Sunday, December 27, 2020

Timeliness and Prescience

One part of my writing practice - a self-imposed constraint of the past few years is that I typically delay publishing. I perhaps took to heart too deeply that Gambian proverb: "Words are like bullets. When you release them, you can't call them back".

Perhaps it's a reaction too against a recency effect in much of today's world. Many writers chase the new and shiny and the temptation of the public intellectual mill to opine on the brouhaha of the moment. Contra punditry is a motto of sorts.

Cambridge city hall

The times when inspiration flows are exhilarating moments, I cherish them immensely, they provide great relief, if not gratification, from their opposite counterparts: the fallow days of creativity. Yet the latter are often a prelude or even sometimes, a prerequisite to the former.

When you are firing on all cylinders, everything comes easily, intuitive connections are made, and the writing practice is a game not a chore. Indeed it can become a compulsion, every conversation somehow ties into the fugitive thought you were pursuing earlier.

You find yourself up at all hours lost in composition. Narratives take over, you're in the grip of an obsession pursuing the muse.

Cambridge city hall

Prolific is the adjective that is used when you are flowing in the zone. What is the writer's equivalent of the heat check?

I had a couple of stellar months recently and, as is my tradition, I simply saved the output for the vault. It's a kind of bank of ideas, or, rather, my wishing well of toli. The idea is to be able to dole out the work at a more measured pace.

Sometimes, the muse doesn't leave, so now the problem becomes that you start to have too much in the tank. Yet you don't want to give the audience whiplash and overwhelm them with the pace of your creations. So you find yourself married to your admittedly arbitrary constraints. Dilemmas.

The upshot is that my blog invariably features things authored months earlier. I made my peace with this as this idiosyncrasy helps me move to my own tune and I still manage to push boundaries in my own manner and time.

Still I do enjoy marking my beliefs to market, as it were. There's a lyrical tension my routine now presents between timeliness and relevance on the one hand, and prescience and substance on the other.

A strong idea ought to be able to withstand some neglect, to paraphrase Garcia Marquez. I enjoy tilting against the windmill of time.

big ben

There is of course the peril of the scoop and I have a few recent examples...

Losers and suckers is a turn of phrase that I hit on back in June, it's a phrase that is firmly in the news, and frothy too, as it was ascribed to a feckless president in September. Perhaps it was in the air back in June, when it stood as the punchline to that hatchet job bit of toli that came to me. Indeed throughout September, I was sorely tempted to bring it forward.

In the end though when The Justice and Secretary was published, it turned out that my worry about the defanging of my punchline was misplaced. Rather, it was timely and prescient that I had written about the rank corruption of the Scalias as they were quarantining after celebrating the ascendancy of another servant of capital to the Supreme Court in another case of winner's justice. Indeed I got virtual pats of the back for scooping the New Yorker and the like. The repercussions of the White House superspreader event were becoming obvious. Thoughts and prayers to the Scalia family and, as I put it, the tree of iniquity.

I had long ago said my piece about Jerry Rawlings in this joint, but couldn't leave it alone and wrote Truth and Reconciliation in September. Again, I'm glad that, even delayed, that I published it in November and, as fate would have it, a few days before the Flight Lieutenant died. I have no regrets about what I wrote but am especially grateful that it didn't appear post mortem.

The last one is about mink. In early May I started a piece about mink, initially titled The Mink Connection, as I'd been collecting links pondering the various avenues for viral transmission. At some point, it turned into a kind of alternate history of our covidious pandemic - the plight of workers in meatpacking plants and farm workers were of concern as were other small things. The minks would reappear with lucid logic into a dreamlike poem in August. Then, of course, the minks became commonplace, the scientists raised the alarm in Denmark. While the hypertext dreams escaped from the vault, The Mink Quadrant as now conceived remains unpublished, existing only as a playlist. Pity the mink.

Observers are worried

Timeliness


Your notional prescience in prose
Early to despair and viewed as being too on the nose
The real danger of being dismissed as piling on,
And appearing as mere conventional wisdom.

For all it takes is the arrow of time
To separate the prophets and oracles
From the most banal pub dabbler
Precious blueprints of digital ink
Become newsprint to wrap fish and chips

A victim of self imposed constraints
Sometimes scooped by events but no matter.
You may call me Captain Obvious
But I remain my own gatekeeper

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

Soundtrack for this note


A playlist straight from the basement

This note was written on September 13 2020, links added in early October per the mink predicament, and November per the death of the coup maker.

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