Dear Jon . . . (#6) re: 9 Reasons Why the To-Do List Life is the Life

List, list, O, list!

-Hamlet's Ghost

 

Dear Jon,

I am much obliged to you for your post. This post comes to you in 9, yes, 9 parts. 

 

1.

To Do List

Write blog post ( )

Read Murphy ( ) 

Keep editing the novel ( )

Write reading list for next novel ( )

 

2. 

I do not want to write a blog post. It is (figuratively) the last thing I want to do, and yet it is the first thing on my list. I do not know why I write this blog post. The web is clotted with the remnants of dead blogs. You’ve seen these, right? You’re scanning the pages of some blog on recipes or someone’s adventures in Europe to look at the date to see this hasn’t been updated in six months, three years, eight years. Often abandoned without explanations. Something IRL had dragged the writer away. Perhaps boredom. Perhaps forgetfulness. Maybe their IRL had suddenly ended, even.      

The internet is full of time wasting, cyberspace wasting rubbish. We all probably know the dreaded moment where you realise that you’re still looking at this person’s blog/twitterfeed/Facebook/Youtube nonsense. You end up scrolling down their feed: a blur of gifs, weird idle messages they’ve left, spats they’ve had. You trace the history of this spat. We know what someone has for dinner. We know their passing thoughts. They think aloud in an idle text that flashes up on a news feed somewhere. It’s like reading people’s minds, but with adverts. Which feels authentic. The mind-reading machines of the future will probably interrupt one’s attempt to glean the otherwise opaque desires of one’s other half/mother/co-worker/cat with ads for hair products, or business seminars, or more likely that chocolate bar that you’d spookily just been thinking about.

Why write this blog post? Why add to this moronic inferno of so-called content? Content that’s leaves me far from (wordplay alert, guyz) contented. This permanent ephemera. Why did I look at that listicleeven though I hate listicles and I did not want to read it, and got no satisfaction from it, and it ended up advertising something I would never buy? I do not want to write a blog post, I want to write my novel.

 

3.

I do not want to write my novel. One of the struggles when one hits a wall during writing is the question: is what I’m doing worth doing? Is what I’m doing actually entirely trivial? Is the novel dead? In his interview with the Paris Review, Don DeLillo says the novel is very much alive and provides some names of novelists that he believes to bely the statement. He then stops, saying: ‘lists are a form of cultural hysteria.’ The challenge for the novel, he says, ‘We have a rich literature. But sometimes it’s a literature too ready to be neutralized, to be incorporated into the ambient noise. This is why we need the writer in opposition, the novelist who writes against power, who writes against the corporation or the state or the whole apparatus of assimilation. We’re all one beat away from becoming elevator music.’ 

Or, indeed, an internet listicle.

 I do not want to write a blog post.

 I do not want to write my novel. 

 I want to read Murphy.

 

4.

To Do List

Write blog post (Half of)

Make tea (X)

Read Murphy ( ) 

Keep editing the novel ( )

Write reading list for next novel ( )

 

5.

I do not want to read Murphy. I want to read something else on my list. I want to read Henry Green’s Pack my Bag, or Perec’s Life: a User’s Manuel, or Banville’s The Book of Evidence, or Clare Tomalin’s Thomas Hardy: A Time-Torn Man, or The Town by Faulkner. I want to read whatever I’m not reading now.

During sixth form, I made a list of books to read. I asked teachers to look over it and add to it (my marvellous psychology teacher said: ‘I think you should add more women’ so I did).

I’d scour the net looking for best one hundred novels, attempting to put together something wide-ranging, something that could map out for me what might be called the classics. Miraculously, I found a copy of the list I complied. I had to do an internet search of sent emails, and stumbled across it: it was an attachment to an email I sent in 2007. There’s Paradise Lost and Bleak House. There’s Twenty Thousand Under the Sea and North and South. There’s Dracula and Good Morning Midnight. There’s Ulysses and Moby Dick. It was a way of mapping and ordering the world.

 

6.

Examine a list of 100 best novels on the web. Read the comments of how x, y, z, wasn’t included, how could this claim to be a top hundred anything, was the person on acid when they wrote this list? Why no Tolkien?!? What Amis but no Rushdie? Gatsby is terrible. Why are all these books so old? Why no Peake? I hate Norman Mailer. What no Durrell? I personally couldn’t get on with Charlotte Brontë. Why no Henry Green? Life of Pi bored the living daylights out of me. I couldn’t get through Ulysses. Why is Salinger on this?! Without Pynchon this list isn’t worth shit. A novel should tell a story. Where are the women? I couldn’t get through On Chisel Beach. William Golding gives me hives. Dracula is a bit shit tbh. Where is Achebe? Virginia Woolf scares me. David Mitchell is so pretentious. Ballard is overrated IMHO. I hate Living. Why no Ayn Rand?

Oh dear god.

Kill me.

Kill me now.

 

7.

To Do List

Write blog post (Half of, and a bit)

Complain to boyfriend on Facebook about writing blog post (X)

Make tea (X) (X) (X)

Stare out of window (X)

Spot the Larry the plant while staring out the window, and water this plant (X)

Think of more internet comments to add to 6. (X)

Research Karin Rehnqvist (X)

Breathe (X) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( )

Read Murphy ( )

Read Pack My Bag ( )

Keep editing the novel ( )

Write reading list for next novel ( )

Wonder: are lists ‘a form of cultural hysteria'? ( ) 

 

8.

This has all put me in mind of David Lang’s piece reason to believe (2011) in which the libretto is made up of internet search results which begin with the phrase ‘and I will make it’ set to a very stark Pärtian soundscape.

(8. a. I’m thinking very much of something like Pärt’s super gorgeous plus portentous Litany (1994), which is based on a prayer – also: can we talk about the wonderful line at the climax of the piece: Oh lord, shelter me from certain men, from demons and passions, and from any other unbecoming thing (I love the possible slippage of language in certain, as in a) particular or b) to be without doubt. Double also: isn’t it really time we brought back the phrase ‘unbecoming’ into general chatter?)

reason to believe differs from Part in the way that it is more relentless, more incessant. There is a growing hysteria as the piece builds. It is a genuinely moving work, primarily in the way to combines the banal (And I will make it a lot more clear with use of images), the absurd (And I will make it a possession of the hedgehog), and the intimate (And I will make it just for you). As Lang writes in the program notes: ‘I wanted to make a piece about the inner thought process of a person who is not sure how, or why, to live.’

 

9.

To Do List

Write blog post (X)

Complain to boyfriend on Facebook about writing blog post (X)

Make tea (X) (X) (X)

Stare out of window (X)

Spot the Larry the Plant while staring out the window, and water this plant (X)

Think of more internet comments to add to 6. (X) (X)

Research Karin Rehnqvist (X)

Breathe (X) (X) (X) ( ) ( )

Read Murphy ( )

Read Pack My Bag ( )

Keep editing the novel ( )

Write reading list for next novel ( )

Wonder: are lists ‘a form of cultural hysteria'? (X)

Wonder: are to-do lists sometimes unhelpful in the way they make one obsess over productivity as a means of measuring success (X)

 

Yours (now listing)

Jim