cloud

I am putting off writing this novel (again) by throwing myself into “research.”

(Yes, I know “research” is just another word for “bullshit.” I’ve spent the last two days addressing the psychological underpinnings of “bullshit” and yes, I’m entirely (or at least partially) committed to leaving all this “bullshit” behind and doing the Right Thing and not stalling anymore. But that’s a topic for a different post. For now, the thought “research” inspired.)

I majored in history in college, not English, which everyone expects you to have majored in when they learn you’re a book editor. But actually history makes a lot of sense, I think, if you go about it entirely the wrong way. I took class after history class because I was addicted to the mysteries, the inexplicable tragedies, (particularly, and particularly amorally) the teleologies in the history books. Where did Hitler go wrong? When did Rome “fall”? What would have happened if the Allies hadn’t snubbed Japan in 1919?

(In a college history class, “teleology” is The Very Worst Word. As in “You’re being teleological again, miscreant!” etc.)

Looking back, I realize what I was really looking for were narratives. I was a Very Bad Girl. But I kept looking.

The thing about college history classes is they’re all “research,” too. The professors tell you, “don’t believe what you read!” But then they suggest something else to read instead to flesh out or upend your understanding of a topic. The thing is, whatever you’re going to read is still something that’s been written down. Already it’s an aberration of True Fact. Already it’s been editorialized, or even invented, in the moment “it” (whatever “it” is) was committed to paper.

The fact is (we all know this, I’m sorry, it just needs so much remembering) there IS no “topic.” There is no such thing as point of origin, not for Hitler, Rome, or Japanese imperialism. Everything is a mudsliding scale, no beginnings or ends, a cloud of colliding people, factors, media, luck, and climate. They say history is written by the victors, but really what they mean is the people who do the writing are automatically the winners. They may not be the ones with the biggest guns or the most money (although let’s face it, they usually are). But in the end the writer-downers are the only ones who matter, because they identify the narrative in the cloud of overwhelming and soon-to-be-lost data.

So real stories–I think–are forever and everywhere, and almost impossible to grasp.

The best you can do is stretch out your arms and snatch a Victor’s History for yourself.

Okay, yes, I’m stalling. It’s just that when starting to tell the narrative is the worst and most devious sin, it becomes very difficult to decide where to start.

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5 Responses to cloud

  1. yes, then i stalled some more by writing this post :/

  2. As long as you don’t spend the next 15 years designing every shoelace knot and machine rivet, I don’t think research is bullshit at all. Social and historical precedent affects how every scene will play out. We weren’t born into a vacuum and I doubt good characters can be born that way, either.

  3. JES says:

    Well, I don’t know. Sounds to me like you’re doing just great. Seriously.

    In James Gleick’s The Information, he relates an anecdote about some champion German (?) bicyclist who opened up a whole Wikipedia debate, wondering if (I think it was) a particular nut on a particular bolt of his bicycle was worthy of a Wikipedia article. At some point, you’ll just know to draw the line — “Worrying about THIS nut on THIS bolt will be a datum too far!” — and you’ll get on with the story. (If for no other reason, then because fiction is so much more interesting than reality. :))

  4. Don’t be so hard on yourself! You’re doing great : ) And if too much time goes by, I’ll kickbox your butt into that writing chair so hard you’ll be three chapters in before you can even stand up! ; )

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