does not describe me fully
it is where to start
Saturday, March 6, 2010
My Debt to Ralph Waldo Emerson and Ayn Rand
At fourteen, I devoured countless pulp romance novels, in addition to Hugo, de Maupassant, Austen, et al. They did not change my life, though, the way two other writers did: Ayn Rand and Ralph Waldo Emerson. In retrospect, this was an improbable combination of mentors since transcendentalist Emerson would have thought little of atheist Rand, and Rand herself dismissed Emerson’s abilities as a philosopher. Perhaps, then, it is a testimony to how unformed a person I was at fourteen that both of them had a towering influence on me at the same time.
The first mentor, Ayn Rand, helped me address my unease with the highly charged religious atmosphere I was born into. I became her devoted acolyte (!), reading all her novels and essays. Indeed, I hung on to her every word for years until, well, I didn’t anymore. I am no longer an atheist . For a summary of my current beliefs, read My Religious Primerpost.
Apart from easing my transition into my then atheism, Rand is directly responsible for steering me into a business career. I so admired her fictional heroines, who tackled as equals men in the business world, that I thought, “I can do that!” Much to my family’s amazement, I went on to get my MBA and to embark on a business career that eventually took me to several continents. I left that career quite early, but I remain forever grateful to Ayn Rand for spurring me on to try something which, given my family background, I would never have known existed; much less, tried.
My other mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, wrote an essay, “Self Reliance,” which gave wings to my inner sense at fourteen that my differentness should be honored and not repressed. I was so smitten by this essay that I taped excerpts from it all over my bedroom walls. My mother never learned English but when she saw those yellow bits of paper stuck on the walls, she’d grumble, sensing correctly that their content was rebellious somehow. My father and brother did understand English but their reaction was simply to stand in front of the quotes and then turn around to look at me quizzically. My brother might even have said I was nuts.
Recently, my discussion group studied this Emerson essay, and I quickly found myself remembering that bedroom wall papered with Emerson quotes. I also re-discovered the source of the quote I had coincidentally added last year to this blog’s favorite quotes section.
“Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half possession ... Do that which is assigned to you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much.”
The more mature me can take issue with Emerson on many fronts, but this quote remains compelling in its admonition to honor my uniqueness. This is true not only for my personal life, but also for my fiction, where I always strive to avoid being derivative.
My writing frequently explores multicultural themes. Born in Puerto Rico, I moved at a young age to the U.S., where my parents became Pentecostal ministers. Early immersion in Latino and religious cultures preceded later experiences as a businesswoman, a White House Fellow, and life aboard a trawler cruising from Martha’s Vineyard to South America. These sometimes incompatible worlds have given me a respectful outlook toward differing points of view. My short stories, poems, and essays reflect my own inclusive, yet sharply defined, journey across cultural and socioeconomic boundaries. I recently published Peace on the Journey, a poetry collection which explores the theme of renewal in the face of adversity.
The defining image of this blog is a waterfall. Its inspiration comes from a scene in one of my novels in which the infant protagonist escapes her mother’s attention and wanders off to a nearby waterfall. While there, she experiences a mysterious sense of wellbeing, which she yearns to replicate for the rest of her life.
"I have made love to my writing and am now in the afterglow."
"Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half possession... Do that which is assigned to you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
About his fictional town Macondo, widely acknowledged to be inspired by his real home town of Aracataca, Colombia. “Macondo is not so much a place as it is a state of mind.”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
"The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers fear."
"The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing."
Blaise Pascal, Pensées
"There is vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and, because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly... to keep the channel open."