read it as yet. However, I went through a period of obsessively watching the trailer of the film that was released in 2012, and its velocity and breadth gave me shivers – as well as the inclusion of the haunting m83’s ‘Outro’. I like the notion that all humans are linked together by even so much as a thin thread, a passing in the street, one look, one name, one moment. And I liked fitting together the clues, like one big jigsaw or puzzle or a tapestry, the image of which is slowly revealed, stitch by stitch.

Resolutions

December 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Happy Christmas! I am currently in Dublin which has been a lovely change from Scotland; although, it has resulted in the consumption of far too much food. I would not blame Ryanair if they told me I was over the baggage limit – definitely carrying a wee excess since my arrival.

It is not only a time to stuff ourselves silly, open presents enraptured (whether you have a sack-full or one wee thing under the tree) and generally be thankful for our lovely friends and family. It also brings about the idea of a new year looming; a fresh start starts soon. Every year I think of my new year’s resolutions; every year they are pretty much exactly the same thing: get a boyfriend; lose weight; be successful. I think last year I was a little less specific and told myself to seek happiness (clearly I was in a sentimental mood). I think I have achieved two out of three of these resolutions, in some roundabout way or other, whether deliberately or accidentally (apparently dissertations are great for weight loss so small that I couldn’t really notice). We’ll ignore the boyfriend thing…

Anyway, forget this year – being of a rather pensive and internal temperament, thinking of the future is quite important. One of the biggest (or smallest – I’m not sure) changes I can make is to stop reading the Daily Mail TV & Showbiz. I haven’t migrated to their news section (yet) but reading their TV & Showbiz section is not healthy. Usually I read the title, skip the story due to its being poorly written and head straight to the comments which are always funny and often reflect my own views e.g. “Leave the poor woman alone/this is invasive/no one cares”. These are my exact thoughts; yet I find myself on their website, almost daily. Its effect isn’t instantly felt; but I often wonder how nourishing these scathing dissections of ‘celebrities’ lives and bodies can be for my own life and body. Truly – who does care? In short, if I stop reading the Daily shite on that website, then perhaps it will free up some more time to focus on myself and my own… development, basically. All of that time spent on vapid, vacuous websites could (and will) be spent reading James Joyce. So, that is resolution #1.

The second resolution is to buy a bike. Basically, this will be an attempt to become a bit fitter. I have (sort of) conquered yoga: I enjoy it; and I can remember some of the exercises. But cycling will be a nice thing that I can do to and from the library. Plus, Fife has some beautiful areas, especially that surrounding St Andrews, so I should make the most of it and go off on day-cycles.

Write more. Be more creative through writing. I’m taking a Creative Writing module for my final term in St Andrews, so perhaps this will provide ample opportunity for my creative er, juices to start flowing! And who knows, maybe I’ll post them up on here – what a treat! In fact, this resolution should include posting on my blog far more frequently than I do at the moment…

Learn more French. I want to be fluent which is a challenge – quite a big one, actually; my memory seems to be appalling. Seriously, I cannot retain any interesting fact and go blank when asked a question that, really, I should (and do!) know. That is evidently a sign that my memory is not being worked enough. Ooh, perhaps my final resolution should be to take up Sudoku or something similar. CROSSWORDS! Yes!

In brief, my resolutions are as follows:

1) Stop reading the Daily Mail TV & Showbiz

2) Buy a bike

3) Write more: creative writing; on here; poetry, prose, articles, everything and anything.

4) Learn French (ambitious hope is fluency; realistically, buy CDs and a book – and use them!)

5) Start doing crosswords or Sudoku.

Of course, another resolution shall be to read as much as possible; but, really, that shouldn’t need a bullet-point. Happy New Year! x

Seven Weeks

December 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

Well, it is holiday time for most undergraduates. Hurrah! The new structure of St Andrews’ semester has meant that I receive a whopping seven week Christmas break; pretty jammy. To be fair, most finish at the end of this week or middle of next, so I am one of the lucky few. Whilst such changes have ended in happiness, the actual lead up to now has been less than fun. Numerous Facebook statuses have been published decrying our inhumane treatment; imagine these words being continuously chanted on social media and  in our several news publications – “Bring back Reading Week!!!” The exhaustion, the fall in grades – frankly, the only thing I am dreading more than the obligatory weight-gain over Christmas (nice annual present for me, thanks Santa/my own greed) is receiving my grades back. I’ll try not to dwell on such matters.

Amidst all of this upset raging within this small town on the edge of the East Coast, the rest of the world has been (tumultuously) continuing on; they don’t call this place the Bubble for nothing. I feel as though I have been marooned on an island for months and only now have I been brought back to ‘civilisation’ (e.g. Tom Hanks in ‘Castaway’), blinking furiously in an attempt to adjust my eyes to the ‘real world’. And what should I find but this extremely important article written by the founder of the Everyday Sexism project (http://www.everydaysexism.com/):

 

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/fhm-virgin-and-zoo-australia-the-12-days-of-misogyny-8406231.html

 

Well, okay, so I haven’t exactly been in hibernation this whole time; but this story, in my view, must be read. To some, it may not be as pressing as other issues (North Korea; Syria; Gaza and Israel conflict); but it needs to be addressed. These advertisements were produced through a lack of thought and foresight; but they should not be dismissed. The very fact that they were made thoughtlessly and flippantly suggests the ingrained nature of rape culture, one that I think truly does pervade our current culture. What frightens me most are the responses to these articles, the comments that contain people telling everyone to ‘calm down’ (bit like David Cameron then) and asking ‘what all the fuss is about’. Well, the fuss is necessary. Of course it is true that women are finally treated more equally in society now; it is also true that reverse sexism occurs, with misandry arising. Yet this does not mean that there is no place for feminism. As I have mentioned previously in this blog, Caitlin Moran’s marvellous ‘How to be a Woman’ proves the necessity of feminism in today’s world; furthermore, this article in the Independent reveals the need to address the normalisation of misogyny. Read it, pass it on, take it in. We need to learn from this and it needs to change – who knows how.

The Dissertation is defeated

December 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

Well, it is finally over. The Dissertation is in. I feel a little lost, like there is something missing. For days after handing it in, I kept opening the PDF, skimming my eyes over it pointlessly and somewhat stupidly. Thus far, no mistakes have been noted except for my sudden realisation today (a whole six days after giving it in) that I failed to write my tutor’s name on the cover. I’m sure they will work it out. I know the finished version is not perfect and I am not holding out for a very high mark. Sending it to my parents and my friend Liv (whose dissertation I read over; so I thought I’d redeem the favour) was a good decision because it renewed my enthusiasm and enjoyment of the work. Beforehand I was wallowing in self-pity, considering it with a disdainful eye and truly believing that it was the worst thing I had ever written. But their responses sparked my optimism again; honestly, I am really happy with it. We’ll just see what the markers think… 

I promise this will become more interesting once the holidays begin – as of Monday at 4pm!