Thursday, 28 March 2013

Catching Thoughts

Whew!  My head hurts. Too much thinking!

In a quest to fill in the gaps about my knowledge about literature and how to better write critically about it, and also to explore other general topics about composition that I last explored long ago as an eighteen-year-old college freshman, I started taking free online courses at Coursera is a wonderful resource supported by major international universities and there's a wide range of class topics to choose from.

I have to admit I also took a film class just for fun and was pleasantly surprised to find how much I enjoyed learning how filmmakers explore and present story with images, color, and sound - or the lack thereof, since we began the course by watching some old black and white silent films and explored the progression of adding sound and color to film into the 21st century.

If you haven't participated in on online course before and would like to try one, enrolling at Coursera is a great way to give the process a whirl. If you want to earn a certificate in your class, you must participate fully and follow all the conventions, but if you'd like to dabble for your own enjoyment and skip assignments or to work at your own pace and ignore the deadlines, most course instructors encourage you to do so. The course material is generally left online to browse through at your leisure after courses close.

Now, back to my regularly scheduled programming! My coursework and my editing and consultation work have kept me occupied and silent to a great degree the last few months ...

I ran into a great writing quote the other day, replete with sea creatures and jellyfish, and I've been itching to share it:

"One rule of writing practice: keep your hand moving. Mine does and mind goes blank. However, writing practice knows what to do. Like a barracuda with his wide mouth, he catches thoughts like passing sea creatures in a boundless ocean mind. Sea bass, seahorse, seaweeds, jellyfish or jellybean, it does not matter. Writing practice captures them without discrimination. Everything goes into the same container, across pages."

Natalie Goldberg is, of course, the much-loved author of Wild Mind: Living the Writers Life and Writing Down the Bones. I've not yet gotten around to reading her more recent books on writing, but should and shall because her take on writing as a Zen practice speaks to me, as does her admonition to practice writing daily.

I'm not much of a journal keeper myself and prefer to gather and channel my energy into blogging or projects rather than setting random thoughts to paper . . . of course, jotting down random daily thoughts in journals  can become great seeds for articles, stories, and blogs, if you like that sort of discipline. I somehow manage to write a little most every day because of my work and classes, and sometimes even because I'm creating something new from culling the jellyfish and seaweed from the ocean of my mind! This hasn't happened often enough lately and I've vowed that in 2013 I'll do more original writing, once I get past this heavy learning phase.

The closest thing to a writing journal I've ever kept is a dream journal. I taught myself to write fiction, in part, by turning my dreams into flash stories, and the practice became a passion. I took this practice a step further after many years faithful recording and during my MA studies I explored the topic of dream literature - literature that is inspired by dreams or in some way uses sleep and dreams, usually in the form of fantasy or slipstream, since dreams are often bizarre in some respect. I hope to extend this topic someday soon in a PhD dissertation, a much deeper and more detailed study of how dreams, creativity, and environment meld into story. If I don't make it off to another university, I'll work on the project independently and informally. The years are ticking by quickly . . .

I'm fascinated by the way our subconscious minds (known as unconscious minds in academe) work with our conscious minds to gather ideas. I feel as if I'm far more driven by my subconscious mind than my conscious mind in a creative sense, unless I'm writing critically or academically or editing, so when I write fiction, I feel more like a fisherman casting a net for thoughts into the sea of consciousness, as much by night as by day.

I have to admit that I sometimes rebel  about writing in my dream journal and have to sometimes "trade dreams" in e-mail correspondence with friends and then copy from the e-mails into my journal. I tend tos resist structure and routine no matter how good it is for me and often climb through the window rather than enter through the door, so to speak!

Whatever your writing practice is, keep it reasonably regular and keep going. Too many long gaps and you're out of condition - your writing suffers and you'll struggle more when you do write. Too much pushing and you become stale, even panicky about writing. Like everything else, the writing life requires a certain balance. And intuition. And passion. And sense of fun.

The latter the us the main thing, I think – when you're trawling for thoughts, have fun doing it. Have fun with your writing!  

Dana Point, California 2011


  1. Good piece, good insight.


  2. Good to see your fonts again, Carl!

  3. My attention went to my realization about the wide scale of picking up of an unmanaged flow of thoughts. It can be tricky. i.e., a lady had determined she was afraid to talk to strangers – noticed that the fear seemed a bit irrational. Then she realized it came from being told to stay away from strangers as a child, and at that time that was good advice, for a child. As an adult, this worked in the background, almost subconsciously. As a writer she could explore this idea and contributed nothing of value to humanity. I say this because, as she processed this, with the assistance of someone else, in an hour, she realized she was afraid to speak to strangers, not because they were the stranger, but that she was the stranger – she was the dangerous one. Now, with that point of view, the thoughts she picks up at random are channeled to a more valuable/constructive context for her writing, in her reality - for her well-being and that of others with a similar fear. Instead of writing on matters of how to relax and be comfortable around strangers who are possibly menacing people, her direction would pursue how to assure others she is not harmful … or convince herself she has no intention to harm others who are strangers to her– noticed and unnoticed beliefs control our behavior; if a person believes they are harmful to others, they will fulfill the prophecy. To harm someone while a person is conscious or unconscious is no less painful or excusable. A person, a writer, has to wonder why this way of life is still upon us as a race - in mist of so much advice work available referencing people learning how to control themselves or their "will" instead of the will of the environments/ people/ institutions around them, as the access to freeing the will and following a path that leads to a quality life. What if the access to a quality life is learning to control oneself instead of others, in that light, how useful would thoughts put in the light of controlling others be? … as in given tips on how to control others, or how to put others in a position that they are the blame for and accountable for resolving someone else’s problems. ( …continuing to insist on others in the roll of the dangerous stranger.)

    1. Now that's what I'd call a REAL case of writing block, brought on by a sort of PTSD. I don't know what science / psychology would say about that matter, but we do sometimes embody what we're fearful of or who or what has hurt us, so your assertion that this lady may have indeed suppressed herself as the harmful one, or at the very least, felt as if she'd be harmed if she "spoke up" by writing.

      You know, one of my bros e-mailed me after I wrote this piece and expressed some envy of my creativity and said how he felt I'd gotten his share of creativity - yet he's an articulate technical writer and computer analyst programmer. He writes well, right down to personal letters. I think we sometimes think we can't write in a certain way - I certainly didn't think I could ever write fiction even though I could write poetry . . . it's only when I became determined to learn to write creatively and struggled with it for a long time was I able to gain some level of comfort with it. I think our most important "gene" is determination and the ability to "get out of our own way."

      The lady you're speaking of stayed in her own way for whatever reason, whether protecting herself or protecting others - or perhaps, as a victim of violence, she didn't feel deserving of achieving something important to her.