Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What is Love? (¿Amor? Qué es?)

Came across this...

  • Goodreads's Quote of the Day: Love is an abstract noun, something nebulous. And yet love turns out to be the only part of us that is solid, as the world turns upside down and the screen goes black. Martin Amis
  • An article in Psychology Today (here).
  • An article on 'Inner Marriage' in PT (here).
As a storyteller I'm all 'about' human relationships, and I admit that love is right up there within my scope of interest. Way I see it, most other stuff we do is pretty much bullshit. If we don't love living and preferably also at least one other person, and if we don't love these with a passion bordering on 'consuming', then what's the point of it all?

The only reason why 'life' is at the top of the list is, of course, that without it we couldn't love anyone else, or ourselves for that matter. On the other hand, loving another person tends to make us love life more, because it adds an obvious meaning to it. At least that's how I see it.

I think it's safe to say that much—most! almost all!—of what has been said and written about what love is, is bullshit. But I think that Martin Amis may have touched on something in that first quote. s 'love' is indeed just (as the song goes) a four-letter word; and in other languages it is another word, or maybe many words, or maybe just a grunt, or maybe the language doesn't even have a word for it (whatever 'it' is, in this case whatever we call 'love'). But when we experience it, it is hyper-real to those experiencing it—and I'm talking about all the varieties of it, ranging from the romantic kind to the love felt by a parent for their offspring (well, most parents, or so one would hope).

What I ask myself though is this: do we need language to have 'love'? I mean, do we have to have a tool for propositional thought—of which a language capable of propositions is one, and there may be no others, though that may just be my limited propositional scope, imposed by the limitations of 'language'—in order to actually experience 'love'. And is love different with people who think in other languages, and who have not only a different cultural context, but also different tools for propositional thought?

'Love' (and it's other-language equivalents) may be the most confusing concept(s) ever constructed and given a label by the human mind. The fact that almost all languages, and certainly all the dominant ones, have a term for this...whatever it is...could have been caused by history and intermingling of peoples. But it could also be an indication that there was a void in our human concept space that needed to be filled by some symbolic representation. And so, 'love' is kind of a placeholder for something that, in its manifold nature, we simply don't understand.

Have a look at the last article in the list above. It's a bit of narcissist claptrap that seems to me to be very indicative of the bullshit of our times (and other times as well, when you really think about it, only it was phrased a bit differently). I find it hard to believe that anybody with more than one neuron interacting with another can actually conceive of this kind of crap. What it all boils down to is this sentence at the end:

"...the need for a romantic partner wanes as the inner marriage approaches consummation, and harmonious relationships turn out to be a byproduct of this larger process."

This 'inner marriage' is supposed to be the union between the 'male' and 'female' part of our psyches, which is thought of as the ultimate goal of personal development—implying, apparently that personal development culminates in a lack of any need for a romantic partner to complete oneself. Relationships—'harmonious' ones, just like the one we're supposed to have achieved between our internal male and female selves—thus end up as a 'byproduct' of a 'larger' process.

Put plainly, this is pure narcissicm, period.

Unfortunately, it's a way of thinking that's widely accepted and built into a lot of pop-psychology and culture, and not just the 'western' variety.

There are a number of variations upon the theme of 'inner harmony', not just the conflicting-gender ones. Most come from religious traditions. Buddhism is one obvious and explicit example. Judaism and its perpetually-warring offsprings, Christianity and Islam are others. All the major religions, however, have at their core some notion that 'harmony' between conflicting aspects of one's being, or between one's being and some imagined deity, is and should be the ultimate goal of any personal development. And the conclusion, that in consequence human relationships will also end up harmonious, is almost invariably tacked on.

Of course, it gets out of hand here and there, because said 'harmony' is often considered to be achievable only by, for example, convincing others to think the same as oneself, and never mind how that is done.

The point I'm trying to make here—if a 'point' there is, and this isn't just some free consciousness flow thing—is that maybe we're tackling this all wrong, and romantic relationships are one obvious way of understanding this. I think that romantic relationships are a manner of completing ourselves by way of connecting to someone who provides that completion. There are a lot of aspects to that 'completion' and nobody says that, in any given relationship it will last. Indeed, transience is a frequent hallmark of 'romance'. But we don't require permanence to accept that completion may indeed come through a joining with others in a romantic relationship, which is the most intense form of 'relationship' that I, myself, can imagine. And I cannot conceive of any form of spiritual auto-eroticism that will ever come close to the completion I've felt and feel as the result of loving someone romantically.

Maybe it's just my limited capabilities for internal self-satisfaction, but I cannot see how spiritual auto-eroticism, and the spiritual orgasms found in states like religious ecstasy, can in any way compare to those of a satisfying and loving sexual encounter. I know, "it's all in the head", and, yes, that's no doubt true. But a connection with a real other human being, including all one's senses—for we are 'sensual' beings—and involving our bodies as well as our minds, must ultimately be more 'complete', if you will, than spiritual jerking off.

We are social beings and, all the so-called 'wisdom' of all those wise men—for men they usually were—over the ages, who told and keep telling us us that the mind ('soul', whatever) is greater and more significant than the body, to my, possibly limited, mind is just so much bullshit from people who actually lack some basic understanding of what 'human nature' really is. They've been carrying the flag of 'harmony' for a long time, and using that banner to try and lead us into a world that is ultimately solitary—though it may have a union with some imagined deity that may or may not be entirely benign, and often is just plain childish and very very narcissistic, as all monotheist deities are!—and very, very empty, because it is populated by just one.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The long and the short of it

OK, so I'm somewhat more sociable now that I've finished the first draft of a previously unfinished novel. Didn't know how long it was going to be, but it ended up over 100k words, which was more than I had expected.

This story started off as a romance with no particular plot except the beginning. Reason for that was that I just wanted to write a novel that was a romance and clearly and without doubt had everything else tacked onto it as 'context', the framework within which whatever happens between two people plays out. If I had been Nora Roberts, which I'm not, I would have had this book with half again the length, with all the backstory, which was revealed during the course of the novel, actually played in real-(story)-time, as it were.

Come to think about it, I might just go back and, in a few months or so, and revisit the whole tale and do it that way, rather than starting it in what, in relationship terms, is the last quarter or so on the way to the denouement. But sometimes you have to let first drafts rest for a while, so they can mature in your head. At least you've got the story down—and at 100k words it's a solid tale—and that gets the obligation toward your characters out of the way. You haven't left them in the lurch, but you've accompanied them to a place whence they can proceed on their own and without your helping hand.

Taking backstory-exposition out of the novel would reduce it by anything up to 4k words max, but there's at least 20k words, and probably more, in the telling of the back-story itself.

As I said, thinking about it. Right now I'm content.

Back to writing romance. It's been suggested to me several times that, if I really wanted to make a living out of writing fiction, hell, why don't I write for a market with a wide guaranteed readership: romance fiction.

Reason is, I can't. M&B or anything that's soaked in syrupy stereotypical 'romance' formula just doesn't cut it with me. Can't read that stuff. Give me a bucket. I'm not knocking it, but it's for other people to tell. Besides, I hate anything that smacks of imposed formula. If I want to write stereotypes, I'd like to write them my own way.

I admit that I can consume a fair amount of Nora Roberts, but I have to choose carefully from the mass of books she's written or I get the drowning-in-girl-syrup sensation again. And the sexual 'feasting' and 'crushing lips' metaphors are getting a bit tiresome after a while. Also, I do have issues with exactly the same story told just in different settings, with displays of erudition on particular activities taken on by the female characters replacing variability in the romantic tales. Cleverly done, I admit, but I tend to skim-read over the excessive details of said activities to get to the bits that I'm interested in, which don't have to do with displays of how competent females can be in their chosen professions and how they can do anything guys can do. I know that, because, like that other great admirer of female competence, the late Robert Heinlein, I suspect that women are the stronger sex.

Right now I'm reading Chasing Fire, which ostensibly is all about smoke jumpers (though it really is all about sex and the get-to-marriage game), and it has some appreciated tweaks on the male-female relationship angle, but there's still a rhythm in the sequence of how things happen that's a repeat of quite a few other Nora Roberts novels I've read—and I'm very selective about which I spend time with and would like to think that these are the less stereotypical ones.

There's got to be a way to do this better; though obviously it satisfies the public, because NR sells a shitload of books—and good on her, by the way, because she tells good stories, and by and large they have good female role models in them. And Chasing Fire even describes sex by people over the age of 55, which is pretty daring.

So, my practice-romance, which isn't like your normal romance—if only because it's written by a straight male, who will usually try to hide in some way that he's writing a romance because that's really a girly thing, right?—may still have some time to go before it's finished. As usual, I'm doing a Terry Goodkind and packing a lot of general life-philosophy into it, without overloading it and making it tedious. It's a fine balancing act.

Oh, yes, and almost all of the last 2/3 of this novel, whose title is Your Choice (how absurdist can you get?) were written on the train to (usually) and from (occasionally) my day-job. Since I have a 50-60 minute train ride to my work, that's usually a long-enough period to get something down. I was working it out the other day: an average of 800 words per trip.

Same goes for this blog, by the way. Started at 05:35h and finished at 06:15, and it's over 800 words.

So, there's a lesson here for those who claim not to have any 'time' to write. It can be done. You can surely find the 45 minutes to hammer out those 800 words. Or maybe just 500? Who cares? 500 words every weekday, that's 2,500 words per week, 10,000 words per month and a dazzling 120,000 words a year. If you manage 1000 (at the other end of the productivity scale, and by the time this trip on the train is done I will have written closer to 1000 than 800 words) we're talking 20,000 words a month and a 100k word novel in a mere five months.

Writing novels part time is doable, and don't you forget it. It doesn't have to be a masterpiece, but everything you write has the potential, upon re-visitation (and rewriting if necessary) to become salable. Better to write the not-so-great novel than not to write at all, wouldn't you say?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Back to "Who Owns the Story"

The topic isn't finished and never will be. Just read an article on the deviantart website, which raised the topic again.

Some of the comments triggered what you might call a 'desire for a public response', and here it is.

The comments:

"In the modern day, where interaction on a global level happens in seconds, involving the audience while a work is in progress seems to be the best way to ensure success, so long as the writer makes an effort to consider all of the feedback they get, in addition to considering what story they intend to tell themselves."

and

"People who create to be consumed would care about pleasing the audience, people who are consumed by their creation quite frankly care only to please themselves."

and

"Writers have editors, but who says the editors can't be the audiences themselves? If I were writing a story mostly for my own enjoyment, then I have no obligations to please the audience. However, if I am creating something with the main purpose of marketing to the masses, then my work should reasonably meet their expectations, and the best way to do that would be to listen to their opinions."

I am very passionate about storytelling: as an activity (I am addicted to it like a smoker to his cigaret, and one of the reasons why I haven't blogged recently is that I'm about to finish the first draft of a 100k-word novel; always a delicate time); as a tradition that has been instrumental in shaping human civilization, culture and the very structure of the human mind; and as an art-form (yeah, I know, I hate the much-abused word 'art' myself, but I can't find a better term right now).

What I want to add to what I already said here is this:

I have no respect for people who prostitute themselves for the sake of 'success'. I refuse to become one of them. If it means that I shall not have 'success', so be it. At least I still have my integrity and my pride.

I've been taken to task about this by people I know and who thought they were making helpful suggestions about how to further my 'career' as a writer or film-maker. Some of these people are close to me and really wanted to help me with this, because they know how I feel about storytelling—and how much I would have loved to make this into my main source of income, rather than working in paid employment jobs that, at best, I endure (and happen good at!), but get no real pleasure or satisfaction out of. I'd rather be at home and write, and maybe learn the difficult skill of visual storytelling as well (I admire 'pictorial' storytellers!) or make movies. Or something along those lines.

It's a choice, I know, and I'll never end up economically secure by telling stories through whatever medium happens to come along. That's a tough one to learn to live with, but these days—or is it just making a grim reality into a virtuous one?—I wear it with pride, and I can live with that. I'm not sure I could have lived with the alternative, knowing deep down that I did prostitute myself; that my stories were fabricated from recipes imposed by the requirements of success, industry, public demand, etc. With my skills, mind you; but still, if the stories and characters don't come from the heart and yourself—if you're not, as that one commentator cited above wrote, you weren't "consumed by [your] creation"—then what's the bloody point? You'd be just another flunky-for-hire by people who, despite their PR-department designed public pronouncements, don't give a shit about the story, but just want to make money.

Yeah, I know. You gotta be realistic.

But you also have to make choices.

And consider this: no good story has ever come out of a fucking committee. The ones that really grab us are almost universally created by sole individuals, who had it somewhere inside them and needed to get it out.

Yes, the energy ultimately has to flow from the creator to an audience, but for it to even qualify as truly 'interesting' it needs something that no 'public feedback' can ever provide. For the public is about the worst and most destructive and unproductive 'committee' you can possibly get. And exactly because of that, and since they are also the ultimate recipients of your story, you actually owe it to them not to allow them to force you into creating shit; and instead to remain (here's another overused word, but I use it with the greatest respect) 'authentic'. Remain yourself. And maybe—is this heresy right now and in the current climate?—not listen to what they are saying say.

But let me tell you: sometimes prostitution looks like a very, very tempting alternative. There's this sneaky voice that whispers sweet rationalizations about why it really isn't prostitution and how you can make this work in your favor. And I know all the arguments for and against. And ultimately it always comes down to the Absurdist's favorite word:

Choice.

Sometimes I hate choice.