Saturday, July 23, 2011

Disaster Week

A change in the environment created one of the worst weeks ever here at the support center. Imagine a change during business hours affecting the warehouses all over the continent.  Someone underestimated the risk which resulted in the late delivery of the items to the customer. What a mess, someone said. Frantic phones calls, teleconferences and group chats to resolve the issue were hastily called. Technical experts from IBM and Indian software houses, represented geographically with people calling from North America, South America, Europe and Asia. Every nationality of the world contributing to getting the problems fixed. But it took all day as the attention moved from one location to another.  One suggested to start fixing the problems in the facilities located in Eastern Standard Time and working across the continent until one reaches facilities working in Western Standard Time. It seemed to be a fair request considering that these locations were coming to work while the rest were already in the midst of their workday as the daylight made its way across the land.

But alas, everyone was shouting in the conference call to get their issues fixed at once and one resorted to the severity of the problem and the consequent impact to the business. My application was in the lower end of the totem pole and so addressed last. In the meantime, one had to appease one’s angry customers and support them with workarounds. It was touch and go considering one’s customers are about 45 minutes away by car, and trying to help them accomplish their work from head office. Fortunately, some piece of the technology was still working so one could print out the needed reports from afar, with the wonders of science allowing the flow of electronic bits through cables rushing by in megabits per second to reach the intended destination, translated into paper and ink as another hardware bursts into action spewing out reports in thermal transfer mode. It saved the day to keep the facilities working and the folks can catch up on their work.

It was a nightmare that could have turned disastrous. But everyone kept their head, logically discussing the problems and trying to determine the solutions. Facilities in Canada and Mexico were told to keep their cool as the North American, European and Asian teams traded thoughts and discussed the possible options. These were experienced professionals who remained calm during times of stress though there were a few who were clearly near wits end. Calmness in the face of adversity will clearly distinguished you even in today’s high technology world. Rudyard Kipling’s advice in his great poem ‘If’ is still valid today as it was to the British colonial officers and soldiers who faced adversity in India and Africa as the British Empire strived to control their dominions. If you can keep your head when all others are losing theirs, then you will be a man, my son. Still valid advice when facing technical problems and trouble shooting issues spawned by misbehaving software, or cables or even viruses and affecting people’s jobs and losing sales and money.

Losing money is a graver sin today than losing one’s life fighting some angry native in times past. Hence, the stress to keep the machine running so the goods keep spewing out from the factories, travelling down the road in trucks to be delivered and stored in warehouses, then leaving the warehouse again to travel the roads by truck, train, plane or ship until the product ends up in the customer doorstep somewhere in the world. It is keeping this system running that needs a global army staring into computer screens, monitoring the supply and demand, making sure logistical arrangements are well taken care of to make sure the products are produced and delivered. A global system no different from the British Empire keeping their hold on their far flung realms or Alexander leading and controlling his massive armies from the Greek and Macedonian lands into the far flung Persian empire in the Middle East, moving inwards towards the Hindu Kush and India. The parallels are the same with the American Empire but the scale and operation is repeated perhaps in a lower scale in the global corporations that stride the world. The armies of these multinational entities are remote workers sitting in offices around the globe, looking into computer screens and triggering actions in their software, making phone calls and chatting remotely, linked by the cables of cyberspace.

A chink in the armor maybe the way people interact and work together to keep the whole thing running. Any misstep or miscalculation will bring things to a standstill and crisis mode steps in with hastily called phone conferences and meetings to get the system fixed - misbehaving like some ethereal behemoth existing somewhere away from view. So far the beast has been appeased and brought under control. Afterwards the remote worker bees – the knowledge workers of today are settling back in their ergonomic chairs built with advanced synthetic materials, typing into their keypads and looking in their Technicolor computer screens to check on the software beast lurking inside the network.  Once again one tries to get back the previous rhythm and resume the work on one’s projects.  Last Monday was seemingly peaceful before the eruption that occurred midweek. What was one working on? One asks as if it was a decade ago.  Ah yes, there was a bug that needed to be fixed, complete some documents, call the supplier in Ohio to get a status report and continue testing another software. It’s a week in the life of a computer worker.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Writing as Work

The urge to write for some creative people is like a delirium that writing relieves once they express themselves in prose or poetry.  Writing is therefore a release - offering a therapeutic effect once the writing is completed. In these instances, writing is like a joyful act which allows their creative juices to flower in self-expression. Writing is not work but a playful activity because of the therapy it provides.  The other effect is the re-ordering of thoughts to proceed in a logical sequence. As someone had said, I write so I know what I am thinking. So writing becomes a necessary activity in daily life if practiced in the right vein.  There may be different ways of expression: the private route via journaling and diary writing or the public route by being an opinion writer or essayist or by letter writing. But these maybe the joyful act of expression where money is not a consideration. On the other hand, writing as work means those professions such as journalism or professional writing wherein it’s primarily a means to earn a living.

For those with a joy for writing, self-expression provides a release plus a self-organizing function to still the mind of churning thoughts.  It organizes one’s thought process. For others in this vein, expressing one’s ideas and opinions also provides a release from their inner urge to be heard. Usually for those with this affliction, the joy of writing becomes work when one transitions into the profession of writing. A reckoning is reached when one realizes his writing does not measure up for the need for objectivity that journalism requires. Hence, another route is taken to be a creative writer or novelist who prefers the creative outlet as a better means to transition into being a professional writer. The initial urge for all these routes is the act of writing as creative play and therapy. On the other hand, if one does not ‘graduate’ into a more professional level, then one becomes a diarist or even a blogger whose act of writing is reserved for their private consumption. The benefit would be the therapeutic release and the organization of their thoughts that encourages them to keep writing.

Those who strive to step up from the therapy of writing to writing as a profession moves from joy to work. This is the time when one realizes that journal writing is not sufficient. The demands for professional writing such as being a novelist require not just the joy of writing but a mindset of planning and analysis. It requires one to edit his own work which needs a professional detachment and ruthlessness to ‘butcher’ his own work. This is the mark of maturity as one revises, throws away, and revises one’s own prose for the sake of the market need. Hence, the profession of writing is no longer the joy that one achieves with the simple act of producing verse. The joy is gone when one attempts to edit his own words when this singular output is thought as sacred like a gift from God. This is where one graduates into thinking that writing is driven from some divine inspiration that one should not interfere with.  Instead, one moves into ‘industrial’ mode where the creative act needs to be trained to produce the work without attachment or emotion.

But this does not mean there is no creativity in the professional writing mode. It’s creativity without sentimentality. This allows the professional to achieve whatever effect is required by the market or essentially by the audience. If the market requires vampire or zombie tales then so be it. This is a creativity that is more encompassing because it does not have any private sentiment only a coldly calculating mind where one goes to the position with the best advantage. There is a multitude of creative avenues in this regard when compared to the usually self-centric or self-involved narrative of the private writer or diarist. In the public sphere, there is no longer an attachment to self but replaced with the striving to reconcile the self and with the society at large – or to one’s market or audience. Perhaps it is a sign of maturity that one leaves the comfort of anonymity and achieves solidarity or meaning with his fellow human beings who are also in this journey of self-discovery and meaning. A great writer or author is able to show the world meaning by providing the means for the reader to achieve their own release and calm their thoughts by sharing the writer’s own struggles. This is achieved by telling stories or sharing the own writer’s journey with the public.

So how does one start into the mature work of writing? One realizes craft is important especially setting a specific time and place to write regularly. This is the normal way of working at any job but one need to lose that inspired urge to write in order to relieve tension or organize thoughts which can strike at different times. Instead, one should work at a regular place and time just like any other job, without seeking divine inspiration or to relieve tension. It becomes a task just like brushing one’s teeth. This is an act of maturity as well as mastery achieved from practice and experience as well as in the practice of craft. Creativity can flower from here as well. The mastery can come from the years spent in self-expression via any means whether journaling or blogging. The key is learning the writing craft and rise to another level – the expertise needed to write without sentimentality or emotion and with cool detachment to edit, revise or gut one’s own work in order to make the prose understandable to others. The release to the mature writer is reached when his audience appreciates his work and achieves transcendence after reading the writer’s prose.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


The biography of Robert Redford has an interesting passage about the actor’s experience with Marlon Brando. Both stars appear in the movie ‘The Chase’. Redford was in awe of Brando and described his acting as ‘child’s play’. According to Redford, being a genius like Brando means retaining one’s childlike feelings and perceptions.  It’s an interesting observation coming from someone whose style is considered instinctive and natural. I always liked Redford as he is an appealing actor but his great looks impacts any appreciation of his talent. His performance is always the same and does not seem to have any variation. His charm is his looks as well as the honest authenticity of his roles. His best roles are those where he is outdoors as the outdoors is his element in real life. Hence, he is great in ‘Jeremiah Johnson’ and ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.’  He also acts well if the story and director is good so ‘All the President’s Men’, ‘The Way We Were’, ‘Out of Africa’ and  ‘The Natural’ are good films. But he will never distinguish himself with his acting when compared to great actors like John Malkovich, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman.

He will be remembered for Sundance– his advocacy for independent films.  It’s like an incubator in the way Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are helped by angel investors. It’s a great breeding ground for promoting talents in the film industry. Redford does not have a controversial life so lacks the notoriety and attention getting glare of publicity that usually surrounds other actors. He can even be said to be boring when compared to the other denizens of Hollywood. His great work will be Sundance and the Utah mountains he helped preserve. Perhaps it can even be a more lasting effort than Newman’s ‘Hole in the Wall’ which is a great charity. I think Redford has followed closely his instincts and has preserved his integrity as an artist. He started out as a painter and some samples of his painting are quite good. He seemed to have admired Modigliani who I like as well. I think this is the key in understanding Redford – his true artistic temperament and his love of the outdoors. His outdoors outlook makes him avoid ‘method acting’ (a product of the city) which seems unauthentic. Newman and Redford work well because of the contrast of styles: method acting and instinctive acting.

Redford is a true child of Los Angeles and one would think that he would remain in California and enjoy the abundant quality of nature in that state. But the fact he left Hollywood with its distracting lifestyle for the more remote and mountainous Utah is a testament to his integrity as a family man and love of remote nature. His best role is possibly ‘Jeremiah Johnson’ where both the role and the actor become one in the same way with ‘Gandhi’ and actor Ben Kingsley. But ‘Jeremiah Johnson’ does not tackle the great issues and may not have a lasting impact or relevance as other classic films like ‘Gandhi’ or ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.  The only film of possible great significance is ‘All the President’s Men’ which tackles a great event but is not distinguished by his great acting and only with the performance of Jason Robarts and Dustin Hoffman. He remains relevant because his acting is authentic when he portrays decent men who have had their share of tragedy: the loss of his first child and perhaps the end of his long marriage has made him understand life's pain. He has also gone through a wrenching search for identity as described in the biography.

His analysis of Brando’s genius is interesting coming from someone like Redford with his artistic temperament. I guess all works of creativity require a certain childlike grace.  This applies to all sorts of work from acting to painting to writing. Different mediums but the act of creativity is a playful act like a child at play, allowing one to freely experiment and explore in whatever direction it brings him. This brings me to my writing exercise which is easier if one is in a childlike mentality. I attended a writer’s workshop during the weekend. Basically 3 days of lectures and writing exercises. It was a good workshop held at an old Southern college not well-known in the state. It was an interesting campus with old buildings and tree-lines pathways. It also had modern structures that blended well with the green scenery.  We had dinner on Friday and Saturday plus lectures from locally known authors as well as classes and writing exercises. There was a social event at a local book shop where we had wine and cheese. I met interesting people who were all working on producing some written work. There were courses in Sunday morning where I learned a lot of techniques.

During the writing exercises, I realized that I could write well (at least according to the feedback I got) in the short time allotted. Creating something from scratch is much easier if one does not constrain himself. In my case, I constrain myself with my own personal experience since my writing is basically journaling and blogging. So one may have writer’s block if one attempts to imagine new adventures based on oneself as the main character.  But creating new characters from scratch seem to lift me out of any constraint as one can do just about anything. There is no self-consciousness as one may normally get if one was writing a diary and turning it into a novel. Creating things from scratch is much easier because of the freedom but the work may seem childish or trivial because one does not speak from true experience. But I guess that is fiction and one needs to make a conscious effort to suspend the disbelief of the reader. I had a similar fear in the past in my grade school days when I tried to write a spy story with my love of James Bond movies and Ian Fleming books as my only guide. After all I did not have any actual experience being a spy in my teenage years. I had this trepidation because it did not feel authentic (as compared to journal writing) and I was afraid of being found out as a fraud.  

Many years later the feeling is still there so the tendency is to keep writing along the lines of journaling to maintain that feeling of authenticity. But this is a mistake because it can never be that way as it’s supposed to be fiction after all. So starting from scratch has a greater demand on the imagination which one does have in abundance. It’s the only benefit of an overactive mind filled with churning thoughts. Then again, one is no longer a teenager but someone approaching middle age, having read lots of books, travelled and lived in different countries, had interesting experiences, raised a family and so on.  So the journey from teenager to middle age has provided grist to the mill for a mature writer to exploit. One feels like Redford in his quest to maintain authenticity and be natural and instinctive. But that does not distinguish great actors who need to learn techniques such as method acting to rise to another level.  Consequently, one should learn the craft of writing by attending workshops and training courses as well. One can only go so far by being natural and instinctive and gain certain virtuosity like Sean Connery – not a great actor but instinctive and natural (like Redford) but who gained enough craft to go into different roles throughout his lifetime.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Writing by Dictation

An article in a recent issue in ‘Wired’ magazine says dictation is the new way of writing. The improvement of software like Dragon Naturally Speaking makes dictation easier. I installed the version before the current one and works exceedingly well. Previously I had used an older version and it is nowhere near the ability of the current form. The older version required you to ‘train’ the software by dictating a specified paragraph so the software becomes familiar with your speech patterns. But it still would not get it right most of the time. On the other hand, the current reincarnation gets your dictation possibly 90 % of the time with no time wasted ‘training’ the software. Newer versions will work much better. This is a watershed in the evolution of dictation software as it’s much easier to dictate as well as control software by your own voice.  It’s the difference between night and day.

The ‘Wired’ magazine says that dictation helps in the so-called pre-writing phase. The time when writers try to start a book and need some push to begin. One writer used dictation software to override his writer’s block. Dictation helps you speak your mind and capture more words. Trying to write down notes from a speaker or lectures, one would just write down 5% to 10% of words said, focusing on the key words.  Following this logic, writing down words from your head may not capture the full scope of what the brain is saying. So talking is a way to get over the initial block that one faces with an empty page. It is the blank page that creates pressure on writers when trying to write. The brain tries to formulate elegant phrases, self-edit and second guess the writing impulse to just write. Speaking freely is a different paradigm and feels uninhibited when trying to speak freely. The editing will truly come later unlike writing prose when self-editing will unconsciously come to the fore.

 There are precedents where famous writers dictate their books. Winston Churchill, Alexander Dumas and Montaigne are said to dictate their works to secretaries. Afterwards, the revising and editing of the work is done by hand after the dictation is typed out. Recent authors like Dan Brown use dictation software to write their books – saving money on secretaries. So there are concrete examples of writers using dictation to write books but it has never caught on until now. In the past, perhaps the cost to having secretaries prohibited authors from dictating. Or perhaps writing by hand works for them. But now the cost of the software has gone down plus the technical ability has gone up has made dictation a viable option to all writers. Perhaps the problem is how an author could incorporate this technique in his craft. The ‘Wired’ magazine says the voice recognition software will not only change the way we write but the way we think.

The normal evolution of writing skills may start as pen to paper writing by longhand, followed by typing directly into a typewriter or computer and finally dictation to a secretary or computer via voice recognition software. In each step the mode of expression gets easier with less effort. The mode of thinking shifts from visual to auditory mode. Instead of the symbols of the written word, one shifts to sounds before one sees the writing. Hence, one should liberate his mode of expression. Churchill was a famous speaker and world class orator. This may have eased his writing. Barack Obama is also a great speaker and orator and he has published 2 books before becoming a senator. With this in mind, can one say that speaking well is good training for writers who plan to use voice recognition software to ease their journey to being published authors? The common thread is honing the ability to express oneself in both speech and written prose.

Does being a speaker make it easy to be a writer? Mark Twain is said to be a famous speaker before he became a writer. He specialized in amusing anecdotes and funny stories and achieved some acclaim before turning to serious writing. Churchill also travelled the same path focusing on political and current events. From this perspective, a public speaking activity like Toastmasters is also a viable path to writing. Making public speeches and thinking on your feet with impromptu speeches hones one’s expressive skills. It tries to reconcile the inner writer’s personal search for expression and the outer challenge of making oneself understood by the general public. The writer’s challenge is something that is overcome much faster by the speaker. He will know if his speech works with the reaction of the public (and thereby make improvement before his next audience) unlike the writer who needs to wait to have his book published before getting feedback. The feedback loop is much faster.

Writing by dictation may make writing novels easier and faster. This can be the answer to today’s fast paced world where one needs instant gratification. The resulting book maybe closer to the way people think these days who are feed by off-the cuff blog reports or instant messages via Twitter or Facebook feed. It’s closer to the faced paced lifestyle of modern life. Hence, the modern writer’s training regimen is reading, writing and speaking. The main goal is develop one’s unique voice.  Perhaps that is the way of the future facilitated by tools like visual thinking in order to clarify the result. My Toastmasters experience has required me to find out who I am (transplanted Asian in the Deep South) in relation to my audience and express myself with this identity. One cannot speak like an American Southerner after all. A recent commercial expressed it best with a Korean dressed in a Scottish kilt speaking with a Scottish accent.  It was an amusing picture because of the incongruity of the picture. Speaking helps you understand your identity and help find yourself which is what reading and writing does too.

Being Alone

Jonathan Franzen is as good an essayist as he is a novelist. ‘How to be alone?’ is a wonderful collection of his articles reprinted from various magazine publications. The most famous of his articles is the so-called Harper’s essay where he decried the decline of reading and the challenges of writing in the face of today’s incessant technology. The essay is entitled ‘Why Bother’ – alluding to the problem faced by today’s authors. Why bother writing a novel when readership is declining, when television and movies are better mediums to tell a story than a ‘social novel’, when distractions abound with the latest digital technology and the rise of today ‘visual’ thinkers who prefer visual cues to process information as compared to yester years symbolic readers. It’s as if the digital age has no place for the serious reader or the serious writer. The world has shifted to a new visual medium with iPad or tablets and graphical user interfaces that offer unending distractions and menu driven thinking.

Is there a place for a serious writer in a digital age? Fortunately, Franzen does provide some answers. He is aware of the issues and quotes Nicolas Negroponte and his book ‘Being Digital.’ Interestingly, Negroponte is dyslexic and hates to read. Franzen cites other writers who attack the incessant onslaught of the digital age. He cites a writer who attacked the nerd bible ‘Wired’ magazine as a symbol of the new priesthood of technologists. It’s a priesthood of nerds who thrive in complexity and the use of the latest technology. Now everyone is a nerd, tweaking his iPod or smart phone or iPad or tablet to access the Internet like it was another country to explore. Everyone seems to have a fascination with cyberspace with its own eco system of Facebook, Google and social networking. Want to know about reality – one can find it in videos uploaded in Youtube or the various reality sites or blogs posted in the Internet. It beats reading a novel as everything is real time with amazing videos and pictures. In cyberspace everyone is his own publisher, writer and reader.

The great social novel accepted in the mainstream cannot be written anymore. The world has fragmented into small tribes. There is no universal novel that will be relevant for everybody so niche markets now exist. One must write with his own tribal milieu in mind. The writer is an isolated individual who has no choice but to write.  He is a nerd who is trying to make sense of the outer world with his inner world by using a symbolic language to express himself. Writing is a distinct activity open to only a few who have this predilection. Writers are readers in the first place and reading is part and parcel to one becoming a writer. So the writer starts as a reader and he is in contrast to today’s ‘information processors’  who are not necessarily readers but someone who look for patterns in diverse input like computer graphics, the written word, video and photos. Information processors thrive in the digital world because of the multimedia variety of the incoming information. He is not stuck in the linear world of books.

 Serious reading has become a specialized activity akin to meditation as one writer suggests. It requires quiet time, focus and attention similar to meditation. Like meditation it requires some effort which is not sometimes possible in today’s attention deficit and multiple distraction worlds. But the serious reader is also answering his own inner urge in trying to find himself or his so-called identity. So the reader is also in some sort of inner quest himself. He becomes a writer when he has transcended reading as an act of self-discovery into writing as an act of self-actualization. He assumes another role in this journey of self-discovery in order to answer another transcendent urge for fulfillment. Most people are readers but few transcend into writers. This journey is all the more difficult in today’s digital environment plus the rise of visual mediums like television, movies and photos. Perhaps an analogy is the rise of photography that caused the decline of realistic painting. The result is a shift into the impressionist and abstract painting of the modern age. Perhaps the visual medium of television and movies is disrupting the social novel although the medium is entirely different. Visual products perhaps may start with the written form as most movies are adaptations of novels or short stories.

Franzen is aware of these challenges which require a sophisticated understanding of technology. He is an interesting combination of the serious writer and the computer geek who is possessed of the philosophical distance required to dispassionately analyze the situation. It is intriguing that he has found a formula to succeed and has put to good use with the subsequent publishing of two novels that were both critical and commercial success. There is life after the digital age after all. His works are dense and overly long but seem to find an audience. He belongs to the tactical intellectual writers like Don Dellilo – a writer which he seems to correspond with often. But his work seems to be grand drama which does not strike at the heart of the matter the way writers like Cormac McCarthy do. McCarthy chooses his novels well – simple and straightforward but containing the essential problems of today. I would think that most readers today will have difficulty reading Franzen as compared to reading McCarthy.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Zen Guide to Writing

Reading Eckhart Tolle one would think that he has the answers to all life’s questions.  He has reached a level of spiritual awareness that is rare for a westerner. Usually such wisdom was the exclusive property of Eastern mystics such as Khrisnamurti or the Dalai Lama. Western spiritual leaders such as the Pope do not have this level of integrity because most Christian religions do not really practice the vow of poverty or austerity. The Pope after all lives in one of the most elegant and extravagant locations in the world. There is no image of simplicity in those televised mass in Rome during Christmas or New Year with all the majestic trappings of wealth. Well-knows spirituals like Tolle are ascetics who do live in comfortable setting but not in the same scale as some western spiritual leaders. This gives him the cachet of spiritual respectability. Tolle combines both the western love of logic and the eastern mystical tradition.

Does Tolle have any advice for writers? The problem with writing is that it’s a mental activity - often times with egoistic leanings. This is the bane of true spirituality. Do writers make good spirituals? Or is writing purely a hedonistic activity that is incompatible to being spiritual? Or is being spiritual detrimental to being a good writer?  Inferring from Tolle, one must avoid thinking and be aware of his consciousness. One is not his thinking mind. Good advice for writers as over thinking likely results in writer’s block or ‘paralysis by over analysis’. The other side is going forward by writing only about oneself and this becomes a boring tract unless one is a known public personality. So the key is striking a balance that focuses on the craft of writing and avoiding the cult of the ego. One must not look at the fruits of the act (being a famous and wealthy author) but in doing the act without any thought of the outcome. Hence, one should only focus on writing well without overthinking.

Exclusively focusing on writing is also not good because it becomes an external form where the mind will just keep churning. So avoiding the ego and just performing the work without thought is the Zen experience. This level of ease can be achieved after the appropriate number of practice hours is attained. The result will not cause the writer to be self-conscious because the notion of ego must be gone, too. The focus must be on the craft and not on the writing indulgences that one can be rooted in like in journal writing. It is a focus on self-reflection that has no end. As Eleanor Roosevelt said,’ one can be enamored in the voyage of self-discovery that one does not emerge from this journey.’  Writing does promote self-awareness but one does not remain in this spot but move forward with only the craft at hand. One does the job and moves on without thought of wealth or richness or glory that is the possible fruit of the endeavor. Even if the result is obscurity, the reaction is the same. One shows the same demeanor whether the project is a success or failure.   

The Harper essay by Jonathan Franzen is another proposal on how to succeed in writing despite the modern decline in reading. He raises a relevant question when asking whether social novels are still relevant considering television or movies are a much better medium for portraying social realities. The rise of technological distraction is another impediment.  Everyone prefers to surf the Internet, watch cable or go to the movies or play his smart phone or game consoles. The decline of readership will also mean the decline of the novelist. The same culprit is man’s never ending quest for instant gratification which cannot be satisfied by the discipline of reading. The answer is to focus on a certain segment of the population as the so called ‘general reader’ no longer exists. For example, one should focus on the suburban life of white Protestants in the mid-west or on the Indian immigrants in the West Coast. One should not attempt to write the great universal novel because the audience no longer exists.

Perhaps the only universal works are by writers like Tolle who write for people in search for the truth. These works come from an inner essence where true consciousness is expressed. Hemingway says that one should write one single true sentence a day at a time. Perhaps that is the secret: just get things done in a truthful manner without thinking about the result to the ego. Attending all that workshops or getting certifications should not enrich the ego but improve the craft. Targeting an audience as explained by Franzen is a tactic to succeed. But the inner skills that are needed to hone the craft are learned from Tolle. Attending workshops and training sessions is a good way to achieve an expertise that will result in a Zen like demeanor. Is the result a sort of spiritual Hemingway? Maybe not an interesting life without the good food, drinks, foreign travel and adventure. But it will not result in self-destruction and suicide which seems to be the fate of some writers.  A new earth is needed as Tolle says especially with the technological predisposition of today’s modern folks.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My Reading Life

Pat Conroy’s book is an exuberant re-telling of his life as a reader and writer. His love of book reading led to his craft of writing. He considers himself a ‘southern writer’ – a label his mother first gave him as she was born in Georgia. There are chapters on great books which he feels are important to read: ‘Gone with the Wind’, ‘Anna Karenina’ and ‘War and Peace.’ I have read none of these works but intend to someday in my own quest to be writer. Pat Conroy mentions that one will be a different person after reading these books. This is a theme on several of his chapters on the power of books to transform one’s life. He undertook to read as many books as he can to transition himself into being an author. Along his journey are great teachers and book sellers, of living in interesting places like Beaufort – South CarolinaAtlanta - Georgia, Paris - France and Asheville – North Carolina.

These are interesting places to grow up into a writer. The book is similar to Larry McMurtry’s ‘Books: a memoir’ and ‘Literary Life.’ It is basically a story by writers who credit books with their success as an author. Pat Conroy is more ‘literary’ in the sense that he makes wonderful sentences but in need of editing. But it was a thoroughly enjoyable account of the writer’s young life. An author he particularly likes is Thomas Wolfe and he writes about visiting his home in AshevilleNorth Carolina. I enjoyed Wolfe’s work as well like ‘Look Homeward, Angel’ and like Pat Conroy, struck by the elegance and density of the book’s first sentences. I also visited Wolfe’s home last year but could barely recall the passages or story lines after having read his works in my youth. I do recall some of the book scenes but preferred the works of Ernest Hemingway with his clear, short sentences and action packed plots.

Larry McMurtry and Pat Conroy struggled with their demons on the road to becoming writers. Both speak about depression, failed marriages, difficult lives in their youth especially Pat Conroy with his abusive father. Conroy is also a good humorist seeing humor and irony in situations he finds himself in. He has an artistic mentality – striving for elegance in his flowery words. McMurthy on the other hand is more like a professional writer who strives to write as many books as one can in an efficient manner. Actually I have not read their creative fiction books but enjoyed their memoirs. But I do enjoy the file adaptations of their work: ‘The Last Picture Show’, Terms of Endearment' and ‘Hud’ for McMurtry and ‘The Great Santini’, ‘The Water is Wide’ and ‘Prince of Tides’ for Conroy. Both authors have a good record of having their books converted into popular films. I guess one can say that both writers are more famous for the film adaptations of their books than the books themselves.

One sees that one becomes aware of himself in his evolution towards being a writer. It’s a question of achieving one’s identity. This awareness seems to be achieved through deep reading, writing and reflection, travel and living in different places.  In one’s own situation, one can say that one has read a significant number of books, done regular self-  reflections via journal writings, traveled a bit (China, Thailand, Japan, India, Malaysia) and lived in different places: Philippines, Singapore and South Carolina – USA. I guess one can claim to have the ingredients of a writer’s experience but only recently has one studied the craft of creative writing. This brings us to the lessons of Eckhart Tolle in his book ‘New Earth.’ The key is not over thinking or the accumulation of outer forms or experiences but in self-awareness and consciousness though not in a literal or verbal sense. Achieving this special awareness results in space because one’s mind no longer contains the chattering voice.

According to Tolle, the way to self-actualization is the inner journey. It does not square with the life journey of writers like McMurtry or Conroy. Perhaps a balance between inner and outer forms is needed. The benefit is the networking that one achieves by meeting other writers and creative people. Thomas Wolfe would not be successfully without the help of Maxwell Perkins his editor. Hence, awareness can only be achieved with the inner journey and the outer journey’s role is to serve as the way to get published by networking with creative people and would-be publishers. Perhaps another benefit is to learn the craft plus tools like visual thinking or writing worksheets or word processing software. Learning these outer forms will help one be on the way but one cannot learn about the true essence via eternal means. Awareness via inner knowledge maybe the starting point achieved with the lessening of one’s noisy mind.