Sunday Lifestyle

On becoming a mountain


As a writer of a weekly column, I often like to flatter or delude myself by fancying that my readers and I have a special thing going — that they eagerly await what I write and avidly devour my writing. The “fancy” is of course, mostly self-flattery, and I admit that it can be self-delusion. I say this because while it is true that people do read me (and that is quite a thrill), there is the temptation to exaggerate on how many people do, and how much I actually affect my readers with what I write.

I have to congratulate myself though with the fact that I have kept this column alive for more than three years without missing a single week.

While I have some loyal readers who comment regularly and positively, there are also a few who have read me, not to praise but to find something wrong with what I have written. They like to point out the chinks in my armor. They sometimes like to tear up whatever I’ve put down and cut me down to size. If I could compare the situation to a Western, they are those who look at me as the guy to size up and test how fast I can draw my gun. They want to pick a fight and see how fast or “real” I really am. I’ve pretty much learned to live with the idea that I cannot please everyone, and though their comments may be painful at times, I have learned a thing or two from them.

Every Monday, my writing day, I feel like the girl in the fairy tale who is imprisoned in the basement by the king with the royal order to spin gold. I must come up with something by the end of the day! Often enough, Rumplestiltskin, the magical dwarf who saves the poor girl in the story, shows up and rescues me and I come out with something passable or engaging enough to see print.

But there are times when Rumplestiltskin does not come to turn my words to gold. Nor does the inspirational cavalry show up and I am totally left to my own devices. Time like these, I start by writing a paragraph, deleting it, writing another, and deleting it again. I rest a while and return to the laptop and do it all again about four more times and sometimes I still do not feel I’m on to something worthwhile.

But I am getting better at dealing with this situation. The trick is not to give up easily. Continue writing, and do not judge your work harshly. Just plod along till you detect a flow and get into it and what it wants to say. To allow the critic within you to reign over the process and “correct” yourself while you coax the muse to reveal herself can only produce disastrous results. When you allow your inner critic to take control at this early stage, writing the first draft becomes impossibly hard. Before you know it, you are paralyzed with writer’s block.

You have to make it as simple and as effortless as possible — as easy as, say, breathing. Write without thinking too much or passing judgment. Don’t think of your reading audience, or your spelling, grammar, syntax, etc. All those can be corrected later. Just follow the flow of where you want to go. In other words, just write! What can be simpler?

Strangely enough, I hardly encounter this problem of the critic taking over when I am engaged in songwriting. For one, 90 percent of the time, I do not have a deadline when I write songs. I write when I write, as I write even without a project or a deadline. But even in those few times when I have a deadline, I hardly fret about what I will come up with. I can always deliver something decent in this creative arena. Why? Because I have always done it. Somehow, I have access to the creative faucet that controls the flow and I can turn it on and off at will.

Songwriting to me, is quite easy, and far more intuitive than writing a column. There is less discipline and reasoning. All one has to do is catch the “feeling” or the emotive wave and there’s a song, right there! With just a little polish, it is good enough to record. My confidence comes from my belief that when I stare at my guitar or piano I know there is a song somewhere there just waiting to be composed.

I often wonder how the creative process unfolds with painters or sculptors. The blank canvas can surely beckon a painter to draw something, anything, as a slab of marble can engage a sculptor to visualize a work. When asked how he carved the “Pieta,” Michaelangelo supposedly said that the “Pieta” was already inside the stone. He merely had to liberate it.

What a wonderful statement! Surely, he could have liberated a thousand other statues in place of the “Pieta.” He could have sculpted horses, a beautiful maiden, or whatever else he felt like. But his intention was so focused and unconditional —that is, the belief in and clarity of his artistic vision and intention to carry it through. That was truly a statement of artistic faith!

When I am sure-footed about what I am doing, or when I am feeling quite centered in my life, I like to visualize that I am a mountain. This metaphor is especially applicable when I do my Zen sits.

There is something solid and immovable and sure about a mountain. Mountains are reference points for people who need direction. Nothing can be surer than knowing where one is in relation to a mountain.

But this artist has not always been sure of himself. In fact, it took me quite a while to accept the truth that I am an artist. It was a gradual realization through the years that started with my merely entertaining the possibility that I could be one.

The humility I felt in accepting myself as an artist was not a put-on, false modesty or anything like that. It was more of an expression of real doubt because I was very insecure about my own talents. When I looked around and saw colleagues who had degrees in music and who wrote wonderful songs, I felt small and insignificant. I feared that I could be a poseur! The few songs I created early in my career, though quite nice, according to some fans, were to me only products of chance. I was not really talented. I was merely lucky to have written a few good songs.

It took me quite a while to accept the possibility that I could actually be talented!

I sometimes ask myself if I was born an artist or if I developed into one. I don’t really know since at a certain point in high school, I considered being lawyer.

But now, at my late age, I am more sure than ever that I am an artist. That is something that will not change anymore through time, or whatever other circumstances happen in my life.

I have become a mountain.









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