Many writers--at least those who have not had any form of success and keep their writing exclusively to the confines of their moleskine notebook or in reams of marked-up typewritten paper in a drawer, writing that has never seen another person's eyes except perhaps their bedraggled spouse's and even then perhaps not because the writer isn't confident enough to show it to them--have a certain nagging superstition, or a massive insecurity in their head. (Clearly, they have more than just this one forthcoming insecurity, or else they would feel free to show their work to even their spouse, but that's a different discussion and I've dragged on this topical sentence as long as I can. I have to get to the point eventually, or this threatens to become the Tristram Shandy of blog posts.)
That one superstition is that if they tell an idea to someone before they have a chance to finish it, that idea will either a) lose all potency and will not be pursued, or b) more nefariously, their idea will be stolen by someone else. Neither idea evokes much trust in humanity and the helping nature of people. These are clearly not the writers who would ever join a writer's group or even enroll in an MFA program. For that matter, they would never apply to an MFA program where their unfinished ideas have to be shared with others all the time.
I mention this because I feel I am about to violate this one major superstition. But since it is a belief I no longer have (I did at one point, years and years and years ago, in high school, and for a few brief insecure moments in undergrad where I probably trying to engender a mysterious and sensitive persona) I will share my ideas with the public, or the public I imagine that reads this blog. (all three of you.)
Some may remember that a few months back I experimented with the idea of writing an essay chronicling what goes through my head when I go running. The essay would be written in the latter-day David Markson style: pastiche, omnidirectional, collage-like, almost like an anti-novel told in Tweets or status updates, each anecdote no longer than a few lines, told in a hyperkinetic, scattershot style, much like how we imagine our brains work. The style of this essay would emulate how thoughts weave in and out of our heads when running, or even weave in and out of our thoughts when not running. I attempted a few entries like this, but each time I went running, I would think about remembering what I thought, and would attempt to recreate this when I returned home, my thoughts while running becoming meta-thoughts, the essay itself becoming meta-writing. But I lacked the discipline, and the idea of writing about running in this fashion, although the possibilities seemed infinite, ultimately proved narrow. The structure did not fit the idea.
About a month ago, I had an idea where this pastiche, Tweet-like approach could better be put to use. And yesterday, while at the Boston Book Festival, I attended a lecture titled The Novel: A Prognosis. The thesis of this panel and discussion was that the traditional novel as we know it is dead, and we live in an era where digital communication and digital media can no longer be ignored. Its effects have affected our way of thinking, our way of perception, our way of absorbing and interacting with people, places, and things. We have become the thing we did not want to become. And now we have to embrace it. And the novel, the essay, the written word has to embrace it. Nick Monfort, associate professor of digital media at MIT, said that we are not very far away from having the world's first Twitter book, a novel told entirely in tweets, 140 characters at a time. All the tweets could later be synthesized and re-jiggered into a book, but we are not that far from that time, and nor should we be.
Since I had this idea recently, I decided my idea was perfect for this challenge. And here it is. My new Markson-style, Tweetish essay on love. I am going to write an essay on the nature of love, omnidirectional, including quotes on all aspects of love, that indefinable emotion that we all have and yearn for and are embodied with and that we all find impossible to define: the nervous beginning moments, the growing comfort of, the ideas of soul mates, whether they exist, the myths, the facts, the origins, ideas taken from pop culture, songs, films, movies, heartbreak, love of humanity, forgiveness love, strength, courage it causes, infatuation, obsession, sexual, intimate, spiritual, familial, platonic, and everything else that is not covered in the above. All in 140 character spaces. It will posted both here and on my twitter page (@darrencormier), and reposted on Facebook, and any other social media outlets I may reach out to.
And there it is. My idea. Announcing to the world before I have a chance to tackle the idea. Thumbing my nose at the superstitions of other writers; thumbing my nose at the gods of insecurity. I am putting my idea into the digital maelstrom with the trust and indifference if it is stolen.
I took a quiz on Facebook recently telling you which author you wrote like. For the quiz, the participant pastes a copy of his/her work into the space provided and an algorithm analyzes the text and determines what author (of those that had been decided upon as possible outcomes by the programmers) you write like. I decided to test it out. I chose the first section of my novella "I'm Hoping This Work", from my MFA thesis I Am My Own Nemesis. (I have included that excerpt below.) The result: David Foster Wallace. Having had a love/hate relationship with the work of the unfortunately late Mr. Wallace I was a little suspicious of this comparison, so I tested another piece: the first section of a short story told in a more traditional narrative form than the novella. (The novella excerpt is admittedly told in a more stream-of-consciousness, run-on sentence style). The result: David Foster Wallace. "This can't be," I said. "There must be a glitch in the program. Let me try one of my flash fiction pieces." Copied, pasted, analyze button clicked. Result: a David Foster Wallace trifecta! I tried another. Same result. I finally received a different result when I attached the first section of yet another short story: William Gibson, and with another piece from my thesis I received JD Salinger. (Apparently I'm in good company, but it took five tries to not get David Foster Wallace. That's like trying to kiss someone four times, and each time they pass you off. The fifth time you try, they're exhausted, half-asleep or drugged up to the point where they think you're David Beckham, so they give you a go. You finally got the kiss you wanted, but only under the strictest circumstances, and only after you were the last person left and they thought you were someone else.) I resigned myself to this fate. And decided to analyze the decision to see how far off, and to see whether my initial reaction was justified. My former disdain of Foster Wallace dates back to my early-to-mid twenties. During this period I suffered from a near-fatal malady known as pretentious hipsterism. Symptoms include a disdain for anything popular and loved by the masses, regardless of the artist's former hipster credibility; an obsessive love of anything and everything espoused by Harper's magazine; an embrace of obscure films, music, and books, the more arcane and confounding the better; this aspect naturally adheres to a love of David Lynch, Thomas Pynchon, and John Cage or Einsturzende Neubauten. Those suffering from pretentious hipsterism will maintain their love of these seemingly inscrutable artworks and artists in an effort to maintain status and based on a sense of inflated self-worth and general disdain for everyone else. If they genuinely do not understand it, they will latch on to the artist-in-question for fear of being exposed and being lumped with those he/she is trying to be isolated from. The fact that other people don't understand the work is a sign of their inferiority, despite the hipster's inability to objectively justify and explain their avowed understanding of the work. Common phrases to be heard are, "I totally get what he was trying to do. Well, it's hard to explain. You just have to get it" and "Oh my god! You didn't get it? It's like" followed by an explanation peppered with other obscure references with the hope of baffling the person asking what it meant while never getting around to explaining or even answering what the person who "didn't get it" was asking. Other symptoms include unkempt appearance, flannel shirts, permanent three to four day stubble on the men, an adoption of affectations in the form of headwear (i.e. fedora, bandana, driver's cap, etc.), and a reticent air of superiority. Foster Wallace met all of these criteria and more. His work was defined by long run-on sentences, bloated, over-inflated page lengths for stories, an obsessive need for footnotes in most of his work, including fiction, an overindulgence in scientific and mathematical references (an effort to show how much he had read), and a general reputation that the more convoluted and inscrutable a work, the more he would be regarded as a genius. His most heralded work is Infinite Jest, a 1088 page novel about so many topics, the novel has its own reference set and its own cultish reading groups dedicated to it. In his author photos, Wallace wore a bandana over long scraggly hair that hung to his lower neck. He possessed permanent stubble. He also has a cult-like following and his work has routinely been referred to as erudite, inscrutable, confusing, and among the most talented writers if his generation. After hearing so much about him and the ubiquitous Infinite Jest, I decided to read some of him. I went to the library and took out his short story collection Girl With Curious Hair, and his essay collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never do Again, an edited version of the title essay having appeared in Harper's. The short stories were okay, some being amazing, including "Everything is Green," one of the greatest examples of how power shifts being two characters in a story, sometimes without one of the characters saying a word. Some were a bit more obtuse and show-offy (e.g., "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way"). The essay collection is where I truly developed my love/hate relationship with him. In the title essay "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" Wallace travels aboard a Caribbean cruise and examines what life is like for seven days, what the behind-the-scenes are like, the people, his own reactions to being on the cruise and having to write about it, and his ultimate views on what supposedly being pampered and treated like luxury really is like. The essay is extremely funny, absorbing, and frustrating, just like the majority of his work, riddled with self-conscious irony and an awareness of his growing detachment from the rest of the staff. He stated in an interview (which I am still trying to find the link to) that he regretted his detached and forced ironic depiction of everyone on the cruiser and, had he not been on assignment for Harper's, he may have been able to enjoy himself, but felt he had to put on the detached ironic air for the magazine. Whether he would have voluntarily boarded a cruise liner had he not been reporting is up for debate, but pencil me as skeptical that he would have done so. However, the essay "David Lynch Keeps His Head" is where I really began to loathe Foster Wallace. Although I always acknowledged his talent, I sometimes referred to him as overrated and a pretentious ass: let me explain. In the essay he details Lynch's Lost Highway almost shot by shot, analyzing the movie to a ridiculous degree, believing the movie is a misunderstood masterpiece. I had recently seen Lost Highway and can safely say that it is, for the most part, the most ridiculous of all Lynch movies; it is routinely, and rightfully so, I believe, referred to as one of Lynch's worst movies, almost universally as panned as his Dune was, and as inscrutable as his Inland Empire. (For the record, I don't consider Inland Empire to be his worst movie, just easily the most baffling film in history; baffling isn't bad, it's exactly what it is: confusing, headache-inducing, and possibly good, but I can't be certain.) To me, for someone to be waxing poetic in masturbatory fashion about the virtues and genius of Lost Highway, was to me like saying a deep-fried Twinkie was good enough to be served at a five-star restaurant; it was like saying Michael Bolton should sing opera; that Nicholas Sparks should not only win a Nobel Prize in literature, but also the Nobel Peace Prize as well. It is, to put it simply, a fucking stupid idea. And Lost Highway is just bad. It was one of the first movies I rented and didn't finish and did not feel bad about not having finished it. I have no intention of returning to Lost Highway either to see if maybe, just maybe my previous viewpoint was wrong. It is also around the time when I began to cure myself of pretentious hipsterism. The movie wasn't misunderstood and genius because I didn't understand it. It was hard to understand because it made no sense. This began the long slog out of pretentious hipsterism. All those bands and movies and TV shows I used to rail against (mostly soft rock, anything with a popular following, and uplifting movies) I began to give a second chance. I didn't hold peoples' tastes against them; if I thought something was bad, if someone listened to latter-day Stevie Wonder or Michael Bolton or Celine Dion, I didn't hold it against them just because I didn't like it; I didn't consider that person inferior because they thought Olivia Tremor Control was weird if they had even heard of them; because they thought Aphex Twin and Autechre were inscrutable and the name of the latter was deliberately unpronounceable. (I have recently been the victim of my previous mentality, receiving the same condescending correction from someone when I mispronounced the name of Autechre, although I knew who the band was and could discuss their music. How obnoxious hipsterism is, I thought? How I hope I never treated anyone with such sneering superiority?); just because someone liked Phil Collins or read Danielle Steele or thought Tori Spelling was a good actress does not mean they were intellectually inferior to me. It just meant they had different tastes. I began seeing the talent level of bands I didn't like; could see their appeal to others and maintain my own aesthetic tastes. Because ultimately that's what tastes in music, books, and movies comes down to: aesthetics. And aesthetics aren't better or worse: they're just aesthetics. Having developed this new found acceptance, I decided to give David Foster Wallace, the king of hipster lit, another shot. And I began to like him. Not all of his work: I will probably never read Infinite Jest, but I won't hold it against him, and I won't hold it against anyone who wants to read it: it just doesn't appeal to me. And I began to realize that his essays were quite brilliant. I read some of his essays from Consider the Lobster and began reading some of his interviews. I saw at a bookstore in New York that he had written a book on infinity (Everything and More) which appealed him to me even more: he was omnivorous in his interests. I recently discussed Wallace with a professor of mine, in discussing this essay/entry I was writing, and in discussing the Facebook test I had taken. She mentioned a few of his essays from Consider the Lobster I had not read. I look forward to reading them now. In my second semester we had to read the craft book Why I Write edited by Will Blythe and write a brief essay on that book. Twenty-six writers were asked why they wrote including Norman Mailer, Pat Conroy, and David Foster Wallace. The Wallace chapter "The Nature of the Fun" really impressed me. I responded to it immediately and decided to write my essay in the same fashion Wallace did, and while trying to mimic his style in this essay, in discussing why I wrote, I probably had more fun writing than almost any other time. Wallace, stated that, a story in progress was like: "a kind of hideously damaged infant that follows the writer around, forever crawling after the writer (dragging itself across the floors of restaurants where the writer’s trying to eat, appearing at the foot of the bed first thing in the morning, etc.), hideously defective, hydrocephalic and noseless and flipper-armed and incontinent and retarded and dribbling cerebro-spinal fluid out of its mouth as it mewls and blurbles and cries out to the writer, wanting love, wanting the very thing its hideousness guarantees it’ll get: the writer’s complete attention.” And he's right. It is like that. I decided to paste the entirety of that essay in this blog, but since this entry has gone on long enough, I will paste it as another entry. Probably tomorrow. After taking the I Write Like test, I commented on the post, "I'll take that." I meant it.
Since this is only a short run, I can afford to go out a little faster.
Now let me start concentrating on what I think, so I can write that essay when I get home.
I've been wondering lately how many books, how many stories exist about running, and I don't believe there are a lot. On the contrary, I believe there are hundreds, nay thousands of books about running, non-fiction books, essays, etc. But I don't know how much fiction has been written about running, in which running played a major role in the story itself. "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" by Alan Sillitoe, (I should probably re-read that, perhaps even re-read that before I finish this essay, before I name-check it in the middle of this entry for it, but it's already been packed. I could go to the library and check it out, but that would make too much sense, and I'm too lazy.) There's Chariots of Fire by Vangelis. No, that's the soundtrack. Chariots of Fire was written by.... actually it wasn't a book. It was an original screenplay. And I'm sure there are other stories or novels out there written about running, but I can't think of any. (Maybe I should deliberately write that there isn't much fiction written about running so that I can then get people to correct me in their comments, a deliberate ploy to get readership and comments directed here. Feign ignorance, or let others do my research for me. Or by admitting that that is my intent, will people feel aggravated and put-upon and not make any suggestions at all? Or perhaps I'm just writing about how I'm going to write this essay, and what I thought about while running today to keep with the meta-narrative subtext and theme?) (Or maybe I could just make a list of books that deal with running and do a little research and stop being lazy?) (Or is that last statement a way to get people to think that this self-conscious exercise about writing about writing about running is charming?) (Or is it?) (Ahhhh.... the obnoxious charm of post-modernist, self-conscious meta- writing. When pulled off correctly it's charming. When not, it's obnoxious.)
But seriously, I really can't think off the top of my head of many other stories or novels that deal with running. Perhaps I should read more or do some research. But would that be cheating?
I continually read about Murakami's memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running when reading other running blogs and about memoir in general. And I continually wonder if I should read it or not. And I think I should, but is that the Murakami book I want to start with?
I talked to a classmate and friend a few weeks back about wanting to read Somerset Maugham and I asked her what Maugham she recommended I should start with. (I asked this knowing that some authors' works are more inaccessible than others, and I wouldn't recommend Finnegan's Wake for someone who wants to read Joyce.) Her reaction was that if there was anything our MFA program had taught her was that we shouldn't put arbitrary limits on ourselves for what you want to read, because then you'll never get around to reading it. If you want to read something, read it, regardless of how other people have felt about it, or regardless of how "difficult" the work might be or how "unlike" their other works this might be. Just read it.
Perhaps I should take her advice and just read the Murakami memoir on running. And get to his other books later. If I want to read that one book now, I should.
How long do I plan on making this essay? I obviously haven't kept up with the once-per-day regiment I had intended. And if I do intend for this to be published in a semi-serious journal at some point, I should revise it drastically and have an arc and an endpoint in mind. Maybe I could set it up as a marathon, each entry could be a mile marker. However, that does not mean that each entry is what goes through your head as you are running a marathon. But it could be a nice structural gimmick in which readers would know when and where it stopped. Nice idea. (Let's hear it for the cool-down walk.)
When did that song leave my head during the run today?
I should go back and add hyperlinks to this tomorrow or later in the week. But I won't right now. It's pretty late. And I want to get this posted.
Start slow. Don't go too fast. You don't want to burn out your pace and be walking by the end. Start slow.
*** *** ***
Before I started running again in November, I encountered that problem frequently: after not running for months, sometimes years, I would start out trying to run at the same pace that I had run when I was running competitively, when I was 18 years old. But I'm not 18 years old anymore. And I would give myself nasty, tear-inducing shin splints, that felt a large serrated knife jabbed into my calf, turned sideways and pulled up and down.
*** *** ***
A sign of maturity and of personal acceptance is admitting that we aren't who we once were, accepting who we are now, and having the foresight to know what we want to become.
*** *** ***
All these things that I have done (Time truth and hearts) If you can hold on If you can hold on, hold on
*** *** ***
Let me try to make that maturity line sound good so I can include it in this essay when I get back.
*** *** ***
And how many anecdotes about running should I include? And should they be redeeming, uplifting, melancholy, or ironic, like the fact that Jim Fixx, the man who popularized running and writing about running, died of a heart attack after returning from his daily run? And how many books about running should I read to contribute to this essay to make it seem more scholarly, learned, and less like a jumble of fragmented thoughts?
For a long time I have wanted to write an essay regarding what goes on through one's head while they are running. The structure of the essay would mirror the patterns of one's thoughts while running: in other words, the essay would be as scattered, fragmented, and stream-of-conscious as the thoughts that pass through one's head during a normal day.
I have also for a while now wanted to write a long experimental essay that would take place over the course of time, in which individuals would be free to jump in at any point, an essay that would take into account the concept of time and participation, in which the ending was not written as people are reading it, as it is published. A serial experimental essay. I realized the running essay would be the perfect venue for this type of structure and real-time experiment.
Given the recent passing of David Markson, and how his distinctive latter-day style was equally fragmented, seemingly arbitrary, and random as the firing of synapses in our brains, it seems fitting that I start this now. This essay will be an ode to Markson and will include many of the thoughts that flow through my own head while running. It will be self-reflexive, random, arbitrary; it will include longer sections of research concerning the physiological changes that happens while we run, what chemicals our body releases and how it affects our muscles and our moods; it will contain many grammatical errors as I will be publishing it in real-time. (I will go back and edit each entry, and possibly rearrange the order of each section.) It will also make no sense to anyone who happens to read just one sentence every so often, which, I suppose, is also part of the intent.
Overall, the intent of the essay is to show how running and writing are inter-related, to explore their reciprocal, symbiotic relationship: how the activities themselves resemble the stream-of-consciousness style, and how the two can best be described and experienced only during the actual doing of the activity. Both are performed, for the most part, in solitude. (Even with the inclusion of runner's groups or a running partner, or the invention of writers groups, running and writing are ultimately a solitary activities.) A writer is happiest when he is writing, not when the product is finished. A runner is happiest when he is running, not when he sees his time and distance after the run.
Also, in an effort at maintaining another continuous project, I will attempt to include at least one new section per day, even if that section is one random sentence. This introduction does not count as a section of the essay.
I hope you all enjoy this project. As always, any feedback is well-appreciated.
Darren Cormier lives in the Boston area. He is the author of A Little Soul: 140 Twitterstories. His fiction has appeared in Opium Magazine, Meetinghouse, Amoskeag, Every Day Fiction, Raft Magazine, Arch Literary Journal, and One Forty Fiction, Ether Books, and Seedpod Publishing. Writing peeves: there should be a comma before the "and" in a set of three or more items; it is "A historic" not "AN historic"--the 'h' is pronounced; would've, could've, and should've are contractions and should never be written as "would of," "could of," or "should of"; and "ATM machine" is redundant. He also invented the giraffe.