Skinny Dipping

with the Angler

One of the reasons I write is to calm the swirling, seething storm in my mind. Admittedly that sounds dramatic, but it’s accurate enough. Before I begin typing, it’s as if I’m sitting cross legged before a churning cyclone that has caught up an assortment of images, words, sounds, feelings, impressions, phrases, intentions, desires and there they all are, going around and around and nothing will stay still long enough for me to focus on it until I make the first keystroke : at that moment, time slows or switches into a different gear and I find a track along which to glide, or a slender thread I can follow with my fingertips as I wander through dark, twisty passages. V.W. writes, “How often I have said this! An odd psychological fact—that I can write when I’m too jangled to read.” I write to become unjangled, to dejangle the mental field. And yes, it’s true, if I’m too jangled, some clearing out and calming down must be imposed before I can find the proper reading gear, otherwise my childish attention will errantly chase pretty little butterflies rather than sticking to the task at hand. V.W. continues: “Moreover, I want to leave as few pages blank as possible; & the end of the year is only some three weeks off.” Oh how alike we are, Virginia—in some respects.

Last December [2022], I purchased one of those nice little Moleskine diaries for 2023. My original plan wasn’t to keep a diary like V.W.’s in it, but it was to be a place to keep track of my writing, a place to record what I work on each day, to be also a kind of word account book so that I could see how productive I’ve been, and also to hold myself accountable : no day without a line, write something so that no goose eggs are entered in the tally box for that day. But this Moleskine diary came with something like 50 blank pages (in addition to the calendar apparatus) that I now feel responsible for filling. I don’t like to leave notebooks unfilled. Call it a superstition. Any notebook with blank pages is a possible site for an unwelcome incursion. There’s no telling what might end up in those pages left blank. Best to fill them so the monsters can’t creep through or find some foothold, an entry point for a secret invasion. Perhaps I will end up writing a “Year in Review” in the 30 or so pages that I still have left with only about three weeks left to go. And maybe I will fill a few pages with my hopes, dreams, and aspirations for the coming year.

Yes, yes … a hot bath would be welcome on this cool, rainy day. A perfect day to sit by the fire and read after I’ve sufficiently unjangled.

During this month of magical writing ,, I’ve let my French translation and French writing slide (a lack of discipline or will, or maybe that’s the same thing). V.W. writes : “Heres my book in French. I daresay it reads better in French.” A second or third writing does seem to do the trick. The “facts” that V.W. mentions (see 16 Nov 1923) are the details of everyday life it seems. Visits with Hugh Walpole and with Edward Lytton, a trip to the Tate. (Up for two hours now and all I’ve done is read a few pages, make a few notes, and write this paragraph. How will I ever … ?) Not that I want to write a book of facts or even about facts, but for the past few days I’ve felt like I should write more plainly about what … the ideas that swirl and congeal and then dissolve again, I can feel them inside me with labels attached, keywords to approximate a filing system, a record of connections, but what do all the connections add up to? Gee whiz! I feel that I should write poems, so why don’t I write them? I feel I should work on my French so that one day I will be able to translate Jacques Roubaud’s  the great fire of london. and why not start this morning? The big fat book, all 1666 pages of it, is right there. No time like the present! / “Now I lose interest in these facts, much as I do in writing my novels, & thus have to find a way out of saying them.” Yes, I want to write my novels. I do enjoy writing my novels once I’m writing them. Getting started each morning is the most difficult part, but I have a few tricks : just begin typing or moving the pen across the paper, it’s almost as if I can’t think before I am writing, the thinking and the writing must come together, at the same time. If I think : what shall I write about now? nothing happens. But if I type a few words, anything really, then the rest seem to follow — like Moses striking that rock in the desert with his staff. Whether those words are worth anything is another consideration, but it’s easier to throw something away than it is to throw nothing away.

so many distractions … V.W. is concerned about finding a new house, thinks she’s found one and even draws a plan of the rooms in her diary, but nothing comes of it, the dream of the house fades … I don’t want to write about it at the moment. Alice and have our house dreams too, but ours involve staying put ,, our mortgage is all but paid off, just a few more months and then … and then … but the house needs things. The current stress has to do with upgrading the heating and cooling system to something more modern and which will require less maintenance. But such things come with a price tag and it seems that the purpose of every contractor and “service” provider is to liberate as much money from your wallet with as little in return as possible. Where’s the pride in a job well done? The world of my grandfather is gone forever.

I’m halfway through another November novel. I have a working title already: Dream the Endless Road. I’m anxious to get to it : to see what will happen (yesterday’s chapter “The Crisis” was totally unplanned and I discovered it in the writing) and I’ve made some important connections in my research which I’ve spent about an hour before breakfast writing out by hand in my notebooks. My Eureka moment came when I picked up The White Goddess by Robert Graves to p. 173 after reading pp. 807-809 in The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick. Alphabets! yes. Dick writes about the 22 letter Hebrew alphabet used to write the Torah and then asserts the existence of a 23rd letter that when added to the Hebrew alphabet completely changes the Torah: The 23rd letter is not just added on; the Torah returns to its jumbled matrix state and then reforms anew: differently. A hint of Burroughs’ cut-up procedure there too. The jumbled matrix is the word hoard and the writer/editor extracts the raw material from the womb and shapes it. / The operation of adding letters to an alphabet reminded me of my 1996 March Madness novelette, No More I Love Yous, in which the narrator writes about adding six new letters to the latin/roman alphabet, say ß, ∂, ∑, Ω, ∆, and ø, and then using those letters to invent new words which would then become part of the language in which he writes his books. E.g. a word like Øaceny which would indicate a contemplative way of being leading to a generative active visualization of multiworld overlays. / What led to the Eureka moment was connecting Dick’s project (one in which books can become worlds through the reading of them, the alphabet being the basecode of reality) with Graves’ tree alphabet. In Graves (a thesis explored in depth in Elizabeth Sewell’s The Orphic Voice) the poet serves/worships the goddess and poetry is a mythic system, the poetic images themselves are the alphabet of myth and that this alphabet is linked with trees. I’m moving in a shifting connective space of associations and maybe I don’t need to solidify the thought any further, but what’s essential is that I continue to push in deeper. (Somehow Le Guin’s novel, The Word for World is Forest, should connect with this.)

My problem is that I want to do everything that comes into my head : it’s a problem of time, yes. If only I had a little more time : the writer’s concept of heaven is the time (and energy !) to write everything. / The title for this chapter/post comes from a letter V.W. wrote in mid-October (the precise date is unknown). She’s talking about a play that she’s written and now she’s backpedaling : she doesn’t want others to waste their time acting in a play that is not up to V.W.’s standards … if she only had more time !! :: My childhood dream of becoming a writer was built on an image of the serial novel. I didn’t just wish to write trilogies or septologies or even dodecaologies (why stop there !?) I wanted to write The Neverending Unfolding Story in Color! Now that I’m a big boy, all grown up, and living in a time when the future is already the past, I have all the tools I need not only to write the serial novel, but to publish it in installments also. But if I start … it’s like MTV, it was never intended to end. No, the real issue is not the fact that my neverending story will certainly end (we all have to die someday), my trouble is with the necessary and unavoidable decision : the decision not to write something else—if I write this, I cannot also write that. And what is it that I will be giving up? A pernicious little question ,, it’s like “Let’s Make a Deal” : I’ve already picked Curtain #1 and I see where that’s got me: Curtains 2 through 3 are waiting. but time isn’t.

The last entry seems so long ago… and I hadn’t intended ,, it just : slipped by. Reality, so I thought, was unveiled : V.W. writes this in the context of her anxiety at having “missed” L.W. who was late arriving home. Yes, it is during those episodes when the arrival of the future surprises us with its difference. Suddenly we see reality for what it is, something that can’t be taken for granted, something malleable, changeable, susceptible to the whims of hazzard. / I’ve been collecting references to unveiling ,, not just of reality and not just in the writings of V.W. The notebook (T2) in which I began writing Skinny Dipping a little over a year ago has a title: “Beyond the Veil” , nothing specific to do with V.W. or her diary. I don’t even recall now … unless it had something to do with my intention to resume writing a (serial?) novel I started many years ago (and have yet to finish). This is probably an accident, meaning that “I” didn’t plan it, though the circumstances of my writing may have dictated it : “beyond the veil” could be connected to the principal theme of one half of my magnum opus, (codenamed : ) Eden. In William Blake’s prophetic poem, Jerusalem, he enlarges on the veil metaphor as that which separates Adam from Eve when they were in the garden, that is to say “hymen’s band”. In the next line, the same band is the one through which Jesus breaks to enter creation and also the veil of the Temple which rips in two at the moment of Jesus’ death, symbolically breaking open the gate of Hades so that the dead could (from henceforth) be led, if not back to an earthly paradise, then certainly a heavenly one. At some point, the veil and what lies beyond it becomes something of rorschach.

I wrote the 100th page today. Today being the 15th of October 1923 and the 100th page being one belonging to Mrs. Dalloway. By this time next year, V.W. will have finished Mrs. Dalloway. So goes on to say that “I’ve only been feeling my way into it—up till last August anyhow. It took me a year’s groping to discover what I call my tunneling process, by which I tell the past by installments, as I have need of it. This is my prime discovery so far…” Perhaps because we modern readers have a hundred years of other novels influenced by Mrs. Dalloway, the tunneling process seems natural. Before learning V.W. term for it, I’ve always thought of this mode of narration as a process of crystallization : the story begins as an amorphous solution, the essential elements are dissolved and float out of the sight of the reader, but slowly the parts begin to connect, to come together, and then one sees the picture … yes, it’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. V.W. refers to Percy Lubbock’s “doctrine”. Evidently (I’m only going by what I can find in V.W.’s diary and letters), Lubbock says that the working out of processes and form is a matter of conscious decision, a function of rational faculty. V.W. disagrees : intuition, feeling, emotion are what drives writing forward and form emerges out of feeling. But this is developing into an essay, and may lead much further than I intend.

About three times a week, sometimes while I’m writing, often afterwards when I’m doing the dishes or taking out the trash, I think, all this writing that I’m doing is worthless. Why am I wasting my time with … ? These moments of vertigo, doubt are just part of the process. The writer learns to ride them out. One feels about in a state of misery—indeed I made up my mind one night to abandon the book—& then one touches the hidden spring. The pendulum then swings the other way : I’m going on writing it now till, honestly, I cant write another line

A few days ago, I began reading (again) The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus. On page 7 he writes: “…it often happens that those who commit suicide were assured of the meaning of life.” (Perhaps it is ridiculous to insert this here, but when I encounter the phrase the meaning of life in the context of suicide, I think of an episode of Doctor Who, one of the episodes of “The Monk Trilogy” where a document is discovered in the Vatican Library called “The Veritas” and it confirms what Philip K. Dick expected all his life : that the world we live in is nothing but a simulation and it is therefore not real. Okay, fine. But in this episode of Doctor Who everyone who reads “The Veritas” decides to kill themself. But why should you spontaneously decide to kill yourself if you were shown proof that the world in which you live was some kind of simulation? So what? Does the artificiality of the world (life) drain it of all meaning? I mean, even if the beach and the Sun and the pina colada you’re sipping are all simulated, isn’t it still nice? The pina colada tastes good and the book you’re reading to pass the time, wouldn’t you rather go on reading it rather than killing yourself over some trivial matter such as the world not being as it seems? I could go on …) And there is an amusing footnote about Peregrinos. (Maybe it’s in bad taste to laugh, but Camus’ subject is “the absurd”.) The footnote reads: “I have heard of an emulator of Peregrinos, a post-war writer, after having finished his first book, committed suicide to attract attention to his work. Attention was in fact attracted, but the book was judged no good.” Ouch. I guess the lesson is that you should find out if you have, in fact, written a timeless masterpiece before you pull off a terminally irreversible publicity stunt. I couldn’t recall who “Peregrinos” was. Fortunately, we live in the time of instantaneous web search and, so in seconds, turned up his biography on Wikipedia. The Peregrinos, of which Camus writes, is Peregrinus Proteus whose biography was cruelly satirized by Lucian in The Death of Peregrinus. I won’t summarize it here since you can read the encyclopedia entry yourself, but the fact that Peregrinus immolated himself east of the Greek town of Olympia gives me a sense of personal connection since more than thirty years ago I spent a few days in Olympia and so may have even passed the place where Peregrinus carried out his final act. Though I don’t recall seeing a plaque.

During this break in VW’s 1923 diary, I’m continuing with the 1917 diary which, on the 8th of October, VW resumed in a new physical volume. She writes, “This attempt at a diary begun on the impulse given by the discovery of a wooden box in my cupboard of an old volume, kept in 1915, & still able to laugh at Walter Lamb. This [diary] therefore will follow that plan—written after tea, written indiscreetly …” She goes on to record how that day (the 8th) she went with LW to Regent Square to buy paper & pens.

In the past week [from the day I’m writing this, a day early in October 2023], a hundred and six years ago, V.W. & L. are gardening, constructing walls and paths, planting Japanese anemones, daisies, foxgloves, and wall flowers. It’s mushroom season (on account of the seasonal rains) and the walnuts are falling. Aeroplanes over the house : “16 German aeroplanes have just passed over Richmond” V.W. writes in a letter to Vanessa Bell (on the 6th of October) ,, portents of a coming raid. (It’s 1917 after all and the bombs are falling on London.) Oh, and V.W. will be starting a new physical volume of her diary on the 8th (in just two days).

A. and I spent some time in the garden this week, laying down topsoil and mulch, but no new planting. Moles have invaded the yard and are pushing up dirt in circuitous subterranean tunnels ,, in search of grubs. The leaves have begun to fall in earnest.

This shiny new toy ( has reawakened my dreams of writing a serial novel. Doubts immediately crowd in : “how will it be different this time?” The conditions for serial writing are different now, I’m in possession of a vast archive of material from which to draw, upon which to build. Many times, over the past years, I’ve attempted the serial novel under several titles. My greatest success was two years ago : a great flurry of work, a prodigious flow of words, and then … I don’t recall precisely what derailed me, but derailed I was.

Back in March (of this year) I was stuck at the airport (a delayed flight) and I sat for several hours at a bar drinking overpriced beer and writing sketches for a new serial novel about the strange goings on in a small rural community. Of course, the story involved time travel.

If I were to start writing my serial novel now, it would be called Leadworth. I’ve kept the idea of the small community, but I’ve folded in a university, but an unusual university that offers courses and degree programs that are considered impractical , useless in our world. For example, one could get a doctorate in poetry. Imagine that!

Several days ago, I took down from the shelf the volumes of The Diaries of Emilio Renzi by Ricardo Piglia. Often I’m possessed by an irrational passion to begin (in this case resume) reading a particular book ,, probably because I feel that by reading it, I will (vampirelike) feast on its blood and become rejuvenated. (I’ve just opened the third volume of Renzi’s diaries randomly and found this line: “Just now, twenty years after I started writing in these notebooks, I have the feeling that I’m recording my everyday life with caution and efficiency.” [p. 69]) Like Renzi/Piglia, I’ve had a lifelong curiosity about diaries, especially the diaries of writers. Piglia’s fixed idea was Cesare Pavese and his diary, The Business of Living (the principle subject of which, from reading Piglia one concludes, is suicide).

Now that I’m entering the second year of this reading+writing project and I’m putting these words out in public (even if effectively hidden in this very out of the way place) I do feel the need for certain limits. When V.W. writes about her work-in-progress, she’s telling us about Mrs. Dalloway and that’s of interest to everyone. When I was writing privately (and maybe some of these chapters will be held back), I let myself talk about my own works-in-progress, but that was because the only reader I imagined was a future version of myself. Now that my idea of a reader includes you, now that I’m I have to guess what it is that you want to read, or worse, I’m obliged to entice you to keep reading. So … the less I say about my works-in-progress, the better, right?

A safe guess is that you are a reader. Maybe you are even a writer or a secret writer. Even though I post these words here, I do so in the spirit of Bernardo Soares, in the way someone might toss a bottled message into the abyss. Not really expecting an answer.

My fault is that of the person who wishes to do everything that I dream up for myself to do. Reading the diaries of Virginia Woolf in real time is only one of a dozen or more really big reading projects. If only I could spend my days reading rather than toiling in the back office at a desk where my talents (if any) as a writer are spent in drafting correspondence and editing “business” communications. It would have been better if I was an honest laborer ,, and I could spend my days digging ditches and carrying rocks and when I return home in the evening I would be exhausted, sweaty, covered with earth, and could then devote myself to relaxation, but as it is, when I clock out and am freed from my paid labor (if only for a few hours), I’m nervous, empty, hungry, needy. What have I done with my day? Sold my time to a low bidder? I want to immerse myself in a river of words, I want to drink the ocean, but once I’m wet I begin to feel cold, tired, and I choke on the few gulps I manage to ingest before it’s time to fall asleep dissatisfied.

In V.W.’s 1923 diary, there’s a break from 18 September to 15 October, so maybe I will put that break to good use, and go back to 1917 when V.W. was a more regular diarist and the entries shorter. For 28 September she writes, “Another very quiet day, which grew dark, though warm & still … Old man brought our flowers out.” Yeah, my day will be quiet. I still have another hour to add words to my work-in-progress and I’ll do my best to add the best words. Old man, Old man, will you bring me flowers too?

Ah! a blog. Or don’t we call them that anymore? I’ve lost track / touch. Helloworld !! ... oh, look a butterfly ,, a shiny new .net (and who is that guy in shorts ... a Russian accent? being tailed by the FBI no doubt)

This is Skinny Dipping ,,, just sit for a moment and imagine that ,,, 2.0 / I’ll catch you up (are you with me?) :: precisely one year ago today (that is to say the 22nd of September) I started writing (for my own amusement and a few personal+reallife friends) a ... I guess it’s best described as a reading project, but it’s more than just reading, I’m living along with Virginia Woolf in real time ,, but a hundred years later. That is to say, I’m reading Virginia Woolf’s diaries at the pace she wrote them and (in addition to the actual reading) I select a quotation from her diary entry and use it as the title (or prompt) for my own spontaneous prose composition aka SPeC. The title for this instance is “but I’m all sandy with writing criticism, & must be off to my book again” and it will be (become chapter 56 in the book that I’m writing).

Since this chapter will have to serve as an introduction to Skinny Dipping for those of you who are just joining ,, in progress ,, I’ll note briefly that while the slow reading of V.W.’s diaries / and letters !! / an activity that has a fixed deadline of the 24th of March 2041 ,, assuming I’m still around on that day, I will write the final chapter of Skinny Dipping / is the framework for this project, my intent is to move about (in a literary way) in the space of experimental literature. V.W.’s Jacob’s Room being an example of the experimental English novel. Ah, but what do I mean by “experimental”? (more to come !!) ,, that’s enough prolog :

... when I discovered this platform/tool? [method of publication] :: :: I thought (!) I could write criticism, I could write about the experimental novel, what it is, it’s history | how to write the Experimental Novel ,, but what do I know? I’m no authority. I’m just this ... this , someone who writes with scissors and who has a generous supply of band-aids. I can share a few stories, some experiences, tell you about the books I’ve read and want to read. but what most interests me is writing my own books ,, books not for everyone as Anaïs Nin said of her experimental works. ... but the could be , if we really wanted

Criticism? maybe, but I’m already feeling sandy and I really must be off to writing my own book.

This experiment of ,, reading along with ,, has (with the above chapter cum “post”) become public or it’s certainly very well hidden where anyone who wishes may read what I’m writing here.

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