Friday, September 30, 2005
Neil: ... On the other hand, we're getting sixteen-year-old girls seeing it. At Sundance, we only had a few shows and they all sold out before they started. Then we were getting girls who've seen it the night before, back in line five hours before the next show. Dave and I knew something worked when the girl — the one with the arms . . .
Dave: The girl with the arms? Most of them had arms.
Shopping at Kipling's
Me: Ohmygawd I love that pink bag [pause] Did I just say that?
PW: [nodding] Yes you did.
D'oh Moment II:
Walking Down Tanjong Pagar along some pubs
PVC: Hey, there's a gay pub here. Wai Teck mentioned it before. What's it called...Where Else. It's called Where Else. We should go there one day.
Me: Okay. Why Not.
~ It's not funny if I have to explain the punchline.
D'oh Moment III:
Me: Maybe I should just give my parents what they want. Grandchildren.
D'oh Moment IV:
PVC: [gasps] You touched my punani!
~ the first time I ever heard that word.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Got this in the email this morning. It's supposed to be Angelina Jolie when she was much younger. Look how she's grown to be the woman she's meant to be. Ahh...
She looks like a regular untrustworthy little tyke in this picture. Those big, big eyes are really something out of Muppet Babies.
And someone please tell me, don't you think she looked like a younger Janeane Garofalo?
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
NP: I read that most people in China watch movies at home more than in theater.
ZZ: I think people are getting more used to going to movie theatres, but the big market in China is TV. People love to stay home - they're couch tomatoes.
~ There's more. Go pick up the magazine. In the same issue, Angelina Jolie interviews Anne Hathaway.
Monday, September 26, 2005
From Interview magazine (October 2005 issue). Natalie Portman interviews Ziyi Zhang, about learning English:
NP: Do you have a favorite idiom?
ZZ: "Drive me on the wall" [both laugh] - learning English is driving me on the wall!
~ Good for you. Very good. Look forward to your English in Memoirs of a Geisha
Excerpt from Salon, interview with Benjamin Kunkel. Here, the author speaks on the listless lad of modern age, and romance:
"Partly, a model of shopping has overtaken our experience of romance. Love, historically, has been associated with a sensation of destiny. It's very difficult for us to attain a sensation of destiny where love is concerned anymore, because we think we can always look for something better, which is essentially a shopper's mentality. There's no destiny when it comes to buying pants or shirts or a dress. There'll be the nicest thing you can afford this season. But then a new season will [bring] more attractive styles and you'll actually be able to afford something better. I think that tremendous passion that we feel other generations had and that we missed was attached to a sense of destiny, and of permanent love that would survive changes in station and opportunity and fortune. "
Neil Gaiman, with Joss Whedon in an interview with Time Magazine:
"I think also, the thing that's odd is that we're now living in a second-stage media world anyway. One of the reasons that both Joss [Whedon] and I can do some of the stuff that we've done over the years is because you're working in a medium in which enough stuff has simply entered popular culture that it becomes part of the vocabulary that we can deal with. The materials of fantasy, of all different kinds of fantasy, the materials of SF, the materials of horror...it's pop culture. It's tattooed on the insides of our retinas. As a result, it's something that's very easy just to use as metaphor. You don't have to explain to anybody what a vampire is. You don't have to explain the rules. Everybody knows that. They know that by the time they're five."
Friday, September 23, 2005
Pulled a muscle on a toe a few days ago. The irony is, the injury of a minor toe forced me to limp around for about 2 days.
Guess it's the kind of thing that you don't really think about until something happens. We never fully consider the wonderous mechanics behind the simple motion of just walking. How the heel first touch ground, roll, and then the lift-off of our toes. Now, with an injuried toe, the lift-off process can be painful. A lot of power goers into every single step we take.
In the Buddhist tradition, they have something known as "walking meditation." It basically asks you to take each and every step mindfully, with consciousness and awareness of your breathing. It's a demanding practice that forces you to slow down every thought and every motion. But it does wonders for your awareness.
Anyway, I'm reminded of this book by Rebecca Solnit. It's called Wanderlust: A History of Walking. The book outlines the prehistory, history, and natural history of bipedal motion.Walking, she observes, affords its practitioners an immediate reward - the ability to observe the world at a relaxed gait, one that allows us to take in sights, sounds, and smells that we might otherwise pass by. It provides a vehicle for much-needed solitude and private thought.
We don't walk enough these day. Someone I know was very excited about planning a road-trip tour. But I'm starting to feel I'm more a walking/public transport person.
And since I recovered from the embarrassing injuried toe, I'm back to my cocky strut. I have a tendency to shuffle my feet while walking, that I know. But I never really realised how much of a swagger I put into my gait sometimes.
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Saw this interesting book today: The Book of Lost Books: An Incomplete History of All the Great Books You Will Never Read. By Stuart Kelly.
I opened the book at random. First page that I laid eyes on: Page 24, Chapter on "Sappho (sixth century BCE)"
Is someone trying to tell me something?! If so, I already know, thank you.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
New Collection of interviews with Noam Chomsky by radio journalist David Barsamian. Chomsky discusses U.S. foreign policy in the post-9/11 world, the 2004 presidential campaign and election; the future of Social Security; the increasing threat of global warming; and new dangers presented by the United States' ever-deepening entanglement in Iraq.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
New colleague joined us recently, for about a week or so. It's only today I got a good look at her and found her face and voice familiar.
I asked her a few questions.
Yeah, my suspicions were right. We were classmates when we were 14.
Book Club That Never Happened
I sent out a mass-email some time back proposing a book club. It was more of a survey really, to test the general reception. I got some replies. It was actually more or less what I expected.
Anyway, as life took over I shelved the book club idea, until yesterday when a friend emailed me about it. She had some ideas she wanted to discuss at the book club.
I informed her of the general feedback. So that's kind of the end of it.
Now, this leads me to wonder a little, and goodness knows I should be wondering this at work.
We were looking at a book club that meets regularly. I was thinking once every 2 months. Get a core participant of about 5 people. Venue is actually easily arrangeable.
Some of the people who are interested are unable to commit to a regular meet-up. Understandable. Book clubs are often made up of ladies of leisure apparently. Life (and work-life) has a way of intruding into our well-laid plans.
I asked some people at work. A friend asks me, "Who's going to organise things?"
"Well, guess it's me, unless someone wants to help," I replied.
Friend: "You know you're going to end up doing the bulk of the work, right?"
Another issue, I need a good facilitator. Someone well-read, articulate, rational - a people's person able to draw out discussions and iron out potential conflicts. This is not something I'm good at. When I asked around for volunteers, somehow people always end up volunteering me.
That's fine. I'm testing water and I'll not stretch myself beyond my limits. And I am aware of the limit on the amount of time and effort I am willing to put into it.
Then there are the people who are interested. One friend wanted to be in a bookclub since she watched "Ellen" on TV. That's a scary thought actually, but fun.
But then, reading being a solitary habit, I come up against a wall. Some people don't like the idea of meeting strangers to discuss books they've read. They prefer an online blog/forum/mailing list.
Not what I'm looking for either.
So plans for the book club is in hiatus.
Do I feel bad? Nope. Why feel bad about something that never happened?
Monday, September 19, 2005
From The Village Voice by Graham Fuller:
"Before Wong Kar-wai's 2046 opened here last month, it was heralded by a still of Zhang Ziyi espousing the kind of tantalizing erotic mystery that movies themselves seldom project these days. It might prove the most iconic image to have appeared since Marlene Dietrich was photographed leaning back on a beer barrel—to display a meaty thigh and her dreamy detachment from the febrile desire she elicits—during the winter 1929–30 UFA production of Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel."
In a film with Faye Wong, Gong Li and Carine Lau (albeit a minor role), this critic only notices Zhang Ziyi? And he positions Zhang Ziyi as some Asian Marlene Dietrich-ish icon?
I am much aggrieved.
Marlene Dietrich is an ICON of the ages. With her still "come hither" eyes she corrupted men and women alike. And Dietrich in life possessed the balls of twenty men. She spoke up against Hitler and the fascist government. Branded a traitor, she left her motherland and performed for American troops in defiance. Zhang Ziyi does not even come close to Dietrich.
"There she stands then, in a spangled black cheongsam, a noirish totem of sexual aloofness, in her room, 2046, at Hong Kong's Oriental Hotel. Her upper lip is cast in shadow as it separates provocatively from its neighbor. Her neatly coiffed head is cocked slightly to her left at an angle that would seem quizzical if it didn't seem she knows all the damn answers (in fact, she has none)."
Perpetually clueless, even in Hero - that's quite Zhang Ziyi actually. At least he gets that right.
"She has, meanwhile, arrayed herself in insolent contrapposto: Her right hand is spread on her right hip in such a way that it crooks the arm at a 90-degree angle at the elbow; her left hand caresses her abdomen with the scarlet-tipped fingers at 10 o'clock (much too early for bed in mid-'60s Hong Kong). This accentuates not the curve of her back, as the New York Times review headline euphemistically put it, but the prominence of her bust, which must be pressing painfully against her too tight sheath—a clear mark of masochism. The pose echoes Dietrich's akimbo stances in The Blue Angel and especially Sternberg's 1932 Blonde Venus. It's an advertisement, a challenge, and a taunt.
I've seen store window mannequins with similar poses. As for the too-tight cheong sum bust, I believe Zhang Ziyi gets no love from her tailor.
"Her rapt narcissism, born of insecurity, and her na doom her to fall unrequitedly in love with Chow [Tony Leung's character]"
Firstly, what is her "na"? A quick web search gives "Na" as the chemical symbol for sodium. Methinks some critic typeth too fast on the keyboard.
But back to Zhang Ziyi.
Zhang Ziyi represents the generation of untalented (but oddly successful) performers filling up the screens these days. She possesses the kind of bland, uninspiring face that I want to slap. Kind of like Paris Hilton.
To quote WW:
"Zhang Ziyi gets no love from Wong Kar Wai and Christopher Doyle."
Zhang Ziyi, posed like a store window mannequin, is a prop, a disposable one. In the film, Tony Leung callously uses then dumps Zhang Ziyi. But because it is only Zhang Ziyi, Tony remains the Soulful Beloved to the audience. Afterall, it's not someone we care about, say Gong Li's Black Widow Su Lizhen.
In her all-too-brief appearance, Gong Li memerises. She too, wears THE BLACK CHEONG SUM - but with the single black glove, never explained. And that single black glove is all the essence of the Wong Kar Wai heroine.
The lighting on Gong Li is stark, drawing out the exquisite beauty that is her profile in distinct lines. Yet the character drifts across the screen, smoky and elusive. One wishes Wong Kar Wai will shoot a movie all on her character alone.
A professional gambler, she tells Tony Leung never to gamble when he is depressed. "You will never win," she intones, knowing. One surmises she has lost too many times in her life.
When Tony Leung asks Gong Li to leave with him, she does not. She knows she is not the True Beloved of Tony Leung. She knows when she cannot win. In taking herself out of the game, she preserves herself.
And that is why Gong Li is a Wong Kar Wai heroine.
I will not get into Faye Wong's character right now. Because Faye Wong is most fun in Chungking Express and 2046 does her no justice.
Graham Fuller, I forgive you your ignorance because you are American. You have no idea Zhang Ziyi is the punchline Asian directors offer to the joke that is Hollywood.
Saturday, September 17, 2005
I've finally finished reading The End of Alice. The premise of the book was meant to disturb, but the truer power of A. M. Homes was her ability to create paedophilic characters that compel you even as they send you down a scary dark place. In my sympathy (and do I dare admit to empathy?) I am accessory to their desires.
I am slightly disturbed initially, but more by the inversion of the young 19 year old girl as sexual predator, and the odd cannibalistic image of the young object of her desire, Matt, as pink flesh to be consumed. There was actual consumption later, of skin scab, fresh from a bleeding knee wound.
And the Alice of the title. The imprisoned paedophile and the 12 year old Alice murdered. All told in a concluding flashback. We are uneasy with the sexuality of children. And we confront this unease when we meet the alluring Alice through the eyes of the man who desires her.
"For instance, if you were to dye your hair red, you'd become a redhead. You wouldn't be constantly thinking your hair is really brown. You'd think of yourself as a redhead and people would respond to you as a redhead, more fiery, more passionate, and you'd sort of become a redhead. Like going to a masquerade party dressed as a pirate or a rabbit, people would treat you differently and you'd behave differently. Like southern American women who are trained to be cute and kittenish, and tough guys with leather jackets and tattoos, your self is manufactured and if you've been working on it from the age of two or three you can't locate yourself outside that persona. It is who you become and who you are. It doesn't mean you're lying all the time."
~ Alison Lurie
Thursday, September 15, 2005
These are the 6 shortlisted titles for this year's Man Booker Prize:
The Sea by John Banville
Arthur & George by Julian Barnes
A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Accidental by Ali Smith
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
It's easy to remember the shortlist. 2 big-wigs (Barnes & Ishiguro), 2 Irishmen (Barry & Banville) and 2 women (Smith & er...Smith)
My personal choice? More my hope actually, is Ali Smith's The Accidental:
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
In The End of Alice, an aging paedophile has spent the last twenty years incarcerated for the murder of a 12 year old girl. The story begins when a 19 year old college girl started writing him. A kindred spirit, the 19 year old has been stalking and seducing a particular 12 year old boy herself. In her letters to the imprisoned paedophile, she reveals gradually her unnatural obsession and erotic games with the 12 year old Matthew. The correspondence in turn led him down a series of emotionally charged memories of how he came to be.
The End of Alice has been banned in parts of the UK and cancelled for publication in France for its frank depiction of the grotesque psycho-sexual innerscape of its characters.
Not an easy book. Either to read nor to write.
In an interview, Homes says, "With Alice, I wanted to write a book where people, at times, would be very drawn into it, seduced by it - then on the very next page want to throw the book across the room because they're so upset that they've been seduced, that they've been had by this guy. Then a minute or two passes and they have to get up and go get it so they can pick it up and read some more.
"I like that book a lot. I feel, as a writer, that I worked incredibly hard and I did what I wanted to do. A big thing was to not shy away from the material. My responsibility is to not worry about what people are going to think, but to worry about the character and how to most accurately represent him."
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Just added the link - see to the right? - to the Quirky Alone website.
Definition of a Quirkaloner?
A person who enjoys being single (but is not opposed to being in a relationship) and generally prefers to be alone rather than dating for the sake of being in a couple. With unique traits and an optimistic spirit; a sensibility that transcends relationship status.
"Relationship" in this context refers to what we normally consider romance. There are other kind of relationships - friendship & kinship - but they take up different dynamics. Not that they are in any way less important.
Romantic relationship is supposed to enrich our lives. But the irony these days is that too many people mistake romance - with its taken-for-granted conclusion towards marriage and babydom - as the ULTIMATE GOAL OF LIFE.
Poo. *Sticks out middle finger*
I think that's sad. When have we come to these pathetic assumptions of our existence? Marriage and romance are wonderful things. But they are wonderful only when they add-on to an already rich life.
Somewhere in the midst of an industrial age, our attitudes to relationships turned utilitarian. We somehow deem friendships inferior to romance & marriage. Sad.
You are not lonely because of the absence of a relationship. You are lonely because of who you choose to be. And let's face it, if you're not capable of making yourself happy, there's no way you can make someone else happy either. Learn first, to be happy. After that, extend that to the people that cross your path.
Each and everyone of us, ultimately is alone. But being alone, does not equate to loneliness. It only is so, if you want it to be.
Our lives are the best things that ever happened to us.
Monday, September 12, 2005
As they say, straight from the horses' mouth...
"But Iraq has—have got people there that are willing to kill, and they're hard-nosed killers. And we will work with the Iraqis to secure their future." —Washington, D.C., April 28, 2005
"It's in our country's interests to find those who would do harm to us and get them out of harm's way."—Washington, D.C., April 28, 2005
"We look forward to analyzing and working with legislation that will make—it would hope—put a free press's mind at ease that you're not being denied information you shouldn't see." —Washington, D.C., April 14, 2005
"I'm also mindful that man should never try to put words in God's mouth. I mean, we should never ascribe natural disasters or anything else, to God. We are in no way, shape, or form should a human being, play God."—Appearing on ABC's 20/20, Washington D.C., Jan. 14, 2005
"It's a time of sorrow and sadness when we lose a loss of life."—Washington, D.C., Dec. 21, 2004
"I believe that, as quickly as possible, young cows ought to be allowed to go across our border."—Ottawa, Nov. 30, 2004
"That's why I went to the Congress last September and proposed fundamental—supplemental funding, which is money for armor and body parts and ammunition and fuel."—Erie, Pa., Sept. 4, 2004
"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."—Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2004
"[A]s you know, these are open forums, you're able to come and listen to what I have to say."—Washington, D.C., Oct. 28, 2003
"It's very interesting when you think about it, the slaves who left here to go to America, because of their steadfast and their religion and their belief in freedom, helped change America."—Dakar, Senegal, July 8, 2003
This is the President of the United States of America? Fall on your knees and pray, people.
This review is taken from The Village Voice
Following Lewis's posthumous road novel of the human viscera—straight into oblivion
by Nic Kelman
September 13th, 2004 7:30 PM
Notice is a difficult book. But not in the sense that it is an obscure work, some kind of experimental literary leviathan demanding to be mastered. Rather it is difficult because you will understand it all too well. It will make you uncomfortable. It will make you almost unbearably sad. From the very first page it will get under your skin and then burrow deeper and deeper, compelling you to examine places inside yourself that most of us know are there, but that we would prefer not to see. It will force you to notice emotions, desires, and interactions most of us devote time and effort to keeping hidden from ourselves and from others.
The plot of Notice, while unusual and absorbing, is simple enough. An unnamed, young, upper-middle-class girl, left alone at home in a typical suburban setting, turns to prostitution. But not because she needs the money or is suffering from some kind of Belle de Jour ennui. Rather because she must. Because it is, somehow, who she is or believes she is. Very quickly she falls into an abusive relationship with an older couple, a relationship she knows is harmful to her but in spite of which—or more accurately because of which—she cannot bear to end. Soon she is in a rehabilitation center and forms a bond with a female therapist. Because of the protagonist's inability to relate to people any other way, this relationship too turns sexual. Furthermore, the protagonist's desires tend to contaminate those around her, drawing them in, and in this case prevent even this lone person who cares about her from becoming anything more than an accomplice. From here, the work goes on to explore these initial relationships, unfolding them like poisonous flowers, eventually disclosing the inevitable consequences of exposure to their secret interiors.
But Notice is not so much about its story as it is about the desire for self-destruction, for annihilation in the true sense of the word. For the protagonist, the only alternative to death is to lose herself in sex, to disappear in other people's desire for her. She experiences sex as a way to relate to people, to understand who they are, but also as an act of obliteration that condemns her for asking others to destroy her and them for desiring to do so. What makes it a brilliant and startling book in our modern American climate of outward blame and determined inward health is the fact that, in spite of everything forced upon her, it also acknowledges the true beast is inside her, driving her ever onward to oblivion.
Often the work seems to be a road novel of the human viscera and Lewis's descriptions of the places the protagonist visits on this journey are photo-realistic in their details. "Seen all the holes in my system—in me—and how apparent they were to anyone who cared to notice," says the main character at one point. Lewis depicts the places inside us and the spaces in between human communication in a style that is continually rolling, revealing, and discovering. Her language is both comfortable and familiar, but employed in a manner so fresh, so precise, that every paragraph twists, turns, and then suddenly falls like a heavy but unerring blow. Lewis speaks what is unspoken with spectacular accuracy, expresses what is never expressed with uncommon honesty and sincerity. If great art can be defined as one person's expression of his or her reality without the obfuscations of ego, then Notice is a defining work.
When what pursues you is internal, there is no escape. There are no victories, no concessions. Lewis does not avoid telling you something simply because you would rather not hear it. The book's finale is shocking in a way few narratives are today because, by then, Lewis has dragged you down with the protagonist, making you identify with her so closely, the ending is almost too much to bear. When you think you are done with Notice, you will discover weeks, months, possibly years later, Notice is not done with you.
Tragically, there is one more thing to say about this work. In his afterward, Allan Gurganus refers to it as "a suicide note of genius." In 2002, Lewis took her own life. And while ordinarily it might be said that the life of the writer should not color the reception of his or her work, this case may be different. According to those close to her, the book's emotional course is so close to that of Lewis's life, the protagonist's and her own psyche so similarly at war with themselves, that in this case, we perhaps should not ignore the fact that the promise Notice made, Lewis kept.
Notice, published by Serpent's Tail, is available from Amazon UK.
I found out recently that my "pain-in-the-ass" boss suffers from chronic constipation. He's been taking more fruits and vegetables, as well as more fluids to try to do something about the condition. I don't think it helped a lot though.
Boss KC also has a fondness for crude, scatological jokes that are just not funny.
Now that I am made aware of his physical constipation, perhaps this explains his jokes. And his uptight personality in general.
Still, my boss' toilet habits is something that I so don't need to know.
And yet I do.
And now, so do you too.
n. pl. ser·en·dip·i·ties
 The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident.
 The fact or occurrence of such discoveries.
 An instance of making such a discovery.
~ From www.dictionary.com
By sheer serendipity (and perhaps also thanks to my uncanny ability to retain bits of useless information and observations) -I now know the identity, occupation and workplace of the current beau of my ex.
These are things I did not need to find out. Nor have I consciously gone looking for them. Yet they come, unbidden, in my path.
Friday, September 09, 2005
Had dinner with AH & MH last night.
In one of our conversations, we discussed possible travel plans to New York or San Francisco. I told MH I really preferred San Francisco. New York always seemed hostile to me as a city.
MH then told me we could do a San Francisco-Los Angelos-San Diego route.
Me: What's in San Diego you want to see?
MH: I have a friend there.
Me: A real friend, or someone you met online who might turn out to be a serial killer?
MH: A real person. My sister has met her.
Me: And you want to meet up with her?
MH: She's bisexual.
Me: (befuddled) How is that relevant? Unless you want to screw her.
MH: Too bad she's with her boyfriend.
Me: Then how is it relevant?
MH: It's relevant to you too lah.
How the hell is the sexuality of your friend relevant unless you want to fuck them?
Thursday, September 08, 2005
By Carol Ann Duffy
Somewhere on the other side of this wide night
and the distance between us, I am thinking of you.
The room is turning slowly away from the moon.
This is pleasurable. Or shall I cross that out and say
it is sad? In one of the tenses I singing
an impossible song of desire that you cannot hear.
La lala la. See? I close my eyes and imagine the dark hills I would have to cross
to reach you. For I am in love with you
and this is what it is like or what it is like in words.
Monday, September 05, 2005
By Carol Ann Duffy
Not a red rose or a satin heart.
I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.
It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.
I am trying to be truthful.
Not a cute card or a kissogram.
I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.
I want to call you thou, the sound
of the shape of the start
of a kiss — like this, thou —
and to say, after, I love,
thou, I love, thou I love, not
I love you.
Because I so do —
as we say now — I want to say
thee, I adore, I adore thee,
and to know in my lips
the syntax of love resides,
and to gaze in thine eyes.
Love’s language starts, stops, starts;
the right words flowing or clotting in the heart.
~ Carol Ann Duffy
Thursday, September 01, 2005
Taken from http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,923-1750306,00.html
August 27, 2005
By Jeanette Winterson
TODAY IS MY BIRTHDAY. FORTY-SIX years ago I was left on the steps of a Manchester orphanage, and later adopted by my Pentecostal parents and taken to live in Accrington.
Birthdays in our house were always literary events, even though there were only six books in the house. The important book, the Bible, was used as Word of God and crystal ball. Ask a question, screw up your eyes, open at random and bang your finger on chapter and verse. It was simple and exhilarating. Sometimes, of course, there were setbacks; land on a nasty bit of the Old Testament and an innocent question such as, will my dreams come true? might get the reply: “Thy testicles shall be cut off for seven generations.”
On the other hand, Mrs Winterson, whose cast of mind was Old Testament, was very pleased when, troubled with calloused feet, she asked as her birthday question: will I be able to get my shoes on again in time for the baptismal service? The answer came back: “The Moabites hath eaten the Lord’s corn.” She took this as a yes.
Imagine my delight then, when I discover that Bloomsbury is just about to publish something as useful as The Ladies’ Oracle, by Cornelius Agrippa, a 15th-century German mystic and alchemist.
First published in 1857, this tiny tome is all about love — presumably because women weren’t worrying about getting promoted in those days. So Agrippa can’t help you on the career ladder, but if, for instance, you are thinking, right this minute, ought I to oppose the projects of my husband? Then there is an answer for you. I asked the oracle, how many lovers shall I have? The answer came back: “You will be always changing.” No point ordering the wedding dress then.
On lottery nights you could ask, may I hope to receive a fortune? My answer was: “You will be hoping in vain.” So good job I’m not going to the expense of the wedding.
The oracle is a fun way of doing what all of us who love books do; we read to make discoveries about ourselves. Fiction and poetry have oracular qualities, reading runes for us that we hardly know we have cast, interpreting signs that we would otherwise miss. One of the reasons I get rather depressed by the current fad for documentary-style fiction is its insistence on the explanatory above the symbolic. Good writing goes beyond its subject matter. Language is more than meaning. The things that we have read that we remember seem to move with us through our lives as we get older. Their symbolic value increases. This book, that poem, become repositories for our own changing memories, and retain the power to activate a response in us long after the moment.
When I was 16 I read Wuthering Heights for the first time, and I read it as a kind of oracle; that life is worth nothing if it is not worth everything. Disaster does not matter, intensity does. You can dilute Wuthering Heights, as Mills & Boon and musicals have done. But if you are honest, you cannot escape its central stark premise; all or nothing. The all is not Heathcliff — that is the sentimental version. The all is what Heathcliff represents, which is life itself.
A birthday is a good moment to think about life itself — especially a mid-life birthday. When Mrs Winterson was particularly fed up with me, which was often, but always on August 27, she used to say: “The Devil led us to the wrong crib.” Next to me, in the orphanage, had been a nice boy called Paul. Paul shadowed my childhood, not as the brother I might have had, but as the person I should have been. When I left home just after my 16th birthday, in time to work for a living and start my A levels, I had my books, and for the first time ever, I had myself. No Paul.
It was a beginning — that is, it was another beginning, but the great relief of a birthday is that you can start a new chapter. You won’t need The Ladies’ Oracle to tell you what it is you would like to change — and if there is something worth changing, then I have always found the energy of a favourite poem is a good psychic kick-start.
Anyway, my personal trainer tells me that my biological age (ho ho) is 37. She puts it down to the gym, but I put it down to the rejuvenating power of art. There’s nothing like a good book to keep you young.
At that time, the ring was too big and my fingers too small. I didn't wear it then. You thought it meant I did not appreciate the ring. Or you. Maybe you were right.
Now we no longer speak. We could barely glance at each other when we do meet. You have also stopped talking to your best friend. And most of your best friend's associates.
But I still like the ring. It's from you, yes - but it's more me than you.
It was not a ring you would have bought on your own. It's not your taste. But I recognise the ring was bought at a time when you still cared for me.
I'm wearing it, for the beauty of the ring itself. Because of you. In spite of you. And it's all mixed up together, the reasons I wear the ring.
After we broke up, I had the ring altered to fit my finger. It is the statement of you and me. Sometimes things had to be broken to fit better.
Still, what's the deal with your hair?!!