Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Always half-asleep

Niggling feeling that I was given messages of doom while I lay half-asleep and I failed to pay them any heed and now it's too late. What remedial action can there be when it's doom anyway?

It must have to do with reading a book with an escalating body count. I should have read impenetrable science or economics for the right amount of torpor as a prelude to deep sleep.

Instead, I lay half-asleep until I became half-awake when the trucks arrived. From the sound of it,  they had brought metal in preparation for what is going to be a whole day's roof-laying today. At 5am, two men were sleepily hammering at something on the not-yet-laid roof.

(When I say the roof will be 'laid', where on the spectrum from egg to person does a roof - well - 'lie'?)

Somewhere, over all the sounds that continue to overwhelm sleep, is the more-insistent scent of Peltophorum. The roads are carpeted a sulphurous yellow and when I lay awake at night, trying desperately to sleep, to keep the noises off but welcome the scents in, I look for that colour behind my eyelids.

Friday, April 18, 2014

RIP Gabriel Garcia Marquez

After two false alarms, Marquez has died. I'm certain that I'd only have to skim any work of his to find a quote that would be an appropriate comment on this. Instead, I'll ramble about the man and about the announcement of his death.

Social media, though. I woke up with the intention of doing quite different things online before I went to attend to the day's chores. Instead, I fell into a dense jungle (what's the point of saying 'rabbit hole'?) of links and expressions of sorrow.

I have no doubt all all that all these were genuine. But as with all social media, there's a faintest whiff of avidity in the act of making announcements in order to appear up-to-date with the news. I say this as one who retweeted the first tweet I read announcing his death - not the most appropriate one, not that one that quoted what seemed like the most pithy line, not even the links to his Nobel speech or A Life in Photos or anything that might be actually interesting. Just the first one I saw, trigger-happy, and then the inevitable feeling of being foolish when I saw how many hours old the news was and I was announcing it as if I'd just put down the phone after being called by his family.


I read Marquez precocicously early. By which I mean, I read him before I understood even half of what I was reading; I read because the writing astonished me even as I dimly grasped that I would need to grow into it, become ready for it.

In really odd ways, Marquez's books have punctuated different, important moments of my life. He was the currency by which I once judged the worthiness of people to be my friends, the way kids otherwise use music to sort peers out into categories.

(I've just pulled out some books to see what I remember as a consequence of holding them).

The way I got The Collected Novellas, as a gift from someone I'd allegedly met once, the confusion and generosity of the person's partner when it was explained to me how it was that I was getting this extravagant gift for no particular reason, the little game of calibrating significance - who else got what book at the same time - and the poring over the few words in the inscription.

The triumph of finding Marquez on that pavement or this obscure corner of an indie bookstore - everyone had One Hundred Years but who even thought of stocking Innocent Erendira?

How a friend's diploma film at the FTII was based on a Marquez story and how, at that time we made these distant writers our fellow-travellers - Marquez, Kundera, Cohen - and it didn't seem at all strange to us, though we were told off by Iztvan Gaal for not choosing our inspirations from closer home. 'Closer'? What did that mean? Marquez was as close to home as it was possible to get, if we even agreed on a  definition of home. What was home if not the world of the imagination*? To be fair, my school library was probably better than my college library if only because how dense with riches it was even though it was tiny. There were plenty of Marquez to read through my senior years there.

This is why I have looked at the reading list my son brought home this month, from the same school, with some disbelief: how is it so full of writers from the US and UK and why does it have nothing from elsewhere in the world? Fine, it has Adichie and Ondaatje and Tolstoy; but how can it not have Marquez?

It is time to make another, parallel reading list for my son. Every time a writer like Marquez dies, leaving behind a treasury of books, it reminds us that these treasures can become unopened and then eventually lost to the next generation unless we hand them maps and mark the spot with an unmistakeable 'X'.

RIP, old man.


* Well, of course it's more complicated than that.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Divination: 467

After a long, long time, I returned to Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet to...I don't know what to call it. Divination? To quiet my disquieted mind? Tell me what I'm thinking?

The books that had replaced Disquiet just wouldn't do. So I sat with this book and strummed it until I ordered my thumb to stop. It opened at 467 (well - technically, I could also have read 466 or 468 but my eyes fell on 467, so there I was) and this is what Pessoa said to me:
He listened to me read my verses – which I read well that day, for I was relaxed – and said to me with the simplicity of a natural law: ‘If you could always be like that but with a different face, you’d be a charmer.’ The word ‘face’ – more than what it referred to – yanked me out of myself by the collar of my self-ignorance. I looked at the mirror in my room and saw the poor, pathetic face of an unpoor beggar; and then the mirror turned away, and the spectre of the Rua dos Douradores opened up before me like a postman’s nirvana.
The acuity of my sensations is like a disease that’s foreign to me. It afflicts someone else, of whom I’m just the sick part, for I’m convinced that I must depend on some greater capacity for feeling. I’m like a special tissue, or a mere cell, that bears the brunt of responsibility for an entire organism.
When I think, it’s because I’m drifting; when I dream, it’s because I’m awake. Everything I am is tangled up in myself, such that no part of me knows how to be.
'No part of me knows how to be' sounds about right for the moment.