Stream of Consciousness

One of the genre’s greatest heroes, Virginia Woolf

Sometimes just getting everything out there, down on paper, to be seen by the eyes not the mind is freeing.  Its a release to not worry about grammatical structures, transitions, and all of the little stylistic things that make writing come alive and give you an A on a paper.  No, writing itself, free and unhindered, when you hit that space and the mind flies blank and filled all at once, a zone of sorts that only you have the access key to.  Only you know the password because its your password. And that password takes you into that zone where everything is unreadable but it comes to you, quickly, needing to get out.  And only when you get it out do  you realize what you were feeling, what you were trying to say.  Its as if the damn of words in your head has broken loose and you can finally see through the waterfall of thoughts now cascading, because that’s what those words have now become: thoughts.  And those thoughts flow now, faster and faster as you move farther into your zone.  When you finish reading the thoughts that have somehow managed to find their way onto paper, you realize that the thoughts have become meaningful building blocks. An actual outline of half-finished sentences, somewhat intelligible to the random stranger if they know how to look, to read, the words to your soul.  This odyssey into your zone is like the ocean and all the waves moving back and forth, an ebb and flow, transporting you here and there and here and there, and your body gently sways because you don’t have to think, you just have to feel.  The thoughts are already there, but you are finally giving your mind the permission to release them, outside the normal confines of stress, of life, you are you now.  Exploring that safe place in your mind, connecting with the sounds you hear outside.  There is no parameter, no measuring stick, that judges some thoughts, some words useless.  Everything is permissible. Everything must be written down.

The above paragraph is filled with typos, grammatical errors, half-baked sentences, and randomly connected thoughts.  The above paragraph is a form of stream of consciousness writing.  I first began to explore this particular style in high school.  Then, I forgot about it for a while.  Recently, it has come back to my attention.

Stream of consciousness is a characterized as a more natural method of writing.  Or, at least it is supposed to seem that way.  It’s commonly utilized to show thought processes, add character personality, add a more personal narrative tone.  James Joyce and Virginia Woolf use various forms of stream of consciousness writing such as interior monologues and soliloquies.

From James Joyce’s Ulysses:

James Joyce perfected the the genre in Ulysses.

“…I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”

Now when writing a story, be it a novel or a short story, this style of writing will still have some boundaries, some cohesiveness keeping everything together.  But, it will still seem more natural.  There will be an ebb and flow to the general direction of monologue, but like most thoughts in our head, there will be some dissonance, breaking up the natural rhythm.  The lack or addition of punctuation, the order of the words given, and the level of the words, all become a part of who the character is, who the narrator is.

In the above clip, lack of punctuation gives prominence to Molly (the character thinking the above)’s descent into passion, the after-sex and before-sex passionate lethargy.  Her thoughts are all focused around this event in some way, but within that event they run wild between memories, associations, and desire, all culminating in that final “Yes.”

It is also a great journaling method when writer’s block hits.  What it does is get everything out onto paper (or your computer screen).  In writing there’s a cliche that many times we don’t know what we’ve written, what we’ve created, what we were thinking, till we read it on paper.  Often times, those “ah ha” moments come when we’ve given ourselves the freedom to write, just write.  No constraints on what we put down or how we put it down.  The purpose is to just get it down as it comes into your head.

When you have finished, you can go back and read it, and perhaps you may find that nugget of inspiration hidden amid the rambling run-ons.

J-ing with Style

My focus today is on that dreaded “J” word. The one that is often mocked and ridiculed. Sometimes it goes by the even more sissified word that begins with… a “D.” That’s right, today’s topic is on journaling.

As kids we are often encouraged to journal, or write in a diary, by our parents in teachers. As adults, we are often encouraged to journal by our shrinks. But, what makes us hesitate to write out our lives and our thoughts in a book? Why do we make fun of those who do? I’ll admit, for the longest time I was one of those who publicly scorned journals, and yet secretly attempted to keep one. But, I was HORRIBLE at it. I never had the discipline to write in one daily. And then I would feel guilty and stop. And then I would feel guilty about stopping and begin again. Vicious circle repeat.

Nowadays, almost everyone is a journaler whether they know it or not. It’s called blogging. Whether you blog about your life, your political aspirations and opinions, or your favorite recipes, you are journaling. And that’s what has allowed me to come out and proudly proclaim to you today, I JOURNAL. I even have a physical journal. I first really started journaling while I lived in Russia. Then, when I arrived back in the States, I kept at it. But, it’s different for me now than it used to be for two simple reasons.

1) A journal doesn’t have to be a “Dear Diary” experience. From the beginning of my recent journal adventure I cast away with they typical cliche of writing down only what you did. My journal is small enough that I can carry it with me anywhere. As a result, it has become my “miscellaneous, catch-all drawer” if you will. Any random thought that pops into my head that I want to remember to dwell on later goes in. Any story idea, art idea, etc. If I have four lines of something that resembles a poem, it goes in. This means my journal is more closely a reflection of me than any “Today, I went to the store” entry could be. Especially, when you consider the random sketches and half sentences that have been collected in there.

2) When I do write about my day, I throw out the cliche. Think of it this way. If you were a historian, or even a random reader, who found your diary 50 years from now, would you rather read “Today I went to the store.” Or “Today I found out that the Fred Meyer store is what occurs when Wal Mart and JC Penny have a love child that exploded.” The same basic information is conveyed, but the latter has a little extra spice.

Essentially, it’s as if you were making a story out of your life. And, if you want people to read it, you have to make the brand “YOU,” not “Generic.” It can also serve as good practice for writing stories, and you can switch perspectives for even more practice. Write about your life in first person. Then do another entry from third person.

“All great writers begin with a good leather binding and a respectable title.” James Barrie in Finding Neverland

As an example, I will give you a peek into my journal.
A good friend of mine and I were discussing Thanksgiving last night. One of the statements he made resonated with me. Basically, he was iffy about the whole holiday, as it was just another excuse for people to gorge themselves under the pretense of “family togetherness.”

And it made me think of my family. My whole extended Robinson clan of a family. Every Thanksgiving and/or Christmas, my mom’s side gets together and – celebrates. That means two grandparents, one great-aunt (who acts like a 50 year old), eight parents, eleven grandchildren, and an assortment of friends and significant others all gather into one three bedroom house to “enjoy” each other’s company.

Now, looking at it and the amount of food consumed by this clan of twenty-two plus people, it may be easy to group us into the category of superficial Thanksgiving-ers. But I don’t think that would be true. Now, I’ve never really celebrated Thanksgiving with any other family (well, I did celebrate it with my aunt-in-laws family once), so I don’t know how others celebrate holidays, but this is a little how ours goes.

One by one, the families trickle in. My memaw is already in the kitchen, her foster bedroom during these holiday days, and the house is filled with the aroma of freshly-baked, homemade rolls. A batch of fresh dough is sitting on the counter, because she knows that my aunts and uncles can’t pass by without taking a pinch.

The women congregate in the front living room and in the kitchen while the guys crowd around the tv in the den. Football is on. The Cowboys. And, even though most of the family has drifted away from their Cowboy-obsessed phase, it’s still football. Their boos, catcalls, and cheers can be heard down the block. Well, at least my brother’s voice can.

The grandkids have split themselves up, roaming about the house, sneaking into the kitchen for pre-feast bites, talking with aunts, cheering or booing the cowboys, facebook stalking their friends, inviting old friends over. We do it all.

“Dinner. Everyone gather round. Cassandra, go round up the guys.” My Memaw’s proclamation is like a magnet, attracting the family to her (or at least to the food in her hands). We gather round, hold hands, and then . . . “Ohhhhhhhhh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light…” Yes, we break into song. Yes, my family is very patriotic, but the tradition of singing the “Star Spangled Banner” before our great meal actually has nothing to do with that. It started several years ago as a joke. I’m sure it happened because the boys were watching football, and the national anthem got stuck in their head. Still, whatever the reason, before we pray, we sing the anthem (usually loud and out-of tune).

We then bless the meal, fill our plates, and recreate Darwin’s theory of Survival of the Fittest: The quickest get a seat, the losers get the floor (or a really uncomfortable, small, black chair). We go around and state our thanks as is “traditional” Thanksgiving behavior, but after that we talk. And we talk. And we talk some more.
Then, after the food has begun trickling its way down our digestive courses, the music begins. With four pianists and a whole horde of singers in the family (and a grandmother who doesn’t take no for an answer), the singing can last for a while. A long while. Days even.

Now, my family isn’t perfect by any means, and we do have our arguments, our petty differences, our annoyances, but we’ve been given a great gift. We have two parents/grandparents that have made it their life mission to make sure that they keep the family together. And because we all love them, and we deep down we really love each other, we get together. We catch up. We celebrate the love that has filled this house for over twenty years of family togetherness.