While we wait…

While we wait, the world spins. Tweets flood my screen by the second, as the revolutionary flame spreads, earthquake strikes, bookstore chain bankrupts, oil prices rise, Joan Didion fell and broke her collarbone, John Keats died today 190 years ago, iPad 2 comes out March 2, Oscars countdown begins. My head hurts.

The more I’m connected, the more the distress. But I still avoid falling into the escapist trap claiming ‘ignorance is bliss’. I think of it as the price to pay as a citizen of the world. Will I feel better not knowing about those dying on the streets revolting against a dictator, or that hundreds are buried in the rubbles of their homes, even when they are thousands of miles from me? Is it better not knowing? The answer is obvious.

With a series of uprising that started with a Tunisian fruit vendor setting fire to himself in protest, it’s all about a voice being heard. Thousands of miles away in the 5th most liveable city of the world, I sit comfortably on my couch checking tweets and blogging away. It almost feels surreal.

But as I listened to an interview about how people braved death to go out on the streets, I began to see the significance of this receiving end. If it’s about a voice being heard, we who are on the other side of the world are doing just that… we’re hearing that voice, and witnessing the domino effects. Sure, there are more practical ways to participate in the cause of democracy, or to help the victims of earthquakes, or to support surviving booksellers… but we who are merely checking our tweets, reading articles, and watching news clips are hearing those voices. Our awareness is a form of participation, the least we can do. A beginning.

Despite joining Twitter recently, I’m still an advocate of slow blogging. Opposites juxtapose in this postmodern world. While I’m checking out news feeds and relevant articles as quickly as time allows, I am slowly digesting and mulling over their content, and listening carefully to the multiple voices speaking out.

The world spins at a speed I can’t control. But it’s in stillness that I can make some sense of it. The voices deserve my quiet attention.

Summertime… and the reading is easy

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Since my TBR booklist has evolved into one gigantic beast preying to devour my fragile conscience, I’m feeling the burden of possession with every single book I acquire, be it only $1.50 or even free.  While summer has officially slipped in, with all its alluring promises and freeing energy, I feel it’s time to confront the beast and with one resolve, slay it.

So, may I present herewith Arti’s Declaration of Independent Reading. It may not be self-evident to all that there exist certain unalienable rights for us book lovers yearning for emancipation.  Allow me to use the collective pronoun here as I feel I just might not be the only one.  Therefore, all ye under the bondage of your TBR beast, here are our claims:

  1. Nonobligatory reading.  Reading for the simple joy of the act, and not for any courses, profs, teachers, groups, bloggers or to appease that monstrous beast.  We might have book challenges to meet, but they are our own choosing.  Even if we have miles to go before we sleep, we go the miles to honor our own quest.

  2. We hold the right to buy and not read, just for the satisfaction of owning a title. We deserve to be recognized for our contribution to the economy and the publishing industry.  By our perpetual purchasing, we are supporting local and national businesses and the livelihood of many workers.

  3. Freedom to follow our hearts in our book selections, and not the New York Times bestseller lists, Amazon’s recommendations, or Oprah’s earnest plea.  No need to follow trends or don literary fashion.  No need to challenge those titles simply because we are told to read before we die.  Literary and the not-so-literary, classics or contemporary, all to our heart’s content.

  4. Smorgasbord Reading.  Our right to have more than one item on our plate, our right to read more than one book at a time.  Fiction, non-fiction, bios or poetry, whatever that suits our palate at the moment.

  5. Not to be discriminated against.   As bookaholics, we will resist any attempt to be added to the pathological list of substance abuse, addictions, or to be forcefully admitted into any 12-step programs or obsessive-compulsive behavior therapy.

  6. In the spirit of slow blogging, we hold the right to read slowly, to mull and chew, at our own pace without having to meet any quotas, numbers, or deadlines. Further, we have the right to reread a book or an author as many times as we want, and not be labelled as subversive, fanatics or cultic.

  7. We have the liberty to stop reading, throw a book out the window, or honestly declare our dislike, if that’s our view.  With this right, we keep our sanity intact, our discernment sharpened, our intelligence preserved.

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There.  Now that’s off my chest, let me get back to my reading… or not.

oooh, summertime…

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Photos by Arti of Ripple Effects, June, 2010.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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Alone Again… Unnaturally

A year ago around this time, I wrote the post ‘No Texting for Lent and The End of Solitude’. It was in response to the news about some Roman Catholic bishops urging the faithful to restrain from texting as a penance during Lent.  And around the same time, I came across the article by William Deresiewicz ‘The End of Solitude’, pointing out the difficulty of remaining alone in our over-connected society.

Now a year after Deresiewicz published his essay, the number of tweets had grown by 1,400%.  Now there are 50 million tweets per day, an average of 600 tweets per second.  So, if you’re calling for ‘No texting’ at Lent, you might as well tell people not to use the phone, the computer, the iPhone, all the smart gadgets, in other words, get off the human race for the time being.

Hey, that may not be such a bad idea.  The current issue of The American Scholar has another article by Deresiewicz, yes, on solitude again.  I’m glad to read articles on ‘Solitude’, why?  There just aren’t too many written on this topic.  And thanks to Deresiewicz, seems like his is the only voice crying in the digital wilderness.  The article is a lecture he delivered to the plebe class at the United States Military Academy at West Point in October of last year, entitled ‘Solitude And Leadership’.

If you want others to follow, learn to be alone with your thoughts.

This quote at the beginning of the article just about sums it all up.

Speaking to this class of freshman, all eager and gung-ho to fall in line with the rank and file of this prestigious Military Academy, Deresiewicz has the audacity (ok, guts) to tell his audience to shun conformity, break away from regimentation, to ask questions, to seek their own reality, to form their own opinion, and to exercise moral courage.  And his main crux: it is only through solitude can they do this.

Facebook and Twitter, and yes, even The New York Times, only expose you to other people’s thinking. Whenever you check your tweets, or get on to your social network, or read the newspaper for that matter, you are only hearing other people’s voices:

That’s what Emerson meant when he said that “he who should inspire and lead his race must be defended from travelling with the souls of other men, from living, breathing, reading, and writing in the daily, time-worn yoke of their opinions.” Notice that he uses the word lead. Leadership means finding a new direction, not simply putting yourself at the front of the herd that’s heading toward the cliff.

He urged them to read books instead.  Well aren’t books other people’s opinion too?  True, sometimes you need to put them down too to visualize you own reality and formulate your own stance.  But, books, especially the time-tested ones, have weathered social scrutinies and oppositions, and yet still stand today offering us wisdom of perspectives in finding our own path.

Further, the major difference between a well-written book and a tweet, or a Comedy Central episode, or even a newspaper article, is basically, time.

The best writers write much more slowly than everyone else, and the better they are, the slower they write. James Joyce wrote Ulysses, the greatest novel of the 20th century, at the rate of about a hundred words a day… for seven years. T. S. Eliot, one of the greatest poets our country has ever produced, wrote about 150 pages of poetry over the course of his entire 25-year career. That’s half a page a month. So it is with any other form of thought. You do your best thinking by slowing down and concentrating.

Of course, this may sound reductionist.  But, I like the idea of slowing down in this rapidly shifting world. Deresiewics urged the freshmen of West Point to practice concentrating and focusing on one thing rather than multi-tasking. He charged them to take the time to slowly read, think, and write, in solitude, an axiom that’s so rad that his audience probably had never heard before.

In this über connected world we’re in, it’s unnatural to be alone.  A solitary moment has to be strived for with extra effort, and much self-discipline.  That means unplugging the phone, turning off the computer and anything smart, yes, including friends, real or virtual.   For Lent or not for Lent, it could well be the only way to find out who we are and where we are heading.  Even if we’re not aspiring to lead, at least we know whom we should follow.  And, you’ll never know, others may be attracted to our slowness and surety that they just might step right behind us.  So it’s best not to steer them too close to the cliff.

National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month.  I’m glad we still celebrate poetry in this day of ephemeral twittering.  W. H. Auden once described poetry as “memorable speech”.  As millions upon millions join in on-line chats, exchanging the most trivial of their everyday life unreservedly, and even addictively all day long, how we need poetry all the more, to create lines that strive for some memorable quality worthy of keeping.

The late Canadian communication guru Marshall McLuhan was right, the medium is the message.   And such is the message of our time.  Mind you, I’m no Luddite, my iPhone is evidence.  I’ve gone through this before, so I’m not going to dwell on it here again.  It’s just that the rash and temporal nature of our medium, and mode, for that matter,  make me long for quality and permanence.

After posting an excerpt of  T.S. Eliot’s poetry in my last entry, I just didn’t have enough.  I re-read and explored more of his work and was amazed at how prophetic his vision was.  To celebrate National Poetry Month, here’s Arti’s selections of  lines from the work of T.S. Eliot, just for our post-modern, Facebook and Twitter generation.

nighthawk-by-edward-hopper

Twit twit twit

Jug jug “>jug jug jug jug jug

So rudely forc’d.

— The Waste Land (1922)



Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

— Ash Wednesday (1930)


There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;

….

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all: —
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

….

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

— The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1915)



The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of The Word.

All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.

— Choruses from The Rock (1934)


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Visual: Nighthawks (1942) by Edward Hopper.  CLICK HERE FOR MORE EDWARD HOPPER.

No Texting for Lent and The End of Solitude

Roman Catholic Bishops in Italy have added some contemporary relevance in the fasting tradition during Lent:  High Tech Fast.  The faithful are urged to free themselves from the bondage of technology and gadgets, and refrain from surfing, emailing, twittering, texting … in order to prepare themselves for Easter.  This could prove to be a penance much harder to practice than not eating meat, even just on Fridays, for texting could well be the newest form of addiction today.

At about the same time, I heard an interview on the CBC Radio program Spark.  Host Nora Young conducted an interview with William Deresiewicz, literary critic and essayist, who has recently written an article entitled ‘The End of Solitude’.

Deresiewicz taught at Yale from 1998 to 2008.  When he asked his students what place solitude had in their lives, he got this reply: “Why would anyone want to be alone?”

With the ubiquitous use of high tech gadgets, and the torrents of Internet social networks around us, we are caught in a web of connectivity like never before:

Not long ago, it was easy to feel lonely.  Now, it is impossible to be alone.

Not only that, the goal now seems to be to gain as much self-exposure as possible, to be visible.  It seems that the number of friends we have on Facebook, and the number of hits on our blog directly leads to our self-esteem and our quality of self.  The irony is, the pseudo and the virtual are substituting the genuine and the authentic.

What does friendship mean when you have 532 “friends”?  How does it enhance my sense of closeness when my Facebook News Feed tells me that Sally Smith (whom I haven’t seen since high school, and wasn’t all that friendly with even then) ‘is making coffee and staring off into space’?

Deresiewicz notes that solitude used to be a desirable social value.  From religious sages to the Romantics like Wordsworth, solitude is the channel one hears the still, small voice of God, or heed the beckoning of Nature.  As modernism crept in,  the literati turned inward to find validation of self, like Woolf, Joyce, Proust.

Then came urbanization and suburbanization.  The generation that used to vegetate in front of the TV has given way to the child of the Internet, the networked self.  And we no longer believe in the solitary mind.

So what does it matter when we have lost the moments to be alone?  What have we lost?

First, the propensity for introspection, that examination of the self that the Puritans, and the Romantics, and the modernists (and Socrates, for that matter) placed at the center of spiritual life — of wisdom, of conduct.

Also, the urge to be instantly connected has bred a new generation of skippers and skimmers, replacing readers.

… five minutes on the same Web page is considered an eternity

No wonder we’re told to keep our blog posts short if we want to attract readership.

With the loss of the capacity for solitude, we’ve lost the ability to cultivate depth of self  and create independent thinking.  Emerson said that “Solitude is to genius the stern friend.”  Deresiewicz goes on to say:

…no real excellence, personal or social, artistic, philosophical, scientific or moral, can arise without solitude.

The irony is, the more we are connected with the virtual world out there, the less we are connected with ourselves inwardly.  But this is what’s valued nowadays, isn’t it, to be open, sociable, gregarious.  But to maintain a sense of authentic self, we may have to sacrifice popularity, to be not so polite:

Thoreau understood that securing one’s self-possession was worth a few wounded feelings.  He may have put his neighbors off, but at least he was sure of himself.

Those who would find solitude must not be afraid to stand alone.

Maybe this is one meaningful connection we should strive for: solitude, introspection, slow blogging, quality thinking, quality reading, quality writing, quality self.

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Click here to listen to the full interview.

Click here to read the article ‘The End of Solitude’ by William Deresiewicz.

Click here to read my review of Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together

Click here to read my post on Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own in which she explored the privilege of Solitude.

 

Slow Blogging and the Long Take

Recently, I’ve been mulling over the notion of slow blogging, a movement that is gradually gaining attention. I first read about it in a blog I frequent.  In her post entitled “Slow, Stefanie has drawn out the essence of what slow blogging is. It’s all about thinking through, reading and studying in depth, chewing and digesting, and finally putting something meaningful down in words. I don’t know who initiated the idea. It may have sprouted up from various bloggers, those who care about the quality of their writing, and the effects of their posts. I urge my readers to visit the Oxford University Press blog post on the subject, and the Slow Blog Manifesto.

Yes, a Slow Blog Manifesto, written by Todd Sieling dated back to September, 2006. But for some uncanny reasons, just as I was working on my draft of this very post, after I’ve linked the SBM to my draft, it has now been taken off the WWW.  Hope this is not an omen of things to come.  Fortunately, before its disappearance, I had the chance to read and mull over his words:

“Slow Blogging is a rejection of immediacy.  It is an affirmation that not all things worth reading are written quickly.”

(It’s back!  Todd Sieling has just re-posted his SBM. He has created a whole new site just for this.  Click here to go there.  You may want to read his comment at the end of this post. I’m just going to leave the following paragraph as is.)

But then, all is not lost.  Barbara Ganley’s BGBLOGGING is still standing.  Ganley had taught writing at Middlebury College in Vermont for some years until quiting her academic job in recent months and ventured into uncharted personal exploration.  She is an advocate of slow blogging, and related the idea to the term meditative blogging, way back in November 2006.  Here’s the link to that post.

After more than two years, the notion has finally reached Arti of Ripple Effects. As my blog name suggests, I thrive on hindsights and delayed resonance. I may not have immediate response to all that I come across, but for those ideas I find stimulating, I would delve into and mull over, research and read about them, sometimes for a long while, before I dare to put thoughts into words. I’m glad I have finally found a name for the kind of writing and thinking with which I feel most comfortable all along.

leaves-on-pavement-webpage2

And that is why I find a recent article in the November issue of ‘The Atlantic’ so disconcerting.  In his article entitled “Why I Blog”, Andrew Sullivan , the prominent political commentator and blogger, describes blogging as postmodern writing that thrives on its immediacy. By nature it is rash and temporal.

“It is the spontaneous expression of instant thought. As a blogger, you have to express yourself now, while your emotions roil, while your temper flares, while your humor lasts.”

What Sullivan is pronouncing is that you may have an instant platform accessible by all in the blogosphere, and with links authenticating your sources, but what you write is as ephemeral as your breath, as unreliable as your mood, and as momentary as your fleeting thoughts. Time is of the essence in the blogging world.

I can understand such a perspective may apply to political and news blogs, where bloggers’ views and comments are almost on a par with professional journalists, or where bloggers are journalists, such as Sullivan himself.

But I’d just like to remind Sullivan that there are also those of us for whom blogging is not about beating to the punch, or channeling rants and angsts, or climbing to a higher ranking and authority. What we write may seem like ramblings at times, but they are thoughts that have gone through regurgitation, pondering, and conscious self-censure. For the writing I read in some of the blogs I visit, their quality is not undermined by the self-publishing nature of blog writing.  Their message is no less important, their style no less eloquent, their impact no less powerful than many conventionally published materials.

pilings-in-astoria-slow-blogging

Around the same time, I came across the post on the long take in Brett McCracken’s blog The Search. Do click on the link there to read the whole essay when you are there.  The long take is a technique where a camera follows its subject for an extended period of time without cutting, capturing life in real time. Viewers looking for instant gratification and fast actions would often find the long take boring, incongruent to the normal pacing of a normal movie. But as blog writer and movie critic Brett McCracken reflects, the long take leads us to confront life in a real sense, in real time:

I go to movies to recapture time—that achingly pervasive burden that keeps us so unceasingly busy in our normal lives. In the movies, time is “free.” We need not worry about our own time; all that is required of us is that we cede our imagination to the screen, where time is footloose and fancy free, dancing to and fro in flashback, flashforward, slow-mo, still, etc.

voyage-du-ballon-rougeA vivid example is Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Flight of the Red Balloon which I reviewed in my last post.  Who would want to sit in a theatre to watch a balloon slowly drifting above the urbanscape, other than those who enjoy the grace of unhurried moments, those who consciously seek for poetics in the mundane, and those who take time to ponder the meaning conveyed by the filmmaker.

Slow blogging and the long take, two powerful ways to glean the indelible essence of life.

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