Take this week, for instance. On Monday I had 2000 words to write about the graphic design show Forms of Inquiry, which will open soon in Stockholm. On Tuesday I wrote my column for Spanish music website Playground (the December topic is Retro Necro; so far my texts for the site have been relentlessly negative, basically telling readers I think records, record shops and innovation in music are all pretty much dead). Wednesday will be dedicated to writing up an interview I did with a jeweler last Friday for the New York Times website. Then on Thursday I have to write a column for the Opinion section of art magazine Frieze -- the title is "To Have or to Be?" and it'll basically look at the kind of experiences you can have in the art world without ever buying (or selling) a single piece.
Obviously I enjoy writing. If I'm not doing it for money, I'm doing it here for free. The kind of activities I'd be doing if I weren't writing are also, in a sense, writing. I'd be making songs, books, performances which are really nothing more than writing in real time, or acting out bits of writing I've done beforehand. It's not writing I'm getting sick of, but journalism.
Actually, it isn't even journalism. I think it should be compulsory for aging rock stars to take up journalism, just to get them engaged with the world, keep them learning, wean them off drugs and booze, give them a bit of mental discipline. That or pottery. No, what I worry about is the ratio of experience to writing. It's rapidly approaching one to one.
A 1:1 ratio of experience to writing means that you've become an efficient journalistic machine: nothing you do ever goes to waste. Every single thing you experience gets written about somewhere. It doesn't have to be experience in the real world; it almost seems like I write, now, about every website I visit too.
Now, a good writer should be able to make anything -- even his doubts about writing! -- into good grist for his mill. But warning lights should start flashing when you find you're hardly experiencing anything new because you're so busy writing entertainingly about the few things you do still have time to experience. I've had to pull out of writing for Viennese art magazine Spike, for instance, because they wanted me to make a sort of Berlin Art Diary, but I just don't get out enough to write about art -- so busy am I sitting at home writing about art! I'm also worried by my design writing, which used to consist of me harrassing design editors to let me write about designers I really admired, but has recently turned into an editor asking me to write -- at a tempting dollar a word -- about a designer I've never heard of. All too often there isn't time in my schedule or the designer's for a meeting, so I end up googling and rewriting stuff people have already said on the web.
Another thing that worries me is the puritanism that wells up in me when I'm wearing my journalist's cap. Anyone who knows my songs or my literary fiction or my performance art knows it's not in the least bit puritanical, but something about being given an opinion column to fill up brings out the John Knox in me; it's a bully pulpit, and I can't resist mounting the creaking steps and delivering a hellfire sermon. Hence my Wired column turned into a series of jeremiads against technology (cell phones were "hell phones" and so on) and advertising (which of course was biting the hand that fed me), and my New York Times pieces take a perversely anti-consumerist tone in a blog which is meant to be all about "consuming passions". But the fact is that anyone who had the money to enjoy a really passionate consumer life probably wouldn't be bashing out journalism in the first place. (Our fate as journalists is to write about experiences we'll probably never enjoy, or enjoy only as launch night freebies -- assuming we can afford the plane trip to New York, of course.)
My slot in The Moment doesn't even make that worrying 1:1 ratio; I've ended up covering the Yokohama Triennale, for instance, via blog reports and hearsay. Another day, another subject, another thousand words. There's no time to stop and actually do something. Journalism 1, Life nil.
So my resolution for 2009 is to write less journalism and do a bit more living; to boost the life side and give the writing something to get its teeth into. I'm hoping to do more traveling next year, a bit of teaching, some performance art, some singing tours and some reading tours (because I have two books coming out, and somebody somewhere may want me to read from them). I don't think I'll stop blogging, because I love writing in the heat of an enthusiasm. But I hope to have fewer weeks like this week -- another day, another deadline.