Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Books for London

I'm excited about my London trip. It's 10:38 pm right now and I need to be at the airport early tomorrow morning. I should turn in soon, but I'm trying to finish this post. It will be short.

Some of you may know, part of the fun of planning for a trip is what books to bring along. I did very little planning for this trip. I scribbled down a few places I want to see, but I'm keeping my schedule very easy. It will probably be a matter of waking up every day and deciding at breakfast what I want to do that day. Still, there is the question of what books to bring. I suspect I will be bringing books and DVDs back, so I'm keeping it down to a few:

  1. Lonely Planet London - my guide. That, and just asking around.
  2. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Kate Summerscale - read the book about crime and murder in Victorian London, then walk around the places mentioned. :)
    I actually started on the book a few days ago and I'm hooked.
  3. Ice Princess, Camilla Lackberg [translated by Steven T. Murray] - I heard it was going to be cold. So I grab this one.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Yoga and Grameen

Here's a post that combines my reading with yoga.

Muhammad Yunus's Banker to the Poor is one of the titles I have shortlisted for the World Citizen Challenge.

In 2006, Yunus and Grameen Bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in using micro-credit to battle poverty. The idea of micro-credit is simple: lend small loans to the very poor (usually around USD 200 or lesser) and allow them to start their own business as a means of sustaining themselves. Each loan is usually repaid within 6 months to a year - yet it offers a proven hope against poverty. In fact, the repayment rate is about 95% - and specifically, results have shown that women are more likely to put the profits from their business back into the family: for the children, for education, better nutrition, to improve the standard of living etc.

What has this got to do with yoga? Some yoga teachers and practitioners have come together to found Yoga Gives Back, an organization to help support the Grameen Foundations. Real yoga is about the practice off the mat. You practice, and something within yourself changes, expands. You see more clearly. You feel more. That is when you recognize that you are connected to this world - and you have a duty to try to be a positive force in this world.

Here's the link, if you would like to contribute to the Grameen Foundation. Or you can help spread the word on your blog.

I leave you with this quote:

Poverty does not belong in civilized human society. Its proper place is in a museum. That's where it will be. When schoolchildren go with their teachers and tour the poverty museums, they will be horrified to see the misery and indignity of human beings. They will blame their forefathers for tolerating this inhumane condition and for allowing it to continue in such a large segment of the population until the early part of the twenty-first century.

~Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus

YOGA | Building Inner Strength

Received this Yoga Journal e-newletter in my email box today: it's on building Inner Strength:

Breathe. Alternate-nostril breathing can help calm you down. Close your right nostril with your right thumb and inhale through your left nostril for four seconds. Immediately close the left nostril with your right ring finger. At the same time remove your thumb from the right nostril and exhale for eight seconds. Switch to the left nostril, and begin again. This, Devi says, cleanses and rejuvenates vital channels of energy.

Affirm. As you inhale, think: The strength I feel inside me is enough to sustain me during any experience I have today. As you exhale: The compassion from my heart will lead me to help anyone in need. With such thoughts, Devi says, what we're doing is strengthening and bringing prana into our system, which helps us become strong and compassionate toward others.

Relax. Lie down in Savasana (Corpse Pose) and mentally go over the parts of your body one by one for 15 to 20 minutes.

Goodness knows I need the inner strength these days.

Monday, February 23, 2009


I'm utterly besotted with Nellie McKay.

Ever since I chanced upon the video of her performance for TED a few days ago, she became a singer I had to follow.

Yes, she is pretty, with her cutesy white-blonde hair and charming smile. Yes, she sings a mighty jaunty tune. Nellie McKay is everything sugar and spice - but she is not always nice. (Or maybe she is) She is also a musician with an uncompromising streak who fell out with a major record label because they wouldn't let her do her album the way she wants. Beneath that adorable face, this girl has backbones.

Nellie McKay's style is whimsy, playful and a little naughty. Watch her on this video, with her ukulele performing "Mother of Pearl" - the Sarah Palin version.

Feminists don't have a sense of humor
Feminists just want to be alone (boo-hoo-hoo-hoo)
Feminists spread vicious lies and rumor
They have a tumor on their funny bone

They say child molestation isn't funny (hahahahaha)
Rape and degradation's just a crime (lighten up, ladies)
Rampant prostitution, sex for money (what's wrong with that)
Can't these chicks do anything but whine

Dance break
(Take it off)

They say cheap objectification isn't witty (it's hot)
Equal work and wages worth the fight (sing us a new one)
On demand abortion, every city (okay, but no gun control)
Won't these women ever get a life

Feminists don't have a sense of humor (poor Hilary)
Feminists and vegetarians (Make mine a Big Mac)
Feminists spread vicious lies and rumor
They're far too sensitive to ever be a ham
That's why these feminists just need to find a man

I'm Sarah Palin, and I approve of this message

Nellie McKay on myspace

Dara Torres Is Back with a Book and More

You know Dara Torres. She was the 41 year old Olympic-class swimmer, and mother of one. She competed in five Olympics, set 3 world records, and won 12 Olympic medals. In the 2008 Olympics, she missed the gold medal for 50-metre freestyle by 1/100th of a second. Did she moan and cry about it? No. She took it with good grace and a self-deprecating humour. This is the mark of a real champion; it's not just about winning the gold. It is also how you go about winning, and how you behave when you don't.

Did we think this will be the last of Dara Torres? No. According to this interview, Torres is training for the World Championship this July. She also has a book coming out this April - Age Is Just a Number - written with Elizabeth Weil.

I admit I geek out when I talk about Dara Torres. She captures my imagination because she is the kind of inspiration I want in my life. I want to see more stories like Dara Torres's - stories that tell me - with enough willpower and perservance, we can overcome the limitations imposed on us.

Well, that and the fact Dara Torres looks really good.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Neko Case Album on NPR

I know some of us will be buying Neko Case's new album, Middle Cyclone, the moment it reach the stores. For the rest of us, it is likely the album would never reach the local music store. (Because the music store SUCKS!)

I was all excited when I found out NPR is offering an Exclusive First Listen to stream the complete album starting 23rd February. That's a few days from now. I am a happy puppy.

PS: The New York Times did a big feature on Neko Case recently. (hat-tip to Nymeth)

I swear: the album cover is just much fun:

BOOKS | 13 for 2009 PRIME

13 is the key - but anything beyond 13 is a bonus.

  1. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher • Kate Summerscale
    [21/02/2009 ~

  2. The Redbreast • Jo Nesbø [translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett]
    [01/01/2009 ~ 09/02/2009]

  3. The Girl Who Played with Fire • Stieg Larsson [Translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland]
    [02/02/2009 ~

  4. Cyteen: Regenesis • C.J. Cherryh
    [24/01/2009 ~

  5. Arabian Sands • Wilfred Thesiger
    [21/11/2008 ~

  6. Drood • Dan Simmons
    [05/12/2008 ~

  7. The Great War for Civilisation • Robert Fisk
    [13/01/2009 ~

  8. The Eight • Katherine Neville

  9. A Book of Silence • Sara Maitland

  10. My Fantoms • Théophile Gautier

  11. Victorine • Maude Hutchins

  12. Travels With A Tangerine • Tim Mackintosh-Smith

There is no way I can just list 13 books to read. So, I hope to finish at least 13 titles from the pool of titles below:

  1. The Travels of Ibn Battutah, edited by Tim Mackintosh-Smith

  2. Yemen, Tim Mackintosh-Smith

  3. A Dance with Dragons (Song of Ice and Fire), George R.R. Martin

  4. Acedia & Me, Kathleen Norris

  5. Child 44, Tom Rob Smith

  6. In the Woods, Tana French

  7. Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates

  8. 2666, Roberto Bolano

  9. Shadow Country, Peter Matthiessen

  10. A Fine and Private Place, Peter S. Beagle

  11. Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung? Ajahn Brahm

  12. Mirror to Damascus, Colin Thubron

  13. The Hills of Adonis: A Quest in Lebanon, Colin Thubron

This list just keeps getting longer! Help! Help! Somebody save me from myself!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

MUSIC MONDAY | Falling by Lacuna Coil

My boss showed me a book today. "Here: you'll like this," he said. It was a book on metal bands round the world. I was enraptured by the sheer inspiration of some of the band-names. And the number of Scandinavian death metal bands out there is also very impressive. Or, to paraphrase Anthony Bourdain: how did a region that produces ABBA end up with so many death metal bands? Baffling, isn't it?

As I was going through the different categories of metal bands, I started to pick out some of the bands I do know and listen to. They are all conveniently classified under the Progressive/Symphonic/Gothic Metal section. Nice to have your taste so easily classified behind so many slashes. Yet again, I managed to surprise people with my taste. Afterall, if I'm an English major who works in a bookstore, who likes Tracy Chapman, Sarah McLachlan, Patti Smith, Pixies and Sleater-Kinney - I can't possibly like symphonic goth rock, right?

Here's one of those bands that I am not supposed to even know about - much less like: Lacuna Coil, an Italian rock/metal band. I have picked "Falling", a song I never grew tired of listening to. I like the basslines on this song.

(The Youtube video here is from a fan-vid of an anime. It will have to do.)

I lay, looking my hands
I search in these lines
I've not the answer
I'm crying and I don't know
Watching the sky
I search for an answer
I'm free, free to be
I'm not another liar
I just want to be myself...myself

And now the beat inside of me
Is a sort of a cold breeze and I've
Never any feeling inside
Ruining me...
Bring my body
Carry it into another world
I know I live...but like a stone I'm falling down

I pray, looking into the sky
I can feel this rain
Right now it's falling on me
Fly, I just want to fly
Life is all mine
Some days I cry alone,
But I know I'm not the only one
I'm here, another day is gone
I don't want to die...
Please be there when I'll arrive, don't cry...please

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Links to Recent Solnit Essays

I spent a lot of time on Friday searching for information on Rebecca Solnit's new book. In the process I came across some of her recent essay that are available online. I decided to link them here.

Here's her essay on Iceland for TomDispatch, an essay on Iceland after the recent economic crisis, where the people are slowly rising in fury at how greed and capitalism has failed them: The Icelandic Volcano Erupts: Can a Hedge-Fund Island Lose Its Shirt and Gain Its Soul?

From the January/February 2009 issue of Orion magazine, Rebecca Solnit's Elegy for a Toxic Logic - which meditates on the opportunity for change in the midst of the current economic free fall.

Friday, February 13, 2009

CHALLENGE| 2009 World Citizen Challenge

Recently I declared that as part of my resolution for 2009, I wasn't going to join ANY reading challenges. Of course, I did it again - I just signed up for a reading challenge for 2009. That will teach me to laugh at other bloggers signing up for challenges. (You know who you are. ;p)

I signed up for Eva's World Citizen Challenge.

I have always felt like I am ignorant about the world around, that I need to learn more, read more, see more. I need to read more widely on the important issues, history, culture, economics, current affairs. This seems like a good idea. Along the way, I will probably pick up some great recommendations on the books other participants are reading.

I think I will aim for the Major Level. I will commit to reading 5 books, from at least 3 of the different categories listed below:

  1. Politics
  2. Economics
  3. History
  4. Culture/Anthropology/Sociology
  5. Worldwide Issues
  6. Memoirs/Autobiographies

The official World Citizen Challenge blog is up. So, pop over for a look-see.

Updated [13th February 2009] - My reading pool for the challenge:

  • The Siege of Mecca: The Forgotten Uprising in Islam's Holiest Shrine, Yaroslav Trofimov
  • City of Oranges: An Intimate History of Arabs and Jews in Jaffa, Adam LeBor
  • We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda, Philip Gourevitch
  • The Great War for Civilization, Robert Fisk
  • Pity the Nation, Robert Fisk
  • The Place at the End of the World, Janine di Giovanni
  • Madness Visible: A Memoir of War, Janine di Giovanni
  • Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity, edited by Michael Lewis
  • Banker to the Poor: The Story of the Grameen Bank, Muhammad Yunus with Alan Jolis
  • The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World, Niall Ferguson
  • A History of the Middle East, Peter Mansfield
Worldwide issues:
  • Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, Rebecca Solnit
  • Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein
  • The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire, edited by Tom Engelhardt
  • Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World, Paul Hawken

More titles to come.

Notes to Myself | Books to look out for in 2009

Updated 13 February 2009: Added Geoff Dyer's new novel, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi for April release. Also added a note on Rebecca Solnit's new book - which is supposed to be out later this year.

I'm just doing a rough timeline of major releases (that I actually give a damn about - well, or maybe not) coming out in 2009. As default I pick the UK editions - because comparatively, UK to Dubai freight are usually more cost-effective and faster

The Kindly Ones, Jonathan Littell
Drood, Dan Simmons

Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, Geoff Dyer
Fail Better, Zadie Smith (Beckett reference? Woah.)
The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, Alain de Botton
The Thing Around Your Neck, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Winner Stands Alone, Paulo Coelho (actually, I don't give a damn about his books. But he sells by the truckloads - so professionally, I need to pretend I give a damn)

The Children's Book, A.S. Byatt
Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, Kazuo Ishiguro
Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel

The Library of Shadows, Mikkel Birkegaard (it just looks fun)
The Angel's Game, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters (I love Sarah Waters)

We Are All Made of Glue, by Marina Lewycka

God's Gardeners, Margaret Atwood

The Unseen Academicals, Terry Pratchett ('nuff said!)
A Dance with Dragons: Book 5 of a Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin (this better happens this year!)
A Memory of Light: The Majestic Conclusion to the International Bestselling Wheel of Time Series, by Robert Jordan (Author), Brandon Sanderson (Contributor)
The True Deceiver, Tove Jansson

Forthcoming with no confirmed date:
A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit with a Neil Gaiman video

I just discovered, which allows me to stream video of talks and interviews with writers, thinkers and other personalities on various topics across politics, culture and technology - things that matters.

I spent about an hour watching Rebecca Solnit read from her book, Storming the Gates of Paradise, and answering questions. It was enjoyable. (If you're interested in Rebecca Solnit's talk, it's here.)

I decided it was a good idea to sign up for an account with - which will allow me to download the talks on audio or video files. I was running through their archive of videos, and that's where I found this talk with Neil Gaiman in 2006, where he spoke at Cody's Books, on Fragile Things.

I thought maybe somebody would be interested. So here's the video:

An Evening's Entertainment with Neil Gaiman celebrating Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders.

In this dazzling new collection of more than twenty-five pieces of short fiction including a novella featuring the hero of his masterpiece "American Gods," Neil Gaiman charts the terrain between life and death, perception and reality, darkness and light. Guaranteed to dazzle the senses, haunt the imagination, and touch the heart, "Fragile Things" is a gift of wonder from one of the most unique literary artists of our time. Neil Gaiman is the critically acclaimed and award-winning author of the novels "American Gods," "Neverwhere," "Stardust," "Coraline," and "Anansi Boys;" "The Sandman" series of graphic novels; and "Smoke and Mirrors," a collection of short fiction - Cody's Books

Monday, February 09, 2009

JK Rowling's Speech

I read about JK Rowling's Harvard Commencement Address a while back, but never got around to watching it until now. It was better than I had thought. Entitled, "The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination", it was actually quite inspirational, sincere, and quote-worthy. [watch/read it]

I like what she said here, about failure:

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.

"It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default." If we try at life, we will occasionally screw up. Maybe regret is inevitable, but we still need to try. But sometimes I think I have come to be so afraid of failing, I tread too cautiously.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Ani DiFranco performing "Shameless"

Ani DiFranco will be performing in Singapore, 10th February 2009, 8pm at Esplanade Theatre.

If I was back home, I would be there. But it feels sort of odd to talk about it now, because Ani DiFranco's music feels like it's more suitable for a younger version of myself - somebody more idealistic and with more angst. Ani is a mother now, and from some of her interviews, she also seems to have mellowed just that little bit. 

Here in this video, she performs like a lyrical road-warrior - wielding her guitar dangerously. It's wonderful to see a performer with this kind of energy, and the way the crowd responded to her. I hope all goes well for the concert.

And if you can make it, I would so recommend that you be there.


i cannot name this
i cannot explain this
and i really don't want to
just call me shameless
i can't even slow this down
let alone stop this
and i keep looking around
but i cannot top this

if i had any sense
i guess i'd fear this
i guess i'd keep it down
so no one would hear this
i guess i'd shut my mouth
and rethink a minute
but i can't shut it now
'cuz there's something in it

we're in a room without a door
and i am sure without a doubt
they're gonna wanna know
how we got in here
and they're gonna wanna know
how we plan to get out
we better have a good explanation
for all the fun that we had
'cuz they are coming for us, baby
they are going to be mad
they are going to be mad at us

this is my skeleton
this is the skin it's in
that is, according to light
and gravity
i'll take off my disguise
the mask you met me in
'cuz i got something
for you to see
just gimme your skeleton
give me the skin it's in
yeah baby, this is you
according to me
i never avert my eyes
i never compromise
so nevermind
the poetry

we're in a room without a door...

i gotta cover my butt 'cuz i covet
another man's wife
i got to divide my emotions
between wrong and right
then i get to see how close i can get to it
without giving in
then i get to rub up against it
till i break the skin
rub up against it
till i break the skin

they're gonna be mad at us
they're gonna be mad at me and you
yeah, they're gonna be mad at us
and all the things we wanna do
they're gonna be mad at us
they're gonna be mad at me and you
they're gonna be mad at us
and all the things we like do

just please don't name this
please don't explain this
just blame it all on me
say i was shameless
say i couldn't slow it down
let alone stop it
and say you just hung around
'cuz you couldn't top it

Saturday, February 07, 2009

MEME | What Do I Know

Took this from Stefanie. I'm supposed to list 10 pearls of wisdom. Let's see if I can make up 10...

  1. There will always be someone born smarter and more talented than you. You have no choice in this. But talent is only potential. It's how you work with the gifts that you have that really matters. Hard and discipline - these are things we can control.
  2. No matter how much we love somebody, we cannot live their lives for them. They need to make their own choices, their own mistakes.
  3. Forgiveness is an act of grace. We can try to be worthy of it - but it comes in its own time, not because we will it - and sometimes, when we do not deserve it.
  4. I decided a long time ago that we are never going to make perfect decisions. Mistakes will be inevitable. But I prefer to own my mistakes - I do not want to regret later in life that I allowed someone else to make the choices for me.
  5. True patience comes from a place of love. It took me 30 years before I realize this is what my mother has been trying to teach me.
  6. It's okay to be afraid. Fear doesn't have to stop you from trying though. This is the real test of courage - that we continue to try in spite of our fears.
  7. The Dalai Lama said, "My religion is compassion." This is the only religion I can believe in.
  8. There is always a choice. It's just that often we do not like the alternative, so we pretend we were forced into bad choices, when really, we just chose the easier way.
  9. It is important to have friends that share your interests and values - most of all, we need friends who are willing to disagree with us, who are willing to tell us we are wrong and behaving stupidly. My best friends are the ones who love me enough to tell me when I am being pig-head, arrogant and down-right ridiculous. It has been very bruising for the ego.
  10. I am as greedy, selfish and flawed as everyone else. But I do not have to give in to these baser instincts. I can choose to behave better.

Jeanette Winterson: Leaving Home

[Taken from The Independent]

When I was 16 I had to leave home. As I set off down the gloomy hallway, past the coats hung like dead men, and the coin-slot gas meter that ticked and glowed like a golem, my mother called out to me. I turned, wondering if there would be some regret or a kind word. She said, "Jeanette, why be happy when you could be normal?" My mother, if she had known it, had asked me a question as wise, complex, and potentially fatal, as any fairy-tale riddle, where the right answer leads to the treasure or the princess, and the wrong answer is death by ogre.

I had made the mistake of confessing first love, love that when requited makes us insanely happy. Unfortunately my love object was a girl and my family were strict evangelical Christians. And thus my mother's question... But it was really a question about life: life choices, life savers and lifelines. It was not a question about lifestyle. There is no such thing. My family home was poor, and I took nothing with me because I had nothing to take. For the next couple of years I lived where I could, sometimes in the back of a car, sometimes in a tent, and finally in a boxroom lent to me by a teacher – I was still at school. Trying to get to sleep in the back of a steamed-up car, I thought a lot about my mother's question. It wasn't a true opposition, like hot and cold, dark and light, and in any case, I wasn't so happy now that I was sleeping in a duffel coat in a Hillman Imp.

I realised that while living by other people's rules is no guarantee of personal happiness, living outside of those rules is no Wonderland either. Happy/normal was going to take a lot of unpacking, and while I was heaving ideas around in my head, I had to deal with the pressing practical question of how to make something like a home in temporary, transient, unlikely and uncomfortable places. It's a predicament that more and more people find themselves in, as life becomes less and less stable. That old fundamental, a happy home, is something we all want, but how do we make it happen? And is it possible to create a happy home, even when you yourself are unhappy? I only know of one way to begin – and it holds for the beautiful apartment, the nasty rented room, the bed-sit, the soulless little flat, the house you find yourself left with when the person you loved has gone, the place you take on because you have to get away, the nowhere-land, the transit zone. I call it private magic.

When I was a child, a hearth rug was a flying carpet. Remembering this, in my borrowed room, I saved up some money from weekend work and bought myself a rug the size of a duster, one that folded into my case as easily as it expanded in my imagination. From then on, wherever I found myself, even in a doorway, I put down my little rug, and I began to feel calm. Better than calm, I imagined myself free. My rug became my comforter. Years later, when I was awkwardly accepting a six-month stay at a rich man's house, I rolled up the Persian carpet in my room, and put down my own threadbare Arabian night. I believe that you have to begin with one single thing that you call your own. Possessions should be objects with which you have a connection. If your life is filled with meaningless objects, you will always be unhappy.

The modern medicine for unhappiness is spending. When people are left to start again – new home, or old home stripped of its past by an abrupt exit – the obvious answer is shopping. I think that is a disaster. If you can tell me a story about every single thing in your house, then you have a home. Anyone can go shopping, but meaning cannot be bought. You can, though, buy something simple and beautiful that you will always love – a cup for your morning coffee, a vase for flowers, a lamp that stands for light in all its meanings.

Private magic is about investing ordinary objects with talismanic power. Children do it all the time, and adults forget to do it at all. I once stayed in a strange castle with the sculptor Antony Gormley. The first thing he did was to turn the portraits of Scottish ancestors, faces to the wall. Then he asked us all to make some quick drawings of our own to pin gently on to the brown paper backs. Next he went outside and hauled in driftwood to lighten and subvert the heavy Gothic furniture. Then he found a dozen eggcups and turned them upside down to act as candleholders. This was another form of private magic – the alchemy that shifts one thing into another. If you are unhappy, or vulnerable, or hurt, or lost, it is still possible to live in or to create a happy home. This isn't sleight of hand, it is magic at its most sympathetic. And because it is magic, what can't be done is a version of the past. The thing has to be new, different, unafraid, even if you, the person making it, are very afraid. Fear is not a problem. Fear of fear is a huge problem. If you walk through your new front door and feel panic like the world is falling in, the first thing to do is to create a space within your new space where you will not take your misery or fear. This can be a room, or as simple as a chair, but when you sit in that chair you can have no negative thoughts, no tears, no rage. The moment you feel anything bad, you get up from the chair. This in itself is instructive – can you feel OK for five minutes? An hour? All evening? For me, the positive space is my study. I work there, I read there, but I don't stress there. If I want to cry or shout at the cat, I go somewhere else. When I had nothing, the safe space was my little rug. I could cry myself to sleep in bed, or sit with my head in my hands at the table, but the rug, as I understand it now, was a place of informal meditation. At the time it was more like a life belt than a flying carpet, but whatever it was, it worked, because once I had named it and claimed it as a safe space, I had to believe that it was so. If you shatter the magic, it's lost – and so are you. Gradually, if you have one safe calm space, the bigger space around you becomes safe and calm too.

It is important to make some rules for yourself about your home and you inside it, and if you live by those rules, they will work for you. This takes thought, planning, self-awareness, courage, and a sense of humour. You don't need a big budget or a TV show that helps you "create your space". Rather, you need a space inside to project on to the space outside. Inner houses, outer houses, as my Jewish friends tell me. Happy/normal. Normal/happy. Home is where the questions are answered well.

My little rug is still with me. It has gradually unravelled as my life has come together. The threads are loose, the loom-work visible, but the colours are still bright and strong. It was probably 100 years old when I bought it, and 30 years have been added since. It hasn't been well-treated, but it has been well-loved. And if I had to grab a bag and run for my life, my little rug would be the one thing I wouldn't leave behind. It is both memory and courage. Part broken, part whole, you begin again.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Dark Orpheus Goes to London

I rushed the paperwork on my application for my leave this morning. But on hindsight I think I may have made some mistakes with the paperwork - I might have included my weekends as Annual Leave. This means I submitted an application for 8 days of Annual Leave, instead of 6 days of Annual Leave + 2 weekends off. What's the difference? Two days of Annual Leave. Remember: we had to fight for the right to utilize our leave. It's hard-earned and not to be squandered.

I have little faith in my HR, so I better verify things with Mr Y tomorrow.

That said and done - I have just bought the ticket to London. My departing flight will be on the 26th of February, which will allow me to reach London in the afternoon. A good friend of mine is staying in London, and I should be staying with her - if nothing goes wrong.

I haven't planned anything yet. I have about 24 days to research and come up with something. I've been asking friends for recommendations - and please, if you have any suggestions on fun stuff to do in London, please do drop me a message.

Will plan a few days to hunt down the second-hand bookstores. I also want to sit at a nice cafe nursing that one cup of coffee for 5 hours, book in hand. I have to visit the museums, or catch a show somewhere (no sure where, but I'm sure I can find something.)

I so need a break.

Monday, February 02, 2009

New Toy

Boredom always leads me to new things - like this blog, facebook, and now twitter. Yes, I'm twittering. I'm not sure why I bother, but I just signed up.

I'll see how it goes. If Twitter proves boring, I'll just delete it.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

MEME | One Book Meme

Because a meme is just another excuse for nothing to blog about. From Chris

One book you’re currently reading: Regenesis by C.J. Cherryh. I really want to finish this one for Carl's Sci Fi Experience.

One book that changed your life: Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh. When we talk about changing a life, it's a very personal thing. Even now, I find it difficult to talk about it to my friends. They know a few details, but not everything. 

The story goes like this:  one night, I was reading Anger, and something within me clicked. I put down the book to sit; I was meditating for the first time in my life. I sat in the "proper position" and counted my breath like I was taught in the book. At first, nothing happened. Then unexpectedly, my heart broke and I couldn't stop my tears. In that single, profound moment, I saw the damages I have wrought in my life. That I was as much to blame for the pain in my life. That was the first step to a kind of healing.

One book that you’ll want on a deserted island: This is a hard one. I would pick In Search of Lost Time – because it's really 7 volumes (depending on your translation) and that would mean a lot of toilet paper. Look - if I'm really stuck on an island, I'm looking at something practical.

One book you’ve read more than once: The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen

One book you’ve never been able to finish: You all heard about my experience with the Big Whale Book. So I'll name Dostoevsky's The Idiot instead. 

One book that made you laugh:  A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett. Or Wintersmith. I know it's a one book meme – but does anyone remember which book was it that Tiffany Aching gave Granny Weatherwax the cute little white kitten? That was the sweetest bit in the whole Tiffany Aching and Granny Weatherwax relationship. 

It's A Hat Full of Sky, right? 

One book that made you cry: Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. There were a few other books that made me cry - but I wanted to single out Tigana, because it is a beautiful example of the excellent lyrical authors that work within the fantasy genre. Fantasy has been far too badly maligned, in my opinion. Tigana (as well as Kay's Fionavar Tapestry trilogy) is a beautifully written story. The language is lush, the characters deeply human and sympathetic. A world where there is no easy villains, and when all is done, there is just the taste of ashes in your mouth. It is not an easy book to read at time, and I wept for the characters, and what had been done to them. 

But if I was not restricted to just one book, I would pick Kay's Fionavar Tapestry as the series that made me cry. You have to read it yourself.

One book you keep rereading: It would have to be Jeanette Winterson's The Passion. Even after all these years, I read it with the memory of all my failed love affairs. Some books are just like that. They serve as a sort of bookmark to our lives.

One book you’ve been meaning to read: The Great War for Civilisation by Robert Fisk. I feel that I need to know more about the world.

One book you believe everyone should read: The Rebel Angels by Robertson Davies. But then again, more people should read Robertson Davies.

Grab the nearest book. Open it to page 56. Find the fifth sentence.

"I said get me another. …" 

Well, that wsn't very helpful. It's from Regenesis. Yes, the Cherryh book.