Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Recommendations for Spain Readings

Reading blogs can be a very dangerous things.

The Literate Kitten is off to Spain and Morocco soon. I am envious of her because a while back, I was actually researching Spain as a possible travel destination. It's okay - I will get there eventually.

Anyhow, like all good bookfiends, LK knows the importance of good books to pack on a trip. She has asked her readers for suggestions. I threw in a few titles for her picking.

My list of Spain Reading (with the help of my colleagues):

  1. On Bullfighting by A.L. Kennedy
    - Well, A.L. Kennedy does discuss bullfighting in the book, but there's a lot more. At one point she was in so much pain from a displaced disk that she found herself on the verge of jumping out of a window, literally. But at that moment the phone rang: someone had an assignment for her to write about bullfighting. Perhaps it was a sign, but she took the assignment and began to explore the seduction and dance of death in the bullpits. On the way, she wrote about Federico Garcia Lorca, and his concept of the duende - the "dark notes" in poetry, in the dance of flamenco, and in bullfighting.

  2. Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart
    - Remember the music group, Genesis? Chris Stewart was their drummer. This is about his travels to Andalucia all naively optimistic - with his straight-talking wife, Ada, as his comic foil.

  3. Jason Webster's books: Duende, Guerra, Andalus
    - Jason Webster first travelled to Spain to learn about flamenco. Somewhere along the way he stayed long enough to write 3 books about Spain.

  4. Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
    - Orwell went to Spain during the Spanish Civil War, full of youthful naivety that he was helping the fight against Fascism. Instead, he struggled with lice, rats and boredom - and came to the realisation that war is more complicated than he had imagined.

  5. Ghosts of Spain by Giles Tremlett
    - I have read a few good reviews on this book, and while researching it for LK's Spain reading, I find myself intrigued by the book. Now I want to read it.

    I'm a little hazy on Spanish history, so the book is supposed to explain the bad blood between Madrid and Barcelona - and on Chapter 4, it explains "How the Bikini Saved Spain." Now, that really caught my attention!

Like I said: Reading blogs can be dangerous, because I have just returned from the library with a copy of Ghosts of Spain. Hah! Here I am, trying not to start any new books.

NaNoWriMo | Damn

Official NaNoWriMo 2007 Participant

Oh damn.

NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow - and I still have no story.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Final Thoughts on Dracula

Would it be a very bad thing to say, that I would have preferred an ending where Dracula escapes to seek revenge? And win? He is by far, the most darkly charismatic character in the entire book.

He should have won.

Closing on Readers Imbibing Perils II Challenge 2007

R.I.P. II Challenge
1st September 1st ~ 31st October 2007

Original reading list posted here.

Completed reading list:

  1. 30 Days of Night
    by Steve Niles & Ben Templesmith
  2. Night Watch
    by Sergei Lukyanenko
    [Translated by Andrew Bromfield]
  3. Hellboy: The Troll Witch and Other Stories
    by Mike Mignola, P. Craig Russell & Richard Corben
  4. The Last Wish
    by Andrzej Sapkowski
    [translated by Danusia Stok]
  5. Twilight Watch
    by Sergei Lukyanenko
    [translated by Andrew Bromfield]
  6. Dracula by Bram Stoker

I have finally finished my last book for the R.I.P. II Challenge with Bram Stoker's Dracula. Once again I have deviated a little from my original reading list - which is proof that I can never follow a straight path. Heh.

I have managed to read a good mix of titles, even if the list is a little short. Among my readings I have managed to read two Russian novels, one Polish collection of short stories, two graphic novels and the father of all vampire novels - Dracula. I hope to do better next year (is there a next year, Carl?) - with a wider range of reading stuff. And maybe get around to writing more book reviews. (This year has been a year of over-commitment for me.)

[ Yarns: The Official R.I.P. II Review Site]

BOOKS | I Heart Amy Bloom

I just re-read Ron Charles’s review on Amy Bloom’s Away for the Washington Post and it makes me want to read the book again. It’s a lovely tribute to a book that doesn’t thrive on dramatic and overwrought emotions. Rather, it stirs me with its stillness, its tenderness. I have said it before, but I shall say it again. Away is a quiet book, the way qualities like compassion and empathy are silent – but keenly felt.

In a nutshell: protagonist Lillian Leyb is a Russian-Jewish immigrant in New York in the 1930s. She is a survivor of a massacre that bereft her of her family. She works as a seamstress, and later plays mistress to a pair of prosperous father and son. Later, through a distant cousin, she finds out her daughter might still be alive and has been adopted by a family in Siberia. So she abandons the life she has reclaimed for herself in New York, and heads off in her quest for her daughter.

When asked why Lillian is determined to undertake this mad journey for her daughter:

"Because she belongs to you?" he asks. "Is that why?"

"No," Lillian answers. "Not that she is mine. That I am hers."

Love as the unstoppable force – because it is greater than us, and we must answer the call.

I was introduced to Amy Bloom through her short stories. What amazes me – besides her language - is her ability to lay out our insecurities and desires so honestly. Her characters are human, flawed – and at the heart of it is Bloom, observing, understanding. Her writing is steeped in its humanity, its empathy. Lillian Leyb, like her author, is unflappable in her acceptance of human needs. Ron Charles had it spot-on when he wrote:

Bloom writes with extraordinary care about people caught in emotional and physical crosswinds: desires they can't satisfy, illnesses they can't survive, and -- always -- love that exceeds the boundaries of this world.

It's the kind of humid, overwrought territory where you'd expect to find pathos and melodrama growing like mold, but none of that can survive the blazing light of her wisdom and humor.

Amy Bloom is that good – her prose heart-felt, so beautiful. Really, you have to read this book.

Reading Dracula and the Mind Wanders Lonely As a Cloud

I am approximately 80 pages from the conclusion of Dracula. The Men (because there is so much macho bullshit amongst these "men"), led by Van Helsing are now in hot pursuit of the vampire lord as he escapes from London on the ship, Czarina Catherine. Good stuff!

A part of me started thinking about the gender-play in the book as I was reading it. I found the symmetry between the three suitors for Lucy, against the three brides of Dracula - interesting. These men - they try so hard to protect their women, but they make a hack job of it. Lucy's gone bye-bye, and Mina gets sucked on by Dracula. It finally fell on Mina (who started off as an annoyingly submissive wife, who only wanted to be useful to her dear Jonathan, but whose strength grew admirably) - to figure out how to find Dracula.

Then I started thinking about all the vampires films, TV series and books ever produced. Maybe someone can help me out here with my question: Has there ever been a good vampire story where the guy is the slayer/vampire hunter, while the girl is a kick-ass vampire? And the story don't suck? (PUN!)

I just remembered that I have a post-tag for "Vampires". Sheesh.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Do We Need to be with Other People?

I was out with The Brat one day and she ran into a friend of hers. She stopped to chit-chat while I stood aside, waiting. Later I found out Brat's friend remarked that I looked like a killer in my all-black ensemble.

Remarks like that deserves a one-finger salute, especially since we don't even know each other. The truth is, I am painfully shy, and social interactions with strangers can be particularly traumatic and draining. My manner of coping with uncomfortable social interaction is to put on a forbidding veneer. People tend to be more respectful of my personal space - and it helped me avoid the intense social interaction that terrifies me.

I am not against meeting new people - I just would prefer to do it on my own terms, and to be real. At work I meet vendors, publishers and other associates. I need to put on a professional front, which I try. But often it feels false.

One of my vendors, Wendy, turns out to be good friends with Ms F. One evening Ms F and I were out, and we ran into Wendy with a blind-date that was over the moment they met. We joined her table and we started chatting. I was comfortable that night, and so my defenses was down. This means I was my usual snarky self. Later that night, Wendy remarked to Ms F that she was surprised: Wendy found me incredibly funny and witty - and it was a joy to hang out with me. She had assumed, because of how I am at work, that I was humourless. I wasn't surprised, but this is partly how people see me at work. No joy. All business.

I admire people who can walk into a room and take everyone feel at home - which I heard is something Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey are good at. My social skills is something I have to keep working at - but I wonder how. I'm lousy at small-talk, and I always prefer to listen. The blog allows me to interact at my own terms. When I do not wish to communicate, I can always just lurk, or put off answering emails. A part of me realises I am avoiding the issue of my own social-awkwardness, and it is not going to improve unless I keep working at it.

As I am slowly experimenting with Facebook, I have been adding some of my ex-classmates onto my list of friends. I wonder why am I doing it, when I hate having to socialise? The truth is, a lot of them are nice people that I never really bothered to know well enough. I should be making better effort to catch up - so I tell myself.

On this issue, I am divided by two opposing but powerful impulses:

One, the part of me that demands that I try to socialise more, because it recognises the need for me to get out of my own shell, to listen to other points of view. This is the part of me that says it is my responsibility to take the initiative to meet people. This is a necessary process of growth - the ability to assimilate and empathise with other people.

Then, the other part of of me - the introvert with a rich, full inner life. Who appreciates solitude, music, good books and learning. She is also the one who avoids the gossip-mongers at work, the one with independent thoughts, and who tells me I do not need external validation to be happy. She also tells me: only when I am truly at home in my own skin, will I be comfortable with other people.

I'm not sure who is winning. Probably the introvert - but not all the time.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Washington Post on Russan Lit

The Washington Post has two Russian translations on review this week.

First, a review of the Collected Stories of Ivan Bunin, translated by Graham Hettlinger.

They also have Michael Dirda reviewing the new Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace.

Stressing that their War and Peace sticks more closely to the Russian text than any other, including Louise and Aylmer Maude's semi-canonical 1923 version, Pevear and Volokhonsky retain the considerable amount of French used by Tolstoy's counts and princesses, preserve the author's penchant for word repetition and aim to match his tidy syntactic conciseness. The result certainly reads smoothly, its English being neither egregiously contemporary nor inappropriately old-fashioned. In this respect, the Pevear-Volokhonsky War and Peace joins company with recent translations of The Tale of Genji, Don Quixote and In Search of Lost Time, these being among the few works of classic fiction equal to Tolstoy's in scope and richness. Given so capacious and generous a masterpiece, it's simply impossible to do more than offer -- with due humility at how much is being overlooked -- a few introductory propositions for the would-be reader.

My copy is now sitting in my room, seducing me with its coy blue and red spine. It awaits 1st January 2008.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Turkey at Flickr

Uploaded some of my Turkey photos - waaay back from my trip in April 2007. There isn't much. I am a BAD photographer.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Guardian on GK Chesterton

How did this Guardian piece on G.K. Chesterton slip me by?

What interested Chesterton was not the least likely suspect but the least likely motive. Their basic structure, however, is exactly comparable to those of the Father Brown adventures. A quite impossible effect is described, only to be shown, with a climactic flourish, to have had a perfectly possible cause all along. In the fourth story, "The Singular Speculation of the House-Agent", Chesterton's protagonist and alter ego (or alter egoist), Basil Grant, a whimsical judge-turned-flâneur, remarks, "Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." If, as one assumes, it is Chesterton himself who is speaking through Grant, then it was patently his ambition, in all of his shorter texts, to write fiction that would turn out to be stranger than truth.

I came to G.K. Chesterton through his Father Brown Mysteries - which in my opinions is far superior to the Sherlock Holmes stories. Father Brown is concerned with mysteries - in all sense of the word: puzzle, crime, and the elusive realms of the metaphysical and of he human psyche. Most of all, Chesterton, (Gilbert Adair describe him as "ostensibly breezy, life-loving") reminds me of another magnificent writer: Robertson Davies. They work in different styles, but both men wrote with great warmth and human empathy.

By the way, Gilbert Keith Chesterton is one of the authors on the Outmoded Authors Challenge. I'm a little behind on my reading for the challenge (*eeps*) - but I totally intend to catch up in Hanoi with The Man Who Was Thursday.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Facebook, Dracula and a Note on Wanderlust

I HATE to lose. I really mean it. I'm not just competitive. Sometimes when I lose, I'm suddenly like - possessed by a dark force more powerful than myself and I will keep hitting back until I win. No matter the cost.

It could be my fiery Aries that makes me do stuff like that - but to get all worked up over FightPoke on Facebook? OMG. I have to keep off Facebook for a while. Especially Fightpoke. But I still want to drop by everyday to take good care of the fluff(Friend) I've adopted - a tofu named Augustus - who just happens to be vegetarian.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about - good for you.

My foray into Facebook came innocently enough - from a friend's invitation. What I wasn't prepared for was the "Six Degrees of Separation" in my restricted social circle:

  1. A high school classmate and a former manager of mine are cousins.
  2. One of my Exes is a friend of an ex-colleague.
  3. A high school classmate and a university classmate are both acquainted with an ex-colleague.
  4. One of my university classmate is ex-colleagues with a friend of mine.

You get the idea. In fact, the world feels so tiny right now, it make me want to scream and hide in a quiet cave somewhere for some private space. In fact, I cant wait to run off to Hanoi, where I do not speak the native language and I know absolutely nobody.

More Reading Related Stuff: The recent posts are more off-the-cuff than usual because I have been spending less time at this blog - the server at work is in a coma, and I have resumed my daily evening yoga classes.

I have also been reading Dracula faithfully for the past few days - and I am sucked (PUN!) in by Stoker's gothic classic. The epistolary narrative effectively builds up the suspense and the power of the vampire master. His power is like the wind - felt but unseen.

Meanwhile, something I copied from Dervla Murphy's One Foot in Laos a while back:

It seems odd that the wanderlust, unlike other lusts, does not diminish with age.

Maybe it does. Maybe over time, some of our desires do die, cooled as we might say, as age tempers the fire of youth. Many people settle, grow sedentary ― then there are the few that remains unbridled, untamed - their eyes always looking past your shoulder at something beyond. These are the restless hearts like Dervla Murphy. They may not always be happy, and sometimes it seems they can never find peace - but they are the adventurers, the young-at-hearts who are still open to the world around them.

One should hope to have a spirit like Dervla Murphy.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Marjane Satrapi Interview at NYT

New York Times interviews with Marjane Satrapi, whose graphic novel, Persepolis has been adapted into a motion picture.

She turns out to be quite ballsy and interesting. Unapologetic about her smoking, and about living:

Smoking kills you, but life kills you, and if you don’t want to die, go into a freezer when you are born and nothing will happen to you.

BOOKS | Ten Thousand Miles Without a Cloud I

I thought I wait for inspiration before attempting to write about Ten Thousand Miles Without a Cloud - but the Muse is avoiding me, so I shall write anyway about the book that was interesting enough when it began with Sun Shuyun reasons for following the footsteps of 7th century Buddhist monk Xuanzang. It was a journey that took her across Central Asia, India and China - and her travel narrative is interweaved with the story of Xuanzang himself, the difficulties he faced, his resolve - and the story of Buddha and Buddhism itself.

Sun Shuyun is not an elegant writer - but her prose is simple, straightforward - which makes her story feel earnest and down-to-earth. The writing felt stilted at times, and the book dragged in its narrative mid-way - only to pick up again when Sun finally reached India. From them on, I was hooked. Ten Thousand Miles Without a Cloud is a book worth the effort to push through.

For me, the best part of her book is Xuanzang's triumphant return to Tang Dynasty China. I shall write about this later - as it deserves a post on its own. That latter section ignited in me an interest in Chinese Tang Dynasty history.

This post is about Sun Shuyun's personal story - how she came to Buddhism, and her travels.

Sun Shuyun was a child of the Cultural Revolution, brought up on the Communist dogma. She was the daughter of a former officer in the People's Liberation Army - a background that sheltered her in a way from the harsher persecution in the 1960s. However, the family still had to suppress certain facts of their lives in the midst of the madness of the Cultural Revolution: among them was the concealment of her maternal grandmother's Buddhist faith.

Sun's coming to faith has a lot to do with her grandmother, a widow who also lost seven children. She fell into despair, until an itinerant monk passing through her village one day gave her a small statue of Guanyin, and taught her to pray, to recite the name of Amitabha. That saved the grandmother's life, and in spite of the political climate then she tried to instill in her grandchildren the faith that brought her peace.

There was a touching anecdote Sun told of her grandmother. When Sun was young, sometimes she would wake up in the middle of the night, and the grandmother will always be up, her lips moving quickly but silently as she dropped things continuously into a bowl in front of her. There was always a serenity about the grandmother when she was like this. When Sun asked her grandmother what she was doing, the grandmother replied she was counting beans to pass the time. Only much later did Sun realise her grandmother was praying. Without the prayer beads, the grandmother counted her prayers with beans instead.

This story of the grandmother moved me with its simplicity - her faith was uncrushable in spite of the madness and violence of the Cultural Revolution. That image of an unassuming, harmless old woman, almost blind, but serene and at peace, just counting her prayers with beans in place of prayer beads. This is real faith. I yearn for this simplicity in my own faith.

Sun later entered the Beijing University, the brain-center of intellectual life in China. I believe this was when her view of the world expanded and one realises there is something beyond what we have been taught. In 1986 she was offered by an opportunity to studying in Oxford - the chance to journey to the West, in a manner. When her father sent her off, what he said to Sun affected her immensely:

'Don't worry about me. This is your big chance, you've got to take it. Look at me, look at your sisters, look at what society has come to. Don't get homesick. There is nothing here for you to come back to.' When I turned around and waved him goodbye, I was shocked, and sad. As someone who had devoted his entire life to the revolution, he must have been in total despair.

For Sun and her generation, it was a period of self-examination. As China has started to open itself to a capitialist economy, the young people of Sun's generation had to redefine themselves. The Communist ideologies they were brought up with had proved obsolete. It was Sun's father and his generation that suffered most of all - as they are now old, and they had wasted the best years of their life for an idea that betrayed them, and caused so much pain.

With Father's death and the collapse of his world I lost all that remained of my attachment to the cause he gave his life to. I knew I was lucky, I was free and I had not suffered like my forebears and my fellow-countrymen. But like so many Chinese, I felt strongly that something was missing. The idea of a confirming faith dies hard. I was increasingly unsure of where I was going, why I was doing the things I did; I was at a loss, and pondering.

So she journeyed, on the trail of Xuangzang - the gifted monk who found the teachings of Buddhism that he was taught inadequate, so he set out under threat of death, to the source of Buddhism - for greater understanding, and perhaps enlightenment.

Monday, October 22, 2007

NaNoWriMo Sign Up

Okay. I'm all signed up for the NaNoWriMo. I have very creatively signed up as "darkorpheus". Was taking a tour around the website and when came to the "edit profile" section. I realise I didn't know what the title of my novel will be.

Time to draft an outline, and most importantly - name the characters.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

MUSIC | Nightwish's Dark Passion Play

I've had my eye on Dark Passion Play - the new studio album by Finnish metal group, Nightwish. What makes me hesitate buying it however, is the departure of their previous vocalist, Tarja Turunen. This album features new vocalist Anette Olzen, who does not possess the grand operatic prowess of her predecessor. Not that Anette Olzen is a bad singer - but her voice is more popsy and sweet. I find it difficult to come to terms with a "sweet" metal vocalist.

I keep comparing the two vocalists and I think I still prefer Tarja Turunen's more mature soprano that blends well with the more masculine keyboard and guitar play.

The songs from the new album are available on Nightwish's Myspace. If you would like, check out the songs with Anette Olzen, then compare them to the earlier Nightwish masterpieces with Tarja Turunen.

"I Wish I Had an Angel" featuring vocals by Tarja Turunen:

"Nemo" also featuring vocals by Tarja Turunen:

Tarja Turunen

Tarja Turunen is great, isn't she? She has that vocal presence that comes with her operatic training. (No wonder, because opera is a highly dramatic art form.) Most of all, she not only sounds great - she looks the part of the Gothic Metal Goddess. Last I heard she is going to release her solo album.

Slash: The Memoir

Full disclosure: there was a time when I wanted to marry Slash. When I was too young and awkward like hell, he was the epitome of cool. That big mane of black curls, that top-hat, the heavy sunglasses that obscured a pair of moody, sensitive eyes. I love it that he had that cartoon caricature of himself (with top-hat) tattooed on his arm. It was cute and he had the style to pull it off.

The way he thrusted his hips forward while playing the guitar. You wonder what else he could do with those strong, deft fingers.

Slash was Sex with a Guitar.

So you know I really want this:

Slash biography

Released October 30, 2007

Here's a video of Slash riffing The Godfather theme:

What is there not to like about this beautiful, gifted man?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Trying to Keep The Stacks Down

Maybe I should follow Danielle's example and try to crack down on the half-read stacks of books. My books in progress are starting to feel out of control - and so close to the end of the year, one should be trying to tie up loose ends. I always admire people who finish what they start. Maybe I admire this quality because I find it so difficult myself.

So, I'm going to avoid the library for a while - I can never really leave the library empty-handed. It doesn't matter that I have fifteen books waiting to be finished at home. I would still pick up something from the library - start reading it on the way home - and add on to the books in progress.

Yet in spite of my resolution to reduce the stacks, I started on a new book this morning - Bram Stoker's Dracula. This is important (and therefore forgiveable), as I need to finish the R.I.P. II Challenge. I tried to read it last year but as things went, I was distracted and did not manage to complete it. I find it ironic that while I claim to be a fan of vampires, I have never managed to finish reading Dracula.

At the point Jonathan Harker is still trapped within Dracula's castle. But it's a heady read - Harker's stiff-collared narrative voice in the face of this atmosphere of dread and horror. Good stuff! Thank goodness for the weekend, except for sleep, meals, chores and yoga class, it's uninterrupted reading time.

I just remembered NaNoWriMo is NEXT MONTH! I really want to do this, because who don't want to throw out a novel of at least 50,000 words?

Hanoi trip? No problem! I'll just pack a notebook and write long-hand then. The only problem is I have not decided on the plot of the story I'm going to write yet. Or maybe I should just play by ear - the way I do a lot of things.

Okay, what do I have: Vampires. Check. Angst. Check. Death. Check. Cheesy romance. Check.

Can't wait for November. Holiday, lots of rest and reading, some writing of bad prose.

Hey, Chris - you're still on? ;p

[This post was written while listening to Radiohead's new album. Currently it's only available for download from How you respond to it may depend on how you like your Radiohead - earlier days or the later experimental style. Personally, I find this new album accessible.]

TRAVEL | Checklist Travel Guides

World Hum contributing editor Frank Bures recently wrote an essay against Checklist Travel Guides like Make the Most of Your Time on Earth and Journeys of a Lifetime. (There's a lot more of these sort of titles - he's just not listing them. And they do sell.)

My recent thoughts are occupied by the preparation for my Hanoi trip - but also the idea of travel and what it means to me on a philosophical level. When I first announced my Hanoi trip, I was asked by my colleagues and friends why would I want to visit Hanoi again?

I can see their point: the world is so wide, and we have seen only a fraction of a corner of this immense planet. Isn't the point of travel to cast your eyes on something you have never seen before?

I do want to see more of the world - but Hanoi for me, still holds a special place. I think I have not yet walked her streets enough, have not begun to know this city at all. I always over prepare with the research before any travel - but Hanoi a spur-of-the-moment destination. We were supposed to go to Sri Lanka, but we changed our plans at the last minute to Hanoi. I knew little about the place, with zero expectations; I was thus ready to allow the experience of Hanoi to move me.

I was reading Frank Bures's essay, and I totally agreed with him when he wrote this:

The problem is this: Travel is not a passive experience. Travel is not something we get done to us, like a haircut or a massage. Travel is not something out there that we find on the road.

The trip of a lifetime comes as much from inside as it does from outside. What makes a trip life changing is partly the place, but equally what we bring to to that place: passion, curiosity, knowledge, openness. It is the people we meet and how our experience seeps into our bones. Good travel is life-changing travel. But good travel is a creative act, a fusion of the traveler and the world.

So instead of trying to rack up trips, of trying to get as close to 1,000 as you can, instead of trying to see every place on earth before you die, I say go for for quality instead of quantity. Pick one place you think you’d love and go there completely. Read its novels and newspapers and history. Stay long enough to get under its skin, and let it get under yours. Go there and really try be there.

What Frank Bures wrote about travel, is true for life and people. How well do we really know our friends? To stay long enough to get under that person's skin and let them get under ours?

My Work Desk

We fill up the space with yet another picture of my work-desk. I was that bored at work last week. Yes.

Books from left - Ryszard Kapuscinski's The Shadow of the Sun, the Lonely Planet Blue List 2008 Edition, some titles from "The Art of Novella" series published by Melville House.

On the keyboard: My blue beanie teddy, a birthday present from some colleagues.

I have to explain why the teddy looks like this: Last Christmas I ate too much candy in the office and was on a sugar-high. I did a lot of stupid things like dressing up the blue beanie teddy: The bow-tie was a ribbon from a Christmas present, and the bell around his neck was originally from a chocolate Easter Bunny. (Yes, I dressed up my teddy on a sugar-high.) Oh, and the eye-patch was made with a rubber-band and some black Post-It notepaper.

Eric Clapton

“I found a pattern in my behavior that had been repeating itself for years, decades even. Bad choices were my specialty, and if something honest and decent came along, I would shun it or run the other way.”

~ Clapton: The Autobigraphy

I was just looking through the recently released Eric Clapton autobiography this afternoon, and I was tempted. Eric Clapton is one of The Greats. In an age where any cow in a recording studio can release an album and call themselves singers - Clapton is the real deal in music. He lived an interesting life, dated interesting people - most of all, he wrote and sang some really great songs. They were heartsongs, their melodies made you stop what you were doing - and listen.

Anyway, after flipping through his autobiography, I was filled with a need to listen to some of my favourite Clapton tunes:

Eric Clapton performing the acoustic version of "Layla":

Eric Clapton performing "Tears In Heaven" - the song wrote about his 4-year-old son who died in an accident:

Friday, October 19, 2007

QUIZ | Which Wacky 20th Century Russian Author Are You?

Psst. Found this online. Think of it as a run-up to the Russian Reading Challenge. Oddly, I have no Mayakovsky on my list to read. I should look into this.

Which wacky 20th century Russian author are you?

You are VLADIMIR MAYAKOVSKY. You brood, and look sexy while doing it. Futurism and surrealism appeal to you. As a young artiste you pulled pranks like throwing tea at your audiences. You really like your friend Brik's wife, so youll write her an epic poem deemed "the most savage indictment of a woman in our time." A couple years after the October Revolution, no one will praise your work anymore, and your crappy love life will make you depressed.

So, sadly, you'll commit suicide.

Take this quiz!

YOGA | Missing the Anusara Invocation

Since my Anusara teacher left the studio, I've missed chanting the Anusara Invocation at the beginning of each class. A friend burnt a CD for me recently, of musical renditions of the Anusara Invocation. Music and chants has the power to set a mood, and prepare the mind for what is to come. I have downloaded the chants onto my mpeg player. It's something to listen to on the way to work.

The Anusara Invocation

Om Namah Shivaya Gurave
Saccidananda Murtaye
Nishprapanchaya Shantaya
Niralambaya Tejase


I offer myself to Lord Shiva, the Auspicious One, who is the True Teacher within and without,
Who assumes the forms of Reality, Consciousness, and Bliss,
Who is never absent and is full of peace,
Independent in existence, the vital essence of Illumination.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

HANOI | Loitering with My Shadow and My Books

I'm still preparing for the Hanoi trip. I've dragged out my trusty red-and-black backpack and beated out the dust. Picked out a few weathered t-shirts that I will dispose on the trip. I should be doing more important things, like booking the accomodations - at least for the first 2 nights - or booking my Ha Long Bay tour (or should I just check out the local agencies when I get there? I feel like just playing by ear on this.)

Yet, of all the planning I have to do, the priority seems to be what books to bring on the trip!

I have decided to bring Marcel with me. One full week of leisure may be a good opportunity to resume my acquaintance with Sodom & Gomorrah. Who knows - I might be able to finish this volume before the end of the year.

I imagine myself: a lone woman in black t-shirt and jeans, sitting with a cup of tea in a quiet cafe, reading a volume of the Proustian epic. Then I think: "What a poseur!"

What else? Something easy to carry around, but absorbing.

I'm thinking May Sarton's Journal of a Solitude; maybe a few volumes of the novellas published by Melville House: The Devil by Leo Tolstoy, First Love by Ivan Turgenev or My Life by Anton Chekhov. Or should I just bring Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano or G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday?

Will definitely be bringing a moleskine cahier/blank journal. Actually, I would prefer the new range of moleskine soft covers. I tend to stuff things between the pages of my moleskine: pens, brochures or smaller notebooks. A softcover would adhere better to the bulge of my notebook.

I was emailing a colleague about my Hanoi trip. We chatted a little about travel, the spirit of a city, and how I wanted to walk aimlessly through Hanoi. Then she wrote this:

Jan Morris said Trieste is where she learnt to become "usefully indolent". She also said, "if ever you hear them saying, 'What’s become of Morris?', tell them to come to Trieste and look for me loitering with my adjectives along the waterfront".

Hope you'll have a good time loitering with your shadow and your books in Hanoi. Oh I envy you already! I do!!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Footloose To Anywhere But Here

Earlier this year, my dad and I made plans for a Laos trip together. We were supposed to go in November, but the trip had to be cancelled.

With every trip there is the build up of anticipation, and the yearning of the Laos trip unsatisfied, I'm itching for a short trip anyway. I now find myself surfing the internet for budget airfares and accomodations.

I think I shall go to Hanoi again.

Updated 15 October 2007 10:09 pm: Okay, booked my flight for 1 week in Hanoi. I hope I remember to show up at the airport. Now, where did I put that copy of Lonely Planet Vietnam...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

RUSSIAN LIT | Related Articles on Russian Translations

Cross-posted Russian Reading Challenge 2008

Kate S. brought up a very relevant question on translations. We keep asking it, because there really is no easy answer. While I can't claim to have the perfect answer (I can only speak for my own preference), I thought I could share some of the articles I have found online that address the subject:

In 2005, David Remnick wrote a much-talked-about story for The New Yorker on Russian-language translators. He mentioned Constance Garnett, and of course the much-lauded Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

[Read Remnick's The Translation Wars]

Also, the recent New York Times essay by Richard Pevear himself, on translating War and Peace:

I’ve said “translator,” and in a sense my collaboration with Larissa is so close that the two of us make up one translator who has the luck to be a native speaker of two languages. We work separately at first. Larissa produces a complete draft, following the original almost word by word, with many marginal comments and observations. From that, plus the original Russian, I make my own complete draft. Then we work closely together to arrive at a third draft, on which we make our “final” revisions. That working situation has its advantages. Translators are always in danger of drifting into the sort of language that is commonly referred to as “smooth,” “natural” or, as they now say, “reader friendly,” but is really only a tissue of ready-made phrases. When that happens to me, as it sometimes does, Larissa is there to stop me. Where I have my say is in judging the quality of our English text, that is, in drawing the line between a literal and a faithful rendering, which are not at all the same. If the translation does not finally “work” in English, it doesn’t work at all.

[ Read the rest of Pevear's essay]

And this blog post entitled, Turgenev: The Translation Game, via Steamboats Are Ruining Everything - where we get a meticulous, close-text reading of various Turgenev translators -- Constance Garnett, Bernard Guilbert Guerney and George Reavey.

NY Times with Pevear on War and Peace

The New York Times is hosting a month-long discussion (moderated by Sam Tanenhaus) on the new Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace.

They also have an essay by Richard Pevear on the epic, and on the daunting 3-year translation work.

The world of “War and Peace” envelops you. It is built on uncertainties, illusions, sudden reversals, constantly shifting perspectives, but once you enter it you feel you’re in sure hands. Over it all is the “infinite sky” that Prince Andrei discovers as he lies wounded on the field of Austerlitz. This vast unity that embraces the broadest human diversity is the secret, the mystery, of Tolstoy’s art. If it offers a great challenge to its translators, it also offers great rewards to its readers, as I’ve tried to suggest in a small way.

BIONIC WOMAN | Sarah Corvus on "Sisterhood"

I just watched Episode 3 of the new Bionic Woman -- and I am pleased to find out the writing has improved from the lacklustre pilot.

Episode 3, entitled "Sisterhood", has Sarah Corvus approaching Jaime Sommers for help. Corvus is slowly dying, and she believes that only by studying the newer bionic technology within Sommers will she be able to prolong her life-span. Which brings up an interesting idea for future episodes: How long exactly does Jaime Sommers have to live?

Another interesting revelation was that it was Will -- Jaime's now-deceased surgeon boyfriend -- who revived Sarah Corvus after the latter was shot by Jae. Why did Will keep it a secret from Berkut?

There was a remark about some genetic disorder that Jaime's great-grandmother had. Groundworks for future episodes perhaps.

The highlight of this episode has to be Katee Sackhoff's Sarah Corvus. Her psychotic killing machine has a scared, vunerability that makes you feel for her -- and Corvus also has some of the funniest lines in her scenes with Jaime Sommers. Here's some of my favourite:

Sarah Corvus to Jaime Sommers, on the GPS tracking device Berkut has installed in their brains:

Sarah Corvus: You haven't figured out how to disable their GPS yet?
Jaime Sommers: You can do that?
Sarah Corvus: You have to. Those Berkut guys look at you in the showers you know.
Jaime Sommers: Oh my god.
Sarah Corvus: Yeah, don't even get me started on how objectifying this whole Bionic Woman thing is. They don't tell you anything. That's why you and I have to stick together. Even form a union.

Sarah Corvus storms off after Jaime Sommers refuses to help save Corvus:

Jaime Sommers: Where are you going, Sarah?
Sarah Corvus: I'm going to go lay down on a sidewalk and die.
Jaime Sommers: You don't have to be so dramatic.
Sarah Corvus: Don't I? Because I thought I was just been told by the one person in the world who can save my life that she's got better things to do. That feels pretty dramatic to me. Not that I can actually feel anything -- but I can intellectually imagine that that feel pretty dramatic.

I hope the series could at least maintain the standard of this episode, or even surpass it. I keep reading about writers and producers leaving the show -- not a good sign of things to come

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Doris Lessing Shrugged off Winning the Nobel Prize and Is Currently the Coolest Woman In My Universe

The highlight of my week has to be watching this video (via Bookslut) of Doris Lessing being pounced on by reporters as they tell her she just won the Nobel Prize for Literature. I love that she couldn't care less about it. It seems to be a profoundly grounded personality, and that -- instead of the Nobel Prize -- makes me want to read one of her books.

Or maybe, at 87 years of age, she has simply arrived at a realisation of what is important and what is not. That seems to me the epitome of maturity and wisdom. I would like to be like that one day, to see things with her kind of equanimity.

Of course, like any geek, I googled Doris Lessing and came up with her statement about why she does not consider herself a feminist author:

What the feminists want of me is something they haven't examined because it comes from religion. They want me to bear witness. What they would really like me to say is, 'Ha, sisters, I stand with you side by side in your struggle toward the golden dawn where all those beastly men are no more.' Do they really want people to make oversimplified statements about men and women? In fact, they do. I've come with great regret to this conclusion.

~ attributed to The New York Times, 25 July 1982

I'm also interested in her partiality to science fiction, where she was quoted with this declaration:

What they didn't realize was that in science fiction is some of the best social fiction of our time. I also admire the classic sort of science fiction, like Blood Music, by Greg Bear. He's a great writer.

Doris Lessing just sounds more interesting as I read on. Wonder how this personality comes through in her books? Going to go google on Doris Lessing's titles now. Has anyone read her?

Breaking of the Fast and Giving

Today marks the end of the month long Ramadan for my Muslim neighbours. Besides the prayers, it is also time of festivity -- feasting, partying, family visits.

My next door neighbours and my family have been living in the same building for the past 30 years. Every year, on the day of Eid ul-Fitr -- the Muslim holiday that celebrates the end of the fast -- my Muslim neighbours serve up some dishes and they bring them over to our family. I always found this part of my neighbour's faith endearing -- this spirit of community and sharing inherent in Islam, and how they extended it to us, their non-Muslim neighbours. A month-long fast is a great reminder of hunger. So after the fast, they feast -- and they share the food with those around them.

The way I see it, the practice of sharing and giving is a reminder of looking beyond yourself. More people should practice it. I should practice it more. We don't have to be religious to practice sharing -- but generosity and charity are spiritual practices.

I remember there was a time when my mom felt we should reciprocate their gift-giving. So one year when the neighbours came bearing gifts, my mom was ready with a reciprocal gift of fruits -- except the following week my neighbour returned with a gift of fruits too; they were reciprocating my mom's fruits with more fruits.

My mom finally stopped trying to give them presents in return. Otherwise the two families will be passing fruit baskets back and forth forever. This taught me another component to the act of giving: the other party also has to be willing to accept wholeheartedly the gift that is offered; a willingness to receive is also a practice of kindness in itself. You are allowing someone else to share something with you.

My neighbour has just brought over a few dishes -- as they do every year for the past 30 years. As my mom helped herself to my neighbour's cooking, she asked me loudly why I wasn't eating. I told her to just go ahead -- I am vegetarian I could see that the dishes were not vegetarian-friendly.

"It's halal," my mom informed me.

"I'm vegetarian, not Muslim," I reminded my mother.

Somehow I can't help but be amused by this.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

DVDs, Bionic Woman, BSG: Razor and October Books

I've been spending less time online recently -- which may be why I'm finishing more books. But in case anyone has noticed -- the quality of the posts lately sucked. ;p

So, what have I been up to?

Been busy watching DVDs -- caught House M.D. Season 2 and 3, Dexter Season 1, Weeds Season 1 -- I'm now a big fan of House M.D. And last I heard, Olivia Wilde joined the cast for Season 4. Hmm.

Oh, and I caught the pilot of the new Bionic Woman -- and I was bored! I do hope the show finds its direction soon. Michelle Ryan is pretty enough to look at, but her Jamie Sommers is bland. The only highlight on the entire episode is Katee Sackhoff's psychotic Sarah Corvus -- the first Bionic Woman who stalks and taunts Jamie Sommers. (Then they go fight it out in the rain like good Amazons should always do.) It's really bad when the villain in the show -- the guest-star -- has more screen presence than any of the regular cast. I really want this show to work -- because I really want to see Katee Sackhoff do very bad things on TV.

This remind me. If you can, do try to catch Battlestar Galactica: Razor this November.

The story centres around the Battlestar Pegasus several months prior to it finding the Galactica. I'm a big fan of the current Battlestar Galactica, but I'm looking forward to Battlestar Galactica: Razor for Michelle Forbes's reprisal of Admiral Helena Cain.

Admiral Cain is one of the youngest Admiral in the Fleet. She is sharp, gusty and ruthless. When the Cyclons attacked, she made a quick call that saved her entire fleet even as their homeworld was destroyed. She shot her XO (Executive Officer) in front of everyone -- because he disobeyed a morally-questionable command. She plotted the assasination of a fellow commanding officer. She also sanctioned the rape and torture of a Cyclon prisoner. Without a doubt, Admiral Cain is a dangerous, morally shady character -- the type you want to hate -- but you can't.

This is why Battlestar Galactica deserved their Peabody Award -- because of the sheer emotional brilliance of their writing. Nothing is ever easy, everything is gray, ambiguous, complicated. Because in spite of everything she did wrong, Admiral Cain was a strong leader -- the type of leader you need when the human race is near extinction. She brought the fight back to the Cyclons -- she hunted the exterminators when it should have been the other way round. To paraphrase Starbuck (played by Katee Sackhoff), who paid tribute during Cain's funeral service: As much as the rest of the fleet hate to admit it, they were safer with Admiral Cain around.

I like my TV drama complicated with no easy answers. We can't condone an Admiral Cain with her ruthlessness -- yet we want the kind of security and sense of order a strong leader like her provide. This is so human. I can;t wait for this to be released on DVD!

Finally, something a little book-related, before everyone gets bored: Books I am looking out for this October:

  1. The Paris Review Interviews, II -- this one has an interview with Graham Greene, whch will probably be the first interview I flip to the moment I get to hold it in my hands.
    Release Date: October 30th
  2. War and Peace -- the Richard Pevear and Larissa Larissa Volokhonsky translation. Yes, I have decided on the baby-blue version. Actually, the fact it's released earlier than the UK version is the real determining factor. But will I be able to keep my paws off it until January 2008? Oh, the agony of the anticipation!
    Release Date: October 16th
  3. A Time to Keep Silence, by Patrick Leigh Fermor -- I've been waiting for the re-release of this title for months. A Time to Keep Silence is about Patrick Leigh Fermor's sojourns in some of Europe’s oldest and most venerable monasteries -- the Abbey of St. Wandrille, a great repository of art and learning; at Solesmes, famous for its revival of Gregorian chant; and at the deeply ascetic Trappist monastery of La Grande Trappe, where monks take a vow of silence. It's a combination of travelogue and spiritual enquiry -- which some of you may is something of a pet topic of mine.
    Release Date: October 30th

Oh, and The Guardian visits Canadian Literature.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Anais Nin - Founding Mother of Bloggers!

L.A. Times reviews Patricia Hampl's The Florist Daughter. I'm slightly amused by this:

It always seems ridiculous when a writer offers up a memoir at, say, age 25 or 30. But it's equally ridiculous to think that we shed just as much wisdom on our past at 30 as we might at 50 or 80. Things sink in differently at different times, a fact that makes memoir writing more like blogging than storytelling. Stories require narratives. Memories elude narratives. Too much narrative and you're in fiction territory. Without a map.

If Hampl is the memoir queen, Annie Ernaux and the late Anaïs Nin are the founding mothers of the blog. Since both have written mostly about their lovers, updates are constantly necessary.

I like it that bloggers can claim Anaïs Nin as our founding mother. I'm also slightly embarrassed that I actually enjoyed read Nin's Delta of Venus and Little Birds. Henry and June was overblown -- reminds me a little of D.H. Lawrence -- but hynoptic in some places

Lust, Caution - Censored

As I've mentioned recently, I was drafting two letters of protests over the weekend. One of them was about the screening of the censored version of Lust, Caution at our local cinemas.

Some of you may be familiar with director Ang Lee -- most famous these days for Brokeback Mountain (Lee also did Sense and Sensibility, starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet -- as well as the Hulk movie with Eric Bana. What do Austen and Hulk have in common? You tell me). His most recent project is the cinematical adaptation of Eileen Chang's Lust, Caution. Ang Lee released two versions of the film -- the original version runs for 157 minutes, the other is an edited version that he did especially for the China market, which is 148 minutes long.

The local film distributor has only procured the edited China edition for our local cinema . It was a commercial decision as it will allow a NC-16 rating (No Children under 16) for the film -- which means it caters to a wider customer base -- the 16-20 year old market. However, this means they cut out crucial sexual scenes that show the evolution of the characters, their motivations. In short, the edited version is watered-down for an immature masses.

Cost-wise it does not benefit them to bring in both the Uncut and the Edited versions -- why pay for two versions of the same film, and incur extra operational costs by screening them in separate cinemas? From a business angle, I can see the rational behind their decision. But as a consumer, I'm unhappy.

I am boycotting the edited version of Lust, Caution -- a film I have been looking forward to for months. Recently a friend has inspired me to do something more proactive with my dissatisfaction. A boycott doesn't make as much an impact unless they know realise their business decisions are alienating their customers -- and there are commercial repercussions to bad choices.

So, I find myself writing a letter to the General Manager of the film distributor. I have explained to him the reasons behind my boycott of the edited version, and how I will continue to actively encourage my friends, family and colleagues to do the same.

As I was emailing a colleague about writing in to protest the censored Lust, Caution, she replied that she was just asked to sign a petition appealing for UN intervention in Burma. She remarked how it suddenly throws our boycott of a film into perspective -- how trivial a protest on film censorship seems compared to the Burmese monks with their protest against a corrupt military government.

She's absolutely right. The world is greater than our personal slights and discomfort -- but we have to start somewhere. We start first, with the little things that matters. Then we learn, we grow stronger, and we start to stand up for the bigger things that matter.

At least I hope so.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Screwed Up Weekend

My brain is overworked this weekend. I had two protest letters to write -- as usual, these letters are my rants to certain organisations about corporate policies and business decisions that are unfair and undermines the intelligence of the consumer (ie. Me) :p

On the upside, I've finished reading two books this weekend. The Razor's Edge and The Mistress's Daughter -- both interesting reads that deserve better written posts than my mediocre writing ability can muster.

Another upside on the yoga front -- I was a little unsure of the direction of my practice initially, after the the recent departure of my Anusara teacher. But I dropped by the class for a new teacher this evening, a lady who had studied with John Friend. I think I should be able to continue with the Anusara practice for a while longer.

Oh, downside of this weekend is that the Bookmooch administrator has suspended my account. So I can't mooch anything with my 34 mooch points. Apparently my policy of not sending books to people who are not willing to do the same has ruffled some feathers. I believe a complaint was made against me, and I was accused of discrimination. I prefer to think I was being fair.

The reason given to me is that US no longer offers surface mail, while other countries still do -- hence it is not right to be prejudice against people who don't want t send books overseas. I am offended -- does the Bookmooch administrators assume it is cheaper for me, here in Asia, to send books to USA?

So it is unfair to refuse to send to moochers who only send within their country. Okay, fine, I can understand why people would choose not to send books overseas. It is expensive. However, how can they in return demand that I pay for the hefty postage that they are not willing to undertake? It is their right not to send books overseas -- just as it is my right to refuse to pay the hefty postage to them.

The majority of the English language books on Bookmooch seem to be from North American members. So for someone living in North America, you have access to a very wide inventory without having to send books overseas. However, for Asian members like myself, we depend a lot more on overseas members.

I have tried to be civil and honest in all my rejections, but obviously there are people who feel unhappy about my preference. I still don't get it -- just don't mooch from me! What's the big deal?

I have amended my profile as the administrator has requested -- but it has been more than 24 hours and they have not reinstated my account. Whether they lift my suspension or not, I'm done with Bookmooch. Just need to decide what to do with the 34 points that I have earned -- by sending books overseas -- but can't use.


PS: Of course my experience is somewhat unique, because of my idiosyncratic preference -- a very adamant preference. Things would be easier and better if I had been less self-righteous (I am capable of self-awareness) and obstinate -- but I wouldn't be me then. Bookmooch is a good place for book exchanges, except like all system it has its inherent flaws and inequities. But I still remember how total strangers on Bookmooch offered advice and "walk-through" when I first came on-board. It's a good place, with lots of nice people -- and some people who are too eager to feel injured. Maybe I'm one of the latter. :)

Update: Whoopee? My Bookmooch account has been reinstated. I'm now busily emailing moochers if they are willing to send their books to me. I think it's only nice to email first before mooching. I have 34 points to finish up before I quit Bookmooch. Suddenly, I find there's not enough titles to mooch. Hmm.

Inspiring Awe - Tilda Swinton

The Times interviews Tilda Swinton.

Amidst the ocean of Hollywood banality the likes of Lindsay Lohan, there are still some interesting actresses who are talented, self-possessed and who take on roles for no reason other than the artistry of their craft. Among these women stands Tilda Swinton, who can make an in-take of a breath interesting.

She has played the adrogynous Orlando, the romantic lead against Ewan McGregor in Young Adam, the White Witch in Narnia -- she defied labels, boundaries -- male, female, frigid, erotic, cruel and kind -- she is all of it at different times; she is dauntless, intense and alien -- and so beautifully compelling because we do not understand her.

No offense to Keanu Reeves fans -- but Tilda Swinton's charismatic turn as the archangel Gabriel was the only reason I watched that Hollywood hack-job on Hellblazer -- the film otherwise known as Constantine. Snobbish, heartless and totally psycho, Swinton as Gabriel bursted on scene in white tights and bandages -- wings a-flying. I loved how she pinned Keanu Reeves down with her single bare foot, gloating, rhapsodizing about her grand plan to bring terror, to bring awe back into the world -- just so that we humans could learn to honour God once more.


Saturday, October 06, 2007

FILM | Jodie Foster, The Brave One II

In a previous post, I mentioned how much I was looking forward to watching The Brave One -- the film directed by Neil Jordan and stars Jodie Foster with Terrence Howard.

A quick recap: Jodie Foster plays a New York radio-show host, Erica Bains, who is happily in love with her doctor fiance. Then one night both of them were brutally assaulted; her fiance died and Erica was left shattered emotionally. She buys a gun, and ends up a vigilante.

Terrence Howard plays a police detective whose path inevitably crossed Erica's. Both Howard and Foster gave great under-stated performance; their characters meet under horrific circumstances, and in the midst of the violence, the two connect in a real, palpable manner that felt so natural. It's nice to watch these two competent actors playing out their scenes with each other. Howard's Detective Mercer is relaxed, a little world-weary but he is holding up. He is the kind of policeman who would pursue a criminal for three years and not give up; you can see why Erica Bains would trust him -- she is just barely holding it together, and in the midst of the violence and the chaos -- Mercer is a rock.

Maybe it's just me -- in a film with so much shattering violence I look for the glimpses of compassion and humanity. My favourite part in the film is the unexpected kindness of Erica's neighbour -- an aloof, taciturn woman who never once called Erica by her name. Yet when Erica finds herself slowly disintegrating, it is this neighbour who notices, who reaches out -- and she ends up dressing Erica's injuries after a particularly severe beating.

This film is about violence and how it touches us all. Once we are marked we will never be the same again. What perhaps will save us are those very brief moments of human connection; it saves us, it redeems us.

No spoilers here -- but I didn't quite like the way the film ended -- I felt it was contrived and too convenient. In spite of its weakness, it is a good film.

Most of all for a Jodie Foster fan, it has her looking progressively hotter until her finally appearance in that edgy black leather jacket with sunglasses: She's swaggering, that animal skin she's wearing denotes her new status as hunter, that steely set on her face. In a lot of previous Foster movies her jaws are locked -- and I've made it a game to spot the throbbing veins at her neck. This is the first time I have seen Jodie Foster so self-possessed -- oh, to say the word: so butch.

It's sexy like hell.

And thanks to the kindness of a friend, I now have Jodie Foster posters to mount! Oh, I'm a happy puppy!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A Russian Is ...

"Only a German bases his self-assurance on an abstract idea: science, that is, the supposed knowledge of absolute truth. A Frenchman's self-assurance stems from his belief that he is mentally and physically irresistibly fascinating to both men and women. An Englishman's self-assurance is founded on his being a citizen of the best organized state in the world and on the fact that, as an Englishman, he always knows what to do, and that whatever he does as an Englishman is unquestionably correct. An Italian is self-assured because he is excitable and easily forgets himself and others. A Russian is self-assured simply because he knows nothing and does not want to know anything, since he does not believe in the possibility of knowing anything fully."

~ excerpt from "War and Peace" by Tolstoy

I am definitely Russian.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

We Don't Date Decent

I had a long chat with my friend, Boo, last night. It had been a while since we talked like this. Working together may mean you see each other more frequently -- but that does not necessarily mean you get more chance to talk. Tonight was one of those rare moments of heart-to-heart talks. It was nice.

Boo knew Aquarius -- my ex. She was around when things soured between Aquarius and myself, and a lot of mistakes were made -- most of it on my part. I found out later that Aquarius had shown my letters of apologies and phone messages to our mutual friends, mocking and humiliating me in the process. It was painful to learn that someone you love would betray you like this -- that love turned rancid was so cruel.

Part of the bitterness of it all was that I knew enough sordid details about Aquarius to retaliate -- but I couldn't quite bring myself to do it. Knowing you could only resign yourself to being humilitated because you do not have the steel to ruin the other person as well.

Boo told me that it was what made me a good person: Because I really believe that just because we have the power to hurt someone, does not give us a right to do so.

I met Aquarius through a mutual friend, Han. When Aquarius and I first started dating, I asked Han how she felt about me dating her friend; she seemed cool about it. In fact, she told me, of all the people Aquarius has ever dated, I am the first decent one. "Decent" was how Han described me.

I know something about myself, and that is my innate decency. No matter how badly I behaved, how stressful the situation, I had never been intentionally cruel. So often, in the heat of an argument I had the perfect knife-in-the-heart rebuttal -- and I left it unspoken because it felt -- cruel.

I think I learned this little emotional restraint -- this compassion -- from my mother. When I was younger I used to resent myself for this emotional handicap. I resented my mother too, for her inability to avenge herself. I did not want to be bullied like my mother. I wanted to be someone who stands up for herself.

I am older now, and I have come to appreciate my mother's virtues more. Maybe fighting back and winning is not always the most important thing in the world. Compassion and forgiveness -- even just simple decency -- they are the quiet kind of strengths.

But as I told Boo last night: we claim to appreciate decency, but we don't date decent. Our hearts yearn for the bad boys and the bad girls who are exciting, flamboyant and complicated -- the ones that will eventually trample all over our hearts with steel-toed shoes. Decent is boring.

But I have had enough mindfucks and excitement for this lifetime. I want boring. I want decent.