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.