heim — home. yes, the place one has always been, however hidden from one’s awareness, could only be called that, couldn’t it? and yet, in another way, doesn’t home only become home if one goes away from it, since it’s only with distance, only in the return, that we are able to recognize it as the place that shelters our true self? (71)
forest dark (harpers, forthcoming 2017) feels like a departure from nicole krauss’ previous work, but, then, when i think about her previous work, i think each of her novels also feels like a departure from the one that came before it. like, great house (norton, 2010) follows four narrators — and there’s a fifth character in the mix, a desk that’s made its rounds from person to person, life to life. the history of love (norton, 2005) is this beautiful, heartrending story that bounces primarily between two characters — alma and bruno, one a child, the other a writer and wwii survivor — and that was a departure from man walks into a room (doubleday, 2002), still my favorite of krauss’ books, a straightforward novel about a man who wakes up in the desert one day, his memory wiped by a tumor in his brain.
i don’t know that i loved forest dark in the ways i loved man walks into a room or was entranced by the history of love. (great house, for me, was unfortunately largely forgettable.) i read forest dark in an afternoon and an evening, though, barreling my way through in on a hot, steaming labor day, not stopping until i’d completed it, and i read most of it on the floor, draped over a folded futon and hiding under a fan with the windows open as wide as they’d go and the blinds pulled up to let in as much of a breeze as possible.
the carpet (i hate carpet, but my parents’ house has carpet in the bedrooms) felt sticky and damp from the humidity, and i paused once to take a nap because heat saps me of energy and i’d spent the early afternoon writing, a second time to take a break and read more orange is the new black recaps (i’m still debating whether or not to continue with the show or call it quits), a third time to eat a slice of cold pizza and a banana and a peanut butter jelly sandwich and a glass of milk.
i finished it at night, sweating in bed at eleven p.m, the pillows and blanket shoved away from me, and, when i was done, i dropped the book back onto the floor, onto the scarf i’d laid on the carpet earlier to protect my elbows from the roughness, and tried to go to sleep.
i hate/despise/loathe summer, always have, likely always will.
in forest dark, krauss alternates chapters between two characters, two perspectives — the third-person of jules epstein, a sixty-something retired lawyer who’s spent the last few years giving all his stuff away, and the first-person of nicole, an author from brooklyn in a failing marriage — and they both travel to israel, epstein to donate $2 million in memory of his deceased parents, nicole to work on her new novel, which is supposed to be about the tel aviv hilton.
there’s a lot of philosophizing in forest dark, a lot of talking about writing and religion and things that lie more in the realm of the conceptual, and you couldn’t say that much really happens action-wise in the novel. both epstein and nicole are going through changes in their lives. both of them go to israel, stay at the tel aviv hilton. both have encounters with eccentric men, epstein with a rabbi who seeks epstein out, claiming that epstein is a descendant of david, nicole with a man who claims to have worked for mossad, who is a retired professor at tel aviv university who shares nicole’s love for and fascination with kafka.
(kafka, i suppose, is the third character in forest dark. the novel explores an alternate theory that kafka faked his death and lived on a kibbutz as a gardener until his peaceful, actual death.)
i admit that i was pretty whatever to the epstein chapters — they were good, well-written, but neither were they all that interesting to me — but i loved the chapters we spent with nicole. it’s public knowledge that krauss herself divorced her husband (the novelist jonathan safran foer) a few years ago, that they have two sons together, and she doesn’t try to create clear differences between herself and the nicole in the novel. in the novel, nicole is an author; she’s written several novels about jewishness; she has readers who approach her to tell her how boring her most recent novel was (great house) or how they loved one of her novels so much, they named their infant after a character (“alma” in the history of love). krauss herself spent a lot of time at the tel aviv hilton throughout her life. there’s a lot that is blurred in that boundary between the personal and the written, much of which, i dare say, has been blurred intentionally.
that’s not why i loved the nicole chapters, though; i’m not that interested in the personal or in trying to parse what is “autobiographical” and what is not — nicole spends a fair amount of time thinking about writing, about narratives, and there was a lot i loved about that because, sometimes, i spend a fair amount of time thinking about writing and about narratives.
there were some things i identified with, too, like this bit on dance versus writing:
more and more it seems to me that dancing is where my true happiness lies, and that when i write, what i am really trying to do is dance, and because it is impossible, because dancing is free of language, i am never satisfied with writing. to write is, in a sense, to seek to understand, and so it is always something that happens after the fact, is always a process of sifting through the past, and the results of this, if one is lucky, are permanent marks on a page. but to dance is to make oneself available (for pleasure, for one explosion, for stillness); it only ever takes place in the present — the moment after it happens, dance has already vanished. dance constantly disappears, ohad often says. the abstract connections is provokes in its audience, of emotion with form, and the excitement from one’s world of feelings and imagination — of this derives from its vanishing. […] but writing, whose goal it is to achieve a timeless meaning, has to tell itself a lie about time; in essence, it has to believe in some form of immutability, which is why we judge the greatest works of literature to be those that have withstood the test of hundreds, even thousands, of years. and this lie that we tell ourselves when we write makes me more and more uneasy. (136-7)
for me, it isn’t dance but music, and i think maybe that’s why i’m obsessed with the rhythm of language. it’s what i love so much about ian mcewan and what i loved so much about the history of love, the lyricality and beauty of mcewan and krauss’ prose because music is the thing that’s been with me my whole life, the thing i once wanted to pursue, the thing that has kept me here. it’s been my lifeline in so many ways, standing in for something much bigger than itself, filling the spaces left vacant by dead hope and empty futures.
music is that ephemeral thing somehow holds the center of my life.
and i loved, too, the idea of the lie we tell ourselves about writing as standing up against time, and it reminded me of what jonathan franzen said when someone asked at a reading if he thought about how his writing would exist fifty years down the road. he replied that he doesn’t think about that; he writes in the present, for the present; and i thought, hey, what awesome freedom is that, not to fuss about legacy or futures you might not be around for, but to exist in the here and now, to try to serve and respond to the here and now.
as someone who has spent the greater majority of her life waiting for that one day — one day, i’ll be skinny, and, one day, my life will begin — i understand the futility of thinking about, planning for, writing toward that one day. in the end, it doesn’t matter whether work is rendered a “classic” because it’s still around hundreds, thousands of years down the road; it’s about whether or not work resonates with people today, as they exist today, whether or not work meets people’s needs as they are today.
then again, maybe that’s a perspective that’s easier for me to take because i’m generally not concerned with forever. i don’t worry about what will happen after i’m gone. i don’t want to live forever, and i don’t care about being remembered forever. i don’t give two shits about immortality because, to me, it’s already incredible and incredulous enough that i’m even here today — and, besides, what does a hypothetical future matter if our present is falling apart?
i ask myself frequently these days who i write for. it’s not that i worry about or concern myself with any notion of an audience; i don’t sit and think about who’s reading me and why; and, over the years, i’ve learned not to fret over personal reactions to my writing. much like i have writers whom i love and to whom i respond positively and viscerally, and much like i have writers whose work i don’t enjoy, whose writing style i don’t prefer, i know i am not the writer for everyone. i know that there will be people out there who intensely dislike and disagree with the things i write, and i’ve learned not to worry about how people feel about me, simply to make sure not to give them the power to control or affect how i feel about myself and my work.
(you can’t control how people feel about you. you can control how they let you feel about yourself. don’t just hand over that power.)
however, i do ask myself who i’m trying to address with my writing, not with any kind of specificity but in broad strokes. who is my ideal “audience”? who are the people i’m trying to speak to, to reach? who is the reader i have in mind?
because, as someone who does want to write professionally, i don’t consider my writing to be a solely (or even primarily) personal endeavor. i write things to be read, and i write them hoping that they will be read by a wide group of people, not just people i know, to whom i hand-deliver my work.
and, so, in that sense, i do think about who i’m writing for, and i’ve been thinking about it a lot in regards to this series of daily posts i have planned for national suicide prevention week. i’ve been thinking about it a lot in regards to my book, and i’ve mentioned it before here, how my thinking has changed, how i’ve moved from wanting to help the non-suicidal and non-depressed understand the suicidal person, to learn to see the suicidal person as human, into wanting to speak to those who are suicidal and depressed, who often feel so alone and isolated because ours is still a stigma-ridden, shame-based, guilt-producing culture.
and i think that that’s the perspective i’m taking with this upcoming series of posts, the first of which will be published on september 10, tentatively at 3 pm EST. (the time may be later; it may be earlier; that remains to be seen.) it’s not to say that it isn’t important, valuable work, trying to reach those who are fortunately unfamiliar with these darknesses and this kind of pain, but it’s not the work for me, at least not now. the more i’ve been talking about my own depression, my own anxiety disorder, my own history with suicidal thinking, the more i find that it’s increasingly frustrating trying to talk to people who don’t understand — it’s so isolating, so reinforcing of that sense of us vs. them, no matter how deeply i do appreciate people’s effort at least to try to understand, to be kind, to be supportive.
because, in many ways, ultimately, i write for comfort. i write to scratch the itches in my brain. i write the stories i want to read, the stories i wish were out there for someone like me, and i think that that’s what it means when people say to write for yourself first. because one of the things i’ve learned over the last year or so is that i am not that unique a person. my lonelinesses, my wants, my fears, my insecurities, my sadnesses — these are not things that are unique to me. the things i want are fundamentally simple and basic; i want someone to love who loves me back, who wants me back; and i want to be able to do work i don’t hate that means something, contributes something in some way or to some degree. i want to be able to be independent. i want to know that i’m okay.
and, so, when i write for myself, i’m not writing for some special individual who’s too precious for the world. i’m writing for the lonely child in me who’s bursting with want, who’s looking to connect with others like her because she knows that they exist. i’m writing for the lonely children out there who are looking for these same connections, these same assurances that they aren’t alone, their lives mean something — and none of this was meant to read like a mission statement, but, sometimes, i think it needs to be said.
and i’ll never be the type of person who writes a straight-up book review, but this is what i look for in books — a mirror, not the kind that shows you who you are on the surface but forces you to look, to look deep, and to look in the places of yourself you don’t want to see. and the thing is that these kinds of mirrors can be found anywhere; it’s not about non-fiction or memoirs or stories inspired by true events or fiction that’s intentionally telling stories about the world. there is no “right” or “wrong” book, only openness and self-reflection and the willingness to look yourself in the eye and not look away.
and this is what i loved so much about forest dark, that krauss gives us a story that is very personal, that blurs the lines between public and private, that asks questions of the stories we tell, whether to ourselves or to the world — and, in turn, she’s written a book that asks you to engage, to think, instead of reading blindly, and to ask what it is we tell ourselves so we don’t have to be cognizant of what we’re losing.
the naked bulb sputtered on and off behind his inflamed lids when he tried to sleep. he couldn’t sleep. had he accidentally given sleep away, along with everything else? (14)
i frankly hate descartes, and have never understood why his axiom should be trusted as an unshakable foundation for anything. the more he talks about following a straight line out of the forest, the more appealing it sounds to me to get lost in that forest, where once we lived in wonder, and understood it to be a prerequisite for an authentic awareness of being and the world. now we have little choice but to live in the arid fields of reason, and as for the unknown, which once lay glittering at the farthest edge of our gaze, channeling our fear but also our hope and longing, we can only regard it with aversion. (47)
“we like to think of ourselves as the inventors of monotheism, which spread like wildfire and influenced thousands of years of history. but we didn’t invent the idea of a single god; we only wrote a story of our struggle to remain true to him and in doing so we invented ourselves. we gave ourselves a past and inscribed ourselves into the future.” (friedman, 81)
“this is why the rabbis tell us that a broken heart is more full than one that is content: because a broken heart has a vacancy, and the vacancy has the potential to be filled with the infinite.” (klausner, 107)
narrative may be unable to sustain formlessness, but life also has little chance, given that it is processed by the mind whose function it is to produce coherence at any cost. to produce, in other words, a credible story. (122)
“you think your writing belongs to you?” he asked softly. (125)
narrative may be unable to sustain formlessness, but life also has little chance — is that what i wrote? what i should have written is “human life.” because nature creates form but it also destroys it, and it’s the balance between the two that suffuses nature with such peace. but if the strength of the human mind is its ability to create form out of the formless, and map meaning onto the world through the structures of language, its weakness lies in its reluctance or refusal to demolish it. we are attached to form and fear the formless: are taught to fear it from our earliest beginning. (138)
writing about other lives can, for a while, obscure the fact that the plans one has made for one’s own have insulated one from the unknown rather than drawn one closer to it. (168)
and yet, purely on the level of strategy, he continued, there’s genius in it; as much genius as in the story of refusing a dying kafka’s last will to take everything he’d left behind and burn it all unread. when the world slowly woke to brod’s kafka, he proved irresistible. and though the legend may have been brod’s own handiwork, in the decades that followed, it was expanded and embroidered upon by the border of kafkologists who took up where brod left off, gleefully churning out more kafka mythology without ever once questioning its source. (192)
it's been hot as balls this last week or two, and it's no secret that i hate heat of any kind. i don't care if it's dry heat or humid heat; once the temperature starts inching past 78 degrees, i start raging because i sweat non-stop, feel bloated, and struggle with lethargy. i mean, my insomnia is bad enough in whatever weather, and the heat has only made my insomnia worse.
it feels like a piddling thing to rant about, especially given the hundreds of thousands displaced in houston, in south asia, in LA county, and it feels like poor form, maybe because it is. let’s move on.
on wednesday, i finished kamila shamsie's home fire (riverhead, 2017), and i loved it except for the last paragraph, which left me confused and kind of muddled because i had to read it multiple times to try to understand what she was getting at. (i'm still not sure i "got it.") it's a paragraph that reads beautifully, written in lovely prose, but the ambiguity was too ambiguous for me, too prosey-for-prose's-sake, and it inserted a slight bitter note to a book that should have left me feeling unequivocally wowed at what shamsie has accomplished in these pages.
because home fire is a stunning book, one that achieves its ambitions. it's a punch in the gut, one that makes you look hard at yourself, at your internalized prejudices, and it makes you ask yourself what you think about muslims and islam and why you do and what those prejudices say about you and how they shape the world and affect real people with real lives and real families and real hopes and dreams and fears and loves.
home fire is not a book that lets you read it comfortably.
i finally started watching orange is the new black the other week, and i don't know that i'll keep watching all the seasons, but i'll keep going until i lose interest, which might be sooner than later. i’m currently halfway through season 3 because i skipped half of season 2 because i was bummed about the lack of alex and annoyed with the drama between red and vee — i couldn’t stand how power-hungry and emotionally manipulative vee was, especially over suzanne, or how she tried to drive a wedge between poussey and taystee. (i love poussey, poussey and her broken hearts.)
there are many things i love about orange is the new black, but, mostly, i love that it's a show about women, women who don't all look the same, think the same, want the same. i love the ways it shows how insidious racism and classism and misogyny are, how they don't always exhibit in obvious, gross acts or words but are often masked in more genteel, nice ways, like in a CO (healy) who appears to be a thoughtful, old white man who's looking out for his inmates. in particular, he wants to protect piper (the main character who's an educated blonde white woman with a male fiancé, for the unfamiliar) and make sure she serves her time without getting into trouble — except, no, his nice intentions are actually entirely rooted in racist, homophobic, chauvinistic crap.
and i think this is the scarier, more dangerous manifestation of any -ism, this kind of -ism that thinks that it's all right, it's not "like that," it's an exception to discrimination, hate, and bigotry. i'd almost rather have the assholes who march around in their polos and khakis, carrying tiki torches in public spaces (then crying about how their faces are being plastered all over the media), than have the assholes who think they're better than that — they're not racist; they're not sexist; no, they would never take to the streets with tiki torches or treat a black person as lesser or rape a woman. they would never.
except prejudice isn't always about brutality and overt violence. prejudice isn't always about assault. prejudice isn't always obvious.
prejudice is in the way you look down your nose at people and don’t want to grant them legal protection or equal rights or second chances because they're trans, they're addicts, they're sex workers, they're homeless, they're simply different from you. prejudice is in the way you think it's your right or calling to protect a woman because she's a woman and she's weaker, more emotional, in need of guarding because she's a woman. prejudice is in the way you think you're better than others like you because you're so nice to people of color, you tip service people well, you would never use the n word or call an asian person oriental or whatever — you’re PC; you know all the terminology; you ask people what pronouns they prefer.
prejudice is in the way you think you couldn't be racist or sexist or homophobic because you're a person of color or a woman or queer.
prejudice is in the small ways your world order betrays itself in your self-elevation, and the world is a more dangerous place for it.
i think a lot about media and art and content created by women and how they’re held to impossible standards. it makes me think about the 2016 ghostbusters with its kickass female cast, how it’s so much easier to criticize films by women, about women, [arguably] for women because we want them to be representative of so much more than they should be — a film like ghostbusters should be fun, easy entertainment, and, for all its weaknesses, i’d say it delivered on that front, and yet, it’s not good enough — it must be deeper, must contain no flaws, or it’s failed in its implied purpose, and, thus, work by women is not good enough and not worth investing in, and that’s all the fault of this one piece of work.
and i think a lot about art created by people of color, how there’s sometimes (often?) a sense that POC art should contain a deeper message, some kind of morality or stronger awareness of being in the world, like it should be educational somehow, exposing of the deeper humanity of POC that is apparently so difficult for non-POC to conceptualize on their own.
for our inaugural read, my online book club read bandi’s the accusation (grove, 2017), the first collection of stories by a north korean writer still living in north korea, and we talked about how we might read these kinds of “important” books differently from other books. do we give a writer like bandi more room to allow for narrative or style weaknesses because his work itself is important, giving us these glimpses into north korea, humanizing north koreans who are so easily demonized and pilloried by those outside?
similarly, am i relieved that books like moshin hamid’s exit west (riverhead, 2017) and shamsie’s home fire are beautifully written, so i can recommend them to people without having to add qualifiers of the writing isn’t as good, but it’s such an important book, you should read it?
am i glad that writers like jenny zhang and esmé weijun wang and celeste ng and rachel khong patty yumi cottrell are incredible, strong, unique writers because they’re asian-american and i want more of us asian-american writers out there?
if i’m subconsciously putting these burdens on my fellow women, my fellow POC, where does that leave me?
am i complicit in the system i criticize?
this weekend, i plan to read nicole krauss' forthcoming fourth novel, forest dark (harpers, forthcoming 2017), which harpers very kindly sent me — or, at least, i was planning to read it, but i got distracted by orange is the new black and the heat and planning content for national suicidal prevention week.
i’m so excited for forest dark; krauss is one of my favorite living writers; and her debut, man walks into a room (doubleday, 2002) is one of my top ten favorite novels, one i turn to when i'm feeling uninspired and discouraged because krauss' prose is exquisite and haunting. i love the way she writes about memory, about history, about the things that follow us, and hers is writing i aspire to, which isn't something i say about other people's writing in general. (i'm not interested in being another writer; i want to be my own; but, when i read krauss, i think, god, i hope i can capture this kind of ghostly beauty and thoughtfulness in my own way.)
i get a little anxious when it comes to new books by writers i love. will i be disappointed? are my standards too high? will this author be like ian mcewan, whom i loved once, until he started turning out book after book of beautifully written ennui?
and that’s heightened when the author has been away for so long — or, sometimes, when the author hasn’t been away for as long as usual (aka franzen’s purity [FSG, 2015], which was published only five years after freedom [FSG, 2010]) — and, yeah, this is all kind of dumb, but i want the people i love to do well, to thrive, and, so, there it is, this branch of my anxiety, like i don’t have enough to be anxious about in my own life.
maybe it’s a way of getting out of my own problems, though. who knows?
i’m also reading chiara barzini’s things that happened before the earthquake (doubleday, 2017), and i’m reading it as my commute read, something light and easy for those in-between hours when i’m zombie-ing it between home and work. i can’t say i’m loving it; barzini’s prose style is one i decidedly don’t enjoy, all clipped sentences and abrupt phrasing; and it’s something i don’t linger on, simply pass over as quickly as i can speed read.
in another instance, i might just stop reading things that happened, but the thing is, barzini’s novel hits familiar spots for me because it’s set in the san fernando valley in the 90s, and i grew up in the san fernando valley in the 90s. the streets she describes, the people, the attitude, the heat, the general feel, from the social post-LA riots tension lingering in the city to the narrator’s unhappiness being here — it’s all familiar, and i’m finding that, sometimes, that sense of familiar is nice.
as someone who grew up in the los angeles area, though, LA is not somewhere i write about because it’s not a place or a personal history i want to explore. it’s a place in time i’ve wanted so long to fold over and forget, to move on from and recreate myself, and, when i read about it, it’s very much like seeing a place in a dream, somewhere familiar but not, knowable but not.
it’s a familiarity that i enjoy exploring through the ways other people write about and capture LA.
it’s oddly a way for me to remember this place i came from, while also maintaining much-needed mental and emotional distance.
going back to orange is the new black, i can’t stand piper, and i don’t seem to be alone in this. i spend a fair amount of time thinking, oh, you white woman, and her naïveté and privilege are one thing, maybe, to some extent, something she can’t help, but it’s her sanctimonious but i’m a nice person! crap i can’t stand.
(alex deserves better.)
at the same time, though, sometimes, the reason people or situations or things make us uncomfortable is that there’s familiarity there, a realization of, shit, i’m kind of like that. i don’t like that about myself, too. i think like that. it’s not pleasant to come face-to-face with that ugliness, with the ways we try to guard ourselves from learning that, no, we’re not actually very nice, we’re all kinds of messed up and manipulative and self-protecting. we’re all kinds of selfish.
and piper is kind of the character who’s meant to play that part, just like she’s meant to play the part of the naive, ignorant, sheltered girl who’s suddenly thrust amongst people she likely never interacted with in the “real” world, who’s forced to reckon with her actions in the past and their effect on the present.
and yet … i’m so annoyed with piper that i’m close to dropping the show. or maybe it’s more accurate to say that i’m bored with the lack of alex, and i’m tired of piper being her deluded, sanctimonious self, and i’m tired of her running to alex when she needs her and leaving alex when she no longer does.
i just really like alex.
because, hey, i’m the kind of TV-watcher who shamelessly and unapologetically watches something for one person/character. what can i say? i have a weird loyal streak, and season 3 of orange is the new black is boring me because alex is just there to be piper’s girlfriend, and i want more of alex as her own human with her own interesting, complicated history and self and not as a cipher for a boring, annoying white girl who doesn’t seem to grow. end rant. and end post. i feel i’ve gone on for long enough.
september is national suicide prevention awareness month, and national suicide prevention week is september 10-16. are you ready? let’s talk.
in his interview with the asian american writers' workshop's ken chen, kazuo ishiguro says:
i became interested in how people told the story of their own lives to themselves and how they deceive themselves. how sometimes they wanted to look at shameful episodes from the past that they had participated in and other times they absolutely did not want to look at those things.
the parent-child or any relationship tends to become dependent on some unspoken agreement not to go to certain memories, certain dark passages. after a while, you start to ask, is our bond, is our love, based on something phony if it depends on things being kept hidden?
when i think about memory, i think of nell, my favorite band. a few years ago, when they finally made a comeback after four years away, during a TV appearance, jong-wan (vocalist + songwriter) said:
예전에는 뭔가 잃는게 굉장히 두려웠던 것 같에요. 그리고 그게 되게 힘들고 … 근데 시간이 점점 지나면서는 내가 잃는 것 보다는 뭔가 잊어가고 있는 것들이 굉장히 슬프게 느껴지들아구요. 제가 예를 들어서 그 어떤 소중한 사람이 됐든 아니면 꿈이 됐든 그걸 잃어가는 것 보다는 내가 그런 것 자체가 있었다는 것 조차 잊어가는게 슾퍼서 아마 전반적인 앨범에 가사 내용이 좀 그런 내용이 아닌가 …
before, i think i was afraid of losing things. and that was incredibly difficult … but, as time passed, instead of losing things, i started to feel more sadness about forgetting things. for example, whether it’s an important person or a dream, instead of losing that, because i felt sad about forgetting that i even had such a person/thing, i think that’s why the lyrics on this album generally have that quality …*
for some reason, i've always thought of this in terms of memory, in losing memories versus forgetting memories. there's a degree of willfulness attached to losing something, that there is some contributing action that leads to the loss, whereas forgetting happens when we don't mean for it to happen, when we want to hold onto something and keep it close, only to realize one day that what we so cherished has slipped away -- and, yet, at the same time, could we not see forgetting as a type of loss, too? but, yet again, i wonder if this also is a way that english fails me because there is something so distinctive about these words in korean, to lose (잃는다) versus to forget (잊는다) that makes the comparison so poignant, so melancholy, so regretful.
the exploration of memory, though, is one reason i love ishiguro's books, especially when paired with his exquisite first-person and the nostalgic tones with which he imbues his books, and i'm interested in the new places his explorations of memory have taken him. in the buried giant (knopf, 2015), there's a mist caused by a dragon that causes people to forget, but these memories aren't lost because they will be awakened again once the dragon has been slain. when these memories are regained, tensions and conflicts will return to the land, which begs the question, is it better to forget then, to accept the loss instead of questioning it? and, on a more intimate scale, is it better in a marriage, in a relationship, in a friendship to claim forgetfulness? like ishiguro said to chen, where are the foundations then, and are they real and valid or fake?
how long can something be sustained when essential memories have been forgotten?
who are we when we've lost or forgotten our memories? who are we to each other when we've lost or forgotten our memories?
nicole krauss explores this in her debut novel, man walks into a room (doubleday, 2002), in which the main character, samson, wakes up one day in las vegas, having somehow made his way out west from new york city, though he has no recollection of this. as it turns out, he has a brain tumor, which has erased his memories since childhood, and, though his wife, anna, brings him back home post-operation healthy and physically well, nothing is familiar to him -- everything's been erased, lost, forgotten. he is no longer the man she married and built a life with, and she is nobody to him, and their marriage cannot be sustained.
the truth, though, is that it doesn't necessarily take a brain tumor to lose or forget because, as humans, we're subject to change, and, sometimes, to maintain our relationships, we willfully lose or forget things. or we simply lose or forget memories as we get older, become different people, and how regretful a prospect is that, sometimes, that this is something we can't help, and is it natural, then, that we've become a culture so obsessed with remembering, with curating our lives and preserving them on facebook, twitter, instagram, blogs, like, if we don't leave some record of ourselves behind, it'll be like we were never here, like we've never lived these lives?
"slip away" (from nell's album, slip away) ends:
혼자 남겨진 외로움보다,
눈물로 얼룩진 마음보다,
뒤엉켜버린 그 시간보다,
단 하나뿐인 그 진실보다,
잊혀져갈 이 모든 게 애처롭다
추억조차 지워갈 내 그 모습이 눈물겹다
익숙해질 그 모습이 눈물겹다
more than the loneliness of being left alone,
more than the heart spotted with tears,
more than that entangled time,
more than that singular truth,
all these things i'll forget are more painful,
the self that will erase every memory is more pitiful,
the self that will become accustomed to that is more pitiful.*
* all translations are mine; even if they are crappily done, i still claim ownership of them.
april is national poetry month, so here's a poem (or part of a poem) every monday for the rest of the month, which is really my way of saying, here's a poem by ted hughes. today's is the end of one of my favorite poems, and i will leave you with this -- have a good week, all!
even in my dreams, our house was in ruins.
but suddenly -- the third time -- you were there.
younger than i had ever known you. you
as if new made, half a wild roe, half
a flawless thing, priceless, facetted
like a cobalt jewel. you came behind me
(at my helpless moment, as i lowered
a testing foot into the running bath)
and spoke -- peremptory, as a familiar voice
will startle out of a river's uproar, urgent,
close: 'this is the last. this one. this time
don't fail me.'
howls & whispers, "the offers"
seven books i’d recommend to an aspiring writer (but, really, in general, to anyone) (by request on instagram):
this is a weird list for me to think up, mostly because i feel like there’s something very personal about the books/writing we’re drawn to — and, by that, i mean that we’re drawn to different tones, nuances, narratives, themes, even styles that respond to our own unique experiences and preferences, and there are so many great books out there that speak to those differences.
it goes without saying that this is a list that’s entirely personal to me, given the type of writing i personally aspire to and the themes that attract me. they aren’t really books about writing because i don’t find those personally useful/inspirational, but these are seven books that i find myself coming back to over and over again, especially when i could use some encouragement as a writer. (:
01. still writing, dani shapiro.
this is the only book on/about writing i’ve ever read. i appreciated it a lot, too — i stumbled across this book in a very timely moment when i was feeling discouraged because i was struggling in my own writing. i basically read this book thinking, YES! i agree! the whole time and immediately recommended it to my illustrator friend because a lot of the things shapiro says were things my friend and i had been talking about over the last few months.
shapiro doesn’t try to romanticize or glamorize the writing life (to be honest, i don’t know how anyone could. there’s nothing romantic or glamorous about it at all, “it” being the work itself, showing up everyday and sitting at your desk and trying to bleed words onto the page), but she talks about it honestly and openly, even when she’s discussing something like envy. i appreciated her frankness and that this book gave me a little kick in the butt and got me to stop moping and get back to writing …
02. the unabridged journals, sylvia plath.
the first time i read plath’s journals, i’d find myself spazzing out over how much i related to her. her internal struggles about being a writer and a woman and, oftentimes, a woman writer are laid out so bare on the page, and, to me at least, plath has always seemed so eminently relatable. it doesn’t hurt that i enjoy her writing, too, because there’s a rawness to it, even if there is a voyeuristic feeling to delving into her personal thoughts and records of her life. at the same time, though, it really is that rawness that i respond to, that humanness that makes her ultimately sympathetic and real.
03. the english patient, michael ondaatje.
ondaatje’s prose in the english patient — it’s hard to find words to do it credit. his words drip off the page, and there’s this liquid sensuality to them that wraps you up and doesn’t let you go — and it’s very languid, too, very smooth and rich but not overwhelming or smothering. the story is haunting, too, with the specter of war looming over them, and the language just serves the narrative and the settings so well. it’s so beautiful — read it out loud; the words roll off your tongue like lovely morsels.
04. the history of love, nicole krauss.
if we’re talking aspirational prose, i automatically think of nicole krauss because she writes about loss in the most exquisite ways. the last few pages of the history of love wring my heart — even now, just thinking about them, my eyes sting — and there’s so much heart in her writing, so much raw sensitivity and fragility, not of the weak sort but in the sense of the human body being a fragile, breakable but beautiful, living thing.
i also highly recommend her debut novel, man walks into a room. it’s not as stylized as the history of love, but it’s still beautifully written — and, again, the ways krauss writes about loss — i can’t get enough of it.
05. never let me go, kazuo ishiguro.
there is no book i have read more than i have read never let me go — in fact, i just finished reading it for the second time this calendar year, and i’m sure i’ll read it at least once more before 2014 is up. there’s a beautiful thread of unease running under this entire book, and it pulls tighter and tighter as you get near the end, until you’re just unravelled yourself.
ishiguro does first-person so well — i’ve probably said this before, but i think that, while there are many writers who are good at first person, there are few writers who are great at first person, and ishiguro is one of those few. he inhabits voice with such ease, so there’s a beautiful naturalness to kathy h’s voice, and that just unravels you more …
06. anna karenina, leo tolstoy.
i really should pick up the pevear/volokhonsky translation of this. in my opinion, there’s just no reason not to read anna karenina — it’s engaging; it’s a fascinating portrait of russia in the late nineteenth century; and, okay, i will concede that not everyone will be as in love with nineteenth century russia as i am, but tolstoy gets a lot into anna karenina, delving into themes like jealousy and passion and happiness and marriage but does so by telling a story through these characters in a very realistic portrait of an actual world.
and it’s fun! i think it’s fun. there’s such an opulence to this world that there’s a seduction to it. it’s basically tolstoy’s fault that i’m fascinated by nineteenth century russia.
the other russian novel i’d recommend is dostoevsky’s the brothers karamazov.
07. the corrections, jonathan franzen.
i can’t not put a franzen on here. when i reread the corrections earlier this year, the main thought going through my head was basically, these are real, fleshed-out people occupying a real, fleshed-out world, which honestly negates any kind of argument about likability or whatnot. and my thing with franzen is that he makes it all read so easy. the effort of his prose isn’t on the page; you don’t read him and think, wow, this guy is trying so hard to do something; and i admire that ease because we know the effort that does go into these books, not only his but any good book, the writing, rewriting, editing, again and again and again until it’s just right. and, sometimes, you can see that laboriousness dragging down the writing, but not so in the corrections.
and here’s a bonus thrown in: the opening passage to enduring love by ian mcewan. the whole book is brilliant and one of my favorites by mcewan, but that opening passage in particular is awesome. i typed it up here, so now y’all have no excuse not to read it. then go get the book and read it.