Saturday, July 22, 2017

Then and Now



House is empty again. The rooms have not been cleared completely but for now I am glad to have my space back.  I reckon I need the physical space to think about nothing. I need to be alone with my thoughts,  to decompress and let my thoughts wander.

In the morning,  I make scones and work on a client’s matter before hitting the office. I work and return home before 8 p.m. After dinner,  I sit on the couch in my living room and read a little and then I walk to the kitchen to have a drink. After having taken sips of water, I am back to the couch reading The Opposite of Fate, A Book of Musings by Amy Tan.  I am seriously behind in my reading. Since I have been rather inactive considering how I used to exercise five to six times a week, I decide to take our dog, Holly for a walk around the neighbourhood hoping to walk off the butter from the scone I consumed in the morning. I have the last bit of dark chocolate left in the jar before I head out. We manage only a short walk around the neighbourhood as it is past nine thirty and not a good time to wake up the entire neighbourhood with all their dogs barking whenever Holly walks past their gates. Twenty minutes walk is better than sitting on my butt for the same period of time. 

After my shower, I bring my MacBook Air around to the breakfast counter as I feel like writing something. Then I change my mind and end up bringing my MacBook Air to the living room to start typing. I feel almost my normal self again.

I remember a time when I used to be much more welcoming. During my final year in upper secondary school, a classmate had stayed with me because she needed a place to study for our upcoming exams. She told me that she had trouble focusing on her revision in her home. I did not exactly know what she had meant but I vaguely remember that she had stayed in an old bungalow. It could be something to do with her brother and sister-in-law. These days I guard my private space ardently. Given my present mindset, I would not have accommodated such a request. I  recall how some of my cousins would come visit from Indonesia and they would stay with my family for a period of time. Perhaps school was a bore and I would love a distraction. Whenever my mother had guests from abroad, we ate out more and my dad would take our guests around so my sister and I would happily tag along for such outings. That was probably why I  liked having guests at home then.

Amy Tan writes in her memoir, The Opposite of Fate  'A Book of Musings'.

     ' For as long as I can remember, I have been curious about how I remember. The earlier memory I have is of an event that took place under a tree. I was a year and a half old. And I know I was that age because of the season and the details of the yard and the house. I remember that I was sitting on the cool lawn on a hot day. Around me was a low fence and to my right was a white house with dark doorways that led to naps. My big brother and parents were above me. Suddenly something hit my head. My brother laughed. Although it did not hurt that much, I was startled and cried loudly to voice my displeasure, lest it happen again. After a while, I picked up what had fallen on my head. It filled my entire palm, a fuzzy golden ball.

       " It was a peach," I recalled to my mother. 
       She thought for a while, and then said that it was not a peach but an apricot, for the parish house in Fresno was the only place we had lived that had a fruit tree in the yard. And this made sense, that it was an apricot, for an apricot would have filled my eighteen-month-old hand in the way a peach would fill my adult one. '

' There was another time, when I was seven, that I realized that memories were elusive that you could not will them to stay, and that some you could not will to go away. I was old enough to understand that some things were in my memory like waking morning dreams. No matter how much I tried to hang on to them, they slipped away. And when I tried to find a way to remember them, by, say, writing about them, or drawing a picture of them, the result was not even close. And the result then became the memory that replaced the real thing.'

For me, the earliest memory I have is of an event that took place next to a staircase. I was three years old and my family had just returned from our visit to my mother's family in Langsa near Medan, Sumatra. I was playing with toy cooking set, a gift from my Indonesian aunt whom we had recently visited. Even that memory is fading and I used to remember more details, like the blue or red plastic cup and plates but now I am not sure if I have just made them up. Perhaps I should have written them down when I remembered what I remembered. Toys for children tend to be gender biased. Girls play with cooking sets in anticipation of their place in the kitchen.

Whenever I feel misunderstood,  I try to recall the sequence of my conversation to understand how I could have been wronged. No matter how hard  I replay the conversation in my head, I have only the memory of the memory of what I  remember and it may not be accurate. I have since learnt to stop obsessing about silly or angry things that I have said, after all we can only go forward rather than look backwards.

I have to re-read Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan but I cannot find my copy of the book. I will have to get one from an independent bookshop nearby soon. 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Comfort Zone

Wheelock Place, Singapore

My houseguests will not be leaving soon and there is nothing I can do about it. The feeling I have reminds me of the feeling that I had as a child when I sat in my father's car feeling sorry that all the movie tickets were sold out. Looking back I know it was sheer feeling of powerless. I have to adapt to television noise, chatter and activities around the house. How I miss the empty space and quiet at home. I get disorientated. A month ago, my younger daughter was home and she asked me if I had the SD card reader. I knew I had it somewhere and I just could not recall where I had tucked it away and then weeks later,  I came across not just one but two of them. I can usually place where I have kept my things and as I had to shift my books and papers out of their comfort zone i.e. the study, I  could not recall where I had shifted these things to after clearing up the space to make it into a guest room.

The fabric at home has changed. I know I need to change my mindset to embrace the situation. People are distractions to me and there are good days and bad days, some days I cope better than others.  I feel unsettled, so distracted and distressed that my reading has much slowed down and I have not been able to write much. I have to curb that feeling of dismay when another unproductive day bites the dust. 

Julian Barnes is one of my favourite writers. He writes with such elegance and efficacy. Since I first read The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, I have bought almost every book written by the ever brilliant author. I find his prose witty and his observations insightful. In Talking It Over, every character narrates the story through his or her perspectives. It is about Oliver Russell, the never do well flamboyant friend of Stuart Hughes, his very old friend since school days. It is a love triangle story about how Oliver steals Stuart's wife, Gillian Wyatt.  Oliver falls in love with Gillian on the day she marries his good friend, Stuart. From their monologues, you get to know that Stuart is a young banker who is careful with his finances and not a confident person. Oliver is pedantic and yet a wilder type, an unfulfilled soul who winds up teaching at Shakespeare School of English and even manages to get himself sacked from the institution. Stuart and Oliver have struck an unlikely friendship throughout the years. Gillian is an art restorer and a former social worker. 

Through the different accounts by Stuart, Gillian and Oliver and several minor characters, the story is told. 
Stuart       Everything starts here. That’s what I keep repeating to myself. Everything starts  here.
            I was only average at school. I was never encouraged to think that I should aim for university. I did a correspondence course in economics and commercial law, then got accepted by the Bank as a general trainee. I work in the foreign exchange department. I’d better not mention the Bank’s name, just in case they don’t like it. But you’ll have heard of them. They’ve made it fairly clear to me that I’ll never be a high-flier, but every company needs some people who aren’t high-fliers, and that’s all right by me. My parents were the type of parents who always seemed faintly disappointed by whatever it was you did, as if you were constantly letting them down in small ways.

Oliver     I have to be near her, do you understand? I have to win her, I have to earn her, but first I have to be near her.

Gillian    I love Stuart. Now I love Oliver. Everyone got hurt. Of course I feel guilty. What would you have done? 

Again this is from Stuart.

'One of the first things people tell you about money is that it’s an illusion. It’s notional. If you give someone a dollar bill it’s not ‘worth’ a dollar – it’s ‘worth’ a small piece of paper and a small amount of printer’s ink – but everyone agrees, everyone subscribes to the illusion that it’s worth a dollar, and therefore it is. All the money in the world only means what it does because people subscribe to the same illusion about it. Why gold, why platinum? Because everyone agrees to place this value upon them. And so on.

         You can probably see where I’m leading. The other world illusion, the other thing that exists simply because everyone agrees to place a certain value on it, is love. Now you may call me a jaundiced observer, but that’s my conclusion. And I’ve just been pretty close up to it. I’ve had my nose rubbed in love, thank you very much. I’ve put my nose as close against love as I put my nose to the screen when I’m talking it over with money. And it seems to me there are parallels to be drawn. '

Each character is giving his or her own version of the story from his or her point of view and when we place these accounts together, they give a fair picture of what happens. You know it is fiction yet it is credible and it is dark when these characters are taken over by what and how they think about love. 

Years ago I read Love,etc, a sequel to Talking it Over. Love, etc is set ten years later and was written some ten years after Talking it Over. In Love, etc, we know that Stuart has since remarried, got divorced again but he has a successful organic food business. 

Life is work in progress so are we. As we grow up, there are always difficult situations that are thrown at us and years later, we probably end up in a place where we look back and wonder," What was all that about ?". I feel that whatever circumstances we are confronted with and whatever decisions or indecisions we may have made at the time, they are all necessary so we can be in a better place from where we once were. In the meantime,  we have to focus on the present and look forward to brighter days ahead.