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i, block

July 21, 2011

This blog has been an effort not only to another contribution to the discussion about cultural appropriation and its many manifestations but also a way of forcing myself to write again. When i was younger, there was no stopping me. I had a book and a notebook with me everywhere i went and burned through pages effortlessly. Pages of ideas, master plans, manifestos, rants, doodles, whatever. Everything that came to mind was, if not crucial, better out than in.
Somewhere along the way, the pace slowed. I stopped getting as many ideas, i stopped taking the time to write them down and the whole process came to seem pointless or purposeless. It stopped being fun. On top of which, i became critical of the writing process as my politicization intensified. How could i write about other people without objectifying them? And then Catcher in the Rye’s already been written, so who would want to read another story about an angsty white boy? Blahblah, guiltguilt. Throw in a rapidly developing substance abuse problem, and writing really stopped mattering.
The only chances came in bits and pieces, like when a political group i was working with needed a press release, an email announcement or a written submission. These opportunities i cherished. For example:
For centuries, the theoretical existence of the sequin remained a plaything of physicists and fashionistas alone. When, drunk on a bottle of Channel No.5, intrepid lassoer Dennis Mack finally managed to pull one down from out of the night sky, it shook the world, delivering us out of the Dark Ages and into Homotopia. On this, the two-hundred year anniversary of that fateful day, October 11th 2008, the Ste-Emilie Skillshare proudly launches the latest installment of Bust Out Yer Skillz v.3000.  Come check out the studio, take a guided tour, then enjoy some fresh roasted corn & hot apple cider by the fire.  See you there lovers.
Nothing special, right, but fun to write. It’s inspired by the kind of books i love, that confuse magic and weirdness and the plasticity of reality. What i try to do is bring these ideas of subjectivity (that there is no one true way of experiencing the world) and skepticism (that nothing is permanent, knowable or ultimately and universally true) together with Sendakian fun times (think Where the Wild Things Are) and an anti-colonial analysis.
But still, there’s no ideas for stories. I try to expose myself to inspiring art, music, movies and experiences. I have cut off the drugs and drink, besides coffee. The coffee helps jump start me into a writing mode (like this particular entry, for instance), which at least gets me typing and thinking and forming sentences. But still no ideas.
A big part of me is still caught up on writing characters. Maybe it isn’t even necessary to describe characters as much as some writers do. Why do people describe a character’s gender, clothes and physical appearance anyway, unless they are trying to access stereotypes in our subconscious. It’s easy to say “this shabbily dressed white woman is walking down the street, a slight limp in her stride” and for the reader to then think they know so much about this person already. We already know her values, her character and how she’ll respond to situations! None of these details are immediately relevant to the story. Maybe down the line, her whiteness or the way that someone reads her femininity become issues and could then be brought up. Until that time though, it’s laziness on the writer’s part. Or is it?
I’m tempted, once i come up with a story line or some situation that begs to be written, to do as little physical characterization as possible. Not to invisibilize people’s differences but to de-prioritize them. This could quickly become a problem of homogenizing people, since in this society, the tendancy is to assume a person is “standard” unless otherwise mentioned. Able-bodied people will not, generally, mention that somebody has lots of body privileged but easily describe the way that somebody deviates from a body that is judged correct and healthy. The same goes for skin color, assumed gender, age variance, accent, etc…… I do not anticipate writing a story with no physical descriptions or mention of gender or ethnicity. Rather, i hope to introduce those variations at a point when they become relevant to the story, giving the reader a chance to get to know the characters from their actions before jumping to assumptions. Or else i could just use animal characters and sidestep the whole thing, though people somehow find ways to make even animal stories offensive.
Maybe i’ll write about a raccoon who’s got the same problems as me and see how he handles things.

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