The future of… well, everything…

So, I completely rooted my back.* I would like to be able to say that I did it in a glamorous extreme-sport way: perhaps heli-skiing or white-water rafting. But, no, I did it through hours upon hours of doing what I’m doing right now: sitting at a computer writing. Okay, so I’m a writer, both here and at the uni. But I don’t think it was writing novels and research papers that did this to me. I think what did this to me was the expectation that I must keep up with all this newfangled technology.

For the last 9 days, I haven’t been on the computer except once a day to check for important emails. And I’ve got to say, it’s been bliss. The endless stream of Facebook notifications dried up. I simply ignored the vast amounts of email that come through the various email lists and RSS feeds I am on. I picked up the phone and spoke to my bestie rather than Skyping her (she’s well, thanks for asking). If I wanted a cup of tea, I went downstairs and made it myself rather than instant messaging my husband (okay, that’s a lie; I just shouted for him to make me tea: it was classy). Oh me, oh my, it was bliss! There have been days in the past where I’ve been sitting at my desk at uni, trying to write a paper, and all I can hear is a symphony of beeps and buzzes as everything notifies me it’s arriving: Thunderbird, Skype, Google Talk, texts or emails on my Blackberry. Insanity. My attention is so divided. I start a thought and don’t finish it. So this week has been quiet, and I’ve felt a strange calm creep over me. If I see an email on a list come through, I don’t feel the urge immediately to wade in and offer my opinion on everything.

I recognise the irony of saying all this on a blog, and this is the strange impasse I have reached. There is so much that is good about the way that we connect with each other now. I love that I have found old friends on Facebook. From a purely practical perspective, the interwebz allows me to promote myself and build a market as a writer. I love doing writers’ races and being in constant dialogue with my writing friends: my bestie, my manuscript group, my stablemates at the literary agency, and so on: writers can feel isolated at times. But writing used to be different for me. It was quieter. It was early in the morning, with nobody around and a hot cup of tea. It was a special place I went alone. And then I just handed it over to my agent and got on with the next one. I am going to say, definitively, that the day my writing computer got hooked up to the interwebz, was the day my productivity dropped. I write in a distracted way now. I can’t seem to focus anymore. I’m too busy being a writer to write properly.

The wonderful thing about any kind of illness or injury is that it gives you an opportunity to take stock, and I realise that I really have to think about how I write. I don’t have a great deal of willpower (though I stopped biting my nails this year for the first time in my life–yayz!); so saying I will try to use Web 2.0 technology “moderately” may not work for me. Also, I don’t want to be one of those writers who only blogs or appears on Facebook when I have something to sell my “friends”. But at the same time, I’ve always found it borderline uncomfortable posting my opinions in public as though I think they’re all that. Besides, I should be using that energy on my novel, which, it must be said, is getting written very slowly. My agent told me recently that she’s seen a noticeable drop in the quality of manuscripts submitted to her since the advent and mass uptake of Web 2.0 technology. I can imagine why: our writing is spread too thin, just as we are.

Over the coming weeks, in the limited bursts I can actually sit at the computer, I’m going to try and find that still pool that I used to write in. I miss it. I’m not ignoring you, I’m just going to stop ignoring me.

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*Note: please don’t send me suggestions of ways to fix my back. I’m seeing a great health professional and I’m very happy with the progress.

On watching movies

I’ve seen a bunch of movies in the last week or so, and thought I’d blog about the experience. These aren’t reviews as such: a couple of the movies have been out for a very long time. These are just reflections on a medium of storytelling that I feel has incredible potential rarely realised.

The first was the CGI Beowulf (dir. Robert Zemeckis), which I have resisted watching until now. Why resist? Well, the poem has a really special place in my heart and I don’t want to see it sullied. Also, about the time Zemeckis’s version came out, I watched on DVD the little-known Icelandic version Beowulf and Grendel (dir. Sturla Gunnarson) with Gerard Butler as Beowulf and it was really good: sure they dicked with the plot, but it looked stunning. But I slowly came round to the idea of Zemeckis’s adaptation. Neil Gaiman was involved in the screenplay. Anthony Hopkins and a few other good actors were in it. Surely it couldn’t be that bad.

Well, I guess I’ll never know precisely how bad or good it is because I couldn’t watch it for more than 10 minutes. It is officially the movie I have given up on quickest in my life. The CGI was awful, just awful. It looked like a cut scene from a PC game. I will never know if Neil Gaiman’s quirky brilliance saved it, or if Anthony Hopkins made a wonderful Hrothgar because I couldn’t look at it. FFS, if I’d wanted to watch Polar Express I would have rented it.

My second adventure was District 9, which a lot of my friends and family said was Teh Awesome. I’d really been looking forward to this one, but perhaps my head wasn’t in the right place to enjoy it more than “meh”. For one thing, I couldn’t stomach the violence but that says more about me than it says about the movie. I don’t actually mind violence. I like it in books, I love it in computer games. But for some reason movie violence irritates me. I always feel as though I’m being manipulated; it always seems a film-maker’s shortcut to a visceral reaction. Or something. I really don’t know. In any case, I recognise that this movie was a wonderfully original concept, and the aliens looked superb, and the sight of that big ship just sitting up there above Johannesburg was brilliant. But what killed it for me was the lack of a likable character in the first hour. I hated the protagonist (and I’ve forgotten his name, which says something). I didn’t care if he died. I certainly didn’t care if his adequately pretty wife was sad (she looked like she had an illustrious career ahead of her modelling knitware in Kmart catalogues) (seriously, just give the nerdy-looking man a nerdy-looking wife). I got more interested in the alien with the little son and genuinely cared about them, but it was a long time coming. And by then, my disbelief had returned from suspension and I saw ALL the plot holes. And they were huuuuuuuuuuuge. Fatal, even. So my verdict is: great concept, uneven execution.

And then, almost by accident, I watched Ponyo (dir. Hayao Miyazaki). A friend had loaned me a bagful of Miyazaki films to show my kids, and I thought my little girl might be taken by the cute, chubby-faced fish. I expected to do housework while she watched, but from the opening frames I was utterly captivated. So I sat on the couch and watched it all, breathless. It is a work of art. Utterly sublime. Some of the scenes will stay with me forever, especially those that captured to perfection the might and beauty and mystery of the sea.

My final adventure was in an actual movie theatre (gasp!) with 3D glasses on my nose and a squirming three-year-old in and out of my lap. We took the kids to see How to Train your Dragon. I have an interest in medievalism, and particularly in Vikings in popular imagination so I was really looking forward to this one (even though it’s Dreamworks who usually suck and not Pixar who usually rock). Oh my God. It was so amazing. It was beyond brilliant. The story was tight, tight, tight. The characterisation was superb. The CGI was flawless. The settings were incredible. The flying scenes in 3D made the pit of my stomach drop. And the big final scene had me in actual tears (but, okay, I cry easily). A perfect blend of controlled storytelling and real emotional depth. This is the stuff that I always want to see at the movies. Big story, big heart, beautiful to watch. I’d give this one 11 out of 10, and it’s going on the list of my Favourite Movies Evah.

Well, that’s it. Now I’ll go back to watching podcasts of Good Game and re-runs of Friends, and hanging out for The Hobbit. Meanwhile, check out my cat Onyxia: doesn’t she look a lot like Toothless?

I won't bite...

... honest!

Outside my window

I’ve been up early writing this morning. I promised myself I’d write just 300 words then go back to bed if I was tired, but I stayed and finished the scene and I’m quite pleased with myself. I turned off my internet connection so I wouldn’t be distracted, but found myself distracted instead by the view outside my window. All green and cool and white sunlight and Mt Coot-tha in the distance.

But it’s not just the gorgeous setting outside my window that attracts my attention. There’s a big wasp nest on top of my window (don’t worry, I have screens) and I’m fascinated by them. At five a.m., they’re all asleep. I come in here and open my window and the bumping makes them all stir but they just snuggle back down again. But now they are flying about doing wasp-y things. They are so industrious, they are an inspiration.


Much more fun than the interwebz.