Selling Illusion

Saturday, May 07, 2005

"> [The Principal Violence Inherent in Intensity Analysis]

Looking at recent posts, it strikes me with some surprise that OUATIC has reached its hundredth post, and makes me re-think my time in this good old gravy train. It’s been two months, eight weeks and this; my ninth article for the Powers Above. And I can say with all truth that I approach my writings this week with the same passion and determination that has shadowed every word that has flowed through my hands onto the page since that first guest slot nine weeks ago. It is quite simply, a joy. Every week is spent meticulously chewing mentally on the subject for the Thursday slot, letting it saturate in the deeper recesses of my sub-consciousness until Wednesday evening to early Thursday morning is spent powering out the ideas into coherent words, sentences, paragraphs. So a quick ‘cheers, and have a drink on me’ to the folks on the throne, for thinking I was good enough to take onboard for a longer voyage. I hope I’m still maintaining the faith they placed in me.

To me, being a writer means having integrity. It means writing against the standards not only of your audience, whose judgement will be tough enough to satisfy, but of your own. Every piece must measure up to the last; the next one must raise the bar higher still. The words ‘must do better next time’ should never cross the writer’s lips, let alone his mind. Practise does indeed make perfect. Or at least, a better degree of imperfection. And it is to this I strive. At least, until I get near enough to give it a quick two fingered salute while I race on towards that big old ‘Perfection’ sign somewhere in the distance. Needless to say, I’ve got a long way to go. But it seems I better get there, and quick; the reasons for which I shall divulge shortly.

Back in my first assignment, to document my life in the city of Cardiff, I remarked on my constantly unwelcome companion, writer’s block, my dirty little secret, my mistress. This, however, is not the only partner that has inhabited my bed in the past. Whilst writer’s block is something that in its own way becomes a challenge for one to overcome, it at least has a near-corporeal form inside the mindless wastelands of creation. It is a force of opposing will, a wall to which holds back a land of seething electrical impulses that fire across the psyche more powerful than any thunderstorm. It can be fought, and defeated. If one has but the strength. Sadly, this other cannot. It leeches away at thought, sucks the marrow from excessive fiction and drains the will to write. It is the dearth of any emotion; apathy.

It is she who lies by my side tonight. And it is a struggle to oppress her desires. This is the worst time for a writer. Even one without a tough editorial stance to their own work can fire out the most useless regurgitated nonsense onto the page in deference to writer’s block. Apathy is like a bucket of cold water on a raging fire. Without passion, without drive, there is no power. No determination. And so the writer sits, staring at an empty page, typing a few lines, deleting them, retyping. Over and over. There is no panic over looming deadlines, a wish to impress. Just silence, reflection, and an overriding sense of nothingness. This can be caused by many things, all pointing towards the current private life of the writer in question.

I don’t think you need to guess were this is heading.

It has not been the best of weeks. ‘But wait’, I hear you cry, ‘Gil, isn’t that the best thing for a writer? To throw up onto the page all the bile that’s been tossing inside your innards for the last while? Does pain not generate creative productivity?’ And you’d be right. Andy Cairns, the singer of Northern Irish outfit ‘Therapy?’ wrote a song entitled ‘Happy People Tell No Fucking Stories’. So there is truth in which you speak.

But as of yesterday, my brain recognised a serious flaw developing within the old brain nodes, and so decided it was best to simply shut up shop for a while. A good call, I must admit, and some parts of me gave a standing ovation to the other parts that had decided and implemented the coupe. Nothing life threatening, just a mental defensive reaction to a gradually building layer of stress, it is, on all accounts, a good thing. So at present I am drifting along in safety mode, so to speak. It’s good, it’s keeping me going, but it is a complete bugger when it comes to writing with anything more than a general apathy.

One of the triggers was having one of my dreams crucified in front of my eyes.

Now, I’d be the first to admit that I’m still in some ways a naïve dreamer. Hopeless romantic and journalist do not go hand in hand. Yet somewhere inside I still believed in the hopes and aspirations borne from wanting to see justice done in this world, and that if you’re passionate enough about something, then you can make it happen, you can shape your future. Sadly this does not seem to be a widely respected view. Eager to try and gain some advice and tips on how to break into the field of journalism and pursue a career direction, I arranged an informal chat with a highly placed and long serving journalist. Now, I will state from the off that he was both admirable and kind in his summations, and none of what he said was aimed with malicious intent. But his words and his view on the apparent state of the practise today summed up that I hadn’t a chance in hell of ever realising my dream as a journalist.

Fact one was that even with a BA Honours degree in Journalism Film and Broadcasting, a degree that I fought tooth and nail to complete over the course of four years, it basically qualified me for nothing. After all this time, I still didn’t have a qualification that was recognised as an industry standard. To gain either of the two that were recognised would mean two more years study, or a postgraduate degree back in Cardiff University.

My smile remained firmly in place, a polite exterior.

Added to this, was that with no experience inside newspapers or broadcasting, my promise as a candidate for any position within the field was severely limited, and I was missing several key skills; no education in short hand writing, nothing to indicate that my course was mainly involved in the educating of the laws and ethics that journalists must conform to. The bar was raised very highly for prospective employees, and where I was stationed at the moment, I wouldn’t even make the grade.

The smile remains in play, but added to it is the minuscule rumble of grinding teeth, audible in my ears alone.

I would have to gain experience, but be careful where I did, because if I made the wrong choice, I wouldn’t be able to progress any further up the career ladder. (This particular point was enforced by a story of a local man working for three years on a local paper, and subsequently tried for a better career prospect somewhere else, only to be rejected entirely and told that judging from his current experience he was as high as he was going to go.) I felt a chill run down my spine at the image of myself twenty years from now, stuck in the same job, unable to progress and too old to start all over again in another career.

I ventured the passion I had for travelling and experiencing new cultures, and the idea that I could work outside the United Kingdom.

“You could try, but they’d rather take someone local and who knows the culture over a stranger who’s still trying to learn the language. You could try to bluff it I suppose…”

The final nail went into the coffin.

“But what you’ve got to understand is there’s thousands of other out there like you, trying to make that break. And you couldn’t have picked a worse time to try and get into the journalism practise. The big companies are downsizing, the technology is so simple and easy to use these days, anyone can do it. I’ve seen it as well, folks making no money and wasting it all away trying to make a name for themselves.”

Now, it would be easier to say, for the sake of a better story, that the man was a cankerous old shit, and bore a closer resemblance in manner to J. Jonah Jameson of the Daily Bugle. But that wouldn’t be true. He was simply speaking on how he saw the state of play. But from a personal level, it was agonising. And that was how the chat ended, with a blacker than black picture painted, and as he buried his now empty cup into the bin, my dream went with it. A disquieting death of hope in the grandeur and naivety of the journalistic dream.

It wasn’t until I had shook hands, offered a warm smile, walked out of the news room, down through reception and out of the building that the screaming started.

So the writer inside sits and ponders his future, fingers hovering over the keyboard, blank page staring at him. It will be some days before he begins to write again. And what that shall be; only time will tell.

In the meantime I dust myself off, get back up on my feet, and get back to the drawing board. How I wanted to shape my life over the past few days has failed. For that I am sorry, and thought only what I believed to be a good, sure thing, at its heart lay the best of my intentions. Know that I accept that things need to move on, and that it may be better this way for both. But I will not remain disheartened for long. I will have my mourning period, as the pain of reality hampers my thoughts and prospects. But always on the horizon lays the shadow of a new dream and a hope for the future. And I’ll chase the remnants of those dreams to my dying day.

For that and for the new life I must carve and live, you can be certain I will be here.


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