Thursday, May 31, 2007

World’s Sexiest Vegetarian Celebrity

It's Vesak Day, when Buddhists around the world honour the Buddha's birthday. So it's sort of like Christmas for the Buddhists, I guess. My parents are going vegetarian today, in honour of the Buddha, and they still don't get it that vegetarian food don't have to be bland.

Vegetarian dining can be full of colour and flavours, and vegetarians can be very sexy. Really.

Which brings me to this news thread: PETA is organising their 7th annual “World’s Sexiest Vegetarian Celebrity” poll. I didn't even know about the previous 6 polls. Some veggie celebrities: Carrie Underwood; Bryce Dallas Howard; Naomi Watts; Maggie Q; Joaquin Phoenix; P!nk, Joan Jett and Tobey Maguire.

Go here to vote for your "World’s Sexiest Vegetarian Celebrity"!

My vote is for Joan Jett, because I want to look this good when I'm 47!

Yes, she's really 47! ------------------->

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Mental Health Break

I took Friday off work last week, as I decided I needed a mental health break. Things at work will be crazy this coming week, and I know I will not be able to squeeze in much reading time. I will probably also have to miss yoga for a while because of work. I'm not happy about it.

I thought with the extended weekend I could probably finish up a book (or two) from my Books In Progress pile(s). Perhaps I might even do some proper book-posts on the books I've read. There was an interesting Raymond Carver article in the Utne magazine that I wanted to comment on. I also have something from Herodotus that I wanted to share.

Alas, what fools we mortals be.

Instead, on Friday I went to the dentist. I came home later and crashed for 18 hours straight.

What's up with the dentist? For a slacker, I'm pretty square [Can anyone find the oblique Buffy reference here?] But the 18 hour crash? ― I did not realise I was that burnt out. The first opportunity that arises, my body shut down to catch up with much needed sleep.

This year, I seem to have spread myself too thin. Like an octopus I've been trying to do too many things at once, and I end up doing less. Similarly, I've been trying to read too many books all at once, and I end up reading less. It's time to get focused and just work on one book at a time, one task at a time.

I did not realise I was that exhausted. I had intended to sign up for Italian classes this June ― but I think I'm going to postpone the Italian lessons for a while.

On the up side, over the weekend, I finally managed to push about 200 pages into Bernard Cornwell's The Winter King – I have about 120 pages more to completion. (Should be do-able within the next few days.) It's one of my selections for the Once Upon A Time Challenge.

I have to finish up The Winter King, Caitlin R. Kiernan's Threshold and A Midsummer's Night Dream soon, as Midsummer's Night looms(!!). Meanwhile I still have the Non Fiction Five Challenge on-going and the Southern Reading Challenge is coming up 1st June(!!!). All this reading, with work and trying to show up for yoga class everyday, I'm a little swamped.

I DNF (Did Not Finish – it's a term that I learnt from Ultramarathon Man) on my reading challenges last year, so I really want to be able to finish my challenges this year. I know we're supposed to have fun with the challenges, and it shouldn't feel like we're rushing for something – but there comes a time when never finishing the goals set for the challenges just makes you feel like you're not trying hard enough.

I think I'll take a break some time in July. For a few days. Maybe bring a book along.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

CHALLENGE | Ultramarathon Man

Non Fiction Five Challenge 2007

Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes

One night, Dean Karnazes was celebrating his 30th birthday. In a moment of existential crisis, he picked up his running shoes and ran. He ran for seven hours straight that night, covering 30 miles. In the morning, he finally stopped running and he called his wife to come bring him home. He was exhausted but something within him was transformed:

In the course of a single night I had been transformed from a drunken yuppie fool into a reborn athlete. During a period of great emptiness in my life, I turn to running for strength. I heard the calling and I went to the light.

It sounds almost woo-hoo, yet the achievement of the Ultramarathon Man is very real. Among the races he had done:

  1. The Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run
    - which has a total elevation change of 38,000 feet. Dean Karnazez finished it within 24 hours on his first attempt. He came close to dehydration and he lost one of his big toenail – but he kept running

  2. Badwater Ultramarathon
    – known as the "World's Toughest Footrace" – which is a 135 mile trek across Death Valley to Mount Whitney. In Summertime, temperatures can exceed 130 degree Fahrenheit and the asphalt cn get higher than 200 degree. Karnazes had to run in a white UV protective suit to prevent the sun from searing his skin, and his running shoes melted within the first hour. In between he also suffered hallucinations, and he had to contend with real snakes and scorpions. He collapsed on his first attempt - on the verge of heatstroke. He came back the following year to finish the Badwater run.

  3. South Pole Marathon
    - Karnazes was one of the six athletes who took up the challenge of the inaugural marathon at the South Pole. No one knew if it was possible, which was enough reason for the attempt. Temperature was aproaching –40 degrees, where "[b]reathing the superchilled air directly could freeze your trachea." At the end, the athletes decided they will run together instead of competing. So they did, proving while conditions were awful and life-threatening, it was still possible.

What comes through is a lot of pain. Oh, the pain. Yet with the pain is a message that is almost beautiful.

Dean Karnazes used to run long distance when he was in school. He tells us about the running coaches that inspired him. The first was Coach Jack McTavish, who according to legend could do more push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups than anyone in his platoon. He taught Karnazes that "[i]t's supposed to hurt like hell." That unless you're making extraordinary effort, you're not working hard enough.

In junior high he met long-distance coach Benner. Karnazes loved this man, who respected and cared for his runners. It was Benner who taught Karnazes, "Don't run with your legs. Run with your heart." For Karnazes, the first half of the running is with the body, the latter half is done with the heart.

During his first Western States run, he met an Indian at the aid station at Ford's Bar. They exchanged words, and then the Indian chief said to him, "Pain is the body's way of ridding itself of weakness."

At times it seems Karnazes is almost masochistic in his glorification of the pain. Yet there is something almost purifying in the process of pain and his journey into the extremes.

After the Antaractic run, he came home just in time for his daughter's 7th birthday. That night, he read Charlotte's Web to his children. After he put the children to bed. He had Thai takeout with his wife, where he proceeded to romance her. The next morning, careful not to wake his wife, he went out for a run.

I like the domesticity upon his return, and the greater significance behind this warm family reunion:

I realized that going close to the edge gives you a newfound apreciation of the familiar. Nothing gets taken for granted, and you see the world through fresh eyes. Running beyond the limits was my form of renewal.

Again, the word: "renewal." It keeps coming up when he is trying to make sense of his experience of running. It is almost spiritual ― Zen-like in his determination.

One of my yoga teacher once asked in class, "When does the yoga really start?"

"When you start to feel the strain, when your muscles start to burn, you are at the edge and you want to get out of the pose ― that is when yoga really begins.

"That's when your mind stops wandering and you are truly in the posture. That is when yoga really begins."

This is what keeps playing in my head as I was reading Ultramarathon Man. The book reminded me of this little lesson: true transformation is possible only when we are willing to push ourselves beyond the comfort zone, and in our return to meet the familiar with fresh eyes. Karnazes's story illustrates that any activity approached with full engagement and determination can be a spiritual undertaking.

People think I'm crazy to put myself through such torture, though I would argue otherwise. Somewhere along the line we seem to have confused comfort with happiness. I've now come to believe that quite the opposite is the case. Dostoyevsky had it right: "Suffering is the sole origin of consciousness." Never are my senses more engaged than when the pain sets in. This is magic in misery. Just ask any runner.

Perhaps Dean Karnazes's run is possible because he is running for something greater than himself. Perhaps he is running for his sister, Pary, who died in an automobile accident when she was 18. Perhaps he can run the extremes because he is always running with his very supportive family and friends. "Team Dean" is more than Dean Karnazes alone. When his sister died, the heart of the family broke. His running brought the family together. I believe that each time he runs, he carries within him all the hopes and wishes of those who love him.

Whatever the reason, reading Ultramarathon Man I find myself inspired by his message of heart and pain. I started looking at running shoes, and I wondered: if I could push myself to the edge, what will happen? Will I too, be transformed?


After reading Dean Karnazes's book, I feel like searching for these related titles:

  1. ChiRunning by Danny Dreyer
    I've been hearing alot about this guide to injury-free running. Apparently it applies some of the principles of Tai Chi, Yoga and Taoism into the art of running. One is curious.
  2. The Extra Mile by Pam Reed
    There's some gossip online on the rivalry between Dean Karnazes and Pam Reed, which led me to Pam Reed's book. Pam Reed is a winner of the Badwater Ultramarathon, a superb athlete who gives another perspective to the sport of extreme running.

This post was written while listening to Kaki King's Everybody Loves You.

Joss Whedon's Call To Action

I'm late on this, and some of you who visits would have read this already. But I feel a need to post this impassioned speech by Joss Whedon, on the stoning to death of 17 year old Dua Khalil - broadcasted on CNN, and how the world we live in allows this to happen.

Go read what he has to say, because the world still allows itself to believe that 50% of its population is weak, is inferior, is deserving of less than humane treatment:

You may hear nothing new here. You may be way ahead of me. But I can’t contain my despair, for Dua Khalil, for humanity, for the world we’re shaping. Those of you who have followed the link I set up know that it doesn’t bring you to a video of a murder. It brings you to a place of sanity, of people who have never stopped asking the question of what is wrong with this world and have set about trying to change the answer. Because it’s no longer enough to be a decent person. It’s no longer enough to shake our heads and make concerned grimaces at the news. True enlightened activism is the only thing that can save humanity from itself. I’ve always had a bent towards apocalyptic fiction, and I’m beginning to understand why. I look and I see the earth in flames. Her face was nothing but red.

This is not about being a feminist - it is about staying human. How can any society that would beat down its mothers, its sisters, its wives and daughters lay claim to civilisation or humanity?

Dorothy Surrenders points out the parallel between Joss Whedon's speech and what he wrote for the episode "Chosen" of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

In the episode (Youtube link below), Buffy made her final battle speech to all the slayer potentials and her friends. It is a call to empowerment, to bring the fight to the Hellmouth, and this is what makes the difference between a hero and a Champion.

Buffy: I hate this. I hate being here. I hate that you have to be here. I hate that there is evil. That I was chosen to fight. I wish a whole lot of the time I hadn't been. I know a lot of you wish I hadn't been either. This isn't about wishes. This is about choices. I believe we can beat this evil. Not when it comes. Not when its army is ready. Now.

Go to Equality Now

The Vader Project

Carl V. did a series of posts on the Star Wars Anniversary recently. It brought back fond memories of growing up with Star Wars. From the beginning, I have adored Darth Vader. The whiny Anakin Skywalker in the prequels however, put the grandeur of my Lord Vader to shame.

In celebration of the glory of my Lord Vader, I present, The Vader Project. Ta-DAHH!

The Vader Project, to debut at Star Wars Celebration IV on May 24 to 28 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, features 75 artists that customize Darth Vader helmets in landmark gallery exhibition for Star Wars Celebration IV.

Imagine, a room full of Vader helmets. It is art. And I like!

See the Star story here.

Heads on sticks. Ha-hah!

Vader gone glam-punk. One of my favourite.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

FILM | Une Vieille Maîtresse

Can it be? A film collaboration between French film director Catherine Breillat and Asia Argento?

Breillat has a reputation for making daring, provocative films that explore sexuality and gender politics in very uncomfortable ways. She is also famous for casting Italian porn actor Rocco Siffredi in her films, which ruffled some feathers. Her casting has its purpose, and I'm looking at the poster right now, at the dark seductress versus virgin white blonde girl. It's Asia Argento, girl. Good luck.

Une Vieille Maîtresse (translated loosely as An Old Mistress - somebody help me out here - the translated title sucks). From Yahoo! Movies, the film synopsis is given:

A man is torn between two women--one demonic, one angelic. The young and dissolute Ryno de Marigny is betrothed to marry Hermangarde, a virtuous gem of the French aristocracy. But some, who wish the union not to occur, whisper that the young man will never break off his affair with Vellini, which has been going on for years. In a swril of confidences, betrayals and secrets, feelings will prove their strength to be invincible.

Sounds like a Les Liaisons Dangereuses plotline to me. One suspects we know how the movie will end, but under Breillat, I am not so sure. Things are never simple in her movies.

Here's a shot of Argento behaving in a way that we would pay money to watch.

All pictures taken from Flachfilm.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

BOOKS | Books to Look Forward To

I've recently placed special customer orders for some books I'm interested in, because the bookstore I work for don't carry stocks for them. It's ironic, because I used to be the buyer for that section, but since my transfer, the people in charge of the buying have some difference of opinions with what should go on the bookshelves.

So, the choice is to buy the book elsewhere, or do a special order, like any normal customer. These are my orders:

  1. Out of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer.

    I read Dyer's Yoga For People Who Can't Be Bothered To Do It recently and I enjoyed his meandering style which can be insightful and funny, because he is blessed with occasional bursts of brilliant self-awareness. Out of Sheer Rage is his signature blend of memoir, travelogue and essay as he writes about trying to write a book on DH Lawrence. He traveled to some of the places Lawrence had been to, all the while meandering in his thoughts.

    What I like about Dyer is how he illustrates that the straightest, shortest route is not always the best way to a destination, and wandering off the straight and narrow path can often be a lot more fun and enlightening. I'm hoping for some entertainment from Out of Sheer Rage, but I also hope to learn a few things on the way.

  2. Daphne Du Maurier by Margaret Forster.

    The whole Du Maurier centenary and the various write-ups on her "Venetian tendencies" got me curious, although sometimes I wonder if human creativity can be so easily summed up with the modern psycho-babble: she wrote these dark tales because she was a repressed lesbian suffering from unrequited love. Huh?

    I'm hoping to read the biography after I finish some of her novels, like Jamaican Inn, My Cousin Rachel and of course, Don't Look Now and Other Stories. I've always been a fan of gothic novels, of books that explore the deeper horrors of the human psyche. Meanwhile, I've received a free copy of the Collector's Edition of Rebecca, published by Orion. I have all intention of reading Rebecca soon, but this hardcover edition is a little unwieldy ― not to mention a little too "girly" for my taste.

  3. Bound to Please by Michael Dirda.

    The paperback collection of Michael Dirda's book essays is finally released. It collects some of his better book essays published for The Washington Post where he was Book Editor for many years. Among his gems are the literary profiles from his reading of literary biographies ― what he wrote after reading the biography on Samuel Beckett inspired me to want to read all the Beckett works, and his treatment of Colette was wonderfully respectful ― which I appreciate. But my favourite essay in the whole collection is that very heartfelt admiration he expressed for A.S. Byatt's Possession. It's a great reminder that the best book reviewer is someone who is personally and emotionally engaged with books, and not just someone doing a job because he/she needs a paycheck. I want my book reviewer to be capable of geeky adoration, because it is true, that sometimes a book hits you so hard, the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about it is just "Wow".

    I'm waiting for my copy to come in, and the A.S. Byatt essay will be the first thing I will reread.

Meanwhile, some new releases I'm looking forward to:

  1. Away by Amy Bloom

    Another novel by the author who opened my eyes to the splendour of short stories. The truth is, I didn't like her last novel as well as I adore her short stories. Amy Bloom seems to work better when she leaves things unsaid with the brevity of her stories. But I am still looking forward to this novel, as she is still a writer capable of making me feel like her characters, even though I have never been in those situations myself.

  2. At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays by Anne Fadiman

    Everyone should be familiar with Fadiman's Ex Libris by now. If not, where have you been? Ex Libris is her paen to books and reading, and now Fadiman is tackling the art of essays. I am prepared to be dazzled.

  3. War and Peace, the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation of Tolstoy.

    One could say I waited many years for this translation. These translators brought Dostoevsky to life for me about ten years ago. Now I await the Tolstoy experience.

  4. Travels with Herodotus Ryszard Kapuscinski

    I have been reading Heordotus slowly these days. Kapuscinski had a copy of The Histories as a gift from his first boss, and he carried it through out his travels. According to Kapuscinski, Herodotus was the first "globalist" ― the first of the literary reporter.

This post was written while listening to Patti Smith's Twelve.

QUIZ | Buffy Personality Quiz

Well, what can I say? I'd prefer to be Faith or Willow, but Buffy IS a hero.

Your Score: Buffy Summers

27% amorality, 54% passion, 45% spirituality, 54% selflessness

Well, what can one say? Passionate, down-to-earth, unfailingly moral (ehh, basically) and utterly selfless.

In short, a hero.


Link: The 4-Variable Buffy Personality Test written by donathos on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test

Monday, May 21, 2007

How Proust Can Change Your Life

Literary Acquisitionist asked recently if I know anything about Alain De Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life?

I did read it last year when I just started on Proust, and it wasn't what I had expected. Turns out de Botton was writing a farcical "self-help" book by applying the lessons as illustrated in the Proustian epic. It isn't a literary discussion of Proust of course, and probably will make a lot more sense after I've finished reading Proust - but it was funny.

I was going through my reading journal this evening, and I came across something I copied from How Proust Can Change Your Life. Alain de Botton is quoting Marcel Proust's brother, Robert:

"The sad thing is that people have to be very ill or have broken a leg in order to have the opportunity to read In Search of Lost Time."

Somehow that made me laugh, and it made an impression enough for me to copy it down.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

TV | More on Bionic Woman

The official sneak peek at the new Bionic Woman series.

As you may be able to guess, my favourite bit is towards the end, when you have the Starbuck vs Bionic Woman face-off:

Jamie Sommers (Michelle Ryan): Who are you?
Sarah (Katee Sackhoff): The first Bionic Woman. Ta-dah!

Starbuck! Starbuck! Starbuck!

Friday, May 18, 2007

MEME | 8 Random Facts About You

Iliana tagged me for the 8 Random Facts/Habits About You meme. Let's see if there's any interesting facts about me that I can share:

The Rules:
1. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
2. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
3. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
4. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

1. At Work I'm Called By My Nickname, La.

I hear it more often than my actual name these days.

It started when a friend named me after one of the Teletubbies, Laa-Laa. (Laa-Laa is the yellow one with the curly antenna on her head. She plays with the orange ball). I would have preferred either Dipsy or Po ― but nicknames, once conferred, cannot be withdrawn. So, I became Laa-Laa, which was later abbreviated to La.

2. Three Books That Made Me Cry

Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. I think it was the FIRST book to make me cry.

Charlotte Bronte's Villette. Lucy Snow tried to disappear into the background, to be unnoticed, but her passion spoke with a resounding silence. A part of me is Lucy Snow.

Graham Greene's The End of the Affair. I was having insomnia one night and I just picked up the book randomly. I stayed up all night reading it, and I couldn't stop, couldn't keep the tears out of my eyes.

3. I Used To Play Chess

I learnt to play chess by watching. Then one day, I just walked into the room where the Chess Club was meeting. I played two games: lost one, won one. The teacher in charge of the Chess Club was impressed enough to want to train me. I entered my first national chess tournament that same year, and I came home with a silver medal. I was ten years old then. In college I was Vice President of the Chess Club.

I finally quit playing because I felt like a fraud being around all these chess-players who felt so passionately about the game. Most of all, I felt bad that the other members of the chess club really liked me. They told me how much more fun it was to have me around during practice. They told me I made them laugh with my ceaseless chatter and wildness. The irony is: while I liked it for a while, I could never bring myself to love chess. I just happened to be good at it, which was unfair to everyone who love the game more than I did.

It has been too many years since I've sat down to a game of chess.

4. I Almost Failed English When I Was 11 Years Old

I was 12 points from failing an English test. Back then, my grammar was terrible, and I couldn't write properly. (I still make a lot of grammatical errors when I write too fast, although if I try hard enough, I can usually catch my mistakes when I edit.)

My mother was worried then. She asked if I needed tuition. I said "No." Instead I self-studied: I read furiously, I paid more attention to grammar ― and each time I saw a word I didn't know know, I would look it up in the dictionary, copy the definition and a sentence illustrating its meaning on a piece of paper, and tape that piece of paper on my bedroom wall. I would look through the long strips of papers everyday to memorise the new words ― to expand my vocabulary.

Yes, I was an intense child.

5. I Had Wanted To Be A Writer

I pursued a double major in English Literature and Psychology in the university, because I wanted to be a writer. I soon realised I do not have the talent; I abandoned the dream. I was content just to be an eternal reader of literature.

Yet in my university days I wrote fanfictions ― because I loved what it felt like to write, to tell stories with characters I loved ― most of all it didn't matter that I could not write breathless prose. I did a few fanfictions on the X-Men, Babylon 5, and most of all on a computer game known as Gabriel Knight.

But in 1999, I started writing a story of my own. It was a story about vampire rock-gods. I stopped working on the story when I found a job in 2000. Things were going badly in my life and I just gave up on it.

In 2005, I returned to the vampire story. The files where I saved the story were long gone, so it was had to be written from scratch. As I rewrote the story, I realised the story and characters had evolved, as I was no longer the same person I was five years ago.

I am writing more these days. Just for myself.

6. No One Knows I Am Scared A Lot Of The Time

My company recently sent fifteen employees (myself included) for a supervisory management course. During the class, we had to do some character assessments, and I was surprised that most of my colleagues thought of me as confident, outspoken, cool and courageous.

As part of the course syllabus on public speaking, we had to give a 10~15 minutes presentation in front of the class. The presentation will be recorded on video and played back for evaluation. I am dead terrified of public speaking and utterly ill-prepared that day.

Later we had to vote for the best speaker, and I came in second. My colleagues told me I was "so confident" ― that I "really made them think."

I am not confident. No one seems to realise just how afraid I am a lot of the time.

7. I Am Vegetarian

I've never been forthcoming with the reason I chose to be vegetarian. I guess I thought people are not going to understand, or perhaps I was unprepared to answer questions.

When I first practiced yoga and the dharma, my life began to change for the better. I regret the violence in my life, and I was starting to rediscover gratitude in my life. Soon I began to consider vegetarianism as a practice of non-violence. But back then I was a big meat-eater and I LOVE beef. I wasn't ready to be a veggie. Just seems too much to give up.

But three years ago, things changed. I woke up one morning on my birthday and sat in meditation.

I asked myself, silently, if I was ready to be vegetarian.

The answer was a clear "yes". Two months later I stopped eating meat.

I knew that my life was no longer what it used to be, and I was grateful. I had inflicted much suffering in my time, and have suffered the consequences of my actions. But through grace, things began to heal; an offering has to be made in return.

So that day on my birthday, I offered up my meat-eating ― a choice of non-violence in return for a violent past. But I wanted it to be a mindful decision. I promised myself to watch my diet and my health carefully ― because to damage my body through a thoughtless diet is also a violation of the principle of non-violence.

8. I Used to Eat A Lot of Things People Wouldn't Eat

Sometimes, when they find out I am a Veggie, people actually gloat and declare they eat "anything" - as though they are somehow braver than me. A lot of people assume I'm afraid of meat and I don't enjoy food. They have no idea.

A few years ago, before my current "salad days", I wanted to go to Bangkok to eat the deep-fried crickets. But that year SARS hit the region, and so I never got to eat my crickets.

Truth is, if I wasn't vegetarian, I'll probably try any food at least once. Among the "exotic" food I've tried: fried scorpion (I left out the sting however. Decided not to tempt fate too much), fried bamboo worms (they put too much MSG in worms then) and I've drank snake wine.

But my favourite exotic food experience was when I was 17, during the Backwoodsman camp. We killed a snake, and divided the flesh out to each team. It was an interesting experience cutting snake meat with your jack-knife, and then preparing skewered snake-meat kebabs over the campfire.

And how does snake-meat kebabs taste like?

Like chicken. Really.

If you are reading this and you feel like doing this meme, you're tagged.

TV Series I'm Looking Forward To

NBC has just confirmed they will be picking up the remake of Bionic Woman. UK actress Michelle Ryan will be playing the role of Jamie Sommers. The grandest thing is that Katee Sackhoff (who plays Captain Kara "Starbuck" Thrace on the new Battlestar Galactica) will be a "recurring guest star" on Bionic Woman. Her character is supposed to be the first Bionic Woman, who is seen fighting with Michelle Ryan's character in this Youtube preview.

David Eick, executive producer of Battlestar Galactica, is also responsible for the new Bionic Woman. If the kickass remake of Battlestar Galactica is anything to go by, this Bionic Woman remake shows promise.

Meanwhile, lap up this picture of Katee Sackhoff looking BAAAAD...

Can't wait.

Another high point of TV coming next in 2008, the Sarah Connor Chronicles is coming to FOX. It stars Lena Headey (last seen regal and splendid in the movie version of Frank Miller's 300) as the mother of the Saviour of Humanity, John Connor. The story is supposed to take place between Terminator 2 and Terminator 3. Okay, whatever. Can I just have more shots of Lena Headey, please?

Here's a picture of the main cast. And for Firefly fans, Summer Glau is part of the supporting cast for The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Lloyd Alexander, He Dead

Any fans of The Chronicles of Prydain here? Lloyd Alexander passed away on 17th May 2007.

Seems to me it's a good time to read or re-read his books.

News via Ed Champion

TRAVEL | Eye on the next destination

This conversation took place last night between my dad and myself:

DAD: Hey, are you interested in Laos?

ME: Yes. Why?

DAD: I did some research this morning on Laos.

ME: I have the Lonely Planet guide to Laos if you want.

DAD: How does November sound?

ME: Package tour or free and easy?

DAD: Backpacking.

ME: Oh yes!

DAD: How does November sound?

ME: This November?

DAD: Yes. This November.

Oh yes!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Why Read Proust

I was checking my record for my readings for last year. I started reading Proust on 11 July 2006, and it took me about a month each to finish both Swann's Way and In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower. But gradually, it took longer to finish the books, with The Guermantes Way taking about 3~4 months.

I'm still on Sodom and Gomorrah. Started reading it last year in December but I'm still only about a hundred odd pages into it. The society scenes bore me a little, and the narrator is getting on my nerves.

Proust started well, or perhaps I really enjoyed Lydia Davis's introduction and her translation. I like the character of the grandmother, with her humanity, real dignity, and her genuine affections for her grandson. A great contrast to the artificiality of the high society that young Marcel is hanging out with. Proust starts to lose my interest once he moves away from Combray.

I wonder why I am so obstinate about wanting to finish Proust. Is it because of the sheer challenge of it? I have no problem abandoning Moby Dick, although it did begin well also. But then again, I have started on Moby Dick about 5 times, never seeing the end of it.

Something I read last year may explain the Proustian fixtation. I read Fun Home last year (highly recommended read) and it was a memoir of artist-author Alison Bechdel's father ― a closest gay school teacher who also happens to run a funeral home (it was a family business). Her father passed away while she was in college, but it was suspected that he killed himself. Her father was a prodigious reader, and Fun Home is wonderful the way Bechdel interweaved her narrative with the readings of Fitzgerald, Joyce, Proust and Camus.

A year before her father died, he began to read Proust. Alison Bechdel wondered at the significance of the reading:

Was that a sign of desperation? It's said, after all, that people reach middle age the day they realize they're never going to read Remembrance of Things Past.

Proust was a great reminder of the passage of time. I spoke with a friend about this, and she agreed. Sometimes, you realise there is not enough time to do what you need to do.

Several things contribute to my desire to read Proust. Seemingly unconnected things, yet relevant because of the way they set me to ruminate on time and life.

On 6 June 2005, Anne Bancroft passed away. Her most famous role was that of Mrs Robinson in The Graduate. Instead of the one-dimensional predator, Anne Bancroft played her as a woman really just misunderstood.

One of the best tribute I read was by Elizabeth Kuball for According to Kuball, Bancroft believed the character, Mrs Robinson had dreams once, but the dreams were unfulfilled because of circumstances. So she "spent a very conventional life, with this conventional man, in a conventional house. ... And meantime, all the dreams that she had had for herself, and the talent ― she probably was a gifted artist ... I thought that she was ― and none of that could happen anymore." One can read this specifically in the scene when Mrs. Robinson and Benjamin are in bed, and Ben asks her what her college major was. With her back to him, she says one word: "Art"

"I guess you kinda lost interest in it over the years then," Ben says.

"Kind of," she replies.

That is the sadness of our lives: Though we decline, our dreams don't always fade with time. As the possibility of our dreams grows more remote, all we have is a kind of regret. Kuball sums it all up:

With her eyes alone, Bancroft gives voice to the fear we all have: that we'll reach a certain point in our lives, look around and realize that all the things we said we'd do and become will never come to be -- and that we're ordinary because of it.

Then in 2005, I saw the film Saving Face, and it felt like a rebuttal to all the pessimistic thoughts that were going around in my head. In the film, Joan Chen plays a 48 year old widow who was revealed to be pregnant. She was kicked out of her parents' house when she refuses to disclose who the father was. She ended up moving in with her adult daughter, Wil, who was NOT happy to have her knocked up mother around, especially since Wil was in the middle of her own little secret love. It was a film about the possibility of love and life, no matter how old you are. It is life-affirming and I've watched it too many times on DVD.

In the Director's Notes, Alice Wu wrote this about her film:

I wrote Saving Face as a love-letter to my mother. The character of Ma begins the movie as a woman with all major decisions in life seemingly made; at 48, she has lived a proper life and is now essentially just living to die. That she ultimately breaks with tradition and lives on her own terms is a triumph I wanted my mother ― and the world ― to see.

Alice Wu also admits the framing of the ending of her film was partly inspired by the ambiguous ending to The Graduate. At the end of The Graduate, after Ben (Dustin Hoffman) rescues Elaine (Katharine Ross) from the wedding, they are in the bus, scared and uncertain about the future. In Saving Face, after Wil rescues her mother from the wedding, the emotions are a little different:
Shot from 'The Graduate'
Shot from 'Saving Face'

Ironically, it all contributes to me wanting to read Proust. :)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

BOOKS | This Cold Heaven

I'm in the middle of This Cold Heaven, a chronicle of a sort of Gretel Ehrlich's experiences in the Arctic. It is ironic, because while I absolutely abhor cold weathers, I find myself transported by tales of ice and cold.

This Cold Heaven is the kind of book that should be read somewhere warm and cozy, because the landscape Ehrlich writes about is chilling and brutal, yet resplendent in its stark beauty. There is a sense of much laughter and joy among the habitants of Arctic Greenland, but always there is the reminder of famine and starvation, of horrific deaths and even cannibalism. It's a difficult life, and one has to admire Ehrlich for her undertaking.

The reason Ehrlich came to her Arctic journey is also interesting. One day while she was near her Wyoming ranch, Gretel Ehrlich was literally struck by lightning. She survived the accident, and she wrote A Match to the Heart as a chronicle of that experience. It left her with a heart condition where she found it difficult to go to an altitude where she felt comfortable. So she went to Greenland, because she learned that treeline "can be a factor of latitude, not just altitude".

Greenland seems like an extraordinary place, with 95% of its surface just ice. Time seems unreal too, divided into 4 months of dark, 4 months of light, and 2 seasons of twilight ― "when the sun hangs at the horizon as though stuck between two thoughts."

Imagine watching the last sunset in October. The next time you see the sun again will be in February. That's how is it in the Arctic. Time is not measured by hours and seconds, and our biological clock is not programmed for the extended light and darkness.

The Greenlanders know of Perleroneq ― Arctic hysteria. It sometimes break out as the darkness came on and dogs as well as people might foam at the mouth and try to kill bystanders or themselves. Some reports that simply petting the dogs relieved them of their anxiety. How does one treat the afflicted humans though?

And so it is amazing that Gretel Ehrlich could spend 7 years (back and forth) on her Arctic peregrinations. While she traveled she also read the writings of other Arctic vagabonds and travelers. Among them is the Danish-Inuit explorer, Knud Rasmussen, who is something of a national hero. As she wrote: "Somewhere in my wanderings the present-day narrative spilt open to include his notes as well as my own." Rasmussen is the father of Eskimology, and his expedition notes led to a better understanding of the world of the Inuits unimaginable to us.

Ehrlich declares the Inuits (the world itself means "human being") the real heroes of Greenland. They were the first explorers and inhabitants, and they had the savvy and intelligence to adapt and thrive in the harsh climate.

The complexities of ice had taught the hunters to reconcile the imminence of famine and death with an irreverent joy at being alive. The landscape itself, with its shifting and melting ice, its mirages, glaciers, and drifting icebergs, is less a decription of desolation than an ode to the beauty of impermanence.

Beautiful, isn't it? The demands of survival meant fierce individualism is out of place among them. The group matters more. Inuit life works on a system of natural communalism. Ehrlich herself witnessed the generosity of such a life:

In Greenland I made it a practice to travel alone, never knowing quite how I would get from one place to another in a country of no roads, where solitude is thought to be a form of failure. I made my way alowly, with no common language and the usual Arctic weather-related delays, by dogsled, skiff, fishing boat, helicopter, and fixed-wing plane. The blessing of such awkward movements was that the locals took pity on me: I was passed from friend to friend, village to village, town to town, and slowly climbed the icy ladder up the west coast to Avannaarsua―the far north.

But the system of survival also has its flip-side. In time of famine, Darwinian rules of the fittest meant whoever was able to contribute to survival, not take from it. The group matters more. Rasmussen told the story of Miteq, a Inuit, who had encountered bad luck and his family was beginning to starve. Miteq and his wife sealed all but one of their children in a hut, and rolled a stone across the entrance. They then harnessed the dogs and drove away. But things did not improve and they soon were forced to abandon their final child. The couple soon made camp, but found that they could not live with themselves or other people, and they moved elsewhere. They eventually killed themselves.

There are plenty of these horror stories. Rasmussen collected their tales, and together they form a composition of a rich culture that lived with a constant awareness that death and starvation stood closely at behind, waiting.

But most of all, I am enthralled by the saying of a Caribou Eskimo, who once told Rasmussen:

All true wisdom is only to be found far from the dwellings of man, in the great solitudes; and it can only be attained through suffering. Suffering and privation are the only things that can open the mind of man to that which is hidden from his fellows.

Rasmussen took this to heart. I guess Gretel Erhlich did too, as she quoted this passage twice in the book.

One summer, on her way to an island 50 miles northwest of Uummannaq, the airline lost her luggage. With only the clothes on her back and her rucksack of books, she proceed anyway. She traveled several days from hot to cold climate, on planes, helicopters, benches and boats ― with nowhere to bathe, nothing to change into, and the clothes she was wearing souring. On the verge of sleep, she read something from the writings of artist Rockwell Kent:

See me liberated by the blessedness of the disaster from the confinement of the boat, shorn of property, stripped of clothes, wandering, an unknown alien-beachcomber in a generous land.

It is easy to go to places like Bali, Turkey or Italy these days and call it an adventure. It takes another kind of courage to throw yourself at the extreme edges of the world like the Arctic ― as Gretel Ehrlich did. I wondered at first if it was a kind of death-wish she had. She seems almost wilfully independent. At one point she was supposed to meet her interpreter, whose flight has been delayed and then was nowhere to be found. She loses her luggage, but she continues. In situations like hers, most people might have cancelled their trip, or waited. She went on ahead, a stranger in a brutal climate. (Later she was arrested, even suspected of being a Russian spy.)

There is an open fearlessness in her, though she appears unconscious of this characteristic of herself. Is it because things change when you survive a lightning strike? When you stand at the verge of death and return, the world becomes a little less scary? I wonder. Perhaps I would like to believe so. Ehrlich's peregrinations remind me of the wanderings of Zen monks through the ages, though I suspect none of them went so far to the Arctic North. She is remarkable, though quietly so.

Further Information: Gretel Ehrlich is currently travelling with the year-long Ukiivik Expedition, sponsored by the National Geographic Expeditions Council. They will travel across Arctic Alaska, Nunavut, Greenland, Sapmi (Lapland), as well as western and eastern Siberia. A book, Farthest North: The End of Ice, is supposed to be published by National Geographic. Their progress is also supposed to be updated at: ― but there hasn't been any updates since February 2007.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

JW | The Passion and Venice Readings

From The Times, Jeanette Winterson goes to Venice.

Her affection for the water city is contagious. I would like to highlight something she writes in the essay:

but I suppose that one’s favourites make a connection between your own imagination and the beat of the city. Like everything about Venice, books, cafés, walks, churches, paintings, buildings, the choice must be idiosyncratic. This isn’t a guidebook city; it is a place of endless discovery, much admired, but known only to you, like a lover who happens to be a great beauty.

A timely reminder to myself, as well as all travelers: discovery is sometimes putting aside the guidebook and just going with a dash of spontaneity.

The main action of her book, The Passion is set in Venice ― yet she admits she wrote it before she ever set foot in the city. Instead, she read three books on Venice and spins her own tale from these sources. But twenty years later, she wrote, "I read three books about Venice before I wrote The Passion and, 20 years later, those three books are still the ones I would chose above all others to find the place as it needs to be found — imaginatively."

Jeanette Winterson's Venetian Threesome:

1. The Stones of Venice, by John Ruskin
“magnificent inquiry into architecture and its social and spiritual effects”

2. Venice, by Jan Morris
“She is incomparable as a travel writer, and the perfect companion for that shape-shifting city, which as a shape-shifter herself, she intuitively understood.”

3. Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino
“a tribute to Venice in all her disguises”

As usual, I am taking notes. It is important to read about Venice, because it is a lion of a literary city, Byron, Ruskin, Browning, Thomas Mann, Ernest Hemingway, Daphne du Maurier, among others.

I read John Berendt’s The City of Falling Angels a couple of years ago, and his portrait of the dark, ambiguous beauty of Venice enthralled me. I have Henry James' The Wings of the Dove set aside for my Venetian Literary Travel; My copy is the Modern Library edition, because it has an introduction by Amy Bloom ― a writer whose short stories I adore.

Recently I went out to look for Daphne du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now. Most of all, I picked up my old copy of The Passion and re-read parts of it.

The Passion is a work of magic realism set in the time of Napoleon. It is the story of Henri, who loves Napoleon and joins the army to be with his hero. Instead he becomes a chicken wringer in Bonaparte's kitchens. Soon war damages Henri and he realises the object of his adoration was unworthy. He deserts and while on the run, he runs into Villanelle.

Villanelle is the daughter of a Venetian boatman, born with webbed feet. She is a gambler, of cards and of love. She plays, she loses, because she falls in love with a married woman whom she can only wake up to by chance. So she marries to escape from her lover ― but she left her heart behind. Just as well, because where she is going, it is dangerous to have a heart.

Henri falls in love with Villanelle. She loves him, but only as a brother.

The Passion is the story of unrequited loves.

The Passion is the book of Venice, the city of water and smoke:

'This city enfolds upon itself. Canals hide other canals, alleyways cross and criss-cross so that you will not know which is which until you have lived here all your life. Even when you have mastered the squares and you can pass from the Rialto to the Ghetto and out to the lagoon with confidence, there will still be places you can never find and if you do find them you may never see St Mark's again. Leave plenty of time in your doings and be prepared to go another way, to do something not planned if that is where the streets lead you.'

'The cities of the interior do not lie on any map.'

Venice is the city of the interior, vast and deadly as labyrinths.

All of Jeanette Winterson's books converge back on her eternal theme of Love.

Some books come to you at a specific moment in your life, a moment of crisis ― and one day you find your feelings for the book are irrevocably changed for the experience. I came to The Passion when I was in love once, with someone who did not love me back; I know one cannot love to order, but the heart grasps at the unattainable.

I took notes, copied lines that left their marks on me, like firebrand:

Do all lovers feel helpless and valiant in the presence of the beloved? Helpless because the need to roll over like a pet dog is never far away. Valiant because you know you would slay a dragon with a pocket knife if you had to.

When I dream of a future in her arms no dark days appear, not even a head cold, and though I know it's nonsense I really believe we would always be happy and that our children would change the world.

I sound like those soldiers who dream of home …

No. She'd vanish for days at a time and I'd weep. She'd forget we had any children and leave me to take care of them. She'd gamble our house away at the Casino, and if I took her to live in France she'd grow to hate me.

I know all this and it makes no difference.

She'd never be faithful.

She's laugh in my face.

I will always be afraid of her body because of the power it has.

And in spite of these things when I think of leaving, my chest is full of stone.

Infatuation. First love. Lust.

My passion can be explained away. But this is sure: whatever she touches, she reveals.

The Passion became the story of my life:

I say I'm in love with her, what does that mean?

It means I review my future and my past in the light of this feeling. It is as though I wrote in a foreign language that I am suddenly able to read. Wordlessly she explains me to myself; like genius she is ignorant of what she does.

Love has passed but The Passion took the place of that private space I once kept for that special someone. I read the resolution of my love in the words of The Passion:

Passion will work in the fields for seven years for the beloved and on being cheated work for seven more, but passion, because it is noble, will not long accept another's left-overs.

And so it is.

MY MUSIC | Instead of Books, Some CDs

Recently I have been having some trouble concentrating. It could be the weather that has been giving me sleepless nights. I find it hard to read for extended periods, so I've been spending more time listening to music instead.

Instead of books I've been buying a lot of CDs:

1. On a Clear Night

This is the new album by Aussie indie singer, Missy Higgins. I like her debut album, The Sound Of White released a few years ago. It was the simplicity of her music ― free of gimmick, just her voice, heartfelt lyrics and catchy melodies that drew me.

Visit Missy Higgins at MySpace

2. Are You Listening

Some time back, I've posted about her solo debut album, Are you Listening. After listening to the full album, I don't see how it's a departure from the previous Cranberries stuff. But it is Dolores O'Riordan, and if you're a devoted fan, you will want this.

3. A Tribute to Joni Mitchell

An eclectic collection of various established singers performing their creative interpretation of Joni Mitchell songs. A lot of the artistes I admire are involved in this project ― Bjork, (the divine) Cassandra Wilson, (The Artist Who Is Back To Being Known as) Prince, (my beloved) Sarah McLachlan, Elvis Costello, k.d. lang and James Taylor.

The track that stands out from among all these great songs is Sarah McLachlan's haunting rendition of Blue. For me, McLachlan's contribution alone is worth the price of the CD.

4. The Reminder

The new album by Canadian chanteuse Leslie Feist. Her vocals reminds me a little of Cat Powers but Feist resists easy categorisation. She is expansive and playful, switching easily from electro-synth to acoustic to a breezy jazz ballad.

I can easily just set this album on "repeat" and just chill out.

5. Small Gods

I have a thing for women with guitars, in case you haven't realise. ;) Swati came by recommendation from the same people who led me to Kaki King. Swati employs open tunings and plays through an assortment of effects pedals. Her style is strong, masculine, and her lyrics are not delicate either. It all comes together wonderfully.

Visit Swati at MySpace

6. American Doll Posse

Tori Amos does it again.

When she's not guest-starring in Stardust as a slightly ditzy-dreamy tree, Tori Amos sings a little, and plays the piano like she's dry-humping it. (Amos herself claims it's almost like a sexual thing when she plays, and her piano is a "dyke" - her exact word) But here she is, an album from the voices of the different personae featured on the album cover. It's lush, it's sultry - it's also kind of odd - everything you expect from Tori Amos.

7. Neon Bible

The second album from the eight-piece band from Montreal. Arcade Fire has these grand string and orchestral arrangements that are just awesome. A kind of rock ballad done classical-folk-indie style.

8. The Story

Last but not the least - the song set most frequently on "repeat" on my mpeg player these days - Brandi Carlile's title track to her new album The Story. My favourite part is when she reaches for the high note: her voice just spins into a ferocious whirlwind - and then it cracks.

I love Brandi Carlile's honest and pure intensity. It comes through so plainly in her lyrics and her voice. Her album is easily my favourite among all those listed here.

In this YouTube clip, watch Brandi Carlile sing the theme to the Neverending Story. She also tells the audience how she much she loved the movie, and that she has two huge tattoos of the Auryn on her shoulders. She closes with a rendition of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah.

Friday, May 11, 2007

QUIZ | Which Discworld Character Are You?


You scored as Esmerelda (Granny) Weatherwax. You are Granny Weatherwax! The most powerful witch on the Disc! You often use headology rather than actual spells, and are a very good witch, despite the fact that you sometimes wish you were a bad one. You play a mean game of Cripple Mr. Onion, and have a very powerful stare. By the way, you should really get that broom fixed.

Which Discworld Character are you like (with pics)
created with

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

YOGA | Change, Renewal and Birth

I can be very picky about my yoga teachers, especially in areas where I feel insecure. Sometimes it's the teaching style of the teacher, and sometimes it’s about the intangible — like a vibe you get from them.

Thankfully I like most of the teachers at my yoga studio. They offer a nurturing environment where I feel safe to explore my boundaries. Over the past year I have come to appreciate the different styles of many of the teachers. Even in the classes of some of my non-favored teachers, I have come to learn a few important lessons about myself, and my approach to yoga.

Recently, one of my favourite teacher, P. left the studio for another teaching position. Her weekend Ashtanga classes used to be a regular for me, but in her absence I can’t bring myself to go for Ashtanga anymore.

The Ashtanga practice is a vigorous one, and it often attract an aggressive and competitive crowd that can be quite intimidating. What I like about P’s Ashtanga classes is how stress-free they feel compared to the other classes conducted by the other Ashtanga teachers. This is mainly because P. takes a patient, compassionate approach to her teaching. She is watchful and protective around her students, and when she comes over to adjust your posture, her touch is always gentle, it never feels intrusive.

Besides Ashtanga, P. also teaches Kids’ Yoga. It’s not a contradiction if you are familiar with her classes. Teaching yoga to children requires great patience and watchfulness, because you don’t want them to get hurt. You also have to be good with children, because children can sense when people are uneasy or awkward around them. P. brings her refreshing youthful energy into class; she is like a breath of fresh air.

I will miss her.

My yoga practice is my own, and mine only. A teacher leaving should not affect my practice, but it does. This feeling reminds me how easily I am influenced by external circumstances, and how uneasy I am with change. Change is constant, but we resist it all the time, especially when it means losing that which we love.

My membership with the yoga studio is due for renewal soon. I’m considering the 24 months contract, but it seems like too long a commitment. A lot of things can change in two years; my favourite teachers may not be around in two years.

I am apprehensive about what may come. Change however, is necessary for growth and transformation. It makes redemption possible because a person is not a stagnant entity.

Change is also what allows for renewal and birth - Two of our yoga teachers had a baby boy recently. Arjuna Eagleye was born 9th April at 24.56hrs. His parents are kind, gentle, beautiful people. We wish little Arjuna health, wisdom and abundance.

Monday, May 07, 2007

ART OF EATING | The Study of Their Own Hungers

Those few of us who actually live to eat are less repulsive than boring...

On the other hand, I cannot count the good people I know who, to my mind, would be even better if they bent their spirits to the study of their own hungers. There are too many of us, otherwise in proper focus, who feel an impatience for the demands of our bodies, and who try throughout our whole lives, none too successfully, to deafen ourselves to the voices of our various hungers. Some stuff the wax of religious solace in our ears. Other practice a Spartan if somewhat pretentious disinterest in the pleasures of the flesh, or pretend that if we do not admit our sensual delight in a ripe nectarine we are not guilt ... of even that tiny lust!

I believe that one of the most dignified ways we are capable of, to assert and then reassert our dignity in the face of poverty and war's fears and pains, is to nourish ourselves with all possible skill, delicacy, and ever-increasing enjoyment. And with our gastronomical growth will come, inevitably, knowledge and perception of a hundred other things, but mainly of ourselves. Then Fate, even tangled as it is with cold wars as well as hot, cannot harm us.

~ from How To Cook A Wolf, by M.F.K. Fisher

BOOKS | Mockingbird

Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee
By Charles J. Shields
[Non Fiction; Biography; American Literature]

A classmate once told me, the problem with Harper Lee was that she only wrote one book.

One of the questions Charles J. Shields kept asking was why Nelle Harper Lee never wrote anything else. For Mockingbird, he interviewed hundreds of people who knew Nelle Harper Lee. It took Shields more than four years of research to write this book. It's quite a feat, although one does wish to find some input from the author herself on the questions asked.

Now into her eighties, Nelle Harper Lee is still alive, and as reclusive as ever. It's not like she has gone Boo Radley and hides in her house all day. She's still active in church, a constant presence in her community. She's just persistently avoided the press and other unnecessary invasive presence through the decades.

Her life is simple, not tabloid material. In a warped way, it is this very spirit of unavailability that creates its own mystique of the Reclusive Southern Author, Harper Lee. That is this mystique that made me pick up this biography, because of the curiosity.

There was a moment of self-reflective when I wondered if reading Mockingbird made me complicit to an act of voyeurism. If Harper Lee guards her privacy with such insistence, shouldn't we just leave her alone?

Shields's biography essentially put together a decent, down-to-earth character for whom fame was more of a curse than anything else. (In fact it was implied the relentless demands of literary fame might have damned Lee from ever publishing anything else. The expectation was just too great.) You feel a respect coming through Shields' portrait. Nelle Harper rarely did anything just to fit in. People often remark how she seems awkward, careless of her appearance, unworldly. Beneath this unassuming exterior is an independent streak that demands to be herself ― but Lee is no egomaniac. She pays attention to people, she listens and is able to draw people out. She is considerate, real, capable of a teasing wit, no pretense. It was this quality that made her indispensable during the research for In Cold Blood. Where the doors were shut to Capote, Nelle Harper Lee was able to talk to people and pave the way for the friend who would eventually snub her.

When Lee won the Pulitzer Prize, it stung Capote. Lee continued to be obliging and generous to her childhood friend, until Capote inflicted the ultimate backhand when he omitted Lee's very significant contribution to In Cold Blood. (Capote never made any attempts to clarify the rumours that he wrote To Kill A Mockingbird either.)

Between the two you see two different examples of how literary fame change people. As Truman Capote slowly destroyed himself, Lee retreated further into her childhood home.

Lee once gave a talk to a group of students on the craft of writing. I thought it reveals something of herself:

"It's absolutely essential that a writer know himself," Nelle began, "for until he knows his abilities and limitations, his talents and problems, he will be unable to produce anything of real value. Secondly, you must be able to look coldly at what you do. The writer must know for whom he writes, why he writes, and if his writing says what he means for it to say. Writing is, in a way, a contest of knowing, of seeing the drama, of getting there, and of achieving what you set out to do. The simplest way to reach this goal is to simply say what you mean as clearly and precisely as you know how."

In 2005 an anecdote floated around the internet about why she never wrote another book:

"I had every intention of writing many novels," she reportedly said, "but I never could have imagined the success To Kill a Mckingbird would enjoy. I became overwhelmed." Every waking hour seemed devoted to the promotion and publicity surrounding the book. Time passed and she retreated from the spotlight, she said. She claimed to be inherently shy and was never comfortable in the limelight. Fame had never meant anything to her, and she was not prepared for what To Kill a Mockingbird achieved. Before she knew it, nearly a decade had passed and she was nowhere near finishing a new book. Rather than allow herself to be eternally frustrated, she simply "forgave herself" and lifted the burden from her shoulders of living up to the book. And she refused to pressure herself into writing another novel unless the muse came to her naturally.

A little more than a year after To Kill a Mockingbird was published, Nelle wrote to friends in Mobile, "People who have made peace with themselves are the people I most admire in the world." From all indications, she seems to have done that.

Whether the internet rumour was true or not, this is a good way to end a biography on a well-loved author.

I told my classmate that day: Harper Lee wrote only one book, but it was an extraordinary book that did far more than most writers managed their entire lives.

Saturday, May 05, 2007


Once Upon A Time Challenge 2007

Stardust: Being A Romance Within the Realms of Faerie
Words by Neil Gaiman & Pictures by Charles Vess
[Fantasy; Illustrated Novel]


Stardust is a book of delight. It has all the elements of the faerie story, the hero, the maiden, the quest, the little helpers and the romance. The story starts, not with Tristan Thorne, but rather with Dunstan Thorne, the father. It tells of a broken wall that separates the faerie land from the world as we know it. The hole in the wall is guarded, but every seven years there is a faerie market where faerie merchants come to ply their wares. It is during one of these market fair that Tristan Thorne came to be, a faerie-human child, though he knew it not at first.

When he grew up, he fell for the beauty of spoiled Victoria, and in a moment of youthful rashness, agreed to bring back a fallen star. In return, Victoria promises what he desires. It is the typical fairy tale, a hero's quest for love, where he will be tested but find helpers along the way.

Turns out the fallen star becomes a young woman, Yvaine ― one with a quick temper. Add a witch-queen who seeks the heart of a star to regain her youth, and three scions of Stormhold, contesting to be the first to find the fallen star to claim lordship of Stormhold. The different threads come together gradually in a bloody confrontation in an inn. In between there were some violence, murder by poison, cutting of throat, a lion and unicorn battles for a crown ― fairy tales are not for the faint-hearted when it is Neil Gaiman.

What gives this archetypal plot a life of its own is the details that Gaiman provided ― from the goat chariot of the witch-queen, to the tricking of the witch-queen by Dishwater Sal to utter the prophecy, and the hint of future events unfolding in a mundane thing as a squirrel hiding an acorn. All of it come together to make it an exceptional tale.

At the end, Tristan Thorne finds love not with Victoria, but with a fallen star. They have no children, because she is not human. He becomes lord of Stormhold, but before that he wandered the world with his true love. But what remains with me at the end is the fate of Yvaine:

They say that each night, when the duties of state permit, she climbs, on foot, and limps, alone, to the highest peak of the palace, where she stands or hour after hour, seeming not to notice the cold peak winds. She says nothing at all, but simply stares upward into the dark sky and watches, with sad eyes, the slow dance of the infinite stars.

It is not a happy ending. But so much more beautiful because of it.

QUIZ | Star Wars Personality Quiz

These things are just irresistable, aren't they? Here's one more: Which Star Wars Personality are you?

At least I'm a good guy who gets killed off early. I would really prefer to be Mace Windu though. That purple light saber is just way cool.

Take the Star Wars Personality Quiz.

BOOKS | Bought Rabelais and Rasmussen

I went back down to Borders to take a look, hoping something may turn up that will allow me to use my 35% off coupon. I finally settled on the new Penguin Classics translation of Gargantua and Pantagruel. I am interested in Rabelais partly because of Mikhail Bahktin. And recently, The Rebel Angels with its ribald spirit further aroused in me the desire to read Gargantua and Pantagruel. Rabelais was also called the "Laughing Philosopher." I like that idea.

Also picked up the hardcover version of Knud Rasmussen's Across Arctic America: Narrative of the Fifth Thule Expedition from another bookstore. Last month I watched a pretty good film, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen. It planted a seed of interest in Rasmussen's Arctic expeditions, and it made me look further to This Cold Heaven, that I had planned to read for the Non-Fiction Five Challenge. I need to post on This Cold Heaven soon. I'm on a juicy bit, where Gretel Ehrlich is telling the tale of Rasmussen's trials and tribulations and the many tales of the Inuits that he has collected. It is a book to be enjoyed from afar, preferably somewhere cozy and warm.

I'm looking at the list of books I've bought this year alone, from January 2007 onwards. We're not even halfway through the year and I already own 40 new books. No wonder I have not enough shelf space.

YOGA | Heart Openers

A while back I mentioned my yoga studio is offering Anusara classes. I've been to a few classes, and they have been enlightening.

I'm not an expert on Anusara, but at the moment it reminds me of Iyengar ― with its emphasis on structural alignment. Anusara seems to me a good foundational practice, and you can apply the same principles in any style of yoga elsewhere.

What is different in my Anusara class is how B. ― the Anusara teacher ― always has a theme for each class. I'm not sure if this is how other Anusara classes are taught around the world, but the thematic structure does help remind us of the philosophical aspects of yoga, beyond the physical.

The theme for the last Anusara class was "Fearlessness", with the emphasis on backbends and chest opening poses.
Trikonasana by Ana Forrest

How does one overcome the fears in our lives? Through the practice, B. led us into heart opening variations of familiar poses, and backbends (like Camel pose). The pose that I enjoyed the most was the Trikonasana with the heart opening variation, [See picture at the left, demonstrated by Ana Forrest]. It requires a solid, firm foundation in the legs, and then you twist, shoulders open wide, the heart towards the sky.

I happen to be more flexible than muscular, and I do better at the backbends and the heart-openers. I am not exaggerating when I say, backbends and heart-openers invigorate me. They fill me up when I am empty.

I had a bad day at work that day. I was emotionally drained and I almost skipped yoga class. But something forced me to show up anyway. After class, after the several sets of heart-lifting chest openers and backbends, I felt good ― elated ― I was beaming. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face.

It's days like these that make me keep coming to class. That yoga can make the difference between a bad day and a good one.

I try to pay attention to the body during poses, and I feel my backbends most acutely. I wonder if I like backbends because I do them well, or I do them well because I love backbends? Something in my body yearns for these heart-opening moves. Something within me wants to breathe in deep and expand through the chest, to face the world heart first.

Sometimes the body knows better what it needs, and we just need to listen.

What has this to do with fearlessness though?

Fear is often due to a sense of separation from the rest of the world. It is a condition of the mind, either due to past trauma or conditioning. Fearfulness can be read from the body; a person who hunches, as though shielding the heart, reveals something of their state of mind. B. encourages us to sit and stand tall, with heart lifted. I wonder if it is really that easy to conquer fear.

I was at a meditation class a few years back. The teacher told me that I hold on to a lot of fear, and it is hindering my progress in meditation. I know what he is trying to tell me. I have felt afraid my whole life, but how it came to be so, I can't remember. But my inability to open myself to the experience is hindering my growth in my spiritual progress. And it will also hinder my growth in other aspects of my life.

Perhaps it is like a backbend, which can be very vunerable for some people. You fall backwards, trusting your body to support you. And in the process you expose your heart, the most vunerable part of your emotional being. Some students are afraid of backbends. They prefer not to try. To them, B. asks: Be fearless. He goes up to help them in their endeavour. Fear is not an excuse for not trying.

BOOKS | Borders 35% Off and Nothing to Buy

The people at Borders have done it again ― they've sent out a 35% off print-out discount coupon for a limited period. I went down to the local unfriendly Borders for a quick peek ― coupon(s) in hand. Wow. There is nothing I want to buy. Not even at 35% discount.

Is there something wrong with me? Or have the virtues of saving and recycling finally hit home? Oh please. Of course not. The backlist stocks at the local unfriendly Borders is abysmal.

I had a shopping list with me actually:

  1. Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings Abolqasem Ferdowsi, translated by Dick Davis
    I've been waiting for this Persian epic to be available in a more affordable format. Penguin has recently released it in their Classic Deluxe edition, with the french flaps and deckled edges.

  2. Across Arctic America: Narrative of the Fifth Thule Expedition by Knud Rasmussen
    I'm currently reading This Cold Heaven, where Gretel Ehrlich writes about her seven years (on and off) visiting the Artic. She brought the journals of Danish-Inuit explorer Knud Rasmussen along with her. It became a kind of currency, as the people living in Greenland still speaks of Ramussen as though he was still alive.

  3. My Cousin Rachel or Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier
    The recent Guardian write-up on Du Maurier got me interested again. You know, I never got around to reading Rebecca either.

  4. Europe by Jan Morris
    I have a Jan Morris thing

Borders doesn't have any of these books in stock. But I am now more reluctant to buy the books that I know will be available at the library. Maybe I have become more money-conscious about books. Maybe that's a good thing. But it's such a disappointment, to have a 35% off coupon with nothing you want to buy. *sigh*

Meanwhile I have to head down to the library. I thought I had Raymond Carver's Cathedral for Literate Kitten's Short Story Challenge. Turns out the collection I have at home is What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. While I'm there, I need to pick up Alice Munro's Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories; I'm dying to read the short story The Bear Came Over the Mountain.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Short Story Short Challenge

I've signed up for Literate Kitten's Short Story Short Challenge recently.

The rules are simple: just pick one story from the Literate Kitten's list of 10 favourite short stories — the one you have not read, that you vow to read. Then recommend a favourite story of yours that you want others to read.

I hereby vow to read Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man is Hard to Find and Raymond Carver's Cathedral — both stories found in collections I already own.

And I offered Amy Bloom's Silver Water and Love is Not a Pie — both stories can be found in Come To Me.

Two short stories by the same author? I have to confess I came to the short story late in life, and so I have not read many memorable short stories. It was Amy Bloom that convinced me of the power of the contemporary short story genre, and if I have to recommend someone new to short stories, I would refer them to the writer that made short stories "happen" for me.

Love is Not a Pie is the first Amy Bloom story I read. The story opens with a most captivating line:

In the middle of the eulogy at my mother's boring and heart-breaking funeral, I began to think about calling off the wedding.

The narrator is just going through the motions expected of her, the bereaved daughter. Then something happened that led her to discover the unusual love-life of her mother, and how her father had approved of it. Everyone has to find their own way to love, as her father reminds her. Her mother loved honestly on her own terms, and it hurted nobody. Her father understood this.

It led her to question her own pending marriage, and what she wanted out of love. She called her fiance about her doubts, and the fiance, a salt-of-the-earth sort answered most unfortunately:

"I don't understand, Ellen. We've already ordered the invitations."

It was the wrong thing to say, and I could not marry a man like the fiance either.

Love is Not a Pie reminds me that I want more out of love than convenience and comfort. I want the other person to love me enough to fight for me. Perhaps it is true I make love difficult for myself. But I have just one life, and I choose all or nothing in love. That was when it hit me, how Amy Bloom makes you empathise with the characters even when they are in situations you have never been before.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007



She stood by the door
of her Virginia farm
pulling a sweater on
the branches
of the dogwood
she had tended
were bowed
blossoms loosened
tossed in sudden snow
the deer stood
in mute wonder
by her garden’s edge
she slipped the phone
in her pocket
her daughter
petals gone
she snapped
a branch
a tempest stalled
she felt the boy
she felt the dead
she felt the families
she felt the wind
the deer don’t do that
she said
the deer don’t do that

~ Patti Smith

Source: The New Yorker

Because everyday should be Patti Smith Day.