I love Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Mysterious Object at Noon. It was given to me by a friend in Singapore, shortly after we had a discussion about the problems of queerness and cinema: Hollywood dramas such as The Kids Are All Right sit strangely because there’s an instinctive aesthetic discomfort with seeing queer characters in a form / genre defined by heterosexual characters. Mysterious Object shows the possibilities of a nationalist cinema and in doing so hints at what is possible for queer cinema. This was on my mind this afternoon when I attended a BBC Writers Room session – a very thoughtful date my housemate took me on – and heard the northern director of the programme, Henry Swindell, speak.
Yesterday Radio 4 broadcast a Women’s Hour special called “the state of welfare” which discussed the current benefits system. I was very disappointed with the terms of the debate because the focus, as ever, is on those who abuse the system and outmoded ideas of how people live their lives.
I met with Selene Daswani, head of business development at Google Asia. I met with her because the night before I’d been struck by something she said about using the resources at her workplace to help with the social justice projects she was interested in. The following week we met for lunch and I got a tour of the google offices as well as good material for what will be the first graphic review I’ve made for a long time. Sketches above. I think I’ll be finished next week. Drawing this has reminded me of why I like comics – so much attention must be paid to organisation, and organisation is hot.
So I hosted Richard Stallman and Louis Ng two days ago. It was a sharing session about activism and it went against all my expectations. I came away with the realisation that there are several kinds of activist (obviously) and that the most curious kind is the individual who cares about a cause to the extent that they are prevented by their own principles from engaging others.
Last week I asked everyone to bring a poem they thought needed a lot of work. They swapped among themselves, spent the week writing feedback, and then, yesterday, presented their thoughts and improvements to the rest of the group. Almost everything I do is coloured by a book I fell in love with over the summer, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Friere, specifically the sections about giving up power. A zine I was reading put it especially well: in a piece entitled “Queers Kissing and Accountability” Shannon Perez-Derby states:
“Often we get power without asking for it and giving away power can feel counter intuitive because it’s something we’re not taught to do, and have almost no models for.”
I’m a bit of a dinosaur. The fact that I am posting this video six months after it was shot proves this. My discomfort with social media means that for the last eight years I have avoided doing much online beyond reading email, blogging in spurts, wasting time on YouTube and scrolling through The Guardian. I have never understood how the internet aids what I do as a writer. It’s an obvious promotion tool, but, so far, it has had little impact on what I actually write. It has been noted that we writers of literary fiction and poetry act as though the internet did not exist, and I think it’s because the model/medium – pen and paper – is still the same, as is the aim – publication. I am aware that this is evidence of a chronic lack of imagination.
Flicking through various poetry books to find ideas for writing makes for eerily familiar reading. Books such as Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and the Teach Yourself: Poetry book all suggest writing more as a way of dealing with the fact that you haven’t written anything. Very like the commentators who suggest that we should spend more money because, in spending too much, the economy has collapsed, but depends on spending to be revived again. I was reading this article, and thought, what about another solution? Isn’t the drive to be creative too limited to the idea of production?
In two days I will don my sub-fusc and jump through the biggest hoop of my academic career: I’ll spend a week writing exams in the morning, then revising in the afternoon, all the time wondering what impact it will have on my life and what will happen when it ends. I know what will happen, of course.
First, I will write up a very long Letter to Potential Applicants, a piece I’ve been thinking about for some time and which will (hopefully) be a useful addition to all the stuff written about Oxford. I am both fascinated and repulsed by my education, unlike Zadie Smith who managed to get over any issues of entitlement / inferiority very quickly. I suspect there are others who have not yet arrived who will be especially prone to this dilemma, so I’m writing for them. Second, I will devote all my time and energy to re-discovering why, exactly, I picked English.
I was up at half past four this morning to get to Shooter’s Hill. There they hold a car boot sale and I’ve never seen such a depressing array of people in my life. I was selling books – good ones. I had Kazuo Ishiguro and Mark Haddon, Orwell and Albom. I was selling them for £1.00, though I was willing to accept 50p in some cases. A woman said she liked Steven King and I recommended ‘Bag of Bones’ for the princely sum of 70p. Her face dropped. Whilst I understood that it was a car boot sale, and it was early in the morning and we were all in a particularly grim corner of Greenwich (about five minutes from where Stephen Lawrence was murdered) – I couldn’t understand the pessimism, the desperation and the petty haggling that was going on. This is a first world country! A couple squabbled over ten pence. I said thirty, they said twenty. I won, hooray for me, but they got away with a pretty good bit of glass that I could have sold elsewhere, in conditions less apt for suicide.
Jackie Kay tonight @ La Danza. If ever there was an example of a performance poet it’s her; she reads so well; she has gravity and presence without being sombre or facetious; her accent is novel; she tells sweet stories about her parents; her set must have been something like an hour long and it didn’t feel like it. During the interval I got speaking to some of Helen’s friends and one asked whether I was a performance poet. I am beginning to reject the title. Reading is as much a performance as having a prop stashed backstage to whip out sentimentally, or metaphorically or ironically. It’s as much a performance as shouting in to the microphone or running around. My point: being on stage is necessarily a performance and Jackie Kay – who is straightforward and curious enough to look at it – does it well.
There was dancing afterwards. I left. On the train home I finished reading ‘Gift Songs’ by John Burnside. It’s been nominated for the Forward Prize and I was asked to do a little review for Culture Wars. I might never have picked it up, but I’m glad it was suggested as it’s a beautiful book. The blurb reads: ‘In his tenth collection, John Burnside begins with an interrogation of the gift song, treating matters of faith and connection, the community of living creatures and the idea of the free church – where faith is placed, not in dogma or a possible credo, but in the indefinable.’ To exemplify:
‘Nobody sees the angel face to face,
it’s mostly induction, a reading of clues and signs
as, after the fact, he remembers the sea as it was
On a specified morning, two or three seasons ago:’
- Le Croisic, I : Sacred
I have been thinking about fiction, literature, the inner life and how making things up is actually mad and ritualistic. I don’t profess any faith when I fill in forms or when I shout at the TV and side with whatever beleaguered atheist is called upon to speak – but I am growing partial to this idea of, not worshipping, but trying to understand (really understand) all the stuff we make up. What for? To paraphrase EM Forster, we’re creatures who spend two thirds of our time in the dark. To flatly state that you only believe in what’s physical (which I have been doing for some time now) is a mistake and the fact of our dreaming should make that apparent.