Blue bench + “Keep The Channel Open” 

I came across this lovely blue bench in Nob Hill, Albuquerque. It was outside a dance studio. Inside…I found these words and felt quite inspired. Thought I would pass it on.

 

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that activate you. Keep the channel open.” –Martha Graham

 

Postscript: After sharing this I vaguely recalled that some time ago, ages in digital times I suppose, I had posted something by Martha Graham on my blog before. I couldn’t recall what exactly. So, naturally, I searched for it. And it was the exact same quote. At first I thought of deleting this post or that one from 2011 but then decided to keep both. Words come to us to remind us that which we think we have forgotten. Inspiration is inspiration even if our digital posting mocks it from time to time.

no filter

Sometimes we need a filter to see and feel clearly. Other times, we can only see clearly without one.

I have spent most of the day this Sunday reading the  Winter 2014-15 issue of The Stinging Fly. If you are on Twitter, find them, follow them. Or better yet, check them out and subscribe! I discovered this magazine a few weeks ago and felt it might be something I would have to sit down to really read, Internet browsing wouldn’t suffice.

As most of you already know, there aren’t many magazines out there I have mentioned since the writing doesn’t really move me. It all feels stale. I stopped reading The New Yorker 8 years ago, not as a boycott but because I just gave up. Whenever I could browse online, I did, and sometimes I would find nonfiction gems but fiction didn’t impress. Other magazines that offer new writing by new writers disappointed too. Everyone in these “alternative” magazines trying so hard to be different that they forget the object was to write a story, a good story, not be different.

Not this. The writing in The Stinging Fly is so alive you could feel the stories moving without even opening the first page. The essay, the poetry, the reviews, the fiction, just all of it. I am inspired, I am moved, I feel hopeful. Art is not dead. Honestly, I don’t think I can articulately review any of the pieces in it, I am too stirred with joy upon this discovery. The writing is fresh, the perspectives unique, and it made me realize how it is our obligation to protect what is unique in one another. Moreover, having checked out the website of Deborah Rose Reeves and a few others who are published in this issue, I can toast to what Jamie is always saying, “You can’t encounter the richness of life if you never live it.” And if you never live it, you can’t really write it, create it.

I have never felt this more profoundly than I do today, of all the reasons that exist to create Art, the quintessential is to move us to a deeper understanding about ourselves and the world around us, and if Art can’t achieve that, at the very least it ought to give us a confirmation, more than mere hope, for an alternative. For some of us, those of us, whose standards are not aligned with that of the general public, that hope is not as readily available. But when it comes, it illuminates everything so clearly, that even the shadows become beautiful.

light

 

Still Sundays: Ghosts of Elsewhere

October 12, 2014

 

I have been traveling in other worlds lately. The worlds of William Maxwell and Frank O’Connor’s words. I am in Ireland and in New York but I am still here too as I stare upon Elsewhere.

“Elsewhere” is always a place in Lahore or somewhere in South Africa. I see corners of streets from “Elsewhere” if the sunset’s light hits the smog on the leaves a certain way. Some days, the quiet on a street after the cars leave an intersection takes me to this “Elsewhere” to which GPS coordinates don’t exist.

I have lived many lives and when it comes to “Elsewhere” I have lived them more than once in this very lifetime.

I sometimes wonder if I am everywhere but Lahore on purpose, at least in part unconsciously. Some secret resolve to keep oneself protected from such depths one can’t claw out of, at least not without bleeding. How much blood can you shed for the past? It requires immense strength to pull your entire body weight to toss yourself over the other side of a wall. Now, add to that weight the additional poundage of memories, good ones, of a world that doesn’t exist anymore, not even in pictures that can now be touched to insta-glorify even garbage.

I think of William Maxwell’s words, thoughts, dispositions, in his stories, interviews, anecdotes about him, and his letters and editorial notes to Frank O’ Connor. I relish the characters in Frank O’Connor’s stories; I have been reading many of them, almost all of them. “Ghosts” is a remarkable piece of art, sheer genius in my opinion.

“They could go looking for ghosts, but he had ghosts there inside himself and I knew in my heart that till the day he died he would never get over the feeling that his money had put him astray and he had turned his back on them.”

That’s how it ends, that story, and that’s how it stays with you forever.

The ghosts within us, of our other selves, that remember different worlds, aren’t scary but they are persistent. They don’t haunt us for the sake of nostalgia but as a plea to save the present.

 

Anyway, I think of William Maxwell and others and can’t help but wonder if any of them could ever relate to the stories I want to write, characters that don’t belong to one city, characters whose edges can’t be neatly cut according to most MFA programs that follow a trend even when they try so hard not to follow one. More importantly, I wonder if any such editor exists now. What I mean by that is, editors who hold their current positions because they are or were writers first. I mean, take the current editor of The New Yorker, Deborah Treisman, I can’t seem to find any creative fiction she has penned despite being part of the literati long before taking on the role as an editor. (Side note: I use The New Yorker just as an example, not as some implicit attack; perhaps it is not fair to mention an example of a magazine whose fiction I don’t read, it was a very different magazine before the 90’s. This is not to say they haven’t published authors who deserve their public or literary reputation, but one doesn’t have to read The New Yorker to “discover” them).

 

But perhaps there is hope after all? The recent Nobel Prize for literature was awarded to an unknown author (to me and probably majority of the United States’ readers), French writer, Patrick Modiano.  Lucy shared an article with me which sheds light on the current creative conundrum. Horace Engdahl, Nobel judge, part of the Swedish Academy, hopes “the literary riches which we are seeing arise in Asia and Africa will not be lessened by the assimilation and the westernisation of these authors.” The article in The Guardian continues, “Engdahl slammed novels which ‘pretend to be transgressive’, but which are not. ‘One senses that the transgression is fake, strategic,’ he said. ‘These novelists, who are often educated in European or American universities, don’t transgress anything because the limits which they have determined as being necessary to cross don’t exist.’”

What precisely constitutes as “westernization” is a dated concept in itself in my humble opinion. It’s not as easily defined as it once was. The advent of social media has changed the landscape in many ways, but in as many ways Internet and social media have brought this change, in equal amounts, thanks to people’s self-absorption everywhere, they now know even less about the world outside of their mobile devices and computers.

 

Frank O’ Connor’s Ireland reminds me of Lahore.

“I prefer to write about Ireland and Irish people merely because I know to a syllable how everything in Ireland can be said; but that doesn’t mean that the stories themselves were inspired by events in Ireland. Many of them should really have English backgrounds; a few should even have American ones. Only language and circumstance are local and national; all the rest is, or should be, part of the human condition, and as true for America and England as it is for Ireland. The nicest compliment I have ever received was from a student while the authorities of the university were considering the important question of whether I was a resident or non-resident alien. “Mr. O’Connor, I find it hard to think of you as an alien at all.” (Steinman, Michael, ed. The Happiness of Getting It Down Right: Letters of Frank O’Connor and William Maxwell 1945-1966. 15. New York: Knof, 1996. Print.)

 

Writing stories makes feel less of an alien on this planet, where geographic divides don’t make sense, given the human condition, made of ignorance, sufferings, joys, dreams, are as common throughout as the oxygen we need anywhere to stay alive.

Sometimes I feel this digital space will be known as the place where I recorded my challenges “to get it down right” till I finally got it down, even if not right, and I could care less because there would be no more ghosts.

attention to details: a way of being

September 7, 2014.

 

The article in The New Yorker, “Creativity Creep” by Joshua Rothman, is probably one of the most succinct and apt essays I have read on creativity since the dawn of social media and the rise of “creativity” as a “job”.  Maybe there is hope after all if The New Yorker is willing to publish such an essay. There is always hope, I suppose. 

Mr. Rothman writes:

People like Samuel Taylor Coleridge argued that we don’t just store things in our imaginations; we transform them. Coleridge made a useful distinction, largely lost today, between two kinds of imagining. All of us, he thought, have a workaday imagination, which we use to recall memories, make plans, and solve problems; he called this practical imagination “fancy.” But we also have a nobler kind of imagination, which operates […]  like “a human reflex of God’s creative energy.” The first kind of imagination understands the world; the second kind cares about it and brings it to life. In the “Prelude,” Wordsworth describes this kind of imagination as “an auxiliary light” that changes everything it illuminates.”

This watchful, inner kind of creativity is not about making things but about experiencing life in a creative way; it’s a way of asserting your own presence amidst the much larger world of nature, and of finding significance in that wider world. By contrast, our current sense of creativity is almost entirely bound up with the making of stuff. If you have a creative imagination but don’t make anything, we regard that as a problem—we say that you’re “blocked.”

How did creativity transform from a way of being to a way of doing?

[…]

It sounds bizarre, in some ways, to talk about creativity apart from the creation of a product. But that remoteness and strangeness is actually a measure of how much our sense of creativity has taken on the cast of our market-driven age. We live in a consumer society premised on the idea of self-expression through novelty. We believe that we can find ourselves through the acquisition of new things. Perhaps inevitably, we have reconceived creativity as a kind of meta-consumption: a method of working your way toward the other side of the consumer-producer equation, of swimming, salmon-like, back to the origin of the workflow. Thus the rush, in my pile of creativity books, to reconceive every kind of life style as essentially creative—to argue that you can “unleash your creativity” as an investor, a writer, a chemist, a teacher, an athlete, or a coach. Even as this way of speaking aims to recast work as art, it suggests how much art has been recast as work: it’s now difficult to speak about creativity without also invoking a profession of some kind.

[…]

Among the many things we lost when we abandoned the Romantic idea of creativity, the most valuable may have been the idea of creativity’s stillness. If you’re really creative, really imaginative, you don’t have to make things. You just have to live, observe, think, and feel.

 

This is what I have been doing in this space every Sunday, testing my “human reflex”, sometimes willingly and other times questioning that same reflex. Moreover, my recent work,  has taken me to experience depths of living, observing, breathing, feeling “creativity” in ways I can only hope to one day articulate in some tangible medium. And finally, since the advent of social media, people are of two views when it comes to absence from “blogging” or “sharing”: either one is living such an amazing life that there is no time to share photos or thoughts or alternatively, that an individual’s life must be so distressful that it doesn’t merit sharing. Of course, my point is about when people don’t share as much as they once did or at all, not those who report, the good or the challenging, for a sake of community and sharing, however regularly and openly.

Life is just life, it goes on. Yes, it’s sweeter when shared by those who “get it” but when one is truly original, majority of the people don’t “get it”.   At first.

 

Another article, also about creativity, was featured in ars technica and titled  “Is there a creativity deficit in science? If so, the current funding system shares much of the blame” by Ben McNeil.

Ben McNeil offers a notable quote by John Ioannidis who is head of the Stanford Prevention Research Center in California and links the quote to other sources.

“A truly innovative idea cannot be judged by peers: if it is truly innovative, no peer has any clue about it; if peers already know about it, it is not innovative” said John Ioannidis, head of the Stanford Prevention Research Centre in California. Ioannidis and others published a recent analysis called “Conform and be Funded where they show that safer, established ideas have a much better chance of being funded at the NIH than novel, creative ones.

To be fair, the bias against any risk is not limited to the NIH; it occurs across every governmental science agency globally.

 

I also found the following a bit unsettling:

In the early 1970s, Roger Kornberg, a 27-year-old Stanford PhD, was working at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England. With a modest post-doctoral salary, Kornberg was given freedom to explore untried and risky areas of research. This would ultimately allow him to make a revolutionary discovery about how DNA is copied in cells.

Kornberg would win the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2006 for that work. Yet he told The Washington Post that he’s convinced his groundbreaking Nobel Prize winning idea would never have been funded today.

 

 

An unrelated short piece by William Childress titled “A Born Writer” in the most recent print issue of Writer’s Digest brought it all together for me in the form of a question that perhaps doesn’t have an answer.  A side note I must mention:  I have never had much interest in that magazine because the online version, with all the links and ads, has always felt manic to stay the least; however, I recently subscribed to print thanks to coming across a print copy at a book store which I found useful. Anyway, in the piece Childress writes, “…comments by Mom, friends or kin were useless. In their eyes, I was a success simply by putting words on paper. But they signed no checks. Editors are a writer’s link to reality. They know when they must tell a writer no–and they will. But sometimes I get lucky and hit the mark, and they say, ‘Thank you. This is exactly what we need.’ Then I try again, and again, and again…”

 

I reflected a lot about this “trying again and again” and the statement from the other article, “a truly innovative idea cannot be judged by peers”.

My primary reason for not having tried again and again (or just barely) is twofold: lack of time and that a part of me is quite  satisfied with the audience I have (not to mention grateful!) and whenever I sit to write my objective is to deliver a valuable story where the words are crafted with hallmark care and whatever happens after that fades into the background. That being said, if I want signed checks, I have to try, at least once, twice, or thrice and do so beyond here.

What I know now without a doubt, thanks to the perfect articulation by Joshua Rothman, is that this space has been and will continue to be about sharing a way of being that is me, a way which also happens to be creative. This is also true for a lot of others who blog and share some phenomenal photos, words, and art. This is also true for many who don’t. Some of the most creative people I know, artists and otherwise, are not available via social media platforms. However, it is my hope, that a new consciousness within social media is emerging, where we are able to distinguish our inherently creative natures from creating meaningful Art “that changes everything it illuminates”.  Stories are more than ideas and art is more than being creative. And while both kinds of creativity have their place, it would serve us all to approach each with more mindfulness. Mindfulness is not a job description or a test of creativity, it is a way of being.

 

 

branches

 

“a special state of mind” ~ Marquez

It was during my first trip to Europe, a year before graduation from undergraduate studies at University of Kansas, a year before “September 11” would change travel, when I was first introduced to the works of author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The novel was Love in the Time of Cholera and the time was a train. My friend Dawn who gave me the book before my first trip hopping European cities on trains had said, “You need this.”

I was young and like most, not all, young people I was in love with the idea of love which meant I was more interested in looking than finding and my melancholy stemmed from the fact that I didn’t know the difference. It was a rebellious trip in every which way possible and it would begin a series of events that eventually led to a rebellion with one’s worst nemesis, oneself.

I wasn’t very far into the book when I knew this was no ordinary writer and this was not just a love story. The last time I had been this moved by the writing itself, beyond the story, was when I had read The Great Gatsby on my own, long before it would become assigned reading in high school. I knew without having read any reviews or commentary that I was reading craftsmanship in the ranks of Toni Morrison, William Faulkner etc.

Her stylish attire did not seem appropriate for a venerable grandmother, but it suited her figure—long-boned and still slender and erect, her resilient hands without a single age spot, her steel-blue hair bobbed on a slant at her cheek. Her clear almond eyes and her inborn haughtiness were all that were left from her wedding portrait, but what she had been deprived of by age she more than made up for in character and diligence. She felt very well: the time of iron corsets, bound waists, and bustles that exaggerated buttocks was receding into the past. Liberated bodies, breathing freely, showed themselves for what they were. Even at the age of seventy-two. 

(Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. Love in the Time of Cholera. p. 25-26, New York:  Knopf, 1988. Print.).

I was on one of the many train rides and felt this strange, fierce urge within to feel what it would feel like to write those sentences. So, I asked for a bunch of napkins from the little restaurant area in the train and started writing the aforementioned passage over and over again. I knew in the next city I would have to find a journal—I didn’t even have a journal, can you imagine?! But until then I wrote and rewrote those sentences until I felt full. The kind of full one feels after over-eating on a holiday dinner. Then on a different train I experienced another urge: what if I tried to describe people I saw on the trains the way he had? The way in describing how a man touched his eyelashes could offer your a glimpse of Italy’s history? What if…and what if… So I described people as if an artist might have attempted to jot a quick line sketch.

After the trip, upon my return to the United States, with one year still left at the university, becoming any kind of writer wasn’t even in the periphery of my imaginings. I was obsessed with international relations and took as many political science and history courses as possible. Then “September 11” happened. As if I wasn’t already about to burst in half doing splits between two cultures, now I had to redefine myself as the world changed definitions every other month. It was a very chaotic time and I wanted nothing more than to  start my life in the very city where the acts of terrorism took place. And a year later that is exactly what I did. Everything aligned perfectly—beyond human planning—for me to begin my life in New York City. Between the time of graduating and starting my life and work in New York City I read everything by Gabriel Garcia Marquez I could get my hands on. The only thing I still haven’t finished reading is the novel which would finally bring Marquez international notoriety: One Hundred Years of Solitude. I am not sure why this is given I have read even the most obscure of his collections, essays and other novellas. Perhaps now is as good a time as any.

What Gabriel Garcia Marquez gave me is what Franz Kafka gave him:

One night a friend lent me a book of short stories by Franz Kafka. I went back to the pension where I was staying and began to read The Metamorphosis. The first line almost knocked me off the bed. I was so surprised. The first line reads, “As Gregor Samsa awoke that morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. . . .” When I read the line I thought to myself that I didn’t know anyone was allowed to write things like that. If I had known, I would have started writing a long time ago.

(Stone, Peter H. “Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Art of Fiction No. 69.” The Paris Review. The Paris Review Mag., Winter. 1981. Web. 2014).

I could write a love story and have it be a report on a country, culture and history! I could tell a political story about love and I didn’t have to fit myself in a niche of a culture that matched my skin color or the color of my passport! Of course I didn’t think of all these things the instant I read his words. That would be a slow coming together. As all of you following this journey since 2010 already know.

A year away from becoming a Nobel laureate and before the publication of the English translation of Love in the Time of Cholera in 1988, Marquez ends the 1981 Paris Review interview by stating:

I’m absolutely convinced that I’m going to write the greatest book of my life, but I don’t know which one it will be or when. When I feel something like this—which I have been feeling now for a while—I stay very quiet, so that if it passes by I can capture it.

 

In 2009 when I began writing to share my encounters with my friends (which eventually led to this blog in 2010) it was because of Marquez’s Leaf Storm which he wrote for his friends who had been his biggest supporters long before anyone knew of his work. I created this space so my closest friends and lovers of stories and words could stand witness to the trial of fragments where sometimes I am the judge and other times the advocate and yet other times a mere stenographer.  And the year 2009 began long before 2009. Somewhere in Paris that summer when I finished Love in the Time of Cholera I sat in a typical internet cafe staring at the email I had crafted to my recipients. I counted the number of people to which the email was going. When I had begun that trip I was writing an email update of my travels to every person I knew whose email address I had. Three months later I was only emailing a handful of friends.  I mean the others had done nothing wrong but I felt they couldn’t relate or understand or appreciate my urgency—literal, acute, grave compulsion—to share those reports of my travels. I didn’t know then that there was a writer in me whose primary task was to ensure I was always in the company of those who could see that writer even though this other me would have laughed at the idea of writing a book, a blog, a thought.

I am grateful for each and every person who has served as a baluster in this journey, this “special state of mind.”

-a.q.s.

 

10 reasons why I would rather teach writing to 10-year-olds than adults

For the past seven months I have been working with a group of 10-year-olds. More specifically, working on their writing skills. Other than teaching distinctions between various homophones and homographs (their, there, they’re; fair, fair, fair) I have not emphasized “correct” spelling. I know from many experiences, personal and in the field of education, that spelling comes with practice and reading, lots and lots of reading. The only real challenge I have encountered is teaching complete sentences versus fragments. This is quite difficult to get across because when they read fiction they come across fragments upon fragments authors write for “voice” or within dialogue or to serve other literary and figurative purposes. To this end, I decided why conclude that these young writers “wouldn’t—couldn’t—get” author’s craft nuances and instead to teach writing like in any traditional creative writing program for adults.

Also, I have never worked with such a young age group. Before law, I taught middle and high school. There would always be a handful of students in that age group who didn’t hate writing but most of them preferred to plagiarize or figure out a way to still pass the class without turning in any writing related assignments.  The spelling was atrocious and the content dry. I have also taught students in community colleges and those trying to get their G.E.D. diploma and it felt that the students’ relationship to writing got worse as they grew up. There were always a few each year who ‘liked’ writing but only if it was creative writing; any responses to literature or short essays were drier than empty tin cans. They  had been taught that writing was for writers/creatives and if you weren’t aspiring to be a song-writer or an author then there was no use for writing except to pass the class as a requirement.

This opportunity feels like the grandest opportunity: a window into the future, or the missing link from the future.   I have even considered a P.h.D around this topic: what happens when adults get out of the way?! Whatever else they may have learned from me, I can assure you I have never been more inspired. This Sunday I felt like sharing what I have learned from them. Anything in quotes is a direct quote by several 10-year-olds.

Here are 10 reasons why I would rather teach writing to 10-year-olds than adults:

1. You don’t have to convince them that they are creative. They are only certain about one thing: they have many ideas, thoughts, questions, and experiences. They are 10 and they know this with conviction!

2. You don’t have to convince them about “good writing.” They know that sharing a piece of writing must meet certain standards. The two most important rules that they came up with: “make it not boring” and “don’t just talk about yourself.”  They intuitively  know that “some pieces of writing are just for yourself and that is okay not to share. Your writing still matters because it is yours.”

3. You don’t have to hear about social media. They don’t care about social media. Don’t confuse this with their lack of knowledge about Twitter, Fakebook, Instagram, Vine etc. Most of them do have digital devices and some even have accounts! They just use them like text-messaging tools to share “selfies” and fart jokes or about what they are reading, no different than adults I suppose. However, an important distinction is, they don’t seek them as a source for inspiration for anything and they are definitely not as plugged in as the “millennials”. In another 10 years these children will be 20 and already have a very different take on technology.  Most of them can’t understand the adult obsession, they would rather play and hang-out in real time. They do have tablets for reading but equally prefer books. Most of them see tablets as game boards. “They are not a book! That’s just silly!” So, naturally, they don’t care to share their writing beyond their immediate audience or to know if anyone else likes it. That being said, they are very driven to improve their writing because “no one likes cliches because that’s boring and tiring”.

4. You don’t have to sell them the reasons for editing and revising. They like editing and revising. They know that when we are eager to write our initial thoughts or creative stories we sometimes overlook silly mistakes. It’s “fun to make it better because you grow each time you fix a mistake.” They know they are not perfect because no one is. They are focused solely on their own work but in a different way than most self-absorbed adults: they want to improve for the sake of improving and having their thoughts be more accessible.

5. They think writing is cool because you get to share stories, make up stories, use figurative language like “play-doh”.  “Most author’s craft is really just play-doh: why would you make something that somebody else is making? Unless it was really really cool. You can’t make mistakes with play-doh.” Their use of figurative language is mind-blowing. “It’s easy when you write from the heart and push yourself to find new ways of saying how you feel.”

7. They are not afraid to explore. Even the shy ones. They don’t need permission to cry or think they need self-help for crying. Some of them have burst into tears during their writing. “I didn’t even know there was that feeling in me!” Some of them don’t cry until they share their writing out loud. They love humor too and enjoy making up stories about one another and writing in third person. They are not interested in my “approval”. They help each other and are willing to receive and reject help. They emulate one another and authors and then grow out of it. They don’t want to be the best, they want the writing to be the best for that moment.

8. They don’t need a reason to break rules. “I wanted to try something new” suffices. “I didn’t have more to say” for a shorter writer’s notebook entry is an okay response. The five-paragraph essay doesn’t have to be boring if you care about what you are writing. “Don’t you want to convince someone of something when you sit down to write?”

 

 

On that note, I thought I was going to have 10 reasons, but 8 good ones are better than 2 extra useless ones.  “It’s okay to start with one thing in mind and then end up with another. That’s why it’s called a journey, right?”

I wish I could take credit for all of it. I am just a facilitator and here and now share my own writings and feelings with them. It’s all been an organic unfolding, truly an orchestration beyond my teaching abilities. That being said, Peter Elbow is a big influence and I incorporate a lot of his methodologies and philosophies.

On a personal note, these youngsters have really convinced me to write a young-adult or children’s book.

As they would say: why not? 🙂

“Writing is a way to end up thinking something you couldn’t have started out thinking. Meaning is not what you start out with but what you end up with.” – Peter Elbow, Writing Without Teachers.


“invisible activity”

Today the air is clear of everything.
It has no knowledge except of nothingness
And it flows over us without meanings,
As if none of us had ever been here before
And are not now: in this shallow spectacle,
This invisible activity, this sense.

From “A Clear Day and No Memories” by Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)

What I love about the sea is all the “invisible activity” that no one sees but can definitely sense. You notice how powerless and powerful we all are. You can almost hear your DNA whisper that this moment, like so many before, was orchestrated many years ago to get you to this point. You are pre-coded to be free and your best self.

Very few days in life come close to being classified as absolutely perfect. This particular Sunday, two weeks ago, was the most perfect day I have experienced in California. And it wasn’t even sunny!  My brother was promoted, much deserved and well earned, and his supervisor, a truly inspiring being, invited his family, us, and colleagues on his yacht.

That Sunday, I could only think of possibilities. Despite all that is not right in the United States and this world, for a day I was surrounded by good people, trying to do good in their corners of the world.

photo

 On the coast. Newport Sea Base, CA. 2014.

Collection of Auguries is here!

I am in the process of making it available on Amazon and then distributing to independent bookstores here in California. I will save my thoughts on this entire process so far for another time! I can assure you that writing, the actual writing, is the best part.  I never pursued any mainstream channels this time around but can definitely see the advantages and disadvantages on both sides.

 

From the “Acknowledgments” section…

“…I continued to use my website as a writing portfolio and I am very grateful to all the readers of my ‘blog’ who have sincerely supported my writings from the very beginning. It is because of these readers I continued to write beyond the noise of agents, publishers, self-publishing, digital publishing etc. […] it is through them that I held steadfast to the belief that once upon a time people really cared to hear a good story.”

Thank you so much for the support.

IMG_4928

 

Oh! And for now you can order a copy at McNally Jackson bookstores in NYC. Very grateful to all those who have already ordered their copies!

“For the meaning of life differs…from hour to hour” ~ Viktor Frankl

Fall always catches me by surprise. It starts with a leaf. Usually a dead leaf. This autumn began no differently. There we were sitting outside and a leaf just fell on me. As I picked it up I was moved by how un-dead it felt in my palms. The lines on my palm looked similar to the lines on this little leaf. I wondered about fate, the leaf’s mostly, how we end up where we end up and for how long. I was fascinated by it for several minutes and grateful for the company who didn’t find it at all idiosyncratic to be completely consumed by an autumn leaf. I liked how the two sides of the leaf were different, almost as if they belonged to two different leaves. I wondered if that is how it was by the time we died: at least two lives in a single lifetime. I think that is lucky, like the leaf, you end up adding more color to this world.

Today felt like two complete days in one, perhaps due to the equinox, 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night.

I spent the day in a quiet celebration because after exactly 4 years I had found a book that I couldn’t put down, a book I discovered without having read anything about it online, a book by an author whose name I didn’t recognize (although he is the recipient of the Mann Booker Prize), a book whose first paragraph moved me like I hadn’t been moved in quite some time. I am halfway done and the prize is indeed well deserved, the author is justifiably well known, the writing is exquisite, and most importantly, the story just flows and I couldn’t read as a writer but found myself reading as a reader. That doesn’t happen to me very often any more. It’s a good feeling. There is hope. It’s not all rubbish out there. Not everyone has sold out to celebrity and their publisher’s demands. I am disappointed in most contemporary literary fiction because it all seems formulaic and not from the heart, by this I mean that place which made the now established writers set out to originally tell their first published story or novel. If that is what being paid to write looks like I am quite content otherwise.

Anyway, the gem I was reading begins:

“We live in time—it holds us and molds us—but I’ve never felt I understood it very well. And I’m not referring to theories about how it bends and doubles back, or may exist elsewhere in parallel versions. No, I mean ordinary, every day time, which clocks and watches assure us passes regularly: tick-tock, click-clock. Is there anything more plausible than a second hand? And yet it takes only the smallest pleasure or pain to teach us time’s malleability.”  Julian Barnes, from The Sense of an Ending.

And I thought I was the only one who had that relationship with Time!

 

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There aren’t that many books I re-read but the ones I do I continue to find something new in them each time. This quote deeply resonated with me and I share it here.

“For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment. […] One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it. As each situation in life represents a challenge to man and presents a problem for him to solve, the question of the meaning of life may actually be reversed. Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.” ~ Viktor Frankl, from Man’s Search for Meaning.

Still Sundays

June 16, 2013.

Sunday at my parents’ farmhouse feels like going through a car wash to cleanse the grimy emotions, collected throughout the week, that stick to your mental skin. When you are ready to leave you have been waxed with love and that’s all you need to shine. I have been fed and loved; and as I am encouraged to “go write” I also must answer, “When will you be done already?” every few minutes.

When you no longer wear stillness like glitter then you must write your heart out before you actually write anything worth reading. It is akin to squeezing out the pus made of thoughts until you bleed what actually matters. Obviously this makes the process even lengthier.

Underneath all my understandings there exists a place that knows the truth beyond words. Sometimes it is hard to get there. I would like to blame the California smog for the haze. I would like to blame anything and anyone but myself for not writing as much as I would like. No one understands that I can’t write within the confines of some structured time and it is not because I lack discipline. Maybe I just don’t know yet that I can. After all, there is so much we don’t know, sometimes even about ourselves.  I read last week that a new layer has been discovered in the cornea of our eyes! Maybe now we will actually believe what we see.

My father says Voltaire was a prophet. I agree. I re-read long parts of Candide in one sitting as if reading a letter one has almost memorized.

He convinced them in a few words that it is not enough to introduce one or two of those situations which are found in all romances and never fail to charm the spectators; that it is necessary to be original without being eccentric, often sublime but always natural; to know the human heart and how to express its feelings; to be a true poet without any personage in the piece appearing in that character; to have perfect mastery over language, so as to speak with purity and unfailing harmony, but without any sacrifice of sense to sound.

How can anyone not want to kiss those words?

It isn’t hard to finish books, I thought to myself, as I devoured pages of Candide. Then again, I like hearing the sound, almost like an eternal song, of Truth echoing through Time.

Surgeon’s precision saves lives, so can a writer’s. Those who know the power of words serve as gyroscopes. The world tilts this way and then that way until your thoughts spin so far away from the space where meaning rests, unescorted by words, that only another’s words can take you back to that place, ironically with the help of words.

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Yesterday was my grandfather’s birthday. My father’s father.

My biggest fear—and I am the child that was born without the fear gene, sometimes to my own detriment—is I will not get around to writing my father’s story. There exist people whose lives, the way they have lived and all that they have experienced, become a distinct art form. It is no easy feat to describe the events in such a person’s life. My father is such a man. There are moments when I am convinced he created me with that very purpose in mind. When I was younger that felt like an unfair burden that I didn’t ask for; the older I get, the more ready I feel to rise to that challenge.

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Who wants to be David Henry in this day and age?

Your schooling would have been paid by your siblings’ teaching salaries and your father’s pencil manufacturing job, and after attending Harvard you would have “just been a teacher”. But because you didn’t want to beat children as part of their education, you wouldn’t stay in teaching for more than two weeks. Thereafter, your influential friend would write a recommendation letter for you to get a job teaching in a nearby state in a private school and yet you still couldn’t find a job. Then you will decide to open your own school and that would last for three years before you would resort to various handyman jobs. You would keep a journal which would continue to evolve and you will never stop writing, regardless if anyone would read. Naturally, you would attempt at least once, to move closer to New York in the hopes of getting published, but that wouldn’t work. Next, you would move as far away as possible so as to concentrate on writing and only visit with close family and friends. You would also oppose a U.S. war and hence decide not to pay your property taxes and would get thrown in jail. Eventually you will put together some of your essays for a book and a publisher will say yes but only if you agree to pay for any unsold copies, which will turn out to be a lot more than you expected, and you will owe money. A different publisher will decide to go with a revised version of a different manuscript and although there will be some good reviews, there won’t be enough sales, and the publishers will definitely not be interested in paying for any book tours.

Will you continue to write?

Henry David Thoreau was David Henry and he wrote.

No man with a genius for legislation has appeared in America. They are rare in the history of the world. There are orators, politicians, and eloquent men, by the thousand; but the speaker has not yet opened his mouth to speak who is capable of settling the much-vexed questions of the day. We love eloquence for its own sake, and not for any truth which it may utter, or any heroism it may inspire. Our legislators have not yet learned the comparative value of free-trade and of freedom, of union, and of rectitude, to a nation. They have no genius or talent for comparatively humble questions of taxation and finance, commerce and manufacturers and agriculture. If we were left solely to the wordy wit of legislators in Congress for our guidance, uncorrected by the seasonable experience and the effectual complaints of the people, America would not long retain her rank among the nations.  – From “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau.