Archive for the ‘Creative Writing’ category

A Writer’s Faith.

23/03/2008

Rebel Writer Writes, ‘PS, I Love You’

a-writers-faith-282.jpg

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.

Luann says:

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.

Advertisements

Writer’s Notes: The Stonecasters

27/02/2008

Subject essay: ‘The Stonecasters. ‘We Are Our Own Best Enemy’ – Tony Meer, Filipino’ read at frankahilario.com.

smiling-tony-meer-338.jpgIt wasn’t a proper interview with a tape recorder thrust before Tony Meer’s face; it was more like a tête-à-tête, a pleasant exchange of views, a gentle baring of thoughts on GMA’s Metro Manila Dilemma – damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t. Actually, I didn’t come to ask Tony Meer what he thought about what was happening in Metro Manila, but it intruded. That’s when he said that quotable line, ‘We are our own best enemy,’ and I immediately told Tony, ‘Now I have a title to my essay.’ It became the subtitle. One author inspiring another. After all, he has written his huge autobiography, A Lawyer’s Fate & Faith (2003, 500 pages). He has had a huge life, and I saw that day that he is still making it huger by learning to paint like the impressionist masters. I liked what I saw.

My main title, ‘The Stonecasters,’ is another coinage of mine. I (almost) always try to come up with 2 or 3 words as my main title to an essay. I didn’t have an idiom this time, so I decided to invent it: ‘The Stonecasters.’ That comes from the Bible story of the adulterous woman who was condemned to be stoned to death by law and of whose case a mob asked Jesus Christ what he thought of that and he replied, ‘He who is without sin, cast the first stone.’ I’m Roman Catholic; I would have liked to quote from the New American Bible, but it doesn’t have the one I like, the emphatic ‘Cast the first stone.’ And the many condemners of GMA? They are the stonecasters, whether they are inside what Church or outside.

I don’t remember now when I started to invent words for my writing. But it must have been in the late 1980s, when I was trying to come up with shorter terms related to writing using the computer, and I came up with ‘worping’ (word processing), ‘worp’ (word processor), and ‘worper’ (user of a word processor).

I recognize GMA’s Metro Manila Dilemma yesterday, today and tomorrow – damned if you do, damned if you don’t – because of all the clamor for good governance by those who don’t recognize it when they see it. They are the blind followers of the stonecasters. I’m not saying GMA is not guilty, as I can’t say that of her persecutors and revilers, any and all of them.

‘For all have sinned and come short of the glory of good.’ This is the second time I’m writing that line, another original of mine. I like to pun; the Reader’s Digest taught me.

I have many other original lines in that essay; I’ll give you these two ending sentences in two paragraphs that succeed each other (you’ll see also that I like iteration and parallel construction):

‘Patriotism is the first refuge of soldiers, the last refuge of scoundrels.’
‘Patriotism is the first refuge of scholars, the last refuge of scoundrels.’

This essay refers to so many things that otherwise would not be written about in a single essay: organic farming, Nicky Perlas’ concept of social Threefolding as a paradigm for development, State and Business and Civil Society, the teacher and the learner, the two greatest commandments of God, Pharisees, the adulterous woman, the mass media, the issues of sin personal and social, the lawyer-hero-statesman Tony Meer, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her vociferous denouncers, Loyalty Day at the University of the Philippines Los Baños, UPLB Vanguards Class 58 projects, a documentary film on the February 23, 1945 Los Baños rescue of 2,147 prisoners of war, the Catholic bishops and Protestant preachers and fire and brimstone, the persecution of sinners by sinners, the earning & erring mass media, People Power, a citizen army, the role of a writer in society, a writer’s faith, Senate inquiries ‘in aid of legislation,’ a call to intellectuals, to Christians.

I’m glad I wrote it.

My Law Of Graffiti.

22/01/2008

The Rebel Writer Writes, And Having Writ, Moves On

franks-law-of-gravity-343.jpg

I am not a scientist, thank God. I believe science is too serious a matter to be left to scientists alone. This time I’m going to write about theory and practice of science writing – I theorize, you practice.

Based on his deduction, Isaac Newton comes up with his Law of Gravity in 1687; based on his assumption, Albert Einstein revises Newton’s Law with his Theory of Special Relativity in 1915; based on my intuition, I have just revised both geniuses with my Law of Graffiti, 2008. The British mathematician is revised by the German physicist; both are revised by the Filipino writer. It all goes to show that insight knows no color, creed, credential, or genius. It also goes to show that the sciences of mathematics and physics are no match to the art of creative thinking. See, there are no dull sciences, only dull scientists – or dull science writers.

Let me tell you how the idea of the Law of Graffiti has come about to me. Thinking of the next chapter of my new book, this time on creative science writing, on January 17 (Manila time), I googled for “how to start” writing (including the double quotes) and got 846 English pages with Safesearch; I googled for begin OR start writing and got 11,000,000 English pages with Safesearch. Quality is in the numbers? Quality is in the Scan, not in the Search; quality is in the Googler, not in Google – Google cannot think for you; you have to think for yourself.

Scanning my Search Results and speed-reading the webpages of the ones that looked promising, I noted that in ‘Get Writing,’ BBC advises (bbc.co.uk):

In order to let your ideas flow freely and your confidence to rise, you do need to write regularly. Invest in a notebook and use it to make jottings and observations at a time to suit you.

That’s good advice for writing from a broadcaster – the BBC geniuses know you have to be good first at writing to be good at broadcasting. Such advice I have found helpful myself in all my 50 years of getting to write – not necessarily getting to be published. There are far too few geniuses in the publishing business here and abroad. (I have also lost many manuscripts to moldy 1.4 MB diskettes, if you remember them.)

After BBC, after scanning and skipping a great many webpages, I came across award-winning six-novel author Randy Ingermanson’s website, advancefictionwriting.com, where he says:

Before you start writing, you need to get organized. You need to put all those wonderful ideas down on paper in a form you can use. … You need a design document. And you need to produce it using a process that doesn’t kill your desire to actually write the story.

He billed himself ‘America’s Mad Professor of Fiction Writing’ (he doesn’t scare me, I’m afraid), but I thought twice about his advice on getting organized, but then again, Randy’s device? His metaphor of a snowflake struck me – you build your story in the form of a virtual snowflake, starting with a triangle. I’m not into fiction, but that’s the idea. Snowflake, hmm. From Randy’s metaphor, I thought, why not my own metaphor for creative thinking leading to creative writing? After all, I look at creative thinking differently from Randy. Also, I live in the tropics and I have never seen a snowflake, but I have seen a brainstorm – here is one coming right now.

Then I got the metaphor of the graffiti. Almost instantly my mind reworked it into American Graffiti? No, The Law of Graffiti. That’s the Reader’s Digest in me; in my copywriting days at Pacifica Publicity Bureau in Manila, my good friend Orli Ochosa remembers our Creative Director Nonoy Gallardo calling me Mr Punster. If you enjoy what you’re doing, it’s not work: it’s play.

You are reading Chapter 1 of my new book, The Rebel Writer’s Guide For Non-Dummies (I have already come out with the Introduction; see ‘My Crazy Dozen. The Rebel Writer’s Guide For Non-Dummies,’ 2008 January 7, americanchronicle.com). The whole book is on creative thinking for authors, including science writers. I’m publishing it here chapter by chapter for free, my way of sharing my gift. This chapter is all about Writer’s Block, brainstorming, starting to create, beginning to write; this is all about the Search for the Holy Grail of Serendipity, for which you need freedom.

I’m presenting my Law of Graffiti as a new paradigm in the active pursuit of creative thinking, in contradistinction to Tony Buzan’s art of the Mind Map and to Edward de Bono’s art of Lateral Thinking. I say Frank Hilario’s Law of Graffiti elevates Ray Bradbury’s art of Word Association and Rudolf Flesch’s art of the Creative Math (my term) (see my ‘Jatropha Math? Science Serves The People When Media Create Content, Not Discontent,’ 2007 December 3, americanchronicle.com); it’s more intriguing and more engaging than Sarah Jensen‘s art of Diving Deeper (see source below). Serendipity is not about beginning right; rather, it is about beginning bright.

In one of my old favorites, his book How To Write, Speak & Think More Effectively (1963), I remember Rudolf Flesch saying, ‘Begin anywhere but begin!’ But I don’t remember him telling me how to continue. Either he forgot, or I did. (I’m 67 going on 68, and I’ve lost my copy.)

Sandra Jensen writes (2007 May 5, ‘Diving Deeper: A Writing Workshop’ – pods.gaia.com): ‘The blank page (has) been called the greatest challenge to (a writer)’ (the words in parentheses are mine). It’s otherwise called ‘Writer’s Block,’ an epidemic if I may say so myself. My Google Search for “Writer’s Block” gave me 3,060,000 English pages with Safesearch.

Paul Graham writes (2005 March, paulgraham.com), ‘Write a bad version 1 as fast as you can.’ Reviewing my essay January 21 and being inspired further, I come out with the 1st Law of Graffiti Thinking, and it is this, borrowing from genius: E = mc2 (E equals m times c squared), where E is Enlightenment (inspiration or insight), m is mass of materials, and c is the speed of write.

On hindsight, because I have been obeying the 1st Law of Graffiti Thinking for the last 43 years at least, I have never had Writer’s Block, starting with my encounter with Flesch’s book (see also my ‘Jatropha Math? Science Serves The People When Media Create Content, Not Discontent,’ December 3, americanchronicle.com). Then, about 20 years ago, I began thinking about how I could teach creative writing without Writer’s Block getting in the way, using the personal computer and a word processing software. (Mission Impossible. About 15 years ago, I offered to teach it in two colleges of the University of the Philippines (my alma mater), but they both rejected my proposal on exactly the same grounds: that I didn’t have a Masters degree and I wasn’t a new graduate. Some people equate the ability to teach creative writing with the PC with graduate courses and youth. I was about 53. So much for geniuses.) The long years of my search for a device or trick to bring out the creativity in each and every aspiring writer has at last led me to the ubiquitous and (un)obtrusive graffiti. Many a brainchild is born as the germ of an idea; this one took 20 years to become a seed. Better late than never.

Graffiti, thy name is man (embracing woman) in search of a publisher, or audience. Scratches and scribbles and scrawls and doodles and drawings and images and icons and words and whatnots that you are, private media on the wall in public places, you have inspired me to reach the heights of frivolity and fertility, of quantity and quality, of madness and meaning, of coming across and coming to terms. I am glad at last I found you, you who have been in full view all the time. You are the metaphor of the unwritten, of the unborn, the visible chaos of genius in the artist hidden in man. I now baptize you The Broadcast Antennae of the Creative Race. May the Force be with you always!

The Immanent Genius in Graffiti, I can say, on hindsight: Because creativity is born of chaos; because graffiti is chaos; because it’s always loose; because it’s sometimes humorous and therefore relaxing; because it happens at different times without sequence and at different places without direction; because it’s amateurish; because anything goes; because helter-skelter; because come what may; because no rules no borders no limits no excuses; because the graffiti artist is Lord and Master – for of such is the Kingdom of Serendipity, where there is no order and law.

What you need in creative writing is freedom, release from the law. That brings us back to Newton and Einstein with their Laws, with me trying to help you move the immovable object called Writer’s Block by looking for the irresistible force, which in the case of the artist is the intense impulse, the creative motive.

Newton’s Law states that what comes up must come down; Einstein’s Theory states that you cannot bend the laws of physics wherever you are – my theory is that in creative thinking, obeying the dictates of the Law of Gravity doesn’t work to the artist’s advantage and, in fact, an artist cannot be creative unless he bends the laws of physics whenever he tries to create.

Metaphors actually.

Having published 104 essays in science in the American Chronicle in the last 104 weeks (almost), I have come to realize that when writing about science, it is best to be thinking about masses coming up but not coming down, and laws being bent – I’m thinking of masses of data and information, and the laws of logic. When you begin the process of creative writing on science, you should be in another world other than that of science. This chapter is designed to lead you there. Not take you, mind; you have to take yourself.

How do you go about creative thinking? I say: Do the graffiti with me!

Here, let me teach you. But first, get yourself to relax; you can not be creative unless you can relax. So, to help you feel at ease, first let’s talk about the laws of physics that I know you have to break to get creative. Here are some pleasant thoughts:

‘The Law of Inertia.’ Nothing will happen to you (and your writing) if you prefer to preserve your inertia – to break the law, do something, anything – move!

‘Lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place.’ If you are creative, lightning will strike not only twice in the same place but many times, that is to say, flashes of genius will occur quite so often you’ll have a pleasant time not counting them. You will be energized. Yes, I think each of us has the capacity for genius. It makes me feel uneasy thinking I’m the only genius around here.

‘Work equals energy over distance.’ When you use my Law of Graffiti for brainstorming, trying to get rid of Writer’s Block or just simply beginning another piece of writing, you will get more even if you do less work and not spend so much energy. If you haven’t known about it, I have completely upended the Law of Genius according to Thomas Alva Edison; according to Frank Hilario, ‘Genius is 10% perspiration and 90% inspiration’ (see my ‘The Smart Revolution,’ americanchronicle.com). I have been inspired as much.

‘The speed of light in a vacuum is constant.’ You have to break this law. In creative thinking, you don’t want the speed of brilliance to be constant, and you don’t want to work in a vacuum!

Let us now turn to and violate Newton’s Three Laws of Motion; I’m reading Andrew Zimmerman Jones’ write-up (physics.about.com); I note:

Newton’s First Law of Motion states that ‘Every body continues in the state of rest, or of uniform motion in a straight line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.’ I’m impressing upon you that you have to break this law too. You don’t want to continue in a state of rest; that would be counter-productive. And neither do you want to move with a one-track mind; that would make your writing monotonous and tiresome.

Newton’s Second Law of Motion states that ‘The acceleration produced by a particular force acting on a body is directly proportional to the magnitude of the force and inversely proportional to the mass of the body.’ That means the speed of an object depends upon the force applied to it and the object itself. To break this law, turn it the other way around. Thus, in creative thinking, to increase the speed of inspiration, don’t force it. Like, if you are having a brainstorming session with a coach who keeps arguing against all kinds of ideas, your creativity speed is zero. (My advice: Since he cannot set the fire in you, fire him!) Reminds me of Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen telling Alice in Wonderland about running and getting nowhere:

Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run twice as fast as that!

Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that ‘To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction.’ That is to say, action meets reaction. How do you break this physical law and become creative? In creative thinking, if you do something and what happens depends on what you did, that’s not creative. The reaction should be of a different nature. And how do you do that? You make a paradigm shift.

Even if you and I didn’t know it as such, there is a famous example of a paradigm shift that dramatizes how creative thinking should go: Untying The Gordian Knot. I learned that in high school 50 years ago. While the tale is mythical, what happens is material as it is ingenious, inspired as creative thinking is. The story is from John Hagan (geocities.com); the words are mine:

Riding his wagon to the temple of Zeus, father of the gods, innocently Gordius fulfils an oracle, and the people make him their King. In homage, Gordius dedicates his wagon to Zeus, tying the yoke to the pole at the temple using a complex knot of cornel bark so intricate it defies unraveling. Fit for the gods. Out of the Gordian Knot, as it comes to be called, comes another oracle: ‘Whoever succeeds in untying the knot will be conqueror of all Asia.’ Every man worth his maleness tries and each one fails. Here comes Alexander the Great. He unties the Gordian Knot by cutting the whole thing with his sharp sword. With his sharp mind actually. And he goes on to conquer all of what is known as Asia. Genius knows no rules, no borders, no limits, no knots.

Now, about Alexander the Great’s paradigm shift, John Hagan views it differently: ‘Then, as everybody knows, he cheated on the oracle by cutting the knot with his sword instead of untying it.’ John, Alexander is using his head. Alexander merely changes his way of looking at the problem by what I call ‘changing the problem’ – from untying the knot to loosening it. Those other geniuses fail as they can’t cut it. In a flash of brilliance, my genius sees that the oracle does not say you can’t cut it. So Alexander the Great goes on to disprove those who say he can’t cut it.

Today, Sunday, January 20 (Manila), as I continue revising this essay, I can’t demonstrate on this page exactly how Frank’s Law of Graffiti works, but I can make another paradigm shift and give you another metaphor: The Phoenix Rising. This is from Narrate Conferences (thephoenixrises.org):

Upon the completion of its life cycle, the famed firebird builds its funeral pyre. After setting itself alight, it burns until nothing but ash remains and from that ash and flame, The Phoenix Rises.

In graffiti thinking, a term which I invented just now, which refers to creative thinking following my Law of Graffiti, when you cut & paste & delete & add to your notes and set your mind on fire, it is Your Own Phoenix Rising.

The Phoenix Rising describes graffiti thinking quite well. Consider this quote by Lady Gryphon from the Feng Shui Handbook of Master Lam Kam Chuen (mythicalrealm.com):

A mythical bird that never dies, the Phoenix flies far ahead to the front, always scanning the landscape and distant space. It represents our capacity for vision, for collecting sensory information about our environment and the events unfolding within it. The Phoenix, with its great beauty, creates intense excitement and deathless inspiration.

From the ashes of your graffiti notes rises the Phoenix of your creativity.

The Brooklyn Museum says graffiti is ‘a form of subversive public communication (that) has become legitimate’ (brooklynmuseum.org); borrowing from that, I say graffiti thinking is a subversive form of creative thinking that is legitimate all at once. Some people call graffiti ‘tasteless vandalism’ (wikiHow); graffiti thinking makes graffiti a form of creative vandalism – you destroy your old materials and create something new out of them. Your Phoenix Rising.

In creative writing, from out of the ashes of graffiti thinking, you and I need something like the Phoenix to rise and inspire us. Otherwise, we expire even as we respire.

Now, how do you go about graffiti thinking? Observe Frank’s Law of Graffiti:

Every scribble, scratch, scrawl, doodle, drawing, image, icon, word, whatnot is inspiration waiting to be discovered.

Been there, done that. That’s how I have been able to write 100 full essays in 100 full weeks (see my ‘100 in 100. Celebrating Centennials & Counting,’ americanchronicle.com). Graffiti thinking for inspiration, for insight; graffiti for instant gratification. (For another uplifting kind of graffiti thinking, visit Cassidy Curtis’ ‘Graffiti Archaelogy‘ at otherthings.com/grafarc.) So, open your mind and heart and go discover yours!

To help you in your journey of discovery every time you write, here are my 5 steps to your graffiti thinking:

(1) Get an idea. You don’t have an idea what you want to write about? Go read a book, or open a magazine or journal. Listen to people. Go to the library. If you are not in the United States, not in England and not in Australia, read imported books or magazines – not local publications, and certainly not the local newspapers or their Sunday magazines: they’re depressing, not inspiring. Watch ‘CSI’ and how the plot thickens; watch ‘Dr House’ and how the clot thickens. You want to write in English – get ideas from the best! And don’t forget: While you’re reading, at all times, take notes, jot down your thoughts. In writing, jotting maketh an exact man.

(2) Go surfing and get more ideas. Surf the Internet and search well and long. Again, remember to take down notes and thoughts. Reading and surfing, speed-read if you like, but take notes. That should take you at least one morning, one afternoon, one evening, or one day. It will be time well-spent. The beauty of the Internet is that it is beauty always waiting to be discovered, and as an artist you should always be excited to explore both form and substance.

(3) Read those notes. Read them leisurely, but read! I said take notes twice, the first to get an idea, the second to get more ideas. Now you read what you have gathered along with your own thoughts jotted down. You are deliberately loading up your brain cells with ideas and information. Nothing comes out of an empty and closed mind; with your open mind, many possibilities pop up when you read and read again, and when you take notes and make notes in your own sweet time. This is the Age of the Information Superhighway, so go out and drive and enjoy the view, smell the flowers.

After all that, now your mind and your notebook or scratch paper should be full of whatever. The more you collect, the better for you. When you feel you have too much already, that’s the time to stop. For this essay, as I write at this point, I have 20 pages of notes singlespace, onscreen, in Word 2003, my favorite. The notes are your masses that now you work on, knowing that the Law of Graffiti works with those massive bodies of information.

But remember, those masses do not attract each other. Believe me, they disobey Isaac Newton’s Law of Gravity – but they will follow Frank Hilario’s Law of Graffiti. And you will prove it to yourself.

(4) Assign keywords. Un-Newton-like, you yourself will have to make those masses of graffiti attract each other. What do you do? Read them again, one by one. And add notes of what comes to your mind. While you’re reading all those notes and jottings, write a keyword or two (as category, tag, or for reference) above each mass of text you see that are more or less related. You should now be getting the hang of it – absorbing little by little the essences of those bodies of text. (Don’t ignore the images. An image is worth a thousand words, so try to capture some of the powerful words in there.)

(5) Begin writing. So, are you now ready to begin writing? Here is a surprise from a technically minded expert, Julie Miller (2002, vt.essortment.com), who says:

The first step in writing a research paper is not to write at all but to absorb ideas, thoughts, and material. With your research topic in mind, a good place to start is traditionally the library, or more recently, the Internet for information. At the library, search for books, magazine articles, academic journals, and reference materials pertaining to your subject. Spend time wandering not only the aisles of books covering your subject, but widen your search to secondary sources that may contain useful research. On the Internet, use several search engines to get access to the most useful research. Follow the recommended listservs and websites to broaden your scope of information. In other words, have fun with the research process by absorbing new ideas, thoughts, and information. To recap, try not to even think about writing the research paper, but enjoy learning for learning’s sake.

She is writing for students; she is writing for you. I shall call that graffiti research, which is necessary for graffiti thinking. What Julie Miller says applies both to science writing for scientists and science writing for the rest of us. Both are creative acts.

Observe: Julie Miller is telling us that the right way to start writing is not to start writing right away. Assuming you have done your graffiti research, I will add to that and say that the right way to start writing is to follow the genius of Paul Graham: ‘Write a bad version 1 as fast as you can.’ Or follow Frank/Einstein’s genius: E = mc2. And so I leave you to the beginning of your creative writing. Remember: The journey of a thousand miles doesn’t begin with the first step – it begins with the first thought. May the Force of Graffiti be with you always!

My Crazy Dozen.

07/01/2008

The Rebel Writer’s Guide For Non-Dummies

the-rebel-writer-black-204.jpg

Who am I talking to this time? They would be public speakers, lecturers, PowerPoint presentors, resource persons, debaters, reviewers, essayists, biographers, autobiographers, authors, ghostwriters, columnists, journalists, consultants, managers, even proposal packagers in science. And why is that? All of them must be good writers first before they can be good at what they’re supposed to be doing. Those who can afford can hire good writers, so I’m not writing for those dummies.

Why am I not writing instead A Writer’s Guide For Dummies? Because there are too many of them already. The non-dummy reason I will not write a dummies’ book for writers is that you can’t write if you’re a dummy. A dummy is thick-headed, dull-witted, dense, unintelligent, boring.

It’s my New Year’s Resolution. Actually, I was inspired to write for non-dummies because I have seen too many books ostensibly written for dummies but when I look into them, their language is not anywhere near for novices. ‘For Dummies’ means it’s written for beginners, greenhorns, the uninitiated, those who are just starting, who are not aware of anything about the subject – but are neither unintelligent nor dull-witted. A dummy is certainly not educated on the subject – but why educate him on the history, comparison and technical details of Windows when all he wants to know and do is run Windows to write a letter and send it via email?

I have a different idea of what makes a good writer (not to mention a good Windows). I’m writing for non-dummies because I want to warn people about books for dummies. How many dummies am I talking about here? To give you an idea, Dan Brown reports that his book Da Vinci Code has sold 70 million copies worldwide (danbrown.com); multiply that by 2 readers a copy and you have 140 million dummies worldwide.

To balance that a bit, Time reports that JK Rowling’s 7 Harry Potter books have sold 400 million copies worldwide. Multiply that number by 2.5 readers a copy and you have 1 billion dummies. Count me in. I’m unique; I’m a one-in-a-billion dummy.

Actually, I’m one of the Harry Potter dummies 7 times over. I have read all 7 books word for word. JK Rowling writes so well that every chapter ends urging you to read on to the next and the next. Of course it’s all fantasy, but the magic of it all is told page after page, not simply described. (That’s how science should be told, like magic – science is magic.) I am 68 this year, a science writer, Roman Catholic and a dummy for JK Rowling’s Harry Potter. She is a rebel writer herself. Here’s a short list of rebel writers and I like all of them: William Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, Ernest Hemingway, JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Scott Hahn. (I did not say I read all of them.)

Dummies are a dime a dozen; if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen a dozen million of them.

I googled “for dummies” books (double quotes included) and the Netscape Google search gave me 1,280,000 English pages with Strict Filtering (no sex-explicit texts or images for dummies). I noted some of the books: Blackberry Pearl For Dummies, iPhone For Dummies, Puppies For Dummies, Writing Children’s Books For Dummies, Scuba Diving & Snorkeling For Dummies, Electronic Discovery For Dummies. This world has gone to the dummies!

There’s Poker For Dummies – it’s for gamblers, and I don’t like to gamble. I gamble my opinion – The Attorney General has determined that gambling is bad for your health.

Suffer the little dummies to come to me, for of such is the kingdom. A dummies’ book is recalled because it may be hazardous to your health – John Wiley & Sons announces recall of Candle And Soap Making For Dummies because ‘the instructions in the book for making lye combine sodium hydroxide and water in an incorrect order’ and ‘could cause the mixture to bubble over, posing a burn hazard to consumers’ (cpsc.gov). It could be a little Hell on a little Earth.

From what I’ve seen so far, you’re a dummy if you buy a book for dummies – they’re for professionals, who I would believe are no dummies.

Like WordPress For Dummies by Lisa Sabin-Wilson; Chapter 1 is ‘What WordPress Can Do For You’ (amazon.com). The excerpt says: ‘In this chapter: >Understanding the benefits of WordPress and >Getting acquainted with the basic features of WordPress.’ Here’s the first paragraph:

If you believe that your ideas are important enough to publish on the World Wide Web for the entire world to see, then you, my friendly reader, are the perfect blogger, and WordPress is your perfect tool! How else can you get your message out with the potential of reaching a vast audience of millions worldwide for the cost of exactly nothing? There might be no free lunch in this world, but … there are free blogs to be had.

There’s no such thing as ‘a perfect blogger’ – I’m an inveterate blogger and I’m not always perfect. I ‘moved’ from blogger.com (Google’s) to wordpress.com (WordPress’), and if you ask me, WordPress is excellent! But is WordPress my perfect tool? Read my lips: NO. I’m not a novice; I started blogging in 2002, earnestly in 2005, and I have more than 50 blogsites / websites (18 in WordPress alone) all created by me, all photos uploaded by me, all links made by me, learning along the way. In my own domain, frankahilario.com, where I have uploaded 133 full essays, not simply rambling thoughts, WordPress keeps bugging me: ‘A new version of WordPress is available! Please update now’ – and when I click ‘Please update now’ (try it yourself, click the link I’ve made), it doesn’t help me at all – I have to download a file and then I’m left hanging what to do with that file. I ask my son Jomar and he says, ‘It’s complicated.’ If WordPress update is for dummies really, I need but click on ‘Please update now’ and it will do the rest for me, including backup my files. WordPress is not that smart, and I’m not that dummy. Also, blogging is not free: It costs WordPress and it costs me time, information, money, effort. There is no such thing as a free lunch – only a free hunch.

In other words, ‘for dummies’ is all hype, and you’re a dog if you dig it, you’re a zombie if you yearn for it, you’re a fool if you pine for it, you’re a puppy if you lap it all up.

Here’s one that is not for dummies. Chapter 1 is titled ‘Writing Copy: Capturing Hearts, Minds, And Money’ (amazon.com). The first two sentences are:

Picture me at the summer barbecue, my bare pale legs reflecting blazing beams of sunlight, my loud Hawaiian shirt howling with color. As I pass cold beers and overcooked hot dogs to my neighbors, someone I haven’t met before may politely initiate conversation by asking me what I do for a living.

Excellent copy! I know an excellent copy when I see one – I worked for one of the top ad agencies in the Philippines, Pacifica Publicity Bureau, and I learned a lot from the professionals like Nonoy Gallardo (husband of popular singer Celeste Legaspi) and Telly Bernardo. Jonathan Kranz’s book is for non-dummies like you and me. The author is smart, but a dummy for titling his book Writing Copy For Dummies.

Even so, Jonathan Kranz is one in a million. There’s a book Currency Trading For Dummies by Mark Galant & Brian Dolan (fxstreet.com). Can’t be. The concept ‘currency’ by itself is not for dummies, how much more ‘trading?’

I would say the ultimate insult is the book Hacking For Dummies. I will not insult by naming the author, but you can go visit Tony Bradley for his book review if you click the link there. Hacking is for crazy whiz kids or insane virtuosos, not dummies like you and me. In this case, I like being a dummy.

Chuck Frey tells me the book MindManager For Dummies authored by Hugh Cameron & Roger Voight PhD is a ‘terrific reference guide’ (innovationtools.com). That it is a ‘reference guide’ sounds interesting. Chapter 1 is titled ‘Getting Organized – Visually’ (amazon.com’ and in the chapter you will find how-tos: ‘Beginning to get organized. Seeing the depths of MindManager. Dealing with complexity. Linking to the outside. Sharing with other programs. Managing perceptions.’

That it is terrific? Terrible. That does it! MindManager has scared me into stopping my surfing for dummies’ books. My train of thought stopped when I read MindManager’s ‘Getting Organized – Visually’ as the first chapter (not to mention that the entry ‘PhD’ after a name puts me off). You don’t start with dummies getting organized – they’re not ready for it – and visually yet!

MindManager is ‘a mind-mapping program’ or ‘visual diagramming application’ (Chuck Frey). The assumption is that ‘You just had an idea! It was a solution to your latest dilemma at work’ (first sentence, Part 1 of the book) (amazon.com). So, MindManager assumes that you already have a brainstorm before you use it. That’s theory; in practice, The idea of a brainstorm is that you have absolutely no idea!

So, don’t blame me if I’m thinking of writing a book on creative writing for NON-dummies.

Now, instead of revising my own 12-year-old ‘The Unforgettable Ten Commandments Of Writing’ or coming out with a new copycat title ‘Writing For Dummies’ I shall write: ‘My Crazy Twelve Commandments Of Writing For Non-Dummies.’

Let me make it clear: I don’t write for dummies, because they wouldn’t understand me. I’ve written about them, yes; consider my ‘To All The Dummies In The World. Or, De Bono Debugged’ (americanchronicle.com). Naturally, my new book will be different, and it will look crazy (be warned: looks deceive), because I will have the following chapter titles (or something similar):

(1) If you want to begin right, don’t begin right.
(2) If you want to create order, create disorder.
(3) If you want to write well, don’t write.
(4) If you want to be read, don’t read yourself.
(5) If you want to listen to advice, don’t give the advice.
(6) If you want to attract readers, don’t give your vocabulary.
(7) If you want to improve, don’t just improve.
(8) If you want to get more ideas, look where there are none!
(9) If you want to have a good sequence, make a bad one.
(10) If you want to write objectively, you’re a journalist.
(11) If you want to know everything, you’re an encyclopedia.
(12) If you want to give up, you’re a mad genius!

At the back of my mind, I have had my own The Unbelievable Ten Commandments Of Writing (adiosfarewellgoodbye.blogspot.com).

Let me explain my Crazy 12 briefly.

(1) If you want to begin right, don’t begin right.

If I remember right, from Rudolf Flesch, the guru of readability, comes this sparkling gem of an advice for creative writers: ‘Begin anywhere, but begin!’ Following that advice, among other things, I have so far written 102 complete essays for American Chronicle (click this link if you want to check it out), and published a book out of 22 of them (see my ‘My American Book. Embracing Science Embracing Faith,’ americanchronicle.com) – and I can assure you all those 102 were begun every which way, sometimes beginning at the Beginning (simply because I liked the title already, like the very first one, ‘Fuzzy Logic & The Avian Flu’), sometimes beginning at the End (like I already had in mind ‘Sweetheart, sugarcane is sweet, but sweet sorghum is sweeter’ before I even wrote one sentence of my 22nd American Chronicle essay ‘The Yankee Dawdle’), sometimes beginning in the Middle (about the Virtual Academy for the Semi-Arid Tropics (VASAT); the word VASAT is in the title but I discuss it only beginning in the middle in the essay ‘The Telugu Paradigm. Understanding VASAT, The Illiterate’s Internet’). If you insist on beginning beautifully right away, you’ll never get anywhere because your Writer’s Block will stop you. If you are a blockhead, I know you are the irresistible force but you must remember Writer’s Block is the immovable object.

(2) If you want to create order, create disorder.

I preach to you the Chaos Theory of Writing: In writing, if you want to create harmony, first you have to create madness. So I surf the Web and type everything I like into the blank screen, I quote from a book, I relate from memory – and mix them all in confusion, haphazardly. You should see my ‘drafts’ – they don’t make sense. (Later, from out of the chaos, I can hear myself say, ‘Let there be life!’ And there is like. And it is enough.)

I practice what I preach, which you can’t say of so many people. As a visible example of chaos, look at my photograph again – you’re looking at my desktop and personal computer setup. In the italicized lines below, you will find the very first entries of this essay in its first incarnation (you can tell that I’ve been surfing the Web) (I numbered the lines here just for convenience):

Beginning:
(1) You have a dummies.com, dummies.
(2)
“for dummies” books gave me 1,280,000 English pages with Strict Filtering (no sex-explicit text, no sex-explicit images).
(3) Books: Blackberry Pearl For Dummies, iPhone For Dummies, Puppies For Dummies, Writing Children’s Books For Dummies, Scuba Diving & Snokeling For Dummies, Electronic Discovery For Dummies. (Yes, Snokeling is misspelled, but this is an illustration – I typed it incorrectly the first time.)
(4) Podcasting For Dummies – if dummies could do it, I could do it – I can’t. I’m not a dummy.
(5) Poker For Dummies – it’s for gamblers, dummy. I gamble my opinion – The Attorney General has determined that gambling is bad for your health.
(6) I will not write a dummies-book for writers or would-be writers – you can’t write if you’re a dummy.

Middle:
(7) From what I’ve read, you’re a dummy if you buy a book for dummies – they’re for professionals, and they’re no dummies.

End:
(8) In writing,
(9) If you believe that
(10) Apple TV for dummies

In this final version, I have deleted sentences #1, #4 and phrases #8, #9, #10. And I have a new Beginning, Middle, End.

The ideas and information I got from the Internet challenged me, set me in other directions, and otherwise helped me think some more and come up with my own order of thoughts. It wasn’t easy, but then again I’ve had years and years of practice so much so that the pressure has become pleasure. You should be so pleased!

(3) If you want to write well, don’t write.

Don’t write; instead, key in. I advice you to learn to use the personal computer, and well. One of my favorite writers, Ray Bradbury, does not want to use the PC for writing, and so he misses on two of the great advantages of word processing: spell-checking and grammar-checking. I’m a perfectionist; I remember typing the manuscript of a book on an IBM Selectric in the late 1980s and proofreading word for word 9 times. Today, using Word 2003, I need to proofread my essays only 2 times, once by software and once by me – the software is not perfect, and neither am I, but together, we’re a perfect combination. (I rewrite countless times, but that’s not proofreading.) Leave to the PC the routines like proofreading, correcting common typos, correcting grammar, and suddenly you’re a genius writing. (If you knew a little more, you can create a dictionary of technical terms and scientific names against which new typings will be corrected automatically.)

(4) If you want to be read, don’t read yourself.

Ask someone else to read your manuscript to find out its appeal. Rudolf Flesch’s advice is to write like you talk – but not when you talk jargon and you expect your unwary readers to understand specialist language. Don’t write like this:

Microsoft Office 2000 contains a word processor (for writing), a spreadsheet (for manipulating numbers), a presentation graphics program (for creating slide shows and charts, a personal information organizer (for storing names, addresses, e-mail, and phone numbers), a database (for storing information for mailing lists or tracking inventories), a desktop publisher (for designing and laying-out pages), a Web page creator (for designing your own Web pages), and a graphics editor (for editing images such as digitized photographs).

That’s from the ‘Number One best-selling book’ in the dummies series, according to Roger C Parker, who originated the Microsoft Office For Windows For Dummies (newentrepreneur.com). That first paragraph is information overload, too much even for a professional reader. It reads like an ad copy written by Bill Gates himself. Bill Gates is great in marketing, not in copy.

(5) If you want to listen to advice, don’t give the advice.

You may be a genius, but you’re a dull genius if you listen only to yourself, if you don’t listen to other people, if you don’t read what others have to say, don’t ask questions about what you don’t know, don’t discover what is unknown to you. If you believe you have all the wisdom, you’re not real; you don’t exist. End of story.

(6) If you want to attract readers, don’t give your vocabulary.

Contrary to what Dale Carnegie may have said, vocabulary scares people. For example, there’s Digital Art Photography For Dummies by Matthew Bamberg (amazon.com). Chapter 1 is titled ‘Digital Art Photography 101’. The first paragraph reads:

Art is the product of human creativity: a medium to create pleasure as well as express the conditions of life and feelings. Art also records history: who we are’ what’s around us; and how we interpret life, feelings, and interpersonal interactions.

That’s for dummies? That’s ‘starting from square one’ in digital photography? Consider: ‘human creativity’ and ‘medium’ and ‘create pleasure’ and ‘express the conditions of life and feelings’ and ‘records history’ and ‘how we interpret life, feelings’ and ‘interpersonal interactions’ – the two first sentences are not about a digital camera loaded with a huge memory card but a book overloaded with heavy words and phrases. Give me the loaded camera anytime! But a manuscript loaded with technical words? That’s why I say science writing is too important a subject to be left to scientists alone.

Again, a lesson from the readability guru Rudolf Flesch: Use plain words. If you avoid using long words and terms like the above, you’ll be amazed at how clear and interesting you become. From now on, remember: The Rebel Writer has determined that a wide vocabulary is bad for your health.

(7) If you want to improve, don’t just improve.

If you want to improve your writing, don’t just improve: Change it. You have to revise. Even if you think it’s already perfect. Let me show you by revising the one from Lisa (quoted above) like this:

If you believe that your ideas are important enough to publish on the World Wide Web for the entire world to see, then you, my friendly reader, are perfect for blogging, and WordPress may be perfect for you! Blogging gets your message out to a potential audience of millions at the expense of WordPress, at your pleasure, also because WordPress is easier to use and a much more beautiful sight to behold. (Beauty is in the eye of the beholden.)

WordPress is not the only blog pusher in the world, so Lisa’s ‘how else can you get your message out’ is misleading if not insincere.

I always have to revise, and heavily. This essay will have undergone at least 7 revisions before I let it go. It’s always like that with my Franciscan essays. How do I know when to stop? As I read again, I feel that now I’m beginning to like what I’ve written and in a little while I tell myself it’s done. (That needs some practice.)

The idea for this essay started with my old ‘The Unbelievable Ten Commandments Of Writing’ published in 1996 by IQ, a newsletter of New Day Publishers (Quezon City); I was the Editor. This time, I wanted to be different – don’t I always! The title for this one started with ‘My Dirty Dozen. A Practical Writer’s Guide For Non-Dummies.’ After several revisions, after 3 days, it has become what you see: ‘My Crazy Dozen. The Rebel Writer’s Guide For Non-Dummies.’ For me, it’s a perfect fit. The phrase ‘The Rebel Writer’ must be Heaven-sent, my just reward; I was a barbarian knocking at the gates for more ideas. Heaven knows I don’t have to be a barbarian but it helps.

(8) If you want to get more ideas, look where there are none!

Look inside your head! Learn to brainstorm with yourself, alone. A Filipino lawyer does that, with outstanding results. Antonio Oposa Jr (the lawyer son of an outstanding surgeon friend of mine, Antonio Oposa Sr from Cebu City in the middle of the Philippines), has written a powerful, highly original book on and for the conservation of the environment, The Laws Of Nature And Other Stories. I don’t have a copy but I read that book in the author’s own house the same day last year when he went to Cavite to attend a meeting of leaders and volunteers for the popular movement Batas Kalikasan (Law of Nature). He invited me. On our way by car, Tony was brainstorming with himself and scribbling, and when I noticed, I said ‘That’s mind-mapping, Tony Buzan,’ but I didn’t see the names registering recognition. Well, Tony Buzan isn’t the only creative mind hereabouts.

Ray Bradbury has another way of brainstorming by his lonesome; he calls it word association: Come up with random words, then string them along with a memory you have or an idea you didn’t have before. Edward de Bono has his Po device for a committee, which can be applied for a committee of one: Say ‘Po’ and accept all suggestions, no matter how crazy they are; consider each an ore in which a gem may be extracted.

(9) If you want to have a good sequence, make a bad one.

I learned this also from Rudolf Flesch 42 years ago (1965): If you are trying to convince people, arrange your arguments or points in a non-sequential manner. So, by weight, don’t arrange your exposition consecutively: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5. Instead, present #1 first, then #2 next, then #5 next, then #4 next, then #3 last. This way, you begin with the strongest point, supported by your next strongest; and towards the end, your discussion gets stronger again. Impressions are important: Impressions first, impressions last.

In case you got lost, I have a list of 12 here – how did I arrange them? I followed Flesch’s advice. My #1 was an obvious choice; my #2 and #3 are also strong because they’re so negative. Because they’re written deliberately suddenly differently, my #10, #11, #12 help me end with a bang, bang, bang!

(10) If you want to write objectively, you’re a journalist.

When in Rome, don’t write like the Romans do. Unless I’m sadly mistaken, all journalists try to write objectively – and that explains why they are boring to read. (That’s true, I’m sad to say, for science journalists writing for the Sunday magazines (and feature sections) of the 3 major dailies in my country: The Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star, Manila Bulletin. But not those in Time and Newsweek and The New York Times.) If you’re true to yourself and to your readers, you can’t be objective. You have your own biases. So? So, write about them; write with them in mind; write to acknowledge them – that will make you human in the eyes of your reader, and they will love you for it. Your readers are not objective themselves – they root for people, sides, causes. No, you’re a double dummy if you try to write for all kinds of people – you can only write for your kind of dummies, dummy.

(11) If you want to know everything, you’re an encyclopedia.

I suppose most people don’t want to write about something because they don’t know most things about it. In fact, you don’t have to know anything to write about anything. Not knowing is a perfect reason for knowing more! You don’t have to be a walking encyclopaedia to write about a topic (although I assure you it helps) – you can always search the Internet (and I assure you it helps much more). If you want to become the expert and know everything, like an encyclopedia, you’re dull, as in uninteresting. The idea is that you want to find out more so that you are able to understand what’s going on so that you can describe it to your readers. I surf the Web from opinion to opinion, news to news, tripping lightly and, delightfully; that’s how I get some insights of my own.

(12) If you want to give up, you’re a mad genius!

Today, being a writer is easy – talent or no talent, you create a blog and in a minute or two, you’re a published writer. But learning to be a good writer is as difficult as earning a PhD in college, perhaps even more so. You may think you don’t need to learn more because your blog is popular as it is. You may think that you don’t need to be a better writer than you already are. Or you have tried and given up on it. It’s so hard to be good.

I thought like you before; fortunately, I came to the point when I gave up my high regard for myself and replaced it with the urge to improve myself. That’s what I want you to give up: your high regard for yourself, or your ambition, or both.

You’d be mad to give up a high regard for yourself, or your ambition – but you’d be a genius as a writer. After at least 30 years of popularizing science, after along the way giving up becoming rich and famous (yes, it was a choice; no, it wasn’t easy), and realizing that I have become a much better writer than before, I can share with you that the more you are at peace with the world, the better you become as a writer, not to mention as a human being. I thank God for all that.

Why now do I write? I want to share my experiences and insights in living and hope to encourage others. Why now do I write for writers? I want to share my experiences and insights in writing and hope to encourage writers to encourage others. There is so much negative in the Philippines today that to encourage the positive requires that you invest on heroism that of course is a huge risk since it borders on stupidity.

The Philippines needs more geniuses who are foolish enough to give up their comfort zones in favor of their country, to give up their ambitions for themselves. I’m hoping that more such insane geniuses will rise among Filipinos, especially writers young and old – the old, for their own legacy; the young, for own their future. Give up and be recognized! (As for me, I’ve given up on UP, the University of the Philippines, my alma mater; I’ve given up on the fervent UP nationalist geniuses. These are the times for globalization; now, nationalism is local, internationalism is global and the irresistible force.)

Age doesn’t matter; you can be a genius at 8, 18, 38, 68, 78, 88, 98? A silly genius for the environment. A crazy genius for God and country. A hero. To be a hero, I suppose you shouldn’t have to be ridiculous but it should help.

The Blank Book

17/11/2006

scuzzi-a-list-of-unfortunate-events.jpg

The Blank Book

Sometimes you have to be a Blank Book, so why not on your birthday? Happy Birthday, Bella!

Apt image by Scuzzi who captions it ‘A List Of Unfortunate Events’ (flickr.com/). According to her Flickr profile, Scuzzi is ‘chunky, 5’7″, Chinese, quick tempered, dragon personality (zodiac sign)’ and she had to update (trim down) her contacts list because it had grown overwhelmingly long. She is ‘serious about viewing good photos and meeting people with the same interests,’ thank you. Interesting, I’m a dragon myself (1940). But what struck me was Scuzzi’s photograph of her memory bank she has titled The Blank Book and subtitled A Series Of Unfortunate Events. That’s what I call creativity.

Searching among Flickr photos for “midlife” (without the quotes), when I saw Scuzzi’s photograph, I immediately thought it was appropriate for what I had in mind to say, if vaguely at the start, to someone who is celebrating her birthday today, 17 November 2006. I am writing this one especially for Bella, the wife of my good friend Dr Tony Oposa, Surgeon General; she is 51 today, 17 November 2006 (never mind how old Dr Tony is).

Again, Happy Birthday, Bella! I will now invite you by paraphrasing Robert Browning, the English poet:

Grow old along with us!
The best is yet to be,
the last of life,
for which the first was made.

Yes, I’m also interested in Robert Browning and his wife, the poet Elizabeth Barrett. They make an interesting couple, as interesting I believe as Dr Tony and Bella. Erin Marie echoes my sentiments, saying of Elizabeth and Robert (cswnet.com/): ‘I have always been fascinated by Elizabeth and Robert Browning. I think their love has always been awesome.’ I think so too.

I think that love is not love enough if it isn’t awesome.

I know very little of the story of Dr Tony and Bella, but I am at heart a romantic, so I like to believe that one’s age doesn’t matter as long as one’s love doesn’t age – or, if it ages, it ages like wine, tasting better and better. But of course, as King Solomon knows, ‘How much better is thy love than wine!’ (Song of Solomon 4: 10)

You have to pardon me if I dwell more on Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning because I just love the love poems of Elizabeth written during their 3-year courtship, Sonnets From The Portuguese – he had nicknamed her ‘the little Portuguese’ as he fell in love with her and her poetry (The Victorian Web, 2004, victorianweb.org/).

Elizabeth didn’t think that she was worthy of the love of Robert because she was an invalid, broken-hearted, and had a nervous disorder (Glenn Everett, 1993, victorianweb.org/). But Robert loved her and finally convinced her of his deep affection; in fact, her poetry was one reason why he loved her that much (Laurelyn Douglas, 1991, victorianweb.org/). A poet admiring another for the other’s poetry. He wrote her: ‘How can I put your poetry away from you?’ She inspired him with her poetry; he inspired her for her poetry. They wrote love letters to each during their secret courtship because the father would not approve of Robert. Thomas Hampson (pbs.org/) describes those letters as ‘some of the most eloquent in the language.’ Most eloquent in thelanguage called English, and in the language called love.

Her poetry is passionate and beautiful, I say. They make me feel like falling in love again. Here is the first poem in her collection called Sonnets From The Portuguese, and I dedicate it to both Bella and Dr Tony. My prescription: If you don’t have time to read these 15 lines, just read the last two lines and you’ll get my point.

Sonnet #01
I thought once how Theocritus had sung

I thought once how Theocritus had sung
Of the sweet years, the dear and wished-for years,
Who each one in a gracious hand appears
To bear a gift for mortals, old or young:
And, as I mused it in his antique tongue,
I saw, in gradual vision through my tears,
The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years,
Those of my own life, who by turns had flung
A shadow across me. Straightway I was ’ware,
So weeping, how a mystic Shape did move
Behind me, and drew me backward by the hair;
And a voice said in mastery, while I strove,—
“Guess now who holds thee!”—“Death,” I said, But, there,
The silver answer rang, “Not Death, but Love.”

Special note: Theocritus, of ancient Greece, is the creator of pastoral poetry (VEK Sandels, 2004, in2greece.com/); the poet’s mention of Theocritus invokes the countryside as the ideal world of innocence, beauty, nature and divinities (to borrow from Kelly Blanchfield, Jamie Jones & Carrie Lefler, 2006, people.uncw.edu/).

‘I thought once how Theocritus had sung’ – this sonnet I believe is one of the most powerful romantic poems ever written.

The poem begins sweetly, proceeds eerily, and ends with a sweet surprise. ‘Guess now who holds thee! … Not Death, but Love.’ So much like The Blank Book which used to contain ‘A series of unfortunate events’ but now contains nothing but hope and love. I like surprise endings, especially if they end with love.

The True Harvest

16/11/2006

 

ayeona-tannud-harvest.jpg

The True Harvest

We easily associate Henry David Thoreau with civil disobedience, which was made historically dramatic via Mahatma Gandhi’s widely and wildly successful Satyagraha – that is, Indian civil disobedience founded on non-violence – but we never associate Thoreau with creativity. Ann Woodlief writes (American Transcendentalism Web, 2002, vcu.edu/) that he was ‘a complex man of many talents who worked hard to shape his craft and his life, seeing little difference between them.’ Thoreau wrote of the ordinary in an extraordinary way. He discovered truths hidden in what everybody saw. That’s creativity!

Creativity is something you do everyday not apart from you, except if you prefer to assume your critical self, which millions prefer to do. As in you say: ‘Filipinos? A hopeless case!’ and you know you’re a Filipino. Sir or madam, as the case may be, if you say that, you are a hopeless case that I’m not, and I’m a Filipino.

Yesterday, I was asked to be a part of Task Force Rainbow if only by documenting it, starting tomorrow. In anticipation of that, here’s an exercise I just gave myself: Think Task Force Rainbow and discover what others have missed about it. I write this (15 November) not knowing anything about it except that it is a local legal arm dedicated to conservation of natural resources. I will know more about it after this (16 November).

In the meantime, I think like this: Task, Force, Rainbow. Consciously, I dismember the thing but I know that in the end I will try and put the pieces back together again, expecting to see more than Humpty Dumpty, more than ‘Task Force Rainbow.’

Task

I’m thinking of two types of tasks, one for the leader and one for the followers.

Task of a leader

‘The first task of a leader is to keep hope alive,’ says Joe Batten, author of the bestsellers Tough-Minded Leadership (1989) and Tough-Minded Management (2002). What a pleasant surprise! I have been reading about management since about 15 years ago because I have been editing reports and theses on management and I wanted to be knowledgeable about what I was working on – but I don’t remember any management author saying anything about the first task of a leader being ‘to keep hope alive,’ no not even Peter Drucker, Management Guru, thinking man. Joe Batten taught and motivated, among others, soldiers. He knew that when the going gets tough, the hopeful gets going.

But ‘how do we define hope?’ asks Rev John Kramer and answers himself; My excerpt (2006, isanticountynews.com/):

First, hope must have reference only to things yet to come.
Second, we speak of hoping only for something that is desirable.
(Third, hope) must refer to something within the realm of possibility.

So, according to Kramer, hope refers to what is in the future, what is desirable, what is possible. Future only and desirable only, of course, but possible only? I hope not!

I always hope for the impossible, and that’s why I’m creative. I say therefore that the first task of the leader is to be creative. To find ways to encourage people in the midst of failure needs creativity.

Task of the followers

Since we cannot all become leaders, it follows that the rest of us must become followers. Instead of turning to those management gurus to identify what is the task of the follower, to be creative about it, I will turn to the genius of Albert Einstein, who says:

A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

Einstein is to me the most creative scientist the world has ever known, not only because of his magic formula E = mc­­­2 but also because he saw God in a grain of sand. He was a genius. He had faith in God, he had faith in man.

What’s he saying there? Followers and leaders, we are one, we are the world. We think otherwise, but that is a delusion, a self imprisoned by self. We think too highly of ourselves. Our compassion is not enough to embrace everyone, everything.

I say, perhaps if we never learned to use the mirror, it would be easy to see us in others. Though the mirror be clear, we see through the glass, darkly. That’s why we are able to say, ‘Blood is thicker than water’ and forget that there is much less blood and much more water; precisely! We do not see that without water, there is no blood.

Force

Force, says my favorite dictionary the American Heritage, is the capacity to do work or cause physical change, physical power against resistance, intellectual vigor especially as conveyed in writing or speech, capacity for affecting the mind or behavior, a body of persons organized for a certain purpose, something that produces acceleration of a body, legal validity.

So, push is force, law is force, persuasion is force. When Albert Einstein says, ‘Force always attracts men of low morality,’ he refers more to physical violence. Be careful about physical force! As I write this, 15 November 2006, at about 0925, the ABS-CBN news channel ANC flashes a report that Gringo Honasan, the super-patriot who describes himself as the Philippines’ ‘resident adviser on failed coup attempts’ (15 November 2006, Daily Telegraph, news.com.au/dailytelegraph/), has been arrested in a lady’s house in Quezon City, in the exclusive Greenmeadows Subdivision which is near the military headquarters! The best place to hide is where they are not looking. Honasan is today the embodiment of force in Philippine society in all senses the American Heritage tells us above. And he has the intellectual persuasion; he has persuaded himself and many others that the way to progress in our country is, first, by force of arms – their arms; and then, by force of minds – their minds. Their collective, not ours.

‘May the Force be with you?’

How can force be a tool for good? The only way it can be that is to avoid violence on others. Borrowing from AJ Muste: ‘There is no forceful way to peace. Peace is the way.’

What do you do when peace is abused equally by the powerful and the powerless? If you are a poor farmer and you violate the soil by poisoning it albeit slowly, you are abusing the peace. If you are a poor fisherman and you use dynamite for fishing, you are abusing the peace. If you are a rich farmer or a rich fisherman and over-fish, you are abusing the peace. I do not see the rainbow in that.

Rainbow

‘The soul would have no rainbow had the eyes no tears,’ says John Vance Cheney, American poet. The rainbow comes after a rain and you see it, if you’re looking.

After the 30-day flood, the Lord painted a beautiful rainbow in the sky for Noah to believe that God will from now on spare man from the deluge – if man behaves. How have we been behaving lately?

In the Philippines, as far as our natural resources are concerned – the lands, the mountains, the seas – we have been focused on the golden pot at the end of the rainbow but not the rainbow itself. The rainbow is the path we have to take to reach our ends, our goals, our objectives. If we are in a hurry – and we always are – we take it that the ends justifies the means. We rush to the end of the rainbow without passing through the rainbow. We want instant gratification and we are willing to disregard the rights of others to exercise our own.

The rainbow signifies hope, not fulfillment. And so we come back to the first task of the leader, which is to raise hope and, once raised, to help sustain it. And he can do that by being creative.

 

Task Force Rainbow

And so we come back to Task Force Rainbow.

‘The true harvest of my life is intangible – a little star dust caught, a portion of the rainbow I have clutched’ – Henry David Thoreau. Borrowing from this American philosopher once more, and looking at ‘Task Force Rainbow’ as one whole again, I can say that the true harvest of the farmer is not the fruit; the true harvest of the fisherman is not the catch – the true harvest is the people who do what they do with nature to enrich themselves and others. Apt image from Ayeona who captions it ‘Tannud Harvest’ (flickr.com/). That is a true picture of creativity. That is a most beautiful sight to behold!

La Finca, A Creative Place

12/11/2006

aras01-farm-girl.jpg

La Finca, A Creative Place

A creative wind wafted into Lipa City and out of that emerged La Finca. You are looking at a very creative image from Aras01 who captions it simply ‘Farm Girl’ (flickr.com/). Note what the child has clasped in her hand and think of what she’s trying to say in that divine pose. That is what La Finca is trying to say!

If you want to be technical about it, La Finca means the country estate or the country house, according to the Spanish-English Dictionary of Microsoft Encarta (2006). I prefer to be lyrical about it and first recite a stanza from the poem ‘Auguries of Innocence’ by William Blake, British poet, painter and printmaker, the greatest artist of Britain according to Northrop Frye (Wikipedia), the greatest total artist of Britain, I might qualify:

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
William Blake, from ‘Auguries of Innocence’

We did not see a grain of sand but we saw heaven in a mild flower today, 11 November 2006; we beheld Infinity with our own eyes; and we enjoyed eternity in an hour in Lipa City in Batangas in Southern Luzon, the Philippines. We were at a creative place called La Finca, near Mount Malarayat. Dr Tony Oposa Sr, surgeon extraordinaire, and I was the guest of Totoy Garcia, with Marissa driving us to and from that certain place where the rich earth has become an invitation for wealth to visit upon wealth.

La Finca has been designed to be a community of peoples from whatever parts of the world who share a kindred spirit of having a place to live, of possessing your own corner of the Earth to breathe in fresh air all the time, owning a piece of rich land to savor the joy of farming personally – and, from your place, the pleasure of a short walk to the Country Club with its facilities for a health spa, tennis, gym, Jacuzzi and swimming pools. A personal, total community.

For the rich to live in their respective second home in the country and work on their first farm on their own is a creative idea. If nothing else, it is productive and it enriches the mind.

The Country Club is where you find the artist imitating life. I particularly loved the tables and chairs made of wood plus wood – even the nails used were wood. Totoy G explained that the designer was more of an artist than anything else – and it showed.The artist was able to make the elegance in wood come out. Marissa sat on one of the low tables and it didn’t flinch an inch; I tapped and tried to lift it and couldn’t believe it was solid wood.

The wild flowers are in the mountain range called Mount Malarayat, a sight away in the distance; the mild flowers are in the gardens of the homeowners who have built their country houses there, a sight for sore eyes.

Infinity? I measured that one and estimated its length and width with my average pace of 2.3 ft (from a lab exercise in Engineering at UP Los Baños years ago). Infinity is 45 feet by 75 feet – Infinity is the swimming pool whose water overflows into empty space that when you’re in the pool with just your head showing, the whole thing looks like an infinite body of water that has no beginning and no end. And you go down, down, down step by step into the lap pool, as you wish. For children of all ages. A joy to behold, a joy to be held in.

Eternity is our stay of about one hour at the Country Club, where our spirits were revived by the nice cool breeze wafting at 1200 ft above sea level.

There are no perimeter walls in this modern village, just bushes and picket fences. This is open country. Let the creative wind blow and let it make fresh as well as refresh friendships.

La Finca is a 20-hectare dual-purpose farm-house real estate property development project of Mancom Berhad of Malaysia and Constant Builders and Development Corporation of the Philippines, good for about 120 houses. The design is by Leandro Locsin & Partners; the landowner is the RL Umali Group of Companies, Every property is a minimum of 1000 square meters, and you can build your house only in 25% of that space. If you want more details, call (632) 889-9999 or email your questions at inquiries@lafinca.com.ph or qaoreta@global.t-bird.edu. If you have to ask how much the property costs, you can’t afford it.

From the current ownership list, La Finca is an international community. Is La Finca asking peoples of the world to return to Mother Nature? I rather think it is, but it is more asking peoples to return to self and rediscover the basics of life: family, farm and community.