Monday, January 8, 2018

End of the Season

I brought down the Christmas tree this morning, packing the plastic tree and it's ornaments in boxes to be stored in the garage. The cold bringing the winter blues in full force; the last vestiges of  warmth that Christmas had brought disappearing with the coming cold.

Spent early evening listening to news stories and the comics making fun of the latest political turmoil. Sad way to start the year with fury and scandal. I watched the excellent French crime series 'Frozen Dead' or 'Glace'. The location in the mountains was spectacular, fitting the bizarre murders in the remote locale.

Afterwards, I watched 'The Fall' , the latest season of the Irish detective-serial killer thriller now in it's 3rd season. Comparing both detective dramas portray different methods of solving the crime. The French detectives seem emotional and disorganized; though understandable in a remote town where one usually lack resources.

On the other hand, the English and Irish police officers seems more efficient and capable though seemingly mismatched against the killer. The French thriller played against the backdrop of the Christmas season; right into the New Year if I recall.

Recently, I listened to Patti Smith's book where she talked about all the detective shows she watched. I learned a lot about these detectives listening to her insights. I watched these thrillers now with a different eye. She is multi-faceted :  rock singer, writer and photographer. She is a true artist looking at the world through fresh eyes.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

A Sense of Direction

I have been reading two books about walking the sacred trails in Spain , Japan and Ukraine and hiking in England.  'A Sense of Direction' by Gideon Lewis-Kraus  and 'Walking With Plato'  by Gary Hayden are the two books. I always dreamed of walking the pilgrim trials to Santiago de Compostela and Shikoku as well as the trails in England. This maybe the closest attempt that I would ever achieve in experiencing these hikes.

I have done some modest walks in the nearby state parks and have felt a certain calmness and satisfaction in long lonely treks in the woods. I guess I wanted to find out from these works if there was further lessons to learn from these long difficult hikes; perhaps some enlightenment that would justify the hardship and loneliness of these walks.

I guess the lessons would depend on the individual doing these treks; resolving what ever issues that are plaguing them at that point in their lives. For me, it was to recover from depression after the death of my father. These walks have turned out into healthy excursions to keep sane from work stress. I have not been hiking lately and I hopes these books would spur me on again.

Other books that I have read abut these subject were 'The Roads to Sata: A 2000-Mile Walk Through Japan' and 'Looking for the Lost' by Alan Booth; who died of colon cancer shortly after finishing his last hike. These books have better writing and excellent in the adventure travelogue vein but with deep insights into Japanese culture.

I had read these books in the Philippines and I had some modest hikes in the mountains of Batangas and Rizal; camping overnight with friends. Mostly I had enjoyed walking the cities that I had visited; enjoying places like Tokyo, Bangkok,  Beijing, Shanghai and Shenyang. But only the the recent years have I enjoyed the hikes in the wonderful state parks near the place I live; mostly to exercise and relax the mind.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Courage to Create

I have been trying to start a book during my Christmas break with limited success. My inspiration is the composer Philip Glass; I recently read his memoir and watched the documentary of his  life. His thoughts about creativity is insightful; this lesson may be what I have been missing to spur me into the next level.

Creativity is really an act of losing one's sense of self; of not watching yourself when you start your work. The writer ( or composer) forgets what he has written during the act of creation, just going right ahead until he or she finishes his task. In other words, he loses himself in creativity; his mind does not stop him with self-doubt or churning thoughts.

The problem is that the mind does not free itself from it's persona; where one keeps looking at himself during the act of creative writing; the mind holding him back from the freedom of creativity. This is the main problem: the fear of freedom. One must have the courage to create which is a title of a book I read long ago.

The sensation is similar to expressive writing; where one just dumps the thoughts in his brain. Recently, I printed out all my typed journal writing as well as the contents of this blog. I was amazed with the volume of work. Re-reading my entries made me recall those events that happened long ago. I was surprised that I had written those words. I had forgotten what I have written during the act of creation.

The trick is to convert the act of 'abandon' during expressive writing in journals into the process of creative writing; the craft of a novelist. These thoughts come to mind when Glass said he does not recall his compositions when people asked him what he was thinking at the time he was composing his works. He had lost his 'persona'; of himself watching himself when writing.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Coming Back

I can't wait to see how much money I would get after the tax cut. Listening to the news today, the recent bill is being translated into the nuts and bolts of implementation.Some commentators think that the tax cut would result in salary increases or bonuses.

Some companies have already announced that their employees will receive bonuses because of the tax cuts. Now may be the time to legislate a higher minimum wage so the money  goes to the pockets of ordinary folks.

Not much is known about the details since the bill was rushed through Congress. Listening to NPR news, no public hearing or discussions or debate were done about the bill. So one will see what's next when the Congress translates how the bill will work.

If extra money does reach the rank and file, where would it go? Some predict a boom in restaurant spending or purchases in Amazon. But the money maybe best used paying down credit card bills or saving for retirement. But will the bill really translate to an increase in take home pay? Or will the money just end up in company bank accounts. Congress believes the extra money will spur investments, improve competitiveness but history shows that that is not always the case.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Tiger Writing

Gish Jen is a Chinese-American writer who gave a series of lectures about the difference between Asian and Western writers and turned her talk into a book called 'Tiger Writing - Art, Culture, and the Interdependent Self'. The use of the word 'Tiger' is a recent phenomenon, which refers to the strict discipline of children by Asian parents such as in the book Tiger Mom, thereby giving Asian students an advantage in school and work. On the other hand, Gish Jen's book refers to the different perspectives and narrative style between Asian and Western writers. Interestingly, the work of Qi Wang is often cited like 'Are Asians Forgetful? Perception, Retention, and Recall in Episodic Remembering.'

According to Jen, Asian writers have an interdependent point of view while Western writers are more individualistic, with better recall of episodes as compared to Asian writers. This explains why most Asians like me find it difficult to talk about oneself as compared to Westerners, preferring to see the wider context of the situation, rather than focus on one's individual impressions, a trait that can be corrected with Toastmasters with its emphasis on public expression. Her book opened a new perspective which I never thought about before, between the different styles of writing between ethnic groups. She quotes other writers like Orhan Pamuk, citing his own celebrated lectures on the naive and sentimental novelist, as well as Henry James and Milan Kundera and their book similarly titled "Art of the Novel."

The book led me to the work of Otto Rank, a well-known psychologist and right-hand man of Sigmund Freud, who also was an inspiration to the psychologist Rollo May, whose book 'The Courage to Create' was an inspiration for me when I was young. Rank wrote an interesting book (which I have not read) called 'Art and Artist: Creative Urge and Personality Development', about the self actualizing urge to be creative, where one learns new skills and unlearns old blocking habits and disregard destructive patterns of thought. This was the true value of the book for me, to discover Rank's work on personality development which explains one's urge for expressive writing (or journaling) and joining Toastmasters to improve public speaking skills, plus mind mapping and cognitive therapy, which is the natural urge when leading a creative life.

My recent struggles at work, forced me to search for new techniques, to be more effective and efficient at work (like Getting Things Done or GTD), with anxiety driving one to be better (is it because I am Asian?). Anxiety is good according to Otto Rank, a healthy challenge that help individuals to grow. Anxiety has led one to expressive writing which has kept people sane, as well to discover clustering and cognitive therapy to correct bad thinking (attribution error) and calm one's mind (together with Tai Chi). Strange that the book 'Tiger Writing' seem to have pulled all these ideas together, to explain some of the urges that has driven one to write, and explore new skills and experiences for self development. Western writers have access to this tradition because of their strong individualism like in America where people can re-create themselves and start anew, towards a second act in life.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Innocence of Objects

The companion book to Orhan Pamuk's 'The Museum of Innocence' is an interesting picture essay  called 'The Innocence of Objects'. I have not read 'The Museum of Innocence', instead I borrowed the other book which depicts a real museum created by the writer in Istanbul, Turkey. It's interesting because it shows the creative process of a great writer. Although I have not read 'The Museum of Innocence', I could see the desire to catalog objects, as a way to help him write his book. In a way it is like one of those visualization tools like mind mapping which tries to help the writer by creating artifacts that aid his imagination. Instead a curation of objects is a good way to catalog everyday things that belong to the characters of his book, a way to create  depth in the story and flesh out characters; an act of visualization similar to  a visual representation of ideas and concepts as done in mind mapping. But the museum of objects is not only an act of visual creation but an act of curating historical objects.

Each section in the museum refers to a section in the book, helping guide the reader to  understand the characters more by looking at their objects. But in creating the museum, the writer is also trying to complete his work by aiding his imagination, by the cataloging the ephemera of everyday materials like bus tickets, photographs, glasses, calendars, movie posters,  coffee cups, matchbox, clocks and and so on. The museum is also a work of art, and the way the writer crafted his objects, in his choice of materials, the purchase of the building in one of the old neighborhoods of Istanbul, the restoration of the building, the preparation of an exhibit, the way the exhibits were designed and  the objects chosen. The museum becomes not only an addition to his book but also a real museum about the people of Turkey, particularly the middle class of Istanbul, a way to recapture a time in the past that is lost in today's world. In a way, the museum is the book or the book is the museum as created in reality, which everyone can enjoy without reading the book.

I don't know of any other artist who has done this type of work, and Orhan has elevated the art of writing, the process of being a writer and artist, by his lectures and by the creation of this museum, the grand way of the imagination. Any would-be writer would understand the creative process by reading him especially this work. After my father died, I went to the old crumbling house in Manila and saw all those personal objects which I wanted to preserve, the old photographs, the old letters, the antique furniture, the tables and chairs, to preserve the memory not only of my father and of the family. So discovering Orhan's book in the sense of valuing these objects, showed me a way on how to accomplish this task, perhaps as a way for me to write my own book, and assess the experience during the funeral and the return home. The creative endeavor requires the preservation and cataloging of personal objects, to make sense of history as well as the creative  process of writing the novel.

Last Weekend, during the labor week holiday, I tried to catch up on my office work and realized that I needed to prepare before doing the work itself, to organize myself in the way a chef organizes his kitchen before cooking a special dish. Similarly, in writing a novel, one must also organize himself, by preparing the tools of his trade, his work area, his visualization tools like mind mapping, whiteboards were one could write or illustrate ideas, notebooks to get his everyday thoughts, recording devices, software tools like Ever note and Scrivener, out-liner tools and so on. Therefore, one should not rush and do the work or create the output or product, but  focus on the process. I think creating the museum is part of the writing process, to visualize the story, the characters, the location, the period of history, the everyday objects, and assess the experience and meaning before sitting down and writing the novel. It is this process of organization that is the craft that needs to be learned other than the writing itself.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Fear of Home

Preparing for my trip back I recall Thomas Wolfe ‘You Can't Go Home Again', a book I had not read. I did read ‘Look Homeward Angel,’ but somehow I recall the evocative title of his other book, something I always remember for some reason since living abroad for the past 12 years.  Somehow the phrase evokes meaning;  one cannot go back to a previous life after being away for some time.  There is a passage in Wikipedia from the novel that evokes that feeling:

"You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory."

I always admired Wolfe because he gets to the heart of things, though for different reasons, he seems to settle on phrases that have universal appeal with timeless meaning, attracting people under different circumstances, who identify with his words.

I discovered Wolfe in the American library in Manila, amazed to find a great writer I never heard before, astounded by his talent, reminiscent of Walt Whitman, but more like Hemingway in his first person narrative, but with a more exuberant, elegant flourish.  On a trip to Asheville, North Carolina a few years ago, I stumbled on his mother’s boarding house while walking the streets during the Belle Cherie festival, separated from my family as we explored the city in its festive reverie.  Discovering Wolfe was always an accident, or happenstance, wandering a city or browsing in a library. Now after changing my citizenship and having not returned home for at least 5 years, the title of his book evokes a certain truth for those who attempt to come back. One also has an irrational fear of returning home, as if death lurks in wait though someday it will, but perhaps my parents who are now in their twilight years, declining in health with the old home decaying and crumbling. I wonder what I can do, the old house barely inhabitable; a place I can no longer live in its present state, let alone my folks.

I changed my citizenship many years ago, leaving the corruption and inefficiency of the homeland, struggling on visas for trips to other countries, preferring the efficiency of one’s adopted country, before moving to the USA. The passport assured my escape, to flee the past and start anew; to leave a place that almost assures that one will not prosper. But one also recalls other difficulties: endless traffic, the robberies at home, the numerous car crashes that luckily had not turned fatal, amazed at one’s luck of having nine lives, plus worker strikes and company shutdowns. In later years, further troubles have occurred: the folly of ones relatives, the decline and mismanagement of finances, the bad luck that seemed to hound the clan’s fortunes. What does one fear? To be engulfed in the shadow of misfortune, the fear of losing what one had gained; a chance to succeed, to have a better life, the possibility of becoming what one dreamed, to live a life one wishes. The paranoid mind creates existential fears, of some bureaucratic foul-up, the machination of some government agency turning against you, the specter of deportation. Far fetch admittedly but the brain’s cognition falters with fear.

One misses the good side, to recover something that was lost, to meet old friends and relatives, to share the brief time left of ones parents, perhaps to make things right. Travel always makes one fearful, perhaps  the plane flight, crossing the ocean, to be above the clouds; the fear of flying, a dread I had long ago when I used to travel frequently, now coming back to  haunt me. Returning home requires you to conquer fears at many levels, to face demons that lurk in the mind, whether valid or not, like ghosts in the darkness of old homes.