Monday, July 30, 2007

TV | Sarah Connor Chronicles Trailer

I've posted something on this before, but I'm going to post it again, but this time with trailer.

The Sarah Connor Chronicles is one of the most anticipated TV series coming soon - depending on where you live.

When I first watched the second Terminator movie, I felt for Sarah Connor. In the first movie, she was just an ordinary, disorganised young woman who is just a nobody you might feel sorry for but ignore. By the second film though, she became something else. The change is heart-rending but also magnificent, because you see how the character has been broken and hardened by the knowledge of what is to come. While the rest of the world can rest in ignorance, Sarah Connor KNOWS. The immensity of her knowledge is not a burden she could share - even her son, the Destined One, could not believe her. When fate thrusts itself onto you, Sarah Connor did what was necessary. No whiny "Why me?" She buffed up, suited up, and kicked ass.

Lena Headey of course, does not have the sinewy buffness of Linda Hamilton from the second Terminator movie. (Such is the pity. Meanwhile, let's post a picture of a T2 Linda Hamilton for the sake of nostalgia.) All that aside, Lena Headey has the awesomeness of being Lena Headey. This means elegance, beauty and bone-structure to die for. Is that enough reason to watch the Sarah Connor Chronicles? Duh! Of course! If that's not enough, all Firefly fans can tune in to watch Summer Glau as a Terminator sent to preserve John Connor. That means Summer Glau gets to be that white-hot dynamo of monstrous violence ― again! We get to see Summer Glau thrown through walls and kicking ass (in the nude, if I saw it right from the trailer), with shiny metal pieces being pulled out of her! Yay!

I leave you with the trailer. I hope to catch the show soon.

Questions, and Reading a Few Books At a Time

Well, the worst is over. I finished my Staff Appraisal this afternoon. Managed to keep my head cool and rein in that barbed tongue of mine. I've managed to get good overall ratings - thanks to my consistent work performance than my relationship with my manager.

The constant friction between my manager and myself is often due to my need to question her orders (and by implication, her authority.) I am capable of behaving - of pretending to abide by rules and regulations even when they are unfair or they don't make sense - but too often, I choose not to. I choose to speak up, to question - and I end up sabotaging myself. But the person that I am, I can't do anything else. To not speak up when things are unfair - it's cowardice. It's as though each time I choose not to speak up, I am relinquishing a bit of my soul and who I am.

Is there a better way - a middle path - to this problem? Am I just a hot-head who can't learn temperance, or I just need to learn to be more tactful? This is one of those eternal questions, isn't it? When to act, and when to keep still. I just have to try to figure things out by myself.

Oh well. Onwards with books:

I usually read a few books at a time, rotating them around on different days. Sometimes I bring two books to work - one to read on my way to work, another to read back from work. However last week, in my bid to outrun spoilers, I charged through Harry Potter 7. It has been a while since I've been so focus on finishing a book, so much so that straight after finishing Harry Potter, I was at a loss.

I didn't know what to read next, until I picked up my half-read copy of Florence King's Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady. I read it the way I read Harry Potter: with persistence that is uninterrupted by other books. Perhaps that's how I managed to finish reading it. Maybe I should just try to always read one book at a time. I might actually finish more books. But who am I kidding. I'm always going to be distracted by other books.

I've just resumed Elizabeth Hardwick's Sleepless Nights today. The gang over at Slaves of Golconda will be gathering to discuss it this coming August. I'm not a member, but I thought I try to read it, see if I have anything to contribute to the discussion. If not, I can at least follow what they are posting. I'm still practicing participation via lurking. Heh.

It's a thin book, about 128 pages, and I'm only 34 pages into it. It's not a conventional novel, more like a series of journal entries, rumination on different topics, one sometimes spinning off into another. There is something smoke-like in its structure. I find the narrative voice articulate, the prose dreamy and elusive. It is interesting, but I wish I have something more substantial to write about the book. Will see how I like it later.

Oh, one piece of good news for me: my order for Geoff Dyer's Out of Sheer Rage has finally arrived.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Hilary Mantel on Orpheus and Eurydice

From The Guardian, Hilary Mantel, on art and the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Some excerpts:

The Orpheus myth is a story about the power of art, but it is also a myth we play out in our daily lives. Often, when people have been bereaved, their friends warn them to let a year go by before they listen to music, knowing how it can break down the barrier we carefully erect between ourselves and the recently dead, and unleash a flood of pain and regret. But it is hard now to avoid music. In a way that Monteverdi could never have imagined, it is in the air around us, sometimes degraded into an annoying background jangle, sometimes blanked out and ignored, but always capable of catching us unawares, infiltrating our self-protection, and making the dead walk.


For some years I lived in Africa, in Botswana, and people there used to say that to see ghosts you need to look out of the corners of your eyes. If you turn on them a direct gaze, then, like Eurydice, they vanish.

The whole process of creativity is like that. The writer often doesn't know, consciously, what gods she invokes or what myths she's retelling. Orpheus is a figure of all artists, and Eurydice is his inspiration. She is what he goes into the dark to seek. He is the conscious mind, with its mastery of skill and craft, its faculty of ordering, selecting, making rational and persuasive; she is the subconscious mind, driven by disorder, fuelled by obscure desires, brimming with promises that perhaps she won't keep, with promises of revelation, fantasies of empowerment and knowledge. What she offers is fleeting, tenuous, hard to hold. She makes us stand on the brink of the unknown with our hand stretched out into the dark. Mostly, we just touch her fingertips and she vanishes. She is the dream that seems charged with meaning, that vanishes as soon as we try to describe it. She is the unsayable thing we are always trying to say. She is the memory that slips away as you try to grasp it. Just when you've got it, you haven't got it. She won't bear the light of day. She gets to the threshold and she falters. You want her too much, and by wanting her you destroy her. As a writer, as an artist, your effects constantly elude you. You have a glimpse, an inspiration, you write a paragraph and you think it's there, but when you read back, it's not there. Every picture painted, every opera composed, every book that is written, is the ghost of the possibilities that were in the artist's head. Art brings back the dead, but it also makes perpetual mourners of us all. Nothing lasts: that's what Apollo, the father of Orpheus, sings to him in Monteverdi's opera. In Opera North's staging, the god took a handkerchief from his pocket, licked it, and tenderly cleaned his child's tear-stained face.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

BOOKS | Done with Harry Potter 7

I'm finally done with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

I was reading it while waiting for a movie (a low-key B-grade New Zealand film about blood-thirsty were-sheep. It wasn't as funny as I thought it might be.) It was embarrassing, as close to the last 100 pages or so, I started tearing in public.

[UPDATE] To prevent spoilers, my brief thoughts on The Deathly Hallows are below in INVISI-TEXT. (To read, just left-click, hold, and move your cursor over the blank space below.)

My favourite characters from the books are Luna Lovegood and Severus Snape. Luna held up pretty well, ending up as one of the three underground student leaders against Voldemort.

Neville Longbottom also has his day, which is beautiful. There is something about the heroics of the underdog that I love. The passage where Neville's Granny went on the run, not before she told him how proud she was of her grandson, telling him to keep up the fight against Voldemort ― I got a little emotional and teary.

But it's Snape's demise that saddens me. My suspicions that Snape was in love with Lily Potter was confirmed ― it all fits, and it's a bit of a downer that J.K. Rowling is a little predictable here.

I wish more could have been made of his heroism. It just seems with all the deaths, Snape's sacrifice was pushed to the side-line. His courage ― and how Dumbledore wondered if they sorted too quickly; with Snape's courage he should have been a Gryffindor instead ― can we do more with it? Why couldn't we have given him a grand hero's funeral? Or at least show me a portrait of Snape in the Hogwarts Headmaster's Office. That would have been fun. My Snape is dead.

It's a nice touch to kill off Hedwig and Dobby. People loved Hedwig and Dobby. Well, at least I do. It was nice because Dobby's death showed how much Harry actually cared for Dobby, and it also allowed Dobby to show his mettle. Hedwig, okay, she's collateral damage. The "reformation" of Kreacher was also a good touch. Perhaps it's Rowling's own (obvious but good-hearted) way of reminding us to be more compassionate to the down-trodden.

When Order of the Phoenix (the book) first came out, near the end, Dumbledore admits his love for Harry might have caused him some slips in judgement. A friend and I discussed this, and she was a little unhappy with this crack in Dumbledore's armour. But I disagreed with her then. I thought the fact that Dumbledore was capable of human weakness, because of love, is a good thing. It made him more human, I thought.

I guess my friend did not like her heroes quite so human. Perhaps that is why she was bothered by it.

But in The Deathly Hallows, we see a Dumbledore who is more complicated than he was in the previous books. He is a master manipulator here, ambitious, proud, ruthlesss ― especially the way he uses Snape's guilt and love for Lily Potter. Like Gandalf when he rejects the One Ring, Dumbledore recognises that he cannot be trusted with too much power, because he recognises the ambition within himself.

I find the more morally ambiguous Dumbledore a little disturbing. Perhaps now the table has been turned on me, and I did not like my heroes with their armour so tarnished. Even in books, our heroes are often less perfect than we would like them to be.

It's a great finale, especially the way Rowling manages to retrieve so many characters and minor details from the other 6 books and tie to the plot in a more significant manner. But the wand-lore bit was stretching it too much, I thought. Too much is made out of the "winning" of the wands, just to justify the plot necessity of Harry winning the Elder Wand.

No more Harry Potter, althought we will still have the films. No matter how much I enjoyed the books, I'm glad it's over. Please, no sequels. It ended well. Let it be.

MEME | Five Reasons Why I Blog

Stefanie tagged me for the Five Reasons Why I Blog meme.

Oh. I need to think about this. Being the typical Aries I tend to just do things without seriously considering why.

I realise there are two parts to the question: the reasons I first started this blog, and the reasons I'm still blogging:

  1. Cartharsis: The first blog I read regularly was the one set up by my comrade-in-infamy, The Brat. I don't get to see her as much as I would like to, but reading her blog has helped me stay in touch with some of what's going on in her life.

    I hear her voice everytime I read her blog. The bitchy way she complains about the state of the world and her life. I soon realised the carthartic nature of blogs. You write something and cast it into the air. God be damned on the consequences. So, I guess the seed of my blogging life was planted by the confessional nature of The Brat's blog.

    My earliest blog entries are self-indulgent complaints and rants against work, my bosses, my friends and various indignities "poor oh me" has suffered. Thankfully I have deleted most of those rubbish. I cringe at the memories of those days.

    *Moment of self-awareness* Oh wait, I still write self-indulgent rubbish. Oh well.

  2. I Was Under "House Arrest" At Work: This needs elaboration - For the first 4 years of my career, I was the front-list buyer for the Literature, Humanities and the Social Sciences sections at the bookstore where I (still) work. Then I got bored and I asked for an expansion of my job-scope. So about 3 years ago I was reassigned as the front-list buyer for the Lifestyle department. I was unprepared for the changes, and I felt inept and ignorant in my new posting. (I find myself ordering books on knitting, make-up and breast-feeding - what the hell do I know about these subjects?)

    What made it worst was that they assigned a totally unsuitable candidate to takeover my previous position. I spent 4 years building up a credible Literature section - it was my baby, and they gave my baby to someone who did not love it as I did.

    Nobody could understand the agony I felt whenever the new buyer decided to pass over a good title because she was ignorant of it. I was shocked when I found out the new buyer did not order Jose Saramago's Seeing. (How could you not order the new Saramago and still consider yourself a bookstore of any credibility?) But I couldn't do anything because she was on good terms with my bosses and I was desperately trying to learn my new job, and fighting off back-stabbing colleagues.

    So there I was, unhappy and frustrated. I used to leave my desk for long periods to just walk around the bookstore. I wonder if anyone else feel this way? The simple act of walking among the books - touching their spines, their pages, their covers - it soothed me, and helped me calm down enough to come back to a unhappy job.

    But my boss was unhappy about me leaving my desk. She felt I was slacking off. And she demanded I stay at my desk at all time. That year I had the lowest ratings on my Staff Appraisal ever. It was my boss telling me, if I don't do as she says, she will hurt me where it matters most. It was stupid and oppressive, having to acount for my whereabouts even when I was using the washroom. I was under "House Arrest" at my desk.

    Then one day, I started a blog. Which is why very few of my colleagues know about this blog. Why I use a pseudonym. Since I had to stay at my desk, I would sometimes work on the blog when I was unhappy. It was like my long walks in the bookstore, except I do it online.

  3. Bloggers Share: For me, bloggers are often just ordinary individuals with something to share. What they provide is a sincerity and heart-felt love for something they have enjoyed. It's beautiful to see generosity amongst the bloggers, whether it is the time and effort spent organising a reading challenge, or just sending someone a book - there's so much heart in it. So if someone just read a book and it made him/her cry, it makes me curious. What is so special about this book that it made you feel so deeply?

    Somewhere along the way, I find myself wanting to share too. I want to tell someone I cried when I read The End of the Affair. That each time I re-read The Passion it still feels as though my heart is broken. That I read Elizabeth Bishop for the first time and I want to share. With the community of bloggers, you are rarely alone.

  4. Blogging Made Me More "Sociable": By nature I am a lonewolf who prefers to listen rather than speak. Where I feel the other party is not listening, I tend to just stop conversing. But with the (almost) anonymity of the blogsphere, I found myself posting on the blogs of people I have never met. I am not the sort to approach strangers, and rarely do I initiate introductions.

    I lurked for a very long time before I decided to take a leap and comment on a blog that did not belong to a friend. If memory serves me, my blogsphere "coming out" was at Involuntary Memory. Or was it on a post about Involuntary Memory? I wanted to read Proust, and the idea of a Proust reading group was just too exciting. Since then I've learnt it's okay to just leave a note once in a while on someone's blog. As long as I'm civil, most people actually appreciate it. This has actually transferred over in real life, where sometimes I initiate conversations with people I don't know but recognise, just to say hi, or just to pay them a sincere compliment. Just small gestures. And you know what? People appreciate this sort of thing in real life too.

    Recently I feel open enough to post a picture of my work desk. Just a tiny glimpse of the real person. (Someone with Homer Simpson at the work desk) No pictures of myself yet. Maybe one day, when I feel more open.

  5. I Learn: I've learnt so much from all the blogs I've been visiting. Very often I find myself reading someone's post and it just spins all sort of associations and connections in my head. One time, I was having problems writing about a book, then I read someone else posting about another book - and suddenly everything just click. The truth is, it's easier for me to pay attention to what I'm reading than listening. Maybe that's why I don't related well to people in real life; I am bad at listening.

    Most of all, when I re-read my posts, I learnt something about my writing:
    a) I tend to produce my best posts when I feel most deeply about the subject.
    b) I tend to deviate and drift off-topic.
    c) When I am restless and slightly snarky, I write some of my most bizarre (but occasionally funny) posts.
    d) I am one self-indulgent blogger who writes long posts.

Er - who should I tag? Say, if you would like to do this meme, consider yourself tagged. Otherwise, Chris, Nymeth, Ah Leng, and precious - you're it!

FILM | Beowulf

Angelina Jolie, as mother of Grendel

Just caught the trailer for the new Beowulf movie. It's directed by Robert Zemeckis (who did the Back to the Future trilogy that I loved), with script by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary.

When I first heard about the movie a while back, I was under the impression that it's a live action movie. It's not. It's done with digital 3-D projection, so the characters look a little Shrek-like. Or maybe more Polar Express. Either way, it doesn't look good.

Do I want Angelina Jolie as animation? Hell, I want the real thing!

Just what is the justification for doing the animation? Just because you can? Will you be able to achieve visual virtuosity. A lot of people can do the technical aspects of animation, but not a lot of film-makers know how to use the genre. I hope the movie will prove better than the trailer. Because if the trailer is any indication of what's to come, I'm bored already.

Friday, July 27, 2007

You Can't Read Harry Potter Fast Enough

WORK: Well, I did it again. I shot my mouth off and pissed off my manager this week. She's giving me the icy treatment ― again. Usually this wouldn't bother me too much ―except my staff appraisal is scheduled for next week and her assessment will ultimately decide my salary increment and bonus.

I don't need to be friends with my manager, nor do I particularly enjoy her company, and I have too much self-respect to pander to her self-absorbed bullshit. But I do enjoy getting paid; one has bills to pay and books to buy. This means I am at the mercy of the whims and moods of someone who is mightily pissed off at me right now. I hate the power dynamics.

Oh well. It has been done and hopefully the weekend will cool her down alittle. I will have to deflect her latent hostility next week.

But I guess I better not expect a big increment this year. Okay, I need to buy less books. In fact, maybe cut it down to $50 per month on books.

READING HARRY POTTER: I'm still only about half-way through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. This afternoon my director was on the line with someone and he began talking about Deathly Hallows. And he gave away some SPOILERS. ARGH!

I spent a whole week fighting off people who wanted to spoil me, ignoring Harry Potter related blogs and articles so that I can find things out for myself ― and THIS happens?

There really isn't any sure-fire way of running away from spoilers, I guess. The only real solution is to read really fast and hope you finish the books before people have time to spoil them for you.

So I skipped yoga today. I'm going to try to finish Harry Potter by this weekend. Wish me speedy reading.

NEIL GAIMAN: Oh, and Time magazine interviews Neil Gaiman.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Books Into Films Casting

Julia Stiles, looking a little angsty and hopefully suicidal

Just a bit of casting news. A kind of film and book intercourse, if you like:

If you've read Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, do you see this young woman on the right playing Esther Greenwood?

In an interview with MTV News, Julia Stiles talks about playing a character heading towards breakdown. I look forward to catching the movie, if it comes to the local cinema. I think Julia Stiles is one of those refreshing, intelligent young actress who just never seem to get a lucky break from Hollywood. She always seems better than the roles she was given, sort of like her character in Mona Lisa Smile - who is smarter than most people, who could have gone to law school, but just didn't.

As for Sylvia Plath, she is certainly a writer that captured the modern imagination. I like some of her poetry, although I confess I preferred the visceral, masculine energy of Ted Hughes's earlier poetry (I loved Crow. It was naughty with a shamanic lyricism) to her somewhat melodramatic style. But my preference for Ted Hughes is something I usually do not discuss; the Sylvia Plath cult often attracts rabid harpies that would scratch out the eyes of anyone who even remotely enjoys Ted Hughes's works. I say that because I had the misfortune of being set upon by one of these Plathian Harpies. It was unpleasant - and I might add, a little insane? Since then I try to avoid people who profess to an unnatural passion for Plath.

Right now I hope Julia Stiles can pull off her role in The Bell Jar.

Some Fantasy Casting: My ex and I used to play this game: if we could cast any actors or actresses dead or alive in a movie of our choice, what movie would we make? One of my choices is to have Julia Stiles and Leonardo Di Caprio play "identical" twins for Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Can you just see it?

Now for the Harry Potter readers: Can you see Naomi Watts as Narcissa Malfoy? According to the Courier Mail, Watts has just signed on to play the wife of Lucius Malfoy, mother of Draco and sister to Bellatrix Lestrange (Their mother probably was friendly with the milk-man or something.)

The Harry Potter movies always seem to get it right with their casting. Even when the actors have very little to do, or they get only 5 minutes screen time, they can still just stay onscreen and just embody the characters. I can't even begin to imagine anyone else besides Alan Rickman as Snape anymore. And is there anyone in the world who can out-Bellatrix Helena Bonham-Carter? Lucius Malfoy

I'm looking at Naomi Watts's milky skin and her pale blondness against that long silky blondness of Jason Isaacs. I think it's a match made in hairdressing heaven. There's a lot of great blonde hair in the Malfoy family. (I bet even their dog is blonde.) They should go do shampoo commercials together.

Lucius Malfoy: "I'm too sexy for my hair."

Yes, it's a frivolous post. It's that kind of day.

MUSIC | KT Tunstall's New Album

I first heard KT Tunstall on her debut album Eye to the Telescope. I fell fast in love (don't I always) with her music: a fast tempo folksy indie-rock accompanied by her strong, slightly grainy vocals. It's the kind of music you just tap your foot to, and it's ironic because Tunstall herself does some great loop pedal work to get the kind of sounds for her music. Some of you might be more familiar with her song, "Suddenly I See" ― which was featured on the movie, The Devil Wears Prada (actually, it was also featured on shows like Grey's Anatomy and Ugly Betty. Tunstall gets around.)

Well, emailed me today that Tunstall has a new album, Drastic Fantastic, coming out on September 18, 2007. I have it pre-ordered in my cart.

Good music needs to be heard. Or watched. So here's the music video for the new single from Drastic Fantastic, "Hold On".

Or watch this video of KT Tunstall performing "I Want You Back" live. Loved her striped T-shirt, loved the way she picked and thumped her guitar, loved her boots and the foot-work on the loop pedals ― and most of all, loved that Scottish accent after her false start, when she confessed, "I was too ex-cited."

Visit KT Tunstall at

Patti Smith Coffeebreaks

Excerpts from coffeebreak, taken off It's an affliction of being a fan. Sometimes I just want to find out what my hero/ine is reading, what she's listening. Then I'll go check out the books, the music, the films. Want to know what makes her tick. What inspires her.

I read a lot. A bit of Blake. Imitation of Christ. Thomas de
Quincy reminiscing on the Lake Regions. Mercury by Anna
Kavan, Tales from Moominvalley. Now I am finishing a new
book by Henning Mankell, the Swedish master of crime. I have
sadly gone through all his detective novels featuring the
slightly alcoholic Kurt Wallender staking his man in the bleak
outposts of Ystad. I highly recommend the entire series as
well as the site dedicated to Inspector Wallender.

The book I am reading is far flung from the moody forests and
the police station adjacent to the old water tower. But Mankell
is a good story teller and his present book, from the mouth of
a dying street kid in South Africa, stands on its own.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

POETRY | One Art


The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster;
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

~ Elizabeth Bishop

Monday, July 23, 2007

BOOKS | The Painted Veil

I have been meaning to write about W. Somerset Maugham's The Painted Veil for a while now, but I have not been particularly inspired to write something worthy of the book. Here, it is my own limited literary resources that fails me, not the subject.

The protagonist, Kitty Fane is a vain, shallow socialite with some beauty. She is married to Walter Fane, a bacteriologist working in Hong Kong who is Kitty's antithesis: brilliant, intellectual, socially withdrawn. It was a marriage of convenience, at least for Kitty ― who just wanted to be married before her younger, inferior sister. Walter however, normally a quiet, dignified gentleman, overwhelmed Kitty with his awkward but intense proposal:

... She had been proposed to often before, but gaily or sentimentally, and she had answered in the same fashion. No one had ever asked her to marry him in a manner which was so abrupt and yet strangely tragic.

Shallow and self-absorbed, Kitty was unable to see how Walter is desperately in love with her. She was bored by a husband she could not understand nor love. The first time she begins to feel anything remotely tender towards Walter was when she falls in love and starts to have an affair with Charles Townsend, a man as self-absorbed as Kitty. In her love for another man, she learns a little of how her husband might have felt towards her, and it allows a "sudden sympathy for the love that Walter bore her."

But we are responsible for the hearts we tame. When Walter learns of the affair, he insists on bringing Kitty with him into a region stricken by a cholera epidemic. When Kitty realises her lover would not jeopardise his political career to marry her, she agrees to follow Walter into the heart of the cholera epidemic. It was an act of passion that verges on destruction. In a manner, Walter wanted to kill Kitty, and in her own fashion, Kitty was willing to let him. Yet their journey would prove to be the road to forgiveness.

In the midst of suffering and death, something shifts gradually within Kitty. She sees the body of a dead beggar. She meets a group of Catholic nuns who chose to stay in the cholera stricken area. It is the nuns, and especially the dignified Mother Superior, who most moves her and shows Kitty how small she truly is. The tiny world of the socialite that Kitty knew was empty. The nuns, with their lives of simplicity and work held more meaning than anything Kitty had ever known:

There was a barrier between her and them. They spoke a different language not only of the tongue but of the heart. And when the door was closed upon her she felt that they had put her out of their minds so completely, going about their neglected work again without delay, that for them she might never had existed.

The spiritual growth of Kitty Fane is subtle and gradual in the novel, but all real change starts slow and small. Towards the end, while Kitty could not learn to love Walter as he had wished, she moves towards an empathy that she had not been able to feel in her previous life; Walter loved her, even when he had no illusions on how she was "silly and frivolous and empty-headed." She too, in her affair loved an unworthy man. Walter and Kitty both, in their passions, raised their lovers on a pedestal and now must suffer the truth. Kitty is not the intelligent one. She is not as educated as the brilliant Walter, but she is the one who came closest to insight:

There was only one thing she could do for Walter now and that she could not think how to. She wanted him to forgive her, not for her sake anymore, but for his own; for she felt that this alone could give him peace of mind. It was useless to ask him for his forgiveness, and if he had a suspicion that she desired it for his good rather than hers his stubborn vanity would make him refuse at all costs (it was curious that his vanity now did not irritate her, it seemed natural and only made her sorrier for him) ...

Was it not pitiful that men, tarrying so short a space in a world where there was so much pain, should thus torture themselves?

Kitty's gradual path to realisation and peace came from a recognition of her own insignificance amidst a greater universe. The moment seems to come unbidden, and almost innocent ― yet significant in the power it has over Kitty's imagination.

Then, on a sudden, for no reason that she know of, from the depths of her unconscious rose a reminiscence of the journey they had taken, she and poor Walter, to the plague-ridden city where he had met his death: one morning they set out in their chairs while it was still dark, and as the day broke she divined rather than saw a scene of such breath-taking loveliness that for a brief period the anguish of her heart was assuaged. It reduced to insignificance all human tribulation.

All these, in a moment of natural beauty; An eternity in an hour. That is epiphany, and it strangely reminds me of a story within the Mahabharata. I first heard while watching the Peter Brook production of the Sanskrit epic.

In the Indian epic, the great warrior Bhisma, grand-uncle to the warring Pandavas and Kauravas, laid dying on a bed of arrows. He begun to tell a tale of a man walking through the forest who realized a tiger was afterhim. He fled but fell through a tiger trap but caught himself on a vine so that he didn't fall all the way down. Another tiger was in the trap and leapt to make the man his prey while the first tiger that followed, clawed from above as well. And at the same moment, a white mouse and black mouse began to gnaw at the vine supporting him. In the midst of this life-and-death circumstances was a bee hive dripping honey, just in reach. The man reaches for the honey, and it was the sweetest thing he ever tasted.

This story from the Mahabharata seems to me, to recapitulate the moment of Kitty's awareness. It is what both stories have to say about reaching for beauty and sweetness in the moment of death and losing all.

There are some books that strike such a perfect chord in their readers that once you read it, you are converted for life. You shall go to your grave as a devoted fan of the writer ― or at the very least, you are convinced enough to seek out other works by the author.

This was how it was for me with Graham Greene. I first read Brighton Rock for a class in the university but I was left somewhat indifferent. It was years later when I picked up The End of the Affair that I came to admire his works.

Reading The Painted Veil has a similar effect on me, I now want to actively seek out other Somerset Maugham titles.

Other Maugham works on my TBR list:

  1. The Magician
    Set in Paris, and this is supposed to be about the life of Aleister Crowley.
  2. The Razor's Edge
    Someone at my yoga studio recommended it as a work exploring spirituality. I'm such an easy bait.
  3. Up At The Villa
    Simply because it was adapted into a film starring Kristin Scott Thomas (What ever happened to her career after The English Patient?)
  4. Of Human Bondage
    Because if you only read one Maugham, this has to be the one. Because it is his most famous books, and because if you mention Somerset Maugham, a lot of the time people will only remember Of Human Bondage, if they know him at all.
    And because one time the censorship authorities wanted to review the copy of Of Human Bondage I ordered for the bookstore ― because the idiots thought it was about something else.
    I would really like to respect the Powers-that-be that protects young children from pornography, but they make it so easy to despise them.
  5. The Moon and Sixpence
    Supposedly based on the life of Paul Gauguin, it's about a man who abandons a comfortable, conventional life to pursue an overwhelming artistic impulse.
  6. The Gentleman In The Parlour
    A journey through Burma, Siam, Cambodia and Vietnam
  7. Theatre
    It was adapted into a film, Being Julia, which had one of the best performance ever by Annette Benning

Bugger Me Seagull

I should be upset about this, but right now all I feel is a profound sense of irony.

I had ticket to watch Sir Ian McKellen last night for The RSC performance of The Seagull. I forgot all about it. I wasn't even doing anything important last night. I was just at home, ironing my clothes.

Since it's over, there isn't anything I could do about it. So, I might as well just let it go, right?

To think I had it all written down on my diary so that I will not forget. Oh well.


As it turns out, my equanimity on this issue is superficial. I am more upset about this than I realise. When I told my colleagues about how I forgot about the play, some actually raised their voice at how stupid and careless I was. That got me defensive and bristling. Afterall, it is MY money and MY ticket. It is just a play, not life or death.

"How could you forget?" they screamed at me.

"Because I don't remember, Hence I forget," I snapped.

The people who are angry at ME missing the play are the ones who would not pay to watch Ian McKellen. So why are they taking it so personally when I have more reasons to be upset than them?

What I know is this: my defensiveness on this is because I am not as calm about missing the play as I pretend to be. A part of me is angry at myself for forgetting. Too often, I find that my anger and defensive reactions are less due to the events (which is just a stimulus) - but rather, it is because I allowed myself to succumb to my own insecurities and fears.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

BOOKS | Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

[Picture on the Left: The copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows I was reading earlier today. The lighting on my camera phone is cranky, so the effect did not turn out as well as I thought it might. Probably it was also the angle at which I took the picture.]

There will be no spoilers in this post because I have not finished reading the new Harry Potter. But then again, I do not intend to spoil anyone. It's bad enough at work my boss and colleagues are discussing the spoilers they read online or which they found out by skipping to the back. I DO NOT WANT TO BE SPOILED.

There are 607 pages and I'm 62 pages into Deathly Hallows, and so far it is okay.

The launch was this morning, and I survived to blog another day. It was fun, watching the queue right outside the bookstore as people are eagerly waiting for the book. As the automated shutter door opens slowly, it was a little girl who crawled into the store first just to pick up a copy.

As a book-geek myself, it was sweet to watch a young child with that kind of excitement for a book. The fact that the parents are willing to bring their child to a bookstore so early in the morning is also nice. The fact is, there are a lot of things for a child to do for entertainment these days, and the fact they are still reading is something I find comforting. I enjoy bitching about how J.K. Rowling is richer than the queen, but to see once more the kind of excitement and buzz the Harry Potter novels can bring to people, I think maybe she did do something good.

Just helping out this morning with the Harry Potter launch - rushing to the inventory room for new cartons of Harry Potter books as they were being snatched up by eager fans - it felt good. I was happy this morning even when I was busy and sweaty, and having to answer for the 101th time the difference between the Adult and the Children covers. Often, being in the same job for too long you start to forget why you came into the job in the first place. Your job becomes just a job. But I felt a familiar joy this morning because of Harry Potter. Harry Potter made me remember why I chose to work in a bookstore - because I like books and I wanted to work in a place that shares this love for reading.

So, I'm only about 10% into the books. I may have something to post about it later next week, depending on how fast I read it. If you're reading the Deathly Hallows too, have fun and have a good weekend.

Friday, July 20, 2007

BOOKS | Russian Literature and the Art of the Novella

I'm planning for a Russian themed reading list next year (July is not even over and I'm already looking ahead to next year. *sigh*) - A Year of Russian Reading 2008, as I call it.

For next year, I shall attempt to read as deeply and as widely from the pool of Russian literature available in English. In anticipation of this, I have been checking out reading materials.

That was when I came across the Art of the Novella range published by Melville House. I have picked out My Life by Anton Chekhov, First Love by Ivan Turgenev and The Devil by Leo Tolstoy. The range also includes The Eternal Husband by Fyodor Dostoevsky, but I already have another edition by my preferred Russian translators, so I skipped it.

[Picture Above: The three Russian novellas published by Melville House I have laid out at my desk at work. The Homer face is from a publicity package to tie-in with The Simpsons Movie. You have to admit - the Simpson yellow against the colours of the novellas just looks good.]

I've noticed some interesting forthcoming titles from the Art of the Novella series:

In August 2007, Melville House will release How the Two Ivans Quarrelled by Nikolai Gogol. I might already have this in one of my Gogol anthologies. So I might skip it, although the temptation to just buy a copy to complete the collection is just too tempting.

Arriving February 2008:

But the one I have set my eye on is The Lemoine Affair by Marcel Proust. I have never seem this title before. Is anyone aware if there has been a prior English translation of this novella?

The Art of the Novella series is a good range to keep. The titles selected are interesting, and they have these minimalist monotone covers that are rather eye-catching. Most importantly, they are all in easily digestible novellas, which is good if you are hard pressed to finish your books - like myself.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

View of My Desk: Updated With Titles

[Picture 1, Below: Work Desk] I'm just in one of those restless moods so I took a picture of my desk at work. Not very impressive but at least it's "neat". And that's Elizabeth Hardwick's Sleepless Night in front of the keyboard. And a postcard picture of Penelope Cruz from the movie Volver.

[Picture 2, Below] Right at the edge of my work desk is the stack of my book reservations. Since I can't possibly buy everything all at once, I usually "stagger" the purchase - buying a few books at a time. Or checking the library for the titles.

Because I took the picture with my camera phone, the resolution is rather low. So, for those interested, the book titles, from the top:

  1. Mavis Gallant, Green Water, Green Sky
  2. Janet Frame, Owls Do Cry
  3. Barbara Sjoholm, Incognito Street: How Travel Made Me A Writer
  4. Loung Ung, First They Killed My Father
  5. Ross E. Dunn, The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveller of the 14th Century
  6. Janet Flanner, Paris Was Yesterday & 2 more volumes of her Paris Journals
  7. Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts
  8. Mir Amman, A Tale of Four Dervishes
  9. Florence King, Confessions of A Failed Southern Lady
  10. Eileen Chang, Love In A Fallen City
  11. Proof copy for Alone in the Kitchen With an Eggplant, edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler
  12. Rebecca Solnit, Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics
  13. Buffy: The Vampire Slayer Omnibus Volume 1
  14. Ryszard Kapuschinski, The Shadow of the Sun
  15. Mahabharata I: The Beginning Volume 1
  16. Ryszard Kapuschinski, The Emperor
  17. Ryszard Kapuschinski, Another Day of Life
  18. Natsume Soseki, Botchan
  19. Danny Dreyer, ChiRunning
  20. Christopher Kremmer, The Carpet Wars
  21. Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond
  22. Catalogue from my publisher
  23. Proof copy of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingslover

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

DVD | 200 Pounds Beauty

I had fun watching this Korean romantic comedy, 200 Pounds Beauty. It was a major box-office hit in Korea, and it did well in the local cinema too. Although I missed it on the big screen, there is no escaping the movie - one of my colleague has the soundtrack as the ringtone on her mobile phone. The popularity of the film is curious, and as a cultural phenomena, worth examining.

Ben Affleck was once quoted as saying that Gwyneth Paltrow is a skinny girl with a fat girl inside. I wondered if the popularity of this film is due to the fact that deep down inside everyone is a fat girl desperate to be loved. Hence something in this Korean movie touches these deeply-seated desires.

The story goes like this: Female protagonist Kang Hanna has a beautiful voice but because of her weight she could only be the lip sync vocalist for pop-star Ammy. She is in love with music producer Han Sangjun, an ambitious man who is appears to be just using Hanna. All the while Hanna is singing, she is really singing for Sangjun.

One evening, Ammy humiliates Hanna, which leads the latter to a drastic decision tpo undergo full body plastic surgery. So, with a quick montage, the Ugly Duckling is transformed. (The audience get a Korean cover of "Beautiful Girl" as background music.)

So the stage is set - the lowly fat girl becomes a slim beauty, and she auditions for Han Sangjun, posing as a Korean-American girl, Jenny. With her natural singing voice and newfound physical beauty, she wins a singing contract. But all this comes with a price, because she cannot allow anyone, including Sangjun to know that she was the fat, ugly Hanna who had full-body plastic surgery. So Hanna/Jenny lies to everyone, denying herself, denying her father, and in the process loses her best friend and herself.

Yet in spite of her efforts at concealing her fat, ugly history, Sangjun still finds out Jenny is Hanna - through a song Hanna wrote, which Jenny sang - a song Hanna wrote out of love for Sangjun. Soon Sangjun starts avoiding her, and Hanna/Jenny learns love eludes her even when she is beautiful - and the heartbreak hurts more than plastic surgery.

Personally I always found programmes like Extreme Makeover deeply disturbing. I could never bring myself to believe plastic surgery is the solution to making others love us more - which was the reason I refused to watch it when it was first screened in the cinema. Also, there are some scenes where we see people being unkind and mean to Hanna, and I don't like to watch meanness onscreen; I see enough of it in real-life.

But I'm glad I finally caught 200 Pounds Beauty on DVD. This is of course a romantic comedy and so we demand the predictable crowd-pleasing elements. But the film does try to go beyond the predictable "Ugly Duckling transforms to win the love of the Prince" story. I imagine if the film was produced by some B-grade Hollywood director, we will have the neat happy ending where the former fat girl and the handsome lead kiss and fall in love. But there's a slightly different ending in this Korean film: The female protagonist goes on to a successful career as herself, Hanna - but she's no longer infatuated with the male lead. Instead there is a hint of a growing admiration from the guy. It's like he is seeing her with fresh eyes, but he can't pin down what is it exactly; It's not her looks, it's not her voice. It's something else. I'm going to offer my take on what it is:

Earlier in the film, as Hanna/Jenny attempts to sex up her performance to seduce Sangjun, all she got was perplexed indifference from the guy. He tells Jenny she cares too much about how she looks. Then he plays for her a video recording of Fat Hanna singing, and he asks her what she feels about Fat Hanna's performance.

"She sings with her heart," replies Jenny/Hanna, and she should know. Sangjun of course agrees, and he tells Jenny/Hanna that she is not even half of Fat Hanna.

This is the bit that tells me 200 Pounds Beauty is more than a Shallow Hal-type of movie. It isn't a movie about a fat girl who finds love by losing weight - as I had thought it was. Right from the start there were indications that Han Sangjun saw something true and beautiful in Fat Hanna. His kindness to her isn't a facade. He does care for Hanna, the real Hanna. Somewhere in this good-looking guy is a genuine soul that sees the Ugly Duckling for who she is, and he likes her for it. This is why he was able to deduce Jenny is Hanna - because he sees her. And at the end, when Hanna stops pretending to be Jenny, it is Sangjun who is drawn. It isn't so much that he's seeing a new Hanna - but rather, he is finally seeing the true Hanna as all that she was meant to be.

This film doesn't just have Ugly Duckling transforming into Swan. This film also has the opportunistic guy revealing himself worthy to be the Prince. The transformation goes both ways. Not many conventional Hollywood romantic comedies consider both side of the story.

Finally, another reason why the film is so enjoyable is the soundtrack. It is mainly Korean covers of familiar American hits by Janet Jackson, Belinda Carlile and Blondie, but they use the music effectively.

This is the Korean version of "Maria" on the soundtrack of 200 Pounds Beauty. (Korean group, Loveholic has been credited for this version):

Besides a good fun time, 200 Pounds Beauty also made me nostalgic for some great music that I never tired of. Here is the MTV for the original "Maria", performed by Blondie. Even at 62, Deborah Harry still rocks.

CHALLENGE | Chanced Upon Unread Authors Challenge

Came across a new reading challenge last night. (I never learn, do I?) It's the Unread Authors Challenge, and it's organised by Sycorax Pine. I like the premise behind the challenge:

... almost all of us have authors who we have long meant to read, but somehow never gotten around to ... Perhaps you have always been intrigued but intimidated by their work. Perhaps "required reading" and your favorite authors have taken up most of your time. Perhaps they have been sitting on your shelves for years, continually trumped by new fascinations.

So, between September 2007 to February 2008, participants strive to read six books by authors they have never read before. It's flexible, where you can read multiple works by the same authors, or one book each by six authors.

There's something about this challenge that sings to me, because I do have too many authors I would like to try, but never got around to. But most of all, I always believe I need to venture out to try more authors, more variety - to challenge myself by expanding my horizon.

It's okay to love a particular genre or author and to read extensively in your area of interest. That's what often gives depth to our interest, I believe. But it is important that we also look beyond what is known and comfortable. I think I owe it to myself at least, to try something new.

This is at least how I think I want to approach the challenge.

If I do pick up the challenge that is. Still considering.

But if you're interested, do drop by Sycorax Pine's Unread Authors Challenge to sign up.

BOOKS | Sabriel and the Inglorious After Dark

I'm on a few reading challenges right now, so it was probably foolhardy to have done so - but I've picked up Garth Nix's Sabriel recently. Imani, Chris and Nymeth gave their thumbs-up for the trilogy, so when I found it just lying there on the library trolley last week, I brought it home.

I'm 56 pages into the book, and I thought it started well. We start with a death and a birth, and Abhorsen confronts a dark spirit for the life of a child. I like the world that is created, where the dead spirits are always escaping into the mortal world, and necromancers like Abhorsen has to bind them or cast them back to the gates of the afterlife. I'm looking forward to reading more of the book. (Big thanks to the fellow-bloggers who recommended the Abhorsen trilogy.)

I've also recently brought back from the office the proofs for Inglorious by Joanna Kavenna and Haruki Murakami's After Dark. My boss was finally done with After Dark and has kindly passed the proof onto the next person (me).

I have Joanna Kavenna's earlier book, Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule , which is on my 100 Books to Read 2007 list, so I recognised her name when I first came across it. Inglorious is a work of fiction, and the premise sounds interesting:

Rosa Lane is a dynamic journalist in her thirties, already the picture of London achievement. Her handsome boyfriend is something in politics and her other friends are confident, prosperous and ambitious. But one afternoon soon after the death of her mother, staring at her computer screen at work, she fails to see the point, walks out of her job - and begins her long fall from modern grace.

It seems like a modern tale of a successful woman who suffers an existentialist moment of doubt and questions all that she has taken for granted. Her newfound shift in her outlook gradually alienates her from her friends and all who claims to love her. Her life as she knew it falls apart as she muddles her way towards something more meaningful. It promises to be funny and heartwarming, and it's the kind of story I like - realising you f**ked up in life, and learning to startover, except instructions are not included.

So, that's my new book acquisitions of last week. When my pay comes in later in the week I'll probably have a few new books lined up.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Harry Potter and the Evil of Pink Women

My colleagues in the Children Books Department are running around like headless chickens with the last minute preparation for the launch of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I'm smirking in the background. Well, okay, I'm gloating and silently thankful that I'm not involved until this Saturday. But somewhere in my dessicated heart and bitter old soul, I find myself looking forward to this Saturday. And getting my hands on the new Harry Potter novel in the Bloomsbury Adult cover. I think the hype and the excitement is finally getting to me.

Meanwhile, after watching Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, one of my colleague now has Dolores Umbridge on her desktop wallpaper. She was quite taken with that Demonic Matron of Blinding Pink, and has adopted Umbridge as her role model.

Yes, I am slightly disturbed.

Pink is evil.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

YOGA | Gratitude For The Body We Are Born With

This Sunday morning is Shadow Yoga with J. I found out J. is learning from a Tai Chi master they have teaching at the studio recently. I like it that I'm learning from a teacher who is actively learning from different disciplines; She is also integrating what she learnt from Tai Chi into our Shadow Yoga classes. It makes me respect her more, her expansive approach to learning and teaching. Once more, it assures me that she is someone I can learn a lot from. After my Prelude to Shadow Yoga course ends, I might try to make it to her regular classes. That will probably mean more hours of yoga. Oh well. Who needs a social life, right?

For today's session, J. made us do some movements to get our chi running through the body. I felt a little throbbing in my left forearm while doing the movements ― it was a subtle sensation, but palpable. Later J. explains: if there's injuries in the body, the chi will be trying to unblock the energy at the injuried area. That was when the sensation I felt made sense: I have strained the muscle on my left forearm the week before ― but I have not told J. about my injury. And it was definitely not a placebo effect.

When we finished the movements, J. asked to look at our palms. I turned up my palms and found that they were ruddy red. J. and the other student, V. turned up their palms also ― but both of them have palms with spotches of pink.

So why the difference between my palms and theirs? Apparently the deep redness of my palms after the exercise indicates I have strong, healthy chi coursing through my body (in fact, it appears my chi is stronger than my teacher's.)

J. then reminds me that the good chi is a gift from my parents ― a reminder to gratitude.

Previously, J. has also told me that I am quite flexible in my hips, groins, and back. I am also quite open in my shoulders ― which is good because it will allow me to do some advance poses like Mr Iyenger ― but she also tempers the compliments with reminders to protect the open shoulders, as they will also be more prone to over-stretching and injuries.

I find it hard to feel cocky about my physical advantages in J's class ― and it's a good thing. At times my ego can get the better of me, and subsequently I behave in an over-bearing fashion. In her gentle but direct way, J. has managed to highlight my strengths while keeping my ego in check. Most of all, in the past few classes, J. always reminded me that my body is a gift from my parents. I think this the most important lesson of all; Not the Shadow Yoga sequence, not the Uddiyana Bandha (which confuses me) ― but this: All the yoga I am doing is only possible by the grace of this body.

The gift of my body is an act of grace, because it is not something I have earned, but it came to me because my mother loved me enough to take special care of herself during her pregnancy.

My mother used to tell me how she regretted not taking better care of herself when she was pregnant with my older brother. Back then, money was tight and as it was her first pregnancy, she was ill-informed on the importance of pre-natal diet and exercise. She blamed herself when my brother was born a sickly baby. So, when she was pregnant the second time, she made extra effort on her pre-natal preparations. She asked other mothers around the neighbourhood for advice. Later, when she found out I was lactose-intolerant, she made certain I was able to get the proper nutrition in my semi-solid food.

As a result, I was a robust child. I rarely fall sick, I suffered no major allergies, no asthma ― and as J. revealed to me, I have a pretty flexible body with some strength, and I have good chi.

I have taken my body for granted for too long. I have been unaware of the advantages I have over other people who are not as open in their hips and groins. I can come to a squat quite easily ― without realising that other people can't squat like I do, because of tight hamstrings or ankles. I can do forward bends quite well, and my backbends come quite easily to me.

But it all came from my parents, especially my mother, who made extra effort on her pre-natal care so that her second child can grow up strong. It all came from a place of love, and I wonder if I can do enough to deserve it. This thought is particularly painful for me, because my mother has been suffering from ill health these past few years. It does not seem right that I should be so blessed when she is not, because she is the source of my blessings.

So, if anyone should ask me what I learnt in J's Shadow Yoga, the most honest answer will have to be gratitude. Gratitude for the body I am born with. And the realisation that I have taken it for granted too long. What I do with this knowledge however, is a test of what kind of a person I am.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

QUIZ | Susan Moeller Who?

I had to retake the quiz. The answer is much better. Even if I have never heard of this book. But, much better. "Signify nothing" my ass!

You're Compassion Fatigue!
by Susan Moeller
You used to care, but now it's just getting too difficult. You cared about the plight of people in lands near and far, but now the media has bombarded you with images of suffering to the point that you just don't have the energy to go on. You've become cold and heartless, as though you'd lived in New York City for a year or so. But you stand as a serious example to all others that they should turn off their TV sets and start caring again.
Take the Book Quizat the Blue Pyramid.

Friday, July 13, 2007

QUIZ | I am The Sound and the Fury

Hey! What's that about "signifying nothing"? I'm an onion! I have layers!

Okay, so maybe sometimes people mistake my angst for depth. ;p

You're The Sound and the Fury!
by William Faulkner

Strong-willed but deeply confused, you are trying to come to grips with a major crisis in your life. You can see many different perspectives on the issue, but you're mostly overwhelmed with despair at what you've lost. People often have a hard time understanding you, but they have some vague sense that you must be brilliant anyway. Ultimately, you signify nothing.

Take the Book Quiz at the Blue Pyramid.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Murakami: Jazz Messenger

The New York Times features an essay by Haruki Murakami on music and writing:

One of my all-time favorite jazz pianists is Thelonious Monk. Once, when someone asked him how he managed to get a certain special sound out of the piano, Monk pointed to the keyboard and said: "It can’t be any new note. When you look at the keyboard, all the notes are there already. But if you mean a note enough, it will sound different. You got to pick the notes you really mean!"

I often recall these words when I am writing, and I think to myself, “It’s true. There aren’t any new words. Our job is to give new meanings and special overtones to absolutely ordinary words.” I find the thought reassuring. It means that vast, unknown stretches still lie before us, fertile territories just waiting for us to cultivate them.

I'm not sure if everyone who reads Haruki Murakami feels the same way, but reading his books, I often feel his narrative voice lulling me into a quiet, private space. There's just him and me, at a table, and he's having a smoke. He's taking his time; there's no hurry, no place to go. He looks up, sighs, and then he starts telling me a story in his measured, deep voice. He's telling me the story of these people he knows and the strange things that happen to them.

That's how I feel when I read Haruki Murakami. It's like chilling out to some good jazz.

5 Minutes With AL Kennedy

Anyone read The Independent's 5-Minute Interview with A.L. Kennedy?

The most surprising thing that ever happened to me was ...

I was happy three years ago. That was a shock.

Been there. Done that. Received due skepticism from friends.

I actually think I know what's she's talking about here. Sometimes you're so used to being unhappy that when your life finally arrives at a sort of peace and happiness, you're so stunned that anyone could knock you over with a feather.

Other than that, A.L. Kennedy reveals in a brief interview just how wry and funny she can be.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Grumblings about Harry Potter Launch and Other Stuff

The world eagerly awaits Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Have you pre-ordered your copy yet?

The bookstore where I work will be launching the book on 21st July, at 7:01 am. I have been informed by my boss that I will have to report for work that Saturday at 6 am. They tell me everyone will be needed to help with the preparation (I have already done some heavy lifting for the HP promotional materials. Thankfully I possess some physical strength.)

I groan just thinking about this, because it screws up my daily schedule: On normal workdays I usually get up at 5 am for my morning yoga practice and to prepare lunch (the eating places around my office are not very vegetarian-friendly). If I have to be at the bookstore by 6 am, this will mean having to get up by 4 am if I wish to finish my routine. That means I need to be in bed by 8 pm the night before ― except I have yoga class that evening and can only be home by 9 pm.

I realised how I have organised my life around a rigid schedule, and when it is disrupted I get agitated. I need to breathe more, but I desperately need the rigid schedule to stay disciplined ― because I lose focus easily.

But most of all, I don't want to be a part of the Harry Potter launch. Too much hype tarnished the magic of the Harry Potter books for me.

I admit: I'm one of the millions of readers who will be picking up the seventh Harry Potter this July. Not because I love the series though ― I enjoyed the earlier books well enough, and I was enchanted by the first film adaptation ― but now I just feel obliged to finish the last book. I don't give a damn if Harry dies at the end. All that publicity to guess the ending of Harry Potter 7 just leaves me cold and cynical about the banal commercial side of the book industry; I hate this bitter side of me.

On unrelated threads, Deslily brought to my attention this new Dragonlance title, Dragons Of The Highlord Skies. It's part of the Lost Chronicles series, and Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman co-author the title. I read the Dragonlance series when I was a teenager and I was such a big fan. I wept when Sturm Brightblade died by the hands of his friend, Kitiara, a Dragon Highlord ― but I was furious when Kitiara died and Tanis did nothing to protect her from Lord Soth.

I'm tempted by this new Dragonlance title, because I liked the character of Kitiara (I have always been drawn to the morally ambiguous characters). Most of all, it will be my re-introduction to the Dragonlance series.

Over the years I read less from the sword-and-sorcery fantasy genre. In my younger days, I used to stalk out the bookstores for the latest titles by my favourite fantasy authors ― but now George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire is the only fantasy series I still look forward to.

All is not lost though. Since signing up for Carl's Once Upon A Time Challenge, I have been thinking about how I would like to do more Fantasy and SF readings. The geek that I am, I have drawn up a list:

Dark Orpheus's Fantasy and SF Reading List (In Progress):

  1. Octavia E. Butler's Bloodchild and Other Stories
  2. Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles
  3. T.H. White's The Once and Future King
  4. James Tiptree, Jr.'s Her Smoke Rose Up Forever
  5. C. J. Cherryh's Cyteen (re-read)
  6. Roger Zelzany's Chronicles of Amber, re-read Lord of Light
  7. Patricia McKillip's Riddlemaster Series
  8. Walter M. Miller Jr.'s A Canticle for Liebowitz
  9. Tim Powers's The Stress of Her Regard
  10. Robin Hobb's The Farseer Trilogy

How does the list look? I'm open to any recommendations. Good fantasy and SF titles you've read and loved. I have a whole lifetime to read, so who cares if the TBR pile is already too high?

There was another title that caught my eye at work ― Natasha Mostert's Season of the Witch. I was prepared to let it go, unless I find it one day in the library, but Carl had to go post a review on it and pique my interest further. He also mentioned that it's the perfect book to read for this September's R.I.P. Challenge. So, you know what? I think I will.

Monday, July 02, 2007

YOGA | Trying to read the YogaSutra

Since attending the Intermediate Power Yoga Workshop recently, I've picked up The Essential YogaSutra again. YogaSutra stands as one of the essential text for aspiring students of yoga. One would think book-reading will be the easiest part of yoga practice. Alas, I've been reading this book very slowly since December last year. I am an inexperienced student, and a lot in the YogaSutra still eludes me. I will need to re-read the book many times before I can claim to understand it any better. Still, one has to start somewhere.

The version I've finally settled on is the translation by Tibetan Buddhist teacher Michael Roache and his partner Christie McNally. Roache and McNally attempt to make the YogaSutra accessible to the common readers, and they provided some very down to earth commentary on the sanskrit verses. Still, it isn't as smooth going as I have hoped it would be. Then, there are some parts of the text that just make sense immediately.

I.12~13 Stopping it requires constant practice,
and giving up your attachments.
Constant practice means
striving to be there.


In a general sense, "constant practice" here means the willingness to work very hard to reach our perfect destiny, far beyond the mistakes our mind now makes. Quite simply, we will never be able to complete all the hard work needed to reach our destiny if we don't have a very strong motivation for doing so.

This motivation comes to all of us at some point in our lives. Most often it is some kind of personal disaster or tragedy: the person we most love dies or leaves us, we find out we have cancer ― anything that wakes us up to what really matters. People are in pain, and it's up to us to help them. It is our destiny to be the one who helps them.

We begin with a daily inner practice. It will always include three essential elements: being careful never to hurt others; learning to pray or meditate; and relentlessly exploring the question of where things really came from.

This part sums up the motivation that drives my own practice. Yes, I did come to yoga during a turning point in my life. Yes, this passage speaks of what motivates me for a spiritual practice.

While it's great to be able to see progress in your practice, it does take time and you just have to allow the poses to unfold in its own time. In a previous post, Stefanie commented that gardening is similar to yoga, and I agree: Yoga is like gardening ― you can provide the best conditions for growth ― good quality seeds, sufficient sunlight, good soil, enough water and fertilizer ― but after you have done all you can, you just have to step aside and allow nature to take its course.

Similarly, we need to make great efforts with our practice ― provide the optimum conditions for growth ― after that, we step aside, "giving up your attachments" as they say. Attachments here refer to wanting events as how we prefer them, rather than things as they are. It is asked of us to trust, to surrender to the unfolding of karma.

For us mere mortals, it can often seem like the hardest thing to do. How do you work for something without wanting to see results? Surely we need a goal to work for? I often find it frustrating to try so hard and not see the reward. And those are the moments when I find myself losing direction in my practice, when I focus on the rewards rather than the practice itself.

But note: there are work to be done even as you step back to allow nature to take its course; You still need to tend to the garden: weeding, watering, adding the fertilizer, keeping the pests away. Similarly, you still have to practice, to pay attention, and keep the negative influences at bay. Yoga demands this balance of effort with surrender. No wonder I am so lousy at balance poses.

T. S. Eliot reminds us: “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”

So, let us just try. Let go. For now, I'm trying to keep these thoughts in mind: "We begin with a daily inner practice. It will always include three essential elements: being careful never to hurt others; learning to pray or meditate; and relentlessly exploring the question of where things really came from." That's already quite a lot for a lifetime.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

YOGA | Shadow Play

My friend WW picked up Shadow Yoga a while back and she often spoke well of the practice and of her teacher, J. I promised her I would try it out, but as things go, I procrasinated. Until today that is: I turned up for my first Shadow Yoga and I met the teacher, J. She is amiable and kind ― a nurturing figure with a Earth Mother kind of energy about her. I like her, and I can see why WW would like her too.

Probably because of the summer break and people are away, there was only two students in the class. I was not too bothered by this, because I have been in situations like this before; you get more attention from the teacher and you get to ask a lot more questions.

The class was more hands-on than I have expected ― and I mean hands on: a lot of touching, prodding, pressing and alignments. I like it that J. focus on the healing properties of yoga; throughout the class she keep telling us about how certain parts of our body correspond to various meridians ― it was yoga as bodyworks. Most of all, she tells us that one day when we are advanced enough in our practice, we would be able to use yoga to heal ourselves. While I am still whirling from information overload, I know I can learn a lot from J. I just need to be able to keep up with her.

After some prodding at our bodies, J. explained the importance of strength and flexibility for the practice. The other student was flexible, but not strong, while J. pointed out (correctly) that I have flexibility and some strength. It is the strength that is going to support the asana, and so we have to work on building the strength to avoid injuries.

I found Shadow Yoga a challenging practice, as a lot is going on at the same time. It's hard enough to co-ordinate the muscles in the asana, you also have to maintain the Uddiyana Bandha ― the Upward Abdominal Lock. It takes tremendous concentration, and I was surprised J. calls Shadow Yoga the basics for yoga practice. The Uddiyana Bandha was not taught in my Ashtanga 1 classes partly because it was considered an advance technique ― to be taught only after the student masters the physical poses first. But I was looking to enrich my yoga foundations, and the Uddiyana Bandha will be important as I advance in my practice.

Meanwhile, in my online research on Shadow Yoga, I found out that Yoga Journal has a feature on Shandor Remete, the pioneer of Shadow Yoga. It traces the influences behind his school of yoga:

About 10 years into his studies with Iyengar, Shandor learned Ashtanga and became an adept at that practice as well. He has also studied the Japanese martial art of sword mastery, a practice which teaches that the hara (the center of the body, located below the navel) is both pivotal and sacred. Shandor thinks the hara is the kanda mentioned in yogic texts—the source of the body's 72,000 nadis or energy channels—and that the practice of Uddiyana Bandha echoes these Japanese teachings. Despite the diversity of the practices he's studied, Shandor has been able to see their similarities and weave them together into a cohesive whole.

I'm going to try to practice the sequence taught by J. and observe how it affects my regular yoga practice. Meanwhile, my thighs are going to ache like hell.

I can't end this post without drawing your attention to this title: Yoga ― with text by Linda Sparrowe and photography by David Martinez. The book opens with a tour of the history of yoga, from the Yoga-sutra by Patanjali, to the transmission of the practice to the West. It is a nice appetitiser to the main course ― more than 350 breath-taking black and white photographs of modern yoga masters doing asanas. One marvels at the flexibility and strength of these yoga masters. Yes, yoga is not about achieving the perfect pose. One can reap considerable benefits from yoga without being able to do the advance asanas like David Swenson, Ana Forrest or Baron Baptiste. But these photographs remind me of the grace and power of the dance of life known as yoga ― achieved through tremendous will, discipline and focus. It is awe-inspiring, and a call to practice.