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Losing my mind (and other more important things)

It's official—I am losing my mind. Full-blown amnesia and premature dementia have been threatening to break out for a while now, and in their milder, meditation-relaxation induced forms, welcome even—refreshing change from fastidious, check the door is locked twice anxiety of long gone but not long forgotten younger, highly strung days. Sure I may never be able to remember people’s names this lifetime, an at times endearing like a mad professor—at least I like to imagine so—but probably professionally damaging habit-come-mental-block—not a selling point probably when one is trying to run a business; and I may never know why I can not for the life of me easily learn the words to songs—not completely true, for I find I can do most things when mind is applied and heart engaged, and perhaps music, for which my faculty is more implicit yet less pursued than other pursuits, deserves to be given a fairer hearing. But where was I? It seems to have happened again... With relative time but not pressure on my side when packing for a now embarked overseas trip, an exception to the norm of upending drawers into bags as the taxi draws up along side, I really had no excuse to leave my costs-$200-to-replace-and-I-have-urgent-work-to-do laptop power cord behind me, or to compound matters further, board the plane with recently purchased protective inner sleeve for very same computer in the airport lounge. On the plus side, I did remember to pack a notebook and pen—that’s notebook as in fits in my back pocket—and somewhat chastened, calluses not seen since university days forming on fingers so long has it been since a paragraph wrote by hand, calluses red and stinging like rebuke and reminder for carelessness blatant, I composed these words in-flight, unable to be re-charged laptop failing me finally. So my mind has failed me as well. Not for the first time to be sure...

Moved to relate

Desiree of Let’s Change the World was moved to relate after reading of my Writing lows:
Writing has always been my great passion and like any great passion there have been times where I passionately hated it! I can’t tell you how many diaries I started and never finished as a child myself. So many things I started and never finished. I couldn’t even count the unfinished novels that I’ve written or perhaps I should say haven’t written. I love to write so I’m not really sure why I’ve had such a difficult time keeping it up in my life but blogging has really been the answer for me. I’ve been blogging now for 3 or 4 years and I guess there is just something about having an instant readership that appeals to my motivation. I don’t know…I’m babbling aren’t I? Well I really just wanted to say I can relate.
Hey thanks Desiree—you've certainly hit the nail on the head with the appeal of an instant audience when blogging—I still drop everything whenever I see a comment appear in my email in-box, and sometimes a single comment is enough to start me on a new, wonderful tangent. Or turn the corner to productivity. Babbling is good I say. I think, although ‘feel’ would better suit though less easily coined, that I enjoy writing more as a stream of consciousness than process of patchwork honing and refining, though the latter does have its place also—and since when can I ever leave a story once written alone? Running is better than walking usually, but you see the scenery a little more clearly at a slower pace... I should admit that I may have been, as is my tendency and writers prerogative, a little melodramatic in my description of recent writerly trials—four or five days between the last couple of posts, and a number of started but ne’er finished pieces when in the middle of an insanely busy couple of weeks is not really so bad, and with the exception of the prolific blogger and frequent commentator here Camille (thanks for that), I suspect I am more at ease—and productive—in my writing than most, and aware that such requires not a post-graduate qualification but a degree of gratitude, never expectation nor demand. I am half-way through a post on this theme, and for anyone who may find writing harder than I, take heart from the fact that I really haven't been stringing letters together for very long, and credit most of my ability, and more importantly my inspiration, to the practise of meditation—more so than anything I may have brought with me into this world. It is worth reminding self, again and again, of the power of meditation, and also the distinct lack of power—for power autonomy and authority may equally be inserted, in relation to writing and otherwise—of my little ‘s’ self. And in the case of meditation, like writing, there are certainly better authorities than I...
Sri Chinmoy on the benefits of meditation “We make tremendous improvement through meditation. This is the only way of improving any part of life; there is no other way to make abiding progress. But we don't ignore anything. The negative aspects of life are also part and parcel of Mother Earth. If we ignore them, what will happen? They will come again and attack our near ones and dear ones. So what we do is try to change them, transform them. In the beginning we do not pay attention to them precisely because we want to be strong. If you are weak, how are you going to protect others? But if you become strong, then you will be in a position to help and protect others. And it is meditation that makes you strong and powerful. “So first we become strong. Then we will be in a position to help others. But we do not ignore anything; only in the beginning, we pay attention to Beauty, Light and Delight. When we get Light and Delight, through this Light and Delight we can be transformed. We try to pay all attention to the positive aspects of life so that we muster courage, strength, will-power in infinite measure. Then, when the negative aspects turn up, we try to change the fate of those who are in the world of darkness and indulgence.” From My Heart's Salutation To Australia

Writing lows

HimalayasIt is said that the most common first sentence of a blog is“I haven’t posted anything in a while...” Seeing as I hate to be common, and have long given up avoiding the label“proud,” let me phrase a different introduction: “It has been a couple of days...” I should admit that keeping a diary was never one of my strong points. I tried several times as a child, and like every other sincerely made New Year’s resolution sincerely failed, running out of enthusiasm and inspiration within several pages, in all honesty lacking anything to say. Writing in a diary was no more cure for childhood boredom than the parental suggestion“Well you could tidy your room...” Which makes this uncommon gap between posts better than it may read. Yes, I probably am my harshest critic, reality seldom intruding upon the setting of impossibly high standards, and by any other’s standards a five day gap between posts is really not so bad. I do have a life off-line—although friends may beg to differ—and building a website, delivering phone books (it’s a long story, but more than my fingers did the walking), instructing a webmaster friend on the finer points of DNS redirection and remote file synchronisation (at length, several times), working on a corporate video, and starting but not finishing several articles for publication takes no small amount of time, and perhaps more relevantly, not always unlimited creative energy. And so, in something of a dry spell, I have done my best not to be alarmed, frustrated or anxious. Writers block is normal, even unavoidable for most and self, and not helped one single period by losing poise along with pen. Going back to my roots, I meditated on occasion, a simple act whose positive benefits even a regular practitioner can overlook. It is human nature to seek greener grass; how often do I forget that the limitless fields of meditation are the greenest of all? Caught up at times in the energy, flow and excitement of writing, I am reminded again, and again, that silence is the most powerful source of words.
The miracle is not to fly in the air, or to walk on the water: but to walk on the earth. Chinese proverb
As a writer craves quality and brilliance, and always productivity, so people who practise meditation expect experiences, heights of bliss or vistas of consciousness, as in the satori or flashes of enlightenment of the Zen tradition. In meditation, as in writing, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that, like climbing a mountain, there are countless steps, highs and lows on the way to the summit or the end of the page. Meditation teacher Sri Chinmoy once compared enlightenment, the ultimate goal of meditation, as akin to climbing Mt. Everest—only a thousand times over. The final sentence in meditation, or writing, is that the journey is high, hard and long. What am I saying exactly? Like writing, meditation is sheer hard work and sweet reward, and the transformation of human nature from less perfect to more perfect may seem near impossible at first; conquering jealousy, insecurity, fear and anger as difficult as straightening the proverbial tail of a dog. Yet peak experiences in meditation are the result of lowly hard work. There is no short-cut or substitute for such, and as in the Chinese proverb, walking on the earth as a conscious human being is the true miracle. It is the same in writing it seems. Great works come from dry spells and inspiration, and weathering them, even learning from them is a part of writing as well. Between high and low, the middle path of ordinary and unremarkable must be weathered and walked, one’s work, and art, furthered here on earth, not in heaven or hell. As author William S. Burroughs once confessed,
“As a child, I had given up on writing, perhaps unable to face what every writer must: all the bad writing he will have to do before he does any good writing.”
Bear with me as I try to do some good writing...

Memoirs of a Gaijin

kenchoji.jpgI've been enjoying reading several blogs from Japan recently, written by foreigners living there, or“gaijin” as they are known to the Japanese. I'm sure there are countless Japanese bloggers out there who write in English, and one day I'll hunt them down as well, but as one who was actually in Japan only six months ago I am for the moment enjoying the like-minded, non-Japanese perspective of these fellow gaijin. Like myself, each of these bloggers each went to Japan for their love of the country, and write about the lives they are leading there with a mixture of fascination and endearment, rather than empty curiosity or worse. I have also just added a few of my own stories about Japan here now that we are on the topic. Considering that I only spent a single week in Japan my stories may in truth be somewhat light in actual content, yet the very fact that I wrote thousands of words speaks something of the experience... Recommended blogs on Japan School Yanki Given the choice between a BMW convertible or a $15,000 shopping spree anywhere in the world, this graduating American high school student chose neither; instead requesting her parents allow her to spend her last semester in Japan:
“I think that took them off-guard. Mom really regrets dropping that mint julep glass. The set is worthless now that one of the glasses is broken.”
Pandora has only just started her blog, and is writing almost in real-time about her adventures in a Japanese school. This blog will only get better, especially now that the rumour is out that she is“Yanki” (a notorious type of anti-social punk). Firefly in Japan Firefly (not his real name) came to Japan from Australia five years ago with no Japanese, little money and no friends or contacts, to study martial arts for a month. After one week of living in Tokyo he decided to stay:
“I felt like Japan was testing me. Seeing if I had what it takes. One guy at martial arts often talked about the“martial arts god”, who looks after people who come to Japan with the serious intent to learn martial arts.“If you just commit yourself to martial arts, things will happen,” he told me, as we sat on a train speeding through the Japanese countryside.”
Firefly’s blog has proved to be enormously popular in a short space of time. An only cursory sampling of his writing might leave you with the impression that he is a typically“ignorant” gaijin, but you would be mistaken—enthusiastically and sincerely written, his posts are filled with valuable insights into Japanese life and culture, and his roadside encounter with a yakuza is one of many classics. ChadTheEvilXpat At the time of writing the evil Chad‘s blog has vanished, perhaps under the strain of the traffic that comes making the front-page of Reddit, but hopefully he will soon return, as his "Helpful advice of how to mess with Japanese people” was a blogging classic:
“When you're about to cross a 1-lane road with no other cars for 500 meters in either direction and there is still a mob of people waiting for the crossing light, proceed across without breaking stride. Bonus points if there are mothers holding their children back for whom you can provide a bad example, and further bonus points if anyone follows you who was previously standing there.”
Chad probably is a typical gaijin, yet his candour and irreverence are refreshing. Terry Dobson’s story Not a blog, but a great story about a 70 year old using Aikido to“disarm” an aggressive drunk on a Tokyo train. Hint: Aikido translates as“the way of harmonious spirit.”
"C’mere," the old man said in an easy vernacular, beckoning to the drunk. "C’mere and talk with me." He waved his hand lightly. The big man followed, as if on a string. He planted his feet belligerently in front of the old gentleman, and roared above the clacking wheels, "Why the hell should I talk to you?" The drunk now had his back to me. If his elbow moved so much as a millimeter, I’d drop him in his socks.


susan_cooper.jpgSadly, I'm in the midst of writing a non-blog piece at the moment—sadly because it makes me foresworn from lavishing even half-devoted attention to this barely born web diary until finished. All the same, and please don't tell my editor, in the course of researching work-in-progress I came across the following gem to share, an interview with English children's author Susan Cooper, best known for her profoundly powerful, mythic The Dark is Rising series (soon to be a film):
Question: Because you write about extraordinary events, do strange things ever happen to you? Susan Cooper: Yes, sometimes they do. When I began to write 'Silver on the Tree', I found it very hard and I remember going to stay the weekend with my American publisher, I told her I was having trouble and she said, "Let's talk about it in the morning, let's go for a walk now." We went for a walk in the meadow behind her house and three things happened: We saw two swans swimming in the river, an enormous bumble-bee came flying past my nose (very late in the afternoon for a bumble-bee to be about) and then my publisher told me a tale of a strange black mink, which she'd seen in the meadow last summer and I suddenly realised that in my first chapter I had two swans, a bumble-bee and a black mink! Now that is pure coincidence, but it's the sort of thing that gives you tingles and it certainly encouraged me to go on with the book.
The cross-over between fact and fiction, dream and reality, sanity and not is one of my favourite subjects—more abiding interest really—and not just because I spend time in consciousness-altering meditation every day. I was fascinated by the idea of the unreal being real from an earliest age; there was something just beyond comprehension, always gnawing away, whispering that the magical might exist in this world, just out of my reach. Which reminds me of an essay written by Indian spiritual master Sri Aurobindo, and now I really am getting diverted, called“The Intermediate Zone,” on the realm of consciousness just beyond the waking state, where dreams and half-truths take shape, informed by regions ever higher and more perfect... But no I must stop or else there will be no turning back, or finishing of what is almost finished, head turned, attention diverted by the charms of sudden temptation, and the glowing inspiration of the just started. Is this the definition of procrastination? Or just distraction.

Elmore Leonard’s Top Ten Writing Tips

elmore_leonard.jpg I have just finished writing an article on crime novel author Elmore Leonard's top ten writing tips, tips which I discovered, and here comes that word again, quite serendipitously after stumbling across a page about George Orwell on the same site. Now I should admit to raving fans of Get Shorty or Maximum Bob that I have never actually read a novel by Elmore Leonard—I had never heard of the man until a couple of days ago; yet don't take that as a conscious or unconscious slight on my part—he sounds like the ideal paperback companion for a round-the-world plane trip, which here in New Zealand is the only way to get absolutely anywhere. On the plus side to my wavering credibility, I can admit to having seen several of his film adaptations, incidentally the same adaptations he also recommends: Get Shorty wasn't bad, although I can tell my attention began to wander by the fact that I can remember nothing from halfway through; Jackie Brown was an entirely regrettable experience, and the last time I take advice from a co-worker about films to watch; Out of Sight however was quite the opposite—and further backs my without hesitation recommendation of every title Steven Soderbergh has ever made—although by way of disclaimer: take the age of any film and the year that I watched it, and you'll end up with some sort of formula as to the reliability of my opinion on it; I have at times been severely embarrassed recommending films that I liked a very, very long time ago. So if my opinions on films are at times a little suspect, what exactly would I know about contemporary America's best-selling crime novelist—also a ‘genre’ writer respected for his technical ability? Not a lot, but I did like his main point of advice on writing: "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."