Friday 31 December 2010

Looking for a List

Sometimes it's a disadvantage that the White Books are undated and miscellaneous. I don't even know where I keep them or how many there are. They're scattered around my flat, on bookshelves and in boxes.

Around this time last year, I sat down with Roderick in the Lord Clyde (my excellent local) and made a list of potential projects for 2010. There were about a dozen things on the list, including (so far as I remember) things like 'Radio Impro' and 'My Show My Rules'. This morning I've been hunting for that list, hoping to prove to myself that very few of those ideas came to fruition. Why would I do that? To torture myself? No. I'd do that because 2010 was nonetheless a very busy year, with plenty of shows and new opportunities that I couldn't possibly have anticipated. And the fact that I'm currently drawing a blank on what I'll be doing in 2011 doesn't mean that my Pocket Diary will remain a bleak snowscape of barren tundra. In short, the list doesn't matter.

I'm looking for a list which I hope will prove its own irrelevance. But I can't find it, so I'll never know. Welcome to my world.

The major advantage of the White Books is that it's impossible not to stumble across all sorts of things I wasn't looking for, especially things I have no recollection of writing. And the unstructured, random and contextless scraps of text have a strange kind of beauty to them. For example, here's an undated list I made at some point in the last two or three years:

Philip Larkin x
Erotic (scary)
All the peas

I assume these are things that all came up in an impro workshop or show, but who knows? It's sometimes better to forget the context, isn't it? As a bit of poetry, the list is far more evocative and meaningful than anything I might have sweated over using my brain. Browsing through the White Books I've also found a few ideas I scribbled down that could form the basis of the beginnings of an outline of a plan of an idea of a scheme for a project that I might resurrect next year. Or not. Or at least something to write about.

Wednesday 29 December 2010

By Way of an Introduction...

I've decided to start writing a blog, because I thought I would like to write down some of the things I think in such a way as other people might like to read them. I am no stranger to writing about myself. In fact, I write about myself more than I write about anything else. The main ways I already write about myself are:

1. My Diary
I have kept a diary for the past twenty years. It consists of a series of 9 x 7 inch black ruled notebooks, bought at Ryman. I began writing on Saturday 24 November 1990 with the words: 'I'm feeling odd – mainly depressed. In 9 days time I'll be 16 and I feel as if something needs to be accomplished by then.' and my most recent entry, dated Monday 27 December 2010 begins: 'It's 11am and I'm sitting at Ealing Common station waiting for a Tube to take me home (deterioration of handwriting means one arrived).' I have filled nearly 35 volumes, or 6452 pages. Currently I write an entry every few days, though when I was younger I used to write far more frequently.  I write it solely for myself, so it is the least reliable source of what I am really thinking. Material set down here is a mishmash of lyrical pondering, fear and nostalgia, regret and hope, pointless descriptions, lies, shit, pretentious pseudo-philosophical wittering, depressive outpourings and multi-layered in-jokes. All of it is written fully in the knowledge that the reader will try to decode its real meaning, and that the reader is none other than myself. Hence, reading and writing my Diary are two sides of the same pingpong-like game of feint and bluff, and by playing this game I gamble and trade with the absurdity of self.

2. The London Bulletin
In 2010, I found that keeping my Diary up-to-date about daily events was becoming increasingly difficult, mainly because of a busier schedule. A typical Diary entry would read along the lines of: 'I am currently sitting in Finsbury Park. The sun is threatening to come out and fragments of families are tentatively enjoying the swings. I am anxious about tonight's show, especially after what happened last night. I never got round to telling you what happened the Thursday before last, which briefly depressed me, until I spoke to X on the Saturday, who allayed my fears and mentioned Y, whom I'd like to catch up with soon.' Past, present and future got horribly tangled up with each other, and events were being confused with reactions to events. Where there are events, there are stories, but my Diary was failing to tell these stories. To solve this, I now write a weekly, or fortnightly, newsletter, which purports to set out in a straightforward fashion the actual things that happened, in order. However, this is written not for myself, but for Sophie in Korea. Without her, I would lack both the discipline to sit down and get the narrative written and the compulsion to present it in an entertaining fashion. But the result is spectacularly uneven, scurrilous and misleading. I omit things Sophie has no interest in and censor out things I don't want Sophie to know about; I cast a deliberately negative bias over shows and events I fear Sophie might regret having missed out on; I sometimes beef up gossip with pure speculation, or swap the order of events if it makes for a better story; and I generally portray myself in a glowing light. Sophie understands that what I'm writing isn't entirely 'the truth', yet this colourful version of my life is as much 'the truth' as any other. I could write the London Bulletin as a blog, but the result, told without the seasoning of mischief, gossip and irony that you always get in a private letter, would taste revoltingly bland.

3. The White Books
'Do not judge a book by its cover.' In contrast to the 'Black Books', which constitute my Diary, the White Books are blank books with blank covers, in a range of small sizes. More specifically, they are printers' dummies, which I get from my job in a book publishing company: wood-free paper (counterintuitively, 'wood-free' means the woodier type of paper), case-bound with imitation-cloth-covered boards, head and tail bands, and endpapers. Because the books have no covers, it is impossible to for their contents to be judged, either by the reader or by myself as writer. They contain shopping lists, plans, outlines and drafts, lines from impro shows that have struck me as particularly notable, telephone numbers, titles of books I want to read or ought to read, work-related scribblings, doodles and countless other miscellaneous bits of writing, from the poetic to the mundane. They are the least contrived and most chaotic collections of writing that I do. They are naturally undated, but I keep hold of them and enjoy referring back to them.

4. Facebook Statuses and Notes
I went through a stage in 2009 of using Facebook to cry out my woes during a particularly bleak bit of my life. I don't do that so much any more, partly because I have fewer woes and partly because the repetitive stream of adolescent self-pity began to get on people's nerves. Nonetheless, I'm an expert at using the privacy settings in Facebook, and not everyone sees all my updates. I still use Facebook Notes to publish fragments of texts that I have stumbled upon that I think are worthy of sharing. These notes are also 'about myself', in a way, as a public translation of my private moods, enthusiasms and anxieties is encoded in them.

5. The Pocket Diaries
Still quicker and easier than the iPhone app, I use my pocket diary to keep track of future and past doings and engagements. I often forget what I did last week or what I will be doing next week, so it is useful to make  a record, especially when composing a London Bulletin. These books are also good to hold on to and to refer back on. My 2011 WHSmith Diary fits neatly in my coat or jacket pocket, but it is still rather empty, sadly.

As I already have at least five different outlets for writing about myself (I could have also mentioned more conventional types of writing, such as letters, emails and text messages), for what sort of material would I possibly need a sixth? Well, for this sort. This stuff. These are ideas that perhaps fall outside the purely personal, and risk being interesting to other people too – 'other' in the abstract sense. (With perseverance, I will perhaps eventually write tingtinglongtingting, rather than merely tingtingblongtingting.) A blog will help me to articulate ('express') ideas in a public way. It doesn't even matter if no one reads them, except that any feedback I get will affect the expression ('articulation') of those ideas, the ideas themselves: their 'otherness'. All writers and readers exist only in the imagination of the other, but that doesn't mean that the communication that exists between them isn't endlessly fruitful.

(Feedback, especially the type that reeks with the sickly stench of admiration, will also give me the impetus to keep writing.)