Get to know… Philip Palios

Second thoughts

A bad decision brought me to London. Of course, I thought it was a rather good decision when I made it. Yet, if you had asked me three months prior or three months following that decisive day in late-autumn 2019, I probably would have said taking the job offer and moving to London was a bad idea.

Thankfully, my past and present selves agree that a good decision brought me to Writing Room following my move to London in early 2020. I made the one-hour under, over and through-ground journey from my flat in West Dulwich to arrive in Wood Green for my first class, entering the building that housed Collage Arts and wandering past several artist studios before discovering the room dedicated to writing. I sat in one of the dozen or so chairs around the table and eagerly awaited the first day of Kiare Ladner’s novella course.

Little did I know, a global pandemic would emerge and we would transition to Zoom just a few weeks later. Nor that I would be connecting to that Zoom from southwest Scotland. Nor that I would continue to stay connected with Writing Room throughout my time staying in Hawai’i, Seattle and Paris over the years to come. On one hand, I am grateful for the new world of remote connectivity that Zoom and the pandemic brought us, on the other hand I really miss that writing room – the only good thing that came out of my brief time living in London.

Those who know me well know that I go back on a lot of my decisions. Twice this past year I had the idea of living in France, first in Nantes and later in Saint-Malo. Some people keep big ideas like these strictly confined to their heads and mull them over for years, but I tend to start acting things out before giving anything much thought. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I tried to spend a day, week, month or year not doing anything. Like Harold Crick in ‘Stranger Than Fiction’, who sat in his flat for a day, not even getting up to pee or change the television channel, ultimately having a wrecking ball smash through his living room wall. But I can’t even last a couple days when I venture to places of stillness, I simultaneously adore and can’t tolerate peace and quiet. I exist in silent chaos.

My first novel, ‘Electric Love’, was a combination of good and bad decisions. Good decision: writing it. Bad decision: publishing it without much editing. I cringe whenever someone tells me they’ve read it. I can’t find the option to take it out of print on the Ingram or KDP online portals; if I could, I would. Thankfully, I’m rather pleased with ‘single’, the much more lightweight collection of short stories all too often mistaken for memoir I put out the following year. More recently, I’ve taken to blogging – where I have the blessing and curse of being able to commit endless edits following publication, as well as being able to unpublish, republish and unpublish again. Surely at least one person has read one of my posts and talked with another reader only to discover they read the same post but a version that said something entirely different.

Is it worth writing something when its underlying facts, assumptions or opinions might change in the future? Is it possible to write something where that’s not the case? I dipped my toes into the stock market, thinking it was a good decision at the time, read a lot about it and saw the value of my investment greatly fluctuate without rhyme or reason, concluding a few months later that it was an awful decision and writing a blog post to share my view. The problem in this case wasn’t changing my opinion, but that I was a bit more distant from facts than I cared to admit. I based my post on presumptions I later learned were not true. Frustrated with my contribution to misinformation, I vowed to do my homework before publishing posts in the future, but my underlying notion that investing in the stock market is an awful idea remained firmly planted in my heart. What are we to do with these beliefs, unchanged by facts?

Even my core beliefs are mercurial. While I’ve had some notion of faith most of my life, I fail to ever stick with any detailed set of beliefs or religion. I had the audacity to write a blog post about God’s will, wherein I basically concluded that it was spiritual cheese in an imaginary maze, and quickly learned from just about everyone who devotes their life to studying the topic that I was gravely mistaken. However, I did have a lot of readers send me positive feedback. I began to doubt my conclusions, yet here they were typed out and streaming around the world into hundreds of eyeballs. What had I done?

The reason I write is another thing that changed this year. Deep in the ‘core belief’ file I threw out my idea of changing people through writing and sought a new aim: serving them. When I started writing fiction in 2015, I wanted to tap into the cold dead hearts of the people I thought were destroying the planet and wake them up, hence the plot of ‘Electric Love.’ My shift in purpose this year led me to blogging, a mix of opinion and travelogue for the most part and a desire to empower (and persuade) people with truths not so prevalent in mass media. I was unintentionally back to where I had started. How to write in a way that is of service, rather than with a hidden agenda of persuasion eludes me.

Sathya Sai Baba, a Hindu guru who passed away in 2011, was known for the saying printed on every Hard Rock Cafe menu around the world: “Love all, serve all.” A message that can easily be traced back to Jesus as well as other sources of ancient teaching. What does love all, serve all look like in writing? Whether fiction or fact, can I write stories that touch hearts across divides without a desire to change people’s minds? Maybe this post is a start.

Editor’s note: the photograph shows Philip atop Mauna Kea on Hawai’i Island (4,207 metres above sea level).