Saturday, June 6, 2015

Be Inspired

These days when the adults get together, it  appears to be a norm that children  are kept occupied with a smart phone or an iPad or a Samsung galaxy notebook. A nineteen year old whom I am acquainted with tells us how he has seen a toddler  sitting inside a pram holding up an iPad ( presumably an iPad mini). When they were toddlers, I used to give my daughters cloth books that were washable,  picture books, simple jigsaw puzzles or some children’s toys to keep them occupied. That was two decades ago. These days, games are available on apps and there are ample of them. A colleague  laments that he has three young kids and he has to get not just one iPad. Imagine having to contain your kids with electronic devices even if you are not keeping up with the Joneses and you have to be realistic about instagram, facebook, twitter, pinterest, wechat as they are all part of the technology evolution. The  virtual world is expanding its horizon at a fast pace. The way people interact with one another and disseminate information are very much dependent upon social medias and because we are all social beings, etiquettes  that might have not been acceptable may now be part of the changing social culture.

For me, I cannot imagine myself playing candy crush and the likes as I need all the minutes and hours to read and pursuing my passion in writing. I loved to write as a child. When I was in primary school, I  listed “ writer”作家 (Zuòjiā) as what I wanted to be when we were asked to write  Chinese essays with topics like“ What would you like to do when you grow up?”. I probably had  no inkling what the job would entail and very faint idea about what it had meant to be a 作家 (Zuòjiā). As an adolescent. I had always been interested in writing, dramas and films but I have chosen law as my career path as I was being practical. Decades later, I am ambivalent about whether I had made the right decision. I feel that competence, confidence and assertiveness may be the personality traits that are ascribed to a good lawyer, to be a great lawyer is another thing altogether. I only wish that I had Ann Patchett’s conviction and resolve when I was in my 20s. She knew that she wanted to be a writer since she was six years old. 

Ann Patchett wrote in her memoir THIS IS THE STORY OF A HAPPY MARRIAGE,
If I was twelve that Christmas Eve, I already knew I wanted to be a writer. That knowledge goes back as early as six, as early as the start of school and maybe even before that.  I may at times forget the details of my life  but I remember the stories I read. ….

Patchett writes with such passion and honesty. I thoroughly enjoy reading the essays collection in THIS IS THE STORY OF A HAPPY MARRIAGE.

In her essay entitled “ On Responsibility” , Ann Patchett wrote :
“ I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE for much. I do not have children who have to get to school on time and wear matching shoes and be taught the difference between right and wrong. I do not have a job in which the well being of a company or the safety of the nation or the health of anyone at all is resting on my shoulders. I have a couple of plants. I must remember to water. I make a point of paying my taxes on time. I take care of myself, but that’s not worth mentioning. I pitch in and help other people when I can, but they are people who could find the same help elsewhere if I went on vacation. When I think of whom I am responsible for, truly responsible for, I can whittle the list down to my dog and my grandmother, and it just so happens that last week they were both sick.    

The essay entitled “The Mercies” reminds me of the first two  years of my secondary school when I was taught by Sister Stephen and Sister Gertrude at the convent I attended. Sister Stephen was the principal of the school and due to her love for music, she arranged for a choral teacher and a violin teacher for our class. I remember Sister Gertrude as being gentle, genteel and  soft spoken. My best friend in school then became a Catholic and she grew very close to Sister Gertrude. For some reasons, I am a Buddhist and agnostic and have always been. Although I was a vanguard and used to be able to recite  Hail Mary and Our Father very well at school,  I never got round to knowing much about the nuns.

Ann wrote :
When I was a girl in Catholic school I was open to the idea of being a nun, a mother, a wife , but whenever I closed my eyes and listened (and there was plenty of time for listening – in  chapel, in math class, in basketball games-we were told the news could come at any time) the voice I heard was consistent: Be a writer. It didn’t matter that “writer” had never been listed as one of our options. I knew that for me this was the truth, and to that end I found the nuns to be invaluable examples. I was , after all, educated by a group of women who had in essence jumped ship, ignored the strongest warnings of their fathers and brothers in order to follow their own clear direction. They were working women who had given every aspect of their lives over to their belief, as I intended to give my life over to my belief.  The nuns’ existence was not so far from the kind of singular life I imagined for myself, even if God wasn’t the object of my devotion. 

How she met her husband Karl and live happily after is a sweet story she shares.  She also tells the story about how she started a bookstore with her partner when Borders were closing down . Maybe the book shop is working because she is an author and because her partner, Karen works like life depends on the bookstore or simply because they just got lucky.  Whatever the reasons are, Ann Patchett has the right attitude.

But my luck has made me believe that changing the course of the corporate world is possible. Amazon doesn’t get to make all the decision; the people can make them by how and where they spend their money. If what a bookstore offers matters to you , then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read the book. This is how we change the world: we grab hold of it. We change ourselves.

Kudos to Ann Patchett who is  fully committed to the art and craft of writing, books and the dog and people who matter to her. And thanks to writers and avid readers throughout the world, books and reading are very much alive.

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