Seriously, I cannot recommend the TED Radio Hour enough.
I’ve got the TED app on my phone, and only this week discovered a ‘listen’ option hiding in the top right corner of my screen. I pressed it. I haven’t looked back.
So whilst I’m brushing off a dusty cooking book from the 1890’s, or picking up a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey with the ends of my fingers (keeping it as far away from me as possible), I’m listening to some pretty awesome intellectuals/CEO’s/directors/writers/artists/psychologists etc discuss how, and in what way, poetry exists or comes into existence, how we have ideas and what inspiration is, how to be happy, or could be happy, or the danger modern living poses to happiness. It’s brilliant.
So, here’s the site for the TED Radio Hour.
But before I go, I want to rattle on about a couple of the talks I’ve been listening too – some of which have appeared on the radio hour, and others that have not (when the radio hour is finished, my phone starts playing seemingly random talks from the TED bank, so I get all sorts of weird things).
Yes yes yes yes yes. But yes isn’t enough, really, so I’ll riff off of it a little.
I make so many mistakes. I make mistakes on a daily basis – but these mistakes are usually made because I want to try something new, or do something in a different way. I think ‘that would be a good idea!’ and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes I’m told before I do it that it’s not a good idea – and I stop, and I think – but I tend to do it anyway. I like to investigate, to explore, and that can be dangerous but also enlightening. I remember an instance recently where I was exploring the relationship between our book listing software at work and Amazon’s. I fiddled, clicked a few things, accepted a few things and then I realised I’d gone wrong. Something had happened that shouldn’t have happened. An email was sent to our account confirming a listing for a book we didn’t have, and apparently there was no way to alter this.
I could have put my hands up there and given in. I didn’t know Amazon’s layout all that well at the time, so if I wanted to fix the problem I’d have to head into unexplored territory. There seemed to be only one solution, and that solution meant that the non-existent book would probably be on overnight, and it was a rare book. A tempting purchase. I made a mistake, I shouldn’t have been doing what I was doing, or I did it wrong. Exploring this unexplored territory might, too, end up being a mistake. At the end of the day, it wasn’t, and all of us in the office learn’t something new about the relationship between our software and Amazon’s.
That’s not to say that my mistake was necessary to the discovery of this relationship, but something was discovered. It could also have been a great deal more serious; but a bit of common sense meant that it wasn’t. It made sense when you realised the way in which Amazon’s system was trying to manage a sellers products, but in order to understand the way in which Amazon is communicating, you have to poke it with a stick, or nudge it with your shoulder.
And Robinson’s views concerning the way in which we are steered clear from the creative arts, or feel as if we should steer clear, I found myself nodding along to too. I remember in my final year in Aber trying to decide whether I wanted to do an MA, and if I did, what should I study? I was torn. ‘I want to write’ I’d say, to my tutor, ‘but I know so many people want to write, and that, if I were to study creative writing at MA level then it limits the jobs available to me’. Straight English, at the time, seemed a better option (though, I don’t think there’s a great deal of difference now, really). As for stigmatization, again, there was a great amount of that at High School, and probably still is.
This lends itself to something I’ve found myself thinking a great deal about recently. I’m done with university (for the time being) and now I find myself looking back, thinking critically, about my education, about the nature of institutions themselves, and about how my courses were taught. One particular difficulty is that of the portfolio, or, more specifically, the commentary that can be found at the end of the work. It’s a sort of semi-essay, a place where the writer is encouraged to talk about the themes that can be found in the poems/stories, how they were written, what sort of styles were used, essentially: how they came to be. And I hate this. I hate this because I have no idea. They say, that after writing when you look back at your work you can see how it came to be formed. Perhaps the baby in the poem is the baby your friends mother had two weeks before you wrote it, perhaps the rain in the background came from a film you watched, and ‘just sort of’ turned up in your work, unconsciously. You can do this, certainly, but there are two things I always ask myself; ‘where does it end?’ and ‘why does it matter?’.
Where does it end?
I remember being told (or reading) about an essay that focussed on one of Keats’ poems (I think it was ‘To Autumn’) in relation to the Peterloo Massacre. The author argued that Keats always had a good grasp of current events, and that he would know that the Peterloo Massacre had taken place. So, why didn’t he write a poem about it? They argued that a particular poem – one of the many concerning nature, and the feminine form – was really Keats’ way of talking about the massacre. It was this whole idea of absence as presence. It’s not-being-there reinforced it’s existence, in the same way that the Other dictates the existence of the Same (and vice versa). I’d often wonder where interpretation could end, and would then wonder what my poems were trying to say. Were there unconscious elements there? Could I ever know? Would I have to be outside myself to recognise them? And yet, I knew there were some choices I’d definitely made, but, these were usually silly decisions. ‘I want to write a poem about cake’, or ‘hmmm, that piece of a conversation I heard from a couple the other day might be a good way in to a poem’. I think ‘I’ll drop the line here’ but I don’t think ‘I’ll drop that line here because it creates a sense of despondency within the text that mirrors the narrators…’ blah-d-blah-blah. I write, it seems, and it’s like I am not myself. Like I am or am trying to be that which I write. I walk around my room and talk to myself to feel the way the words feel in my mouth, and then I pick the words I find most suitable for the occasion. I can say ‘I tried to imagine how a ‘blah blah’ felt like’ but that doesn’t seem to be enough – it doesn’t do justice to the action itself, because I could write a paragraph here and now about how something feels, in my opinion, and it probably wouldn’t be worth reading! It would be like I wasn’t really trying to be but was being inauthentically.
So what to do? I can’t reflect on my writing process easily, and yet I have to write about it. What do you do? Panic, mostly! But when I’ve calmed down, I do this odd thing where I try to take myself as far away from the text as possible, and criticise it academically. I pick up some of the books in my room, and think about the connections between those and my poems – connections that may be there, or may be not. I project an academic understanding onto my poems, an understanding that is, or was, entirely divorced from the act of creating the poems. People ask me ‘what does this poem mean?’ and I can say some things about it, can circle some areas, and can compile images. I can talk about the poem in relation to my own life, or the events around the poem, but in reality I am neither sure of the meaning of the poem, and nor do I want there to be one. I want people to feel the spaces between the words, to feel the words themselves, and to live through them without needing a map, or a guide. You read until you find a way in – something that interests you – in the same way that you might find a conversation with someone meaningless, or uninteresting until you find something in common, and then the whole thing flips.
Why does it matter?
I went and watched Samsara last week. It’s an awesome film, a really awesome film, and I came out of the cinema thinking about how beautifully shot the whole thing was. I thought it brilliant, and I was happy! I didn’t want to know how it was shot, or why. I didn’t want to know what the director was trying to say, really (though I had picked up on some strong movements). I just had seen it, and had enjoyed it playing in front of me. It was a rare audio/visual experience, and I appreciated it for that. That’s all it needed to be, for me, at that point in time. I couldn’t really talk about it afterwards, and I still don’t think I could now – it feels too soon. I haven’t had time to reflect on it, but if I had, I’m not sure I could be confident in my interpretation of the film because I feel like I would be projecting onto it a meaning that may not exist. That’s not to say that the projection is invalid, as I’d argue that through the act of projecting we learn something about ourselves and about art itself, but that it’s not about the projection. It is about the process of projecting.
So then, what is the connection between projecting and creating? Interpreting and creating? What is their relationship to one another?
I hope to formulate some thought later… in another post in the near future!
The bit where Fisher says something like ‘enormous risks for huge gains and huge losses’ and ‘no wonder people suffer and we have so many crimes of passion’ I couldn’t help but think of the difficult involved for those who love others who do not, perhaps, love them back. Whilst Fisher discusses the feelings of those who have recently broken up, and the opinions of those that have turned down suitors who have admitted love for them; when they did not love them in return, the issue of unrequited love takes a back seat for the rest of the talk (understandably – the talk isn’t about unrequited love, but it would have been interesting to examine that further).
And when these two quotes popped up; ‘enormous risks for huge gains and huge losses’ and ‘no wonder people suffer and we have so many crimes of passion’ I couldn’t help but muse on the tragedy of someone taking these risks in a situation of unrequited love, or performing a crime of passion when the love was only one sided. I found myself reflecting on that idea of ‘fighting’ for someone’s love, or affection, and how disgusting – in an odd way – that idea is. If you are fighting for someone’s love, then it seems to me that that person you are fighting for doesn’t love you at all.
It seems to me that the only time you’d need to feel that you have to fight for someone’s love would be when they do not love you back. If they do not love you back, then there is little point in fighting, because even if you ‘won’ (which is silly anyway, fighting results in pain on both sides) you’d simply end up in an unbalanced relationship. Maybe that person would grow to love you, but I find that idea of love ‘growing’ also unsettling. It seems too much like ‘making do’, or ‘settling’ – which doesn’t sit well with the whole idea of ‘passion’.
Situations are difficult, variable, and complicated of course, but it seems to me that love is like a jigsaw puzzle. It either fits, or it doesn’t, and it is an equal (or near equal) coming together of two pieces. You can squeeze the wrong pieces together – sure – but then the pieces find themselves under a pressure unnatural to them. The images don’t fit together. The pieces become bent and are no longer themselves. It is not love, then, but delusion. Love does not then have space to develop, or to overcome problems in a relationship.
It’s like that idea of ‘going on holiday’. Again, I find it disgusting. The idea of going on holiday only reinforces the fact that everyday life is not a holiday – that maybe you are not enjoying the job you find yourself in, that things are not as you would like them to be. That you need to escape your own life and enjoy yourself for two weeks because you’re not enjoying yourself now.
If you’re fighting for someone’s affection, for someone’s love, then I think something’s wrong.
Anyway, more later!