Friday, October 7, 2011

Szymborska and note-taking

I once had to speak formally about the Denys Arcand movie "The Barbarian Invasions". Latent fastidiousness, was it, that got me to watch the movie four times before I spoke? The more times I watched it, the less I had to say, and after the last viewing I had only a few disembodied phrases I felt were still worth stating. These had mostly to do with how the film, whose culminating message was one of death/friendship/nostalgia, combined different forms of humour to pleasing effect.

The take-home lesson of this experience, for me, was that if one is to repeat something under the belief that this will somehow deliver "more meaning", documentation is quite crucial. I ought to have recorded my feelings subsequent to each viewing of the film. I ought, maybe, to have listed the extent to which a word, a scene, or a face, appeared intricately different each time it was encountered. The extent, I mean, of filigree. 

Today I read a poem by Wislawa Szymborska that made me think that perhaps each day is worth some kind of note-taking. Notions of calendrical time must be misleading at least insofar as the suggestion that each day is a repetition of the one before it because each is comprised of the same number of hours (minutes, seconds).

This is the poem.

Nothing Twice

Nothing can ever happen twice.
In consequence, the sorry fact is
that we arrive here improvised
and leave without the chance to practice. 

Even if there is no one dumber,
if you're the planet's biggest dunce,
you can't repeat the class in summer:
this course is only offered once. 

No day copies yesterday,
no two nights will teach what bliss is
in precisely the same way,
with precisely the same kisses. 

One day, perhaps some idle tongue
mentions your name by accident:
I feel as if a rose were flung
into the room, all hue and scent. 

The next day, though you're here with me,
I can't help looking at the clock:
A rose? A rose? What could that be?
Is it a flower or a rock? 

Why do we treat the fleeting day
with so much needless fear and sorrow?
It's in its nature not to stay:
Today is always gone tomorrow. 

With smiles and kisses, we prefer
to seek accord beneath our star,
although we're different (we concur)
just as two drops of water are.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Lessons and Better Days

Today Mr. Dev taught me that

one must conceive of an advertisement by imagining how one would convey an idea lucidly to a friend. An ad, he says, must speak to a single, known person. Not to several, anonymous people.

It helps, also, if an ad contains a large and relevant image, with a crisp, supporting caption.

The thirty-or-so captions that I ventured for a real-estate company, whose project's Unique Selling Point was its uncommon height and its (hardly uncommon) plush interiors, had too many words. I was told, in tones of apology, that although it is clear that I have 'writing skills', an ad's caption should have as few words as is possible.
I recalled, in this regard, a quote by the poet Robert Southey:
"It is with words as with sunbeams, the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn."

Yesterday, a trainee who joined more recently than I, and who hadn't had the forethought to bring along a book in case she got bored, asked me, "Have you learned anything here?"
My answer was rehearsed and came easily, because I had asked myself the same question some days ago:
"I think I know something about what sentries outside ATMs feel."

She thought I was joking.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Corporate Boredom

Although Mr. Dev is preternaturally kind, and has the most sympathetic tone of voice I have come across since KM Sir in school, I feel quite sheepish about approaching him for work. Today I asked him twice (just twice!?): "Can I help out with something?"

It seems almost evident to me that he really doesn't have work to assign.

After asking him (twice) for work, I sat at my provisional desk three cubicles away and listened distractedly to Beirut. Every twenty-five minutes or so, I would look fleetingly in his direction and then duck - hoping that he would notice me, but also hoping that he wouldn't.

When I was about to leave, I went up to him, gestured towards the exit, and said, "I should be off. Have to get the bus out." He nodded politely, and I felt like the flab on someone's arm. While striding out (ah, with legs as long as mine are, 'striding' is quite inevitable), I thought of how like a parasite I am - occupying prime office space, consuming coffee, gratis, etc.

Then I thought, maybe my not having asked for work a third time should be interpreted in light of some stout rebel in me - one that sticks its grisly tongue out at mammoth advertising corporations that have employees with proportionately-sized egos. But I suppose I'm a rebel only insofar as rebellion contains cowardice - for what prevented me from approaching Mr. Dev for a third time was just that. Comparable, I suppose, to the way a child who's just been snubbed by her benefactor might draw a bloated image of that benefactor with big, black teeth and purple hair.
A. appeared in an afternoon dream.
We climbed to the terrace of a tall building and then discovered that the ladder we were relying on to get back down had disappeared. A. then told me, in a kind way, that I don't have any friends and that I ought to make some. I missed him when I woke up.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Gulag Orkestar (2006)

a music of slowness, a music of doom, maybe.

I'm particularly intrigued by the song's use of
(a) drums, and
(b) voice

The drum-beat, if it were to be isolated from the rest of the soundtrack, would - I believe - appear quite unspectacular. With the rest of Condon's raw orchestra, though, it acquires this surreal chomping dimension, as if the progression of the song were somehow dependent on the pulverising of stones and leaves.

The use of voice is similarly odd. The first time we hear Condon is at 1:54. He begins with something inchoate, as if we were hearing him through a veil of water. This culminates in a riff that appears to be in English ;)

Zach Condon was twenty years old when his first album, Gulag Orkestar, was released in 2006. I know this because I read a NYT review on an early gig. He's scrawny and looks like the kind of guy who must have difficulty growing facial hair.

*click on "Gulag Orkestar" below the header for a link to a video.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Dust in my view

"Inspiration!" said Joyce Carol Oates, "Yes. It exists somehow."

Months ago, when I tried to understand the 'ability' to write according to a formula, it seemed that my speech and writing were inversely related.

The more coherently I was able to speak, the less easily my written work came together; the muter or more unremarkable I was in speech, the more interesting my writing would become.

It occurred to me that this was a well-distributed arrangement, that I would alternately receive the blessing of creative speech and creative writing.

Of late, however, nothing comes at all, not in speech and not in writing. So I sense that it is time for the older formula to be replaced. Perhaps the writer cannot simply turn her mouth skywards for rain. Perhaps? Surely this inspiration of which J C Oates speaks will not just be delivered; it must undergo the same kind of gestation as a construction project or baked earth or a baby.

Inspiration! she says, Yes. It exists somehow.