For me to talk about writing, I’d have to explain
my obsession with James Joyce.
I was in my second year of doing my undergrad at
the University of Toronto. I had hit a hectic time of exams and essay writing
and two hour commute from home to my campus garnered me time to study and complete
my class readings. During this time, I was tackling Ulysses for my Post-Modernism class. On little sleep I found myself
in the middle of a pub scene in the chapter called Cyclops whereupon a character called The Citizen (an Irish
nationalist) goes on a xenophobic rant against our protagonist & simple
hero, Leopold Bloom. I fell asleep on the train and lucidly dreamed of the
events I had just read. When I woke up, I hit my head on the windowsill and something
happened. It’s something that I’ve tried to capture since then. It was a
fleeting moment; an epiphany. It hard to put into words, but everything felt so
clear and could think many things at once. It could also have been a psychotic
break due insomnia. I don’t really know. What I do know is that my heart raced
so fast and having missed my stopped. I clung tightly to my book just to get
some grounding. It wasn’t panic I was feeling, but rather it was an
extraordinary sense of elation.
Since that fraction of a millisecond I’ve read
Ulysses too many times to count. I find new things in it and learn many
interpretations from others who have digested it as well. I’ve gone on to type
his first work The Portrait Of The Artist
As A Young Man in its entirety online and I am currently transcribing Ulysses by hand, a work that is also
online through scans of these books.
* * *
Think of a seed that takes root in freshly poured
concrete. It has death written all over it. Sometimes, in defiance of its
predicament, the seed bursts open out of the dried concrete and wriggles its
way out into the open. Suddenly a schoolyard, a parking lot, and a subway
station wall all have sprouts and seedlings growing out of them. In concrete, a
budding flower from any garden becomes a weed
My ideas can be impossibly ambitious or ridiculous
useless. Once in a while, a concept plants itself like the seed mentioned above
though and it will take root. It won’t budge. It doesn’t matter how idiotic or
over my head the thought is, it keeps nagging at me until I let it out.
“You’re going to write me now,” it says.
“No, I think it’s best that I don’t. You need
time,” I reply.
“What’s the worst that could happen? You say
nothing? Pffft. Write me!” it demands.
“Ok, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to anyone see
I write it and instantly feel relief. Before I knew
it, without editing it, I’d post it, and run away to do errands. It’s too scary
to look back and cringe at what might have come out of my head. I’d
Honestly, those are the moments when I have my most
fearful and satisfying times as a writer. The Ulysses-ean epiphany exists
“Every life is in many days, day after day. We walk
through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives,
widows, brothers-in-love. But always meeting ourselves.” – James Joyce, Ulysses
* * *
James Joyce lived most of his life in a
self-imposed exile. This nomadic state spilled over to his work and he was
obsessed with collecting words, learning many languages, and recording as much
of the world as he could. The great trauma of not living in his homeland caused
him to hoard the world of words. His passion for interpreting the real world,
the daylight hours in Ulysses and the
nighttime dreams in Finnegans Wake,
were his way of trying to translate the reality of human existence. Writing is
like exploring a mystery and recovering the known. A dedicated lover of
literature faces the hard task poetic interpretation utilizing the very limited
sphere of language. Individual emotions and the filigree in their personal experiences
are as numerous as the stars in the sky.
a short story in Joyce’s first collection, The
“She sat at
the window watching the evening invade the avenue. Her head was leaned against
the window curtains and in her nostrils was the odour of dusty cretonne. She
Finnegans Wake, James Joyce’s last novel:
youwasit propped the pot in the yard and whatinthe nameofsen lukeareyou
rubbinthe sideofthe flureofthe lobbywith Shite! will you have a plateful? Tak.”
Joyce was a master of language. He claimed to be at
the end of language and felt compelled to break it. He lived, worked and
breathed in the rapidly advancing time of industrialization. The assembly line,
electricity, technology changed the world every day. Joyce felt like he needed
to translate his here and now via a new way of writing to catch up with it. It
could be said that Finnegans Wake was
one of the first works to showcase prose and poetry in a technologically
advanced way. He created a word assembly out of notes and text detritus to
write the undecipherable in the best way he could.
* * *
Today some writers parse their words or remix them
the words of others. This is constantly
happening in social media and the digital world of writing. We all have
opinions and we must share them. We all have objectives and we must collaborate
them. Writers can pick and chose from many mediums to sculpt worlds and create
situations. There are perpetual epiphanies within this kind of experimentation.
It’s a frightful, but provocative world to write in
nowadays. Real and digital worlds are built out of words. People bargain, deal,
and navigate the universe through speech and written text. It is assumed that
everything has been written and that all a writer is doing now is rearranging
the alphabet. What would James Joyce do?
“Shut your eyes and see.” – James Joyce
He’d probably tell us to write from the outside in
and then from inside out. Joyce was a man more concerned with how to say
something than saying it all. Shut our eyes to see the best way to put it down
and make the world clearer for everyone. If a seed of an idea implants itself
in your brain, no matter how absurd it is, go for it. The mind is a universe of
unknown obscurities and there is connection there if we let it all out. The
seed becomes a weed in the concrete, but some of those seeds become giant oaks
despite the soil they break out of.
All of these tiny seeding epiphanies form unique
algorithms to become a meditative grain, to become a part of the writer’s
consciousness, to become a biting thought, and eventually become part of a
written page. Ideas are all different buds formed through various patterns in
the mind of the writer. It is in the process of writing and the world behind
the words where the real reason for writing dwells. We write to reveal
Language is a virus because it exists to make ideas
solid. The computer I’m writing on now was once just a dream. Now I type on it.
The possibilities in this are terrifying. All the dreams have the possibility
of seeing the light of day. Look what it did to James Joyce? Try reading Finnegans
Wake or Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in Ulysses.
As a writer, I am trying to give birth to dreams and I’m having the time of my
life navigating that realm. All because I hit my head while reading a book.
Writing isn’t a condition or an affliction. It helps
me escape and offers me relief. Writing is human nature.
Jacqueline Valencia is a poet and film/literary
critic. She has written for Broken Pencil
Magazine, Lemon Hound, Next Projection, subTerrain magazine, and Notebook
Mubi among others. Jacqueline is a senior literary editor of The Rusty Toque and a CWILA board
member. Her debut collection There’s No Escape
Out Of Time will be out with Insomniac Press Spring 2016. She lives in