With the New Year always come new – often old – resolutions. I’m going to eat less, I’m going to love my dear ones even more, I’m going back to reading a book, I’m going to seize the day again. Even if we know structural change at a personal level does not come easy, we still believe we are going to change for the better.
As I woke up too early in a non-descript hotel in Houston with yet no clear image of the city, and as my early morning brain activity slowly drifted from the lecture I’m going to deliver today to all the things I ought to be writing and I am not, I decided to take action.
After all, as I still remember it, there was a time, before children, in which early morning insomnia proved to be quite productive, as opposed to clinging on to a mirage of a little more sleep.
As a late New Year’s resolution I decided I should find a way to keep this blog awake. I should write at least once a month. It would be a pity* not to do so.
Actually, as a reader, I’ve always hated those moments in which, just after writers had built up an audience out of an apparent, committed generosity, suddenly they would abandon their personal-public forum like some unwanted pet.
The death of personal blogs normally comes with a sudden professional change, such change most surely having being produced by the public success of the writer’s own writing. This is an understandable short-circuit that normally comes with lame apologies for not keeping one’s blog up-to-date, and so on.
On top of it, if you want to keep your new professional life apart from your personal views of the world, and if your new professional life is not only overwhelming, but also feeds on your personal views of the world, then you have a hard time finding an appropriate context for writing – even if you already had the ideal medium for it.
The difficulty to find a time and a space to continue an activity that you’ve always cherished as structural to your mental wellbeing is obviously problematic. And when a professional 9 to 5 takes over, this is particularly notorious.
Even if you consider yourself privileged because your 9 to 5 is dynamic and intellectually challenging, there is still something about constantly answering emails – or to be expected to do so – that arrests your capacity to embrace the kind of free association, and associated creative drive, that comes with writing.
Writing, as we know, requires not only time to produce the actual writing, but also a certain disposition to produce the thinking. You may find a way to accumulate or annotate fragments of thoughts in between meetings, airports or subway rides, but you also need a moment in which you have time to waste in an almost scandalous fashion: time to wander, time to wonder, time to wait for ideas to come together.
When you move from a free range of freelance activities that still leave you time to waste, to become focused on one specific, overwhelming professional endeavor, you risk loosing the creative edge that comes with writing and thinking. One always thinks there will be ‘creative retreats,’ or moments in which you will simply disconnect, but that tends simply not to be true, at least within the productivity-driven realm of the bureau-sphere.
Traveling, especially when it involves long distances, does provide an escape. Not only because of the disruption of routines, and the abrupt change of context, but also because it creates these moments of inevitable disconnection. A long plane ride provides the space for writing, or for catching up on something, precisely because, for a few hours, you are not obsessively connected.
Of course, writing is still a strong part of my activity as a curator on a top museum institution. This writing, however, tends to be confined to strict professional goals: project proposals, briefs, press comments, interviews, exhibition texts.
Furthermore, for objective, or sometimes pedagogic purposes, such pieces of writing tend to undergo a process of de-subjectification that, for me, excludes them from what I consider to be a practice of writing. (Try out podcast #4).
I will be already totally happy if a set of ideas I’m proposing for a small exhibition text does survive and gets transmitted to the audience – after a process in which at least three of my colleagues roam about, question, edit, and profoundly rewrite any text I submit. In any case, I’ve definitely buried the illusion, or the misconception that you can produce a subjective text in a museum context.
Curiously, when François Roche was walking through 9+1 Ways of Being Political the other day, he did identify that the graphic device through which the exhibition texts were presented involved some kind of self-sabotage, which might relate or not to the issues I’m raising here.
Although I was thriving to communicate ideas with a certain clarity – as I’ve always aspired to, but have not necessarily always achieved – in his opinion I had purportedly welcomed an ‘unfriendly’ graphic layout…
I would say that this iconoclasm, or logoclasm (‘not a valid Scrabble word’), unconscious as it may have been, was not however related to my own struggles with going back to writing. It would rather relate to the notion that, although I have as primary goal to communicate ideas to an audience, I don’t necessarily want to consider that audience passive.
I believe there is a certain amount of thinking the viewer should be doing. You don’t want things to be too easy. For that you have television. So, having people getting across a layer of dynamic, ‘unfriendly’ graphics – or across unexpected juxtapositions of art and architecture works, or even across untypical ideas in a museum context – hopefully means that I have an engaged reader. Which makes sense when we’re talking about a political show.
In any case, these notions of short-circuit or self-sabotage are interesting in themselves. Just as they are an interesting means to contradict or implode an inevitable, embracing bureaucracy in practically every realm of contemporary human activity, they may also represent a productive tool in order to overcome the most personal of impasses.
Just as they were at the core of the never published 4th issue of Beyond, on Failures and Accidents, these notions of short-circuit and self-sabotage actually make me go back to an idea I’ve briefly played with in the past, when writing in this same blog.
This was the perverse idea that once this writing forum had fulfilled its initial purpose – i.e. to establish a connection to a world beyond the confines of my own native language – I could simply, one day, and right in the middle of a sentence, switch back to português. Precisamente. Assim mesmo. A meio de uma frase.
Agora que me encontro numa espécie de exílio dourado – ainda que de refulgência mate – parece apropriado, e particularmente devedor da audiência portuguesa que ajudou a suster este blog, que a língua-mãe se torne de novo no meu refúgio e escape.
Embora o português escrito não seja tão impenetrável como o português falado – criando essa estranha impressão de que, quando se fala em português na maior parte do mundo, e por vezes até no mundo de língua portuguesa, se faz parte de uma seita secreta –, a sua adopção neste contexto pode permitir resolver essa distância que quero guardar entre o mundo professional que agora vivo e esses outros mundos que posso revisitar através destes estilhaços de escrita ocasional.
Esperemos que esta seja uma resolução de novo ano que está aqui para ficar.