Monday, June 08, 2015

Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov

March 2013
This is a book I doubt I shall easily forget. Never has an author created so much pathos for an animal (in this case, Misha, a rescued Emperor penguin from the Kiev Zoo) since Jack London's "White Fang." A bird with the intelligence and sensitivity of a dog, waddling around a small Soviet apartment in post-Soviet Ukraine, casting a baleful eye at the new master Viktor, who struggles with his own anxieties in a post-Soviet Kiev ruled by the unnamed powers-that-be.

The relationship between Viktor and his best friend is drawn out through Viktor's increasingly isolated existence caused by a lucrative job that Viktor soon discovers is dictating the fate -- quite literally -- of the lives of others, and wildly spinning his moral compass.

I won't tell you much more, but the satire bites to draw blood at times, and that the absurdity of having a pet penguin in your home isn't really that absurd at all in Kiev.

How my father gave me a terrifying lesson at 10

A story by Bernard Hare was the first thing I read on my BBC mobile app when I woke up this morning, and it has stayed with me all day. I shared it with my soul sisters, and one of them described it as "the disguises of love." I couldn't have put it better.

I'm sharing it here as a bookmark for my future self, and with anyone reading my blog, for some old-fashioned inspiration for parents struggling to find ways to make their children learn to grow into better lives - no matter how hard the lesson, for writers learning to speak from the truth of their own experiences, and for the beauty of storytelling, pure and simple.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Resetting at 40

Everyone said 40 is the turning point. Some day it's downhill, some say it's uphill. I'm not sure what happened to all these people, but I'll tell you what happened to me.

I learned something amazing about myself. I love myself. I'm probably at what is the halfway point in my life. (Hence the turning point?) I realise that I have one life, this life. That's it. I had so many dreams, and I let them dissipate. Ten years since I first started my novel. Now, I can't even remember which hard drive it's on. Over twenty years since I first went to college in the United States, spent six months in Kenya, and learned that I could embrace the world. Now, my comfort zone is a 3 km stretch on either side of the flat I occupy in London.

I'm not saying that my life has shrunk. Well maybe in some ways it has. I focused so much on the world outside, and these days, the more I travel and the farther I fly, there is a sense of closeness, of smallness that I feel. I was in San Francisco last Sunday, and this Sunday, I'm back home again.

What has changed is the fact that I am constantly expanding my sense of self. Turning inwards is something I rarely ever did, and now I am. I am understanding who I am, and what I feel about myself. I feel as though I peeled back layer after layer of shellac, and I found love inside me. Not outside. Not in someone else. In me. I am reading again. I am writing again. And in the words of Linda Creed, "I found the greatest love of all inside of me."

Monday, January 14, 2013

One year later

It's starts like a joke. A man walks into a bar, and...

How was I to know that one year ago, when I wrote about things shifting so fundamentally in the world on January 1, 2012, I was talking about MY world. My life. About the man who walked into a bar and into my life on March 2, 2012, and asked me to marry him two and a half weeks later. About the confluence of our dearest friends and family, our pasts and presents, who were able to join us to celebrate our union in July and see us off into our future. And those who couldn't, but sent their love to us regardless.

Looking back makes my head spin. So much, so fast, so big, so blessed. I keep thanking, thinking, how, how. How did it all happen like that? Someone who holds my hand all the time. Who never tires of talking and listening. Who will walk with me for miles and love me until the cows come home.

Despite all the shit that 2012 brought -- and shit it did -- friends taking their lives, people we loved passing on, family falling ill, health burdens like never before, 2012 will always be the year I found my beacon of light and love.

And now for 2013... picking up a few threads I left on March 2.
1. Reading books again -- one a week
2. Planning my next moves to another geography
3. These days I need to have a 3-point agenda, thanks to the training I've received in the job I'm 2 and a half years old at, so it's to write more.

I'll leave that as my Q1 plan, in the parlance of my work colleagues.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

It's a new year

And four posts ago were resolutions that I made for 2011. Not all kept, but I'm proud that I was able to slow the year down, and be more conscious, take more time for myself.

It's 2012: I've made a spreadsheet of all the books I plan to read this year, starting with George Elliott's "Adam Bede". I'll report back shortly.

My resolutions this year I'm keeping really simply. In the living of life, why complicate things by trying to meet all these expectations I keep setting myself?

Something is supposed to fundamentally change this year. Either we experience shifts in the earth's core, or shifting geographic poles, or something so beatific that the world can only be made better by it. I refuse to to believe in doom and gloom or anything dire and apocalytpic.

To all the readers I have failed in the last couple years, I can only say that I might be better, but I won't make promises I can't keep.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Jet lag

Love. A whisper on the lips. A roar in the ears. Blood rushes to the head (or heart?). Stomach dives like a gull into water. A touch. Brushing against a spider's web. Fear. Wake up before the sun has considered rising, with your chest burning, your eyes wide open, having hounded sleep away.

Friday, July 08, 2011


Trying find a moment of peace in this busy day, it's like
Trying to see the ripples from a pebble you throw into a pond ruffled by wind.

I'm watching the rain fall, hard, in windblown sheets
Sheets that shroud the sky and the earth and the air between.
Air that is warm and thick and wet and grey, like dishwater
Dove grey if you want to make it sound sweeter.
No thunder, though, which is an angry sound
As if angry gods were setting off cannons at each other.

Trying to find a moment of peace in this busy day, it's like
Trying to find the line that separates rain-grey sea and sky.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

I Wish I Were in Love Again

Now I'm a big fan of Turner Classic Movies. This is well documented in my posts from years past. In fact, I remember very well that when I first got cable in Canada -- a luxury in itself for the recently employed grad student, I paid for extra channels just to get TCM. It saved me the cost of going to Movieland on Rue St. Catherine every weekend to rent what my friends would grimace and call "old movies". I was definitely not the one whose house everyone hung out at on a Friday night.

This evening, after a headache and a long day at work, I skipped the gym and came home to dinner. My dad was watching Superman -- the only one -- with Christopher Reeves and Gene Hackman. Reeves really did embody the Superman ideal. The film ended, and my mum and I skipped through channels, looking for something else worth watching, until we chanced upon Mickey Rooney, his ginger hair, rubbing his hands gleefully. And then followed an unmistakeable face: Cyd Charisse.

Words and Music is the fictionalised biography of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, creators of some of my favourite songs: "Blue Moon", "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered", "Thou Swell", "My Funny Valentine", and the all-time favourite, "The Lady is a Tramp". Apart from Rooney, a constellation of Hollywood's great musical stars appear in the film: Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, June Allyson, Cyd Charisse, Mel Torme, Perry Como, and the first time I ever saw her on screen, Lena Horne.

Words and Music is also the highly sanitized and de-queered biography of Rodgers and Hart. It's a well known fact that Lorenz Hart was gay, and struggled all his life with his homosexuality, trying to deny it by loving a line of women, and to suppress it by getting blitzed at bars almost every night. Apparently, he suffered from some kind of bipolar/manic depressive disorder as well, which, in the film, is depicted in a frequent kneading of the temples by Rooney, and never fully explained.

The film was a weak narrative that served only to anchor together several sequences of glittering brilliance: the words and music of Rodgers and Hart. No one describes it better than my beloved Richard Corliss at Time, in his paean to Hart, "That Old Feeling: Heart to Hart", when he describes Hart's lyrics here: "The best ones have the delight of surprise and the perfection of inevitability. The saddest ones perform heart surgery with a caress. The grateful listener thinks: someone felt this bad, and made poetry this beautiful."

So Gene Kelly performs one of the first film dance sequences of his career in "Slaughter on 10th Ave.", and Judy Garland is paired with Rooney for the last time in their careers to sing, for the first time, "I Wish I Were in Love Again" (where the title of this blog post comes from). And Mel Torme sings "Blue Moon" in a way that makes you forget Elvis and the Cowboy Junkies, and anyone else you've heard after. And Cyd's long legs pirouette around the "Blue Room". And June Allyson's feet move like quicksilver as she sings "Thou Swell". And Lena Horne. Lena Horne in her pink and purple tropicalia, flares her delicate nostrils and curves her lips, and sings to me that she gets too hungry for dinner at eight.

And me, I sit in front of this lightbox, watching these apparitions unfold before me so that I am awake and dreaming. They are all long gone, but they are still my celluloid puppeteers, making me smile, lifting my soul up with words and music.