Monday, November 7, 2011

The end of Peter Writes

You guys, you guys. I have important – and somber news – to announce. Today, November 8th, 2011, one hundred forty-six days after this blog opened for business, its doors will close (though they may be left open just a crack so the winter winds can occasionally rearrange the papers). It’s been a good run: 150+ posts, 5,000+ unique visitors, 25,000+ page views, and an unexpected symbiosis and synergy with my offline life.

I started this blog to become a better writer. After 120,000 words – about how I learned to play guitar, my relationship with alcoholJasjitSleep No More, Love and Other Drugs, tipsy writing, subway storiesmy Yale janitor, my first crush, a summer at a publishing company, my first Friday night in Manila, and an MLK essay – I have become a better writer. My voice is more self-assured, more nuanced. Big words ease into the prose, instead of sticking out. Transitions between ideas just flow better.

But my mantra of self-improvement, especially with regards to writing, is centered around change. When comfort sets in, so does complacency. It would be easy – and I’d be happy – writing 800 word posts daily about counter-intuitive insights and dramatic stories. But there's only so much the medium can convey. Quality clashes with quantity. Beholden to the blog, I don't have the flexibility to spend a day vomit drafting,  or crafting one great sentence. I could just publish whatever I accomplished, as a means of – you guessed it, accountability – but that seems like a lackluster compromise.

So I’m taking my writing offline. Accountability will have to be derived from within, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. It’s not like there are a dearth of projects: I’m attempting to write a novel (though I’m fast coming to realize that, holy shit, I don’t actually know anything about the world); I’m submitting non-fiction and personal essays to online publications; I’m a mercenary for an e-book publisher. I’m also dancing around poetry. I’m sure there will be more.

A month ago, I asked one of my favorite writers for advice. He took a look at my blog and responded, “Publishing a blog post every day is probably the exact opposite of what you should be doing. Instead, work on your best idea for a couple weeks, get it perfect and then send it out.” I couldn’t agree more. It’s a scaling up of priorities: I’m moving from daily posts to a few people to monthly posts for thousands. The inherent risk, of course, is that what I write won't be published anywhere, but that's the uncertainty built into the enterprise. Better get used to it. I wouldn’t give up this blogging experience for anything in the world, but now’s the time to move on.

Check back here every few weeks or so. I might continue to publish weekly updates, and maybe, when I’m inspired just to write, a short story or narrative of my past. And if you’re ever wondering what I’m doing, day-to-day, just email me!

Finally: a shout out to everyone who’s been a regular reader. You guys know who you are; thanks for the kind words and encouragement during this journey. Like I mentioned in my last Yale Daily News column, the world is wide, wide open. It's time to go exploring. Stay in touch,


Week 20 and Week 21: Marginalia and The Novel

Moments of clarity in life -- unblinking, elemental, mere momentary openings to pure consciousness -- often rise, unpremeditated, after the fallow yeast of experiences has had enough time to steep within itself. One such moment unfurled four days after I boarded a plane bound for Puerto Princesa, carrying a backpack containing Chekhov: Plays, four sets of clothes, my cell phone, a blue ballpoint pen, and my small Moleskine notebook. The situation: I had renounced my computer for a week, and, newly birthed into an environment without the weight of refreshing my online persona, I planned only to think, and then to write down those thoughts. It happened. I thought constantly: riding in a cramped van to El Nido, sitting on the sodden porch of our $3-a-night hotel room, balancing on the cramped seat of a motorcycle tricycle into the city, straddling the the rails of a rickety charter boat, walking down the bleached white sand of Helicopter Island. I observed; I questioned; I wondered.  The volcano of ants emerging from mounds of wet sand, the ersatz quality of local Gatorade, the indigo floral pattern on the dress of Art Cafe's most beautiful waitress, the translucent highlights of swaying moss growing on the undersides of river rock -- the details of the islands shook out some indelible truth out from my core, and while my emotion were bursting inchoate, I was convinced that scribbling it down would allow me to, after an indeterminate time, stumble upon those old words and thoughts after they had hardened into an unassailable truth about my world. After three days, my notes, scribbled in the margins of my Chekhov book -- words often in layers on top of each other, given my frequent night-time revelations -- looked, as an oeuvre, flighty and unfinished, the phrases antediluvian leaf pressings in a musty old book, thinned and dissolving with the passage of light and time. In the months since, I've tried categorizing them, and re-reading them, to stoke the kindle of revelation, but these questions, recollections, observations, well, all of them have become normal and affected, taken away from its original environment, as if the magic of the moment imparted from pen to paper had evaporated off the surface.

Except for one idea.

I'm going to write a novel. 

The idea first fomented when I was 6 years old, and wrote "Cosmo's Space Adventure." An intrepid space explorer on a time-warping, noble quest to save his parents, Cosmo needed to travel from Planet A through Planet Z, facing and surmounting challenges of increasing heft and complexity. The plot, as egregious as it seems now, was limpid and serene in my 6-year-old mind, an unapologetic romp through imagination and emotion. The story, on a Microsoft Word file, hasn't moved in 15 years; but the thought -- of having a story to tell, and wanting to tell it to the world -- has transformed, burgeoning and shrinking, competing for mind-share with the other ambitions and desires in my life. Writing, especially fiction, was a buried need, making spot appearances only when necessity called for it -- a final paper for a class, essentially -- and was never animated into a free-standing goal until I took my first fiction seminar, in my last semester in college.

Michael Cunningham, the 1999 Pulitzer Prize winner for his novel, The Hours, accepted me into his class knowing I'd never written fiction before in my life. I showed up as the oldest person and with the least experience -- reading and writing, most likely -- and proceeded to gorge myself on the fiction I'd been missing out on for 20 years. Virginia Woolf, Hemingway, James Joyce, Denis Johnson -- I was a virgin, initiated to the club. My first short story, "Beads," was an unmitigated disaster. My second short story, "Almost but Not Quite," was a more bearable attempt. Then the semester ended, and I strut into -- and past -- graduation sailing on an amateur cockiness about how artful a writer I was.

That cockiness is gone, dissipated long ago in the Manila sun, but on the fourth day of my vacation in Palawan, a redolent, gemmule triangle was sketched: a platoon of fiction knowledge, acquired and congealing in the last half-year; the flowering of latent resolve to become a writer; and, the last element in the trifecta, an idea. That idea is still a mere impression; an excogitation of the ideals that have surrounded my habits and actions for my entire time. It revolves, like an electron beholden to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, around the struggle between knowledge and social interaction; around the unquenchable vector of time, and around the mutability of living in a connected world. If this sounds vague, that's on purpose. Currently, without my own continental philosophy to drift upon, I'm simply going to take the advice of Haruki Murakami wrote: I have a single image in my head, which will take me away.


In Week 20, I spent 38 hours online: 13 hours and 9 minutes writing, and 13 hours and 11 minutes browsing the web. In Week 21, I spent 25 hours and 44 minutes online: writing for 12 hours and 55 minutes, and browsing for 4 hours and 22 minutes.

Here are some articles I think you’d like. Hopefully you will find one or two satisfactory. The 9 
essential geek books; the top 10 moments in Full Tilt Poker; a comprehensive recap of Obama’s chances next year; this Aaron S.C. guy at Yale is a pretty good writer. The group behind the enlightened(?) mayhem? The birth of Jeff Bezos. Rebecca Taber and a story about war and love. I’m not sure if Foong is a great blogger or notSteve Jobs’ commencement addressAmazon war stories. The future of punctuation is here, and it’s not pretty. Steve Bartman on NYT. Again on Yahoo SportsHow to get published by Jennifer Weiner. Stanford in 2009 beating USC. Music discovery sites: The Sixty One. New Yorker: How Steve Jobs took back Apple, and Truman Capote from the 1950s. And, I could have used this app while I was in LA on public transportation.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Epic Poem #1: The Sex Bear

One to read aloud to the kids. It rhymes, and I'm working on the iambic pentameter, via the verse form Onegin stanza. (Go Vikram Seth!) Dedicated to all those FOOT trips gearing up to go into the woods.

The Sex Bear

To introduce a story sweet and scary,
Enter Yale. The ides of summer, 2007,
Our hero is a wide-eyed freshman.
His name is Forest.
A high-school whiz: 10 APs, 10 clubs,
His love life, though, had been a flub.
So college – sans parents: new life,
midnight food runs, frats, and mixers
blue-ball redress, seduction’s elixir.
“Forget my roommates, the guys next door—
The girls will adore me, every floor!”
Loading his backpack, for FOOT
Forest waltzed in his day dreams,
Saccharine images stayed put.

He stepped through Phelps Gate September 1st
Pots, pans. A make-shift band pounded
His ears, the shrieks, cacophonous bursts,
His heart turned weak, a tremendous first.
He saw neon shirts and bandanas
Stately Elm trees and soft crabgrass
And his leaders. “Hi, I'm Panda!
Senior in Morse, best college ever,
That’s what we all say—get used to that.”
His fellow FOOTies: normal, crazy, fine
Normal was Colin, Trevor, and Jay,
Crazy Steph, and Kira, let’s just say
Her tan legs, blonde hair, and ample,
Uh, personality, befit a dime.

The Appalachian was duress, inclined,
Boulders, nettles, iodine-sapped-time.
They worked on bear bags, tortillas with honey.
No phones, no watches, no need for money.
At night, fires, A-frames, eased their burden,
And Forest told stories, details dead certain,
Of his life, for example, 5th grade gym,
Falling on his bottom, class guffawing him.
Colin bored, Steph still crazy, but Kira—
her honey eyes met Forest’s, and he saw an
I want you look. So midnight, snores sonorous,
They crept to Ender’s lake, flashlight in hand
In nothing but long johns, warm but porous.

Their lips touch fire, ears start roaring
With the scritch scritch of crickets’ wings.
Forest thinks: “I’m young, sexy. I’m soaring!”
This nighttime thing – his first college fling.
Buttons ripped off, the briar bush heaves
They stumble tree to tree, crunch dead leaves.
A hook comes undone, a B-cup dangles;
Kira’s wrists drop silly bands, all her jangles.
“Ohh, right there,” she groans to the clouds;
“Shhh,” whispers Forest. “You’re being too loud.”
The moment dawns, call to consummate
But, alas, they can’t see him, watching from above.
He’s hungry, grumpy, with a fiend gait.
So he pounces. And eats them whole.

The next morning, over a chocolate pan-cake
Colin yells out, “Kira, Forest! They’ve flaked!”
The search party fans out, distresses,
Until Panda, poor soul, discovers the messes.
Here’s a collarbone, here’s some muscle,
“That’s a distended eyeball,” says Steph.
“Little ones, what happened was no puzzle.”
(Says Panda.) “The two, at night, vamoosed,
Seedy intent, hormones too loose,
Unaware of villainy in these woods,
black/white morality, the gangsta’ hood.
Not Loch Ness, nor Decepticon awaited:
'Twas more cruel fated. Hardly prepared,
unaware, predated by—(wait for it)—the sex bear.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Non-profits in the Philippines: Overview of development work

My goal for this blog post is to have it reach #1 for the Google search, "Non-profits in the Philippines."

1. Overview of Philippines
2. Sector Specific Overview of Development Work: 
  • Macroeconomy
  • Housing
  • Basic Social Services
  • Gender Equality
  • Good Governance
  • Environmental Sustainability
  • Conflict Prevention and Peace-Building

1. Overview

Bird's eye view of the Philippines: There are an estimated 500,000 civil society groups in the Philippines, though only around 3000 - 5000 are development-oriented NGOs. The Philippine Council for NGO certification only lists 367 official NGOs -- don't believe them. The number is a gross underestimation, mainly because the Council hasn't done substantive work in years (The President chided them for being useless). In aggregate, the NGO sphere is "large and vibrant by developing country standards," but many of them are still "small, struggle financially, and have weak capacity." (The biggest victory by an NGO was the passage of the Indigenous People's Rights Act.)