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SAATA ITAA Conference-2016 team
A Ranty Soliloquy on Writing! - C. Suriyaprakash home
Karen-Pratt C. Suriyaprakash, PhD, TSTA(O) is trustee and secretary of SAATA and past-president of the ITAA. He is professor of organizational behavior at Jansons School of Business and director-facilitator at Relations institute of Development. This is his first public rant, on any topic under the sun, in his 50 years of existence. He can be reached at suriya.sunshine@gmail.com.

Disclaimer: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article (including this disclaimer) belong solely to the personal realm of the author and do not in any manner reflect his views, thoughts and opinions in his professional, organisational or any other roles, nor the official or unofficial policy or position of SAATA.

I often get requests from the editors of Newsletters and journals to write. I invariably agree partly because I have this big 'Please People' driver and partly because I wanted to prove to myself (and a little bit to others too) that I too can write. After all, how can I make an impact on the world and sustain the grand impression I've created in the minds of others if I don't write! And then I experience that familiar chill in the pit of my stomach. Or is it a pull or may be a churn or is it simple indigestion I wonder! I wish to believe that anyone who has ever written in their life would have experienced or continue to experience, a combination of these, in their life. The chill symbolizes the agony I go through every time I take up something to write – be it a research paper or a journal or a felicitation note or a students' newsletter or a simple 'thank you' message. Every time after saying 'Yes,' I ask myself, 'why do I subject myself to this torture?' and I've not found an answer yet. In fact I ask the same question every time after I complete an arduous trek! However, I ask this 'before' the writing and not after. And does that make it any better? Definitely not!

Humankind's greatest mistake!
People celebrate writing as an art. We are taught to write even before the child's fingers are grown enough to hold a pencil steadily. There is such a premium attached to writing that we insist a play school kid writes legibly, even if it cripples its natural growth – physically and mentally. As we grow, we have exams, essay competitions, literary prizes, and awards and to top it all, there is this Sahitya Academy, Booker, Pulitzers, and even the Oscars for best story and screenplay, as if there's nothing worthy in life other than writing. All this makes people believe I am nobody if I am not writing, and worse if you are in the academia, and not publishing.

Is writing coded in our DNA? Does it come naturally to us humans? I doubt it, but that's what the 'system' wants us to believe. All my attempts at swimming have been fruitless till date, yet I watch National Geographic and Discovery Channel showing that babies thrown in water swim naturally without being taught. Here I am struggling to swim even after enrolling in swimming classes, not once or twice but three times! And yet, I'm to believe that swimming is second nature to humans. And the whole system we have built around us keeps screaming that 'you're OK, only if you write!' Thank God, not 'only if you swim!'

When I look back in history, all human problems arose due to writing. Until Hamurabi and Moses wrote the codes, people were free and did not have to suffer 'an eye for an eye'. Stones were spared only for construction of purposeful abodes. Once writing was invented, (note, nobody discovered writing) stones were cut for writing. It's not better in modern days, either. Instead of stones, we cut trees for the sake of writing. Chinese's invention of gun powder seems to have done less damage to human psyche than their papyrus.

Has writing done any good to, let alone humankind, individuals? I doubt it. I know of many lovers who got caught because they preserved a small chit written by their beloved; a greeting card presented to them; or nowadays an SMS/WhatsApp message. They would have been spared if there was no writing. Children would not have to go through the pain of home work or exams. And teachers won't have to go through the misery of reading all those written (read as 'often copied') scripts. Yet, alas, here we are still struggling to find out the right exam pattern, fine tuning a fundamentally flawed affliction of humankind.

The obsession!
In spite of all the ills of writing, if it has survived the test of time, then there must be something purposeful in writing, if we go by Darwin's notion of survival of the fittest. Does fittest mean, good? I don't know. Anyway, I will give it the benefit of doubt and explore what could be the benefits of writing. It not only survived, but thrived and flourished to the point of we being obsessed with it so much that we no longer believe anything that is not written. People's 'word' has no honour, and we give ourselves a huge permission to not honour our own word, unless it is written and sealed. And even that, we honour out of fear and not out of integrity - another story for another day.

The age old oral tradition is at the verge of extinction, thanks to the colonialism of writing. Indians are very good at talking, speaking, orating, debating and arguing – all oral pursuits, you call it by any name. But that's not good enough anymore, except for the politicians and some teachers, may be. We should be able to write if we were to be taken up seriously. Even if one is writing-challenged one is made to believe that he or she is nobody unless they write.

Compounding the distress is the idea of copyright, which confines the right to write to a blessed few. I cannot write anything someone has already written without going through the pangs of rigorous referencing where I have to dot every i and cross every t. If I don't, then I'm accused of plagiarism, which would not have existed if only there was no writing.

Ancient Indian scriptures were not written originally for centuries together, may be even over a few millennia, and most do not even have a single author. Most of them are by one 'Vyasa', who if was a single man going by the name alone, should have lived through centuries. But we know that was not possible, let alone true. Yet those scriptures were preserved for so long, simply through oral rendition across generations. Once we started writing them, much of the bulk of them was lost and what we have now is only a fraction of the originals compiled by someone centuries later when they were written, I come to understand. What a shame! If only there was no writing! Sigh…

There is one more reason, why I think writing is crazy. When we think or speak we simply flow like waves in an ocean, dipping into the vast cosmic consciousness without leaving a trace, at least a physical trace. All it leaves is at times some emotional turmoil which can always be denied as an effect of the spoken word. But when we write, we concretize it and make that consciousness freeze and lose its sheen by giving it a static physical form. We carry it in our hands, bags, pockets, phones, laptops as if we own that piece of the universal wisdom. We imprison it in the cell of intellectual property rights, depriving the rest of humanity from thinking about it or expressing it again in that form. What would have been a fleeting moment in time and space is now captured as a binary (or is it hexadecimal nowadays? Whatever…) in the labyrinth of the Matrix. Aiyo… and it is not available any more for others to access freely.

I'm reminded of the weird feature in Harry Potter movies where a memory is captured through a tear drop in a vial and then made available for the exclusive access of only one or a few. A supreme blissful memory is forced into a tangible entity and exploited by the whims of a few. Writing does exactly that… well, more or less. It captures a special inexplicable or indescribable or… (see I'm grappling for the right words to express that sublime experience) even any mundane experience, and reduces it into a few words and seals it forever, for everyone who has access to it to revisit and see it as and when they wish and to exploit it to serve their self-interest. It's like capturing a wild animal into a zoo and displaying it for the visitors to watch. Is that real? Let alone ethical.

Needless to say, Mark would not have had to give that apology of a testimony if only written form of communication did not exist. Neither would we have the life enhancing social media megaliths like FB and WhatsApp. And of course Twitter, which feeds exclusively on written word... or more precisely on the writers of those written words.

The Dilemma!
Therefore, should I write or should I not? That's the voice of the chill in the pit of my stomach I started with. If I don't write, what do I have to lose? Apparently the advantages outweigh the loss. Most of all, if I don't write, I don't have to feel the chill. I will have more mind-space for other tasks of life. I won't have to lose sleep. I won't have to fear deadlines. I'll be a free-bird who can do whatever I want to with my time. Only loss will be a publication to my credit which means one entry less in my CV and some strokes from the handful who read my piece. Can I live with it… live without it, rather? I suppose so.

If I decide to write, I have to carry the idea for a long time in my mind. Sometimes it can even be for months. I sleep over it, sit on it, mull over it all through my waking time. Even when I go through the routines of life, it runs as the backdrop of a tapestry at the back of my mind, nonstop – when I eat, bathe, run, work – all the time. It engulfs my mind-space and grows like a foetus inside my being till it reaches a point where it has grown so big that I cannot hold it in me any longer and will 'have to' get it out. Just like this morning when I woke up 6ish lying in bed and could not think of anything but the flowing lines of this article. Initially I thought I will write it later in the day leisurely after the puja (as it was Tamil New Year day). But I could not hold it any longer, as it was welling up in me non-stop. It was so overwhelming that I could not stay in bed any more, nor could I even brush my teeth. I was even getting the title and sub-headings appearing like a vision, as if I'm in a spell. As I was overjoyed with seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, suddenly I realized I was losing track of the initial thoughts that started this flow. The chill came up again with the voice, 'if you don't seize this moment, you won't get it ever again'. And that was the last straw where I pulled up my notebook and started 'writing'… well… typing. And God, what a relief! But the pain is not over. The flow kept coming in waves one after the other, when I thought it was over, as if it was coming from a bottomless bowl – akshaya patram. I could sense some glimpse of joy after all this pain is over. But the pain was not yet over. It kept coming again and again. I felt like it is never going to end.

It sounds a lot like the process of labor. When it is so painful, why do I want to do it? What advantage would overshadow this horror? What keeps me at it in spite of all this turmoil?

The Ultimate Creative Experience!
Once the labour of writing is over, when it's delivered, it is the ultimate work of creativity, unlike any other form of art. It is not just a jumble of words, but it throbs with a new-found life of its own. It came off me, but it's not just me or mine anymore. It lives and exists by itself. Painting needs a canvas and paint; sculpting needs stone and tools; dance needs music, stage, dresses and props; theatre needs a script and all the paraphernalia. Writing however, needs nothing but the mind, and a paper and pen. The output though, is as beautiful as any other piece of art, if not more. The sheer beauty of the expression of mind in words, and nothing else. Is it worth all the pain? I suppose so, but may be not all the time. Still, will I say 'no' when asked next time? I don't think so.

The Hurdles
If writing could produce such a work of beauty why do we often not allow ourselves to be the vessel for creativity to flow? It is a myriad of background voices that hold us back. They may be unrealistic expectations from the sadistic Parent ego state and/or equally unrealistic anxieties of the hapless Child ego state.

  • You cannot write!
  • You cannot write 'properly'!
  • You are not made to be a writer. It needs a special constitution to be a writer.
  • Who will read your writing!?
  • If you write, it has to be perfect and unique. Otherwise don't write.
  • I'm not that great an expert for others to read my writing.
  • My English is not good enough. So I can't write.
  • I should write perfectly in my first attempt.
  • If the first draft is not the best, then you will never get it right.
  • You have to write all by yourself. You cannot take help or support. If you do, then you are not good enough.
  • What if it turns out to be a dud?
  • What if people laugh at me after reading it?
  • What if people think I am stupid?
  • What if someone gets offended by what I write?

These are some of the voices of the chill in the pit, which strangles the fearless Free Child and along with it the creativity which is essential for writing. It needs perseverance, sense of OKness and self-acceptance, some basic discipline and a bit of courage of the Adult ego state to let go of the voices and to write. If we don't have any of these magic potions, and we 'need to' write, then as reportedly Eric Berne said Muriel James, we have to sit in a chair and not get up until we write something down. Some people say, all it takes is just one page a day and by the end of a year, we will have a book of 365 pages. Whoever said that, must be numb to any pain or sensation!

As one friend of mine said, writing is a work of a community, and not an individual. We need a tribe of supporters to write. Creating and nourishing such a community around us is the secret of effective and joyful writing. Where do people have the time and mind for such commitment in these fast-paced times?

The Decision
Weighing all the pros and cons, I still choose to write and every time I commit to, not because I 'have to', but because I 'want to'. I go through the agonizing motions of the stages of writing every time and yet I commit again and again, because I find the baby I hold in my hand at the end worthy of all the labour. Of course, it gets me a lot of strokes from my near and dear ones. But the most invigorating part is the labour itself. The journey is more exhilarating, than the destination. The chill is worth the joy at the end. I even believe that the output might not be as good as it is without the chill. May be it is a contamination. Yet, I'm OK with it as it helps me realise my full potential every time I willingly immerse myself in that chill to experience the 'flow'. Am I sublimating the pain or philosophizing the inevitable or simply consoling myself with these defences to avoid the severity of the pangs of labour? May be, how would I know for sure! And why would I care!

Does that mean, everyone should do that? Sorry folks, especially those who swear by the supremacy and essentiality of writing, I have bad news. Is it a 'must' for every one to write? I don't think so. As the saying goes, 'different folks, different strokes!' Everyone need not write. For some it comes easily, or even naturally, so let them write, like a fish swimming. For some it is hard, yet rewarding (like it is for me) and so let them choose to. For some others, it is a necessity to accomplish some life goals like a certification or a promotion etc., but writing might be next only to space walking in difficulty level. In those cases, either they change their life goal or go through the drudgery of writing. But for many it could just not be their cup of tea, and they might choose to be a teetotaler (pun intended). Why judge the competence of a fish by its ability to climb a ladder! Why bother! Leave the writing to the Manus, and Hamurabis. And sing all your way to glory! Why write, right?

 
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