#4 The Procrastinatrix: A Domestic Goddess

Proud and regal, she calls to me as I sit here, staring at the screen of my laptop which miraculously isn’t filling up with words of its own volition. She soothes me with soft words, and suggests that I might feel better if I take a little break…..

She can always find any number of little things to take interest in, like recycling that cardboard or just tidying the kitchen a little……

I swear I’ve never been so meticulous about cleaning my teeth.

The Procrastinatrix has me in her grasp, and now I stare out the window wondering why I still haven’t finished that chapter I was so eager to type out.

A God or Goddess?

As I mentioned in my previous post fantasy has some deep roots in mythology, amongst the most obvious examples being J.R.R. Tolkien’s understanding of northern European myth and the book I am reading to my son, Three Hearts and Three Lions draws on the same source, much as Poul Anderson’s other notable work The Broken Sword. There are a whole host of themes to be found, and again in a previous post I made mention of clichés being comfortable, being familiar; wizards with pointy hats, witches with cauldrons, heroes and dragons, kings, virgins and transformative magical powers, not to mention a pantheon of deities. Aside from the persistence of these ideas in (supposedly) predominantly Christian nations which is testament to the endurance of myth, folklore and older pagan ideas about the cosmos. We know them, remember them, see them recycled not only in the genre of fantasy but also in many movies, music, games and even children’s cartoons:

(NB Don’t watch this on drugs kids, you wont need them)

My question, and one I should note for future investigation, is how far does this subsconscious understanding go? Are we so at home with certain concepts that we can perhaps extrapolate something about the nature of our own society from it? Bruce Lincoln drew my attention to the fact that the priesthood controls the religion, and that the deities and myths that go with that religion structure the cosmos, reinforcing the order of society as something ordained and natural.

With this in mind we might point a finger at my use of ‘goddess’, but how would it have felt to have a domestic god instead? It seems comfortable to make this anthropomorphic embodiment of a homely situation into a woman, and as much as that may seem to be a patriarchal stereotype, it is one that endures in popular culture nonetheless. As gods and goddess are associated along gender divides so we often think of gods of war, lightning (spermatic, inseminating male power!) and law, all good things that go with civilisation, while we have goddesses of the home, nature, childbirth and love.

So, would you rather a domestic god, a golden haired, golden bearded, rip-muscled divinity brandishing a three headed scrubbing brush? He smites limescale! He lays waste to sinks full of washing up with devastating floods and sends prophecies to the kitchen table seared into giant, well-done steaks.

No no no, this must be a goddess because her words are like silken strands of moonlight, caressing me softly into idle action. Ooooh, that foul temptress…….

PROCRASTINATION #7

I sip my tea, regretting how minty fresh my teeth are for a moment. I think that perhaps she has put something in it because I’m losing focus. I stare a while longer, making small attempts to write something until I get distracted by something else to do. The tea goes cold and so so requires another one to be made while I wait with patience for the first line to come to me, the first line that will lead to a something finished. Sitting back down with a fresh, steaming cup I get ready but something out of the corner of my eyes calls to me……

PROCRASTINATION #8

Split ends are like being haunted in this respect, always spotted lingering at the edge of your field of vision. I exorcise those that I see, but as with the worst hauntings it doesn’t take long for the disturbance to start up again. It’s not vanity I tell myself, despite getting the kind of looks from woman that say they want to scalp me and get a hair transplant. I laugh! Vain? Me? It’s just that their split ends dammit! THE SPLIT ENDS! They call to me, like sirens gently singing, illuminated as by shafts of golden sunlight that stream through my window. Trimming the first one you capture is a victory, leading you to hunt for more.

This is absorbing work, for their song is never ending!

PROCRASTINATION #9
To escape I flee into the future and fight against the pixelated enemies in Warframe. I become a great warrior fighting for the Lotus. She is our guide, our conscience. We must fight, for our enemies multiply and seek our destruction. I tell myself that it’s just one mission, just one foray into the heart of the enemy. Who the hell can resist being a bad-ass space ninja after all?

Such digital distractions have become an extension of the domestic realm, and if you let yourself be taken in by their increasingly complex and involving universes it is like accepting the goddesses own opiate.

HERESY

There is but solution, and that is to get out! Get yourself away from the infernal machinations of the goddess! Slip away when you can, break the tea cups, shave your head, and uninstall these digital distractions. Got to get out of the house.

To be sure I have uninstalled Warframe while the goddess wasn’t looking (in fact I removed Steam altogether). I got sick of what devotees refer to as the grind, a term referring to the endless pursuit of goodies that can be harvested from games where you level up and build things and power up your equipment with more powerful modifications. It’s the same reason I stopped playing Diablo II, TitanQuest, Torchlight and others. You reach a point where it’s just not fun anymore. It’s literally a grind. It ends up being nothing more than habit, and they have designed it to keep you coming back by giving you a reward every time you log in, so logging in becomes a habit that is itself rewarding. I made a conscious decision to break this habit.

I felt better immediately.

I have a friend who writes and she says that if she stays at home then she finds it hard to get any writing done. She hits the local coffee shop and works for three hours. I’m of a mind to do the same now that a local coffee shop has opened just 10 minutes walk from here. You just have to remove yourself from the temple of distractions, from the house of the goddess.

Escaping, we embark on the quest into the wilderness (or coffee shop), there to grind at something more important as we seek instead the Muse.

Perhaps I can borrow a toothbrush while I’m out there…….

#3 Summer Solstice & The Climb

We’d been hitting the bottle hard. Bruce had crashed out in the humidity. I soldiered on, cracking open another cider and working on getting sunburned, but something told me that I must have Mediterranean genes in me somewhere. I wondered if they were selfish, but that didn’t make any sense because a gene is a theoretical construct that cannot have a personality attribute. On the other hand I fantasized about turning into a frog and diving in the canal to escape the heat.

In the tent Bruce smiled in his sleep as if he were dreaming the same thing.

I tipped back some more cider and played guitar to the Sun. It was getting close to the Solstice, and I was camping. Procrastinating over this blog would have to wait…….

Under the hot sun the week passes in an atmosphere of pseudo tribal living: an hundred people sharing fresh air and sunshine, the freedom of the countryside and the feel of dirt under their fingernails. It becomes its own little microcosm of allegiances and affiliations, personal power struggles in a cocktail of griping and bitching mixed in with caring and sharing. It’s a social network that binds disparate circles of people together under the one purpose of coming together on the Solstice to do a performance at Avebury stone circle.

During my stay I talk to Lionel, one of my old lecturers who got us all thinking about  myths and folk tales. He tells me that he has been writing a paper about the juxtaposition of Apollo and Dionysus in relation to the turning of the constellation Draconis in conjunction with the Solstices. Heavy stuff. It’s taken six months but he’s nearly finished it. At some point we discuss my ideas for relating myth to modern media and he mentions Game of Thrones. Lionel doesn’t know much about fantasy as a genre so I dive into how fantasy is consistently using and recycling mythic content, from the shadow that chases Ged in A Wizard of Earthsea to the crucifixion of Paul Twiceborn for three nights on the Summer Tree in the book of the same name. I mention Tolkien and the foundations of Dungeons and Dragons and how it spilled over into computer games. Then there is Beauty by Sheri S Tepper, and the Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers, all fairy tales and old legends reshaped, reimagined. The list goes on.

Later my posse hits Marlborough and we scare the middle class, Daily Mail reading retirees in Polly’s Tea Room. The cooked breakfast is a necessary ritual:

breakfast
tea room breakfast

Returning to camp we swelter for a while until the gong from the communal kitchen signals lunch:

lunch
lunch at camp

Most importantly though, we attempt to live off of as many of these as possible:

Obligatory cream tea
obligatory cream tea

And so slowly we wend our way to the culmination of our trip, but along the way there are camp fire singalongs, communal washing up duties, walks by the canal, a camp quiz and a presentation about the complex issues of warfare based cannibalism in South America. I talk with friends about hiphop, about Kanye and Ice Cube, but also about those songs that contained social and political reflections. I recall something I saw recently coming out of the UK grime scene that fired me up.

Then the night of the performance comes and we make our way to Avebury, bringing drums and fire.

Debriefing

With it all done and dusted there is no choice but to pack up and leave the countryside behind.  The good news is that the holiday isn’t quite over as we head down to the coast to disseminate all the gossip over a breakfast debriefing with friends. The heat hasn’t let up, but the breeze coming off the ocean is pleasant as we walk up the sea front, talking. Later I take a stroll up into town and get a couple of records. On the way back I get hailed by a destitute man called Francis and we talk a while about the records I bought, how everything is done on a card and that if he’d known I had a family to support he wouldn’t have pestered me.

“I wouldn’t take the piss,” he says earnestly. We shake hands and I wish him well.

He hopes I enjoy my records.

Later we all go to the pub and discuss writing, publication and amid all the salient points that were made Mikey makes a very salient one for those

The Climb – Looking Up

I’m sweating as I climb. Ahead of me I see those who have been on the same path. Some of them have published, some of them are selling dozens of books an hour…….

It seems to be typical that we compare ourselves to those who we consider to be the best, to those whose name is an industry standard or has achieved a pinnacle of publicity and success. So, we as writers will often compare ourselves either in terms of creativity to those who we think are simply genius at coming up with great ideas, those who are fantastic at prose and dialogue, whose writing flows, or even to those who have achieved a great level of financial success, and although these ideas may overlap, they might not be linked. Heaven knows, I find JK Rowling’s writing to be truly awful, but I marvel at the success of writing and marketing something that gets a huge influx of readers. To be mean-spirited about it I would say that we should all bear in mind that quality is not necessary to be successful, and certainly it makes me feel like administering a mighty slap to my own face when I worry about not be good enough to put into print.

In doing so we undermine ourselves, fostering self-doubt and lack of self-esteem. It is important to remember that these people are in the light because they are the peak of their ascent. We see them because they have, through whatever means, climbed higher than us and as we pursue on our own paths there they are, ahead of us all the time.

Taking A Breath – Looking Down

I stop and take a deep breath, stretch and look at how far I’ve come. Below me are untold numbers of people who haven’t even begun to make the climb. They mill around at the bottom of the slope and call out how they wish they we capable of making the climb.

And you realize, they envy you…..

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was working as a temp in an office and given an hour for lunch I would sit in the break out area and write. This prompted many to talk about my writing, and often in discussions you would hear how they would love to have a gift like that. Is it a gift? I certainly don’t think of it so much as a gift but more of something that I have practiced for a long time. Certainly I have my doubts when asked what I do for a living, and my friends often pull their hair in frustration because I quibble over it and don’t just say that I am a writer. This lack of confidence is in many ways an impediment to publishing, but you just have to remember that you are far ahead of the majority who don’t do anything with their lives, those who will do nothing but say how much they would like to be able to do it.

So, take a breather for a moment and try to get some perspective. I don’t know how far you’ve come, but stick with it and keep working on whatever creative endeavors you are engaged with. Chances are that there will always be someone better than you, but they are certainly few in number compared to those who aren’t even trying at all.

#2 Complaining and Overthinking

One week on and valuable insights gained, the quintessential one being the difference between prevarication and procrastination, I believe I made one mistake that I can’t go back and edit. What I should have done was to bash out another entry as soon as the inspiration came upon me. Instead I spent a lot of time pondering on how to proceed, on what to make of having a readership, and on just how many entries can be made in a similar vein. Still, the seed was planted in spontaneity so I think I’ll let it grow awhile and see what fruit comes of it.

Anyhew, having been let go from my contract at work I had the past week to get a little writing done. More time = more writing, right? Strangely, it doesn’t feel that way. When I was at work and only had an hour at lunch, I got something done. When I’m at home and have an hour here and then an hour there I don’t seem to get anything done. Unfortunately its all the little things that create a minefield in my head that I can’t cross to get to  my characters and narrative. The battlefield is a concept of time; I have in my head that I have the whole day, so I’ll sit down for an extended stretch. It doesn’t happen. I have to wash up, I have to go get a roof rack, I have to see the optician because my glasses are decrepit.

And then I have to return a roof rack because the damn computer that said it was the right one for the car was wrong. Damn machines……

It all becomes like snowfall. Lots and lots of little thing, but it piles up against the door and when it finally comes to opening the door you can’t escape the confines you’ve been sitting in. This leads to……

Procrastination #5

I am terrible for this one. Also known as “complaining about how you’re never going to get anything done”. I wonder if this would come under depression, but I resist the medical notion as something invented in order to sell antidepressants. That is to say that we all get down, that’s part of life, just as there are always times that shit piles up and we feel frustrated and thwarted. It happens. It doesn’t mean that we’re sick, but what it does do is become its own justification for not doing anything. In this instance it is not so much the not doing, but rather the bitching about it that becomes the procrastination. And when you do realize that all you’re doing is expending effort on complaining you can suddenly see how you could have actually been working instead of sitting like a grumpy sack of spuds in your chair.

It’s a rut, a certain kind of self pity and like any mood you got to find a way to kick yourself out of it. Find a way, anything that works for you, because at the end of the day its all down to how much effort we put in. It might not happen immediately, but even if it’s just an hour a day, it can be done.

Of course, if you do start to do some work then you can always fall victim like I do to this………

Procrastination #6

Overthinking. I don’t know how many writers do this, how many artists suffer from this. It’s the kind of thing that cripples creative endeavours and often bleeds into #1 Perfectionism. You can decide to write something and spend ages trying to work out plot and settings and characters. You make copious notes. You go deep into sculpting the characters and coming up with histories for them.  The more you do the more you can’t decide on this or that and then you wonder if may you did this but then that would effect that bit and…….

Deep in the rabbit hole you find that you’ve actually achieved very little, leading you back to #5.

I myself have spent a great deal of effort at times plotting and writing out plans, but it was only when I just sat down and wrote it that it really came together. Most of the time you find that all the clever things that you spent so long thinking up didn’t really have anywhere to go in the story anyhow. It is simply a case of diminishing returns, and that goes for this blog. I made a whole load of notes about what to write, all the ideas I could do and all the video’s I’d put in. In this respect I was stumped over just how I could find a connection for adding in the awesome video for Fertile Green by High On Fire that I came across on Youtube. Of course there was none until I wrote that sentence, a kind of deus ex machina for my desire to torture your ears and offend your good sensibilities.

And besides, it was all getting a little too serious.

What? You didn’t enjoy that little tune? There really is no pleasing some people……

Still, plenty of mythic content in there for you fantasists out there. Answers on a postcard please.

Anyway, with all the self pity done with and some both necessary and unnecessary thinking about my work, I got down to it and bashed out a wonderful introduction to one of my characters. Now, I often think about how cliche a character might be, or how cliche a plot elements is. It’s a weird paradox; too much cliche and it’s trite, hackneyed, but too little and it might not resonated with people because there are conventions that make people feel comfortable. No doubt I’d be opening up a can of worms even attempting to discuss this in detail, so instead lets do a little exercise. You have a character who is the equivalent of a police chief. How do you see him (or her)? What are the constants across narratives that make this person seem authentic?

Without thinking about it too much and just consulting my list of cheeses, I quickly picked the name Canestrato which to me fitted him quite well, as did a moustache that he would occasionally twirl and dyspepsia that made him grumble, all while staring moodily out of a window. It was only a bit part, designed more to introduce the privateer to the story, but it felt comfortable. So often it seems that there is a pressure to create something that goes beyond convention, seemingly for the sake of it in many cases, but in a way that is forced and unrewarding. Conventions are a structure, and it’s perhaps how you hang the story on that structure that makes what it is. With that in mind I’m going to broach a subject that I’d like to return to more fully in the future, namely mythic structures and how the conventions within mythic narratives appeals to us. Contrary to the notion that myths are in the past and that they don’t change, they are in fact alive now and with us wearing different disguises.

Think of the movie jaws. It has a police chief in it. He’s got a job to do, underlings to help him and a power structure that he’s in conflict with. He’s also a dragon slayer, and just as in the cliched story of the knight saving the villagers from the socially destructive monster, he travels to the domain of the beast and gives combat to it. Jaws is a famous film, based on a book. The ideas are nothing new, but it worked, and it was a success in part because its such a familiar story deep down in our consciousness. On this I will post more later with some reference to people like Bruce Lincoln, Wendy Doniger and Calvert Watkins who are amongst the people bringing new insight into myth and folklore.

Not that Dawkins believes that we should seriously be indulging in all that make believe stuff.

I have only one thing to say in reply to that:

#1 The ways of procrastination are endless

No more excuses. No more writing the kind of introductions that I’ve read everywhere else a millions times about the long road to becoming a writer etc etc. The fact is I write stuff, and most of the time I don’t finish any of it. I should probably write a book about not writing a book. The title of this blog could be a strange paradox then, begging the question is it even possible to finish writing a book about procrastination? Who knows, but maybe we’ll find out. So far this week I’ve encountered these three:

PROCRASTINATION #1

Perhaps we might construct a category of dominant or root procrastinations. I don’t know about anyone else, but I got to say that there are times where this one is nine tenths of the problem, and that is:

Perfectionism.

Nothing is ever good enough, and as such this blog entry has been written about ten million times and never published. It gets to the point where you’re so disheartened because there are just so many ways it could be done, so many other ways of expressing the idea or writing that dialogue, that you feel like giving up. One of the things that a writer should remember is that it’s never going to be perfect the first time round. Or the second. Or, if you’re like me, ever. Truly it is a procrastination to worry over whether each chapter is actually how you want it. This probably is a confidence thing as well. It will never be good enough right? Well, no.

PROCRASTINATION #2

Peeling a sticky label off the front cover of a vinyl record is far more important than actually doing anything constructive because, goddamit! that sticker is covering up the artwork! And it tricks you, yes it does, because at first it starts peeling off nice and easy. You think you’re going to get it all in one hit, carefully working around the edges with your nails and oh so slowly peeling it back until disaster strikes and the label itself starts splitting, leaving behind the adhesive that needs to be worked off with lighter fluid.

This takes some time to accomplish.

The music remains in no way effected by this procedure.

PROCRASTINATION #3

Bass porn:

Having not accomplished anything it is always good to fantasize about all the cool things that you aren’t going to be able to afford. The fact that it’s out of reach doesn’t preclude you from doing the in-depth research on it because it’s always best to inform yourself of all the options when committing to serious window shopping.

If all this sounds exhausting then kick back and put on a little bit of this:

Better? Good. The question now is, did I get anything done? The strange thing is that while you’re aware of how much you’re prevaricating, there is also the opposite which is that you’ve been chipping away at something for a fair few weeks now. Having shelved the meta-narrative intense novels and series whilst working and looking after my son (going on 8 weeks now) I’ve been working on putting a few old characters together with a few new ones and a missing map. The icing on the cake came over the past week or two while I was working and a little observation made by the Shingle Street posse about the name of a cheese came back to me. Brillat Savarin. What a name for a truly suave villain instead of a hero.

This leads to PROCRASTINATION #4

Contemplation of just how many cheeses exist, and if there’s one thing a prevaricator can do, it’s click the endless links found in Wikipedia.

Here’s their list of cheeses.

And for those that suggested that you could write a book where everyone was named after a cheese I say this – never could a fantasy writer have such a great stock of names to use!

Anyhow, I’m inclined to discount that one as a proper procrastination as it’s more like research…… and I did it while I was sitting around bored at the office. Shhh, don’t tell anyone that I got paid to indulge in fantasies about cheese.

It was about this time that I came across both the hilarious review of the new Coldplay album at The Quietus which might make you feel a little bad when reading it because it has the merest hint of shooting fish in a barrel, and also the foul mental excretions of Richard Dawkins. It’s as if the man is trying to piss me off enough to hunt him down, dowse him in petrol and set him alight at the stake for heresy. I was going to fill up several pages ranting about how he doesn’t think children should be told fairy tales, but what’s the point. The man is a fool, and an intellectual bully who gets off on outwitting creationists.

And if he wants to foster a health scepticism in people then that’s going to include his own theory about selfish genes, a just so story about how we all came to be capitalists. The irony that a fairy tale might be masquerading as a reflection of cultural norms doesn’t seem to have reached him yet. Perhaps the notion that we are essentially nothing more than genetically determined, selfish individuals all alone in the cosmos is nothing more a reflection on his feelings of being a modern man in a godless universe where we are all strangers.

It doesn’t matter anyhow. The crusade to end human ignorance is a false one, destined to fail, just as his attempt to put me out of work will fail. As for the children, well, should we really feed their imaginations with things that are blatantly false? Shit, there goes CBeebies!

As for my own son, Three Hearts and Three Lions here we come!

Strange to think that a piece of classic fantasy was written by a scientist………