( Details )
Oh man, if I were to try and discuss every element of this book I found fascinating or thought-provoking or saddening or enraging, I'd produce a masters-length thesis. I've dog-eared practically every third page for further contemplation. Highly, highly recommended.
Bonus poll of curiosity:
Is dog-earing a library book okay?
Yes, for everything I find interesting!
Sure, but only to mark what page I'm up to
I wouldn't do it myself, but I don't mind the practice
Yes! Others appreciate my contributions!
Pencil only, dudes
I don't, but I like reading what others have found interesting
( Lyrics and translation )
Also in music, I've been enjoying one of The Boy's albums called 'Mali to Memphis' (Youtube playlist), which showcases the West African origins of the American blues. I particularly like this song by Amadou et Mariam:
Two days later one of my ex-flatmates was cycling to work not far from that park. A little further ahead he saw a pedestrian walking towards him in the bike lane. Perhaps the footpath is closed for repairs or something. Mildly annoyed, he made to swerve around the pedestrian. As they drew level, the man suddenly raised his arm and, revealing a sharp stick in his hand, drove it directly into my friend's face. The force of the blow broke his nose; the stick penetrated his sinus cavity and lodged there. Thrown to the ground, my friend-- somehow still conscious-- attempted to stagger to his feet and had to be held down by a horrified passer-by ("Dude, there's a tree branch sticking out of your face"). It made the news that evening: Cyclist, 35, in stable condition after surgery. The pedestrian had gone on to brutally assault two more people-- a man standing texting at a bus stop, and a woman walking down the street-- before the police tracked him down.
We saw our ex-flatmate a couple of days after he'd been released from hospital, looking like the loser of a pub brawl with a black eye, split lip, nose splint, and a line of black stitches across his cheek. "Still," he said, musing on it, "something like this is so random that it's kind of like being hit by lightning, isn't it?"
I guess for us, it is.
Unfortunately I've already returned the book (and as I was reading it the day I went into labour, my memories of it are a bit... scattered), but there was a lot of interesting stuff in there. White distinguishes between 'alone' and 'lonely' (some people who live alone are lonely, but others enjoy solitude; conversely, partnered people and people with lots of friends can still suffer from loneliness), and argues that despite popular misconceptions, lonely people aren't necessarily introverts, emotional vampires, lacking social skills, or unwilling to meet new people. Instead, loneliness is a quality rather than quantity issue: it stems from the feeling of lacking meaningful connections to others, not 'being friendless'. Short-term, situational loneliness, the kind we can all get when we move to a new city where we don't know anyone, tends to resolve itself over time as we meet new people, but the sufferer of chronic loneliness, for reasons inherent and inculcated, remains unable to connect. Unhappily, chronic loneliness also tends to be self-reinforcing: lonely people, aware that loneliness is regarded by others as a character flaw, often withdraw into themselves out of fear of rejection-- making connection even harder. There's no easy cure, although White suggests that the increasingly-lost state of being in 'passive company' may help:
Passive company is something that’s hard to define but easy to recognize. It’s the comfortable, quiet state of cooking as your spouse reads the paper at the kitchen table, or half-listening from the study while your brother takes a call in the living room. Passive company provides us with the chance to simply be with someone else. It’s time, as Glenn Stalker puts it, “when nothing much is being said.”Which reminded me of the last panel in this comic explaining how to live with the introverted (ironically forwarded to me by one of my ex-flatmates, an energetic sort who enjoys bizarre-to-me combinations of activities such as, "Let's go for a run together and discuss post-conflict transitional justice!")
The Boy, who's one of those aliens who enjoys unplanned encounters with acquaintances, meeting complete strangers, talking on the phone, going to social events where he doesn't know anyone, and who has around 2000 friends on Facebook, often worries that I'll get lonely. We move around a lot, I don't go out of my way to socialise and meet new people, and I only have a few close friends-- almost all of whom live in different cities, if not on different continents. But I enjoy solitude, I have ample passive company, and most importantly I have something White completely dismisses: online fandom. Fandom gives me shared interests, good conversations, long-term friendships, interesting strangers passing by. I've been in fandom, in one form or another, since I was sixteen; it's not the biggest part of my life, but it's been one of the most enduring.
That said, I wonder if I wasn't content with my offline life, if fandom would be enough. Sometimes I peek into the little windows of people's lives, scrolling past on my network page, and I wonder how many of those people beneath the fandom chatter are lonely, unhappy, just wanting-- waiting-- to connect.
Having the same actors play multiple roles in the movie was a bad idea. It's not only confusing to keep track of who's who (you may find yourself relying on dress code for a quick reference as the film progresses) but the makeup, especially the makeup used to give the illusion of ethnicity, just does not work that well. Faces just look weird. We've been conditioned to understand that a epicanthal fold on the eyes is an Asian facial feature, for example, so seeing an Asian actor like Xun Zhou play Caucasian is perceptibly wrong.
Firstly, epicanthic folds are not solely an (East) Asian feature. Just speaking anecdotally, off the top of my head I can think of two friends of completely Anglo-Saxon descent who have epicanthic folds. And a quick google on the topic (I know, I know) suggests that they're not completely uncommon in at least some European populations.
Secondly, I dispute the idea that we're conditioned to make assessments of someone's race based on eye shape above all else. Again speaking anecdotally, I have epicanthic folds (albeit with a double eyelid), and I almost always pass for white. My skin and hair colour easily trump eye shape when strangers attempt to determine my ethnicity. When I dyed my hair black or dark brown, markedly more people would ask if I had some Asian heritage. And then there's the author's assertion that "[racially ambiguous] faces just look weird". So mixed-race people with features that are both white and Asian make you uncomfortable because you can't pigeonhole us into one race or another? (Was it Mary Douglas who had that theory that things betwixt and between are unclean, dangerous, to be shunned?) ... And I'm just going to leave that one there.
Thirdly, I can't read the sentence, "seeing an Asian actor... play Caucasian is perceptibly wrong" and not immediately think of the longstanding and still continuing tradition, in Hollwood and elsewhere, of blackface and yellowface (Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin, anyone?). I don't presume that the author necessarily supports the corollary of his statement, i.e. that it's less "weird" or "perceptibly wrong" for white actors to play other races, but given context, it leaves a sour taste in my mouth. [ETA: Actually, I do presume, because apparently there's yellowface in the movie and somehow the author doesn't see fit to mention the weirdness of that! h/t liviapenn]
I totally want to see Cloud Atlas, despite not having read the book (Youtube trailer). I love the trope of reincarnation, and the idea of people repeating their mistakes over and over through the ages. (Redemption, ha!) Perhaps I imprinted on too many Katherine Kerr books back in the day.
This August 9th Mentos calls on you* to celebrate not just National Day, but National Night too - and help give our population spurt [sic] it so desperately needs.
*Only financially secure adults in stable, committed, long-term relationships should participate.
"Like a government scholar, I want to cram real hard."
"Let's put a bao in your oven."
"I can't wait to buy a $900 stroller. It's going to be a really, really, really fancy stroller."
"Raise that flag, get mobilised, and let your patriotism explode."
Yes, yes, yes and yes. Some people thought it could've done without the last line; I thought it was perfect. It's a line I've heard so many times, from the mouths of fictional characters and real people both, and every single time it makes me so furious that I can't breathe.
I was rewatching Quantum of Solace the other day, and when I mentioned to The Boy how much I'd enjoyed it (I'd forgotten how it hits my every single button oh my god, but that's a post for another day), he said, "Is that the one with the stupid oil-for-water plotline?" To which: yes, admittedly stupid, but unlike most of the low-brain-quotient/comfort media I consume, the international politics of it didn't actually leave me frothing at the mouth and wanting to stab a Hollywood scriptwriter in the eye with his or her own pencil.
Bit sad, really, that it's so hard to find something to be fannish about that's not actively enraging.
( Hmm, this got long )
Recommended, even if perhaps the safest route is to take the text as a series of broadly representative stories, rather than the actual literal truth of history as happened.
Sucks for him, but I certainly feel ridiculously lucky right now.
The characters are these two INTERNATIONAL PEOPLE OF MYSTERY who are SUPER AWESOME at their jobs. They spend one night in Hong Kong! The next in Santiago! The night after that in Lisbon! For years on end, with nowhere to call home! They are just that well-travelled and worldly!
One person drugs the other person and takes him to a SECRET LOCATION. Drugged person wakes up in a beautiful house with a beautiful view, and sees that he's in an unidentified valley SOMEWHERE IN THE WORLD. Person thinks to himself, "Man, I really don't know where I am. If I had a couple of days, I could at least narrow it down to what hemisphere I'm in, based on the weather."
AHAHAHAHAHAHA SORRY DID YOU SAY YOU WERE ACTUALLY GOOD AT YOUR JOB? You have travelled somewhat in the past, have you not? Later you see a Jeep Wrangler, presumably with country-specific numberplates (and in either left- or right-hand drive), and you can't immediately tell what CONTINENT you might be on, let alone what hemisphere you're in? Also, you ask if the water is safe to drink. There's actually quite an easy test for this: if you're in a (modern, well-appointed) kitchen and there is no source of water other than the tap (e.g. a water dispenser, or a telltale stack of bottled water), then the tap water is probably safe to drink, yo. And while you're in the kitchen, open the fridge and use your SUPER POWERS OF OBSERVATION to read some product labels and make an educated guess about your location.
I mean, really.
Pondering the (to me) unromantic topic of [spoiler redacted] reminded me of an... odd... experience I had the other night. Which I now realise I can't talk about without putting the whole thing under the spoiler cone of silence, so I suppose all I can say out here is: ( contains discussion of bodies and excretory functions. )
A while ago, though, I stumbled across one of mementis's recs (er, I think it was from mementis) for a novel-length Star Trek reboot story and saved it without much thought for following through and reading the whole thing. Last night I finally cracked it open, and HOLY MOTHER OF GOD could I not stop until midnight and 100,000 words later. An immensely satisfying reading experience, and one I haven't had in fandom for a good long while. (Which speaks more of how little I've been reading, obviously, rather than the quality of available stories.)
The Lotus Eaters by aldora89
Stranded on the planet Sigma Nox while searching for a missing away team, Spock and Kirk find themselves pitted against a disturbing native life form. With the captain out of commission on a regular basis and Spock struggling to preserve his stoicism, staying alive is difficult enough – but when a slim chance for escape surfaces, their resolve is truly put to the test. Together they must fight for survival in the heart of an alien jungle, and in the process, uncover the mystery of the planet’s past. Slow build K/S.
There are so many things that impressed me about this story, but two things in particular really made it stand out in my mind from a lot I've read recently. The first thing is that the storytelling was masterful: tightly controlled, interesting, and with a great page-turning quality. The mild horror of the early scenes develop into a wonderfully engaging, suspenseful middle act where Kirk and Spock struggle to survive and, in the process, slowly piece together the planet's (fascinating) history. The second thing I particularly loved was just how vivid and visceral the depictions of the alien planet were. The landscapes, the flora and fauna-- everything was brilliantly rendered, sometimes to truly terrifying effect (I had alien-related nightmares last night, I'm just saying), with the result that the story felt present and alive on the page. A lot of Star Trek feels kind of grey and blah to me, courtesy of too many industrial interiors, but this was wonderful, inspired worldbuilding.
To be honest, I almost could've done without the K/S and the final act, I just wanted to wallow in the adventure so much. I wanted more of that world, and the new characters and mysteries! Highly recommended for when you want a long, absorbing read.
During those dark, internetless times, though, I managed to read some actual books. I read, and disliked, Dunnett's first Lymond book (sorry, freece!). Unsympathetic person that I am, I spent most of the time wishing that Lymond would just get over his goddamned manpain already. On the other hand, I'm now on Book 4 of Dunnett's House of Niccolò series, which I'm greatly enjoying despite some discomfort at the Orientalism and depictions of 15th century colonialism. Nicholas's competence, scheming, and restrained manpain (which fuels all his victories as well as his terrible mistakes), is just my cup of tea. I'm interested in comparing him to Hilary Mantel's Thomas Cromwell (by all accounts another ridiculously competent but ultimately fallible character), so I've got Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies in the queue for when I run out of Dunnett.
Recently, I've also loved Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, perhaps better known on the internet as Sugar. I know there are people who can't stand her, but I love her unflinching honesty, her understanding of grief, and most of all: her seemingly boundless compassion. The internet can be such a bitter, cynical place that I've come to treasure her compassion and generosity in extending a human connection to the people who need it most. Her columns are wise and humane and hurt and hopeful, and sometimes I just sit there and read a string of them and sob. (Some of my favourite Sugar columns are: How You Get Unstuck, We Are All Savages Inside, The Baby Bird [warning for sexual assault of a minor], and Write Like a Motherfucker.) I think reading Wild is a particularly touching experience if you know, through her column, Sugar's older, infinitely understanding self. Wild is a young woman's raw howl of hurt and grief and betrayal, and even as you see her take steps towards her future self, you can't help but know how much more she has to go before she becomes the Sugar we know. It kind of broke my heart. I wanted to protect her; to tell her it'd be okay in the end. That while suffering isn't for anything, those experiences nevertheless ended up becoming an integral part of a beautiful, admirable, whole, human being. Highly recommended if you're a Sugar fan.
( Two of my favourites )
I love the danger and ephemerality of the images, powerful but simultaneously subject to the process of irreversible decay. Rightly or wrongly, it strikes me as an incredibly Asian aesthetic. Just a week or so ago I was in Japan, coincidentally during the five-day window of peak cherry-blossom viewing in Kyoto, and as qian said recently: you can see the flowers falling apart as you watch, and day by day they thin and shrink until all that's left are bare branches and the beginnings of tiny new leaves. I'm a bit of a sakura cynic (mainly due to the hordes of drunken picnickers and other tourists), but even I found the sight humbling and bittersweet. Beautiful precisely because it contains the seeds of its own destruction, not in spite of it, and once that beauty's gone there's nothing in Heaven or Earth that can get it back.
It reminded me of one of my favourite movies, Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love, the Chinese title of which captures the tone of the movie better than the English: a bittersweet recollection of something fleeting, impossible, beautiful, long gone. 花樣年華, The Age of Blossoms.
1. First reference to an obscure piece of classical music: page 3
2. First reference to a male character's formative experience being a (sexual/sexualised) betrayal by his mother: page 13
3. First lesbian sex scene: page 29
4. First time a woman thinks way more about her own breasts than most women normally do (aka. the George R. R. Martin school of the female POV): page 34
5. First time a man experiences desire for a nubile but kooky schoolgirl: page 45
6. First mention of Cutty Sark whiskey: page 55
7. First mention of jazz playing on the radio: page 55
8. First time a hot 20-something woman sleeps with balding, 50-something man: page 61
I think I'm going to make my ninth bingo square the first reference to a US fast food chain (Denny's has always been a Murakami favourite, no?), and then I'm going to call it quits. I got better things to read than the n-th iteration of some middle-aged dude's fantasyland.
Obligatory sakura photo