Sunday, October 14, 2018

A Lovely Poem by Voltaire

While reading a volume of The Story of Civilization by Durant, I’ve spent the last week reading about the life of Voltaire. I came across a lovely poem he wrote to his best friend Lefèvre de Genonville, and Voltaire’s mistress Suzanne de Livry, who fell into each other’s arms shortly after Voltaire was imprisoned in the Bastille. As you can see, he was quite willing to forgive.

He remembers you, and the lovely Egeria (Suzanne), 
In the fair days of our life, 
When we loved one another, all three. 
Reason, folly, love, the enchantment of tender errors, 
All bound our three hearts in one.
How happy we were then!
Even poverty, that sad companion of happy days, 
Could not poison the stream of our joy. 
Young, gay, content, without care, 
Without a thought for the future, 
Limiting all our desires to our present delights—
What need had we of useless abundance?
We had something far greater; we had happiness. 





Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Volume vs. Quality

Several days ago I exchanged emails with a writer I both like and admire. He talked about a fellow writer who he claims told him, “I’m not interesting in improving my craft. I’m only interested in churning out stories.”

This statement has stuck in my head, nagging me to the point of being annoying. I’ve read three novels from the writer who made that statement, and I feel there is ample room for improvement, even if he doesn’t. I felt after finishing each of his stories that they were creative and engaging, yet somewhat disappointing. I felt that had the author spent another four or five months refining the plot and the story structure, and polishing the prose, they would have been awesome reads, rather than being merely entertaining ones.

Please don’t mistake my meaning; I’m not suggesting that I am a better writer. I have my own issues I struggle with. And I’m sure that he sells many more books than I do. What I’m suggesting is that writing, for me, is a craft where one is always striving for perfection, always experimenting and learning more, delving deeper into the human experience and finding fresh ways to express ideas. Writing, for me, is like tennis. Even the top players spend more time on the practice courts than they do playing opponents. They never stop trying to improve.

Admittedly, this philosophy of striving for purity rather than merely for more carries into every aspect of my life. It’s an attitude I’ve learned through thirty years of practicing Buddhism. I am constantly trying to refine whatever I’m doing, and I find great pleasure in that. I look at life as art that is never finished, never perfect. 

It’s often a downer never quite being satisfied with one’s work. It is enough compensation, however, when I look at the body of my work, and realize that I’m slowly improving my craft. That, to me, is the most important goal.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Dharma of Writing

This cartoon may not seem all that funny, but it is a lesson I need to keep reminding myself of, so I keep in on my desktop.

You see, when I started writing, it was all about me. I wanted to be a good writer. Then I became really egocentric and wanted to be a great writer. It took a few years before my Buddhist training kicked in and I understood my error.

Writing stories is not about me becoming anything! It is about crafting the best stories possible. The focus is on the stories, the characters, and the craft of writing. The focus is on the day-to-day process of creating, which becomes a form of meditation.

That process, that meditation, is not about becoming a better, wiser, holier person. It’s not about becoming anything. It is all about the joy in experiencing the process.

So every once in a while I need a little nudge to help me focus on simply writing stories, without worrying about how good I am.

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Desiderata by Max Erhmann

These words have given me great inner strength and peace since the first time I read them. Now, more than thirty years later, they still resonate with me for their simple meaning yet profound message which they deliver.

 Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.


Strive to be happy.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Was Einstein a Buddhist?





Albert Einstein said:

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.

This idea of freeing ourselves from our limited self-point-of-view and embracing the whole of nature is the cornerstone of Buddhism, at least as I understand it.

Buddhism teaches that if we observe the law of karma and awaken in ourselves the good heart of love and compassion for all things living, if we purify our mindstream and gradually awaken the wisdom of the nature of our mind through this compassion, then we can become a truly human being which is connected to all that is, and ultimately become enlightened.

Thank you for your insights, Albert.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

★★★★★ Author Edward C. Patterson reviews Surviving Immortality

Surviving Immortality by Alan Chin
Edward C. Patterson, Reviewer

★★★★★
Powerfully fast-moving with now-relevancy
I know I can rely on a good read whenever I open a book by Alan Chin; and Surviving Immortalityis no exception, except it isexceptional. With a believable spark, Mr. Chin presents us with a world devouring itself when promise has given it its greatest loss for hope. All the inchoate faults of humanity, ready today to strike our civilization to the core, leeches out when confronted by a mind shattering development and a simple, lethal condition. Surviving Immortality is masterfully rendered into a work long lingering after the last pages.
The characters are complex, each with their own demon, but honest to their convictions; so much so, there are no heroes, and those who appear villainous can be redeemed by their good intentions. The main thread of the story his told through Matt Reece’s point of view, although all the characters get their turn; but it is Matt’s intense purity, a purity despoiled by circumstances, which unfolds like a night flower in moonlight. Alan Chin crafts an action adventure and psychological political philosophical tale, if there could be such a genre, keeping the pages turning until those pages disappear and time is lost. The elements in the work, and those effecting Matt Reece, are all about us today just waiting for the spark to ignite them. Mr. Chin strikes that spark.
I am a fan of Alan Chin’s other works, but this one combines all the signature touches of them all — ranch life, storms at sea, tropical islands, police procedural, Buddhism, sexuality and a lust for travel. He even includes doffs to his latest wanderlust — Machu Picchu. The world he presents is hisworld as much as ourworld. The arguments are current ones, and I’ll not spoil your read by mentioning them, but whatever opinions you have on those topics, Surviving Immortalitywill not fail to engage you, even if you wind up talking to your night light at midnight in bed. 
Needless to say (but I will say it), I highly recommend this book if you enjoy a powerful fast-moving work with now-relevancy from a major author who contributes to our contemporary literary legacy.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Gay Authors/Books that Inspire Me: Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

In autumn 1943, the unnamed narrator (a gay writer, so we assume it’s Capote himself) befriends Holly Golightly. The two are tenants in a brownstone apartment in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Holly (age 18–19) is a country girl turned New York café society girl. As such, she has no job and lives by socializing with wealthy men, who take her to clubs and restaurants, and give her money and expensive presents; she hopes to marry one of them. According to Capote, Golightly is not a prostitute but an "American geisha”. 

Holly likes to shock people with carefully selected tidbits from her personal life or her outspoken viewpoints on various topics (patterned after Christopher Isherwood’s Sally Bowles in The Berlin Stories). Over the course of a year, she slowly reveals herself to the narrator, who finds himself fascinated by her curious lifestyle.

No writer creates more interesting characters than Capote. He strikes the notes between quirky, uncommon people and their actions and simple touching stories. His characters aren't quite lovable (not people you would want to invite over to dinner with the folks) but they are nevertheless very human and often touching, not off-putting. Breakfast At Tiffany's is much grittier than the rather sanitized Audrey Hepburn-George Peppard film version.