I like reading about writing. I find joy in writing even if it is writing about nothing consequential. To write for pleasure and not for work is a delight. But to write for a living will have its set of challenges and pitfalls just like everything else. I sometimes imagine what if I had taken up writing as a vocation and not law. I do have an inclination to romaticize a vocation just like what I have done when I settled for practising law.
During our final year in high school, I wrote a script for a mime that was premised on the question : What do you want in life? How do you want to spend your life? Is life about passing examinations, getting certificates, perennial reading and learning, or becoming rich and getting a house or just having fun ? There was support and help from my classmates who had participated in acting and creating props. I remember spending hours putting together an assortment of tunes and music pieces from The Blue Danube Waltz to Smoke on the Water. I had to painstakingly transfer snippets from various tunes and compositions either in cartridge or cassette and also turntable records onto one cassette with a back up copy. The performance was much amateurish but I think everyone had fun taking part in the project. Our principal had liked it and asked us to perform again for our graduation ceremony. I suppose I would do anything to escape studying. I have always been in awe of everyone else who seems to know what they want, like have a career, get married, invest with a view to make more money, travel, have children and then grandchildren. It is definitely nice to just go along with the narratives that have been passed from generations after generations. I had been a slow learner, my rose tinted glasses finally shattered in my thirties. Decades later, you think you know what you might have wanted to do for a living but you would not know if you would have done it either.
The Novelist by Jordan Castro was amongst the reads I had started reading last December. I have multiple reads at any given time, some books take longer than others. The Novelist does not contain a plot thus it is not one of those books that makes you want to know what happens next yet it compels you to continue reading it due to its eloquent prose and witty insights and meditative reflections.
The premise of the story is about an unnamed writer struggling to write his novel, amidst all the distractions and digressions.It follows a young man over the course of a single morning as he tries and fails to write an autobiographical novel, finding himself instead drawn into the infinite spaces of Twitter, quotidian rituals, and his own mind. While he fritters away his time around on social media and fiddles with his novels in progress in Google Docs, his girlfriend, Violet is sleeping in his apartment.
The narrations are in first person’s voice.
‘ I opened my laptop, still waiting for my morning tea to steep, and tried to type my password three times rapidly before getting it right, my waking fingers clacking with the determination of a machine. The hight- definition snowy mountaintop and valley full of trees appeared in front of me; ” [Fri] 8:14 a.m.” in the upper right-hand corner ; 94 percent battery icon beside it . I touched my face, adjusted my position on my wooden chair. The sun peeked through the cheap venetian blinds, closed and hanging over the window in front of me, my small black kitchen table pushed up flush against the wall. I focused my eyes and touched the trackpad on my laptop with my middle finger, then dragged the cursor on the screen toward the bottom row of icons, and , inhaling deeply, I clicked.’
The internet opened and I immediately clicked the Gmail icon- which appeared on my homepage next to my other “Favorites” in a row across the top of the screen : Facebook, Twitter, a link to a picture of the ” less than” and ” greater than”symbols that I’d accidentally saved there ( I’d wanted to get a tattoo of the sideways caret symbol on my pinky finger, such that from other people’s perspectives it would signify ” greater than.” but from mine it would signify ” less than”) -and not Google Docs, where the novel I’d been working on was saved.’
Then the writer muses, ‘ I hated checking my email first thing in the morning. It set a bad tone for the rest of the day.’ He also muses : ‘Twitter, over time, had proven calamitous when it came to getting work done. I clicked unthinkingly, often feverishly, and if I started in the morning, I would generally continue, unhinged, throughout the day, on both my laptop and my phone, everywhere I went, not matter what else I was doing.’
The unnamed writer narrates that when he makes kind of a rule for himself that he would not check Twitter before noon but the imposition of such a rule somehow prompts him to break it. When he gains a new follower, he moves his cursor in the direction of his new follower’s username. The character narrates that when he was younger, he’d viewed Twitter as an art form. ‘Now Twitter had become a grishly hellscape of parasitic babblers, dominated by the nothiing-lords, seeking nothing and creating nothing, destroying and deconstructing, complaining and resenting, mindlessly snatching at scraps and whoever could lord over these nothing-scraps least gracefully gained the most nothingness….
For the protagonist, the act of making coffee prompts a reflection on the limits of self-knowledge.
‘I’d always assumed that people were in control of their behavior, that their thoughts and actions lined up, or were causally related, but this just isn’t true: we experience mysterious phenomena, then narrate that phenomena to ourselves as best we can, using language and other images; then we try to read our own minds, just as we try to read other people’s – we do not think then act; the relationship between thinking and acting is not at all a straight line. The totality of oneself -only a small portion of which is conscious thought — acts, and in order to have even a slim chance of interpretation one must observe oneself.
For example, part of me knew that if I consumed more caffeine while feeling anxious and directionless, the caffeine would only serve to amplify those feelings, but another entertained the possibility that more caffeine could help me work on my novel.’
‘ We must ” choose” ourselves too, I considered. Self-knowledge was not enough. It was still possible, after all, to choose in contradiction to what one sees, or “knows,” or thinks he wants. I conceived of my desire as a string, being pulled by whatever I was ultimately oriented toward. My thoughts were embedded in something much larger and harder to fathom than my tiny, cramped kitchen. I looked down at my hands.’
–The Novelist, Jordan Castro
Jordan Castro‘s prose is explorative and his observations are peppered with humour and relatable.
The author’s character navigates from Facebook to Gmail and then there is Twitter and Instagram that he is drawn to .Here is another excerpt about how the character has become addicted to Twitter.
‘ This was not a problem specific to this moment or morning; I had been fragmenting in this manner for years. The cumulative amount of time I spent unintentionally scrolling through feeds, looking at things I was more thrust into than chose, was unfathomable. I literally couldn’t think about it. It felt as if Twitter was taking part of my consciousness from me, sucking it our of wherever it was , and fuzzily disrupting it , like an energy field , not a website, moving through the air toward me, while simultaneously pulling me outside of myself and “into Twitter, fusing the two in midair. This could actually be the case, I considered. Was consciously a product of my brain, like I imagined? Or was it something outside of my brain that my brain ” tapped into” — something that also contained Twitter? ‘
–The Novelist, Jordan Castro page121
The Novelist is a contemporary novel about language and consciousness, the internet and social media, and addiction and recovery. The Novelist, published by Soft Skull Press is Jordan Castro‘s first novel. It is brilliant and inventive. it reminds me of No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood.
2 thoughts on “Reading about writing”
I actually have resigned to thinking I’ll ever figure out what I want, lol. I thought I’d know better after passing 18. Then after 21. Then 30. Now that I’m 40, and I read about your experiences, I’ve deduced that the most important thing is to appreciate this very moment right now, because I’ll never reach a time where I’ll be truly enlightened. But I can very well choose to be grateful here, now. Anyway, thanks for this post!
Hi Stuart, Yes yes we must always be grateful no matter where we are. You’re doing great !! I love my 40s. That’s when I finally picked up tennis, went on some memorable diving trips and had a lot of fun amidst all the ferrying and domestic responsibilities….. But if I could go back in time turning 40 was a pivotal moment for me because that was when I should have given more thoughts about what I really had wanted to do about my career path. Life happens as always and be present is what matters. Thanks so much for dropping by.