the tamago report

Eggs benedictated

Month: January, 2013

The Question of Questions

by MDY

Repeat yourself if necessary. Be polite and efficient. You should start with something that they can answer easily. Don’t inquire as to how they are if you think they’ll take it seriously. When I was younger, I would write down a list of five questions, starting from specific to broader to controversial if applicable. You want to start a conversation, not a fugue in three parts. Writing down the list helps you identify which topics you want to discuss and which ones you don’t. Make sure you’re always to the point and don’t be afraid to clarify. Does what I’m saying make sense?

Don’t ask stupid things. “If you were a fruit, what type would you be?” is only relevant when auditioning for grocery commercials or certain children’s plays. Get to the point but with as much respect or lack thereof as they deserve. If they wander and you don’t want them to, leash them in when they pause for breath: “I see. But going from before…”  Repeat yourself if necessary. It is your responsibility to assume control, even if they’re the boss. But don’t cut them off if they’re giving what you want but not what you expected. The most recent interview I did saw the talent spend more than half his time answering my first question. You want to start a conversation, not end one prematurely. Ask questions which give your talent open space to shine. Why would you do that?

Questions work both ways. If you’re the talent, make sure you’re always to the point and don’t be afraid to clarify. The “any questions?” stage of a job interview is a chance for you to turn inquisitor and assume the privilege of need-to-know usually held by journalists and spies. I have never sat for a job interview. Keep things spontaneous and if the conversation meanders downstream, go with the flow but don’t use silly metaphors. Be efficient, and polite, even if they turn hostile. In case of emergency, slap their common-sense until it bleeds. What’s the difference between a duck?


The Question of Originality

by MDY

At the start you must beg, borrow and steal. Writing “in the style of…” is a common exercise set by English teachers who will often quote Eliot at you simultaneously. Doing so develops both technique and empathy. You can’t be a forger of Hemingway if you don’t try and inevitably fail to understand him. Equally difficult is subduing your own feeble creative impulses and suffocating your ego – “I have something important to say” – with the heavy pillow of style – “But who will listen?” – until its contusions weaken, eke out one last self-indulgent spasm, and fall into a deep sleep. Empathy is a mug’s game hence the trope of writers’ coffee. Kermit was onto something: far harder, though, to be all the colours of the invisible spectrum.

Next comes the process of unnatural selection. Finding the voices which you venerate and worship, then cutting them up into little pieces so you can put them back together again. Words are like stem cells, spliced and mixed into your morning coffee. Some people say I sound like Murakami – I did dissect him more than once – but you can’t productively compare apples and their facsimiles unless you’re the one at the photocopier. Read widely, but don’t take a muse. Remember that surgery is the trickiest and most rewarding art form. When you’re finding your voice, losing some always means winning some more.

The last stage is acceptance. When I talk on the phone, I hear my father’s voice. Where I picked it up from I don’t know – probably all those nights as a not-adult listening to him on calls with India and SanFran and occasionally the buildings adjacent to the Hague – but it was through no conscious effort of mine. It’s not violent; Sophocles was just self-indulgent. Stem cells must always come from somewhere. Originality always ends up a facsimile of history.

15-minute writing

by MDY

My 15 minutes:

I’m never fully aware of what goes on in this house. From time to time I hear mutterings in the eaves, and sometimes a spoon will go missing from the three places I set at the table out of habit, though never from my seat own. There’s no rigour to their thievery, but it comforts me all the same. Otherwise, the rest is silence. Once I woke to find a bee flitting about my pillow, and I lay still until, apian energy expired, it settled down to nap on the bridge of my nose. I tried to watch it awhile – it’s hard to focus on something so close to you – but eventually closed my eyes and when they’d reopened the bee was gone, as though I or it had been dreaming the other into existence.

My routine is strict, mostly. Up with the sun, a breakfast of oats and berries drawn from the forests not two miles East. Open the windows to let the breeze (and occasional bees) filter circulate through the house, only to close them when the moon decides to make its rounds. Write till noon, read till nightfall. It’s not silence when you dissect it with your close attention. It dissolves into clicks and whirs of insects, the occasional outburst of birdsong (though few birds make it out this far), a bee’s whirring on the winds. Bees being insects too, of course – I’m repeating myself. Habits when no-one’s around to defend against one’s missives. Except them, and they’re not really the most exacting of audiences.

Soon, men will return here, with hopes of finding me. But men are not bees, and it’s not just spoons that disappear in these parts.

My response:

It’s intriguing but is that enough? The first paragraph is an interesting one (I came up with it during the hubbub of fractured chatter in my own house this morning), especially the anecdote about the bee, but you could excise the second bit and not lose much except a bit of blatant exposition. “There’s no rigour…”: I like that inversion, it’s an unexpectedly thoughtful approach to loneliness. Hard to tell where this story is going – feels like the alluded drama of the final par is just thrown in for over-effect. I like the last line, though, it plays on the “three plates” set-up at the start in a way that’s more introspective than horrific. Is the bee anecdote a subconscious homage and if so where am I going with that? There’s something going on around words, audiences, writing v. reading, but it’s unformed – like a chrysalis, only time will tell if it spits out a butterfly or an impossibly beautiful Japanese girl.


The task: I set myself 15 minutes to write something, anything. Then I critique what I’ve written and give you a chance to do so as well. This is a compressed variant of one of my old regimes and a useful habit if you’re aiming to improve your writing especially under time pressures. Like weight-lifting (which I abhor), repetition is the key.