Archive for the ‘cliche’ category

Pessimists: Saviours of Civilization

Monday, 29 December 2008

I’ve been intending to write this post for awhile; again, my excuse for being so crap at blogging is that I’ve been very, very dedicated to writing my book. More on that some other time. Right now, I want to talk about the soul-destroying monster that is optimism.

I was talking to The Beholder about my previous post – how I derived comfort from Bill Bailey’s thoughts on the futility of all human endeavour – and TB made an interesting observation. He said he felt the real difference between optimists and pessimists was in how they each look at life. It’s a twist on the old glass is half-full or half-empty thing I’ve not considered before. Optimists look at their life (or their glass) and think how much worse things could be, while pessimists yearn for more, for better things. It made me wonder; are optimists complacent? Could they be the downfall of civilisation?

A few years ago, some scientists went looking for the happiest people on earth. Sounds like a quest from a novel, I know, but it’s true. According to their methodology, Buddhist monks are the happiest, most content, least stressed members of the human race. As I understand it, they achieve this glorious state by yearning for nothing. Longing for material things, for the love or adulation of others, for fame, for power; all these things just make you sad. If you can put these desires aside, you can be happy.

But can you be joyous?

I think not. I think to know real joy, you have to also know real despair. Creativity is unlikely to spring from the mind that yearns for nothing. Contentment may be the death of striving. It is the pessimist, unhappy and longing for a better world, who drives invention, revolution, change. Optimists may be too darn happy with things the way they are.

Fifty percent capacity is not half-full; it’s half-empty, and if you want better things in life, go find the other fifty percent. Want more. Yearn for change. The world isn’t ready for everyone to sit back and give a contented sigh at a job well done

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Potassium and caffeine

Thursday, 17 April 2008

One of a writer’s many hurdles is self-doubt, often manifesting in the form of a voice that asks “What do you have to write about anyway? What makes you think you’ve anything even remotely interesting to say?” It’s a fair question. I’ve wondered about the answer for a long time. I went to a workshop recently, hoping to find at least part of a strategy I could use next time the voice of my self-doubt piped up. Sadly, I left none the wiser. Then, over coffee and a banana, I started writing the draft for this blog entry and the answer came to me.

If I don’t believe I have anything worthwhile to say, why do I even bother breathing in and out?

This is not a world where only a select few are capable of capturing in words, paint, song, or whatever other medium you care to name, something that has meaning or impact for someone else. It doesn’t take intelligence or finesse; it need not be something that strikes at the core of millions. One person can, by attempting to express themselves in some way, make a profound difference to at least one other person in the world. That difference may last only a heartbeat and be forgotten before the next dawn. It might be a negative thing, an unwitting act, a great and wonderful gift. It doesn’t matter. An insect has the power to make me stop and stare. I’ll hold my breath to marvel at a thundercloud, smile at a rainbow, feel my heart lift at the sound of a wren singing in the backyard. It’s the same when I hear a new song on the radio, or an old one from our CD collection. Sometimes a painting or photograph impresses the hell out of me, and nothing – nothing at all – rivals a good book.

The wide, wide world of the world-wide web is so vast, populated and overwhelming that an ordinary blog written by someone living an ordinary life can seem like a waste of time. I’ve thought so for a while now, and I’ve started to feel the same way about my photographs, my jewellery-making, my life. Maybe it’s just the unlikely combination of banana and a large flat white for lunch, but I’ve had a complete turnaround. What’s more, I’ve realised that even if I loved writing for nothing more than the act of doing it, I should keep blogging. If I left my draft for this entry in my notebook – seen by no one but me – it would be like I wanted it kept secret. Like I was ashamed of it. As long as I’m going to keep inhaling and exhaling, I’m going to keep writing. And yes, I’m going to keep trying to get my work into print too; that’s not something I know how to let go of. That means I have to find a kind of common ground with a complete stranger – an agent, an editor, a potential reader browsing the bookshelves – but by common, I don’t mean bland or so broad in appeal that all appeal is lost. I won’t try to imagine what others want; that’s an impossible quest. Who does the artist slave over a canvas for? Does the photographer think of anyone else at the moment they hit the shutter button?

Who do writers write for?

I’ll always hope someone else will like what I do, but I’ll be writing for me. 

Biscuit Time

Thursday, 31 January 2008

It’s been a while, yes, but not because I’m a slacker. There’s an inverse relationship between my blog entries and my progress toward completely revising my 160,000 draft. In fact, I’m more than half-way along with more than half the time I have left to complete it. This means I can sit here and type up a blog entry while the description ‘slacker’ rolls off my shoulder like beer sliding off a salted biscuit.

See how I avoided a cliché trap there? No, I haven’t actually tested whether droplets of beer roll off the salt-encrusted surface of a biscuit, but I’m guessing they might.

I recently submitted the first 50 pages of the manuscript to another competition. As part of preparing the submission, I had to do something that still leaves me feeling a little…well, dirty is too strong a word. Let’s say it felt wrong. About a year ago, we bought a little laser printer so I could produce nice, clean, smudge-proof submissions of manuscripts, letters, application forms, etc. A few months ago, it started putting a tiny mark on every page. This mark appears four or five times in a vertical line about one third of the way across from the left-hand side.  

It’s shaped very like a comma, or an apostrophe.  

It often coincides with the text in a way that makes me look a little overenthusiastic with my punctuation. Yes; a git. 

I followed the brief maintenance instructions that came with the printer; the spot remained. The printer’s oh-so-helpful manual suggested I needed to buy either a new toner cartridge, or possibly a new drum. With the competition deadline closing in, I went off to our local office supplies superstore and found the replacement parts I needed. 

When we bought the printer, we paid about one hundred and fifty dollars (Australian, that is). 

A new toner cartridge was priced at ninety-nine dollars. I weighed it in my hand. A little voice (and by that, I mean The Beholder) spoke in my ear; “What if that doesn’t make the blob go away? What then?” 

I put the toner cartridge back on the shelf and considered the drum unit. I looked at the price – two hundred and twenty dollars! – and, reeling, hoped TB would catch me before I hit the lino. Luckily I recovered because he wasn’t there. 

He was in the next aisle pointing at a brand new laser printer. Price: eighty-eight dollars. 

Eighty-eight dollars! Eleven dollars cheaper than a new toner cartridge! Faster and smaller than the printer we already had and so much cheaper!

Well, I moaned and I railed and I said “This isn’t right!” and “Has the world gone mad!” and a few other indignant clichés. Meanwhile, TB marched me to the counter, bought the new printer, put us both in the car and drove us home. The slightly dysfunctional printer was set to one side; the new, sleeker (cheaper!) one was installed in its place. With barely a whisper, it produced nice, clean, smudge-proof and blot-free pages of my manuscript, which I packaged up and sent away. 

I still don’t feel right about it.

The scientist in me insists I now go and test the hydrophobic properties of savoury biscuits. Do excuse me…