A Writer’s Faith.
Rebel Writer Writes, ‘PS, I Love You’
This is Chapter 4 of my book Rebel Thinker Writer’s Guide For Non-Dummies (Chapter 3 is ‘Serendipity X,’ which you can read at frankahilario.com). This new chapter is about how I can teach you to start writing with a great idea when you have no idea to begin with in the first place!
I want the best for you. And how am I going to give you that? Today, I shall give you a mantra, the likes of which you’ve never seen before – and neither have I, since I just invented it today – the magic of which you don’t have to imagine after this. I was creative without the mantra, but now that it’s here, I might as well employ it to enjoy it more myself.
A mantra is a word, a chant, an incantation, or a magic spell. So, let me create some atmosphere, as in a circus. I imagine great writing is a great circus act where there is always magic.
We’re into science, but since I’m writing about creative writing, we can learn from being creative even from those in the arts. ‘The Artist’s Way’ is the million-dollar technique that Julia Cameron teaches in her book of that same title; Julia’s way to creativity is for you to write in your journal at your ‘best’ time of day, and to be religious about the habit. The book is a million-copy bestseller (artistswayatwork.com). The lesson? Creative writing is yours if you want it.
What’s in a name? That which we call blogging by any other name would be journaling. Journaling by itself is getting to be a habit in religion, with Ms Luann Budd, Professor of the San Jose State University in California encouraging the youth to write their own spiritual journals, coming out with her book Journal Keeping: Writing For Spiritual Growth (Karen Anne C Liquete, Manila Bulletin, March 19, 2008, E-1; read more of it here in journalkeeping.org). With Luann, learning to write has just become essentially learning to grow in the Holy Spirit – a most creative way. The lesson? Creative writing is as spiritual as you make it.
If we write about our problems, we may come up with solutions that never occurred to us until we wrote about (them). I think that our brains are a little like computers and problems can fill up our RAM and keep us from being able to process information. When we write about our problems, we are freeing up RAM. We can think more clearly about our problems.
I like Luann’s metaphor of the RAM (random access memory) for the brain, because if your computer’s RAM fills up, your Windows freezes and you can’t do anything until you stop everything and start all over again – Reboot!
I must say, with serenpendity, Luann Budd has discovered a new entry point to writing in a manner creative, and that is spirituality, in which traveling the road is re-creative.
The most important thing is to just start writing … (we’ll) figure out what (we) need to write about as (we) go. It’s funny how once we start keeping a journal, ideas for what we want to write about will come to mind as we are doing other things – like taking a shower or doing the dishes. The best way to start is to just begin – once we see the benefit it brings to us, we’ll want to continue the practice.
That book was published in 2002. I just surfed and found in amazon.com that there are other journaling-for-spiritual-growth books out there. This one targets the youth, since Luann has a Youth Ministry for New Life Covenant Church in San Jose, California. I can see that before this decade ends, any number of journaling young readers will come out with their own books that will surprise the world.
Me, I’m 68 and anyway I’m too lazy to keep a journal going, even if I can easily type everything on my laptop computer – I’ve been typing for half a century now, starting with my laptop typewriter, and I’m a touch-typist and the fastest I’ve seen. You don’t need the computer to come out with a great idea. (To come out with a great essay? That’s a different story.) I know because I’ve never run out of ideas since high school just a little more than 50 years ago; I know I’m crazily, happily creative – so I’d like to share with you my technique for generating one after another ideas for the beginning of a great article (even if it’s only a tentative title, or theme, or topic, or theory, or assumption, or subject, or focus). That is to say, what I always do is this: To generate ideas, I make one paradigm shift after another.
And how do I do that? The process I’ve already called ‘Serendipity X,’ my fooling around with ideas to come up creative. I play with my mind like my mind plays tricks on me when I’m sleeping: I’m flying, I’m dying, I’m having a wet dream, I’m doing this or that which I do not do when I’m awake – and most of the time I enjoy my dreams. Your mind is creative when you allow it to be. If you have doubts that my Serendipity X works, my creation of the mantra itself should be proof enough.
Serendipity is accidental creativity; how exactly do I make Serendipity X, or incidental creativity, work for me? What’s my device? How do I summon my X Muse? What’s my technique?
First, let me tell you about Ray Bradbury, who prompts his creative instincts using word association, working with unrelated words that don’t make sense being simply listed one after the other, and then he makes sense of it all by linking the words in a story out of the blue, even out of this world. Like listing the words crocodile blue cause road trick mat shine like that and making up a story going like, ‘It was a blue crocodile that caused a road to sag and a trick to run, that is, to make the mat shine’ – you’re beginning to get a hang of it.
I admire him for his imagination and his language; I can’t forget his ‘Live forever!’
I had been to see Mr Electrico the night before. When he reached me, he pointed his sword at my head and touched my brow. The electricity rushed down the sword, inside my skull, made my hair stand up and sparks fly out of my ears. He then shouted at me, ‘Live forever!’ (raybradbury.com)
Come to think of it, although I have given it neither a name nor described it as a teachable, workable method till now, my creativity technique is the exact opposite of Ray Bradbury’s word association – I shall describe it here as word dissociation, where with a group of related words (ideas for the article), I change perspective and the thought that comes out is (ultimately) sensible but has been neither directly suggested nor made obvious by any of the earlier ideas. You don’t get it? Don’t worry; I have many examples, below.
Thinking more, writing better, how to make writing about technology a little more creative, popularizing science: I am enthralled and enthused by it all. It is not only the science, not only the sense, but more so that seduction, that attraction, and in the proper atmosphere even that fecal attraction – and that’s not bullshit. You can make excellent compost using horse manure, or fish feed out of poultry manure. And I can teach you how to make an excellent essay out of unattractive information that others would rather pass by. Your feat is my faith.
In the title, I did write, ‘PS, I love you.’ It happens that that is one of the most likeable songs of the Beatles, and I like the Beatles; they did not originate the quotable quote, but, according to IanMotha:
It’s been said that ‘PS, I Love You’ was the greatest Beatles song, because in this song (is) everything the Beatles (used): their span, 7ths, minors, half steps and the Great vocal harmony between Lennon (and) McCartney.
I don’t understand music, but I understand that song. And that just happens to be the mantra I promised you: ‘PS, I love you.’ You see, this title of a song is also an acronym. It means, ‘Paradigm shift, I look over you, the obvious.’ Paradigm shift because to move from a critical to a creative mode, you have to change your point of view – already, the comedians do that, each joke being a fillip of the mind. I look over the obvious (that is, the logical) because that brings you back to the need to suspend your belief in the workings of the logical mind (critical spirit) and anchor your faith in the creative spirit. You have to believe!
That brings us to Edward de Bono’s device for creative thinking, the ‘Po’ (see also my ‘To All The Dummies In The World. Or, De Bono Debugged,’ frankahilario.com). In a brainstorming session, with others or with you alone, you say ‘Po’ and change the mood so that everyone accepts even outlandish, crazy ideas to help you come up with a brilliant one. I first read about ‘Po,’ thanks to my good friend Orli Ochosa’s gift to me of de Bono’s book The Mechanism Of Mind, in 1975. I thought it was one man’s great contribution to the art of creative thinking.
Some 33 years later, I’m going to make my own contribution to creative thinking, beginning with science writing. Today, March 21, Good Friday, marks a death, the end of the earthly existence of a Great Mind Above All Others, that of Jesus Christ, which set off a paradigm shift from death to life. I’m glad to announce that today marks a birth, that of a humble sound, ‘PS’ (derived from ‘PS, I love you’), which I hope will at will start a paradigm shift from a despaired mood of thinking called critical to an inspired mood of thinking called creative, from life to more life. The difference is like this: If you call for truth, you are critical; if you call for fruit, you are creative. Beyond truth, PS is beyond Po; it is also much simpler – almost, yes, literal.
PS is my new theory; PS is your new practice.
I look at science writing as fulfilling a need, but not simply filling a real or imagined lack of knowledge. Remembering that, for your PS practice, I give you now quite a number of examples of thinking with a mantra, each numbered paragraph being of two major parts, each one being a paradigm shift. The first part is your possible topic, or theme, or theory, or assumption, or subject, or focus transformed as a lack of (‘Lo’) – that’s the first PS. The second part is made up of questions and/or assertions that further change your point of view and should give you more ideas how and what to write about – that’s the second PS. That is to say, ‘PS’ is the device and ‘Lo’ is the trigger for the PS to happen. I guarantee it.
Remember, you are writing for the poor. You are a popularizer of science or technology in a specific society; you are going to write about the theory & practice of informational, or political, or economic, or social, or environmental, or natural science in that particular society such as about the lack of (Lo):
(1) Lo family planning. PS: Don’t look at me – I have 12 children, 1 wife, zero extra-marital affairs. We have a very small house, about 100 square meters floor space; that’s not overpopulation, is it? Look at the US and Japan; they have millions of poor, don’t they, and they are not overpopulated, are they? It’s a poor writer who blames poverty to the numbers, not the system. Rather, think about how the system can be changed and write about that. And where does change begin? With the one who wants change to begin.
(2) Lo access to media. PS: What about Lo appeal to media? Have you in fact written about your science (hardware or software) as a package that is as attractive to media as it can be? If the media are not paying attention to you, you are not paying attention to them. How about Lo appeal to the poor who are your target readers? To make the poor pay attention to you, pay attention to them first.
(3) Lo retention in memory. PS: Are you teaching them simply to memorize, or are you teaching them to learn how to do it themselves (hands-on), to learn how to think for themselves (heads-on)? Teach a man how to memorize, and he’ll have a word for a day; teach a man how to learn, and he’ll have knowledge for a lifetime.
(4) Lo books. PS: Is the need really for more books or is it for more people to want to know more? Is the problem lack of reading materials or the lack of a reading culture? Do you build a bigger library of books or a bigger library of CDs and more PCs connected to the Internet? The need for books is nothing compared to the need for learning.
(5) Lo credibility of the village leader. PS: What do you mean by credibility? Can you differentiate credibility from integrity? Is low credibility the problem at all? You’re assuming that those who question the credibility of the leader have credibility themselves, have integrity. It takes a village to know a leader.
(6) Lo ambition among the people. PS: When did low ambition of poor people get in the way of village growth or, for that matter, high ambition of rich people? It does not necessarily mean that the poor have low ambition in life. Everything is relative; so is ambition.
(7) Lo knowledge of the technology. PS: You are assuming that the people would wish to use your technology if they knew more about it. Write if you can about a technology that was adopted by more people after they learned more about it. Can you compare the new with the old? Is the technology coming from above, or from a need? If you cannot relate to the need, you cannot relate to the people.
(8) Lo capital. PS: Big businessman or small farmer, the problem may be lack of access to credit. How can the poor farmer have access to credit without collateral? Change the problem: Let the village be his collateral – in the person of a credit union or a cooperative. Is capital the problem or the entrepreneur himself? I know of someone back home holding 100 titles of land himself and cannot raise capital.
(9) Lo education. PS: Lack of education is a convenient excuse for failure to market science in a village. Failing to convince them of the value of your technology, you may have been talking to them in the wrong language – talking above their head, or not having understood their need at all. It takes a villager to know a village.
(10) Lo supply of affordable fertilizer. PS: Why not make your own organic fertilizer? Do you need to fertilize the soil at all? What about raising crops that do not need those fancy and expensive chemical fertilizers and pesticides? You cannot equate your expensive taste with that of poor farmers.
(11) Lo feeds for poultry or livestock. PS: What about substitute ingredients in the feeds? What about not growing those imported species and instead raising native chickens and pigs? In business, they would call that reducing risk.
(12) Lo poultry manure for composting into organic fertilizer. PS: Do you need composting at all? Why not practice green manuring, that is to say, mix the soil and vegetation on top of the earth so that it makes an on-the-spot organic fertilizer? No additional expenses. For those who have the entrepreneurial spirit, they can market the green-manured soil as a different kind of fertilizer. Or a different kind of soil.
(13) Lo quality of produce. PS: Is the use of science-recommended planting materials the solution? What about postharvest handling? What about looking for a market for low-quality produce – such as transforming it into a consumer product where quality can be added? If you cannot solve a problem, change the problem.
(14) Lo rate of passing. PS: Are the teachers to blame for teaching poorly or the students for learning badly? Why insist on teaching in the national language when English is the universal, intellectual, commercial language? Unless of course you don’t want the people to learn more than they already know.
(15) Lo germination percentage. PS: Is there an economic advantage where 95 seeds germinate out of 100 and where only 75 germinate? Is the seed the best way to plant the crop at all? This adage is not true: ‘Kung ano ang puno ay siya ang bunga.’ ‘The fruit is what the tree is.’ False. From seeds of sweet mango, you can get sour mango. That’s genetics and it’s not debatable.
(16) Lo high yield. PS: Why is it that plant breeders insist that farmers plant the highest-yielding varieties of all? If with a high yield the farmer becomes rich, why are there so few rich farmers? The problem with economists is that they are always after the maximum and expect that to be sustainable!
(17) Lo communication between science and clientele. PS: Are the communicators talking the language of the farmers and yet are not communicating at all? Do the communicators expect that after one article, one brochure and one visit, the farmer will wholeheartedly embrace the new technology? Communicator, remember that you are not talking to the farmer alone – you are talking to him and his family. Are you listening?
(18) Lo good moral character of farmer creditors. PS: Many farmers have so far refused to repay their loans. Are you sure it’s not the negative attitude toward borrowed money or toward borrowing from the government? If you make borrowing easy, you make paying difficult.
(19) Lo number of Internet searches about farming. PS: What about people’s knowledge of technical terms? What about the store of knowledge being difficult to understand even by other scientists, much less by the farmers themselves? Communication is too serious a matter to be left to scientists alone.
(20) Lo vocabulary. PS: If you want to be a good writer, the popular advice is that you should build a good vocabulary. They say that goes with public speaking, teaching. Not anymore, if you are computer literate, what with the dictionary and the thesaurus available online. Nowadays, I’m never off the desk using my new HP Compaq Presario notebook clicking on the shortcut icon for American Heritage (Microsoft Bookshelf 2000), which is a dictionary, and Encarta 2007 (Microsoft 2007), which has a thesaurus. You use the dictionary to find the meaning of a word; you use the thesaurus to find a synonym of a word; more importantly, to look for a related word in a particular field such as hammer & nail in carpentry and stock & scion in horticulture (see the Roget’s Thesaurus near you). As a writer, your vocabulary is not a problem if already it includes curiosity.
(21) Lo technology. PS: What do you mean by technology anyway? Do you know if the technology currently used has no competitive advantage at all? Do you know where it is different, where it is deficient? What does it mean for the user to shuck the old in favor of the new? What does the technology mean to the village where it is being introduced? Borrowing from Marshall McLuhan, remember that the technology is the message.
(22) Lo reading materials in the village. PS: If some people brought in more, will the villagers read more and the students learn more science? You cannot learn science in a vacuum – if people are not relating to your science, you are not relating to the people.
(23) Lo one-stop reference online. If you cause to be created the My Milky Way website, will farmers flock to the Internet and learn to raise goats for milk to drink or sell? Is My Milky Way using the language of the target villagers or that which technical people use to talk to each other? If the people are not relating to the website, the website is not relating to them.
(24) Lo interest of youth in technical courses. PS: Is the problem that of certain youth or that of the society itself because society looks down on graduates of vocational courses as belonging to a class lower than that of a secretary in an air-conditioned office? We get the youth that we deserve.
(25) Lo computers. PS: It’s lack of access, not lack of PCs. If people in villages lack access to computers, I attribute it to lack of imagination. And why is that? Some people don’t know how to package a proposal so that their village center or school will be computerized in almost no time at all and with very little expense and effort on their part. There are many local and international donors and funding agencies. All you have to do is learn how to ask.
(26) Lo mass media cooperation. PS: Are the media people educated on your art or science? Have they heard from your office or project at all? Have you related your product or service to them? Ask the eternal question: ‘What’s in it for you?’ Translation: ‘What’s in it for them?’ Remember, the media people have to be taught too.
(27) Lo people power to improve their own lives. PS: Are you sure empowerment is the answer? Using Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you must then first help satisfy the people’s physiological needs, then satisfy their safety needs, then satisfy their needs of love, affection and belongingness, then satisfy their needs for esteem, and then and only then satisfy their need for ‘self-actualization.’ Otherwise, you’re simply irrelevant.
(28) Lo competence in implementing a project. PS: In the first place, what are your criteria for measuring competence? Has the project been initiated by the people or by the experts, then merely handed over to the people, expecting a miracle in management? If the student has not learned, the teacher has not taught.
(29) Lo confidence of villagers in themselves. PS: Lack of confidence comes from either ignorance or bullying. How to fight ignorance? Education. PS: How to fight the bullying, the prejudice? Good question! Remember also: Bullying sometimes come from the experts in an atmosphere called consultancy.
(30) Lo intelligence of readers. PS: That depends on how you look at intelligence – single intelligence (measured as intelligence quotient or IQ, as propounded by Stanford psychologist Lewis Terman), or multiple intelligences (measured as linguistic, spatial, musical, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, naturalist, existential, as propounded by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner). If you look at intelligence only one way, then intelligence is not one of your virtues.
‘PS, I love you’ is all about thinking creatively, not simply thinking critically. In your writing, always think to be productive, not counter-productive. Think to be constructive, not destructive. At the very least, think to be inventive, but not invective.
In the arts or sciences, working in any mass medium, your greatest contribution to society is your thinking, which is ultimately reflected in your essay, editorial, commentary, column, blog. The writer’s fate is writing; this writer’s faith is writing the best.