Friday, November 4, 2011

The World is Our Playground

It is uncanny when I  turned to a page randomly, the words which happened to cross my mind somehow sprang from an article or a fiction I happened to be reading . They are sheer coincidences but  they  reinforce the fact that what is on my mind is shared by many other individuals. There were times when I was internalizing a thought, I came across books which were about the very same theme I happened to be reflecting on . Perhaps it is law of attraction, you get what you are looking for. Perhaps we read what we think.

La Saone- Gray
I have been thinking quite a bit about how we can choose to be elusive and deluded about our situations and what we remember about the past might have been inaccurate. We have a tendency to reconstruct our memory and amend what we remember about the past. Here is a prime example: I had never thought of myself as a strict mother but apparently there was this incident my twenty year old remembered.  She was not allowed to go on a school trip during primary school because she did not do well in some school test. I subsequently jogged my memory and vaguely recalled that there was one school trip  where we had paid up and subsequently she had to tell the teacher that she would not be going for some reasons or other. I think it was probably one of the joint decisions I had to make with my significant other. On my part, I was relieved that she was not going as I had a tendency to become worrisome about my  daughters’ travelling on those buses which the school usually chartered for such trips. I worry about errant and reckless drivers and unhygienic food.

In one Proust questionnaire published in Vanity Fair September 2006 issue, Howard Schultz was asked this :  “What is your most treasured possession?”  Mr Schultz’s  answer was : “ My memories.”  Brilliant answer and how true. But what if our memories are faulty? I believe we all have selective memory, some more selective than others.

Two weekends ago, I was  in the company of  some of the friends’ from the past. We gathered at a post wedding reception held by one of our school friends whose son recently got married. The wedding took place in San Francisco in May and the post wedding party was held a few months later in the groom’s hometown in Malaysia. It was an interesting full weekend catching up with a few school friends. I am not one who becomes nostalgic and carry the notion that school days were wonderful. I think that was such an awkward age. Nonetheless we behaved as if time had not passed despite whatever  we had gone through and  experienced during all those years as  grown ups.

When I returned to my present life, I read "The Sense of an Ending" by Julian Barnes, winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize. At the beginning of the story, the protagonist Tony Websters narrates, “……but what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.”  I can relate to the sentiment after a weekend away with some nostalgic moments spent with some school friends. It is definitely a novel for grown-ups, superb prose, full of wit and complex undertones.
"The Sense of an Ending" explores memory and the story was told through the apparently insignificant life of a sixty year old man, Tony Webster whose life was basically average by his own terms. The calm of his life became unsettled when he received a letter from a solicitor who informed him that he had been left a small legacy by a woman he barely knew and the legacy included a diary kept by his good friend from school, Adrian Finn some four decades ago. Once in history class, the school master asked the students for a definition of history.  Adrian Finn’s answer was “ History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation." Apparently the  quote was from a fictitious French author whom Finn had made up. Tony Webster’s answer then was “ History is the lies of the victors”. Later on in life, he realized that history is the memories of the survivors , most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated.

Tony Webster  narrates “ But time….how time first grounds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly”.  How true. So often we go through life playing safe by avoiding hurt,  loss and the unbeaten path  in the name of survival and self preservation. Webster had to confront the core of his character when he examined some letters he had written in his fits of spite. The book is exquisitely written and makes an insightful read. 
Another  insightful and brilliant novel I had recently read was  “ A visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan. It is about passing of our youth, very cleverly written. The writer has employed a satirical approach to lives of the characters in the fiction. 

Not that I lament about the passing of youth and fragilities of life, I particularly enjoy reading novels which have been written on that premise. I am addicted to buying books as every book is a hopeful purchase. These days I find myself devouring the pages too quickly to accord the author justice. While I anticipate the joy and look forward to the day when I can take my time  to savour each and every phrase and passage lucidly put together by these writers, I suspect I may still not have enough time in the world to catch up with all the books I want to read. Meanwhile  juggling time between my work, chores, tennis , yoga,  social outings, chats, movies, books  and blogging keep my adrenalin pumping.


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