Yesterday I attending a portion of Thrilling Wonder Stories II at the Architectural Association. The Cautionary Tales segment I sat in on included author Jeff VanderMeer, author Will Self and artist-author Paul Duffield.
Will Self made a habit of walking from central London to Heathrow Airport and then walking from his destination airport to his final goal. His most recent book titled Walking to Hollywood is a product of the activity of taking long walks, and in title alone points to the somewhat ridiculous nature of the project: nobody walks to Hollywood, except for Will Self.
His reading from this book was a segment that takes place in San Francisco, my home for six years, and was an internal dialogue of a man walking to the Golden Gate Bridge from his Union Square hotel room. Vividly described from the perspective of a person who has clearly been there and done his research, it was a thrilling account of the lure of the bridge (and large objects in general).
When Liam Young, one of the organisers of the event, asked for questions via Twitter I responded perhaps a bit too quickly, asking if Self took many notes while he was walking. I assumed he did take notes about his journeys and I expected him to use this as an opportunity to discuss his process for recording a long walk. Instead, he somewhat flippantly blew off the question and said “well, duh…. of course I take notes, I am a writer” and ridiculed the asking of the question- which resulted in most of the audience being too intimidated to ask anything else.
The brevity of Twitter certainly does not allow for the sort of question I was trying to get at. What I should have asked is “what is your process for creating a record of your long walks? Do you walk and write at the same time, or do you take photos and stop to compile notes every so often? Do you make a timeline?” Those are the sort of things I was hoping he would delve into.
The Thrilling Wonder Stories event itself is the perfect illustration of how the process of note-taking and recording has changed dramatically in recent years. While the presenters sat in the middle of the room, the gathered crowd took video and photos with cameras and mobile phones, some took notes and made sketches on paper, while others live-blogged on their iPads or sent cryptic Twitter posts that described the event in real time on a multitude of screens set up around the venue. All of these events created a worldwide feed of multi-channel information that presented the event from a multitude of perspectives. Many people no longer take traditional notes but rely on a combination of these new technologies to set up their own multimedia records of their experience, which may or may not be translated into a more traditional written record at a later date.
I admire Will Self as a writer and think he missed a good opportunity to expand upon his thoughts on how technology has changed the way people process and record the world around them. I should have guessed he is a traditionalist is his own writing practice seeing that he has derided the introduction of the internet to public libraries (and I must admit I did enjoy his rant about gadgets on his blog). He started yesterday’s talk by asking how many people in the room had been to the mouth of the Thames, and very few hands went up. Many more had viewed photos of it. He then conveyed the importance of walking and of actually experiencing the 360 degree reality of visiting places and seeing them at a slow pace, yet I am more interested in how you translate those experiences for your own record and for others.