Monday, November 7, 2011

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.

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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.

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