Some Miserabilisms I Made Earlier

Fiction has more stylish ways of dealing with the stuff of  jeremiads. Early book cover of George Orwell’s famous dystopian society novel ‘1984’. (Pic courtesy of photographer and artist David Dunnico at www.1984lookslikethis.wordpress.com)

George Orwell’s famous dystopian society novel ‘1984’ shows that fiction has some stylish ways in dealing with the stuff of jeremiads. (Pic courtesy of http://www.1984lookslikethis.wordpress.com)

I learnt two new words today: ‘Jeremiad’ and ‘Miserabilism’ courtesy of Darran Anderson, my go-to for intellectual tough when it all gets a bit woolly out there in blogland. So a jeremiad (named after the dismal prophet Jeremiah) is a moralistic text lamenting society’s ills and possibly its doom. Miserabilism is what it is. Anderson tells us that Eliot known for his modernism wrote a jeremiad about modernity (interesting contradiction), read it here. Seems that a decent jeremiad is like a good debate with a dose of fear added. Fear of change. Fear of the future.

Dr Seuss’s ravaged society in ‘The Lorax’ was brought about by the invention of the uselessly useful ‘thneed’, but Dr Seuss is no miserabilist. The ‘Unless’ moment is one of the best narration opportunities you can get when it comes to variation of delivery. (Pic courtesy of www.pastemagazine.com)

Dr Seuss’s ravaged society in ‘The Lorax’ was brought about by the invention of the uselessly useful ‘thneed’, but Dr Seuss is no miserabilist. The ‘Unless’ moment is one of the best narration opportunities you can get when it comes to variation on delivery. (Pic courtesy of http://www.pastemagazine.com)

Eliot in his jeremiad says ‘When electrical ingenuity has made it possible for every child to hear its bed-time stories through a wireless receiver attached to both ears…it will not be surprising if the population of the entire civilized world rapidly follows the fate of the Melanesians.’*  My inner Jeremiah eyed this sentence prophetically in conjunction with a study referred to here. In this study a group of 20 kids were found to have stronger text focusing abilities when read to by recorded narration with highlighted words than they did when a parent or a caregiver narrated the same story to them on the same device. I had to ask myself was I a bit of a miserabilist by limiting my kids’ access to recorded narrations of their favourite stories such as ‘The Lorax’ or ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’? The answer was no. There’s no ominous depth to the reasoning. I’m just too vain to let an iPad steal my legacy. I want my kids to remember me as the person who tucked them in and read to them in funny voices and put up with the irritating interruptions and inane questions. That’s the shallow extent of my miserabilism there.

Futurist David Houle sees opportunity behind the disruption of the last five years. He believes we have already left the information age behind and have entered the shift age. The book itself is an example of agile publishing embodying the points he makes that we are undergoing a collapse of legacy thinking'

Futurist David Houle sees opportunity in change. The book itself is an example of agile publishing proving the collapse of legacy thinking in the shift age.

The literary world has its fair share of miserabilists. Writers tend to be gloomy and publishing is the last of the entertainment media to go through the digital transformation. It’s understandable and quite pleasing that publishing/writing types will always have a mental armchair planted in the halcyon days of cigars, brandy and leather-bound books, but to genuinely live in that ideal is crazy. Here we are bang in the centre of what the futurist David Houle calls ‘the shift age’ – the most fascinating time in publishing since the Guttenberg Bible and there are still people in the book world, be they writers, agents or publishers who think that ebooks will go away, that Amazon is evil (or even more evil than any other corporate global) and that reading isn’t real reading if it’s not done on paper with folios and running heads. The worst lament of all is that the existence of ebooks negates the existence of print books. See? The tendency towards doom. It comes naturally to book people. As someone who writes in an industry littered with the last of the mega miserabilists here’s a coping mechanism that works for me: Make up some miserabilisms of your own so you can compete, jeremiad scale with the whingers if needs be.

Here are two I made earlier:

Miserabilism No. 1) Facebook is Orwellian and will lead to a dystopian society based on the ‘liking’ of really boring pics of cats/babies of people you hardly know. You will also find yourself being ‘friends’ with an ex you still have nightmares about and spent years trying to getting rid of diplomatically. Civilisation will descend into a pyramid selling/chain-lettering creepy nagging hell where you will sit all day with your finger on a keyboard ‘liking’ what Facebook Police tell you to like before you’ve even thought of what it is you like.

Miserabilism No. 2) Parenting will be superseded by the iPad/Kindle and civilization will get so bored off their nuts with the homogenous offspring raised by iPads/Kindles that human beings will stop fancying each other and stop having sex and a dying generation of white haired half-bald pre-native digitalists will sit around reminiscing about the good ole days when they fancied a real human being for their quirks and strange accents and for the times when they had to work out what a person meant when they said ‘Throw us over that buke there!’ Great grandkids, if such a phenomenon exists in the flagging libido of the ‘Tablet’ race, will be allowed to have only one of two possible names on their birth certs: Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos thus honoring the fathers of The United Devices.

* I figured out after some confusion that the ‘fate of the Melanesians’ was not an ominous reference to their blond afros. I was wondering. The bit in Eliot’s jeremiad about the Melanesians was in ref. to an essay by psychiatrist W.H.R. Rivers who explored the idea that the Melanesians c. 1922 were being depopulated because they were bored to death by the merits of civilization. (Pic courtesy of www.permedtonatural.com)

* I figured out after some confusion that the ‘fate of the Melanesians’ was not some ominous reference to blonde afros. I was wondering. The bit in Eliot’s jeremiad about the Melanesians was in reference to an essay by psychiatrist W.H.R. Rivers who explored the idea that the Melanesians c. 1922 were being depopulated because they were being bored to death by the merits of civilization. (Pic courtesy of http://www.permedtonatural.com)

Edna O’Brien’s Memoir Solves Mystery of ‘Night’

Edna’s literary-leg has stellar quality that even Hollywood would find hard to outshine (photo of Edna: John Minihan)

Edna’s literary-leg has a stellar quality that even Hollywood would find hard to outshine (photo of Edna: John Minihan)

As her recent memoir proves Edna O’Brien has what decent writers aspire to; page-turnability without sacrificing literary muscle. I got her recently published memoir, Country Girl as a Christmas pressie. It was the savior book that got me through the seasonal lockdown. The memoir is packed with stories; a childhood in Ireland with a drinking father and an overprotective but loving mother, a fractious marriage with divorced writer Ernie Gébler who was so usurped by the success of her first novel that he told her You can write and I will never forgive you, the ensuing anxiety ridden battle to gain custody of her kids, her famous (or infamous?) parties where she entertained the literary elite, bohemian characters of all ilks, Hollywood royalty and actual royalty.

Page-turner with literary muscle ‘Country Girl’ by Edna O’Brien (Faber & Faber)

Page-turner with literary muscle ‘Country Girl’ by Edna O’Brien (Faber & Faber)

All this while raising children, dealing with impossible lovers that gave her both joy and despair and writing novels that brushed her native Ireland up the wrong way, a country, she reminds us that meted out monstrous treatment to James Joyce, ‘whom the authorities and Irish undertakers were so repelled by that his remains were never brought back.’ 

The memoir tells much about where she drew inspiration for her writing. I was aware that The Country Girl Trilogy was informed to some extent by her earlier life, but a mystery was solved for me as to how her exceptional stream-of-consciousness novel Night came about. Not to give it away for those who haven’t read the memoir yet, (and for those who already know, bear with me!) it arose following a life-changing experiment with Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing, an episode she describes lucidly and brilliantly in the memoir. It was an event that sent her packing with ‘an opened scream…[that]…would become the pith of the novel … Night…’

An opened scream  ‘Night’ by Edna O’Brien

An opened scream ‘Night’ by Edna O’Brien

I’m a fan of Night. The astonishing change in style to her previous books is something of an event and I always keep it in mind as an example of how you, as a writer too can change your style if that’s what the context needs you to do.

Edna’s memoir tells of many fascinating relationships she had over the years, but one emerges stronger than all others — her relationship with her writing. She struggled against a disapproving mother, an envious husband and the punitive demands of domesticity before finally putting pen to paper and when she did she wrote the first draft of The Country Girls, in three weeks. ‘The words tumbled out, like oats on threshing day that tumble down the shaft…I cried a lot while writing The Country Girls but scarcely noticed the tears.’

For anyone struggling to keep the dream of writing alive this book will bring hope. On the flipside, one line about writer’s block sent shivers up my spine: To ease the block, Edna tells us, she kept a diary, even though she had read with misgivings that ‘only the very young and the very mad keep diarys.’

Duly noted (in my diary)!

Why I Write? (no. 1)

Gran: Vera Dalgarno Brady, age 16, a lifetime of words.

Vera Dalgarno Brady, 16, lifetime of words.

I was asked this question when I started going to writing workshops. Panic-stricken, I’d wait as the query inched its way around the room until it was my turn to nutshell it. Having to qualify a reason for something so innate makes me feel like a fake. Plus, I have an anti-reason for the whole writing thing, something I’d never confess to in room full of real writers. The anti-reason is this: What’s not to write? I can’t stop writing. I can’t stop! I can’t stop to the point that I am simultaneously ecstatic and horrified to find myself tapping the keyboard at four in the morning sometimes. Writing for me is a dance that never ends. It’s like living my own version of that macabre fairytale The Red Shoes, (eh, not to be confused by the TV series of the same title). Times I’m dancing with the words night and day. Words binge, words hangover, words topping up, early house words, late licence words.

'Standing In The Pizzicato Rain' by Georgina Eddison (Salmon Poetry.)

‘Standing In The Pizzicato Rain’ by Georgina Eddison (Salmon Poetry.)

The poet Georgina Eddison, who also happens to be my aunt, understands this. When we meet at family doos, the chat goes something like, ‘So, how’s it going?’  It meaning the writing. The last time we met it was over my gran’s open casket in a funeral home. The question carried more weight than usual – writers go into word freefall when a death occurs. Think of the the possibilities? Eulogies, soliloquies, obituaries, poignant verse, biblical quotes — what’s not to write on the passing of a loved one? Except the novel that is. Draft 2 had been giving me author’s abuse for months; mental black eyes, standoffs, characters not doing what they should. ‘I keep going back to it.’ I complained to my aunt, noting at the same time that my gran (who wrote poetry up till her death) looked so fine laid out, a beautiful woman, even in death, the poise of her. ‘Why can’t I just give writing up?’

‘You don’t give-up writing,’ my aunt reminded me, ‘IT gives you up.’

Well, that quit my whingeing.  That, and the feel of my gran’s stone cold hands in my warm ones.  Since then draft 2 is completed, and handed over to an agent. Lately I don’t try to tame the compulsion to write, but see it as a blessing lest one day it breaks it off with me…and I find myself…wordless.

The next time someone asks me ‘Why do you write?’ I might say:

I write because I love dancing. Dancing is innate to me. If I’m lucky, I’ll be dancing till I die.

It may not be the ideal answer in a room full of people, but at least I know what I mean, for now.