Saturday, 6 April 2013

On Falling Behind

Feed the beast.

That's what it said, the book that advised me to start keeping a blog, as a way to promote my poetry. 'Update every day if possible, but at minimum each week. Keep yourself in peoples' awareness. Feed the beast.' 

You can see how successful I've been with that.

The truth is there was no deliberate plan to slow down the rate at which I update this blog. No calculated allocation of resources occurred. I didn't sit down and run a cost-benefit analysis of whether I should put more effort into updating this or concentrating on doing more gigs and developing my performance chops, and spending more time in irl circles where I can present as me and so develop my make-up-and-clothes-fu. Things just happened. Pneumonia. Depression. Gigs. Nascent relationships that ultimately went nowhere; a certain amount of sexual exploration and voracious socialising. Things slid, as they tend to do. And so I feel behind.

I've been thinking about falling behind today. Because the other day, while reading and sipping some coffee, a thought occurred to me. The thought that I may have been looking at one of the things I've fallen behind on from the wrong angle.

See, I've got behind on my reading. And I've been stressing about that quite a bit. It's not been the biggest stressor in my life, for obvious reasons, but it's been there, gnawing away at the back of my mind: how, and how much, I'd fallen behind.

I got the Saturday Guardian this morning (I know; I said I wouldn't buy it again, but they seem to be trying to be a bit better about trans stuff now and besides, I like Sali Hughes' beauty tips), and at the time I hadn't even finished the new London Review, or the new Kindle edition of the New Statesman - in fact, there's an edition of the NS on my Kindle which I haven't even started yet too. Also on the Kindle is James Wood's new essay collection, The Fun Stuff, which I'm only halfway through and want to finish. There's John Jeremiah Sullivan's essay collection too, but I went off that when I got to the essay where he hangs around a pool with reality TV stars asking if they've ever had any 'trannies' on their show. I can live without finishing that book. And I can probably live without carrying out a detailed investigation of the numerous self-published ebook-only niche porn titles I skimmed through as a kind of literature review for a poetry project I've been working on (you can take the girl out of the academy...). I really ought to get back to Glyn Maxwell's On Poetry, which 'd barely started before falling ill last year; and I'm sure there'll be a new copy of The Baffler out soon to download as well....

That's only magazines and electronic books. In terms of physical books, I still haven't quite finished off Gender Outlaws, which I bought at Gay's the Word last year; last week, at my local Waterstone's, I bought Alice Oswald's Memorial and Sharon Olds' Stag's Leap; I finished the first off while waiting to meet a friend before going to see the roller derby last Saturday, but I haven't even started the latter. And then there's Alasdair Gray's Every Short Story 1951-2012, a book bigger than the Bible, into which I have only penetrated as far as the equivalent of Genesis and Exodus, the stories making up Gray's first book, Unlikely Stories, Mostly. That will take a while, not least because the thing is in hardback and is a physical challenge to take on as well as a mental one. Perhaps I ought to buy a lectern for it.

I scored some small victories: I finally got around to reading, and very much enjoyed, Caitlin R Kiernan's The Red Tree, which had languished on my shelf since I bought it quite some time ago, not because I don't like Caitlin's writing but because I hate the horrible, mass-market American editions of her books which are the only ones UK bookstores seem to get. I also finally finished Jonathan Meades' Museum without Walls: I love Meades' television, but Meades' prose needs time to be enjoyed. I finished it during some time off work recently, along with a biography of the poet Peter Redgrove which I read as part of the same lit review as the Kindle porn.

But for some strange reason I also decided, amongst all of this, to start re-reading Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, and got distracted around about chapter four; and I can't leave that unfinished because not finishing a book on a re-read irks me because how many times can I say I've read the book, then? Even more irksome in this regard is the most recent big Locas hardback by Jaime Hernandez: I almost finished rereading that during a long night of clarithromycin and prednisolone-induced insomnia during my first bout of pneumonitis, but didn't quite get to the end; and in the morning, distractions intervened, and now I can't remember where I left off. This is torture.

It is all torture, this constant feeling of having fallen behind, this drip-drip-drip of the thought that you will never get caught up, never clear the backlog, never win: but then, yesterday, drinking coffee and reading the LRB I suddenly thought, is it?

You see, this week I suffered a flare-up of my pneumonitis. And had to spend a mercifully short time in the short-stay ward of a local hospital, being assessed to see whether I should be admitted for a longer stay in the respiratory ward. The short-stay ward, unlike the main wards, has none of those televisions hospitals now provide for bedside viewing these days. You probably know the ones I mean: the ones on a metal arm which swing into place above your bed so you can watch Dr Who, the news, or a selection of preprogrammed movies while you recover from whatever it is you're in for. The short-stay ward in this particular hospital also has rather bad mobile internet reception.

I've been in the 'short-stay' ward for up to two days before. In those circumstances having enough to read becomes a real concern, especially if you're bedridden, as I was at some times, to the extent that staggering to the toilet across the hall leaves you gasping and practically floored. At one point I had actually read literally everything I had to hand, and got so bored I spent several hours trying - and failing - to complete the Guardian cryptic crossword.

I worried about this again when I was in the same ward on Thursday. But, fortunately, I had the LRB; I had the Kindle, with Wood and Maxwell and even the porn if it came to that. I could survive. I wouldn't be bored.

I suddenly realised that I hadn't fallen behind. I was, instead, in the thankful position of having as much to read as I could possibly require. What I believed a burden was a surfeit.

Thankfully I got out without having to be admitted for a longer stay. I came home, with even more to read if I needed to: I could get further into Gray. I could finish rereading Bechdel. I could even polish off the Locas book.

And as with that, so with the other things in my life. I have the aforementioned poetry project to reveal (yes; I finally finished it just after getting out). I have gigs to do. Events to attend. I have the self-published pamphlet to promote, and interest from publishers in another. I have a show to put together. I have to move out, and get my own place. I have my transition to continue, and I have more people to whom I have to come out about transitioning.

Seen from one angle, these are all causes of stress. They are all things on which I've fallen behind. They are burdens.

From another, they're a surfeit: a surfeit of life.

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