Saturday, May 10, 2008

Poets and Writers, Maintaining the Slow Mind

The current issue of PW has a few articles that tap into some of things I've had on my mind recently. The first article is titled WAY, WAY TOO MUCH INFORMATION, and it talks about our constant immersion in information, how it's getting more intense and harder to avoid each year, and how our ability to be thoughtful is suffering as a result. The author, Frank Bures, offers some statistics that illustrate this concept: distractions of email and text-messaging effectively rob 10 points from a persons functional IQ; watching the scrolling message at the bottom of the screen on CNN reduces memory retention by 10%; when a person attempts to perform two tasks at once, that person's brain activity is only 56% of what it would be if each task was tackled individually. In effect, the flood of information and the fast pace of life today are making us more distracted and less intelligent people.

I feel like I notice this in my own life, and I feel like this degeneration of my capacity for thoughtfulness really got a lot worse when I moved to San Francisco. I find it harder to maintain mental peace and clarity here; I'm constantly nagged by the thought that there are things going on that I should be taking advantage of, that I need to be creating and producing more. These nagging thoughts don't really motivate me to go out and do more, but they do make me less calm and capable of thoughtfulness on a general basis.

I don't think I'm alone in this, either. And I feel like I've noticed a particular degeneration of thoughtfulness in a lot of the writing I've been reading, too, ESPECIALLY in regards to the writing I read on the internet, in peoples' blogs and online literary sites. I read a few blogs on a semi-regular basis, and a lot of those authors are posting hundreds of words every single day. They talk about their lives, and their lives seem to include a lot of time spent checking emails, reading other peoples' blogs, updating their facebook and myspace accounts. The most extreme of these types of people seem so affected by this distraction and subsequent loss of brain-capacity that their writing takes on a dramatically stripped down, plain-spoken, simple (even shallow) form. The bulk of their sentences follow the same patterns. Their diction is reduced to a few hundred words.

(On a side note, this type of writing seems to make a lot of other authors go absolutely apeshit. Click here for an example.)

Later in the PW issue, there are three essays written by three different Editors at three different Lit-Mags. The second two editors (Stephen Corey of the Georgia Review, and David Hamilton of the Iowa Review) both mention the perils of haste and distraction. Corey has a particularly poignant statement about it:

"If I were allowed to say only one thing to other writers in 2008, speaking both as editor and as writer, I think it would be this: If you are truly serious about doing distinctive work that will make its mark, slow down.

"A great poem or story or essay is not a line on a vita, a selling point in a job interview, or a ticket to tenure. Any person who writes one great poem or story or essay per year for twenty years will take his or her place on the short list of the finest writers of all time. SLOW DOWN."

Reading that meant a lot to me. With all this haste and distraction I'm suffering, partly because of the way of this modern world and of the way of San Francisco and of my mind itself, it meant a lot to me to have someone I can respect stating that speed and production aren't paramount. It's nice to have someone reinforce and remind me about what's actually important.


Eric Shonkwiler said...

I'm flattered that you referred to me as an author, and also happy that you said apeshit. The quote from Corey is great, and reassuring in many ways.

Marcos Soriano said...

Eric, I consider everyone who uses writing for more than janitorial tasks an author, yourself included. Thanks for visiting my blog.