An Artist's Date With Reading

I continue to be pleased with the last two pieces (on writing and on tea), and at the same time, a little disappointed as I read them back to myself today. They did not hold up as cohesive pieces either by themselves or as a part of this series. It set out in one direction and ended up quite somewhere else. But one of the decisions I took when I started this series was to allow each work to assume its own life, to let it decide for itself what ingredients would go into its making, how long to simmer and when it was done.

What still pleases me was the fact that they got me to write about two “paradoxical” things about my life as a writer. Strangely, neither of them have anything to do with tea. I am referring to my poor publishing frequency and my absence of reading. Over the last several years, I have recommitted myself to writing, and we have slowly been blessed with a network of fellow writers. This blessing has resulted in the recognition of a few contrasts. Some of my fellow writers are terribly committed to what they believe in, much more than I am. I am happy shirking the call of writing much of the time. Most of them are extremely well read; I on the other hand have scant familiarity with contemporary writing, and it would not be entirely wrong to say that I tend to avoid it. I read what those who I trust recommend, and yes, I am often not disappointed.

Most of the writers I know frequent the company of fellow writers at conventions and literary gatherings. I, on the other hand, feel extremely out of place at such dos. I find them pretentious and self defeating. There goes any hope of being praised by my peers. The purpose of writing to me is to bring wholeness to the reader and to help him or her find the resources needed to take the leap, to make the change. This is a very personal belief, born out of how I felt reading Kafka or Dostoevsky, Celan or Brodsky and this is the belief that makes me give myself to writing.

Another aspect of my personal paradox, similar to my absent reading, is the fact that I hardly write. Yes, I do write on a regular basis, but much of what I write falls into two broad categories – writing that is written for a livelihood, and writing that is a commentary on what I see around me. Both of these are largely dictated by what readers (or buyers) want me to write. When I say I hardly write, I am referring to creative work that possesses you till it is written. I like to think of myself as a poet, something about that idea really presses my buttons, yet I have not written much that meets my expectations of poetry. To be a little less vague, I have not written much that meets anybody’s expectations of poetry. But then, I was talking about reading.

Is it possible for a writer to write without studying the work of the masters? Is it possible for a writer to be relevant to his or her times without studying the work of his peers? If I am cornered by these questions when I am with company or in a foul mood, my answer will be a loud no. It is essential for every writer who wants to be identified as a writer to sharpen his skills so that writing finds him or her worthy as a channel. This cannot be done without deep study of the craft. The problem lies in deciding who you study. With the masters, it is easy. Durability does the work for you. In that criterion too, hide risks. It is foolish to presume that because a particular writer is not in currency at a particular time, his craft is not worthy of study. Similarly, it is perhaps naïve to judge a writer merely by durability.

With contemporaries, the problem is even more complicated. We filter everything through our presuppositions. Our approvals and disapprovals are mostly dependent on our belief systems about what is acceptable and what is not. What is not very complicated though is the undeniable impact that great writing has on you. It helps if you are a voracious reader since it allows you to sample a larger portion of what is out there to read, and improves your chances of picking up larger helpings of greatness.

Added to these is the question of genre and styling. Exposing yourself to a wide variety of styles can help you find the place where you want to set your soapbox up. It lets you validate and refine your voice and your delivery. It opens up possibilities that you might not have considered otherwise.

If you were to ask me the same questions at another time, I would refuse to answer them. For me, the process of writing is a mystic communion with the spirit of humankind, the spirit of the universe, the spirit of evolution. It is a way to channel the intent of the eternal, to find ways to express that which defies expression, to open the door that leads to the innermost core of your being. For this to happen, the most important criterion is to annihilate the ego and place it at the disposal of what needs to be written. This is not easy since all writing is ultimately a subjective interpretation and presentation. It would appear that if that were the case, there is no need to study, or to sharpen the saw or to stay dressed and pressed. The paradox that began by being personal now broadens itself to the universal. In order to discern if you are a worthy vessel, it is important to know what you wish to be measured against.

This discernment, in my understanding, necessitates study and constant proximity to greatness. This study serves as insurance against the mundane and the mediocre.

Did Kabir study? Did the psalmists study? I do not know. I know that if I don't get off the keyboard and start studying right now, I am going to be flunking a couple of papers. Not nice.

In the series so far:
An Arist's Date With Self Doubt
An Arist's Date With Laziness
An Arist's Date With Great Good
An Artist's Date With Writing
An Artist's Date With Tea
An Artist's Date With Reading
An Artist's Date with Good 

1 comment:

  1. I think reading is important for writing. I read contemporary writers even the ones that suck. They teach you something. Reading is essential for good writing. When you mention writing based on observation, I personally love that writing. It is powerful, incisive and discerning. And I don't think it is dictated by what the reader wants. Ir that depends upon the objectives of your writing. About gatherings, I avoid them too only because I am not really a large group person. Have to catch up on more posts in this series.


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