the tamago report

Eggs benedictated

Month: July, 2013

Ten things 20-something writers don’t get

by MDY

1. Everyone has a Most Productive Hour. This is the time during which your prose sings without effort. Taking advantage of this time-zone is not always easy. Mine, for example, is between 4 and 5-am.

2. Oxygen is “dangerous”. Some inventor personalities believe that reducing the flow of oxygen to the brain enhances the creative processes. I swim to come up with new ideas because it forces me to focus on my breathing, but do not condone asphyxiation for art’s sake.

3. Hotel pens are the best. It’s not like you can afford a stationery budget on your pay grade, anyway.

4. Conference pens are second best. They tend to splinter if you grip them too hard.

5. Long-form narrative. Is an attitude, not a word-count. Minimalism is all the rage with fiction these days, but you need a special calibre of persistence and perversion to write an epic.  Tolstoy, Homer, and the 12 Disciples didn’t tweet their way to fame.

6. You cannot beat Hemingway at his own game.

7. Bad dreams are healthy. They expunge the dark by-products of the imagination and sometimes inspire new threads of story.

8. Haikus do not count as part of your “creative portfolio”. See #5. Unless they’re calligraphed onto stone, or the side of a famous building.

9. Pulp fiction isn’t trash. I love the science fiction canon of the mid-20th century, and I respect Paullina Simons for making me want to slap Alexander out of his self-sacrifical hubris. Did you know that Arthur C. Clarke’s name encircles the entire planet? A lot of people diss J.K. Rowling for ripping off Tolkien, Lewis, et al, but the same people chortle at what Tom Stearns said about poetic larceny. Read a lot, and get good.

10. You’re nothing special, and yet you are. Everything you write takes you a little closer to your own voice. Your only competition should be your last work. Write not for fame and glory, but because you must and can.


Writing with Feeling

by MDY

Hemingway has no heart. You get the suspicion he always cared more for the words than what they meant: “The first draft is always shit”. Technical mastery, yes, but no heart. It’s hard to write memorably without one or the other, unless you are Hemingway.

The difference between me and a carpenter is what trees we use. I’m inclined to reserve my judgement for the composition of a work, perhaps because it’s far less shameful to puncture than sentiment itself. “Human condition…is this really necessary?” We’re cowards who hide behind our craft.

Sometimes I forget about my reader. A work of masterful technique will make me purr with cleverness, but it’s the old verities put simply – love, honour, pity, et c – which she’ll remember. And remembrance is we crave, we who write. We’re cowards who hope to never die. 

The Job Delusion

by MDY

I don’t have a dream job. I sometimes think I would’ve been an excellent electrician, except my fingers are clumsy (particularly when cold in winter) and my father always discouraged me from becoming an engineer from first-hand experience. I used to joke in high school that I had no ambition. My gift is not one which lends itself easily to professional designations.

In letters to his patron Maecenas, the Roman poet Horace alludes to the necessary separation of otium (“leisure” is an approximate translation) to its literal antithesis negotium (“business” or “responsibilities” in a more or less professional sense). I’m no longer familiar with the specifics – this knowledge stems from high-school Latin, after all – but the gist of the correspondence is that a person will derive most happiness from keeping business and pleasure as distinct as possible, to avoid corrupting one with concerns of the other. Maecenas was offered up as a good example of this: a politically influential entrepreneur by day, he would dedicate his nights to holding literary salons replete with fresh poetry, wine, and bro-fisting. If you were to represent Maecenas’ social circles as a Venn diagram, the intersection would be the Empty Set or its asymptotic equivalent (O ∩ n-O ≈ ∅). I wonder what Horace would have written about work/life balance (O ∩ n-O ≈ {webmail, kids interrupting conference calls, …}).

In my current line of work, we often talk about “managing expectations”. Is it a compromise if you fall in love with what you do only after you’ve started doing it? I find my current line of work to be interesting, and the people with whom I work to be more salubrious than average. This, to me, is the epitome of job satisfaction. I’m one of the lucky ones, but I also believe in making my own luck. My gift is not one which lends itself easily to professional expectations. Things have worked out well for me and my dichotomy of neg/otium. But if they don’t, there’ll always be wires which need fixing.

(The intersection between and B)