Looking ahead to 2017: Finding light in the darkness

It may be a reflection of the year we have just endured as a global community, or the uncertain variables that cause 2017 to look like such a grey zone, but many people I know seem to be afraid to make any resolutions or commitments moving forward. A month or so ago, when I was still buried under a black cloud of grief and depression, I could not even imagine the utility of existing into the new year. I was in a peculiar space. I was receiving enthusiastic feedback for my work as a writer and critic—even selling a few pieces—but I felt empty and hollow inside. I could stand back and observe my malaise, but I could not bring myself to find an essential light to believe in.

Then, as suddenly as it had settled in, the darkness lifted. My parents are still dead, my friend is still gone, and I have not yet found a job. However, the stubborn, stupid optimism I always cherished as part of my character has returned. Wiser and soberer perhaps, and not at all naïve about the very real threats that the coming year holds. But with good books and the comradery of the many people I have come to know and respect, at home and afar, over the past couple of years, I resolve to try to read and write and photograph my way through 2017, come what may.

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I have been making piles around the house lately and considered photographing them but have decided against being that committed in a public way. Suffice to say there is a healthy stack of fiction including a fair number of recent releases or purchases to which I am adding other titles I feel most guilty about ignoring to date. I have also been reading a good deal of poetry lately, new and classic, so I keep those handy. And then there is a growing collection of essays and memoirs which reflects my own interest, as a writer, in the variety of ways that personal experience or observation can be addressed. As much as I flirt with ideas of writing fiction, I seem to fall back into essay, at least as a starting point. If I end up taking a piece in the direction of storytelling or prose poetry, all the better, but the process has to be dynamic. I am learning to let my writing follow its own course as much as my reading does.

And this leads me to what might be thought of as my resolutions:

Reading: Some surprises surfaced when I added up my completed reads from 2016. I discovered that I read more German literature, than I had expected—11 titles, not including some Sebald that I am presently dissecting or the Kafka that I am always reading. I read 12 English language works (more actually, I have several essay collections and other books in process) and 8 translated from French. As for the balance of the translated literature I read, Spanish, Catalan and Portuguese accounted for a total of 10 books with many more waiting, while I read three Slovene, two Czech, and one each from Dutch, Korean, Arabic, Bosnian, Italian, Icelandic, Hebrew, and Polish.

Contrary to my previous pattern, I only read one South African, title though I added more and still have an embarrassing number of books crammed on to my bookcase. I had also intended to read more Arabic and North African lit and, again, failed. There are also a few key independent publishers I did not read from this year. So, all of these considerations will, if nothing else, be reflected in the piles I build. As to what I read—well, I’ll see…

Writing: I want to continue writing critical reviews but I am being very selective. Looking ahead I am especially excited about writing about new releases from Can Xue and Fleur Jaeggy for Numéro Cinq, while I also have a couple of other interesting reviews booked or underway. I continually debate the value of critical writing (this month the “Top of the Page “at Numéro Cinq features seven reviews—including one of my own—that I selected to highlight some books and reviews that impressed and inspired me). So often critics seem to be held in disdain and yet to write about a book sensitively and intelligently is challenging and creative—but it can be draining. Nonetheless, I have learned so much from the writing and from being edited, all of which has helped make me a better writer. Now that I am also involved with The Scofield as an editor I have further opportunities to continue to grow and contribute to the vital community of online literary magazines.

On the other hand, I am hoping to shift the focus of my blog a little, away from attempting to “review” books that I read (unless it seems appropriate). Rather I would like adopt a more personal reflection on the reading experience—try to pinpoint why the writing works, what ideas are generated, or simply celebrate reading for reading’s sake. I don’t ever want to feel obligated to write about everything I read, but at the same time I am increasingly reading books written by writers who are becoming friends and mentors. I want to be able to write about this work, in an informal, yet valuable way.

Finally, with what I call my “creative work,” I have several projects in mind or in process. One is an experimental, constraint-based project in honour of my father which may or may not lead to anything of interest to others. Otherwise, as much as I thought I was done with writing about the body, it seems that there is still a lot of unfinished business or baggage. It is inextricable from either my interest in being and authenticity, or my now expanded and complicated grief work. I am fortunate to have been approached by several online journals/sites that have invited my contributions and I am very excited about being able explore some ideas in smaller creative spaces to see where they take me. At the same time, I have a few other topics that I want, or even need to examine within, shall we say, a more conventional personal essay format.

Photography: After a long hiatus, I am inspired and eager to return to photography. A dear friend has kindly suggested —insisted— that I should incorporate more images into my writing. This possibility excites me and offers not only a direction for myself as a photographer, but also provides an opportunity to repurpose older shots, cropping and radically reprocessing images that were average and turning them into an integral part of a larger project.

So, even though it is impossible to know what the new year holds, I want to aim to face 2017 ready to build on what I have learned over the last two years which have held, for me, some of the most difficult and most rewarding moments of my life. It is really the only way I can think of to navigate what is bound to be a most interesting and surreal time.

Author: roughghosts

Literary blog of Joseph Schreiber. Writer. Reader. Editor. Photographer.

19 thoughts on “Looking ahead to 2017: Finding light in the darkness”

  1. It seems to me that “stubborn, stupid optimism” is the most valid response to our dark age. Despair and nihilism often seem easier but are dead ends, I’ve enjoyed so much seeing this blog and your writing develop, and look forward to however it evolves over this next year.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent and inspiring blog. I love the idea of combining photography with your essay work, when employed carefully (John Berger, for example, though not his photographs. Sebald, of course) this is a very powerful approach. Did you take the photograph used in this blog? It is lovely. Slightly bleak, yet light-filled and hopeful. Very beautiful, just like your writing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. Yes that is my photograph. It is processed with a high level of contrast (you can see a similar shot processed more conventionally from the same day with my recent review of The Walk). I considered a completely different image but I chose this thinking of it as the light refusing to give in to that dark.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful post Joe, and I’m glad you’re facing the new year with optimism – I think it’s the only way forward to avoid complete despair, what with the state of the world and everything. I keep trying to focus on the positive and enjoy what I have in my life and my books – perhaps following David Bowie’s tenet to ignore the nastiness out of existence. Love the photograph, too!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am so glad to hear that you are finding your way out of the fog and are optimistic for the new year. I look forward to your writing as well. My favorite piece of yours was the one you did for Minor Lit. I will be interested to see how your writing develops!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Melissa! That piece is the most important I have written to date in my mind. I have lots of ideas to explore, some which will probably work better than others, but at this point last year I could never imagined that I would finally write so openly and honestly. I look forward to seeing where your writing takes you, especially as you bring more of your background in Greek and Latin to the forefront.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Its wonderful to hear that you are looking ahead with a little more optimism than would have been possible even a few months ago. I like the sound of that new approach for the blog – your comments are so insightful

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I do like your “stubborn, stupid optimism.” So glad the clouds have lifted. I heartily endorse your friend’s suggestion of more photos. I always enjoy them and you are so very good; a great eye for composition. I wonder if photographic composition has any relation to written composition since clearly you are skilled at both. Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Stefanie. I’m not sure about photographic composition, I think that sometimes what interests me is to take an image that is possibly very average but edit and work with it to accompany writing. I’ll see where it goes…

      Liked by 1 person

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