The Christmas party season is in full swing. I’ve forgotten names, drank too much, jumped on a trampoline, been told secrets, held hands with sweaty strangers (swing dancing), stuttered (kinda a new one) and swapped WIP stories with emerging and published writers.
There’s a lot of pressure to be in the know. To have read everything and to keep up with the trends. To remember what people are working on. To remember who has published what and what I liked in their 2011 catalogues.
And I have a weird identity, nonentity – some kind of writer, known more for her reviews and the fact she pops up everywhere.
People ask me about reviewing books and I say: ‘I’m kind of an accidental reviewer’. I started the blog years ago to talk about my passion, books, to be a part of a community. But the community part can backfire in the talking about books. You feel pressure to read everything everyone you’ve met has written. (And your genuine enthusiam means you want to.) But then you often don’t want to write about it because, well, you’ve met the person. I wrote a very critical review recently and then that very night ended up at a party standing around with representatives of that author, that publisher. I’m still glad I wrote it. It was honest. But as someone who writes fiction, too, it’s always a struggle. I know what a lot of work it is to write a book. Even a short story. I have a long way to go myself.
I really enjoy reading and writing about books. All my reviews are honest and impartial, whether they’re for a magazine or for the blog. However, on the blog I will often choose to just not review a book. If you ask me what I think of it I will tell you. But generally, this space is an extension of my enthusiasm for literature. That said, being enthusiastic means you want the industry to continue to perform at a high standard. Hence, I am aware of having a balance between the enthusiasm and the critical engagement, and providing space for other voices such as with the guest reviews and the interviews.
Standing around at a literary party you can be in a group where 80% of the people around you are working on a novel. My first thought is always that they have been published in better places than me, and I kick myself to send more stuff off (a self-absorbed thought, yes). Then I want to know what their book is about. And most of them sound so good. And I know I’ll continue reading new Aussie fiction (but hopefully more Nabokov, and Yates and the new Michael Cunningham…). So then maybe we talk about how there are too many books
ack, reading is just another cultural consumer dilemma. This is a cycle, too – a striving for balance. And then why am I at this party? It’s not just for the free food and drinks and the nice people. It’s what I’ve been reading about for my thesis. I’m commodifying myself. Even here, now. This somehow inescapable construction of the ‘weird’ identity I described above – a shaky mix of the self and the self-as-who-I-want-to-be-perceived-as-being. And we’re all mixing together shyly revealing some aspects of our true selves by talking about our work, our art, but also putting a box around it (or a cover on it, perhaps).
I have to amp myself up to not think about these things. Strive to be the most genuine in-the-moment version of my liquid self (and adding liquid helps). I really do like people. I really do like their ideas, their passion, their creativity, their philosophies, their politics. I like dancing with strangers. But I like to know them deeper, too, and that is often only achieved through reading their work.
So the pile will continue to grow, and what I have to learn about that, I guess, is just to be okay with the fact I will never get to them all. And to only be in the moment with the current story (the one I am reading and the one I am writing) and do what I try to do at parties, that is, not look up, in case I make eye contact with someone else I want to talk to – hence cutting off or diminishing my attention for the current conversation. It’s about concentration with curiosity allowed and contributing if it enhances connection.
You know I think I’m a bit like George in Bored to Death. Every time Jonathan or someone is doing something he wants to be doing it. ‘I want to do that too’, he says so earnestly. He wants to know and be everything. He finds ideas romantic in a way, but is also easily disappointed by the end of things, or things that end up lacking in meaning – or have diminished in meaning. I want to read and know everything. I want to know everybody and for them to know me – on a real level. So I want to be insightful too, discover new things – share them in a creative and skilful way. Maybe not change things, I’m skeptical about that, but open up people’s eyes to the potential of knowing and of possible improvements. That’s why I draw out other people’s ideas (in reviews and articles), not just my own.
I was a hermit for a fair few months this year. The doctorate and the novel draft, you know? But I think it was a good thing, when you think about all the above. Taking my time with something. Though I did feel some unease about things I missed out on – for example, not sending out any short stories. This ‘fear of missing out’ is very much a part of the contemporary condition. All of my friends experience it. But reading about consumer society and the effects of so much choice (and the responsibilities and even obligations tied up with the concept of ‘freedom’) and deciding this will be a main theme of my work does help to ease those feelings. This year I have taken things slower than the years before – have not taken too much on. For 2011 I will strive for this again (and try and conquer the feelings of guilt and/or ‘missing-outness’).
You may have noticed, too, that the blog became a little less personal this year. It was a combination of things. First of all, I have someone wonderful to talk to every day. Second, I have tried to save introspection for the diary or to convert such explorations into character motivations in fiction and into ideas for the thesis. It was also the case that the blog readership continued to grow and more and more it felt strange to run into people and have them know everything about me. That said, I still ‘overshare’ a tad on Twitter – and I do think the reviews and other content on here reflect my personal take on the world. The ‘personality’ behind the blog will persist. But posts like this will probably be rarer.
I’m not even sure why I began this one, to be honest. I guess it just felt like time to discuss some of these things as I have been discussing them with people at parties over the past couple of weeks. This blog is important to me. It has been good to me. You guys have been good to me. I have this idea that I’ll just keep doing it forever – in some kind of defiance against this naturalisation of obsolescence. I think commitment is in some way the new transgression. Oh, I can see all the underlying things that this blog post is ‘about’ now, but I won’t draw them out. You do that if you like. Let’s just put this up now and let it stand here for this moment in time…