Going around the block
By Toh Hsien Min
George Szirtes, in a Proust Questionnaire from this issue, says of writer's block that "I believe in it happening in others but have not suffered a block because, when not writing, I am translating, which makes me write again." As one of those others – who did in fact sidetrack a conversation on journal infrastructure by saying that it felt like spending money on automatic editorial generation would be more worthwhile – I have to say he is a lucky one. Editorial season is tough when there isn't anything obvious to write about, or perhaps in my case more accurately if the subjects that one would in fact want to write about are not especially appropriate for public airing.
I did make the breakthrough eventually, but this was only because I'd turned off the computer, thinking that it wasn't worth continue to express angst into a blank screen, whereupon the idea came to me, in the fashion of a snake eating its own tail, that I could write about how stopping trying so hard was instrumental to making the breakthrough.
Oddly enough, it hasn't been a new idea, but something that I've long held to be correct for my work life. In an article entitled "Rest is not idleness", a trio of researchers describe "a so-called default mode... of neural processing that is relatively suppressed when attention is focused on the outside world", but which is engaged when the subject is at rest. This mode of "constructive internal reflection" is essential for learning, problem-solving and creative thinking. The most intuitive example of this may be found in how some of our most brilliant ideas occur to us in the shower or in bed, or in my case while taking long train journeys, rather than while sitting in front of a laptop or blank piece of paper. At work, I think of this as the productivity of less, and often force myself to stop if I'm not getting anywhere on a problem and take a short walk out for a coffee.
I'm not sure why the productivity of less doesn't naturally fit with creative or quasi-creative writing however. Perhaps it's to do with how my rest states all feature some low-level mental activity anyway, or, as a (female) friend says, unlike most males I don't really have a "nothing box", which is when her husband is not thinking of anything at all. As it happens, this low-level state is often generative of ideas even if by accident, which could mean that when I try to focus on this low-level state I'm just invoking that snake eating its own tail all over again.
It's got me an editorial though, which means I might not have to pay for an editorial generation algorithm.
Besides the George Szirtes interview, I would suggest the other interview with Canadian avant-garde poet Christian Bök if you haven't flapped a tongue out at some of the odd logics in this short piece. It wasn't just my block (nor, for that matter our busy work schedules) that found us in a bit of a struggle to get the issue out, but also the fact that we had record volumes of submissions in both poetry and prose. I ended up taking a small fraction of the poetry that was available, but I think the selection ends up being nicely balanced, if small. Kai Chai selected a proportionately moderate number, even if five isn't small for his section, and I'm intending to reread some of them in rather less of a rush than when preparing them for upload. There is a quadruply considered essay by Koh Jee Leong on what in my view is one of Cyril Wong's stronger works, alongside the usual Letter from America, and a clutch of reviews with strident opinions to consider and challenge. Let me not block you from those with more midnight rambling.QLRS Vol. 13 No. 2 Apr 2014