Archive for September, 2008

HH the Dalai Lama

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

In October 2007 I traveled to Atlanta to see His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama. He spoke at Emory University and at the downtown Centennial Park during two days of teachings. It was profoundly moving to experience the presence of this great man of peace and compassion.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama
His Holiness
Posted 22 October 2007

I spent yesterday listening to His Holiness and it was probably one of the best days of my life. He does radiate joy, peace and love — I was prepared for disappointment, because really, no hero is genuine, right? The difference with His Holiness is that he’s a hero for his humanity, and not because of other reasons, like so many of our heroes, who are presented as flawless, beautiful, unerring demi-gods.

No, His Holiness is simply a human being and arrived at his place of wisdom through a lifetime of hard work. That work has allowed him to develop deep understanding and acceptance for the world and all of us sharing it.

A few moments before he was scheduled to appear, the gymnasium fell silent,the colored lights that were twirling everywhere stopped and no one moved.

I hardly knew how to prepare myself, so I just said let me have a clear mind to understand this great man of peace.

When His Holiness walked onto the stage, I knew my fears that I would somehow be disappointed were groundless. How could I be disappointed?

He walked with a gait that reminded me of my grandmother, only quicker and more steady. Still, there was a sense of age to his step. He smiled constantly as he held the hands and hugged the monks there, bowing to them, as if they were the honored guests and he just an ordinary visitor.

He wore the saffron yellow and burgundy robes of a monk and on his feet, flip flops. They made no noise, however, as he walked around the stage greeting everyone.

I felt warm inside, deeply reassured not only that my hero was genuine, but somehow that the entire world wasn’t such a bad place after all.

In the afternoon a peacebuilding summit took place … more tomorrow … but when I left the gymnasium, I walked into a bright, crisp autumn afternoon. Everywhere I looked, I saw joy — people playing soccer in a field, friends walking together to the Tibetan bazaar that’s set up under the white tents, people carrying their small children. I felt awed by the beauty of everything.

Tibet for a Day
Posted 23 October 2007

The clouds came down to turn Atlanta into a little Tibet, and Centennial Park into Lhasa. A fresh, cool day, the buildings surrounding the park shrouded in mist became mountains, shedding their concrete nature for a few hours and giving us a break from the known world.

More than 7,000 people crowded the park and they sat on blankets, many with their children, other couples and people of all ages and walks of life.

His Holiness spoke of love and the importance of inner values, compassion and kindness, and said he would serve others until his death.

I have been in the presence of an enlightened human being. It gives me hope of what is possible by strengthening inner values and positive human emotions — compassion, affection, love — and discouraging the bad ones.

Today I pack up and head home, the long, eight-hour drive back to Greenville.

TOMORROW:
Seeing Jack Kerouac’s original scroll MS of On the Road.

Happy BD, FD!!

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

THIS WEEK: It’s a celebration in Fiction Dailyland, marking one year of quirky posts on writing, writers and why we read. (It’s a little early … but what the hay, the world needs a party!!)

Here’s my first entry, posted October 11, 2007.

Welcome to Fiction Daily

We love to read. Gossip magazines, novels, non-fiction and even poetry. We read online, too. It has always been a dream of mine to post about fiction, and this blog takes the name of that dream: Fiction Daily.

Nobody has read all of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, right? I know one person who dedicated a full year to reading all seven volumes, from Swann’s Way to Finding Time Again. He tells me it was a life-changing experience, dwelling in another world while continuing to function in this one.

I read the first part of the first volume, Combray, and it took forever, having to read and re-read over and again to figure out what was going on. Proust writes with a dreamy, rambling style that escorts you deep into his mind, his world, and it takes a while to get there, but once there, I found a remarkable glimpse at what makes us human.

COMMENTS

From Gene-O:

Not to turn this conversation in the dreary direction of weighing the limitations of reading great works in translation, but to experience Proust in his native language must be a transporting experience. Think about what is lost, inevitably, in translations of Shakespeare. For us English-only folks, it’s the same, in reverse, for Proust, Tolstoy, Balzac, Dante … anyone we can’t read in the original.

The creator and moderator of this blog fails to mention that she read “Combray” in French! One would certainly need to stumble around a good while to glean everything gleanable from that field. My reading of the novel, in translation, was not nearly so studious or precise; it took until about the end of the third volume before I started to “get” what Proust was trying to do. Before that, I just slogged along blind. For that reason alone, it’ll be worth re-reading the whole all over again … this time, not the warhorse mostly-Moncrieff translation but the new one with multiple translators. (FYI: Apparently, U.S. publication of the last three volumes will be held up for years due to copyright issues.)

On a related note, isn’t it too bad that the novel’s title is now widely rendered in English as “In Search of Lost Time”? OK, OK, so it is a more accurate translation of “La Recherche du Temps Perdu”; but it has none of the poetic redundancy of “Remembrance of Things Past.”

From Marion:

Yes, it frightens me to think how much is lost reading works in translation. The Russian language is a great vehicle created by hundreds of struggles and years. It pains me to think how much English translations drain it of meaning.

From Gene-O:

Have you noticed how trendy it has become to say that one has read “ISOLT”? “Newsweek” has a feature in each issue where they ask an author to name his or her favorite/most influential novels. Three of the last four weeks, the author has included “ISOLT”! It’s becoming the ultimate highbrow cliche, the literary equivalent of corporate execs who compete in triathlons.

Power in Numbers?

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Figuratively Speaking

Yesterday’s post reminded me of one of my favorite words. I first got acquainted with this word in college, when I was a budding Political Science major. I later dropped that major in favor of a French Language and Literature degree (you know, it’s a real money-maker), but I have always been fond of political science.

The word in question is hegemony. It means leadership or dominance, by one country or social group. It usually refers to one culture or system overtaking and subsuming another, in a malignant, stultifying way.

This week we’ve all been hearing about the crisis on Wall Street and while hegemony is probably too strong a word here, you get the picture. It seems very large systems have come to run everything — retail giants barge in and tell local governments how and where they want to build; rich countries use military force to claim territories and suck life from their citizens; large groups of people guided by ignorance stack elections and move governments backwards, and away from progress.

Call it the hegemony of hegemony. Our world is larger, and seems to run these days on force of numbers instead of wisdom.

The origins of this word are Greek, from hegemonia and hegemon, which means leader, from hegeisthai, to lead.

Some other great traditions of hegemony include suzerainty, overlordship, eminent domain. Other synonyms include iron hand, talons, claws and clutches.

Jurisdiction is another word, but implies an even-handedness that’s not apparent. With nations of the world consolidating their powers more each day, and with the officials of even our own government claiming more executive privilege, I’m not sure there’s an end in sight.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY FICTION DAILY!

FD turns one year old today! Join FD next week for memorable posts from the past year … the Dalai Lama, Jack Kerouac and more!

Bots Behaving Badly

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Tech Thursday

My site and this blog are under assault by a Net ‘bot (short for Internet Robot) that is hitting constantly. In Net parlance, that’s a Bot Behaving Badly.

It started when I noticed my site hits increased by about 100 one day. Wow, I thought. I’m really popular!

Not so fast. When I checked the referring pages, I saw what was happening. A Web host was sending out scores of hits on my site, generated by a program. A Net ‘bot.

The IP addresses in question range from 64.41.145.0 to 64.41.145.255. The company is Attributor Corporation. Other bloggers have complained about this problem. Some of those bloggers with their own host servers have been able to block this IP from their site all together.

Unfortunately I haven’t had any luck with my Web host, Yahoo, which denies me access to the files that would allow me to block these IP addresses.

I’m a bit fired up. I continue to complain to my Web host (Yahoo) about these hundreds of unwelcome ‘bot hits. I am also sending my pleas out into the larger blogsphere with this post.

The site of a simple writer and blogger such as myself should be free from the corporate hegemony that has taken over so much of human enterprise and expression. Having hundreds of automated hits on this site is an unwelcome infringement.

TOMORROW:
Figuratively Speaking Friday

‘Losing’ Your Mind

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

Talking with a neighbor yesterday afternoon I found myself going on a bit (too much probably) about what it’s like to write and why writers have a reputation for irritability and depression. Not making excuses here, and if you’ve read FD for awhile this won’t be news, but writing means going in a dark Alice-in-Wonderland hole and staying there until you basically go mad.

The good news is that once you lose your mind, you’ll probably get some decent writing done. You pretty much have to dissociate from this world to create another, fictional one. Now most of the time when you’re done writing — a few weeks or months later, or when you finish the piece, story or novel — you climb back out of the hole and rejoin the world.

This process takes place with varying degrees of success. If I’m spending several hours a day writing, especially on the novel, it’s very hard to go into the world. Sort of like when you spend several days in the woods camping and come out and go to a buffet restaurant and everyone there is a space alien talking way too loud.

If you spend days and even years working on fiction, each sentence, each chapter, is crafted to your aesthetic ideal. Just the right verb describes what people do; the perfect color tints the perfect sky.

Now jump out of fiction into the world, and you see crappy streets, infantile attitudes, self-centeredness and short-sightedness. Sure, these things exist in fiction, but they’re idealized!!!!

So this morning I’m working on a short story and commentary … trying to stay a little grounded, but not too much. After all, who doesn’t think more clearly from their hole underground.

Good-bye, DFW

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

It’s good to be back in Fiction Dailyland, but my return entry today is devoted to remembering writer David Foster Wallace who died last week.

david_foster_wallace.jpg

Notice of his passing was first listed almost an afterthought on news Web sites. Soon, the story was given larger billing — as it should have.

Contemporary writers come and go just as quickly as Flavors of the Month. That’s why I’m fond of very very few contemporary writers (Paul Auster, if you’re reading, I’m a huge fan). There are some I know personally, some who have attained a little or even a lot of so-called success. What a writer calls success, however, is often a painful journey. The most important thing for a writer, the breath in our lungs, the beat in our chest, is putting words together. As long as we can do that, we are alive. When we can’t any longer, when we lose the spark, the fire, we are miserable.

Sometimes we mistake fame for love (which most writers crave). We’re also fairly ego-centric, but in a largely benign way. We’re just as likely to despise as deify ourselves.

Into the swirling world of fame, fortune, publishing and academic back-stabbing came David Foster Wallace. He’s probably best known for his 1996 opus “Infinite Jest,” which has more than 1,000 pages.

I first came to know DFW through an article in Harper’s Magazine describing, in his demented take, an ocean cruise. It was later published as “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.” His writing was unlike anything I’d read by those living writers who these days are churned out in university MFA-writing programs. They write about campus, they write about writers. They write about having affairs with professors. ZZZZZ.

Not so for DFW. His writing had heft and daring. It declared originality and broke laws, transgressed boundaries and spoke truly, authentically literary. He managed a style that was complex and yet still captivating for the reader; he’s been compared to Thomas Pynchon. He used copious footnotes that would take the reader on strange parallel discussions.

I felt kinship with him the way I do with some writers whose work I really enjoy. It’s personal, writing, and DFW was straightforward — with himself, with his writing goals and with his stories. He wasn’t faking and we knew it. He was a bit unkempt in appearance, the way writers feel most comfortable. He seemed uncomfortable with praise and acclaim.

Wallace died at 46 years old, apparently a suicide by hanging. We will miss you and your footnotes.

Left the Building

Monday, September 15th, 2008

I have a suitcase full of books — The Essential Dalai Lama, Jack Kerouac’s Desolation Angels, Rimbaud and Baudelaire poetry and a French dictionary, Le Petit Prince, The Watchmen and other books … I can’t even remember how many. My laptop will be unplugged and packed. I have food for a week, running shorts and shoes and the DVD of “Seven Years in Tibet.”

In a few hours I leave for several days’ retreat to write and get some thinking done out of town. I have wrapped up several deadline articles, and yesterday cleaned up the house and did some yard work.

For the next few days I’ll be sitting at a big table with books and papers spread out before me … and no one will know where I am … or keep me from getting completely lost in them.

Writing vacations are a personal tradition. I’ll take a week and either go somewhere or stay home … with a pledge to schedule no appointments and just work on my projects.

This week I hope to wrap up the story I’ve been working on for some time about a woman who thinks she’s being poisoned. It has gone through several manifestations and I think there’s a good one in there, I just have to find it now that I’ve taken it in so many different directions.

I’m taking two of our dogs on the trip, sleeping bag in case it’s cold, broccoli and baking potatoes. Maybe I’ll have a few clear thoughts and get some proper writing done.

FD will return next Tuesday, Sept. 23.

Time to change

Friday, September 12th, 2008

FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING

One of the scariest moments for me as a journalist wasn’t when a sheriff found me hiding behind his door listening in on an interrogation (coercion, I might add), but rather on the days when the robotic out-of-town consultants declared, Change is the new journalism, so get used to it.

They had no idea what change meant to a page editor trying to make deadline … the utter fear it evoked to hear the words, new pagination system, how nightmarish their systems were for the people expected to use them. There was a certain arrogance, too, in their pronouncements, for those of us who entered journalism to give a voice to the voiceless and other lofty ideals. They seemed to say, Abandon ideals, ye who enter here … you are now our technology minions.

That period of my life ended almost 15 years ago, and today, as a self-employed writer, I find my attitude toward new technology is quite different. No longer imposed from on high, new tech and upgrades are my choice. Granted, I have to learn all about them in order to install and program routers, printers, operating systems and programs, but that also takes the fear of the unknown away. I have to master technology; I have no choice.

And so, we arrive at today’s topic for Figuratively Speaking: CHANGE. New computers, new iPods, new cars, new priorities … new president … new millennium … lately, we’re surrounded by it.

What a surprise to find that this intimidating word has humble origins: Change comes from the French changer, from the late Latin cambire which means barter. (If you’ve traveled abroad, you recognize the word cambio from the money-changing counters.)

So in the beginning, the dread word change merely referred to exchanging one thing for another. It was of quite modest roots, probably of Celtic origin, which was the day’s equivalent to hip-hop culture.

When we change, then, we give up something and get something else. That’s the short version. Yet the word implies much more. There’s Turning over a new leaf, starting from scratch, convert, revolt, make a quantum leap.

Probably the best term I’ve found today for change is perestroika. We heard this term a lot in the 1980s and I thought it was some kind of Russian five-year plan.

That’s sort of true — perestroika means restructuring the political and economic system. In Russian, the word means literally “restructuring.”

Wouldn’t it be great to claim this word for everyday use? My eating habits have been terrible lately, so perestroika is in order. Or, Honey, we need perestroika for these cabinets since they’re in disarray. Excuse me, but do you have perestroika for a dollar?

Then again, I’ve always loved anything Russian. I don’t see perestroika for that anytime soon.

i Me Mine

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

TECH THURSDAY: Technology from a writer’s perspective.

Yesterday marked the arrival of a new set of iPods from Apple. OK, I admit it … I am an iPod junkie. So far, I have had three of them, and I don’t see any chance I’ll ever give it up.

My new iPod is now officially out of date, but that’s how it goes with iPods. It is a 3rd gen. version, which I purchased last month after returning my old 2nd gen. nano — if you’re not familiar with them, the 2nd gen. nano was the tall thin one. The 3rd gen. is a squat, square player that fits in your palm. The 2nd gen. (my second iPod) wouldn’t hold a charge. (My first iPod was also a 2nd gen., but only 2 GB. I gave it to my sister and she loves it.)

The big improvement with the 3rd gen. was video capability. It will play music videos, even TV and movies. Mine is 8 GB.

Yesterday, Apple released a new generation of iPods. The new nano goes back to the tall thin shape, with a larger video screen. Oh well. Get your cases while they last!! Once the iPod changes shape, everything else changes, too. Still I think I’ll keep this little player as long as it lasts. The battery is holding it charge and there are some nice features, like cover flow, that are fun. Cover flow presents your album covers in floating designs … or you can flip through them, as in the old days when you flipped through albums.

I wonder sometimes about the thinking at Apple, and guess that’s where this company — like Google — gets its strength. Change and rule breaking are like the Biblical Samson’s long hair for these companies. And while it is sometimes unnerving to have constant change, it’s the very seed of greatness for these guys.

Like the rest of the world, I’ll just go along with the changes at Apple. The iPod has given me my entire music library at all times — in the car, out of town, on my long runs. I spend more time than ever with Debussy, Tchaikovsky, Yo Yo Ma and Joshua Bell. That’s thanks to this music player. Rail if you will about the decadence of consumerism, and the arrogance of Apple (those Mac and PC guy commercials are a prime example, but aren’t they funny?)

In our imperfect world, it’s good to know there are a few good Apples out there.

Writing from the bottom up

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

It’s funny how writing works … and maybe why so many people dislike it. I’ve been working on an article, a very matter of fact thing. There was some movement, but mostly the story was just going through the motions. After all, a friend once said, every story isn’t “The Great Gatsby.”

I moved some paragraphs and it seemed better. That’s as good as it gets, I imagined. It’s good enough. All was finished except a final interview.

At last, I conducted the interview and “plugged in” the remarks into their appointed spot. ZZZZ!! The story was a snooze!!

Then, I realized the heart of the story was suffocated by all those … well … words. We spend so much time explaining every darn thing, we never say anything of real value. When Hemingway wrote, he would review and revise, deleting everything possible as long as it didn’t change the meaning of the story or prevent it’s being understood. He would marvel at how much could be removed and the story still stand.

It’s in those places between words that a story lives … the same way our lungs fill with air, our stories must fill up with the reader’s heart and imagination. When we must SAY everything, we have stamped the thing to death.

At the same time, if we just skip from point to point to point, our story is erratic, unreadable and mechanical. Maybe not snooze-inducing, but heartless.

So I ripped the story apart from the inside out … bottom side up … took the interview quotes from the end and opened the story with them … and suddenly … it’s alive!!

Daily, hourly, I struggle to know if what I’m writing will be enjoyable … or enlightening … for others. I read through my stories, looking for smoothness and signs of life. I am grateful for stories that, like this one, tell me what they need, and like the ugly ducking, become swans.