Sunday, 9 October 2011

Ice Breakers

Yesterday I attended an all-day set of workshops run by the really rather fabulous 26 Characters organisation, who look to produce fresh fructification by bringing writers, designers and other creatives together. Their opening publication "26 letters: Illuminating The Alphabet" was the work that launched my interest in typography and design within novel texts.

At yesterday's "Wordstock" event, they made the valid observation that at such gatherings, people tend to cohere around the people they already know and to this end they produced a menu to go with lunch that listed 26 topics of conversation to break the ice between strangers and asked that we didn't talk to people we already knew, but made new introductions.

I thought it was a reasonable idea in itself, but when i saw the questions I was convinced by their boldness that they ought to do the job rather nicely!

I'm reproducing the questions here, with my answers and please feel free to do the same on your blog if you want, but please credit 26 Characters.

1) What will be the most brilliant moment of your career?
I have a career? If life is my career, then I'd quite like to extend it by cheating death
2) Do you look before you leap, or leap before you look?
Well my feet never leave the ground, (I won't fly for example), so I'm unlikely to leap at all. But if we're talking metaphorically, then I guess even though I try and think things through, I'm not averse to the radical swerve and the unpredictable. Ornery aren't I?
3) Is the pen mightier than the sword?
As a writer you'd expect me to say yes of course. But come on, a whetted blade is way more cutting edge than the arts when it comes to effecting behaviour (if not change). Even as a political writer, I do view writing as a bit of long-distance sniping, rather than full frontal engagement when it comes to political action
4) What was the most difficult conversation of your life?
Not sure, but a surprisingly easy one was with my father in a halfway house where he was being readied for a return to society after a serious suicide attempt at checking out of it. He was trying to make sense of his actions and in our conversation I remarked that if he stayed in his unhappy marriage he would be the one to go under and if he left the marriage, then it would fell my mother. Someone was going to suffer, that was just the wretched dynamic as had evolved. It seemed to give him some clarity on the whole thing
5) Describe your dream day...
That's easy, one in which I fill all 24 hours with writing a novel. Someone would have to be on hand to put bite-sized pieces of toast in my mouth for me and break my chocolate into squares. And we'd have to suspend toilet functions for the period of 24 hours and the like. But I just know that Tweetdeck's insistent ping would yank me from full concentration. Seems we are destined to be social creatures rather than anchorites...
6) What's the biggest risk you've ever taken?
Hmmm, I'm not a great risk taker. But I've fairly consistently made some crazy purchasing decisions. I bought my parents' Sony Betamax just as VHS was crushing the life out of it in the market and needless to say I never even got it plugged into my TV. I did similar with some Hi-Fi I was bringing together. Had a fantastic amp, bought a tape deck from a music studio, but never completed the job by buying turntable or speakers. Sold off the two pieces I had for next to nothing. Readers of an earlier blog piece of mine can read about my ludicrous investment in a car before I learned to drive...
7) What don't you want to be doing in five years time?
Working for a living, but that's a dream right?
8) Is normal desirable?
I'm going to have to be really disciplined to not devote a thesis to this question. Let's just stop at NO. What is normal, who is defining it? What percentage of the population does it take to constitute the threshold of normality? Do those outside have the freedom not only to stay outside any such definition, but to criticise and dissect it? Who wants to be normal and fit into an insane society?
9) What would you ask a visitor from outer space?
If I could be his agent and would 15% be agreeable as my cut... Failing that, I'd talk to him about collapsing scale since he'd managed to cross the cosmos
10) What rules do you ignore?
As many as possible, but especially that one that states 'Thou must know what the rules are before you consciously attempt to break them'.
11) Is writing closer to thinking than speaking?
In a really significant way it isn't. Written language is largely formal, linear sentences syntactically constructed. Speech rarely is so. Having said that, my writing attempts to render the thinking mind and presenting simultaneous thoughts, the bombardment of notions, the colouring by emotion etc etc. So my answer is it should be, but largely isn't at least within literature
12) What is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?
Even though I don't 'do' Nature, the colours in the Grand Canyon and the sunrise while waking up on a boat approaching Dubrovnik. I find some of Rothko's paintings beautiful too. I do find a certain despairing beauty among ruined/war torn buildings too, but that's just probably me. There are certain sounds in music I find beautiful, but they're kind of hard to portray in words
13) How do you break habitual behaviours?
By not habituating in the first place. And where I do, I probably have a blind spot to the fact that they're habits and therefore am never aware enough to try and change them
14) Is a picture worth a thousand words?
I'm torn on this one. Firstly I detest art works that rely on words to convey and referential meaning, even to the artwork's title. But clearly visual art can convey meanings that words can't, or only through massive over-elaboration. Mind you, I'm an author, so I'll always defend the power of the written word too. I do conceptualise my works in broad terms through things such as abstract, or cubist. All art forms are about ways of seeing after all
15) What emotions do you feel most uncomfortable with?
Another tricky one for me, though not in the 'normal' manner I would credit. My problem is that the emotional lexicon is actually very poorly defined. Both our understanding, our vocabulary, our shading of the emotional spectrum. What is an emotion and what isn't? Is fear an emotion? Is vengeance? So I feel uncomfortable with the whole darn lot of them as we currently conceive of them. To me the happy-sad spectrum of the emoticon range just about sums up the infantile nature of our understanding
16) What was the happiest moment of your life?
Well I hope it is yet to come, or I want a refund... certain ecstatic states dancing & exhausted at gigs, after sporting triumphs, (played at very low level of ability), witnessing certain achievements of my children etc
17) What is the best piece of advice you have given to someone else?
Probably that you can only do what you can do, to pursue the art of the possible and not beat yourself up about what you can't achieve and waste energy doing so. I know it wasn't my father's perennial 'Don't do what I do, do as I say'
18) What did/do you dare not say to your mother or father?
There is nothing that I wouldn't dare, but I would try and couch it in the best possible terms with their wellbeing in mind. But I would never refrain from not airing something
19) What do you fear most?
The lights going out for eternity that is death. It colours everything I do
20) Would you rather be a novel or a poem?
A novel, though not one with monolithic blocks of text. Can I have majuscules? No footnotes though
21) How do you reward yourself?
Either with the quiet inner satisfaction of a task well done, or lashings of chocolate. depends if the shops are shut at the time
22) What organisation would you refuse to work for on ethical grounds?
As a non-believer in the bounteous munificence of the free market, the quodlibets of which corporation is worse than any other is not really something I expend time in ruminating on
23) How would your friends sum up your identity?
A non-believer
24) How would you get away with a murder?
By plotting every last detail. However as I have poor eyesight, am quite clumsy and faint at the sight of blood, I don't believe I'd be much cop at it. Other than that, I could talk someone to death, but only where they had no means of escape
25&26) What is the thing you haven't done yet and why haven't you done it?
Changed the face of literature. Hey it's a marathon not a sprint


li said...

I think this is the first post I've read where I felt inclined to register all reaction choices provided.
There's far too much here to weigh in on, but I feel I must comment on your answer to #13. How fortunate you must be to not have a significant other to point out any habitual behaviors for you :-))

Sulci Collective said...

I do have a significant other, I just don't hear her when she comments on habits! :-)