In the summer of 2009, this little Malaysian found herself playing with a startup in Paris called the Paris Summer Institute. This startup was propagating Advanced Intelligence tools; I helped develop content for roll-out across various platforms. In exchange, I learned a little bit about elevating my own levels of Physical Intelligence PQ, Emotional Intellinge EQ, and IQ, and this went a long way towards liberating the writer inside me. 🙂 The founder did everything to encourage me. Foremost, by changing the way I perceived my own potential: “You were born to be a writer”, she said, “you just need to find your voice. Go journalize for an hour everyday over breakfast!”
Paris is a wonderful place to begin identifying with yourself as a writer. I mean, what a stupendous gift from the universe. It has a thriving expat community who participate in all forms of the arts. And rich settings for getting into creative-flow-states. And a cafe on every block. Every Wednesday, I went to a writer’s group workshop (The Other Writer’s Group) at Shakespeare and Company. This is a quaint little bookstore located right across from the Notre Dame, on the site of a 16th century monastery on 37 Rue de la Bucherie. This used to be the epicenter of Anglo-American literary culture and modernism in Paris. Meeting place of Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein…it was nicknamed “Stratford-on-Odéon” by James Joyce, who used it as his office.
It was to this Wednesday Other Writer’s Group that I brought my poem, Tales of the Supernatural, written after a nightmare I’d gotten about fish again. Have I mentioned, that all my life I got recurring nightmares about fish? Not just any fish: predatory, prehistoric, black, fish, monstrous chimeras of shark, serpent, whale and leviathan creatures — an ensemble of my very own recurrent hell. Only this time, I saw a merman with a black tail… and something about the supernatural quality of what I saw… induced me to write this poem. The Other Writer’s Group was the first official audience for the Black Tail. The criticisms and feedback I received there in the Writer’s Room of Shakespeare & Company, under the all-seeing blue oculist’ eyes staring down from a poster of The Great Gatsby, sent me wheeling on a newfound quest.
Back at PSI, we were doing some work using Milton Ericksonnian trance induction to access resourceful states in resolving our deepest fears/issues. Someone invited me into a trance, and persuaded me to get back into the dream, as if I were lucid dreaming. He told me to look around and respond to the information presented in the dream. I was transported to a cave in China Cove (Big Sur) and I instinctively picked up a stick and drew poems in the sand. Those were exactly the words I used, so I when I came out of the trance, they asked me, “can you draw what you saw?”. I regretfully surmised that I couldn’t draw anything to save my life. And William Blake’s the Songs of Innocence was promptly produced. William Blake drew everything he saw in dreams, and reproduced them in miniature wooden etchings, before ever writing them down. “You have to tell us more about this dream. This is your black tail. Your black tale, get it?” Once again, the founder of PSI had me reeling around my newfound writerly quest. This conversation sparked the flames for the story — I knew without a doubt that Tales of a Supernatural wasn’t happy sitting in its poem form.
As serendipity would have it, William Blake’s exhibition was going on at the Petit Palais — and a colleague dragged me there the very next day. The first thing that jumped out at me was how much the devil in William Blake’s works resembled a merman. He had a trident. He had black scales, a serpentine tail. He recurred everywhere, like a prowling, seeing unseen, formidable shadow. The second thing that
gave me chills was his rendition of The Suicide Woods. It wasn’t until years later that I obtained a translation of Canto 13 in Dante Alighieri‘s Inferno. In the Petit Palais, all I could do was stare, mesmerized, at the beguiling merman-as-devil and the harpies-in-hell characters. His visions were screaming out at me, beckoning, like the monstrous fish from my dreams. Creatures that appear scary but, on further examination, are not necessarily so. Pieces of a missing puzzle. I was in need of a theme – something far, far, away from Blake’s maddening, gothic, visions of hell – to wrap them up with.
But what? The answer came somewhere between work and play in Paris, thanks to an IESE MBA classmate who had joined our team at PSI. We were sent one day to BHV in the Marais (Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville or BHV is a department store on rue de Rivoli in the 4th arrondissement of Paris, facing the Hôtel de Ville). It was the best place in Paris to pick up men, apparently. I was to troll my partner in crime through the men’s shoe store there, where rack after rack of designer shoes were on display at eye level so that strolling folks could check each other out in the guise of buying footwear. We were not to return without a few high net worth clients.
I remember being in a taxi, on the way to the Latin Quarter. My partner in crime was describing his ideas for setting up a school of seduction for men one day. He told me all about how he had studied Neil Strauss and read the Game and enrolled in a school for pick-up artists, and was convinced that like marketing in business, you could get seduction down to a science. He didn’t think people were attractive because they were born a certain way, or came endowed with something, but because they worked towards it. And he genuinely wanted to know what I thought about his business idea. Because 50% of the economy was all about it.
I ruminated in silence. We arrived to Barrio Latino, a nightclub for salsa dancers on 46 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine. My friend decided to show me what he meant. He disappeared onto the dance floor. Five minutes later, he returned with a pair of super-model-looking Ukrainian
twins, one on each arm. And then he line up a group of girls and chatted them up precariously, deliberately using lines he must have read somewhere, and getting their phone numbers. At some point I even got to role play. Dancing with him, apparently, helped him get even more interested girls. An onlooker said to me, “He’s like a cartoon. Have you seen Johnny Bravo?” I laughed.
My friend’s pick up school idea was based on the premise that men did all the seducing. A question formed in my head — don’t women have any choice in the matter? What was the response to that? I wanted to know what the female equivalent of a pickup artist would be. And stumbled across Robert Greene’s book, The Art of Seduction, in a bookstore. It covered a gamut of sirens, from Cleopatra to Casanova, and various victims of seduction. And there it was, staring at my eyes. Sirens. Men and women. Throughout time. The oldest game in the universe, paraphrasing my friend.
And there it was. I wanted to read a story about sirens. Correction, I wanted to write a story about sirens. A convincing story about the art of seduction, and what this meant, in a make believe world full of mermen and harpies. And so I began to plot the storyline for the Black Tail.