Home » Advice
Category Archives: Advice
Book Review No. 6: A Class Apart: Prodigies, Pressure, and Passion Inside One Of America’s Best High Schools by Alec Klein
A Class Apart by Alec Klein (Simon & Schuster Paperbacks; $16.00)
I have always been fascinated by children geniuses — prodigies. Movies like Searching For Bobby Fischer, Little Man Tate, and Red Violin, all movies that feature a chess prodigy, a math prodigy, and a musical prodigy, respectively, have always been one of my favorite movies because the main characters are usually children with extraordinary talent and abilities that defy logic and science.
What is it about these little children with brains filled with gray matter the size of Einstein and Mozart that makes them so special? How is it possible that someone so young can memorize forty classical piano and violin pieces in front of a large audience with the confidence of a seasoned and adult musician or compute multiplication of large numbers in their heads in a snap? How is it possible that someone so young and so little — something that comes in such a small package — compete in quiz bees and musical contests on an adult, competitive, and professional level?
When I saw a copy of this book, A Class Apart by Alec Klein, with the subtitle “Prodigies, Pressure, and Passion Inside One Of America’s Best High Schools,” I knew I had to buy it. As the subtitle suggests, the book is about the students who go to one of the best high schools in America, Stuyvesant High School in New York. In this book, Klein of the Washington Post was granted access to the school, its faculty, and its prodigious students, to find out the real essence and meaning of public schooling. Being an alum of Stuyvesant himself, it was easy for Klein to gain the access he needed, and being a reporter for the Washington Post certainly gave him the cache one needs in order to do such a daunting journalistic task.
Here, he follows the lives of the multidiverse and multitalented students of Stuyvesant, especially of three high school students; one is the captain of the football team named Romeo, a boy who teaches himself calculus during his free time to impress the girl he likes; another one is a seventeen-year old poet named named Jane, a girl who is battling heroine addiction; and another one is a ten-year old kid names Milo, a boy who, despite his young age, attends the school because of his Polaroid-like memory and his genius IQ.
Klein’s narrative in this book displays his journalistic and writing talents. He paints the school and its students sympathetically, and shows how even the brightest students still need the the guidance and special attention every child and teenager needs. He shows the neuroses, compulsions, and obsessions of the students and teachers alike, even of the the parents. In Stuyvesant, everyone is so competitive academically that students shamelessly demand their teachers to “better give them a high grade” so they can get a bigger chance of being accepted into Harvard or into one of the Ivies.
In Stuyvesant, unlike your typical high school where jocks and cheerleaders rule, to be regarded as a brainiac or as a nerd is an honor and high social status. To be anything short of that is deemed inferior. This alone is an indication of the kind of students that get accepted into this high school. The students here belong to the brightest of the brightest, the most ambitious of the most ambitious.
A Class Apart: Prodigies, Pressure, Passion Inside One Of America’s Best High Schools is, more than anything, about the relationship of the caring adults who guide and teach the gifted, and sometimes troubled, kids of Stuyvesant High School. Klein triumphantly weaves and intersects the lives of the people who belong to the special world of Stuyvesant. Honest, detailed, well-written, and well-researched, A Class Apart will make you laugh, cry, smile, and will at times, break your heart. Filled with stories and anecdotes that dedicate each chapter to one student, event, or teacher, this book is designed easy to be followed, and has the right amount and balance of journalistic and creative writing one needs in a non-fiction/part-documentary book. Indeed, Klein is one master storyteller and one great reporter.
Rating: 5 of 5 stars
I published this article about the resignation of the Pope only to find myself redrafting and re-editing almost the entire last paragraphs. I published it, unpublished it, and then published it again. After reading the entire post before the redraft, I felt there was something wrong with it. Some of that oomph was missing. There was something in the last paragraphs that seemed incoherent and that just didn’t seamlessly connect and flow with the previous paragraphs, even the entire text. And then, I saw it.
I wish I had saved a copy of it so I can show here the difference between the first edition and the latest edition which is the one I just re-published now. But I had already deleted it. In the previous paragraphs, I was talking about being a convenient Catholic, and quoted an author’s views about being one, from an article in his newspaper column. After that, I went about discussing the Pope Benedict XVI’s health and age, but failed to make a connection between the Pontiff’s health and my being a convenient Catholic.
I didn’t succeed in connecting the three intended themes of the article which were, namely: the Pope’s resignation, his health, and my being a convenient Catholic. Now, with the latest edition, I think I succeeded in doing just that. Well, at least I hope did. After 21 blog posts, one would like to think that one gets better at writing and editing.
With blogging, I get to do, albeit in a small way, what I’ve always wanted to be (among other ambitions): writer and editor. I have always had this dream of becoming an owner and editor of a publishing empire, and of writing a good novel, too. And blogging has been tremendously instrumental in making me want even more to become an Editor-in-Chief of reputable magazines like the Paris Review, and publishing houses like Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
And of course, to become a damn good novelist.
Because of blogging, I began to be more objective when it comes to my own writing. I started to see my writing from another writer’s and reader’s perspective. And it made me ask five important questions that I think became my own formula for discerning good writing from bad writing — especially of my own. Being critical of one’s own work makes it easier to be truly objective. And if I am to become a damn good novelist someday, I’d better start by being hard on myself because friends and family may say you’re good even if you wrote them the most unimaginative article in the world.
So with the unreliability of objectivity from others, I came up with my formulaic good-from-bad-writing discernment questions. They are as follows:
1. “Is this idea brilliant or relevant enough to inspire, educate, and entertain or terribly amorphous and irrelevant?”
2. “Is this verbosity really necessary or just an exercise of monstrous self-indulgence?
3. “Is this a reflection of a writer writing from the heart or or a reflection of a writer just trying to impress?”
4. “Is this good enough to make others think it is serious writing or bad enough to be marked down as amateurish?”
5. “Is this a catharsis of pent-up creative energy and artistry or just a feeble attempt at self-expression?
I came up with these questions because the blogging process is for the most part a thinking process, too — a creative one at that. Indeed, blogging forces you to become a better writer and editor. But also it makes you a better thinker and questioner — a very objective thinker and questioner.
Good writing, I believe, is something that should reflect your passions and personality. With blogging, I hope to do just that. To write something that reflects my passions and, in my case, multiple personalities.
Kurt Vonnegut, the author, says that when you write about something that you love, familiar with, and passionate about, it will come across as something that comes from the heart. And my heart I give completely to everything I write. (I hope that’s what comes across in all my blog posts). This is exactly why I think most blog posts by serious bloggers are, in essence, effective and persuasive because the people who write them are those who truly believe in what they’re saying. And they’re sharing things that are really going to be of use to others.
But of course, the downside to blogging is that sometimes one can be a little too narcissistic and whiny, if left unchecked. Nowadays, it’s easy to believe or to delude oneself into thinking that we are the center of the universe because Internet has made a small global village of the world that it’s practically easy to be an Internet sensation now. But there’s nothing more unattractive than self-indulgent and narcissistic writers.
Trust me, I’ve gone down that road before, and quite ironically, they were not my proudest moments, and it didn’t produce the best writing, too. It is almost always is a recipe for bad writing because it doesn’t do anything except to shamelessly promote and glorify oneself. Narcissistic writing is an act of tomfoolery that should not be allowed further if one wishes to gain a steady influx of readership.
Like I said in a previous post, there’s only so much about oneself that one can talk about. Blogging is a great avenue to talk about topics that interest you, and should make you search your mind and unleash that untapped imagination. The possibilities are practically endless.
There are so many things out there you can talk about that doesn’t always have to be about you and what you bought yesterday at the grocery store, or about how you have a fabulous pimple right at the tip of your nose, or that you have mood swings all the time because of your bipolar disorder. People don’t want to hear about your endless shopping lists, or your latest pimple alert, or your temper tantrums and how you almost knocked someone out just because you are deliciously bipolar like me.
No. What people would rather hear you talk about is how one of your shopping lists can help remove the stain of their soiled shirts. Or how you tried out this new topical ointment that could help that cute pimple at the tip of your nose go away. (Oh, and don’t forget to strike a pose, take a picture of your top model pimple look and show the after photo, too, of your new pimple-less face). And people would rather have you share how your new medications helped stabilize your Britney Spears mood swings, and made you stop believing that you’re Jesus H. Christ the Superstar.
The key is to connect with the readers. That’s what blogging or any form of writing is all about. Blogging, I believe, if I may say so myself, brings out the best in me. It forces me to be a better writer and editor. It makes me talk less about my numerous, prodigious talents and my unrivaled genius. And yes, it makes me a better thinker. But more important than all of these combined, what blogging does is it makes me become a better sharer, dreamer, and imaginer. And it gives me such a horrible sense of humor, too. At least now I know, thanks to blogging, that comedy is not for me. Still, blogging makes me happy — and terribly, terribly so.
The Filthy Rich Handbook By Christopher Tennant (247 pages Workman Publishing: $11.95)
I ordered this book from Amazon years ago because the title intrigued me. I have always had this dream of becoming a billionaire someday through our family’s various businesses. Obviously, this is one delusion of grandeur I refuse to shake off. Despite my family’s considerable fortune, I still have a lot of things I wish to acquire: a castle in Ireland, a 740 Park Avenue apartment, a fleet of Rolls-Royces, Bentleys and Maybachs, a dozen Aston Martins, a Boeing 747, a 250-foot megayacht, an army of English butlers and majordomos to run various summer cottages in Newport, Paris and Palm Beach, a European aristocratic title, and the friendship of Serene Highnesses and of the British Royal Family.
But instead, for now, I have to make do with what I have. Don’t get me wrong. I am really happy and content with what I have. The things I want are different from the things that I need, and I have way more than what I need. But sometimes you just can’t help but feel a little envious when you see someone have something you still can’t afford to buy at the moment. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you can afford to buy and sell someone like Kate Upton many times over and not even bat an eyelash?
Well, unless you are a billionaire or mega-multihundred millionaire, having a net worth below the neighborhood of $10, 000, 000 still won’t buy you the luxuries only the richest of the rich can afford — and Kate Upton. Or Chris Evans. These days, who knows what someone prefers.
Whether you’re looking for inspiration for that rich guy you wish to include as one of the characters in your novel, or doing some research about how the 1% of the richest 1% people live, or an arriviste who wants to be accepted by the establishment of the botoxed High Society and Ruling Classes, or in need of a crash course on how the ultra-rich talk the talk and walk the walk, or a social anthropologist or a social psychologist taking notes and chronicling how lazy leisure class lives, or just truly enjoy reading stuff about the ultra-rich, this reference book by Tennant has it all covered.
Here you’ll read about the Old Guard, the parvenus, Brahmans, the upstarts, and the things they have in common, the fabulous places they summer at, the clubs they belong to, the servants who wait on them, the multimillion dollar palatial residences they live in, the parties they give and attend, and anything and everything about the oh so filthy rich.
Tennant shows chapter by chapter things like “Old Money [Country] Clubs” and “New Money [Country] Clubs,” which tycoon paid millions to which superstar singer for his daughter’s party, and which friends to avoid and be proud of. Funnily, He says Princess Diana is one of those people everyone should want to be friends with (sadly, this isn’t possible anymore), and that Imelda Marcos, the infamous former First Lady and wife of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, is one of those people everyone should never admit to having been friends with (this is still possible). I found the latter so hilarious, yet a little offended, too, because the Marcoses are related to one of my dearest friends, Mary Anne Vargas, a Manila socialite and philanthropist who loves the charismatic and regal former First Lady.
Mary Anne regaled me many times with anecdotes of the former First Lady’s eccentricities and charms. One time she said Mrs. Marcos was singing endlessly during one of her birthday parties in a yacht until the wee hours of the morning. She said everyone were already getting sleepy and wanted to go home, but everybody didn’t have the heart to tell Mrs. Marcos that they wanted to go home. Now, I wonder what Mary Anne will say about this when she finds out her cousin Imelda was mentioned in this book as a shoe fetishist who should be blackballed from the charity and social circuits.
In this book, I think you will also find, like I did, the caricatures of the filthy rich people so charming and funny, along with pictures of random people where he illustrates what kind of clothes the filthy rich wear and what gadgets and different kinds of looks they sport. What also impressed upon me was his emphasis on the difference between the new rich and the old rich — the arrivistes and the blue bloods. I think this would generally help the uninitiated determine which ones are new and and which ones are old. One tip: the accent and how they pronounce Gstaad and the Carribean. Trust me, in every country, especially here in the Philippines, it’s easy to spot the parvenus from the pedigreed.
I hate talking about money and the describing wealth as it is crass and tacky to do that, but since this book is all about money and wealth, perhaps you’d be kind enough to make this an exception. Let me give you an example of the difference between the parvenu and the pedigreed. Well, I’d like to think of myself as a man of impeccable pedigree. Or maybe this is another of my delusions of grandeur I refuse to shake off, too.
One time a friend thought it funny to point out how one of our new rich friends was richer than me. To which I said jokingly with my quasi-British accent, “He may have the brass, but I have the class. You can never buy breeding and impeccable taste. He can hire someone to make it look like he has taste, but he can never acquire the breeding that only well-born people like me are born with. Unless he marries into our family, he can never have my name or my family’s illustrious background. He can show the world how rich he is with absurd and vulgar displays of wealth, whereas I have got nothing to prove.”
He laughed and replied, “Touche. Sometimes you can be such a snob.”
Part-satire, part-parody, and all the way true-to-life, Tennant’s well-researched book is one of those I would be happy to recommend to everybody even for just a good laugh. It’s got everything you need, and a veritable guide to anything and everything filthy rich. If you’re filthy rich enough, or with a stroke of luck you’ll strike it rich, or just want to know how and where to spend your money, or just curious as to how Bill Gates and the rest of the Forbes 400 Richest live, Tennant’s The Filthy Rich Handbook is all the book you’ll ever need. This is one mean Rolodex of watering holes, country clubs, vacation spots, tag prices for celebrity entertainers, and big bad toys that you should definitely have!
Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Racing Thoughts Of A (Catholic) Bipolar Writer No. 3: On Pope Benedict XVI’s Resignation and Convenient Catholics
I shall be in Italy next week (I hope). I’m just waiting for the issuance of my Schengen visa so I can jump-start my European trip starting with Rome. I have already planned my European trip with my friend Raquel since the last half of January. I am quite excited to see the major cities in Europe with my European friends, and to use this little book called The Civilized Shopper’s Guide To Rome by Pamela Keech & Margaret A. Brucia as my tour guide to all the enchanting flea markets, bookstores and art galleries, palazzos, piazzas and pizzerias.
But I think, undoubtedly, the highlight of my European trip would be at the Vatican, where the Pope is expected to resign as the ecclesiastical monarch of the Catholic Church at 85, and after eight years of public service. While I was shocked to hear the news, I also think it is the best decision for him, health-wise. I may not be as devout as my pious Catholic mother or my Catholic priest uncle, but I highly respect the papacy and the Pope himself.
It has been said that the last time a pope resigned from the papacy was 600 years ago. Pope Gregory XII resigned in 1415 because three rival popes were chosen by different religious factions, and had to eventually choose a successor that everybody would recognize. It took two years since the resignation of Pope Gregory XII for the Conclave to elect his successor, Martin V. In Pope Benedict XVI’s case, though, he shall be resigning due to health reasons and age, not because of ecclesiastical jurisdiction and leadership rivalry.
GIVE THE POPE A BREAK
His Holiness elected to resign by the end of February not because he doesn’t want to perform his functions as leader of one billion Catholics, but because he recognized the fact that he can no longer perform his functions as leader of one billion Catholics effectively. An exemplary display of strength of character and humility, indeed.
That said, I still can’t help but point out, too, that the tenure of the Pope has been riddled with scandals of sexual abuse by some of the clergy, and some have even criticized him for not having solved these issues properly. Some say the Church was covering up these anomalies, and somehow caused the decline in number of the faithful and devout Catholics, and of young men choosing to be ordained into the Catholic priesthood, during his eight-year rule.
But Of course, if you are a septuagenarian going octogenarian, solving all these issues in the Holy See can take its toll on your health. Let’s cut the old man some slack, shall we? Let us just pray for the health of His Holiness, and pray, too, that the next pope would be young enough to perform the functions required of the leader of the Catholic nation, but old and wise enough to address the moral and social issues of today.
PRESCRIPTION FOR THESE MODERN TIMES
These modern issues of our modern times need to be seen from a modern man’s perspective, not from an archaic set of belief systems by people who were living in archaic times 2,000 years before. Then again, how could they have known that things were going to change this drastically, back then? It is, therefore, the duty of the Catholic Church and all major faiths to initiate some changes of views towards some modern issues like divorce, homosexuality, even abortion. Continuing with this following-the-Word-of-God-Bible-to-the-letter brouhaha would just confuse and enrage different kinds of people, and with, I fear, deleterious effects.
The Catholic Church keeping mum and turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to the sexual abuses and corruption of their own clergy while going on a high and mighty Bible-thumping about (their own version) morality and Christian virtues would just be seen as hypocritical, and would do it no good. The Bible, is to some level, also just a book about the history of the ancient times. With all the conflicting information and views out there today regarding some social and moral issues by theologians, writers, philosophers, atheists, activists, and other non-faith denominations, it is easy to be confused and to just altogether drop religion and religious practices in favor of more practical, rational, scientific views.
SUGGESTION TO CARDINALS AND THE NEXT POPE
So, first stop, I suggest to Their Eminences and to His Holiness, to change some of their moral and social views. The Bible is now rendered as an obsolete form of moral authority. While it might have worked before during the times of pontificating apostles and disciples, it no longer works during these modern times of science and atheists. If people are to attend Church and remain faithful to it, then it must initiate changes on some of its views that will help stop discrimination of other people fighting for social justice, gender equality, and basic human rights.
The Bible was written by people, and can be edited by people. Times change, so should our minds and views change with the times.
HYPOCRISY AND FALLIBILITY
How can one forget what the popes of the past centuries did to remain in power? I had a Christian Civilization class back at the university and I learned all the atrocities the popes caused in the name of God. They were the overlords of the emperors and kings who must yield to their every whims and demands. Unless those emperors and kings want to be excommunicated, burn in hell, and be questioned by other monarchs of the legitimacy of their sovereignty, they must obey the pope. These power plays and ego trips by these popes only go to show that the pope is also just a human being capable of human desires, venial sins, and atrocious crimes (read: greed, lust, infidelity, envy, vanity. and even rape and murder).
It relieves me now to think that although the popes are still considered to be absolute monarchs today, they no longer seem to have the hubris and enjoy the absolute power of a tyrannical despot. The world has truly changed since the Medieval Ages, indeed. I just hope and pray that some things which are still considered to be intrinsically evil (read: homosexuals, divorcees, and pro-choice people) in the eyes of God (or is it just in the eyes of some hypocritical, primitive men?) since the Medieval Ages will soon be recognized by a fallible, human (read: not infallible at all) pope, as natural and as funny as the business of human nature.
If absolute power must be exercised at all by any pope through a papal decree after Pope Benedict XVI, let’s hope he exercises it with liberal open-mindedness and intellectual plasticity, not with authoritarian conservatism and prejudiced liberalism.
A CONVENIENT CATHOLIC
If you wish to find something inspiring from this post, or to find a verisimilitude of a religious epiphany or apparition, you may stop reading now because it isn’t like that at all.
You see, I am what you call a Catholic by virtue of convenience — someone who chooses to believe in his own Catholic version of God and his own Catholic version of moral catholicity. A convenient Catholic.
I realized that there is no point in fighting it. I was born to Catholic parents and was raised a Catholic in a country that is predominantly Catholic.
No matter how hard I tried to intellectualize the existence of God, or his non-existence, I still cannot escape my inherent Catholicism, and cannot bring myself to forget the Catholic traditions of my family. Ultimately, I think it’s good to be a convenient Catholic, to discriminably choose your own version of beliefs and truths, selecting only those that reflect your sense of morality and goodness: some from the Bible and some from the teachings of the Catholic Church.
I’m sure the Pope wouldn’t mind.
Raymund Fernandez of the Philippine Daily Inquirer explains in a column, “Having religion does have its share of conveniences. For one, it provides us the markers we need to structure our lives, the events by which we might recall what we have gone through in our travel through time, baptism, confirmation, first confession, first communion, marriage, birth, death. These are rituals of a cyclical order. They mark not only our own lives but everyone else’s. And that reassures us in a way that we often do not think about too much. Its just there, like some monumental immutable part of the planet, like infrastructure, our world, kalibutan…”
He goes on saying, “[This] is the consequence of being born into the neighborhood religion, the national religion, the religion of our parents. And many of us are Catholics by virtue of that fact. Our religious experiences are defined by it. It might be peculiar but we cannot say that with certainty. We are Catholics that way. We are Catholics not because we need to or chose to. It is simply a convenient fact.”
GOD BLESS THE POPE
But even if I am a self-confessed convenient Catholic, I was still stunned by the decision of the Pope to resign. Still, I couldn’t blame the old man. He’s also just human. I read in the papers that he had made the decision since last year. Consequently, when the news broke, some atheists and non-Catholics alike made some rather insensitive to the point of sacrilegious remarks and wrote as headline for their articles and blog posts like “Chosen By God Quits” and “God Chose The Wrong Guy.”
Oh, come on! Well, here’s a headline for you: “The Pope Is Also Just Another Human Being. Duh.”
He gets tired. He makes mistakes. He changes his mind. And just like God Himself, the Pope also needs to take some rest. It’s about time the old man took some rest. More thank anything, I think His Holiness’ decision to resign is more of a testament to his commitment to serve God and the Catholic people by letting someone more fit and healthy to take over the Vatican. It’s not fair to persecute an 85-year old man just because he wants to spend the remainder of his days as a Benedictine monk.
I, for one, think that it’s actually quite exciting to have a new pope elected by the cardinals and quiver in convenient Catholic anticipation. Besides, it will also give the atheists and non-Catholics another chance to to anticipate another abdication of a Pontiff who is apparently appointed by The God Himself. Win-win. It’s a cause for celebration for both parties of the Catholics and the convenient Catholics & the Atheists and Non-Catholics.
When, I wonder, then, shall we all hear the words “Habemum Papam” again? I guess we’ll all find out together soon.
And whoever he may be, he shall have my unwavering respect and support, along with the rest of the Catholic nation. I know the Catholic Church and the Pope cannot force anyone anymore to believe in God. That is a whole different thing altogether as it is now considered bad form to have someone excommunicated just because he doesn’t share your beliefs. Not even your pious Catholic mother can force you to do that even if she groveled, cried, and begged you to because she fears your soul might be eternally damned.
Now, everything is a matter of choice — the individual’s choice.
But it sure doesn’t hurt to believe or choose to believe in some things, even if those beliefs were just chosen for the sake of convenience. And it sure doesn’t hurt to come home to a happy family celebrating Christmas, hearing mass together and feeling the electrifying, collective energy of the faithful, converts, the on-the-fencers, and the convenients like me.
It sure, as hell, doesn’t hurt to be a convenient Catholic, and to believe in heaven and God. Walang mawawala kung maniwala ka (It wouldn’t hurt to believe).
And it sure doesn’t hurt to celebrate a momentous occasion in Rome together with the rest of the faithful, converts, the on-the-fencers, and the convenients this Ferbruary 28th (if I get my visa on time) at the Vatican. I hope to see you there, too, atheists and non-Catholics. It’s going to be one helluva a thriller event, don’t you think? Cheers!
May God bless the Pope, Benedict XVI, and his successor, and the successor of his successors. And may God bless us all and may God also save the souls of those frightfully wonderful atheists and non-Catholics, too. I hope and pray that they make it to 85 just like the poor, old man who had the great humility to quit in order to rest and to give way to a younger and abler ecclesiastical ruler by The One Chosen by None Other Than The Man Up, Up, Up There Himself.
An Open Letter To My Dear 233 Readers (And Counting): The Joys Of Having One’s Own Literary E-Column
Have you ever felt like there was something missing in your life before? I did. I just felt like there was something I had to do. But what it was, I knew not. It felt as if there was a bottomless well of void within me that had to be filled constantly. It eluded me, prodded me to chase it in the dark. But then one day, last year, I had an epiphany: a sudden flash of myself hunched over a typewriter, typing away for what seemed like a manuscript of some sort. Yes, that was it. I saw myself clearly. I saw it clearly. I am going to be a writer. I want to be a writer. I need to be a writer. I have to be a writer. I now had a name for the once nameless and bottomless well of void: Writing. Since that day, I decided I didn’t want to be just a writer, I decided I want to be a serious writer — a real writer. I want the whole shebang. I want to write my own good novel like that of Wally Lamb’s This Much I Know Is True, and to write as good as my favorite columnists at the Inquirer, Winnie Monsod and Conrado P. de Quiros.
Yes, I am going to be a writer. I want to be a writer. I need to be a writer. I have to be a writer.
But how could I have not seen it before? It’s all coming back to me now. I used to express my feelings by writing long love letters to my former girlfriends and professing my unwavering love in those letters. I used to tell friends or loved ones just how special they were to me and how happy I was because they were born by writing them personalized birthday cards. I used to be an editor in the school and university’s papers back in high school and college. And looking back, I remember that I used to tell myself how some of my experiences like that of my month-long mental vacation at a mental facility would make such a great story if written just the right way.
But, being an English Major is not enough. Writing love letters and personalized birthday cards, being an editor at schools’ papers, and having great stories in mind aren’t enough. I knew I had to start somewhere, but where exactly that somewhere was, again I knew not. Then suddenly, I thought of maintaining a blog. It would be a great exercise at honing my writing abilities. If I could maintain a blog, I thought, I would eventually be forced to be even more serious with my writing. I wouldn’t just be an occasional scribbler or just another bored dabbler, I would actually be a real writer — one who truly practices the art and craft of writing. And this, I believed, I could do by blogging — by creating a new blog. But my question was, what kind of blog will it be?
The truth is I already kept a blog somewhere before, but I forgot my password, and since I wasn’t really that decided back then about anything in my life, per se (8 years ago), I didn’t bother retrieving the password anymore, and dropped blogging altogether. Years later — now — I finally decided to create a blog that would make sense to me — something inside a familiar territory, one where I could talk about my passions: books, reading, and writing. So I thought why not a literary blog? A literary blog whose main theme would revolve around, in part, on some highlights of my life and my struggles with manic-depression, and also revolve on other people’s lives seen through rose-tinted, sometimes rose-wilted lenses, of different writers, authors, and through the pages of the books they have written (and the books they are still writing).
While I have no problems with people who blog mainly to diarize and rehash their day’s events (or lack thereof), I really don’t like the idea of using a blog as just another avenue or outlet for scribbling away, for reciting a litany of life’s series of tragedies and comedies, and for bemoaning the frequency of mood swings and other symptoms of manic-depression (I’m referring to myself here). You see, I have this proclivity to talk about myself too much sometimes, and I don’t think it’s exactly an attractive quality.
There’s only so much things you can talk about yourself, albeit highly interesting. Eventually, you will have to run out of things to say about you, you, and you. Nobody is that talented to be able to talk about oneself inexhaustibly, no matter how egotistical a cow one could be. The only talent would be losing people for getting tired of listening to you talk about yourself.
No, I don’t want to talk about myself, at least not that much. That would be an exercise in futility and would defeat the purpose of creating a blog whose main goal is supposed to improve my thought processes and writing. No. What I want is a blog where I can talk about something in my life that others might find useful, not something that will irritate others. What I want is a blog that will give my life a sense of meaning and purpose, one that will allow me to discover and rediscover things, old and new; one that will make me share and talk about my passion for books and reading; one that will, at the same time, help others in making literary decisions like what books to read or not read. What I want is a blog that will help me become a serious and real writer.
Hence, The Bibliophile Chronicles. A blog that chronicles my dogged intellectual and philosophical pursuits of truths, even half-truths, and the unselfish and honest sharing of parts of my life (even my bipolar disorder and other crazy stuff) that I dearly hope would prove helpful, and if at all possible, even inspiring. And this blog, more than anything else in the world, gives me as do, I suspect, what all serious blogs give to their serious bloggers: a sense of meaning and purpose.
The sense of accomplishment I get from being an entrepreneur and from other non-literary endeavors is not the same as the sense of meaning and purpose I get from blogging and from other literary endeavors.
I treat this blog as my own literary and opinion column as if it were a column in a syndicated publication of national (in this case, global) circulation. I believe that if I am to be taken seriously, and if I am to really write seriously, it’s the only way I think I should treat it, and I suggest it should be the only way one should treat a blog that is serious about being taken seriously. This way, it will force you to come up with the best ideas and content for your readers, not just some half-hearted and half-baked attempts. This way, it will force you to have the best interests of the readers at heart.
The mere fact that there are people out there who actually read my posts, like it, and then take the time to leave comments, is, I think, quite an accomplishment it itself. I guess I must doing something right. This, I admit, gives me the kind of instant gratification and validation that lingers on — that never seems to quite go away. I’m glad I went through with this blog. Despite myself being unable to sustain interest in much about anything, keeping what I call my own column on the Internet has greatly increased my passion for literature, and had made me become even more serious about writing. It has given me an even deeper understanding of duty — it given me a deeper sense of duty to others, particularly, to you: the readers.
Had I known that keeping a column on the Internet could lead to so many fulfilling doors, I would have done it a long time ago. Still, I have no regrets in the past, only great, realistic expectations and bright hope for the future. But for now, what’s important is that I am able to make peace with the abundant creative energy inside me. And what’s even more important to me than making peace with the abundant creative energy inside me is giving all you readers quality content.
So now, let me take this chance to thank all the people who follows The Bibliophile Chronicles. For subscribing to and for supporting my very own literary e-column, from the bottom of my heart, thank you so much. Because of you, there are no longer a bottomless well of void within that needs to be constantly filled, only the blank, white pages of my computer screen. You make me want to become the best writer I could be.
And for that, you, my dear readers, can rest assured that the blank pages will be filled only with something that has your best interests at heart.
Francis Baraan IV — author, The Bibliophile Chronicles, a literary blog and e-column
The truth is I still don’t know the difference between an application and a widget. But for this blog post, let us call anything we download from Apple’s Application Store as either apps or widgets, no distinction. You see, I am not a techie, and I really don’t care much about phones. When someone gave me an IPhone for Christmas, I honestly didn’t know what to do with it. I thought high-end phones were just a waste of money since all I needed was to make calls, text, and email some business partners, investors, and important clients — all these things I could do with just about any other phone and my laptop.
But I had a change of heart when I downloaded some of the best apps/widgets I think every writer should have, assuming you have an Internet connection and using an IPhone. Here they are — the applications that I swear will make your writing life easier whether you’re in transit or in your own room:
I swear by this application. You will be glad you downloaded it. With millions of words and a comprehensive list of synonyms and antonyms, and favorite words, you’ll have that elusive word in no time.
Top-rated app with trusted reference content from Dictionary.com & Thesaurus.com. WORKS OFFLINE – no Internet connection needed when searching words. ★ Time Magazine ‘Top 10 Back-To-School App’, Apple ‘Top 10 App’ High School Survival Guide, Winner: CNET Top 100 Mobile App Award ★ (1)
* English Dictionary and Thesaurus – over 2,000,000 definitions, synonyms & antonyms
* Offline access – no Internet connection needed for most content
* Daily content, including Word of the Day & The Hot Word
* Audio pronunciation
* Example sentences
Whenever you need some inspiration for your novel, all you have to do is check this application for prompts, and voila, it will release the creative juices you need for that next chapter or for that next book.
Lists for Writers is a great addition to any writer’s toolbox. Helpful to both novice and expert writers alike, this app delivers list after list of prompts and ideas for your brainstorming sessions: names, character traits, plot lines, occupations, obsessions, action verbs, and much more. (1)
3. Spice Mobile
Looking for that perfect phrase for your book, or to find ways to describe your character? Are you looking for that phrase that will make your protagonist jump off the pages, then you should download Spice Mobile, the best phrase thesaurus application that will give you the oomph your book needs. With over 8,000 keywords and over 22,000 creative phrases, you can paint your book with beautiful descriptions. Definitely a must-download writing reference application.
The title of the application says it all. With 15,000 “business”, “felicitous”, “literary”, “significant”, and “impressive” phrases you can use for speaking and writing, you can’t go wrong with this application. Whether you are writing creative fiction or creative nonfiction, this will sure surely help you with all the dialogue you need for your characters — and for striking up a wonderful conversation.
This application was actually made for students and grad students of prose and literature, but even if you’re already a professional writer, it helps to be reminded of what the elements and concepts of literature are. What’s good about this is that you can dissect categorically the parts of a prose, poetry, and rhetoric, and from there you can give an in-depth analysis and review of a novel, a poem, or any piece of literature. Great, especially, for young book reviewers and writers.
Description/How To Use: (1)
“By arranging the elements of literature graphically around three wheels (poetry, prose, and rhetoric), [you]’ll be able to visualize how the elements of literature develop style and meaning. Click on any of the literary terms listed around the wheels, and a screen appears with a detailed definition of the term, several examples from literature, and additional questions to ask yourself about how that device is employed in the literature you are currently studying. Click on “Figures of Speech” from any of the three wheels, and the “Figures of Speech Wheel” appears, which functions in the same way as the three others.”
Launched in October of 2012, The Paris Review’s Iphone/Ipad app is relatively new, but certainly a welcome addition to the widgets/applications in your Iphone. No self-respecting writer should miss this writer’s holy grail of an application. Although I would still prefer the real printed version, this would definitely suffice as a close substitute. The collection of interviews with authors, thankfully, are free, the other sections are for subscription–but it’s worth every cent. It’s The The Paris Review, damn it. Need I say more?
Being a WordPress blogger, I was ecstatic when I found out I could blog right from my own Iphone. Trust me, I did it many times, and it’s as good as blogging from your own laptop. It’s easy to learn, and quite easy to navigate. I love it, and I think you’ll love it, too. If you have an Iphone and a WordPress account, you should definitely download this little gem.
It’s the one-stop shop for all writers of the news junkie persuasion. By far the most successful news/blog site today, The Huffington Post is the best resource of all things relevant at the moment. With sections on lifestyle, arts and culture, politics, entertainment, media, business, and even books, this should be on the home page of your Iphone. You’ll be updated on the latest happenings and you can even get glimpses of inspiration from stories from around the globe. Oh, and the best part is — it’s free!
With over 10 miilion members, and over a whopping 300 million titles available, you will literally never run out of choices from one the biggest book sites on Earth. You can share your notes and comments, what you’re currently reading, and your book reviews, bookmark favorites, create a list of to-read books, and download thousands of free e-books. I actually downloaded some of the free e-books by my favorite classic authors. And when you’re it a bookstore and want to include a book in your to-read list, just simply scan the barcode using the barcode scanner, and you won’t have to forget the book that you want to read so you can buy it next time.
Any writer or author who does not have this on his Iphone should be ashamed of himself. If you want to get the best deals, and check out the latest reviews you must download this. With over millions of book choices, you’ll be breaking the bank in no time with their 1-Click order button once you set up your payment account details. For e-books, you can check it out with your Kindle for PC, Ipad, or Iphone; for paperback versions, you’ll have to wait for days, of course. And who knows? Maybe the next Amazon Breakout Novel Award will go to your book so tell your other author and writer friends to download this application so they can buy your book.
Lastly, we have the Kindle application, one of the required applications so you can download and read the e-books from Amazon, which is why it should be included in your top widget/app list. With millions of Kindle e-books out now, and with a wide selection of your favorite authors choosing Kindle as one of their e-publishers, once you buy the e-book you can read them anytime even without Internet connection. You can also use it to read PDFs and other documents you download for work. With these features, downloading the Kindle app is simply a no-brainer, don’t you think?
Well, this concludes the list. I hope this helps you make your decision on picking out the best widget/apps that you wish to have on your Iphone. If there are any other widget/apps out there that you think could complement this list, I’d love to hear it. Question: Do you think some of the popular authors like Stephen King and James Patterson use an Iphone? If so, what widgets and apps do you think they have in that phone? That’s one phone I sure would love to check out, wouldn’t you?
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing.” Before writing this blog post, I published another one before this, and then decided to unpublish it ten minutes after. In the following paragraphs, I shall explain my reasons for doing so, but know that if it weren’t for that blog post, there wouldn’t be any lessons to be learned now. The deleted blog post concerned was a product of my active, and in this case, my rather unimpressive imagination. The main theme I had in mind was to make humans look superior to aliens, or at the very least to make aliens look inferior to humans. In my mind, I thought it was hilarious, original, and creative. Everybody knows what Martians are. They’re our alien counterpart in Mars. Yes, it’s going to work, I thought. While writing the blog post I considered including some things for effect, things from my past that I never would have thought about sharing publicly save for my very own memoir that I soon hope to write and publish. Despite my apprehensions, I still included it in the deleted blog post that I named “Racing Thoughts Of A Bipolar Writer No. 3: On Reading, Aliens, And Honest Recollections.”
At the time, it seemed like a great idea. I thought it could work, and it could quite possibly be my funniest work yet. I was wrong. I realized quickly that there was nothing hilarious, original, and creative about it. It was, in truth, rather dull, unoriginal, and uncreative. I tried too hard to make it work that the whole thing, after having read it and given it some real thought, felt even to me, contrived, constipated, and corny.
It didn’t take a genius to see what was wrong with it. Thank God not many people had read it as I had deleted it just as quickly as I had published it. Here are my reasons for doing so:
Firstly, for the most part I think I was too close to it that I lost all sense of objectivity, so much so that I was blind to my own work’s faults and flaws. And while we’re on the subject of faults and flaws, know that I take full responsibility for such a monumental lapse of judgment. I deluded myself into thinking that my writing talent knows no bounds and limits, and I deluded myself into thinking that I could write anything and everything on my mind without pausing for revision, edition, filtration, and intelligent deliberation. Now, the cliche-ish phrase “Think before you click” is beginning to sound “I told you so.” One wonders why.
Secondly, I think I was having a manic episode of some sort (I’m bipolar). I must have been in a state of euphoria that everything seemed funny. All I could hear was the sound of of my laughing voice inside my head while I was writing it. Yes, I had punch lines, backhandedly sarcastic and bitingly cold remarks and punch lines, but I didn’t ask myself whether what may have worked inside my head and said out loud might also work just as well when written. I now learned that there are punch lines that are better left unwritten and said out loud than written. I believe the expression “Say what?!” is a very good example of something better left unwritten and said out loud than just written. Admittedly, I tried to incorporate this in the deleted blog post, but I thought that it immediately lost its charm altogether after I was slapped senseless back to lucidity, reality, and objectivity by my medications–and by myself. Ultimately, I think It’s not so much about having overestimated my capacity for humor (although, I must admit, this could be one of the main reasons for the failure of the blog post, too) as it is about having underestimated the power of revision, edition, filtration, and intelligent deliberation. The manic-euphoric reason is complete bollocks. I’m just making excuses for my shallow, amorphous ideas and lackluster writing in the deleted blog post.
Thirdly, the deleted the blog post didn’t seem to have the soul I thought I’d given it. It might have been filled with private things I didn’t want to share with the public, things that might be seen as brave and honest and admirable, but they were just merely there for embellishment–to adorn, to entertain, to shock. They weren’t written from an honest place, they were written for ratings–for views, hits, and clicks. I still regret the fact that I published those private things there, however briefly they may have been published. Just the thought that I actually wrote them just as a sub-theme and as adornment for that deleted blog post seems, I realize, a little callous and deplorable. I shall never write of my memoirs that lightly ever again. At the expense of sounding sentimental, what I did feels almost sacrilegious. Memories aren’t supposed to be just sub-themes, let alone a sub-theme for an “aliens versus humans” blog post. I might look back on this overreaction tomorrow with laughter, but for now let me feel what I’m supposed to feel. What was I thinking?! Never will such an oversight be made again. You’ll just have to buy the book of my memoirs once it’s published. Rest assured that I’ll give it all the soul it deserves, as do all writings deserve.
Fourthly and lastly, I feel that I am still at a point where, being a relatively novice writer, I’m still experimenting with different styles of writing. But with my experience with the previously deleted blog post, I am now quite certain that aliens don’t mesh well with humans and human experiences, and that I’d rather stick to what I know about–aliens and Martians shall obviously be crossed out of the picture henceforth, as shall all pathetic, desperate attempts at humor.
Overall, it has been such a good learning experience. For that, I am thankful. Had it not been for my recent writing and publishing incident, I wouldn’t have learned the things I had learned today. Indeed, writing is both a craft and an art. In time and with constant practice, all we can hope for is to get better. All we have to do is write and write until we get it right. Write something worth reading, you say, Mr. Franklin? Well, by all accounts, sir, I think it’s safe to say that this blog post is more worthy of reading than the previously deleted blog post. Yes, I think this one won’t go to the computer’s trash receptacle like its predecessor. No, this one will be just fine–more human, less alien. Yes, now I can say that everything will be allwrite.