Dependent Origination

Brief Encounters with Che Guevara

Posted on: July 1, 2012


I came across this book through this article from New Yorker: Late Boomers. It is an article on why we think genius has to equate to precocity. I find it ringing so many bells with lots of things I want to say for a while. It is especially true with Chinese people: every time I talked to someone newly met, they would check up on your schools, years, then estimate your net worth, and how far you have made milestones in life such as house and kids. It is miserable talking with these people. They usually end their inquiries with a look that says oh so you are normal, even a bit behind schedule (in terms of kids), so no big shots. Sometimes they would launch into this talk on which big shots they know, and why they are big shots. The “big shots” are usually younger, or at least younger than their class/generation, reached money, or kids earlier than everyone else, and kept that step ahead until last time they heard of them (which is more likely through a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend …). It is as if there is a single race in life, and you not only are evaluated by it singlehandedly, you have to reach finish a lot earlier than other people. Otherwise you are doomed, or at least not worth discussion, or worth getting to know as a person.

I feel so confused by all those underlying assumptions. Isn’t life expectancy reaching 80’s? Shouldn’t our generation be expecting to live into old age with much better life quality than our previous generations? Doesn’t that mean you have to keep inventing yourself until the end? Even if life is a race with everyone shooting for the same finish line, isn’t it more like marathon that you have to keep at it for a LONG time? Those people made you feel as long you are get out of the start line faster than other people, and reached the first mile marker earlier, you will be good for life. How wrong.

Enough lashing out. That is why I like that article. It says most people reach their personal best, no matter what they are, through hard working, through years of practicing. That is more like me. The article named a writer, Ben Fountain, who started writing after law school and stayed at home and did nothing for the next ten or fifteen years and finally having his work published recently, which is the book we are reviewing here. Of the ten or fifteen years, his wife (they met in law school) took on the lawyer job in a small town so a single salary can have them live rather comfortably. His wife lets him do what he wants to do most and never gave him anything about money, not a single time. It is another Lee Ang story, essentially.

I like the article (it is from author of Blink btw) so I picked up the book before our Japan trip. Unfortunately I have to report, writing is something that needs talent. The stories feel a bit flat. I might remember one thing or the other of a tiny detail of a story, but not enough to be really impressed by it. Characters are distant people, except the title story with the hero probably writer himself. It is only when the writer writes about himself that I feel a somewhat draw. In other words, he is not that successful in constructing a believable world inhabited by lovable people. So despite I have lamented so much about hardworking, the book just says the opposite: at least in artistic expression, talent probably comes foremost.

This is not to say the people of less talent should stop practicing their craft in the hope of perfecting it along the way. But we should set realistic expectations on what we can achieve in the end, with the cost in mind.


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