Posts Tagged ‘power’

I want to share with you the opening page of the book I am currently reading – Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer:

I am living in Villa Borghese. There is not a crumb of dirt anywhere, nor a chair misplaced. We are all alone here and we are dead.
Last night Boris discovered that he was lousy. I had to shave his armpits and even then the itching did not stop. How can one get lousy in a beautiful place like this? But no matter. We might never have known each other so intimately, Boris and I, had it not been for the lice.
Boris has just given me a summary of his views. He is a weather prophet. The weather will continue bad, he says. There will be more calamities, more death, more despair. Not the slightest indication of change anywhere. The cancer of time is eating us away. Our heroes have killed themselves, or are killing themselves. The hero, then, is not Time, but Timelessness. We must get in step, a lock step, towards the prison of death. There is no escape. The weather will not change.

Henry Miller

It is now the fall of my second year in Paris. I was sent here for a reason I have not yet been able to fathom.
I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. A year ago, six months ago, I thought that I was an artist. I no longer think about it, I am. Everything that was literature has fallen from me. There are no more books to be written, thank God.
This then? This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation of character. This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty … what you will. I am going to sing for you, a little off key perhaps, but I will sing. I will sing while you croak, I will dance over your dirty corpse…
To sing you must first open your mouth. You must have a pair of lungs, and a little knowledge of music. It is not necessary to have an accordion, or a guitar. The essential thing is to want to sing. This then is a song. I am singing.

First of all, isn’t that a brilliant opening page? It sets the scene, the era, the character, and the mood so well. It seems to cover so much. It got me wondering – how important is a first line or an opening page for readers? I personally never read inside the book when deciding what to buy. I occasionally read the blurbs on the back but more often rely on recommendations from friends or references from other sources. For that reason, while the first page certainly makes an impression, I will usually read at least 30 pages before I decide if I will stick with it or not. What about you, how important are the opening lines of a book in your decision to buy/read it? And what are your favourite literary openings?

Secondly, I just love what Miller says about writing and being a writer – “six months ago, I thought I was an artist. I no longer think about it, I am,” he writes. That is so powerful. I want to make a similarly strong proclamation…

I am a writer. (The essential thing is to want to write. I am writing.)

That felt good.


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I was in Buenos Aires in 2006. It was 30 years on from the military coup that changed the collective Argentinean consciousness forever and, being a part of it, I felt my own consciousness (and, indeed, conscience) shifting. Looking back this experience was a huge turning point for me, being there has led me to be me.

Never Again: Prohibited books

I was in Buenos Aires for the massive concerts and protest marches that marked the 30 year anniversary of the military coup on March 24, 1976. That coup marked the beginning of 7 years of military dictatorship in which around 30,000 Argentinians were murdered or forcibly disappeared by the Junta for holding dissenting political beliefs. The Dirty War (as it became known) cut deep into the body of Argentina, and the wound is still raw. These demonstrations were Argentina’s way to never forget, to stay passionate, and to inspire the new generation of advocates for freedom.

Standing tens of thousands strong in the Plaza de Mayo amid awed silence broken by valiant cries of “nunca más” (never again) we stood at revered attention as we bore witness to the suffering of a whole generation by watching a half hour documentary on the recent political history of Argentina, jostled periodically in the waves of emotion as the crowd reacted to their story. After the documentary finished to pained applause a frail looking old woman in a white headscarf approached the microphone. What followed was the most rousing and impassioned speech I have ever had the honour to witness. Here she was, one of the “Mothers of the Disappeared”, a group of women who protested weekly during the dictatorship and were integral in the eventual swing back to democracy. The catch cry of her speech, and the protests, “nunca más” resounded not only throughout the night but also appeared on innumerable walls around the city. The city, the country, was so political, the people so impassioned by their beliefs willing to speak out and to act on them. It was profoundly inspiring.

Nunca Mas! (Never Again!)

From Buenos Aires I wrote home to friends:
“I have been in a really introspective space of late, a space that travelling seems to inevitably create. I really feel, already, like my experiences, conversations, and encounters here have changed my world view, and I anticipate that change becoming more and more profound as the months pass. I have always been a very idealistic person, outspokenly so; and yet I have never made the hard calls, never really followed though on my beliefs. I see that now. I was lazy, scared maybe. Being here, in a place that is so abuzz with politics, I realise that I need to take action.

“For now I am trying to learn to experience people more fully, to open my heart more, and to feed my hunger for knowledge with big ideas from profound thinkers (be they famous or hidden, living or passed). I am reading a lot. I am watching a lot: how people interact, how people respond to their circumstances, what people do in (real) hardship, and contemplating the way I have responded in times that I thought were hard. I have been writing a lot, getting inside myself, trying to be truly honest on the page (which is harder than I could have imagined) and in my encounters with people. I have been thinking, theorising, and also feeling. Sometimes I get sad. Like 2 days ago when I met a young boy begging on the street (by pretending to play the accordion), he was so hard for his age, his life had been so hard.

The Accordion Player: a young boy begs on a Buenos Aires street with a musical prop her cannot master

“It can be really hard to take, you know? There are so many people here who cannot look beyond the next meal. Their future and the futures of their children are totally bleak, and they know it. The most disconcerting thing about it is that many of these people were middle class citizens just 5 or 6 years ago. It makes you realise how powerless we really are in the face of the machine of economy, and how fragile our little lives are in the hands of greedy and (oftentimes) ignorant politicians. We choose to live in a way that totally disempowers us, we choose ignorance and dependance. It’s frightening.

I know all that sounds depressing, and sometimes it is, but the truth is that my eyes are opening, and I am grateful for it.”

My eyes continued to open as the months and years of travel wore on, with every new friend I made, with every child I saw begging in the streets. This world is imbalanced, but it doesn’t have to be. I like to think I am much more active in my life these days, I have moved my life to be more in harmony with my values, and I continue to do so. This was a life changing moment for me, one of many.

I would love to hear about your own life changing memories, if you are willing to share.

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South America’s epic Iguazu Falls roar down the Devil’s throat and deep into the heart of the earth, kissed on three sides by the proud nations of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.

From the ubiquitous travel guide photographs and its firm foothold on the gringo trail (in spite being a 20-hour bus drive from both Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro with little of popular interest inbetween) I knew the site would be impressive. I had heard from fellow travellers about just how gigantic and breathtaking the falls were. But, you know, honestly, we’re talking about waterfalls, people. How impressive can they be?

Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Nonetheless, finding myself in Puerto Iguazú (Argentina’s border town) with a few days to kill en route to Rio’s infamous Carnival celebrations, I thought “what the heck, I may as well check it out while I’m here.” (I know, I know, even I can’t believe I was so cavalier!) I’m glad I did because, to this day, Iguazu Falls remains one of the most magical, impressive, and totally powerful places I have ever visited.

The park itself was aswarm with thousands of buzzing tourists. Mighty distracting. Luckily, there were a few delicious moments where my gaze was uninterrupted by the hoards of people (like myself) snatching instants of beauty with their cameras and hoarding them for later. There were a few exquisite moments when I could hear nothing but the roar of the water crashing upon itself. In those moments I felt an energy so strong it pulsed up through me from my feet.

Iguazu holds a dizzying kind of power. That is the part that simply can’t be captured in any of the thousands of photos you may have seen, and that is the part that makes the park so memorable, the part that captures your heart and refuses to let go, even years later.

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Us writers must be power-hungry freaks, right? Here we are, night after night, scribbling away in notebooks, penning masterpieces (we hope), creating worlds on the page. We create characters out of thin air and ink, dictate the paths along which their lives wander, choose their lovers, their careers, and even their names. When we tire of them we may even terminate their inky existence with a flutter of fingers or a tap on the keys. The power is, well, total.

They say that with great power comes great responsibility. I’m struggling with my responsibility.

What to call you, what to call you, damn it!

Today I have been trying to name my key characters. It’s harder than you may suspect. You don’t want to give them anything too obvious, too ordinary, too out there, or too obtuse. I don’t want the other kids to tease them in the playground. I don’t want the readers to taunt them with cruel nicknames. I don’t want to call them Mary or Bill (sorry to the bazillions of Mary/Bills out there). I feel like an expectant mother… it feels like just maybe all the success (or failure) of the operation could just hinge on the perfect name.

I thought about naming them after favourite characters I’ve read, but Raskolnikov is perhaps just a little too Russian and Lolita carries such a connotation these days. Maybe I’ll save those gems for my real-life kids.

I thought about naming them after great historical heros but meh.

I tried to think about the connotations of names and tie them to the character traits of each player. It’s not that easy to do. Maybe I should look at a book of names and their meanings…

Does anyone have any good advice for naming characters?

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