To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.

Last night I came across some words on a post-it note.  After staring at them for a time, wondering why they were written there, where they had come from, I remembered it was the message in some little newspaper where the reader had to rearrange the words or some such thing.

Typing the words into google, I discovered that the quote is attributed to Lin Yutang.  Typing Lin Yutang into Wikipedia, I discovered that he was an acclaimed Chinese writer and inventor. The words?  “Society can exist only on the basis that there is some amount of polished lying and that no one say exactly what he thinks.”

They’re words that ring of truth but that also leave me with an uncomfortable, queasy feeling despite, or perhaps because of the truth they so often express.  Society as a whole is made up of a big bunch of liars: politicians, teachers, mothers, fathers, best friends, ourselves, heck, we even lie to ourselves – perhaps at times even more than we lie to others.  And as Yutang professes, it seems as if some of these lies are unnecessary, their polish saving us all from grim truths we couldn’t peacefully exist with.

Part of me wants to believe and hold to the ideal that truth is essential, is always the best choice.  Is that a noble belief or a childish, naive, blind one?  I’m really not sure.  But I think often, whether I like it or not I lean toward the latter options.  As a child these were called and understood as white lies . . . little untruths that don’t hurt anyone and perhaps help.

” . . . and that no one say exactly what he thinks.”  If I think a bride looks commonplace and unsuited for her dress, despite the fact that it’s supposed to be the day she is more lovely than ever before – should I say it when asked?  If I think, even further  that she shouldn’t be marrying the man she’s marrying and imagine she’ll regret it within the next year – should I say so? (These are clearly not of equal weight. Does it matter?) Would I want someone to tell me? – probably not.  But is that from fear that I’ll be hurt, or fear that they may be right and the desire to not have to deal with that truth?

Is the problem with not saying the truth or is it the fact that I have these thoughts in general – should I rather have the ability to see her for non-aesthetic beauty and her relationship for the potential it possibly could have underneath the dysfunction?  Should we tell the dying child that they are dying, and there’s most likely no reason, and nothing that can be done, and it’s unfair and sucks but that’s just life . . . if that’s the truth?  Which raises the question – who can really determine what truth is?  Maybe one person believes those words were the truth and another believes this dying child will have the opportunity to experience the tenderness of life and the beauty of recognizing one’s own mortality, the gift of being able to prepare for one’s own exit from this world and so is blessed.  Who’s to say whose truth is the truth?

These words remind me of lines from one of my favourite poems, features a decidedly pathetic yet intriguing, lovable, and insightful protagonist – T.S. Eliot‘s The Love Song of J. Alfred. Prufrock:

 

“And indeed there will be time . . .

There will be time, there will be time

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; . . .

Time for you and time for me,

And time yet for a hundred indecisions,

And a hundred visions and revisions,

Before the taking of a toast and tea.”

 

So often we prepare a face to meet the faces that we meet. . . so often that face is a lie, but if we prepare it enough it begins to feel like truth.  This post is an example of ‘a hundred indecisions’ of which I’m not sure any explicit choice can be made.

English: T. S. Eliot, photographed one Sunday ...

T. S. Eliot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dear readers, this has been unclear and undefined, but what are your thoughts?  Is truth above all?  Is it possible for there to be one truth? Do we need those polished lies. . . could society exist without them?  And are there times when preparing a face to meet the faces that we meet is the ‘right’ thing to do, even if it may not be the ‘truthful’ thing?

 

 

 

And here’s to The Pitch

A few days ago I posted about a pitch I was afraid to do, well, I’ve done it!  And I didn’t faint, and my leg didn’t thump like it was trying to outdo Bambi’s Thumper, and I only tripped over my words a time or two.

I didn’t get much feedback on the plot of my novel, there wasn’t really time. I got some feedback on my pitching ability – two things I could have done better, and I got just a glimpse of that dream outcome.  One publisher said he was interested – I’m not exactly sure what that means – he has my written pitch and C.V. so if I don’t here anything from him I’ll probably submit to the publishing house and another said specifically that she wanted to see it!  What I learned after is that I’ll have to go through the normal submission route for her publishing house, but she’ll tell the lady who handles the first rounds to look out for it and that she wants to see it – she’s one of the final round decision makers!  Pretty, pretty, pretty good. (Not sure why Larry David just popped into my mind – that hasn’t happened in months!) 

So, hurdle number one conquered – now time for hurdle number two!  The people who’ve been reading the first revised version of my manuscript and I both agree that the first few chapters of my novel are the weakest.  Unfortunately (but for good reason), submitting it to a publishing house means I only get to submit the first few chapters.  I’m hoping for some brilliant idea or burst of creative energy to turn it into something that will really grab the reader . . .

Oh, and remember how scared I was about making that pitch?  Well, not only did I conquer those fears and deliver to the best of my ability, it paid off – out of the 13-14 other pitches the three publishers all voted mine best pitch.  I was shocked . . . but pleased. 🙂

Now I just have to hope my pitching ability doesn’t surpass my novel writing ability!

A creative jog

Over a month ago I wrote a post that talked about the way some simple impression can be the spark to new creation.  It also talked about my seeming inability to let my creativity flow in new directions while trying to edit my novel.  Now that the editing is on pause while I await to hear from its first readers, I’ve been so busy with my paying work I’ve still not allowed myself to do the work I love.  I decided today I needed to awaken those muscles a bit.

The photo on that post was put there because when I saw it I thought – that should prompt something!  Here is what it prompted:

Sovann took a long drag of his cigarette.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw some tourists staring. ‘Screw them’.   He was only in this Monk’s garb because of family tradition . . . honour.  He tried to hold back a smirk.  Honour.  As the oldest son he had to fulfill his year’s sentence.  Sovann took another drag.  He cared nothing of honour.  He was putting his time in because if he didn’t his father promised to cut him out of the will.  Sovann had grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle.  Work was too pedestrian.  He noticed the water girls, pandering to those same tourists.  Scraggly, dirty little things walking around all day just trying to ‘make a buck’.  Not that he’d ever have to do such degrading work, even if his father did cut him off.  His family name, the education he’d been forced through would prevent that. The idea of being in some stupid office though, or working in a bank, made him cringe.  He was above that.  His time would be better served in other endeavours.  He smiled at the thought of the first thing he’d do when he got out of these garbs.  Ten more months . . . Sovann sighed.  It might as well be ten years, the first two had crawled by.  He took another long drag.  They were staring at him again.  He stifled a glare.  One of the wenches had just taken a photo.  He put out the cigarette and stood.  He tossed it in the river, grimacing at the woman and her child bathing in the garbage infested water.  How could people succumb to such filth?  He cast a sidelong glance back at the tourists.  They’d probably taken a picture of that too.  They came to his country looking for experience.  He bet they knew nothing of the true experience Cambodia had to offer.

Sovann passed a group of monk’s from his monastery.  He smiled peacefully and gave them a nod.  It’d be interesting to know many of them truly believed and how many, like him, wore a mask.  He’d believed once, when he first entered the monastery.  It’d been six months at that time, and they’d flown by.  He remembered the sweet peace he’d felt during prayer and meditation.  He was so young, so naïve. He shook his head at the memory of his 11 year old beliefs.  It was all a lie.  He knew the truth.  What was that saying?  The truth will set you free.  He wasn’t fully free yet but he would be soon.  He thought of Channary, of the world she’d introduced him to, of the exquisite delicacies his father’s money would provide.  Entering the shrine, he put his palms together and bowed before his teacher. Oh what he’d do with that freedom.

Journey within

If you’re like me, you often have somewhere in the back of your mind (and often in the front) the desire to grow, to be a better person, to improve upon the person you once were and become the person you want to be. Over the years, you can look back at yourself, your ways of thinking and doing and being and realize, yeah – okay, I’m doing better. I am better. I’ve ‘matured’.  It’s not often though (at least for me) that the realization that I’ve grown and am not entirely the person I once was smacks me in the face . . . the type of smack that brings a smile.

The other day I had one of these moments. A person I don’t know very well, but who I’ve had generally positive, friendly interactions with was suddenly not so friendly. I interacted with this person a few times throughout the day.  The first time I was a little shocked and perturbed at her seeming rudeness, her apathetic attitude. The second and third times I was hurt and a little miffed at her blatant rudeness. My natural reactions were to wonder what I could have done to offend her, and finding nothing, to be annoyed and give her an aloof and equally rude response. Within seconds though, before I had the chance to respond, another, newer thought came to me. Maybe her attitude and rudeness had nothing to do with me. Maybe I should stop having the automatic assumption that a person’s behaviour toward me is necessarily based on our interactions or that when negative, it gives me any right to fling the negative back toward him or her. Maybe . . . just maybe this person’s attitude was about something completely different and I was only the recipient of emotions she had not yet had the time to process or overcome.

This was a light bulb moment.  Rather than succumbing to insecurities and narcissism, rather than adhering to old patterns, I took a moment to try to see the world from someone else’s perspective.  In that realization, I realized I had also come a long way. The Charlene of 10 years ago, heck, the Charlene of three years ago probably wouldn’t have had that thought, or at least not fast enough to change my response in the moment.

Now the thought that hit me – this may have nothing to do with you, she may not even realize she’s directing this at you – could have been wrong.  I could have unwittingly annoyed her and she could have been intentionally trying to take it out on me. I could have been justified in feeling slighted, and hurt, and in colouring my future interactions with this person by the wariness and scornfulness I could have let it provoke in me.

It turns out the new thought was probably right. The next time I saw her she was pleasant and friendly and we had a great little chat.  But whether I had been right or wrong the point is that I took the time, before I spoke, before I acted to consider my actions in the world from a broader perspective. I displayed growth I hadn’t even fully realized I’d developed.

I guess this work on myself is paying off. Slowly but surely. I guess I’m not quite the child I once was.  Here’s to us all not being the children we once were.

To Pitch or Not To Pitch?

The question my post title asks isn’t much of a question anymore.  I’ve signed up for Halifax’s Pitch the Publisher at The Word on the Street . . . and I’m scared.  Basically how this works is that each ‘pitcher’ pitches in front of a panel of three publishers and an audience (I wasn’t aware of the audience until after I signed up).

Our pitches should answer:  What is your idea for a book (Describe it in two sentences or less).  Why are you the right person to write this book? Why would people buy your book?

This must be answered in 2-3 minutes.  So yes, I’m scared.  So scared part of me wants to pull out.  How am I supposed to sum up a book I’ve spent 10 years (off and on) writing in two sentences, convincingly enough to make someone want to publish it?  What makes me the right person to tell this story besides the fact that I thought to tell it? – It certainly isn’t a story that represents my experience, as far as events are concerned.  And why would people buy my book?  Well, that one’s not so hard – because it’s about a person who’s struggling and lost and does her best to find her way back to a sense of self – a story all of us can relate to in some way.  So . . . all of this in 2-3 minutes!

I know I won’t pull out though, because nervousness aside and potential embarrassment aside if I stumble over my words and look like a crazy amateur compared to the other pitchers there are two main outcomes here, both of them good.  Dream outcome: one of the publishers loves my idea, reads my manuscript, and publishes one of my books.  Great outcome: none of the publishers are interested but I get some valuable feedback.  Even if the feedback is ‘this story isn’t worth publishing’, I’ll dig for the reasons why and either figure out how to adjust those reasons or figure out a different market, because I really do trust that it’s a story of worth.  Side outcome: I’ll have the experience of this experience, and of conquering fear and nervousness.

Has anyone reading this post ever done a similar pitch?  What was it like?  Do you have any suggestions or advice for me?

A peaceful memory I’ll try to take myself back to me when nervousness overwhelms me!

At such an age

I sat down to write today and felt like I had nothing but that I needed to write anyway, not just to try to meet a quota but because although I had a very positive and productive day I also had a very busy and draining day.  I read a couple blogs, looked at some notes I’d written down recently for inspiration but still, finding nothing, I decided to pull out my old quote book.  I flipped open to a random page and the second quote I read, written in pink fluorescent ink, brought a smile to my face and a certain energy to my mind.

Oh, to be alive at such an age when miracles are everywhere and every inch of common air throbs a tremendous prophecy of greater marvels yet to be.”

                                         – Walt Whitman

When I was a child I saw such wonder in the world – in nature, in words, in music, in people.  I find as I’ve grown so much of that wonder has ceased to be quite so . . . wonderful.  I’m sure that’s the case for many of us.  The thing is though, to an extent, it doesn’t have to be that way.  Yes, we may never quite capture that childlike innocence, excitement, and awe at the world that we once did but without a doubt we are still alive at such an age when miracles are everywhere.  If we take a moment, open our eyes – perhaps our hearts – and really look we can see that wonder in a budding plant, in the smile of a stranger, the amazing canvas we’ll see if we take a moment to actually look at the sky, or in the gentle touch of a loved one.  It may sound a little ‘hokey’ but I believe it to be true, and I believe that in taking those moments to marvel at the world around we’ll also be taking a moment to let go of or put aside, if only for a moment, those things that have stolen the childlike wonder we were born with.

The good, the bad, and the undefinable

Evil Monkey!

Evil Monkey! (Photo credit: sanofi2498)

I watched a movie last night, East of Edenthat largely dealt with the idea of people being either good or bad.  I’m sure it was partly the time period but it struck me as amusing, childish, and sad that the characters seemed to have such black and white ideas of goodness and badness as it relates to individuals.  There was one conversation in particular that really struck me.  The female lead, Abra, is talking to her fiance’s brother, Cal, who is the male lead.  She’s bemoaning the fact that her fiance sees her as decidedly good – she believes he has idolized and almost deified his believed to be dead mother and sees Abra as another representation of the angelic goodness he believes to represent his mother’s character.

 

As Abra is telling this to Cal (who has always been viewed as the ‘bad’ brother) she says that’s not who she is, that she’s actually bad.  She thinks bad things and does bad things and maybe she’s not all bad but she’s certainly also not all good.  She implies she’s more bad than good, certainly more bad than her fiance, and that some of this badness is of a sexual nature that her fiance won’t let her express until marriage. She’s very curious about  what Cal does with the ‘type’ of girls he’s seen around with and makes her attraction for him very known – resulting in her cheating on her fiance by kissing Cal.

 

Cal fully identifies with the ‘bad’ he believes to define him.  When he finds his mother is not dead but the owner of a bawdy house that seems to be his justification for being bad, although he fights against this at times by trying to do good in ways his religiously zealous father views as misguided, if not downright sinful.

 

As I was watching I couldn’t help but see the way of thinking I held as a child.  Probably partly due to my religious upbringing I saw actions and people as either good or bad.  If I witnessed someone do something bad  – and I mean really bad, like engage in some form of sexual promiscuity, steal, swear regularly, etc. then that person was bad.  I could accept that there was some leeway for the type of ‘sins’ I committed – disobeying my parents occasionally, gossiping, being rude to my brothers.  But for any of the big sins mentioned, and then the ones even bigger – murder, rape, etc. there was no leeway.  If a person did any of those things that was that – they were bad.

 

For example, I remember sitting in church one day beside an older girl in our congregation – one I admired and loved.  Her boyfriend from college was with her and horror upon horrors I looked over and saw he had his hand rested on her upper thigh.  Automatically I disliked him; he was clearly bad and I was shocked and disappointed in this girl – though I at least gave her the benefit of the doubt that she had been manipulated in some way and wasn’t actually okay with this action – she couldn’t be, from what I knew she was good.

 

I was probably around 9 or 11 when I stopped thinking this way.  I don’t remember what it was specifically, but I know it was some specific event that initiated a paradigm shift. I came to understand that when it comes to goodness and badness with people and actions there is very little black and white – most of it is grey.  A man who steals and murders may be performing ‘bad’ acts but there may be reasons behind those acts that are good (or that he at least believes to be good) – maybe he steals to provide food for his family, maybe he murders to prevent someone else’s murder.  It doesn’t justify the act but it makes some small difference.  To take it further, I realized that a person who perhaps is horribly evil in some ways – a rapist, a terrorist, perhaps even someone like Hitler – is also capable of good and love.  That rapist may treat his mother with more kindness and love than I ever would.  That terrorist may love and nurture his daughter and make incredible sacrifices for her.

 

Unfortunately, as I’ve grown and learned and developed and witnessed this new understanding in action I’ve also encountered far too many adults who seem incapable of seeing things this way.  Like the young adults in the movie they are unable to see people for the complexities that are within them.  They make snap judgments based on a person’s actions without taking the time or the consideration to understand the reasoning behind those actions.  The scary thing about that is when we act that way we erase the possibility of seeing a person for the potential they hold within them.  If no one sees a particular ‘bad’ person that way (or if not enough people see their potential for good) it is very unlikely that they will ever strive to let go of the ‘bad’ and try to live a better life, which will only perpetuate negative and society harming acts.

 

Take it from another angle, and people who hold this view are also very likely incapable of adjusting their definitions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and so judge everyone by their own views of morality.  I don’t have any definitive answers on moral law and what is or isn’t truly ‘sinful’ but I do believe that a lot of what many people hold to be sinful may be just their opinion – and holding that opinion without taking the time to truly contemplate the truthfulness of it may be damaging both to themselves and to the people around them.

 

My nine year old self thought that young man’s action of placing his hand on his girlfriend’s thigh was sinful, depraved, bad.  My 27 year old self does not think that, and knows there could be many reasons behind that action – perhaps it was a sexual act, perhaps it was a motion of affection, perhaps a motion of comfort or affirmation, perhaps a combination. Perhaps it was none of my business and something I had no need or right to be concerned about.

 

Whatever the answer, I am thankful that I have let go of such childish thinking, I hope you have too, and I hope we both strive to encourage those who still think that way, regardless of their age, to reconsider.