Tuesday, October 16, 2012


They say writing is like bleeding, or breathing.  They say a lot of crap that makes me feel bad about my writing because I don't feel like I write like I bleed or breathe.  I have a life and friends and I don't always feel like bleeding/ breathing my thoughts out to survive the day.

I went to the Ubud Writers Festival the other weekend and went to see some talks. Jeffrey Eugenides was talking about how he wrote the Virgin Suicides over a span of three years, writing two hours every workday and three hours every weekend with a 9 to 5 job. He says inevitably that you will withdraw during the writing of your novel and come out at the end of it to meet people whom you haven't met in a few years, but they usually understand.  I wouldn't mind disappearing from this circle for a few years but when I come back my career might possibly have bottomed-out.

I've read writers who encourage excessive sentences and writers who value brevity. I've tried both and don't see why they can't coexist on one page. I have trouble "bleeding/breathing" words and don't see why I can't just spurt out my words in painfully asthmatic spasms. I like a little bit of everything but not everything in its entirety. I would commit but only if I didn't have to sacrifice.

Also, artists and writers seem to have this obsession with extremity. Case in point: "I would commit but only if I didn't have to sacrifice".  Who does that, truly?  It is an over-dramatization of a tendency towards a certain character but is by no means the absolute reality of such character.  Of course I have sacrificed before, who hasn't? 

For the plane ride back from Bali I bought a book at the airport, the collection of surprising short stories edited by Neil Gaiman titled "Stories".  My colleagues were with me, the ones I had separated from for one day so that I could go to Ubud and they could go do water sports. They made fun of me in a good-humored way, which I get quite a lot around here.  It's very peculiar, although it shouldn't be peculiar to me because I am no different to them, supposedly. They see something they admire, something they think is beyond their capabilities or desires, and as a gesture of appreciation they make fun of it. They exchange furtive looks and declare that I am intimidating and point to the perhaps least attractive person in the group (according to social jest and her own admittance, not my judgment) and laughingly tell her to follow my lead. She laughs and says, "even if I read a book I wouldn't be as beautiful."

One can only smile a baffled smile as if not understanding.

Which is phenomenally better than not having friends because they are too intimidated. In fact it is great. I get to be myself, and yet still be accessible enough to be an object of affectionate ridicule. I almost love it.  But it is peculiar because on that airport row at the boarding gate with all my colleagues I was the only person with a book in my hand. Well of course they would think I'm different, which is ridiculous because having a book in hand is no different from having an iPad in hand whilst playing video games - in that it is simply something to chase away boredom and avoid meaningless conversation.

But of course it is different.  An English novel full of words - who am I kidding?  It also dawned on me that there were so so so few Indonesians at the Ubud Writers Festival. And a sea of caucasians in Eat Pray Love attire - linen shirts and exotic sarongs, all gobbling up the literary festivities with thirst and wonder. In the airport I almost felt guilty about holding a book, about choosing to ignore the world to be buried in my book. I almost felt anti-social, literally, the antithesis of my social surrounding.

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