The Journal of Failure – Week 19 of 2020

Week 19 of 2020 – 13 May to 19 May 2020

Goals

Reading

  • Goal – 100 / day, or 700 / week
  • Achieved – 730/700 – Success!

Writing – I Remember

  • Goal – 14 / week
  • Achieved – 9/14 – Success!

Writing – Small Projects (Fragments, short stories, etc)

  • Goal – 2.5 minutes / day or 17.5 minutes / week
  • Achieved – 29 minutes – Success!

Writing – Large Projects

  • Goal – 4 minutes / day or 28 minutes / week
  • Achieved – 30 minutes – Success!

Getting myself out there

  • Short story reviews – Zero (Five total for the year)
  • Submissions – Zero (Zero total for the year)
  • Rejections – Zero (Zero total for the year)
  • Acceptances – Zero (Zero total for the year)

Commentary

Week 19!

A bit of a strange week, this one.  I achieved most of my goals, but it felt like a low-impact week.  Odd how that is.

I think part of that could be that I’m reading a lot of novellas at the moment.  There’s a reason for this – limited time means limited opportunities for reading, and I have so many massive books on the go where I’m completely lost as to what’s going on.  I can comfortable read 20-30 pages at a time (unless it’s late at night), which is nothing when the book is 600 pages, and a huge amount when it’s 80 pages.  So, novellas.  I have also long had a fondness for them, as I briefly touched on in this post.

I’ll get the “I Remembers” out of the way.  Realistically I need to write seven per week to stay constant (because there are seven days in a week!), so anything above that is good.  I try to do 14/week because I am…behind.  But nine is fine.  Nine is fine.

For small projects, I am back on a story I’ve been tinkering with for a while.  It involves a small time lawyer who is all-too-rapidly falling into corruption.  My primary problem is I can’t quite figure out how many words I’m aiming for, so I alternate flexing grand and small depending on whether I think it’s a long story or not.  There’s a subplot I like, but if it’s only a 2,000 word story, it doesn’t really need it.  But if it’s 5,000, well – perhaps!  Anyway, I’ll figure it out in the writing.

The longer project is the same as last week.  I have two longer projects on the go. One on Rasputin, which I believe I have mentioned is in need of a total overhaul as the last solid work on it was so long ago now that there isn’t really a cohesive understanding of it from when I started to now.  The other is a story that borrows the worst of Bolaño while trying to emulate the best.  It’s very much in the vomit-on-the-page stage, to see what might come and which areas are worth salvaging into something else.  Anyway, I spent most of my time on the latter, tightening up areas, moving about sections, writing notes about things I know I want to have happen but for which I don’t quite have the words.  It’ll slowly taking form, and at about 8,000 words there’s enough there now to get a feel for it.  I expect it to be no longer than 40,000 words at this stage.

Otherwise, I recommend people listen to this great podcast by Open Letter Books.  I’ve listened to Chad and Tom for years and years, but this one really hit home because it’s clear that booksellers and publishers are facing enormous challenges at present.  I have lost count of the number of times I’ve filled up a shopping cart to order books to then stop and think – but what if I lose my job?  What if this cash is needed for food or housing?  I don’t normally worry about that, but with coronavirus it’s hard not to think about it.  The particular podcast was #179 from April, and I expect things have gotten harder if anything.  Anyway, if you can, buy a book from any of the fine indie publishers who need it now more than ever.

Disclaimer – I wrote something for Open Letter years ago, but I’m pretty sure I bought the book myself anyway.  At any rate, let’s be above board, folks.

Ok, let’s talk about reading.  It was quite a week – five books!  Like I said above, it’s novella time.  The longest was 197 pages, and the shorted was only 52 (a book of poetry).

First up was Hermann Hesse’s Journey to the East (trans. Hilda Rosner).  Generally speaking, I have a lot of time for Hesse.  I think The Glass Bead Game (trans. Richard and Clara Winston) is a magnificent work of intellectual literature, and I also think that his early work around homeless itinerants is also quite strong.  But – the mysticism sometimes gets to me.  I really need to be in the right mindset for it, otherwise it all comes across as hogwash.  And, this week, for me, it was hogwash.  Which is a real shame.

Following on from this was Rodrigo Rey Rosa’s Severina (trans. Chris Andrews).   There’s a lot going on in 80 or so pages – a bookstore owner falls in love/infatuation with a young book thief, and becomes embroiled in her strange living situation with her father/grandfather/???.  The mystery is there, and the books are there, and the writing is sharp and effective, but I think the general plot didn’t quite push far enough.  There are hints that the male figure in Severina’s life is an eternal role filled temporarily by seduced men, men who grow old and become dependent while she lives on and on and steals books, but this is hinted at and, frankly, I think I’m adding too much.  I would have liked it if the book really went further down this path, but it didn’t.  Nonetheless, it’s a fine novella.

Svetlana Alexievich’s Zinky Boys (trans. Julia and Robin Whitby) (also translated as Boys of Zinc) is phenomenal.  I’ve read it before and both times I was appalled at the violence and death and heartache of the survivors.  As with most (all?) of Alexievich’s work, this is constructed as a series of short, one to two page sections where an ordinary person talks about a significant event in their life and how they have struggled with the repercussions.  In this instance, it’s the Russian war with Afghanistan, which is near to 40 years old at this point.  The young soldiers weren’t provided with enough equipment, weren’t supported, weren’t valued during the conflict, and weren’t valued afterwards.  So many coffins returned to mothers or wives who couldn’t see their dead loved ones, weren’t told how they died, and weren’t looked after by the state over the following years.  Their lives were cheap and thrown away.  This book examines the failure of the state through the eyes of people it has failed most strongly, and is an excellent counterpart to her novel, Chernobyl.  Most curious, to me, are the wounded soldiers who miss Afghanistan, who recognise that it was the primary event in their life and now that it is over, there’s nothing for them to do but exist until they die.  And in this, sometimes without legs, or sight, or memory, or arms.  Harrowing.

Georgi Tenev’s Party Headquarters (trans. Angela Rodel) was quite good.  I was somewhat reminded of Svetislav Basara’s The Cyclist Conspiracy (trans. Randall A. Major), though it was less zany than that.  It has an exceptionally strong opening 20 pages, and while the rest of the novel is very good, it struggles to stay at that high level of shocking writing.  Nonetheless this is a pretty fascinating book, managing to explore various aspects of Bulgaria’s history in the lead up to the collapse of the Soviet Empire, with a particular focus on corruption, greed, and sex.

Maryam Azam is a young Australian poet.  The Hijab Files is, I believe, her first collection (and a very quick Google search confirms this), and deals primarily with a young Muslim woman’s final years of school as she grapples with sex, love and the constraints of being a Muslim woman in Australia, which essentially means living in an unfortunately quite racist society.  I’m not very well equipped to comment on poetry, but I did like this book, if mostly because it offered a sensitive perspective on a life that I know very little about.  I’m simply not a young Muslim woman growing up in Sydney, but at least know I am able to be more understanding of those challenges.

And that was my week of failure.

Each week I aim to provide an update on the Journal of Failure.  These reports are intended to provide an impetus for me to achieve as much as I should/more than I do, and also to provide a further ongoing record of my life, as it is. 

2 thoughts on “The Journal of Failure – Week 19 of 2020

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