This past week, I was in Lisbon, Portugal as a participant at the 30th anniversary and 15th International Conference on the Short Story in English. Judging from the record number of participants present (more than 100, writers and academics, from all over the world) and the sheer enthusiasm and energy on display at the 4-day event, it is evident that the Short Story is alive and well.
Two years ago, I was MIA at the 14th Conference, held for the first time in Asia, in Shanghai, China. I was all registered and raring to go, but at the eleventh hour was stricken by a minor stroke. The conference organising committee was sympathetic and refunded me my registration fee, and even subsequently sent me a complimentary copy of the anthology of short stories contributed by the registered participants.
A few of the participants at this year’s conference told me that my name looked vaguely familiar to them, and that they seemed to have met me before. I told them they probably had spotted my name and photo, published for the Shanghai list of participants, and maybe read my story, “The Cuckoo”, which I had submitted earlier for the conference anthology. Not that I claim any resemblance to the protagonist in the story, I should qualify.
Now 2 years and a double-bypass open-heart surgery later, I found myself in Lisbon. Looking ‘hale and hearty’, according to those who heard me explain my absence one conference ago. Yes, by God’s grace, and after a regime of rehabilitation, stringent diet control, and an ever- looming cocktail of medication. And voluntarily staying on the wagon, even though the doctor hadn’t ordered it. I think, I must have been a doctor’s ideal patient. It’s been a long route to recovery. But I can’t say I’m completely back yet – if I’ll ever be.
During the two years past, except for the two stories I had written for the said anthologies, I had produced no other. No new collection was added to my existing two. When asked by well-meaning friends and family, I said that I had momentarily switched to writing essays. Which was true enough, for the first of the two years anyway. I was penning mostly opinion pieces, on various issues, and featuring them in my personal blog, “Living The Writing” – viz, this one. In all, I must have written more than 30 pieces.
Then in the middle of last year, the ideas stopped coming, and the creative juices stopped flowing. The tap ran dry. It’s been a long period of drought since my last piece entitled, “The Silly Slickers”, written in September last year.
I don’t think it was a case of writer’s block. If anything, I suspect it had something to do with my lack of a sustained regiment of physical exercise. Joyce Carol Oates, arguably the most prolific living American writer, wrote a piece entitled “To Invigorate Literary Mind, Start Moving Literary Feet.” for The New York Times, in the series, “Writers on Writing.” In it, she posited that there is a direct relationship between the act of running and the act of writing, something to the effect that the act of running (or hiking or walking) tends to stimulate more writing:-
“There must be some analogue between running and dreaming…Writers and poets are famous for loving to be in motion. If not running, hiking; if not hiking, walking…”
Prior to my stroke, I was walking – a lot. And at a reasonably brisk pace too. I used to walk 6 kilometers an hour. Minimum 3 times a week. Subsequent to it, and following my heart surgery, I walked the barest minimum, basically just to get from one place to another. About 6 months ago, I started to resume a walking routine. I haven’t yet regained my previous pace, and may never do so. But it’s something, even at half the pace it used to be. Just see what it has already wrought.
The writing is back! It is alive and well. I think — and hope.