Brain drain

Help. I’m finding Dan Brown quotations sensible. Inspirational, even.

I have no words to describe how this is messing with my brain. I do, however, have gifs.

star-trek-shock

star-trek-shock2

Who am I kidding? Of course I have words. But first, the words that Brown uttered that made this brown person sit up and think, “Omagawd. He’s right.”

“If you believe the people who love you, you get lazy. And if you believe the people who hate you, you become… maybe intimidated, or whatever the word might be, and you don’t write as well.

The best thing to do is just put on the blinders, write the book that you would want to read and hope that other people share your taste. It’s really that simple.”

(From this BBC article)

I’m not sure whether I’ve lost all sense of critical reasoning, but those bits of advice up there sound pretty solid to me. I haven’t got to the point where I’m going to devour Inferno, Brown’s latest novel; though let’s face it, it’ll be a darn site better than most of the crap that comes out of the Indian pop fiction stable so really, I might as well. The most recent assault to human intelligence — as far as I can remember — is Rupa’s “Confessions” series. Confessions of a Private Tutor is already out and Confessions of a Call Centre Worker and Confessions of a Page 3 Reporter are forthcoming. (Incidentally, Page 3 is term for the celebrity gossip and party pages.) I know all this because I’m sent complimentary copies, in case you thought I was spending hard-earned money on Confessions of a Private Tutor, which is about a maths tutor who discovers his students’ mums want a piece of him because he’s hot. Or something. He does say at one point that he’s got a firm bottom because of all the walking he has to do, being a poor tutor and all that. Author Vikram Mathur goes so far as to name-checks Roman Polanski in this book, which some would think is an indication that Confessions of a Private Tutor may at least be something like Fifty Shades of Grey (whose success is responsible for this explosion of erotica in the world of books). Here’s Mathur’s prose:

“I had no idea that the armpit could be so erogenous. I had no idea that there was a direct nervous connection between my groin and my armpit. I had no idea that a woman could lick so lovingly and just when I had got used to this, inasmuch as anyone can get used to the sensation of having one’s cock tickled from within, she opened her mouth and took the flesh bulb in and bit down, gently but firmly.”

Ok then.

So yes, compared to pop fiction of this calibre, Brown is pretty much Shakespeare. I haven’t read Inferno and I remember very little of Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code. But what I can say for his books is that they weren’t unreadable. For most part, they weren’t even boring. Ludicrous, yes. Illogical, frequently. Tiresome, on occasion. Boring, no. Still, that doesn’t take away from the fact that the two titles of his that I’ve read were properly demented. So it’s a bit of a shocker that this is the author whose words felt like encouragement. Maybe what he’s saying is just are just simple, basic observation. Maybe my brain’s lost so much of its cognitive skills that it takes life advice broken down to Dan Brown-sized pieces.

Because there is no doubt that I’m becoming a little bit duller and a significantly worse writer with every passing day. I’m writing rubbish or stuff that’s too boring and/or uninsightful to even qualify for rubbish. The only thing going for them is that the grammar is correct. Whoopeedoo. A friend of mine said something the other day about films — he works in Bollywood, one of the many invisible little people — that stayed with me. “We’re surrounded by such ugliness and it’s become more than physical. So just like we’ll take our film crews abroad because we just can’t find anything pretty in these disgusting cities we’ve created. To just retain the memory of what is beautiful, you’ve got to get the fuck out of here.” It sounded familiar. So many of us look at writing, art, music produced abroad when we want something that will distract us from the despair of knowing almost nobody cares about the things you care about, that there’s almost nobody Indian in your field that you really look up to, that everything you care about is crumbling like a derelict building and there’s no place for you in the spiky, shiny, show-me-the-money towers. Because for those of us who became writers in the present day, nothing we do will show anyone any money.

Putting the blinders that Brown speaks of isn’t easy, particularly because to, quote aforementioned friend, “I don’t want to be the guy who makes complete crap.” Except it’s abominably difficult to tell crap from non-crap. Brown is absolutely right when he says haters as well as admirers are useless. You can’t take the praise seriously. It just makes you complacent and arrogant. Meanwhile, haters will throw their distaste at your work no matter how good it was. Then there are those people who need to inform you of their worldview because, you know, they have a worldview and they feel the world should know of this view. Most of the time, that’s outstandingly unhelpful too. Add to that the fact that most of us tend to flinch and/or curl up into a defensive ball when things we’ve worked upon and ripped apart, particularly when you don’t necessarily respect the rippers’ intellects.

Then, for those of us who have to do the kind of writing that ensures we can afford groceries, the occasional luxury and (in many cases) rent, there’s the problem of churning out writing and really writing. I tried to do some real writing yesterday, but all that kept popping up in my head is how I can’t write and how there’s stuff I should be writing that I’m not even venturing towards.  I’m not sure what the answer is, but at the end of every day, when I think back to the tripe I’ve written during work hours, I want to weep. Because “churn” doesn’t even begin to describe the mechanical way in which I’m writing pieces. If there is any insight, it’s confused. If there is a story, it’s told either shoddily or so flatly that I might as well have used a cliché generator. I didn’t think it was possible until now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few months I discovered that I will do anything to not write because I’d rather not write at all than write crap.

It’s a petrifying thought because this is the only skill I have: writing. It’s a versatile skill, but one with limited utility in an era when publishing is all set to implode and journalism is struggling to understand how to negotiate the media labyrinth. No one reads, I’m constantly told. But hundreds and thousands of us write. Some of us write because we care about the act of writing, the art of storytelling. We’re a minority in an age that values content generators. So do we write for ourselves? Do we write in the hope of RTs and ‘Like’s? Do we write because we’re paid to? Can we crank out written words the same way a disgruntled worker in a factory completes their quota? Can we learn to write with little involvement and lots of characterless competence?Is this why we chose to become journalists? Because deep down inside, we wanted to be irrelevant?

Steven Soderbergh said in this brilliant speech on the state of cinema at the San Francisco International Film Festival,

“…art is simply inevitable. It was on the wall of a cave in France 30,000 years ago, and it’s because we are a species that’s driven by narrative. Art is storytelling, and we need to tell stories to pass along ideas and information, and to try andmake sense out of all this chaos.

Sometimes, when you get a really good artist and a compelling story, you can almost achieve that thing that’s impossible which is entering theconsciousness of another human being—literally seeing the world the way they see it. Then, if you have a really good piece of art and a really good artist, you are altered in some way, and so the experience is transformative and in the minute that you’re experiencing that piece of art, you’re not alone. You’re connected to the arts. So I feel like that can’t be too bad.”

The blinders don’t fit and the only thing being transformed is me (into a stupider version of myself. Just what I needed…), but even at my grumpiest, I’ll take heart from the idea that art is “simply inevitable”. At some point, I’ll stumble upon it, since it is inevitable. Fingers crossed.

This also means it’s not just Dan Brown making my neurons glow. It’s also Steven Soderbergh. There’s hope yet perhaps.

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