Thursday, December 30, 2010

Side-stepped by Shakespeare!

Happy New Year, fellow lovers of words!

“Why dost thou pine and suffer dearth/Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?”

With those words, exeunt storyboard, stage left – for the year 2010.

But wait. “Were’t not for laughing, I should pity him.” Perhaps those are much truthful from the bard himself than what storyboard would like to think of himself. In fact, all the pejoratives heard at the Globe Theatre would be more fitting descriptions of and for storyboard. He ain’t that real, is he?

One of the stinging experiences that storyboard recalls of any Shakespearean tragedy is the way a hero, or even a court jester, spends the last few seconds of his life making a speech. There is at once irony and tragedy involved in that.

A clan member in Romeo and Juliet, for example, does not quite know that during a tussle with Romeo and others he had been fatally wounded. He nonetheless embarks on comically expressing an opinion which takes up more than five seconds of dialogue. Then, suddenly, he is rolling down the stairs to lie still at the bottom. Then a cry rings out that he is no more.

How he is wounded happens as quickly as lightning. An actor must be a genius to act that part out. And while the actor is privileged to know what he is presenting to the audience, the character himself does not. It is this character that storyboard is interested in. He is like every one of us. A good director must tell us exactly when and how he was wounded. That much we need to know. But as for the drama itself the character who is fatally wounded does not know that he is dead long before he had begun his final speech. But he does manage to complete that speech, and that in itself is miraculous. Good old Shakespeare.

It is as if the world, which is a stage according to the bard, has denied us that little knowledge. With us being that particular character play along, nevertheless, totally oblivious to the fact that we have been had. In such circumstances it would be wise, if we had the opportunity to decide for ourselves, to merely read the signs of all and sundry that surrounds us and walk away. But nine times out of ten we do not. And that is the most tragic part of our lives.

And all the more tragic if those of us know that our time’s up but that we choose to go on clinging onto this thing we call power.

When once a certain gentleman sensed that his time would be up, that he could lose all, he sought the opinion of the one who knew best, and the advice he received was less encouraging for him than he had expected. Go out and sell everything you own, and with that give your chattel to the poor. Be content with simplicity in living. What did our learned colleague choose? The exact opposite of what he had heard.

It would seem therefore that there is no way out of this dilemma. Either we cling on to power and regret it, or resign our offices and see our families starve.

But there is always a remedy to all this for all Papua New Guineans and that is what storyboard is getting at here. For those who have reached the age think seriously of writing memoirs. Your memoir could be the history of Papua New Guinea as a sovereign state. And it is true that such a memoir could sell.

Perhaps this is one good area of communal activity that we should attend to. Steven Winduo mentioned this at his “window” not long ago. Apparently those to whom the message was directed and who should have been paying attention decided not to. And that is sad.

Virtually all the leaders of the world redeem themselves through the genre of memoirs. The results are usually seen to be encouraging. Let our leaders do likewise. Let this activity be one of their New Year resolutions. It is a better activity than any other enterprise, especially when the clock has struck three pm several hours ago. It is good for the generations which follow to know what had gone on before them. Even good men could lose an opportunity like this one. Notice the opening citation of the bard’s for this article. Surely we all think we are rich, we are good, we are okay, but are we really happy inside, where the soul is? And there you have it.

As for the bard himself he did what was correct. If he were a statesman the option would have been to resign his office, retire to the woods, build a cabin and write poems. Never mind about the worldly luxuries and creature comforts. The sea is full of food and so are the hills and the forests. What more can we ask for in Papua New Guinea?

We stay on in the cities and you guessed it. Things have become astronomically expensive, quite unaffordable for a good few of our country men and women. Notice even how expensive Poet’s Corner has become these days. Thinking even that the item of inspiration would be affordable storyboard discovered quite to his dismay that its costs K56.95 at a local supermarket.

But come away from that shop and concentrate rather on writing the memoir.

                                   HAPPY NEW YEAR!


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Power and the dangers of linguistic violence

The Arts 1 Building, nowadays known as Kuri Dom Building, once the home of UPNG's Language and Literature Department as much as host to many a linguistic debate on power, hegemony and post-colonial discourse.
One of the pressing dilemmas a young graduate of UPNG can find himself in is when he first tastes the meaning of the word “power”. In his new job as an administrator or simply as an academic the temptations to misinterpret the word are enormous. This is particularly so when he finds himself in a working environment which demands a lot of him by way of qualifications and a good report on leadership skills. In his new appointment he will obviously find a lot of workers who can be many years his senior. He being one of the new breed of graduates who are sent out there to lead will have to be extremely careful with the word power when dealing with his new colleagues.

Sometimes the word is loosely coined in any work environment as “empowerment’, meaning one has the power to take full control of one’s destiny, if that destiny has a lot to do with knowing who you are, where you are, the job you are required to perform and most importantly whom you are given the task of leading. In such a situation and if you are as fresh as inexperience teaches it is always wise to tuck your self-pride away at the back of the mind and concentrate on the demands of the job you are given to perform. Ensure you understand the job thoroughly, meaning you know what the interpretations of its duty statement exactly are.

Your other colleagues, a good number of whom are your seniors by so many years of experience, will be the ones whose very performance under your leadership will help determine whether you are a good leader or not. Seek advice from them before embarking on a decision on what is to be done about whom or what. But if you take one quick peek at your qualifications, compare that to your colleagues’ moments of lifetime deficiency of sorts, and subsequently fall for making a fast decision without consulting anyone else in your work environment can have drastic consequences. Sooner or later someone from somewhere, not necessarily from your own office or within the company you are working for, will be obliged to approach you with precautionary measures albeit friendly advice on how far you have strayed as a leader. The Waigani campus as we all know usually churns out the best there is by way of manpower in leadership market potentials.
The word power is one of those quiet little animals that get stuck to our backs whenever we find ourselves in a position of responsibility. It is a word that needs to be attended to in the manner that we brush our teeth each morning. It means we have to value the word as a precious possession for which others look at us with respect and admiration. And it does not matter how old we are when we possess this little creature: we can be as fresh as 23 years old or as veteran as 60. That is the value of the word power. All around us are people who help us nurture the little creature with care and diligence. We become unkind to the little animal and away it goes, snarling and gnashing its teeth at anything in its path.

Now storyboard chose to talk about this word power here considering the way his younger colleagues at a certain organizational meeting recently decided to throw him overboard as a member of the board of directors, so-called. One even went as far as asking when storyboard was dying so that he would take over as the board’s chair of consultants and advisors. Storyboard rather than feel insulted thought it was his duty to remind the youngster that his question could be considered invalid as the meeting had barely begun. At this point the young man realized his mistake and had to put up with the stares that surrounded him for the rest of that afternoon’s session. As the meeting progressed, and at the back of his mind, storyboard could merely recall the words of Simon and Grafunkel’s Elcondor Pasa which ran “I’d rather feel the earth beneath my feet...”

Thenceforth storyboard reminded his young entourage of advisors and educators where they were all coming from. Our country is in a bad way, we can see that. But it is not for us to panic, go for the emergency buttons, and that sort of thing. I think we have retained our position of respectability and credibility for so much in so many years. There is no need as yet to start revolutionizing ourselves here and there. Moreover, there is no need to bring the impeding woes of a bad parliamentary session at Waigani upon ourselves – least of all to places like ours here. We have a targeted audience given to us by our duty statements to cater for, and that is the generation that we are now teaching to become leaders tomorrow. That generation, and its parents of generations before it and those to come, knows who we are, what we are and where we are coming from. We don’t want even to change their minds about us and our conduct, do we now? That much duty we have; that much power we have.

At this point, the youngest of the younger colleagues present in that meeting, asked politely if everyone was aware of the word power and the sort of linguistic violence it would carry with it in given situations. In response to which, a senior colleague pointed out that teachers of languages, in particular teachers of English, should be wary of certain implications imminent in their choice of vocabulary – even in the least of susceptible remarks uttered or written about themselves and others.

This article is written especially for those young UPNG graduates anxious to wield power and influence wherever they go. It serves as a reminder that a UPNG degree certificate is a conferral of power upon and unto itself. It becomes a privilege, an expression of social status. It must not, therefore, be mistaken as a weapon to do what we all enjoy doing, and that is asking our next door neighbor to bow before us each morning we wake up to stretch and yawn. Power is a wonderful gift. Only a bad gesture and miscalculated use of language corrupts it.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

How to write the best short story

Photo showing Makawana, the setting of Maiba.
The best short story you read, once in your lifetime, is not the one written by Anton Chekhov, Ernest Hemingway or Raymond Carver. Rather, it is the one you yourself have written without telling your potential reader what that story might be about.

In the beginning, this is how your short story begins to take shape. An idea hits you. You feel excited about it. You become restless. And when you finally pick up the pen to start writing that idea down you notice you are trembling. So you drop the pen and stare into space for a long time. And still you have not written a word.

When you feel completely overwhelmed by such an emotion (for creative writing is indeed an act of expressing emotions) you can be sure that you are actually in the process of writing the best there is in short fiction – even though, again, you have not yet written a word down.

Your best shot at the short story, therefore, and as Raymond Carver would have it, is the result of watching fish roe swim in the milt of the human brain, before it gets written down. And just what does that mean? It means you spend the initial stages of that act of writing in just thinking: thinking, thinking and thinking. This will take days, weeks – even months. But when the actual writing begins – there you go. You need only transfer all that imaginative brilliance from the mind onto paper.

Those several days, even weeks and months of pondering, wondering, and wandering, without writing anything down on paper, is crucial in the process of creating your short story. In your mind, this is what is happening: you are visualizing your subject matter; setting the mood of the subject matter; and placing that subject matter in its proper place of what is considered as “subjectivity”, of which more later. This is important: you must never let your subject matter stray from where you want it to be. You are the author: you must be in full control of your subject matter.

What follows thenceforth is having all that translated and transmitted into the mind of your reader.

Do you want your reader to laugh, to cry or get angry and come after you? The choice is yours. But even that choice has to be controlled.

After having placed your subject matter where you want it to be you can then start worrying about the shape of the short story itself. Here, you are looking at the technicalities of story-telling.

The first thing you must be mindful of is time and space. Your story should run for 800 words or within your sponsor’s budget. In those 800 words you must be selective with the following: a brief description of scenery; the number of characters involved; choice of words in scenes, character description and dialogue; and the significance of “beacons” as markers in narrative. By “beacons” as markers in narrative, we mean simply that the first sentence of your story must be as catchy and memorable as your last, and these become key proponents or pointers. Without these pointers it is quite likely your story will turn out bland.

Finally, and as far as technicalities go, your story must carry with it an important moral lesson. What great moral lesson do you feel you have to teach the world – without, mind you, meaning to.

All that said, we get back to this funny word, subjectivity. Being subjective in story-telling means that although the story you write is based on your own thoughts and opinions, including your own personal experiences, you do not pass judgment on it. Yes, sir, this is one trapping that many writers, even the best of them, fall into. That means, precisely, refraining from overtly didactic and explanatory art. You quit blubbering about how tragic your story is, how many have ended up in hospital and all that. Let your reader do the judging. From your reader’s point of view you can then be able to tell whether your story is good or bad, resourceful or wanting. Your best judge is not the one who says, “This is good,” but the one who says, “You almost got it right this time.”

That brings us to the point of greatness in creative literature: when is your story good or bad? For lessons on this, refer to our other article, “Sensing greatness in creativity.” 
Tubuga Bay, as in the novel Maiba.