17 July 2020

The stubbornnes of a reluctant writer

A frequent reader of my articles constantly shares information and reflections he believes I should use in my articles. He suggests frequently but sometimes insists. I am sure I disappoint him now and then. A couple of days ago, he sent me the following message:

‘Piyasiri...Jayasiri... you have done it again! Ruined a plot of a short story that would be remembered in 10 years by swapping it to a forgettable essay that would be forgotten in one year.... No point even reminding your potential for a short story. Btw why not write about your stubbornness in your next essay.’

The reference was to an article published in the Daily News on July 15, 2020 titled ‘Piyasiri and Jayasiri’ which I posted in my blog as ‘The flights of the brothers Piyasiri and Jayasiri.’  Obviously My friend was disappointed. I took it as a well meant admonishment. 

It was not the first time. On that occasion, I wrote about 'shameless writing.'

This time around he made me think about stubbornness. I realized that whereas I would often consider suggestions, I am generally disposed to push aside anything that starts with ‘you should’ or ‘you must.’ I don’t know why though. When people ‘suggest’ something in question form beginning with ‘why don’t you…’ I don’t even want to respond. Maybe if the word ‘maybe’ was interjected somewhere in the suggestion I would be less ‘stubborn,’ I don’t know. 

My friend believes that I ruin potential short stories by wasting short-story material in articles such as the one about Piyasiri and Jayasiri. He may be correct. 

I have on occasion wanted to write fiction. Another friend, Anuruddha Pradeep Karnasuriya, told me a long time ago that if I remained in journalism I would never write a novel. This was in my early days in this field. He essentially said that journalists get used to writing it all in a limited number of words. He is correct in that we have to stick to word limits set by editors. We can’t get the entire story in but we realize sooner or later (if we worked for a Sunday paper as I did at the time) that seven days hence we will get another opportunity to write about aspects we had to leave out on account of space constraints. We console ourselves with the knowledge that there are few if any capture-all narratives.   

Stories. That’s what we are talking about here. Reading Gabriel Garcia Márquez’ biography a few years ago, I realized that his short stories and novels were not exactly fiction. He did take liberties and colored things up with magical realism, but in essence his stories were about things that really happened to real people, real communities and real nations.  Maybe this is because he was first a journalist and a novelist later. Maybe other writers are ‘more pure’ when it comes to producing fiction. However, fiction or not, if narratives do explore the human condition through real or imagined interaction among human beings and between people and the world around then, there’s something ‘true’ that results. Good enough for me. 

Years ago, I tried my hand at writing a novel. I wrote a couple of pages and that was it. A few years later when someone asked me whether I’ve ever wanted to write a novel, I mentioned this. She wanted to read it. She did. The following conversation ensued and I wrote it all down from memory a few days later.  She began by insisting that I should not continue with the story.

‘It is too sad.'

‘Are there happy stories in this world?  Isn’t it true that we want joy, contentment and triumph as our constant companions but that they are just random travelers crossing our paths now and then?  They may stay awhile and chat but will move on.  All those grand moments that we call magical, they are preceded and succeeded by things that are pretty shitty.’ 


‘A fairy tale then; with a lived-happily-ever-after ending?’   

‘No. That’s not right either.  But what was this story about?’  

‘Do you want me to write the story or just trash it?’ 

‘Don’t write it.  Just tell me what made you want to write it.’

‘That would take away the charm of the story and if I ever finish it, you would not enjoy it.  I mean, I don’t know if it is a sad story or not, but if it was not you would find it quite flat even if it was the best novel ever written.  And if it turned out to be sad, your eyes would not fill with tears.  That’s important you know.’  

‘I don’t care.  You won’t write it.  I don’t want you to write it.  And you shall not.’

‘Are you my agent or something?’

‘Do you want me to be?’

‘No. I am not interested in publishing.’

‘Then why write at all?’

‘I don’t know.  It feels nice to write things down.  Sometimes if I sat down to think something out I get nowhere, but when I write, write anything and not necessarily about what is bothering me, things that I earlier found to be complex or obscure unravel. Writing clears my throat.’  

‘How can writing clear your throat?  Maybe you mean it clears your mind.’

‘No, definitely not. I meant my throat. That’s where things get stuck.  Words, mostly.’  

‘You are funny.’  

‘I am a clown, didn’t you know?’

‘Tell me the story.’  

‘It’s a short story.’


‘You will be disappointed and will ask me what the fuss was all about.’  

‘Can you stop foot-dragging and just tell?’

‘That’s the way I tell stories.  I go round and round until people start wondering when I am going to get to the point.  The point is there is no point.  Stories are pointless things.’

‘Ok, can you start this pointless story?’

‘You are not letting me tell it.’  

‘Well, do you want to tell it?’

‘Since you asked, yes.’  

‘Then can you start now?’

‘You are hurrying me.’  

‘I am your audience and you have to find a way of capturing my attention and you are failing badly here.’

‘I am the story-teller and I tell stories at my own pace or not at all.  Sometimes the throat doesn’t clear and you have to wait for the right moment.’  

‘What is the right moment?’  

‘Not now.’  

‘You are impossible.’

‘Would you prefer me to be possible?’  

That was a merciful conversation stopper.  

What are the stories that are read and forgotten and what is it that makes stories remain long after we’ve read or heard them? I don’t know. Does ‘memorability’ figure when we start writing? I don’t know how it works for others. I just transcribe the world the way it speaks to me. That’s all. Take issue with my narrative choices if you will, but I am not lamenting vocations that passed me by or options I did to recognize or brushed aside. Immortality is not my thing. Neither is longevity. So I stubbornly insist.

This article was first published in the DAILY NEWS [July 17, 2020]

Other articles in the series 'In Passing...':  [published in the 'Daily News']   
Eyes that watch the world and cannot be forgotten 
 Let's start with the credits, shall we? 
The 'We' that 'I' forgot 
'Duwapang Askey,' screamed a legend, almost 40 years ago
Dances with daughters
Reflections on shameless writing
Is the old house still standing?
 Magic doesn't make its way into the classifieds
Small is beautiful and is a consolation  
Distance is a product of the will
Akalanka Athukorala, at 13+ already a hurricane hunter
Did the mountain move, and if so why?
Ever been out of Colombo?
Anya Raux educated me about Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA)
Wicky's Story You can always go to GOAT Mountain
Let's learn the art of embracing damage
Kandy Lake is lined with poetry
There's never a 'right moment' for love
A love note to an unknown address in Los Angeles
A dusk song for Rasika Jayakody
How about creating some history?
How far away are the faraway places?
There ARE good people!
Re-placing people in the story of schooldays   
When we stop, we can begin to learn
Routine and pattern can checkmate poetry
Janani Amanda Umandi threw a b'day party for her father 
Sriyani and her serendipity shop
Forget constellations and the names of oceans
Where's your 'One, Galle Face'?
Maps as wrapping paper, roads as ribbons
Yasaratne, the gentle giant of Divulgane  
Katharagama and Athara Maga
Victories are made by assists
Lost and found between weaver and weave
The Dhammapada and word-intricacies
S.A. Dissanayake taught children to walk in the clouds
White is a color we forget too often  
The most beautiful road is yet to meet a cartographer