Monday, May 18, 2015

Parenthood




We do not necessarily know the stuff of thought others carry in their heads no matter how close or chummy we are with them unless they talk to us. When two people get married, becoming parents and raising children seem to be the natural order of things. When the child is born, often both parents if not one  parent has this all consuming obsessive love for the little one that the entire relationship takes on a different dynamic where attention is shifted to the baby. What if parenthood is thrust upon a man or a woman when he or she is not quite ready for it or worse they are  just never cut out to be parents ? Maybe due to biological make up, a woman seems more ready to  valiantly take on her role as a mother coping on her own even in the absence of a man who is away due to work and various commitments.  It is commonly known that after a day’s work, some married men  unwind themselves by taking part in activities such as golfing and drinking with friends. Some of these men are probably keeping scores that  their work stress is so great that it is perfectly legitimate for them to hang out with friends to de-stress and re-create those carefree days or that they are networking and looking for opportunities  to  a better future. If they  assume  that the children will form the substratum of their marriage, they will sooner or later find out that such a notion is a misconception. They must know that their  children will grow up and they might just have  missed their chances of caring and nurturing them. 

The Best a Man Can Get written by John O’Farrell tells a story about  a man who shares a bachelor pad with three other men in their twenties in order to escape from the exhausting life of a parent to  a two year old , a baby and a  third one  is  on his way. Michael Adams is living a  double life. He  is a jingle writer for adverts so he tells his wife, Catherine that he has to pull all-nighters  when in fact he escapes to a bachelor pad where he spends his days lying in bed , playing computer and musical trivia games and occasionally  gets some work done and when he is up to it, he crosses the Thames and goes back to his real life. During the antenatal classes that he attends with his wife for their third baby, he starts airing the reality to the crowd of fathers-to-be who are new parents. He allows himself a private chuckle at all the na├»ve enthusiasm of the first – time parents who are all completely consumed by their child before it had even been born. He wants to say to them, ‘don’t keep coming to these parenting classes , go to the cinema together instead, go out for dinner, just do things for yourselves while you still can.

The story is told in the protagonist’s voice.
They were as eager to hear about my experience as I was to recount them. No other man in the room had yet become a parent and they looked to me as the war- scarred veteran, back from battle, full of horrific tales from the front line of fatherhood.
Millennium Bridge,London
    “But the thing that really disappears overnight is your youth. Suddenly your youth is over. I tried to artificially recreate mine,” I said enigmatically, ’but it hasn’t really worked. As soon as you become responsible for someone very, very young, it suddenly makes you feel very, very old. For one thing you are exhausted, both physically and emotionally, and if you have time to still do any of the things you did as a young man, you will find yourself struggling to tackle them with the weary foreboding of an overwhelmed pensioner. By the time the children start to be less physically demanding you’ve aged ten years in he space of two or three, so it’s too late to get it back anyway. You will look in the mirror at the graying hair and sagging face nd you will think, Where the bloody hell did he come from? But you don’t just look old and feel old in your bones, you think old. Your fuss and your worry about your children, but you don’t realize or care that you’re walking down the street with odd socks and your hair sticking up. You become fretful and sensible and organized , and if you ever do anything carefree and spontaneous together it’s because two weeks ago you set aside an hour to do something carefree and spontaneous together. The day that baby comes out it’s over. Your independence, your youth. Your pride-everything that made you what you were. You have to start again from scratch.’

The protagonist laments,
‘In all the adverts that I’d arranged the music for , the families always had such fun; they always looked so comfortable with each other. Even though I worked in the industry I still hadn’t seen through the lies.’

The adverts told us we could have it all , we could be great dads and still go off snowboarding and earn lots of money and pop out of the business meeting to tell our children a bedtime story on the mobile phone. But it can’t be done. Work, family and self; it’s an impossible Rubik’s Cube, You can’t be a hands-on, sensitive father and a tough ,high- earning businessman and a pillar of your local community and a handy do-it- yourself Mr Fixit and a romantic, attentive husband- something has to give . In my case, everything.

Mike feels guilty about his deception though he tries to justify that it is for the sake of the marriage. When Catherine comes to know about  Mike's double life, he  almost loses it all. In fictions things are usually okay at the end. Nonetheless the book is a satire that  gives insights into the psyches of men and women and the demands of contemporary living. O’Farell’s observations about parenthood and his descriptions about the power play and dynamics in a couple are very real and often hilarious. It is candid and funny.

Monaco


Thursday, May 14, 2015

The World of Words



So many good books, so little time. If I could complete one fiction per week, I can only complete around 50 to 60 novels a year.  That is wishful thinking considering amidst my work and doing all the things I like and dislike, I do not actually get to read one fiction per week  unless it is a short one.

I also read books other than fictions. I have started reading the memoir This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett . Here is a passage that I find inspiring for anyone who wants to write.

Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art you must master the craft. If you want to write , practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. Write the story , learn from it, put it away, write another story. Think of a sink pipe filled with sticky sediment. The only way to get clean water is to force a small ocean through the tap. Most of us are full up with bad stories, boring stories, self-indulgent stories, searing works of unendurable melodrama. We must get all of them out of our system in order to find the good stories that may or may not exist in the fresh water underneath. Does this sound like a lot of work without any guarantee of success ? Well yes, but it also calls into question our definition of success.

The only way to learn to write is by writing and the pleasure is in the writing. I cannot agree more. Ms Patchett aspired to be a writer since she was twelve years old. She always knew that she wrote because it was her joy.

I find joy in reading and writing. Reading and writing are solitary acts and nothing pleases me more than allowing me the time and space to read  and write alone.  In his essay entitled “ Why Bother?” ( How to be Alone, Jonathan Franzen )  Franzen wrote this :
At the heart of my despair about the novel had been a conflict between a feeling that I should Address the Culture and Bring News to the Mainstream, and my desire to write about the things closest to me , to lose myself in the characters and locales I loved. Writing, and reading too, had become a grim duty; and considering the poor pay, there is seriously no point in doing either if you’re not having fun.’

Here is what Franzen transcribed from a letter he had received from Don DeLillo, to whom he had written in distress.

The novel is whatever novelists are doing at a given time. If we’re not doing the big social novel fifteen years from now, it’ll probably mean our sensibilities have changed in ways that make such work less compelling to us - we won’t stop because the market die up. The writer leads, he doesn’t follow. The dynamic lives in the writer’s mind, not in the side of the audience. And if the social novel lives, but only barely, surviving in the cracks and ruts of the culture, maybe it will be taken more seriously, as an endangered spectacle. A reduced context but a more intense one.
     Writing is a form of personal freedom. It frees us from the mass identity we see in the making all around .In the end, writers will write not to be outlaw heroes of some under culture but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals.’

Reading and writing require one to be alone in his or her own contemplation . As I read, ideas bounce from one book to another and every book is an invitation to savor, experience , learn and grow. There are great books for every reader. In order to improve one’s writing craft,  one has to keep writing. Ideas are everywhere, writing helps me to formulate my thoughts and as I compose , I reflect.