What’s in a text? A year ago, I wrote a post called why read? whose content and ruminations continue to shape my perspectives on grad school. In this post are the first grumblings of a profound feeling of dread that grows between me and the primary act of my profession – the task of reading. Although I barely broach the notion in that post, beneath the surface, you can pick out a discourse of what I shall call bibliophobia, or the fear of books. In writing this short piece, I hope to delve further into a series of logical and affective knots in my character, with the (perhaps naïve) hope that their exposition will in some way make these knots, these nodes of discomfort, a bit easier to undo.
While reading, I am struck by two feelings. The first is the will to understand what is being read. This goes beyond the basic skills of reading comprehension that are massaged into us as children, the analytical detective work of exposing what a text says. In many ways, this is related to my predisposition to a kind of obsessive and paranoiac anxiety, for all texts say something, but most texts say things to me which they do not seem to say to others. When reading a novel like Une vie de boy, I’m fascinated by questions of textuality, interiority and the diary form in ways which many critics seem to overlook. Within the academic profession, this is a positive factor; I am filling a gap in the scholarship of this particular novel with my own reading. Yet, it is the very idea that few people have looked at Une vie de boy from this perspective which frightens me. I find that I am frightened by the idea of my own unique reading, primarily because I am disturbed with the concept of misreading. I do not want to be wrong, although I resist the idea of a dominant reading.Continue reading bibliophobia
I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like. Last semester was definitely not what I had anticipated, and got in the way of this blog for reasons I regret. At the same time, I stopped posting my blog posts on Facebook, mostly because I was underwhelmed by the reaction to my writing, although I cannot expect people, regardless of how much support they give and how little I seem to be moved by what should be powerful, to fawn over every little sentence I produce. Yet still, while I enjoyed and profited much from my first semester of graduate school, I am remorseful for letting this blog, and my writing in general, fall by the wayside.
This year I am committing myself to being more productive in my writing, in however way I possibly can. A lot of writing this blog is just “practice,” a flexing of the muscles in order to see if I can force the web of thoughts and signifiers flying around my head to yield a meaningful message to, say, a stranger, although I’m sure if you are reading this, at this point in my life, I know you, and know you probably quite well. I have mentioned elsewhere (here) that I have this secret desire to be famous. This feeling bothers me primarily because it doesn’t match the image of myself which I have created, inside of which I try to live; a stoic, elegant, brilliant person with a natural knack for writing, whose talent alone will lead him to greatness. Yet, I cannot say that this image, as narcissistic as it may seem, is yielding the results I’d like. My blog has stagnated in the past year, perhaps because my content has drifted from underresearched essays on race and class to “dealing” with anxiety, something people, I’ve been told, find both impenetrable (because they cannot feel what I feel, and therefore cannot know; are frightened by the tangible limitations of their knowledgeability) and disturbing (for the same reasons). The older essays, while sexy and jarring, nevertheless represent a side of myself trying to wrestle with the essential questions of identity which many POC must know and refuse to acknowledge. My position as a Black man does not make me special, nor does my alleged eloquence help to make the bitter pill of internalized racism and affective violence any easier to swallow. When talking about myself, I am able to seize a kind of authority which no one else, ostensibly, can possess; who else can know you more than yourself? And it is perhaps the reliance on the personal, on the ultimately “unrelatable” as I have been told by my professors, that makes my writing so powerful for some, and disturbing for others.
I have been living with an anxiety disorder for four years. That’s to say, I’ve known about my anxiety disorder, was able to name the monkey on my back and recognize it as my own, for four years. My undergraduate studies will forever be colored by a apparently perpetual state of anxiety whose description seemed only to confuse people. My parents were disturbed when I told them about it, thinking that something had happened to me, that I was sick. My mother in particular would continue to use the cooing phrase “don’t stress yourself out” for the next two years in hopes that the repetition of that phrase would have magical, incantatory properties. My father simply withdrew a bit, as men are prone to do, unsure of how to help, unsure of how to mitigate the insatiable fire of rage which we call masculinity in the face of what seemed to him to be another parental failure. And this was all a narrative which was thrust upon me, for I never understood my anxiety to be a disease or my parents to have failed me because of it. Sure, it was painful, and the attacks unbearable, and the possessions unsightly, but when the episodes of deep introspection and guilt and self-pity subsided, when my mind cleared after would seem an eternity, I never wanted them to stop, so much as to bend them to my will, to use them. I never wanted my anxiety disorder to go away, to be ‘normal’ or ‘healthy,’ likely because I was of the opinion that it would never cease. From the moment I knew that something was not normal, that I was not like everyone else, that my bouts of “overthinking” were chronic and inescapable, I knew I was strapped into a car I was now forced to drive, regardless of whatever other motorists believed of it or my fitness as a driver. This has been my coping mechanisms for the past five years, living in this body, and it has gotten me this far.
In the wake of the “great” scandal of Coates v. West, I made the decision to read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new book We Were Eight Years in Power. I had, as I’ve mentioned, read Between the World and Me, a book that makes me feel weird for reasons I have yet to understand. The agita the two eminent intellectuals was fueled by the poignant albeit ill-advised comments of Jelani Cobb and a slew of thinkpieces either condemning West for his “envy” or making weird, seemingly unfitting historical analogies between Black men of yore vying for the single spot assigned by left-leaning public to Black men intellectuals. I must say that I found it difficult to silence the rhetoric about Coates when reading Eight Years, and I cannot say that I finished the text without my own reading being colored by some external ideology. Let this be a warning for what I am about to say.
I’m supposed to be doing readings right now, but I’ve been so distracted by my emotions and my thoughts (on topics I won’t discuss here) and have started writing to distract myself, hopefully with the intention of clearing my mind. Since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to keep a diary, but was never able to write in one consistently. At the same time, being a 10 year old, I didn’t have much to say, since my day consisted mostly of going to school, seeing my friends, learning things, seeing my parents, etc, all of which were so quotidian they didn’t, in my mind, warrant being written down. They were as monotonous as breathing, or waking up, or blinking; activities which provided the background for my everyday life, the details which were often omitted from the manuscript because they added nothing of substance, because human beings themselves have come to take them for granted. When I got to college, I started journaling as a way of addressing a mounting issue in my life; my anxiety disorder. Unable to speak to anyone, feeling stupid for feeling so uncomfortable in public space, I turned inward, went inside, through writing in order to get to the central question: “Why are you anxious?”
“Why?” A question which has no true answer, which proves the existence of the small, interior realities in which we all live, isolated, distanced yet nevertheless influenced by the world around us. The “rooms” of headspace, unpopulated countries comprised of regions and provinces which are often frequented and avoided. Perhaps not unpopulated; peopled with memories, shades of loved and hated ones, shadows of ourselves. “Why?” A verbal question whose answer is never satisfactory, for we can never adequately fit ourselves into another person’s headspace and therefore understand the context or lack thereof which feeds its dissatisfying response. A question which when spoken aloud only furthers the rift between interlocutors in its affirmation of the notion that one’s thoughts are distinct, are unintelligible, are irrational, that one’s mind operates differently, that one’s reality functions differently than another’s. “Why?” A command of a question; it demands an answer, is imperative in its unanswered disbelief and distrust. A question which forces the mind to translate rabid thoughts, mental gibberish into language which cannot and never has been able to support it. Meaning is lost, details fall by the wayside, for language is not enough. A question whose answer is never enough.
Warning! Now that I’ve actually applied to, was accepted to and have committed to a graduate school, I am able to look back and realize the reality of the situation I have just thrown myself into. Do not, truthfully, apply to graduate school as a senior. I was told by so many people, and I ignored them because I thought I knew better, and I wouldn’t necessarily say I regret it, but I do understand the strain now that I have been through and am now out of it. I really don’t recommend it, although for reasons which are different from the ones that my friends told me a little over a year ago. It was a severe drain on my life and honestly not the way I would have wanted to spend my final semesters of undergrad. I was rarely at Swarthmore during the month of March because of all my visits, and I didn’t even go to all of them….
I have been asked more than once about my graduate school application process. I’m not sure why. Perhaps its because this stuff is visible through this blog and through my other social media platforms, or perhaps because people are intrigued by my journey. As I said in the blurb, I really don’t suggest undergraduate seniors apply to graduate school, even if you are as hard-pressed to continue your years of toil as I was. Nevertheless, for all of those who are interested in my detailed process, this post shall be a guide.
I finished editing my manuscript this summer! I also finally switched over to my name-based domain name! Hooray for being productive!!
narcissure.com will be around for a while, and it will soon redirect you to this website, which will now be my blog & my personal site. Not sure what else will be on here, but stay posted! I haven’t given up on this little vlogging idea, although it’ll likely be small little interviews and not real vlogs.
In honor of finishing the first successful edit of my manuscript project, Asunder, I’d like to share a section of it for you guys. Not that I haven’t gone through it with a fine-tooth comb yet, so there’ll likely be some little omissions or mistakes here and there. I will make sure to clear those out soon.
I would love to get some feedback on this project. This is far, far into the text, and I won’t give you any more information other than what’s available. If your interest is peaked and you’d like to be a test reader, feel free to drop a comment or hit me up on social media!
It’s that time of the year again! I have some spare time, and I say “Alright, let’s work on these manuscripts!” only to run into the same issues again, as I have already talked about in an earlier post. Yet, as I read my work over and over again, and grow older with it, I am becoming more and more aware of the things I do as a writer and why I do them. So I’ve compiled some observations.
I read my own work differently than I read a book. I suppose this seems like a rather self-evident statement, but I noticed that when I read my manuscript on my computer or in print, I find that I am way more focused on editing and pruning that I would be with a book. I suppose this is because I can edit my work, while I can’t edit Native Son, but I also find that when I am reading, I am less concerned with the author’s convention, or the crafting of the narrative voice; I am less concerned with the craft of writing as it pertains to a faceless, eternally different author. I find that I am the same way when reading my friend’s work. I can’t help but read them into the text, and I don’t like this, because I don’t want people to read me into my texts, although that’s going to be impossible for the people I know closest who are reading my work. Without knowing the author and having a window into their mind, texts seem to exist only as consumable forms of media, and do not carry with them any contextual weight regarding their production.
Having Microsoft Word read me my manuscript helps. I suppose it makes things feel a little more real? There’s a function on Word 2016 (I’m not sure if it’s on older versions) that lets you read a document aloud. I ran Protean through it while I was a little down and self-reflective, waiting on my friend (who’s already on the path to writerly stardom) to respond to my rather anxious Facebook message. As I listened, I put away my laundry, and found that I was sinking into the story, less focused on that narrow, indistinguishably hairline boundary between good writing and overexpression. I just let the story unfurl, and I found that my anxiety was shifting from being weirded out by my own writing to being immersed in one of the anxiety-riddled sequences of the book. My works are imbued with a dark humor which makes me laugh (and I suppose that’s all that matters?) but this is to lighten a text which is nevertheless about being anxious. The entire story is about miscommunication, miseducation, mismanagement of emotions, of relationships. The sequence that the robot-person read aloud was quite heavy, but also quite immersive. I wonder if this is how people read texts… the robot voice put a distance between me as writer and me as reader, a necessary middleman. I find that I quite like the manuscript now. I just wish that I could find a voice that’s a little better at pronouncing the words and making them sound like human text.
It’s taken me eight semesters of college for me to realize that I don’t like the spring semester. My emotions are all over the place because of my seasonal affective disorder, and I have a hard time being focused. I described to my friend today that fall semester is usually imbued with this excitement, and charged by the prospect of new beginnings. New friends, new classes, new experiences, new adventures. Yet, the spring is more or less biding time – waiting things out until the weather gets warmer, or until I have concrete summer plans. I am less inclined to make new friends, and feel almost ambivalent about maintaining the relationships I’ve built. I have these light therapy lamps (they’re not; they’re LED lamps which I was told “are just like light therapy”), and I sit under them often, but it doesn’t help much.
Time for some updates.
I have not been writing as much I had hoped. Lol, New Year’s Resolutions. I wish I could tap into that fount of creative energy from junior fall, when I first started this blog, and posted something every other week. It’s not necessarily because I have a lot going on right now. This semester, as I said, has been a little odd emotionally, but it is what it is. Right now, I’m fine, which is why I am writing to you all, and not to myself, as I had done last week. The manuscript project(s) I’ve been working on have been put to the side, although I do occasionally glance over it/them when I have the time. I have been rereading old work in between studying and writing my thesis, which is productive, and my ability to read without trying to change everything has gotten much better. Nevertheless, I feel creatively stifled right now, and I’m not sure why. I have all these cool ideas for blog posts, like this one I’ve been mulling around for a year now on race as a visual culture, or other posts which would be a little less monumental like a piece about Marxism / Marxist cultural studies, a piece about cultural ideology, and more posts about doing research & being a student, but I haven’t sat down and said “Let’s write this thing.” Hopefully in the coming weeks, when I am not so busy working on my thesis, I’ll be able to focus more on this, but that’s what I was hoping for for this semester, since I was done with grad school apps. Hm, I’m sure the spark will come back.
Editing is difficult. It requires a sense of introspection and analysis which forces us, in many ways, to lay ourselves bare and open to the scrutiny of our biggest and most hurtful critics; ourselves. When I was younger, I often didn’t edit my papers out of laziness. After having written an entire paper in one sitting, having ideas race through my head for hours, the last thing that I’d want to do is sit down and reread what I’d just written. And I’m still the same way, even today. Although I don’t write in one sitting (unless it’s a short composition), I do find that I allow my work to “sit” for a while in order to allow my ideas to ferment. This is not supposed to be literal; my words aren’t literally cooking in the Word document, but my ideas are growing slowly in the stew of my thoughts. As I go about my day or do my readings for the next class session, I keep my argument at the front of my mind, looking for information or approaches I can use to make my opinions more effective. Then, after a few days, I print my work out, and start the editing process.
As I’m getting older, and beginning to see school less as the completion of arbitrary tasks and more as the formulation of a certain way of thinking and interacting in academic and public space, I’m realizing that there is a lot of information which students are expected to acquire by themselves. Whether this be how to write a cover letter or how to find books in a library, much of the information which a student needs remains relatively obscure and difficult to locate. Most students resort to googling these bits of info due to a lack of institutional instruction. What I want to do here is offer a way of approaching the editing process in a way which proves productive towards crafting a solid argument or comprehensive analysis. The key to editing, as I mentioned earlier, is a sense of introspection which may come easily to some and quite arduously for others. Nonetheless, it is this level of reflection which separates a subpar work from something worthy of publication.