Saturday, September 8, 2012


Yesterday my internet and cable service was mistakenly dis-connected; I had already lost my phone service last week.  It all started when I called the cable company to plan in advance, trying to do a good deed and have everything ready before the big move, explaining explicitly I thought, that I would be moving on the 20th or 21st of September which is safely two weeks away. But being clever and prepared is not a good thing; the company went out and dis-connected the service almost immediately. Morons do exist in all corporations, lying in wait like Laurel and Hardy ready to play havoc on one’s best laid plans. So one comes home after work without cable and internet, which is a catastrophe for some folks, and just hope for the best, drinking bourbon on the rocks. So I spent time last night and most of this morning working with the company to get back my services but to no avail. The best that can be done to re-connect my services is next week on 13 September. Just in time for my wife to be back home. At least I got my bill down by about $ 20 dollars.

I missed the president’s acceptance speech last night at the Democrat convention in nearby Charlotte, North Carolina. At least I was able to see some clips of Bill Clinton’s speech the other night, which was really a performance; one will not see the likes of him or even of Obama for a long time. The game is on in the  coming weeks all the way to election time, a political event that I have been reading about since I was a young man, watching movies and reading books back in Asia, comparing the event with local politics back home. Now I have a chance to experience it first-hand. I recall my first reading of American politics in Theodore White’s ‘The Making of a President’ series especially his book on the Kennedy election. This introduction led me to other books like David Halberstam’s ‘The Best and the Brightest’, also about the Kennedy years. The fact is John F. Kennedy is probably the first candidate to run for a presidential election in an intelligent and calculating way - against all odds, against an intelligent incumbent politician like Richard Nixon who was no slouch himself, and win. His victory became a template for ascending politicians like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

I guess it says something that recent Republican candidates are wealthy people, scions or married to partners from successful or wealthy families (both Bushes, McCain and Romney) excepting Nixon and Reagan while the Democrats excepting Kennedy and John Kerry, have risen from the ranks though Carter was a peanut farmer. But the argument does not really hold though recent memory seems to confirm this observation especially Obama and Clinton who have risen from nothing, using their own brilliance to strive ahead. So the support from extremely wealthy people for Republicans shows a clear bias in this election that some game is afoot. When my cable service was cut, my initial thought was a deliberate act to prevent people from watching Obama’s speech. I guess stress and paranoia and conspiracy theories come together. Happily I was not pissed off on losing my connection and being out of the grid. Instead I prepared dinner of minced meat cooked with garlic, onions, tomatoes and potatoes, watched the video movie Doctor Faustus, dozed off and read the chic literature on Brooklyn mothers. What a waste!

Early this morning I woke up early, took down my MP3 player and radio, connect it to a speaker and listened to NPR boradcast. At least I was not completely cut off. I made my way to work, slightly late, called the cable company and prepared for my meeting, which turned out well. Later I borrowed a MIFI unit and prepared for a weekend without cable television but with a plan to connect to the internet and complete my assignments on the online courses. It may not be that bad after all being disconnected.

Friday, September 7, 2012

On wanting to work

I sit here not sure about what to do, my mind scattered, shooting in different directions. Yesterday was a difficult day because of some emails I had to respond to, some seemed to be threatening, while others hopeful but needed a measured response. In the end I got it done, leaving the office near 7pm and going to the gym. Yesterday I missed certain appointments that I wanted to attend: a compulsory meeting and a racquet ball overview at the gym and felt bad about it. Nevertheless, I felt better after doing 30 minutes in the cross-trainer and a few minutes in the sauna. The exercise had invigorated me; earlier I did not want to go to the gym and exercise but was glad I did. I got home at past 8 pm; ate dinner of chili crab, rice and pork chop, a glass of wine and grapes.

This week is significant for me because it’s closing week, finalizing the transaction to complete a significant investment. I calculated the cash flow with a spreadsheet and planned a way to liquidate some investments in Singapore if cash is needed to keep me up. The fear is that one’s finances is being stretched, spending more than what one brings in. Luckily I have Excel and I think the spreadsheet tool is possibly one of the best things invented in modern life, with the financial planning that one needs to do to keep up. Going back to my story: I needed to call insurance agents, evaluate premiums, call the movers, and call the phone and cable company and so on so everything will be in place when the move is done in the coming weeks. My wife is not around so I had to do this preparation while doing a lot of housework.

Compounding the stress is the work on my 2 projects at the office, now kicking into gear as the year ends, plus the fact that I am attending 4 classes online: a creative writing class, gamefication, handling large data and model thinking. Stupidly I have increased my reading and watching movies, too. In Orhan Pamuk’s recent lectures, he wrote about his rush to read books, to find out about the secret center of the novel, like some hidden confidence provided by the author that will explain the meaning of life. I had that urge and I still have it now in my middle age but wasted in triviality; a constant urge to read the latest bestseller or some trivial Hollywood biography or Vanity Fair article or watch some obscure movie by a German auteur director. As Pamuk pointed out:  to be part of elite, to be able to have bragging rights that one is in the know – a cognoscente.

This is the rat race: a constant journey to be someone at least in one’s own eyes. What does one want really in life? For some it may not be more money, more houses and cars but maybe just being a cultural maven. This brings me back to work, where one is not motivated on the task at hand because one has no ambition to earn more. Instead the literary savant continues to read and find meaning from external things like books and movies and experiences. But recently, the writing exercises has made me realize that I am a long way from my goal – more work is needed but I see the way clear in my mind. It was interesting to see the documentary ‘New York’ last night. The episode featured F. Scott Fitzgerald – a writer I had not paid much attention, instead focusing on his friend Hemingway. Reading his short stories and life, perhaps he is much closer to my own than anyone else. I just missed the road that he had taken and instead indulged myself, following Hemingway’s clarion call.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Secret Center

Orhan Pamuk offers interesting insights on the art of writing in his Harvard lectures. Using Schiller’s essay on na├»ve and sentimental poetry as a starting point, Pamuk ventures forth on his own experiences as a writer and reader. He chart’s the development of his craft that I admit offers the best framework of understanding the act of writing than most books I have read. His concept of the ‘secret center’ is something I have not read about from any other writer though he does quote some writers who have similar conceptions on a novels ‘center’. It’s an intriguing concept as the ‘center’ evolves organically and not planned or structured the way a writer started out to construct when he began writing his book. In fact, the novel’s ‘center’ may not be what the author had intended but results from the reaction of the reader as he reads the book. Hence, it‘s an unintended consequence of reading that formulates out of each readers make-up: his culture, upbringing, education, experiences and so on. But the ‘center’ is also evoked from the writer’s work as he writes his passages, his narrative and the objects and sensations he places on the page – all based on his own make-up, too.

Being a writer from a developing country, although the recipient of an ancient culture, specifically an Islamist upbringing with echoes of Byzantium and Ottoman legacy, Pamuk has the same sensibilities as writers from the third world. Specifically a culture where only a small elite writes for their own class, at least during the start of his career, where an enlightened mass of citizens don’t exists unlike in the developed world with universal education and a mass reading public. It’s an intriguing viewpoint that I appreciate: the question is raised: who do I write for? The Western reader where the mass market exist or the small elite of one’s country: the decision would impact the way the novel is written. This will sway the novel’s ‘secret center’ and Pamuk covers all the territory that would impact the developing writer. It is a unique and informed insight and he cites samples from Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Stendhal and other great writers who were not really consciously aware of the ‘center’ as a literary model. The theory of the ‘center’ is what distinguishes genre and literary novels and he proves to be a well-read writer citing popular authors like John le Carre as one who moves away from genre towards being a literary novelist.

His book is highly original (despite starting off with Schiller’s premise using Goethe as his model); I have not had such incisive insights from other writers who write about writing such as Ayn Rand, Stephen King or Ernest Hemingway. I attribute this uniqueness to Pamuk’s intriguing background where he comes off as a sophisticated or cosmopolitan writer from the Middle East, someone who has Western sensibilities with no hint of Islamist tendencies. Perhaps this is a reflection of Turkey itself; a modern secular state that abolished the caliphate – a truly revolutionary act (perhaps akin to Mao’s Cultural Revolution) that boldly strives forward into the modern age by cutting its ties to the past. Indeed, abolishing the Islamic caliphate is like the Western states abolishing the papacy; thereby, getting rid of the Pope’s role. Hence, Turkey can be seen as heralding the future to the Middle Eastern, a call to modern ideas that has proven radical that only a few Islamic countries have followed. Perhaps being a native of Istanbul (or the former Constantinople) with one foot in Europe and one foot in Asia provide Pamuk with a synthesis that few Western writers (or critics) can understand but whom Asians can identify with.