Defrag & Rejuv: A Love Story

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(Reading the one on the left I was suddenly struck by the memory of there being another book on the same subject, somewhere in the house, and in my memory this other book had been superior in its treatment of the subject. After a feverish search, I found the other book, pictured on the right…so much for landscape and memory.)

I’ve had a wonderful week offline for the most part, just working on my new novel, Borne. In the mornings, Ann takes my phone and the router, and I go down to the local coffee shop where I write in longhand for about three to four hours. In the afternoons, I read, I type up what I wrote in the morning, and I work on editing tasks for the Lambshead Cabinet, among other projects. By around four, I either go for a long, hilly hike or hit the gym. Ann comes home, we have dinner, I check the email on my phone. If there’s nothing that requires me to be on the internet, I don’t get on. If there is, I do, take care of it, do a little blog browsing, and get off the computer again. The next day, I repeat the same schedule.

This may sound relatively normal, but I have not had this routine for over a year. My schedule has been fragmented by impossible deadlines for anthos and coffee table books, book tours, a lot of book reviewing, and other activities that have kept me online. And since I was online a lot, I would use facebook for stress relief, would read a lot of blogs, check out Bibliophile Stalker’s links every day, and in general be Connected 24-7.

The more I kept to this schedule, the more fragmented, stressed, and generally unhappy I became. The more twitchy and touchy I’d be, and the more my mood could swing from happy to grouchy in just a few minutes. On facebook, especially toward the end before I had Ann change my password so I couldn’t get in, I felt like a kind of performing seal. No one had asked me to become a performing seal, but I’d become one. Even worse, through facebook, twitter, and the blogosphere, there were so many voices in my head, so many opinions, thoughts, and ideas from other people, that I didn’t feel like I had any space to myself. I might as well have been uploaded to the Internet and have existed there (and, indeed, I believe that this is now the Attenuated State in which many people now exist).

To some degree, too, writing avoidance was involved. I’ve lived in the world of Ambergris, the setting for my last three major fictions, for twenty years. With the publication of Finch, I no longer lived in that world. That’s a difficult thing from the standpoint of a writer’s imagination. At first, it feels like there’s nothing replacing it–that there’s a kind of black hole where Ambergris used to be, and not a hint of light. It was almost as if I’d ended a major relationship and that person was no longer in my life. You wonder if you can actually write something major that isn’t connected to Ambergris. You look at the drafts of the other nascent fictions you have wanted to write but haven’t had time yet, and you wonder if you waited too late and the animating spark will have been extinguished.

So it’s in that context of an exhausting, fragmented last year and this fear of the unknown—am I still a writer?—that I sat down with Borne. And the emotion foremost in my brain after a week with Borne is…relief. Nothing’s broken. Nothing’s burned out. My imagination is intact, and the parts of my brain that seem to generate ideas, characters, details, out of nothing…just needed to be defragged, just needed me to stop allowing the internet’s million needles of words/info/opinions into my brain long enough for it to consider issues related to fiction without distraction.

When you’re hiking and you run out of paper and you start scribbling notes on leaves and bark, you can be pretty sure the animating impulse hasn’t been lost. Which is a relief. A joy. A privilege. Calming. Fun. Ecstatic.

So this is a very round-about way of saying I’ll be off facebook for probably the rest of the year, at least. That the blogging here will be sporadic and probably on esoteric topics or weird books but not particularly controversial or relevant to whatever brushfire has broken out on the intertubes. I want my brain to be focused on what makes me happy. Thanks to Ann, btw, for helping me refocused on what’s important. And, thanks to this site for helping me clarify a few things in my own head re Finch, which will result in just a few tinkers to the novel for any future editions.

Another part of rejuvenation is catching up on my reading, mostly my nonfiction reading. Here’re a few books I’m finally getting back to (looking for recommendations re good books on the wars in Angola, btw)…

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18 comments on “Defrag & Rejuv: A Love Story

  1. Natania says:

    Wonderful to hear, Jeff. Sounds like you’re exactly where you need to be. Restore, relax, and write. We can’t wait to read Borne. :)

  2. PhilRM says:

    They’re not on Angola, but if you haven’t read the rest of Peter Hopkirk’s books, do so. They’re all terrific.

    Will there be a special, all-bark edition of Borne?

  3. There will be a special all-bite edition of Borne.

    Natania–thanks! Hope all is well. I owe you an email.

    Jeff

  4. James says:

    Not nonfiction, but when I think of wars in Angola, the first name that comes to mind is Antonio Lobo Antunes.

  5. Drax says:

    Thank god for you, VanderMeer. I really needed a jolt like this. Rock on, Jeff.

  6. Rochita says:

    I want my brain to be focused on what makes me happy. This is what’s most important. And I, for one, am looking forward to more of your fiction.

  7. Leah Raeder says:

    Can relate to this very much, Jeff. Glad you’ve centered yourself–looking forward to Borne.

  8. Larry says:

    Have you read Eliseo Alberto’s Caracol Beach? It’s in part about the traumas that a Cuban soldier in the Angolan civil war experienced, along with a tiger that may or may not be real. Don’t know how it reads in translation, but the Spanish original was very good.

    Thought about reccing Modris Ekstein’s Rites of Spring, but that’s a cultural history of World War I, although if you were looking for war as a metaphor for change, that certainly would be a great book for that purpose (and a few others as well).

  9. Something that Mark Danielewski mentioned in an interview somewhere is what he called “The Jane Goodall” method. You just get out there, and create space for story to happen. It’s not that you try to force anything, but you just set up your space and schedule to allow things to naturally occur.

    I think I read that on Chuck Palahniuk’s website, and I think I agree with it.

    I also think the government should allow writers to tax deduct some of our necessary business expenses: headphones, iPod, coffee shop visits by oneself for hours to make that space.

  10. Dan Read says:

    Hey, Jeff! Great post, and thanks for sharing it. What you are saying makes a lot of sense, and I’m psyched for Borne. Some what you say here reminds me of a cool book I read a year or so ago…Booklife it was called. I think you might dig it:

    http://booklifenow.com/

    ;-)

    Got my UK edition of Finch this week. Very nice book. My UK Booklife will be here soon.

  11. jeff vandermeer says:

    Larry–no, I am looking for books about Angola and the conflicts there.

  12. m. says:

    I do love this blog but understand the need to get offline more. I spend way too much time online myself without facebook. Hope you’ll keep sharing your reading lists. :)

  13. Cage Kolton says:

    I am so looking forward to reading your novel Jeff :)

    Cant wait!

  14. J. T. Glover says:

    That the blogging here will be sporadic and probably on esoteric topics or weird books but not particularly controversial or relevant to whatever brushfire has broken out on the intertubes.

    I’ve heard a fair number of rallying cries for and against this over the last year, both the “blogging is dying!” and the “we’re blogging too much!” sides, as well as a few helping of “I can’t be a full-time novelist, full-time business person, and full-time blogger.” Aside from general tiredness, I think a lot of it is simply media fatigue. One can’t internalize, compost, and convert into good stories every stream of information that exists, and the high-energy brushfire stream makes me less inclined to write–whether I’m reading about it or writing about it. And that’s before you even get to the root question of what one actually wants to do with one’s time.

  15. One of the worst things to ever happen to my fiction, and my blogging in general, was Facebook. I may take your route and have my husband just change the password whenever I want to get anything done. On the other hand, I’d like to be able to use it as an accountability tool, “Wrote this much today.” Twitter might be the better tool for that, as I can just tweet from my phone – no need to log in.

  16. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Kameron–I’m glad to hear I’m not alone. I feel so ambivalent about it because it is fun, but it’s also insidious. Hope you’re getting some writing done!

    jeff

  17. Robert says:

    My wife quit Facebook because she felt it was becoming too much of a time suck. Trying to cut back didn’t help, so she left it completely. Sometimes I debate that too. I think the only reason that I don’t is because I’m in front a computer all day for work

    So yes, do what you have to do to keep your sanity and keep your focus

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