“There is no greater agony than an untold story inside you.”

((Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings))

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I had a crazy dream last night:  I was eaten up by a giant leather-bound book in a Hogwarts-like library.

Two interpretations surfaced over the course of the day.  Dame Margaret H. Willison thought it was a reminder about a “monstrously overdue library book,” while I wondered if perhaps my subconscious is telling me to start my novel already.

The thing is, I’ve never had an overdue charge on my library cards — so perhaps my subconscious is trying to get my started on my Giant Writing Project.

The thing is, in my family saying you can write is pretty much like saying you can breathe.  We all have our own unique way with words, but we can all write eloquently in the styles for which we have a knack. Add that to the inescapable fact that we are descended from the family of José Rizal – hero of the Philippines, father of nationalism in Southeast Asia, and the man who penned the novel that started the uprising against Spanish colonialism in the Philippines – and it’s probably easier to understand now why none of us has ever been able to actually write a book.

I mean, come on:  with that kind of legacy, you’re never quite up to snuff even if your magnum opus isn’t meant to be the catalyst to nation-wide insurrection.

In my furiously-scribbling family, I’m the free spirit narrator who’s trying to find the meaning in everyday occurrences (hence my tagline, “Chronicles of the Significant Human Experience”) because that’s where I believe the best stories lie.  I know there’s a novel somewhere inside me; I feel a twinge every once in a while that urges me to sit down and, as Derrick Jensen said:

“Tap a vein and let it bleed onto the page.”  

Considering the fact that Hemingway also shares a similar view on what a written work actually is (he’s the one who said that bit about how writing is just being able to bleed whilst seated at the typewriter, right?), it’s pretty easy to see that writing anything noteworthy is more complicated than knowing what words mean and how to string them together into a sentence.

Writing in order to capture something truly meaningful and significant is one thing, but writing in order to convince others that one’s perception is worth considering as truly meaningful and significant is a different beast altogether.

How do you write something that the world can relate to when you stand on the opposite side of so many boundaries?

How to you write a story that people will want to read when hardly anyone is even interested anymore in the real lives happening all around them outside of their iThings?

Hence, why I’ve been focusing on this blog lately more so than the novel I’ve been trying to write for years.  Truth might be stranger than fiction, but it is also immensely beautiful and always worth telling — and somewhere in all these lives I’m trying to share and connect, I’ll find the thread that will turn into the yarn of that blasted, elusive book hiding inside my soul.  And once I find it, I shall wrestle it into submission and give my blood to birng to life whatever characters it may cradle inside.

On integrating integrity when I write

About a year ago, I was asked if I would like to write a review of a particular film for the website of an independent cinema here in Montréal. It was a film that had the entire world talking after its premiere at one of the high-profile international film festivals, and this particular cinema just so happened to be one of the first and few in Canada set to screen it. Having my name under its review would have undoubtedly brought me a fair amount of my own publicity, and the potential for increased viewership was enormous.

After a brief consideration of the offer, I declined…but why?

Given the subject matter of the film, I felt that it crossed too many boundaries in all areas of my life.

Morally, the film went against many things in which I believe and by which I try to live my entire life. I was not ready to compromise fundamental beliefs of any kind for the sake of publicity and increased viewership, and am certain I never will be. My values, whether they come from my secular life or my spiritual one, are non-negotiable. The proposal arrived in my inbox only a few months after I reaffirmed to certain beliefs and values, and I felt that accepting it would be a hypocritical step backwards into a lifestyle I had only just resolved to put behind me.

Artistically, I am not yet at the point where I have enough clout to write whatever I want and get away with absolutely all of it. Writing a review for this particular film at this point in my writing career would have probably done more harm than good in the end for a few reasons. A positive review would have meant praising a film whose main attributes went against my aforementioned fundamental values, whereas a negative one would have meant compromising those values anyway to be able to write an actual opinion on the film in the first place.  In either case, none of my efforts would have produced something well-written because there would have been discordance between the writing and my actual perceptions.

Professionally, I still rely on a paycheque from not one but two high-profile industry leaders (one in finance, the other in technology) for my daily bread, and having my real name associated with this sort of thing would have been detrimental to my professional reputation. A person’s online presence can greatly impact their professional life, after all, and I am not in a position to lose either one of my jobs for the sake of an easier road to becoming a full-time writer.

It all boils down to writing with integrity. Whatever the craft requires you to write, I think doing true justice to the art of writing means adhering to your principles when you sit down to write, and not selling out your beliefs and values for the sake of becoming well-known. I have a passion for writing and I want to spend that passion on writing on subjects in which I truly believe and on subjects that I do not feel the need to hide from or justify to anyone in my life.  Of course I dream of becoming a known and acclaimed writer one day, and I am willing to put in the necessary efforts to get as close as I possibly can to achieving that dream. I may or may not ever be paid for my writing, but at least I will be secure in the knowledge that I never compromised my integrity to gain recognition and popularity.