Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How You Lose

I finished listening to Junot Diaz’s latest novel ‘This is How You Lose Her’ last weekend. While listening to the book, I browsed the latest swimsuit edition of Sport Illustrated magazine. A fitting combination considering all the sex and twisted relationships explored in Diaz’s book. This is a good example of making use of one’s vices or weakness in the creation of a creative work. It was like Diaz let it all hang out, allowing himself to acknowledge his peccadillos while struggling to be an artist. Hence, his excesses did not hinder his creative output, instead wallowing in the excess of his sexual energy to spill out into his novel. I may be mistaken into thinking that the hero in his book is Diaz himself, a mistake that Orhan Pamuk pointed out in his essay on writing, but one is sure that the raw episodes of sexuality is one which the author is intimately familiar. His slam bang approach with all the swear words and sensual stories is raw, earthy and authentic;  capturing the voice of the South American immigrant experience, portraying the Latin migrant story with authentic Spanish words one is familiar, with voices from Columbia, Puerto Rican and Dominican Republic where Diaz hails from.

I am also reading Graham Greene’s book about Omar Torrijos and Panama in ‘Meeting the General’ which is a more elegant accounting of the South American experience, especially in the relationship to the United States during the canal treaty negotiations. The contrast is interesting: the elegant memories of the esteemed English writer and the brash upstart Latin immigrant, both dealing with the American experience, one experiencing imperialism and the interventions in Latin America while one living in New York (New Jersey, Brooklyn or the Bronx?) and Boston while trying to maintain his identity in the melting pot of the United States. Earlier I read Ha Jin and the Chinese immigrant experience, particular the inflow of Chinese citizens after the Tienanmen Square massacre. These stories are all about travel, displacement, political intrigue with America somehow involved in the mix: as a refuge for political refugees or those seeking a new life or as the instigator of imperial will on the backyard of their Southern Hemisphere.

Both Ha Jin and Junot Diaz stories reflect life of the writer as a young man, as they strive to achieve their artistic goal while living as an immigrant in the new world. An interesting contrasts again: Latin American machismo and the Chinese literati scholar, compared to the old writer Greene, a former spy who travelled the globe, a weary nomad and raconteur expanding his stories with elegant erudition.  Another mature raconteur is Dot Jackson who wrote only one book that sealed her reputation, hashing out a work with difficulty, keeping her book hidden for many years under her bed, or kept by a friend in a refrigerator, finally convincing an editor to print her book. Jackson is one of those legendary Southern writers, writing about life in the Appalachian hills, striving to maintain a living and pouring all in one book unlike the prodigy of Ha Jin and Junot Diaz who seem to churn out books without the care of subtle prose or without anguish and self-doubt that plague writers like Jackson who struggled for years before her book was published and recognized. 

I wonder myself about my path: thinking of attending another expensive writing course  while joining literary events, filling time reading and watching movies, like last weekend. I realize that BEING a writer requires drastic change in priorities and focus. But change is coming nonetheless; moving to a new role at work that requires more interaction and attention, plus another larger role in Toastmaster as area governor (to be confirmed soon) and in the analyst network in the office; new challenges coming as if by fate. The coming changes are inevitable, something that one can do with a simple request unlike BEING a writer which require conscious attention against self-doubt. I read some excerpts of a new book about Sherlock Holmes who has contradictory ability to focus and to allow his mind to wander to explore new knowledge. So I realized my strengths: my ability to accept input and learn that it’s my nature to accept input like drinking from a water hose, not as a way to be ‘someone’ as an accumulator of knowledge and experience. Hence, it is more a tempering of one’s nature, changing perception that one is ‘flighty’ but instead, in need for discipline to focus, just like Sherlock Holmes. 

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