I met up with Y Ban and her translator yesterday. She commented that my work was good and could get published here, and that what I wrote would have me thrown in jail 30 years ago (lol)! She also offered to get Vixen translated for $3000 US which upon consideration I don’t think it’s worth it unless I get a grant to do so. We had an interesting conversation about ghosts, she said that ghosts are living with us every day in Vietnam and that writers have too much freedom and not enough experience nowadays! I also went to a lecture by Huu Ngoc the author of “Wandering through Vietnamese Culture”. It was very interesting and entertaining- though the Americans in the audience asked some really grating questions.
Last night had a meditation on anger and a reading about anger from Thay’s book the Heart of the Buddha’s teaching. It made me realise that I can transform the anger I have towards the government and towards some situations that men create into something else- and it needn’t be a barrier to me practising psychology. Anger does cause suffering and to act out of anger sometimes just waters the anger further. Taking responsibility for your anger though a hard thing maybe a necessary thing.
Last night went to Highway 4 and ate crickets! They were barbequed and were crunchy and nutty. We also had samplers of fruit rice wine in apricot cranberry passionfruit and apple which was gorgeous. Talked to Cynthia whom is an accomplished networker whom ran into me at the Bookworm- we did Vietnamese classes together in Australia.
Today had a talk with Huu Ngoc the author of Wandering through Vietnamese Culture. He was doing a lecture on Vietnamese culture and was very entertaining.
I’ve been thinking about the Vietnamese Southern flag (yellow with three red stripes) and its use at home. At Vietnamese festivals you will see it displayed, and the Vietnamese Community Association has it in its emblem. It’s being used as a symbol of resistance against the Communists- however it is problematic in that Diem’s regime in the South was oppressive as well. Buddhists immolated themselves in order to protest against his oppression of the religion. I acknowledge that many Southern people fought, suffered and died for that flag. But soon it might be time to find another symbol to identify with- like the Australian flag it has problematic connatations and can be divisive. Something to think about anyway.
Just read an interview with Yann Martel author of Life of Pi and a series of notes he has written for his next novel. It is very revealing about his process for writing. He says that art takes from life and gives it meaning- which I agree with. He does a lot of research for his novels and explores concepts which fascinate him. It took him four years to write Life of Pi (which I love!). You can find the notes and his interview with a collection called “the notebooks”. With my own process I’m still trying to work this out. With Vixen I discovered her character first- then put her in history as a backdrop. With my short stories I write by concept- things that fascinate me that i want to explore. I am trying to build a new novel and at the moment I have the characters but not the narrattive framework to put them in. It will come- I have faith if they want their stories told in a certain way they will let me know.
I have been spending some time reading Buddhist texts and other writings such as Thomas Moore’s original self. It has reminded me to try and stay in touch with my dreams- of which I remember many. My time at the sangha too has deepened me and I have come to realise that writing and Buddhism are life time occupations and it doesn’t matter if it takes me a while to actualise any of it. I have the feeling that what I’m experiencing in Vietnam is planting the seeds for more work to come when I’m back in Australia- and that’s a nice feeling.
I have read a discussion about Shantaram on the Sassparilla website- a literary site based in Australia and they talk about the noisy novel as opposed to the quiet novel where it is all in the character’s heads and nothing much happens. The person whom posted it said the quiet novel is going out of fashion- which I disagree with. There is an audience for both of these kinds of novels and the person whom can marry both styles together is a genius. Carpentaria by Alexis Wright is a fantastic example of someone whom does both.
I’m taking a break from the 50 verses of consciousness and reading Thomas Moore’s Original Self. There are some zen like moments in his writing- however he thinks (and I paraphrase) that living in the present moment solely denies links to the past and the future. I think he misunderstands the emphasis on trying to live in the present moment in Pureland Buddhism- I think there is an understanding in Thay’s Buddhism that living mindfully in the present moment is difficult to achieve. It is a moment in time when mind consciousness stops for a little while. Many practices such as Touching the Earth leads you to meditate on the past and the future. I’ve been talking to a friend Doug who said that his Japanese masters told him not to expect anything from meditation and you don’t meditate to get results. Thay says meditation leads to greater mindfulness and helps cultivate compassion. However meditation relies on you to let whatever is in your mind come to the surface and if you force this it won’t happen. At least this is how I explain the differences between these two. What I am really appreciating from the practice at the moment is learning to smile at your emotions. This is what I think is missing from Western psychology theories- the ability to smile and be compassionate to yourself and then to others.
Read more Ursula Le Guin wisdom from an interview on her website. She talks about letting stories grow and gestate, something that I am learning to do organically. In my short stories I need to know what is going to happen in order to sculpt and structure the story. I have yet to master organically writing the novel- I try to plot and plan- the one manuscript I have that grew organically doesn’t have an ending! Opening spaces in my stories to expand them is something that I need to do- in order to get a manuscript to be a commercially viable size. I find it comforting reading that even a mistress like Le Guin has 7 or 8 false starts before settling into a first draft. She also says that isolating yourself from life to write is rubbish- which I agree with. After reading Shantaram I want to write a fantasy epic again, and I have chosen a few characters that keep popping up in my short stories to start with. The effect of Buddhism on my writing process is something I have yet to explore- I like the idea of writing mindfully and once you are in flow while you are writing it’s hard not to compare it to the meditative state.
I am finding that doing the practice has made me more aware of my emotions and I feel them more acutely than I have in a while. These range from frustration to joy that I am in Hanoi (so it’s not all bad!) I’m going to go to Saigon and follow Thich Nhat Hanh around for a while in late February- my understanding husband has supported me in doing this. I’m reading “transformation at the base” now a very dense book about the fifty verses of the nature of consciousness. It’s pretty complex but comforting to read especially when you’re feeling sad.
This morning went to the women’s museum which had a temporary exhibition when it was renovating- called Memory of Time. It had objects and pictures from 1945-1975 showing women’s contribution to the war. It moved me more than the military museum did, there were pictures of survivors of torture, women in the cages they used as jails, Buddhists on hunger strike and items such as mirrors and baskets used to smuggle documents in. I read Tim O’Brien’s story “How to write a true war story” and he says if there is a moral it is not a true war story. I think that is so true. He said that war stories highlight the brilliance of life or some such- I think. I think he means it highlights the good things about life and peace. Or that’s what I choose it to mean. I want to write a story about the woman who pretends to be mad to smuggle documents for the National Liberation Front- I’ve written a short version but I’ll write a longer one when I’m not feeling so sad.
Went out for dinner last night with an american academic Doug whom teaches at Hanoi University whom had read Vixen and met me at a bookworm gallery launch. He has met Tim O’Brien the author of “the things they carried” and Tim O’Brien said (and I paraphrase very badly) that there are two kinds of reality, historical reality and story reality. The fiction author is able to condense reality and display it. His story “How to write a true war story” apparently depicts this- I haven’t read it yet. Doug is teaching American politics and geopolitical environmentalism or some such and his gut feeling is that Vietnam is very open. Hanoi University is training their students to be ready for graduate schools overseas. He commented however that there is racism towards ethnic minorities the area he wishes to study. He also promoted my book to some Vietnamese-American academics that came over from California too! He also loves ghost stories and we discussed mental illness too- and I mentioned that one of the things I explore is that grey area between the spiritual and the psychotic. Been doing a lot of writing ensconced in the Bookworm bookshop and reading short stories and books that Rob has been recommending to me.