Wednesday, May 04, 2005


The interesting thing about writing a blog (or a novel or a poem or a screenplay or a play) is that it forces you to look at the life around you as part of something bigger than itself, or even yourself; it enables you to view everday life through a lens that is not necessarily rose-coloured, no, but it can be, if you want it to be, and if you describe it that way.

I'm not saying that this is a good thing, a noble thing, or even a sane thing. Most people in life go THROUGH life with blinders on, which is not a value judgement or a criticism; if anything, it's almost a compliment, because to do the opposite, to see life as something worthy of a blog (or a novel, or a yada-yada-yada) is to somehow glorify and demean the human experience.

Glorify, because when (or if) you DO happen to slip on those rose-coloured glasses as you perch over your notebook, pen in hand, or slump over the keyboard in a carpal-tunnel tornado of typing, you can point out to others exactly what you find worthy about life. What you find worthy of mentioning, highlighting, stressing. Maybe it's the little kid who drops his ice-cream cone on the ground, looks at it, looks at his mum, and decides not to cry. That is heroism writ small, a lad learning how to not give in to the cruelty of gravity and the malicious whims of all those Emperors of Ice Creams. So you see it, write it down, and it brings a smile (or a sigh, or even a snort) from those who read it. You feel good about life, the reader feels good about life, and that kid, the instigator of it all, was left totally out of the loop, unaware of the charm he unwittingly inspired and inflicted.

Oh, but there's also something demeaning about the whole thing, the whole charade of words-on-paper, and it's hard for me to put my finger on why writing about anything at all is sometimes unseemly and rank. (That's code for: I'm stuck, damnit.)

Perhaps it has something to do with the essential arbirtrariness of words in the first place. Living in Japan, trying to learn Japanese, I learned a number of valuable lessons, one of which was: Words are human constructs. Sounds simple, right? (Nobody ever accused me of being a rocket scientist.) But we tend to forget that. We tend to think that all of our human experiences, all our emotions and impulses, can be summed up by a combination of twenty-six letters arranged just so. It's only when you experience one kind of feeling, and then find yourself unable to express what you're feeling in another language, that you slowly start to realize: Hey, we can FEEL stuff and yet not know how to articulate it!

Or maybe it has something to do with the immensity and density of the unknown, whether that unknown is the legacy of genocide or the Khmer word for 'toothpaste'. The human and cosmic are continually intertwined, and the best we have to offer is our weak and futile words, hoping that the sounds that are emitted from our lips and the code that emerges from our typing (or scribbling fingers) contextualizes that unknown in a way that makes sense. In a way that approximates reality.

The best writing reminds us who we are and what we are capable of doing. (The great and the horrific.) The worst writing is untrue, meaning, it does reality a disservice. It boils life down to truisms and caricatures. It simplifies the human heart and the water in the river.

I guess, though, stuck with our language, at home with our language, we don't have much of a choice, do we?

We use the words as best as we can, then exit -- putting down the pen, turning off the computer. And then there's nothing left to do, if we're lucky, but to watch the sunset, notice its redness, and wish that we had within us the means to somehow capture and express accurately and majestically its fullness, its mystery.

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