Monday, 28 November 2011

New Learnings: Round 2

Some bits of advice picked up from here and there in the past year or so.
If you are serious about being a writer DON’T blog.*

Though this seems to go against the grain of what goes around as conventional wisdom these days– no truer words have been spoken. Pause for a moment and consider how many writers (meaning people who write books– fiction and non-fiction) have a blog. And by blog I don’t mean a website that has excerpts of their novels, links to their interviews or lists their scheduled public appearances, where they may sometimes write a paragraph or more on things of interest or some other mundane matters. But has anyone heard of a writer writing a blog to showcase, well, writing? Yes, writers do write for blogs of literary journals and magazines. But they are often published and well established writers, they get paid (that's why they do it to begin with) and not related to the issue under consideration here.

But one realizes the real wisdom behind these words when one considers what blogging does to writing. By that I mean the craft that goes into constructing a sentence.

As we are all strangers here we can be honest and acknowledge the undeniable truth: Blogging makes one get into the habit of, for want of better word, “lazy writing”. It makes writing seem way too easy because one is bolstered by the all too empowering belief that this is my blog and I can write whatever I want to, howsoever I want to. It is not hard to see what this leads to. The subject is “me” and the audience (sorry to burst the bubble) is also “me”. And the quality of the writing meh.

Then once the blog starts generating a certain number of hits one gets addicted, just like the seduction of  “likes” on facebook status updates, the craving for hits leads to the inevitable– trying to replicate the success of the one post that became "popular'" or what is more fastidiously referred to as playing to the galleries. And we all know how that story ends.

Yes, there are blogs that have transitioned into books, mostly because they had ‘x’ number of hits per day. A majority of the resulting books are found in the bargain section (the one that is way back in some dark corner) at the local bookstore just months after their release. However, there are exceptions to every rule, but in this case very few and very hard to find.

* A distillation of all that I have read in the past year or so. Online and in books.

Take care of your little notebook.*

Because your daughter may grow up to become Diane Keaton, who on reading the 85 journals mom wrote will write a heart-felt and moving memoir. 

That isn't reason enough?

Then I present *Charles Simic's essay in NY review of books: “If one has the urge to write down a complete thought, a handsome notebook gives it more class. Even a scrap of paper and a stub of a pencil are more preferable for philosophizing…”

I only refer to what the reviews says of Diane Keaton’s memoir ‘Then Again’. I have only read a few pages while browsing away the afternoon at the neighbourhood bookstore, as the building was conducting its annual fire-safety drill. It fell into my hands because after 3 hours of picking up a book at random and reading a random page I was not focusing; I didn’t even know where I was, let alone what I was doing.

Not focusing can free the imagination.

But To Do lists, especially if they belong to Leonardo da Vinci, are worth more than their weight in gold.

It is useful," Leonardo wrote, to "constantly observe, note, and consider."*

He filled over 13,000 pages with his observations and drawings that range from grocery lists and household expenses to compositions of paintings to detailed anatomical drawing and engineering inventions. He seamlessly glided from one topic to another often within a single page

It seems he could not focus on a single thread of thought. By not giving his complete undivided attention to one thing he was able to pursue everything, so to speak. Or conversely, he could focus on one thing so completely and so exclusively to all the rest that he could carry more than one thought in his head. His knowledge was not limited by fields or boundaries. That made him a genius.

*Robert Krulwich, in this piece, asks us to join him in slipping into Leonardo’s mind for a moment. How will we do that? All credit to learning number 2: Leonardo’s well taken care of notebooks.

Read Darwin, Marx, Joyce, Freud, Einstein, Benjamin, McLuhan, and Barthes.*

Curiosity. Across disciplines. About many things. About any and everything. That my friends, is not just the code that opens the gates to the world inhabited by Leonardo da Vinci, or the world of creativity in general but also the code that opens the secret pathway to a life well lived.

* Charles H. Traub, The Education of a Photographer

The future is not uniformly distributed.*

Thanksgiving weekend brought up a host of images of deprivation from around the world with the tagline­, “Consider how blessed you are. Be grateful. Walk a mile in their shoes” or something to the effect. My first thought: People who can barely walk tall in their own shoes should not even consider trying to walk in other people's shoes. Especially, if they have no idea to whom the shoes in the photograph belong.

It also reminded me of Good Will Hunting (again). The scene in which Sean MacGuire (Robin Williams) says to Will (Matt Damon),
You're an orphan, right? Do you think I'd know the first thing about how hard your life has been, how you feel, who you are because I read Oliver Twist? Does that encapsulate you?

Books too aren’t of much help beyond a point. No, you can’t understand anyone unless you begin with trying to make sense of yourself.

In any case, you can spend an entire life without having a clue about yourself or the world in general. It is not just plausible, but possible. And as far as I can tell what many believe the short cut to a life well lived.

But there are always those who want to know.

Kurt Vonnegut said: Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be. So that gives us someplace to begin this journey of trying to discover ourselves.

But if you are able to make sense of what you are and who you want to be and you realize that it is something that no one else ever was or wants to be. Take heart. For the future is not uniformly distributed. There is space for multiple stories, each with their own specific plot lines and unique endings.

What an uplifting and liberating thought! The future is not uniformly distributed. Everything is possible. All at the same time.

* From an interview with Tom Waits in The Guardian. Oh! Yes, I do consider him a sort of modern day prophet.
New Learnings round one can be found here.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Faith versus Rock

Some days back I wrote a post on my experiences with blogging, especially the one outcome that I was always certain was inevitable. Any human with half a brain knows that when people have access to stuff, which is offered for free, they resort to what we shall euphemistically refer to as ‘lifting’. As in lifting stuff and taking it for their own. As they cram their pockets with free stuff, a corner of their eye is on the look out to ensure nobody catches them while they are at it. That is because deep down in their heart they know that what they are doing is not “right”. Some unnamed and hard to pin down fear nags their conscience but something much more audacious holds that fear by its neck and twists it till it submits. Or dies.

However, I neither care for the fear nor the audacity. For a human being, even though we like to believe it is so, is not perfect– nor the pinnacle of evolution but just another organism that has to constantly evolve and improve itself in order to survive another day. In fact, the one thing I do care for is that millions of years from now when the sun will be a dying star, humans, as we exist today with all our illusions of grandeur and superiority, will not be the most "advanced" form of life on earth. And if some way into those million years even if the entire human species dies out, something not too hard to imagine given the way we are headed– each and every one of us as dead as the dinosaur, the universe will be indifferent.

So, how does it matter if you– yes, I am addressing you– pick up "free stuff" from my blog, embellish it a bit, add your name at the top and even get published in a national weekly. It may make you feel good about yourself– your friends may call you "awesome"– but you know what– it won’t make you immortal, no, it won’t even make you "world famous" in India. And frankly my dear let alone the universe, or the world in general, or the “world of art” that you desperately seek heck! even I don’t give a damn!

However, why is faith hanging in the middle of the first line? Yes, what about faith? If hope– in the perfectibility of humans, one of the reasons for the ‘why’ of art– is a thing with feathers, then what is faith– it has a song– does it too have a wing– and a sting? I know Emily Dickinson said that about fame. So what do we have to say for faith?

If fear is the root of all evil in humans then shall we say faith will deliver us from evil. Amen.

Well, I won’t be found lighting candles to celebrate the good I see in my fellow beings anytime soon. But I am certain I have enough faith in myself to fly off and away even if it is only to alight on the nearest shrub. However, do I too have a sting?

There’s much ado about the rock. Hard, insurmountable, immovable, undefeatable– in short, it is impossible to get around a rock. The rock lies in the middle of the path and all we can do is look at it in fear and awe. Helplessly. Does one go forward with faith or submit to the rock?

While we are stranded lets play a game of ‘rock, paper, scissors’. You laugh in astonishment. Rock, paper, scissors isn’t just a mindless game one plays to control a car full of nieces and nephews or to kill time in between gossip sessions in the hostel. Wikipedia tells me that the game dates back to the Chinese Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) and now is a part of programming competitions for algorithms. And if anyone plays real time strategy games they know how important it is to have a modicum of skill in this seemingly simplistic game. For how does one choose if one has to make a choice between two things that appear to be equally good?

If you have played this game you know the possible outcomes are:
Rock blunts or breaks scissors: that is, rock defeats scissors.
Scissors cut paper: scissors defeats paper.
Paper covers, sands or captures rock: paper defeats rock.

I always choose paper. For I am willingly to risk getting cut but I shall always overcome the rock.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

On Books

This year there has been just one post on afterthoughts on books. It is not for the lack of reading. On the contrary, this has been a very good year for books. But to have some afterthoughts one needs to wait for a sufficient amount of time and see if one has any thoughts on the book. Sometimes it is difficult to even recollect the plot of the book. But with age this is becoming a rare occurrence. Lets just say one has become more discerning in choosing what to read. There is no pressure to read something just because the entire world and their aunt is reading it. In fact, that is often a good reason to give the book a miss.

Then there are those books that are never far, within reach by the bedside, and alive in the mind. A cursory but perceptive glance at the blog will yield the favored authors, if not the names of some of the books themselves. There have been times when one has found it easier to give up on a friendship than give up on any of these books. In any case, if a person does not appreciate ‘To the Lighthouse’ at a young age then it holds very little hope for any kind of meaningful relationship in the any kind of future.

Had there been an axe handy, a poker, or any weapon that would have gashed a hole in his father’s breast and killed him, there and then, James would have seized it.

One vividly recollects that strange emotion that gripped the heart when one came upon this sentence on the first page of the book itself. An emotion so rare that one can still find no words to express it. It was akin to something felt a few years ago on reading the first lines of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’,

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

And it takes one all the way back to the first day of summer vacations when, as a young girl, one read the words, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.*” The same indescribable emotion gripped the heart and one had to, but naturally, stay up all night to find out more about Manderley and the dream. That too was a good year for books.

Then there are those other books that may never get mentioned on the blog but hold a similar grip on the heart.

The much battered but even much better loved ‘The Art of Looking Sideways’ would feature close to the top of the list of books you wish you had if you were shipwrecked on a deserted island. The book is a peek into the inner workings of a super creative mind. It demonstrates the basic truth about creativity– it is a way of life. And yes, it subsumes everything; the eyes, the ears, the hands and the imagination all align in the pursuit of creative excellence. The mouth too has a role to play. It keeps silent for if one is creatively inclined there is no need at all to shout so from the rooftops.

‘The Art of Looking Sideways’ was one’s first and most formative education in visual intelligence. Some years later when well past midnight one sent Darth Vader shopping for books, the depth and impact of that education was realized.

Another is ‘The Way We Live’, though it may not figure on the above mentioned list. For it is very heavy and if one is given such a huge weight allowance then one could carry a few more paperbacks and feel that much less lonesome on the deserted island. But ever since it has been a part of the family 'The Way We Live' has taken the place of what people refer to as ‘comfort food’. Especially on days when one is inclined to say to the world at large,
Society, you're a crazy breed.
I hope you're not lonely, without me.**

Ironic as it may seem but looking at pictures of the way we live actually makes one empathize with one’s fellow beings. Every image in the book breathes. Every object in every room– its colour, shape, place, and use– holds up a mirror to people’s most intrinsic ideas, beliefs and hopes. Every year, as one gains newer perspectives into life, the stories behind the images too evolve, and one begins to see a bit differently. Perhaps even a bit better. Therein lies the comfort.

And then sometimes when society is being way too crazy one simply reaches out to Saki. And that’s how the light gets in.

*From Rebecca a novel by Daphne du Maurier
**Society a song by Eddie Vedder (Into the Wild)

To the Lighthouse a novel by Virginia Woolf
One Hundred Years of Solitude a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher
The Way We Live by Standford Cliff, Photographs by Gilles De Chabaneix

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Human Seasons

Spring 2011
Autumn 2011


                  Four Seasons fill the measure of the year;
     There are four seasons in the mind of man:
He has his lusty Spring, when fancy clear
     Takes in all beauty with an easy span:
He has his Summer, when luxuriously
     Spring's honied cud of youthful thought he loves
To ruminate, and by such dreaming high
     Is nearest unto heaven: quiet coves
His soul has in its Autumn, when his wings
     He furleth close; contented so to look
On mists in idleness—to let fair things
     Pass by unheeded as a threshold brook.
He has his Winter too of pale misfeature,
     Or else he would forego his mortal nature.

The Human Seasons a poem by John Keats.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Bird Hours

These are a few minutes of the many, many hours I spent watching birds over the last few years. Just outside the window or out and about the trees near wherever I lived.

Click on the image to expand and read this e-book.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Fall, leaves, fall

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

– "Fall, leaves, fall" a poem by Emily Jane Brontë.