Friday, 28 November 2008

562 words of intellectual claustrophobia

Valentina Ravaglia

When in high school, I was never able to finish my essays before the bell rang. I would spend a long time feeling the stream of ideas flow from my brain through my nervous system and enjoying the satisfaction of seeing them take shape in mazes of ballpen ink. Grinding my teeth in concentration, recounting the assignment in my head over and over again, I would compulsively draw forests of conceptual maps as if swept away in a sort of adrenalin rush and follow them in a linguistic treasure hunt that I could carry on ad infinitum. Sometimes words, phrases, paragraphs would just pour on the ruled page, smooth and pleasantly shaped without an effort; at times finding a fluid structure and painstakingly selecting the most appropriate wording to articulate my ideas would require disproportioned amounts of distress and frustration, when a temporary lack of synonims would make me feel like a complete illiterate idiot, and I ended up trapped between a couple of unnecessary parenthesis I didn’t know how to get rid of. In any case, I would inevitably spend the last minutes of the test time sweating over a barely legible draft, my right hand stained with ink on one side and sore out of the vehement engraving gesture of my childlike handwriting, desperately attempting to transcribe the scribbled manuscript in an orderly copy I wouldn’t feel ashamed of submitting to the teacher.

I never wanted that moment to come. I found the imposition to produce a definitive version with so little time to reflect and elaborate cruel and unfair: they give you a stimulus and a purpose, only to then cripple your creativity with a time limit. But I soon found out that I had a real problem with containing myself when writing, so much that I would never write without a purpose and a time limit, scared by the physical and mental endeavour that the act of self-expression would require, not to mention the time expenditure. I was never able to keep a diary, as every time I tried I ended up spending almost the whole night ranting and mentally masturbating in written form about anything that crossed my mind.

So, when it comes to recounting and/or critically analysing an esthetical and intellectual experience, in order to transmit an idea of it to the reader and to provoke curiosity or at least a slight synaptic movement, I cringe at the idea of having to manage that in five hundred words. I sure consider it a very useful exercise in self-discipline, but I doubt I would ever come up with something really worth reading in this format. I can maybe barely begin to express a concept in said amount of words, but due to the review form, I am also supposed to add some factual information and descriptive parts that take away precious space. I could allow myself an experimental, autobiographical moment, but I’d feel like I’m missing the point. Does this count as a review of my dysfunctional mental activity?

But words must be running out by now. Let me check... tools, word count: five hundred and twenty two. Or nine? Well, thirty three now. Time to stop.
For those who don’t have the gift of synthesis, the shorter the text, the bigger the effort. And I’m too lazy to keep it short.

[Written in March 2008]

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