Saturday, 11 December 2010

Three thoughts - Leila Rasheed


The world is changing and so is my brain. When I was a teenager, I used to saturate myself in Dickens or Austen and go about narrating my life to myself in the voice of their novels. This evening I was struggling to light our apathetic fire and found myself narrating my life to myself in a Facebook status. Leila Rasheed Is: playing with fire. Language shrinkage. I’ve just finished the first draft of a novel, and I’m convinced that I’ve written it a hundred times more badly than I would have five or ten years ago. My brain has curled up like a hedgehog and no matter how much I poke it with sticks, it doesn’t want to move.
I think I can solve it. The first step is making space for a book, turning off the computer. Reading does for the brain what water does to those magic towels I coveted when I was a child; it causes it to expand and become far more interesting. There are microbes that lie around in a state of dehydration for years just waiting for the rain to bring them back to life. My brain can live again!
We need computers. We probably even need Facebook. But we need real books, too. This is why it is so sad that libraries are under threat. The internet scrunches language up small, it dehydrates it. Books, novels, well-written books of all kind, allow language to flourish. And language is thought.


Spell checkers have their own happy logic. Sometimes when I am typing away, I’ll mis-hit a key, and the program will adjust what I typed to what it thinks I meant to type. So what I intended as more becomes moiré. Now I have never, to my knowledge, intentionally typed the word moiré until this blog post. How often does the average Microsoft user use the word moiré? How often does anyone use the word moiré? I imagine the computer, blind and deaf as it is, imagines itself used by an elegant lady with strings of pearls and a chignon (another word I have never to the best of my knowledge typed before). Such a lady would use the word moiré. Such a lady would have a less apathetic fire than mine, and a small dog to sit in front of it.


Over in Italy, we buy firewood that fruit farmers have trimmed from their trees and we stack it outside to dry. It is proper wood, with knots and gnarls and bark and splinters. We also collect driftwood; big nubbly olive roots stripped of bark, bits of door, that kind of thing. When dried out this burns in witchy colours because of the salt. It usually leaves behind stubborn bits that won’t burn, and old nails and so forth.
Here in England we buy sacks of smokeless fuel shaped into perfect pebbles as light as pumice, and ‘Blaze’ logs, which are formed of sawdust into a regular cuboid with a perfect hole down the middle, packed neatly into plastic. They are the same brown all over. They burn entirely and leave vast amounts of fine, clean white ash.
On the one hand, a functional, Facebook sort of a language, perfectly cuboid, uniformly brown. On the other, a gnarly, splintery, waterlogged sort of a language that needs stacking in the head and leaving to dry for a while before it can burn, and burn, and burn.


Joan Lennon said...

Lovely images - thanks!

Elen Caldecott said...

We have just moved into a new house. It has a real fireplace that needs sweeping. I've booked a sweep which is totally exotic in itself. Soon I will go to the cemetery which is half-wilderness and buy logs that have been chopped from over graves. A very Victorian Christmas!

Katherine Langrish said...

Fantastic post, Elen. Love your image of the gnarly logs which burn and burn.

We have weathered apple logs outside, but sadly no fireplace to burn them on!

Elen Caldecott said...

It's Leila's lovely post! I just barged in with talk of my own fireplace. ;-)

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

This was a lovely Leila... just what one needs for a quiet reflective time next to the fire. I loved your imagery. The last time I heard the word moire (which spellcheck won't correct here) was when my 11 year older sister was going to her first dance and my mother made her a moire tafetta dress in aqua which made it even more watery. I thought it the most exquisite rustling dress I'd ever seen and remember repeating 'moire taffeta, moire taffeta' like a magical chant as if by saying it I would turn from an ugly 5 yr old into a princess. Your post made me want to list all those forgotten words from childhood.

Leila said...

Dianne, you should! That would be a great word game for Balaclava to play... And Elen, I love the sound of your firewood. Special firewood for special fires.

catdownunder said...

Purr! Reminded me of those lovely "mallee roots" we were able to burn when I was a child - every colour you could imagine. Not allowed to have them any more.

Andrew Strong said...

Gorgeous stuff! On the evidence of this log-hog-blog, if your writing is shrinking, let it shrink! And oddly, I think the word moire is used to describe interference patterns on computer monitors, so would appear regularly in any average geek's vocab.

michelle lovric said...

What beautiful writing, Leila. And it proves conclusively that you are NOT a hedgehog.

Stroppy Author said...

Leila, this is lovely - possibly my favourite ever ABBA post! As Michelle says, your post refutes your own point that the Internet makes for poor, bare writing.

Am I the only one here who has deliberately typed moire in both its senses - fabric (history of fashion) and interference fringes (history of physics and various computer books)?

Have a lovely, firework-flamed Christmas!

Marvel and Medallion said...

Hi. I really need some guidance. I want to write a book. To be exact, I have written around twenty pages. That was 8 months ago. I lost my writing spark, I was occupied, or distracted, by other seemingly more important things. Now I want to write again. I dont know what to do. I am confronted with some of the same doubts I had when I first began writing this particular novel: How do I know if this is good? How am I going to get this to 100 pages, at least? Is this story even good, or is the plot weaker than a newborn baby bird? Please reply soon. Thanks

Leila said...

Golly, I didn't know about the second meaning of moire, how interesting. But it corrects it with an accent on the e, so I think it must mean the fabric.
Thank you for the enthusiasm, it's very encouraging :)
Marvel and Medallion, I shouldn't worry too much about doubts at the moment. Write if you're enjoying it. Try keeping a journal or a writing notebook. Collect ideas, and see which inspire you. Writing should be fun, at least when you're starting off - dogged determination can come later. That's my angle, anyway.

Aspiring Writer said...

Sumptuous imagery, Leila - thank you. And it came just at the right time for me. I needed the reminder to luxuriate in language and not live on the internet.