December 18th, 2012 § § permalink
It was raining in my corner of Singapore when I wrote this (it has been raining almost every day since) and I was reminded that in Arrakis, water does not come down from the sky like this (also reminded how geeky it is to reference a fictional planet in one’s writing). That’s okay, because I am allowed to still be unable to get over how epic Dune is. Despite having watched a few scenes from the television series as well as the David Lynch film, I had been able to envision my own Duniverse. I have the second book on standby but I have yet to finish the non-fiction I’ve chosen to read first before continuing with the series.
Poster by Kevin Tong
That’s why it’s so nice having friends who read and whose taste for certain oeuvres greatly differ from mine. Without them, it would have taken me much later to pick this up on my own. Although, I have been nurturing a soft spot for science fiction for quite a while now and thus had no excuse to be oblivious to a classic of the genre.
Whenever I read during my morning commute, I always notice other readers and imagine approaching them (ninja-style) with a high-five. Was there ever a time when having books were as commonplace as cellphones are on public transportation? I wonder.
The following is one of my favourite quotes from the first book:
“Greatness is a transitory experience. It is never consistent. It depends in part upon the myth-making imagination of humankind. The person who experiences greatness must have a feeling for the myth he is in. He must reflect what is projected upon him. And he must have a strong sense of the sardonic. This is what uncouples him from belief in his own pretensions. The sardonic is all that permits him to move within himself. Without this quality, even occasional greatness will destroy a man.”
I’ll leave you to think about it.
November 26th, 2012 § § permalink
Finally, I am alone, but not in a lonely Murakami way. For a while it felt like there was something constantly stirring my insides with a spoon, a whirl of something untamed and unsettled. These days, I have been coming home to a suburban quiet and my thoughts appropriately mimic the placidity of my neighborhood. Instead of merely going through the motions of “being fine”, I have been looking forward to falling asleep with a book or doing chores while songs fill my rented space, in perfect solitude. And the most beautiful part of it is that I am writing again.
I feel as though I went through phases after a recent break-up: denial, fear, longing and then, acceptance. Like the moon and its phases – I have turned and changed. Now, I am full and glowing in spite of darkness.
I started reading Haruki Murakami’s recent novel “1Q84”, which talks a lot about the moon and its power to orient/disorient us, a few weeks after the break-up. It was a time of self-doubt, which is very suitable to Murakami loneliness. I think this is why, despite having known about the novel months earlier, I chose to start reading it right then. The copy I own is a three-volume box set, which I found while on an errand. Its case was slightly damaged, but it was their last copy and I was drawn to this particular edition even with its corners crooked. I devoured the first book within a week. It was amidst a messy time early on during the aforementioned phases I went through, and it took a while to find the right momentum to move forward.
Four months later, all loose ends have been resolved; the personal messes have been sorted and the book, finished before my tropical December begins. I even managed to squeeze an interesting non-fiction book in-between. The end of 1Q84 (which in the novel, also coincidentally, ends in December) seems to have been perfectly synced to meet me at this apex of singlehood.
I was never a huge and gushing Murakami fan, but I have always appreciated how he writes about loneliness. In this recent work, he even tries to find a solution for it. It echoes Aristophanes belief that there is someone out there for each of us, our other halves. I am still unsold on this idea of having a soulmate. I grew up thoroughly believing in its magic, hoping that my unfortunate encounters were mere setbacks. I have felt, too proactive, in meeting it. Maybe, you are supposed to wait with your hands pinned under you: for the right time and the right person. These will come, as long as you want them to, but you are not supposed to force any sort of collision (which I feel I may have been doing). These rationalizations come and go. I have been too shy to admit to anything aloud. Reading this novel has certainly made me toy with the possibility of a soulmate again, but still, I am mostly, unwilling to be disappointed.
So here I am, alone but not in a lonely Murakami way. This is not an exhaustive hole of a bleak singularity but a space – a kind of temple – I have built for myself. I have measured it to certain specifications: I can lie inside it, jump and dance inside it, but it is unable to fit another body but mine. Its walls are neatly lined with photographs, in a grid, of those I have loved and learned from, each one candidly capturing the fall: the moment I appreciated them the most, the moment I thought I fell in love. This place would have looked differently ten years ago when I had imagined love to be reserved for a lifetime partner: a boy friend who became a boyfriend and then idealistically, a husband. My soulmate. He would have fit in here with me, and images of him would surround the room (it would have been less a temple and more of a shrine).
In this temple I find myself building and rebuilding time and again, apart from the photographs, I imagine that inside it, is also a canvas. It holds my thoughts, ideas and self-proclamations. It contains many layers of words, some of which have been noticeably erased, in a profusion of colour. In the middle of the scrawls and scribbles, of these things I hold true, surrounded by a membrane of whiteness, but occupying a significant amount of space is a word painted clearly and boldly: ALONE. It does not try to explain or define itself; it is unashamed.
It is the perfect time to be done with 1Q84. Though I was enamored and charmed by the story (it is probably my favourite Haruki Murakami so far), I am ready to be more adventurous. Love is different now, and so is loneliness. Neither of which, are so terrifying.
Photo by Ilya Maeda
April 2nd, 2012 § § permalink
I’ve been reading again and now know why I wasn’t moved to tears when I found myself at the last few pages of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (ELIC). It wasn’t because of my strong will to not look like a dramatic fool on the train, but it was also because, I read it on my Kindle. Before you get the wrong idea, and interrupt me with your important opinion, I have to tell you just how much I love my Kindle. I love my Kindle so much that the last three books I read, was finished on it. But now that I’m re-reading bits and pieces of my physical copy of Jonathan Safran Foer’s ELIC, especially the last sentence and flicking the last pages with my thumb, I feel the tears coming.
This isn’t an argument about whether or not the Kindle changes the experience of reading a book, because obviously, it does. This is about how much more I would have cried if I had read the last few pages on a book. It’s definitely not for everybody, but what thing is? I love words and how they can move me. Not just the figurative, transportation of my physical being into any new world with new people, but also how they stimulate my brain and are able to force my whole body to react. I get giddy and restless when two characters fall in love, and will cry if someone feels pain. I don’t just read for the sake of filling my head with something to distract me from my life, but I’m one to appreciate how writers can make bracelets out of the words they have chosen to use.
I’m really late on the fawning over of this book, but I’m glad to be one of its fans. A lot of my friends read this in college, but I stopped any leisurely reading then, and as a general rule, I try to avoid reading a book at the peak of its hype. I learned this after reading Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which I didn’t enjoy as much as I thought I would. The praise, and my own experience reading it, did not mix well. I bought my copy of ELIC one or two years ago and finally, finished it. I loved it so much that I went on to read his wife, Nicole Krauss’ works, hoping to catch a glimpse of why they fell in love with one another.
I was surprised to read that she was less poetic (not to be confused with the word talented – because that is not what I was driving at), but was amazed at how she mapped and structured her novels. I was definitely not as taken to the first book I read of hers, The History of Love, as I was when reading ELIC, but I found myself feeling heavy and ponderous afterwards. I didn’t feel the need to be emotional, but I wanted to be hugged in silence for a very long time.
I continued to be intrigued by Nicole Krauss, and so proceeded to read her latest book, Great House as soon as I had finished reading The History of Love. Her novels really are intriguing, and yet I found it difficult not to compare her prose with her husband’s. I was ill-at-ease upon finishing Great House, because I felt there was this big thing missing from what I read. However, I’ve since realized, that that may have been part of the message of the novel.
I’m happy I took the time to read these. The variety of books out there, is making me so hyper. Today marks the last day of unemployment, so again, I will probably have less time to read, but I’m still going to try to finish at least one each week.
February 24th, 2012 § § permalink
Known better by her stage name, Elinore ”Billie Holiday” Harris*, was an early influence to my musical palate. I remember that as a child, my dad would play some of her songs on our stereo, but I realize now that he might have preferred to play more Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone, than Billie. But growing up (around high school), I would spend a lot of my anti-social days with her singing in to me. One of my favorites was her rendition of Rezső Seress’, Gloomy Sunday. At one point, and this shouldn’t bring about assumptions that I was grossly… gloomy in any way (because the song itself carries the burden of being nicknamed The Hungarian Suicide Song), but I was so obsessed with the song that I befriended a random person on the Internet, who had all the recordings of Gloomy Sunday that ever existed, including Björk’s and Sinead O’Connor’s, so that I was allowed to download the songs that were hosted on his private server.
Young adulthood is that time in one’s life when one struggles most with one’s identity, character and emotions –and it wasn’t too different for me. I was quietly troubled and would spend a lot of time at home, reading and amassing large quantities of music for an Internet radio show I’d do instead of, whatever many other teens my age were doing. In general, I magnetized towards the sadder songs, but there was also just something in the way she sings Gloomy Sunday that made it better than any other sad song. I’ve always loved how the tone of the song changed to one of hope in the end and because she made the first verses so devastating, the happy ending was all the more emphasized. Listening to her on repeat would help me rise above my own troubles.
With this affinity for Ms. Billie Holiday, and not knowing much else about her life, I couldn’t help but buy, With Billie by Julia Blackburn at the Page One book sale recently. I am in general, wary of biographies but I must admit that (and I know this is a weird thing to admit), the little quote/recommendation from The Economist at the back got to me. They’re trustworthy! And they used the word ‘variegated’! The purchase didn’t result in any regret, because once I started to read, I couldn’t put the book down. I had a vague idea what she must have gone through as a black woman from a low socio-economic background, but the book offers more insight, as well as more questions as to who she really was as a person.
The book’s format was interesting too. Each chapter was written with the point-of-view or perspective of a person who knew her closely, based on old interview transcripts done by Linda Kuehl (who was originally tasked to write a book about Billie but she took her own life before it was finished). The author, Julia Blackburn reiterates from the beginning, how she “never put words into [the interviewees'] mouths or added any detail that wasn’t actually there”. This helped you put her story in a clearer perspective.
Notorious for her drug use and for her abusive boyfriends, the book helps to remind that there is definitely something more to Billie Holiday than those bits of things that dramatized her life. Her sadness goes far deeper than Boy Blues and mere escapism. She was troubled but she was also a strong and capable woman. The drugs and abusive boyfriends painted her with the familiar desperation found in similar stories, of fame and abuse, but I imagine the forces she had to work against during her times, as a black woman with her history, and there’s a part of me that wants to believe she chose what she chose, as if to say yes to life and the obstacles that come with it, each and every time that she had to face the possibility of cruelty, torture, or death. And until her actual death in 1959, I believe it was her body, and not her spirit that gave in to the gloom.