Why I Write
Like Gabriel García Márquez, it never occurred to me that I could be a writer, let alone run an online publication. In García Márquez’s student days, Eduardo Zalamea Borda, editor of the literary supplement of El Espectador, in Bogotá, published a note in which he said that the younger generation of writers had nothing to offer. When I first started out in November 2014, I did not know what I could offer to my readers. I did not have a journalism background as I read psychology at NYU. Perhaps, that is why I have always been fascinated by people: their passions, dreams, ideologies, vices, and what ultimately drives them. I seek to discover the good, the bad, and the ugly, which is closer to reality than a romanticized version. To me, human beings are incredibly intriguing because they are such enigmas, yet paradoxically, they want to be understood and heard. Each shaped and molded by their upbringing, environment, experiences, and people that they meet. This is why they cannot be easily defined.
In today’s modern society, we form impressions of people very quickly since we are all slaves to time. The medium can be face-to-face, reading about a particular person in a newspaper or magazine, or simply through word of mouth. And with the tremendous impact that social media has, people have taken matters into their own hands by promoting and aggrandizing themselves so as to control how they would like to appear to the world. This begets the question: What is real? Who are you underneath the one too many head-tilted selfies and perfectly orchestrated photos with tasteful filters that depict your stylish outfits, restaurant hunts, and glamorous jet-setting lifestyle? If envy is the name of the game, then is the whole world a big green-eyed monster?
Unfortunately, the media also fuels this inaccurate portrayal by overly sensationalizing and hyping up personas for dramatic purposes in a bid to garner more eyeballs. More often than not, journalists approach the interview with an angle in mind even before they meet the person. They stereotype and form preconceived notions hastily because it’s convenient to fit the interviewee into a box. Call it one-dimensional, but that’s their modus operandi.
On the flip side, people use the media to push out their own agenda or to bolster their ego by telling the world about their successes. If you think getting a tremendous amount of media coverage is equivalent to one’s success, you might be sadly mistaken. It does raise awareness and generate buzz, but it could be skillfully orchestrated by the interviewee or their PR firm. At times, I question how authentic and genuine their answers are, because they might be telling me what I need to know to form a good impression. It’s a way of marketing or selling – and besides, who doesn’t love a good story or ingenious quotable one-liners?
It’s one big game, and my biggest struggle is deciphering the “truth” or dispelling this “illusion” so to speak. Quite frankly, I will never really know and I’ve come to terms with this ambiguity. The only control I have, is my writing and what I can offer.
What sets me apart is that I don’t subscribe to such conventionality of pigeonholing. I am fully cognizant of how multi-faceted human beings are in their own manner, and it will be ignorant to disregard a side to them just so that I can squeeze them into a monthly feature. The truth is, I care. I deeply do, which is why all my interviews are done face-to-face, with a minimum of an hour because I would like to get to know each person on a personal level. There were instances when I spent four hours with interviewees. And sometimes, I wish that I had more time with the person. This is analogous to Kouki telling Rio in the movie Tenshi no Koi: “Since meeting you, I actually began wishing for. . . more time.”
My approach towards people is spiced with curiosity and a genuine interest to capture the true essence of who they are as an individual in each profile piece. Nonfiction writer Lucas Mann wrote a beautiful article in The Atlantic titled: To Write a Great Essay, Think and Care Deeply, which flawlessly captures what J. R. Ackerley intuits – “At it’s heart, that’s all a great essay is: a virtuoso performance of care.”
My Writing Process
My care is manifested towards the person and my craft. Writing each profile piece takes up 5 days of my life whereby I literally give myself to the person. I do nothing but write from morning to night. In Ernest Hemingway’s famous words, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Undeniably, the act of writing is one aspect, but I also enter a state of limerence. The person will occupy my thoughts twenty-four-seven as I start to vividly playback the encounter – nothing goes unnoticed; whether it is an inflection in their voice, a slight deliberate pause before answering, or even breaking out into a reticent laugh. While all this is happening, I am simultaneously thinking about the title, introduction and structure. Sometimes, the person appears in my dreams too. I have to admit, it is an intense process, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Often, my interviewees do disclose information which is off-the-record. This can be tricky to some, but I am careful never to publish sensitive or detrimental information that might have possible ramifications to their reputation or career. I value their candidness and trust above anything else. I don’t need to use juicy tidbits to entice readers as it goes against my core beliefs, and what kind of brand I want my publication to be. At the end of the day, I believe good writing will sell itself – it’s about asking the right questions, choice of words, and attention to detail. Fundamentally, my intention is to create “a work of art” that didn’t exist before. Words have the power to inspire, galvanize and impact change – and I hope to convey deep-rooted insights and valuable lessons with every single profile.
They say love is a funny thing. With each person, it varies – manifesting in different forms, and resonating at different frequencies. However, there were some whom I fell in love more deeply because of similarities in their worldviews and tastes even though the paths that we were on differed drastically. Ironically, we managed to converge like two incandescent stars in a constellation through the interview process. When such connections are forged, the fluidity renders the medium almost inconsequential, as it turns into something so ineffable and poignant. How I love a person is akin to an abridged Pablo Neruda Sonnet XVII:
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way than this.
Thus far, I am incredibly honoured to be able to tell each interviewee’s story, and every single encounter has made an indelible impact on my life. When I combine my passion for people and weave them into my writing, my work gets so much more enriching. This sense of purpose and meaning is what every writer desires to achieve in his or her subject.
Just the other day, someone asked me what I did for a living and I said, “Everyone has a story. Let me tell yours.”