Tuesday, 27 July 2021
Sunday, 25 July 2021
Tuesday, 20 July 2021
When we go for a charity shop trawl I often find that I am coming across books I have already read, and so I tend to gravitate towards authors with foreign sounding names, and it has been an excellent way to come across some interesting reads (as I have frequently found with translated fiction in the past.) First up 'The Sickness' by Venezuelan writer Alberto Barrera Tyszka, translated by Margaret Jill Costa (who also translated Jose Saramago's 'Death at Intervals'). Illness makes people behave peculiarly sometimes: Dr Miranda cannot bring himself to tell his elderly father that he (the father) is dying. Along side their relationship is his secretary Karina, who starts a correspondence with a very persistent hypochondriac patient that the doctor is attempting to ignore. Having pretended to be the doctor and offered a sympathetic ear she finds herself sucked in deeper than she expected, or can cope with. Both situations meander through the book and resolve themselves with a little honest, human communication, and the whole story is a delightful insight into the human condition, both its strengths and its weaknesses.
"Andrés ought to go to his father, show him the x-rays, tell him the truth, tell him exactly what's happening; he should, moreover, explain that further tests are needed, that from now on, his relationship with medicine will become uncomfortably close, so close he'll grow to loathe it; he should go to his father and tell him that it's hopeless, that there's not a thing they can do about it, that he has cancer and doesn't have much longer to live. How much longer exactly? Medical calendars tend to be vague: not much longer. Which always means less.
But he doesn't do any of these things. Postponing duties, especially when those duties are painful ones, is also a temporary way of surviving. The poet William Carlos Williams was also a doctor. He wrote: 'Many a time a man must watch the patient's mind as it watches him, distrusting him ...' Andrés didn't know how his father would react when he found out the truth. He distrusted both his and his father's minds because he wasn't at all sure about himself, about how he would react once he'd told his father the truth. He'd decided to confront the situation, however tragic, head on and talk to his father; but when the moment came, he didn't know how to, he felt invaded by thousands of tiny fears that raced around his mind like trapped lizards and always led him to postpone that duty yet again: he should talk to his father, but not just then, later." (p.43-44)
Rania Mamoun is a Sudanese writer, and 'Thirteen Months of Sunrise' (translated by Elizabeth Jaquette) is a delicate little collection of stories. I say stories, but it feels like anecdotes would be a more accurate description. It is like you are sitting beside her on the bus and she is just recounting something that happened to her, or to her friend. Nothing much happens in any of them, life is just happening, they are little windows on life. Here, 'A woman asleep on her bundle' describes a young girl's fascination with a homeless woman:
Monday, 19 July 2021
Wednesday, 14 July 2021
Friday, 9 July 2021
Well, I thought I had a post about my tumbling composter, but it seems not, so I can't remember how long this batch of compost has been cooking, but at most 3 or 4 months. I emptied it out yesterday and mulched pretty much the entire garden... Monty would be proud of me. One avocado stone has a root coming out so that was put in a pot, but another dozen went back in the bin for another go around.
Tuesday, 6 July 2021
Sunday, 4 July 2021
Monday, 28 June 2021
(Beware, many quotes) It is not often I love a book as much as I have loved 'The Book of Delights' by Ross Gay, so much that I immediately bought his poetry collection 'Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude' from the bookshop. The book is a collection of delightful thoughts, sights, sounds, events and happenings over the course of a year. Every single page made me smile. Every story made me pause to think and recall something from my own life. I fear I may have fallen a little in love. How can you not love a man who finds delight in such tiny and inconsequential things. Some delights are less tiny. He saved delights up, to write for the collection, then realised that was not the spirit of the book which was to seek them in the moment, and so took delight in listing the delights he had saved all in one go. "It also requires faith that delight will be with you daily, that you needn't hoard it. No scarcity of delight."
"This bug seems to be dancing - it kind of pounces on the four legs beneath its abdomen, bouncing and swaying, like it's hearing music I'm not yet tuned to. And, trying to tune in, I notice the swell and diminution of cicadas nearby, and another cricketish chirping just over in those forsythia. The mantis's head rotates occasionally, sometimes seeming to follow my movement, its big bulbous eyes and filamentous antennae twisting, its little mouth opening and closing. Turns out this mantis has been my companion for the last twenty minutes, this whole break in my afternoon, edging closer to me, dancing, then scooting closer still. And when I sit back in my chair, the mantis pulls its head over the glass to see me (am I being egocentric?), swaying as it does so. Dancing." (p.11)
He delights muchly in positive interactions with coffee shop staff, here in 'Coffee without a Saucer', (and I adore him for the use of the word discuses, not just discs):
"Anyway, she pulled the double expresso and without even reaching - without even glancing - beneath the counter where the useless and actually truly dangerous saucers are stacked (think of the natural resources wasted in their production, little discuses of evil!); she just placed the demitasse, holding it not by the handle but sort of clutching it from above, like the magical mechanical claw in those rest-stop games, in front of me, all French-like, pretending she wasn't my sister, which she was."
This was one of my favourites, in a book replete with favourites, Infinity, in which he describes his love for a scarf, and the undercurrent it exposed for him:
"I'm also delighting in this accoutrement fluffing around my neck because it represents a different relationship to an idea of masculinity I have inherited, and for much of my life watered, which makes it a garden. A garden of rocks. A garden of sorrow and hypertension and prostate woe. Some of the tenor here might be influenced by the sun's brevity today, but just a little. For I kid you not, ten years ago I no sooner would have worn this plush purple thing around my neck than jump off a bridge. I mean, not quite, but you get me. Tied into this weird and imprecise moratorium on the pretty were surely currents, strong ones, of misogyny, and probably homophobia. It's true, I often wore my hair long in cornrows with beads, but that sartorial affect represented some other intersection that did not scare me in the way this very cuddly scarf would have. I sometimes wonder how this happened, if there were very specific moments in my life - the older boys holding my hands and painting my nails; my mother regularly praising that she had sons instead of daughters; my father accidentally making me cry by squeezing my leg too hard after a joke and asking with disgust, Are you kidding? - that constitutes a minor tilting of an axis. But no tilting of an axis is minor, as you know." (p.92-3)
And here, talking about being an enthusiastic gesticulator, me just enjoying his vocabulary:
"And so imagine my delight when, today, after chatting with my friend Walton for about an hour, I found myself, a few hours later in another conversation, employing - embodying - some of his elegant hand gestures: the emphatic hand swimming through the air, or pointing and plucking at something simultaneously, or, always, some kind of beckoning. I've been told there is a term for this among behavioural psychologists, which foregrounds the behaviour as opposed to what intrigues me, which is the fact of our bodies' ubiquitous porosities, how so often, and mostly unbeknownst, our bodies are the bodies of others." (p.155-6)
"I wonder if this impulse to share, the urge to elbow your neighbor, who maybe was not even your neighbor until the bird flew between you up into the pipes and rafters you did not notice until you followed the bird there, is also among the qualities of delight? And further, I wonder if this impulse suggests - and this is just a hypothesis, though I suspect there is enough evidence to make it a theorem - that our delight grows as we share it." (p.173)
On page 223 it delighted me to find connection; my mum had talked to me a while ago about scything and Ross devotes a delight to the subject, because it is also his joy to own and use a scythe:
"My friend Jack, who is also wrapped explicitly into this delight, or is this delight, secured the blade for me when he went to a scything conference in Switzerland. I do not know what they do at a scything conference, but I like the images it conjures for me, despite the fact that I've never seen and likely will never see The Sound of Music."
I could not relate to his childhood reminiscences about car ports, but he ends it like this, obviously:
"I have taken note of how delight and nostalgia, delight and loneliness, which I will further clarify as existential loneliness, irremediable loneliness, are, in this one, connected. They are kin. Seems a good thing to know.
As for other architectural features that delight me: the breezeway, the breakfast nook, and the window seat, all for obvious reasons." (p.257)
I love to read and learn new words; I learned limn, and then could not re-find the context. I love to discover new names; he mentions C.D. Wright, who I had not heard of, and Jamaica Kincaid, who felt familiar, people to seek out and read. He starts so many sentences with 'Imagine my delight', and so I imagined. I loved his long rambling, circuitous sentences, that slowed me down and made me read them twice. Some of his delights are tinged with understanding of a deeper sadness, often about his, and other's, experience as people of colour. I leave you with this one, because he talked several times about touch, and it reminded me of a moment in a biographical film about Nelson Mandela where, after many years in prison, he is allowed physical contact with Winnie, and the terrible notion of a life deprived of loving touch, how important touch is to human connection:
"20. Tap Tap
I take it as no small gesture of solidarity and, more to the point, love, or, even more to the point, tenderness, when the brother working as a flight attendant - maybe about fifty, the beginning of grey in his fade, his American Airlines vest snug on his sturdily built torso - walking backward in front of the cart, after putting my seltzer on my tray table, said, 'There you go, man,' and tapped my arm twice, tap tap. Oh let me never cease extolling the virtues, and my adoration of, the warranted familiarity - you see family in that word, don't you, family? - expressed by a look or a tone of voice, or, today on this airplane between Indianapolis and Charlotte (those are real places, lest we forget), a tap - two, tap tap - on the triceps. By which, it's really a kind of miracle, was expressed a social and bodily intimacy - on this airplane, at this moment in history, our particular bodies, making the social contract of mostly not touching each other irrelevant, or, rather, writing a brief addendum that acknowledges the official American policy, which is a kind of de facto and terrible touching of some of us, or trying to, always figuring out ways to keep touching us - and this flight attendant, tap tap, reminding me, like that, simply, remember, tap tap, how else we might be touched, and are, there you go, man." (p.66-7)
Stay safe. Be kind. Share delight.
It is as much an examination of privilege as it is of motherhood. Mothers and babies are treated as special, 'blue ticket' women are second class women. Do people just want what they can't have, the opposite of what they have? Is having a baby a choice anyway? Lots of choices are removed from you because of circumstances in your life beyond your control, why is the choice around motherhood so significant? It makes me think back to my own 'choice' to have children, and in what ways it was a conscious choice. In many ways having a baby is just the natural course of events and the choice to *not* have any children is the conscious choice. I listened to my friend this morning grieving the loss of the life she has not had because she has children; this is not because she did not want them, but because for every choice you make you fail to make an infinite number of other choices (don't you love the many worlds theory, where somewhere there is another you who can play the violin ...) So motherhood, either forced or denied, just becomes symbolic for patriarchal control; when do we ever hear so much as a whisper about controlling men's procreative rights or bodily autonomy. In the real world everything from China's one child policy to US anti-abortion legislation seeks to control the autonomy women have over their own bodies. I thought the book was interesting for taking the 'pregnancy denied' route, to think about the impact of being forced to have a life free from parental responsibility or unwanted pregnancy, but it is simply the other side of the same coin as Handmaid's tale, because while the urge to procreate may be the thing that makes us more like animals, the necessity of free will is what defines us as human.
"This was the kind of place where mother's lived, where white-ticket women lived. they were somewhere nearby. I saw pairs of them walking together with their arms linked, no bones, net shopping bags filled with fruit and vegetables. In a shop I picked up a black maternity dress with yellow spots and a white leotard for the baby. Here, perhaps I could be who I wanted to be. I didn't have to be a woman hounded off buses, a woman tricked into bathrooms, a drinker, a slut, a piece of shit. My hands skimmed over the shrunken vests, the socks like egg warmers or knitted thimbles, striped hats. I would not be sent away like I had been in the city, I would refuse it.
Don't you want to try it on? the woman at the counter asked. Her hair was done up in a complicated braid, her cheeks very pink. No, I said. She slipped them into a paper bag for me and I left at once, walking quickly as I could. I looked around for emissaries, stretching their legs on a lunchtime walk or reading the newspaper at a table outside.
In a cafe up a side street a safe distance away, I ordered a pot of tea and sat outside, sunglasses on, pretending to read the newspaper. The news was all bad. The ashtray was full. The kind waiters came to empty it and to bring me my tea. Are you on holiday? she asked. I nodded. Oh, you've come to the right place, there is no place more beautiful than here, she told me, she was glowing with certainty, she didn't even seem to notice my silence or the bad way I smelled or my jeans rolled up and wet from the lake. I was performing motherhood the way I had performed adulthood, all those years ago. I was acting like it was something I deserved and could do." (p.126-7)
Sorry, rambling and incoherent somewhat, though it raised a lot of thoughts as I read that I did not make note of, and the arrival of Adylaide since I read it reminds me of how intense the attachment is to your own genetic progeny. (No disrespect intended to adoptive, foster or step families, or whatever makeup your family group may be, all routes to loving family life are most welcome. All sympathy for people with conception issues for whom such stories would be no doubt hard reading.)
Stay safe. Be kind. Have a baby, don't have a baby, whichever, it's your choice.
'Squid Squad' by Matthew Welton was picked up in the novels section of Waterstones on the basis of the first page, and while I very much enjoyed the word play of the first 64 pages I felt that it was merely word play, and because the happenings were random it didn't progress in any meaningful way, as I kind of expected, and what started out as delightful became repetitive and a little boring as I went along. Sorry.
Saturday, 26 June 2021
Sometimes the things that are going on in the world seem so out of kilter with what human beings need to exist together on the planet, and I can feel so overwhelmed by the things that are beyond my control, and that the things I can do become smaller and even more meaningless that I need to go somewhere and scream ..... AAAAARRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!