Thursday, December 11, 2014

Spreading the news

When the internet first became popularized, I used to receive tons of emails and often they were  the same jokes and banters being circulated and now by the same token,  jokes and messages are sent via whats app  and some of them are rehash of old jokes. Apart from exchanging tips and advice about how to stay healthy and safe, horrible news about what have happened in where we live also get disseminated through whats app. There was this one time , I had received news via group whats app about a missing young woman with her photo attached and a day later, a corrective message informed that the woman was not missing. With social media, official news as well as unofficial ones travel and get broadcasted. As the recipients of such news stories, we have to decide whether to send on the news report or disregard them. I often choose not to spread these news as one can never know the truth. While I do not want to end up passing on a  news story that turns out to be a farce, I also do not see how any of these news stories will benefit anyone.

In Gone Girl, the curious case of the missing wife has gone viral.  The  story written by Gillian Flynn  is premised on the corrosive relationship between Nick Dunne and his beautiful wife, Amy who suddenly disappears on their 5th wedding anniversary. Nick becomes the prime suspect and his behaviour and movements are under the close scrutiny of the police and the watchful news media. The story is narrated in a he said, she said fashion and both narrators are unreliable in describing their versions of the marriage which has become front line news to feed the insatiable media frenzy. Nick’s parents are divorced while Amy’s parents are  very much married to one another.  In Amy’s diary entry, she describes her parents:
Soul mates. They really call themselves that, which makes sense, because I guess they are. I can vouch for it, having studied them, little lonely only child, for many years. They have no harsh edges with each other, no spiny conflicts, they ride through life like conjoined jellyfish – expanding and contracting instinctively, filling each other’s spaces liquidly. Making it look easy, the soul-mate thing. People say children  from broken homes have it hard, but the children of charmed marriages have their own particular challenges.’

Neither Nick’s parents’ bad marriage  nor  Amy’s parents’ strong marriage have anything to do with the state of the young couple’s marriage.  Amy writes in her diary:              

 ‘Nick and I sometimes laugh,laugh out loud, at the horrible things women make their husbands do to prove their love. The pointless tasks ,the myriad sacrifices, the endless small surrenders. We call these men the dancing monkeys.’

The story begins with Nick’s narration.
I’d know her head anywhere.
And what’s inside it. I think of that , too : her mind. Her brain, all those coils, and her thoughts shuttling through those coils like fast, frantic centipedes. Like a child, I picture opening her skull, unspooling her brain and sifting through it, trying to catch and pin down her thoughts. What are you thinking Amy?  The question I ‘ve asked most often during our marriage, if not out loud , if not to the person who could answer. I suppose these questions stormcloud over every marriage : What are you thinking ? How are you feeling ? Who are you? What have we done to each other ? What will we do?'

In Gone Girl, Amy and Nick face challenging times after they both have lost their writing jobs in New York and Nick makes the decision of them moving back to his little Missouri hometown. The harrowing story explores the respective psyche of  a man and a woman  who have loved and come to hate each other as they become manipulative and deceitful to one another. It is a crime thriller  with many twists and turns in a cleverly crafted story.

Relationships are complicated. As a rule, partners or spouses have to negotiate and seek a compromise to ensure that their partnership or marriage is sustainable. We like to believe that love is unconditional but in reality, we are expected to be at our best if we do not want  any relationship to go awry even if it is an intimate one. A healthy and thriving relationship will bring out the best and not madness and definitely not the worst in each other. In an ideal coupledom, there should not be a winner or a loser. Amy becomes the heroine for the media when she goes missing and as  the tabloid sensationalizes the story, she is viewed as the victim quite by default. Nick has to work on his public persona as people are generally quick to jump to their own judgments  about his guilt rightly or wrongly. Nick is hounded by news reporters and finds himself facing a public trial as the television, journalists and social media try to put together a story which is based on presumptions.  Gone Girl is a fiction that tells a story reminding us that it is quite impossible for anyone to learn the truth about any news story. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

No Turning Back

For every decision which we have made, there are consequences that follow. There are times we wish we could go back in time and undo the things we have done. We wish we would be given a second chance to correct some steps we have taken or  do something better. We will never know what could have been if we have made different choices and taken a different decision but various decisions and choices  have  to be made from time to time.

In the novel “Landline” written by Rainbow Rowell, Georgie McCool is a TV writer and something has come up just before she and her husband are supposed to visit his family in Omaha for Christmas. Georgie tells Neal that she cannot go as she has to stay back in Los Angeles to work on her show. Neal is upset with Georgie and she wonders if she has ruined everything when her husband and the kids go to Omaha without her.

Would  she and Neal be better off if their marriage had not happened? Georgie is miserable when she decides to stay back and work on her script. She is distracted and she discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It is like time travel but it is not . When she cannot get through to Neal on his mobile phone, she tries the landline at his mother’s house and it is always busy.

Georgie was back to the past looking at the future which is her present. She thinks about their almost breakup one Christmas fifteen years ago before they got married.

‘Not fine . Completely not fine.
‘I should have told you ? I did tell you.  I said, ‘ I can’t do this anymore.’ I said, “I love you , but I’m not sure if it’s enough. I’m not sure it will ever be enough,’ I said. ‘ I don’t want to live like this, Georgie’- remember?’

It made sense, really. If Georgie was going to have a delusional, paranoid breakdown about her husband leaving her ,it made sense that she ‘d flash back to the one time Neal actually had left her.
Sort of left her.
Before they were married. ‘

Georgie is obviously miserable and tries to resolve her conflicts. She is  not that likeable a character as she seems self indulgent but aren’t most of us self involved even though we may try not to  show it?

Georgie wasn’t better off. Even of Neal was right – even if they’d never make it work together, even if they were fundamentally wrong for each other  -- she still wasn’t better off without him. (Even if your heart is broken and attacking you, you’re still not better off without it )

Georgie’s mother is the  “cougar” as her dates become considerably younger and Georgie finds that her mom is a pervert, a libertine when she checks out twenty-something guys at forty. The other character in Georgie’s life is fun and trendy . Seth is Georgie’s writing partner since college days. She went to University of Los Angeles because of The Spoon which was the Harvard Lampoon of the West Coast. Seth was a sophomore and already an editor. He and Georgie work well as a team. One can imagine them as buddies starring  in a sitcom where their lines are witty and funny.

Seth’s chief pastime back then was paying attention to girls. ( Another thing that hadn’t changed.) Lucky for him, then and now, girls usually paid attention back.

Huangshan, China
The way  Rainbow Rowell describes her  characters  is like how we describe someone we know. She has an easy going voice and there are some very funny lines. With hindsight, we may or may not appreciate the decisions we have made. On reflection, we may have done things differently but the question is : Would we have been better off ? That is the theme that comes through the latest book written by Rainbow Rowell. Landline has recently won the Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Fiction 2014.

Relationships are never easy. In some cases there may be no degree of atonements that can ever reverse a situation. There is no turning back. The British film Locke  tells such a story.  The protagonist Locke was played by Tom Hardy whose performance is compelling.

Locke is about Ivan Locke, a successful construction manager and a family man who has to ring up his wife, Katrina to tell her that he will not be home because a colleague with whom he had a one night stand is having his baby. His wife and sons are waiting for him to watch a football match with him and his job is at stake.  He is in a bind, and he has to be present for the premature birth of his child whose mother needs his support as she lives alone in London. He has not been able to tell the wife about his infidelity until then. The entire film takes place in his car and you get the story  from the phone conversations he has with his colleagues and wife and sons. He is also seen to have an imaginary conversation with his own father who has abandoned him as a child. Even though how his life is turned topsy turvy within a span of two hours’ drive does not seem possible, it is not improbable.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Right or wrong?

There is no right or wrong. But can anyone be so unassuming that anything goes? Everyone operates and approaches a task from his or her point of view and the role he or she assumes whether by choice or due to his or her job specifications or the circumstances that he or she is in. More often than not we respond or execute a task in a pragmatic manner. When it feels right and things work, we will continue to operate in that manner. A mother  usually cooks something wholesome for the family but a cook who does it as a living may not think about cooking something healthy as he or she just wants to serve something that is delicious and enticing to the customers. Is it his or her moral duty to see that the food he or she is serving is healthy for human consumption? The restaurateur’s objective is to make money and ensure that his or her restaurant is sustainable and not about sustainable living for the world. It is up to the individual to decide for himself or herself what he or she wants to consume.

When I first started practising law and doing civil litigation , I loved the challenge in getting a point across to the judge particularly when I found that my client had been wronged or there has been clearly misapplication of  the laws regardless of whether my client  is an individual, a landowner , a bank or a company. No matter how technical or tedious the legal points may be , it has always been interesting to find the cases and  authorities  to support my clients’ contentions.  After years of practice, I see that there are always doubts about what the clients tell us and it is a matter of perspective and perceptions but as a lawyer it is a matter of interpretation of the laws to suit our clients’ needs. Throughout the years I see that the banking documents run into voluminous pages as the banks and financial institutions have relentlessly and constantly worked on their clauses so as to make it impossible for the borrowers and consumers to succeed in court  should a dispute arises. It is a lawyer’s role to see that a particular client’s interest is well represented and safeguarded. The lawyer’s job is to act on  client’s instructions within the legal parameters and we must not think about the interest of the other contracting party. It is also our job to uphold our client’s rights and defend our client’s interest in court and winning the case  is what matters most.

In ‘It’s a Man’s World’ the novel written by Polly Courtney ,  Alexa Harris is asked to head up lads’ magazine , Banter.  Alexa is brainy and ambitious and always loves a challenge. She is subjected misogyny in the testosterone- fuelled office. When she introduces the My Girfriend mobile app for the lads’ magazine where one can upload nude pictures , she finds herself the target for the women’s rights activists who has  found the app to be pornographic and must be banned as it  perpetuates the notion that women are objects and one particular feminist persistently tracks her down to bring across the message that the lads’ magazines promote violence against women.  Georgie , the antagonist in the story tells  Alexa  that what the magazine has done is  brought sexual images and language into the mainstream and Alexa tries to argue that sex is everywhere and it is not the fault of the magazine. Alexa is so bent on achieving the sales target so that the magazine will stay afloat that she refuses to see the social harm the lads magazine may cause due to lack of control and the mobile uploads.

Shanghai 2011
At the work place, there are also women  who will dress  and behave  in a way to please the male bosses to  get ahead. The personal assistant in Banter , Sienna  is such a girl though she has writing talents. 

Alexa continued to drink her beer, feeling it mix with the tequila inside her and thinking about Riz’s words . He was right . There wasn’t a single move that the PA made that didn’t have a motive. She kept Derek sweet because she wanted to work her way into an editorial post. She played the dumb blonde because she wanted the team to see her as compliant and sexy – the perfect Banter girl. An outsider might say that she was the victim of sexual harassment at work, but in fact, it was the other way round. It was her male colleagues who were being played.
Tokyo Dec'06

‘She’s just biding her time,’ Riz said quietly.
‘What d’you mean?”
‘ She wants to do more editorial – not just the shitty problems letters she does for Neil. She’s looking around, I bet.’
Alexa looked at him. ‘Do you think?’
He nodded.

Tokyo  Dec' 06

Alexa’s mother and good friend, Leonie would never approve of what she is  doing at Banters. Alexa is forced to look at who she has become and the price she has to pay to get ahead.  There are interesting insights in the novel ‘ It’s a Man’s World’ .          

Monday, November 3, 2014

Carpe Diem

Last Saturday evening, a friend who now resides in Adelaide informed  me via a text  on my mobile phone that someone I knew from the university days passed away in Sydney that afternoon. I can still recall how the person looked, spectacled, tanned and thin. He was one of my flatmates for three months. Decades ago, six of us in our late teens got together and rented a big house near Coogee Beach in Sydney. The ad stated that there were several rooms and in reality only one of the rooms was a proper bedroom and it could barely fit in a double bunker bed.  All  six of us who had just gone over to Sydney for our matriculation moved into the house. We were mistaken to think that rooms had meant bedrooms when there was only one bedroom and the other rooms were basically living room and dining room.I still remember how all of us were away from home for the first lunar new year and we had missed our  respective families . After three months we decided to part as we had trouble focusing on our studies. Nonetheless we had fun  sampling each other’s cooking and I remember the guys seemed to be better cooks than me and the girlfriend who had kept in contact with these housemates. More than a year ago, I was also informed that another housemate had bitten the dust. Though I have not caught up with either of them for decades, I  feel rattled as these friends were still  some  years away from qualifying for senior travel discounts.

How often I am reminded that  life is transient, yet I get caught up with trivialities . Life is short is not just another cliché. Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero. Seize the day as you do not know what tomorrow will bring.

Seize the day enjoy the moment make full use of the moment. Not every life will leave a mark, not all lives are extraordinary, but I would imagine that these friends will be missed by their loved ones. Even though these friends and I have become strangers, their deaths still affect me. I cannot help thinking whether they had unrealized dreams. Death releases one from human sufferings. No matter what we say about human sufferings, we still prefer living than dying and we would like to hang on to life as long as we could.
In Kinder than Solitude, Yiyun Li wrote, “ Uncle’s death had caused, however transient ,a ripple of melancholy in Ruyu’s heart, followed by relief. Uncle had been one of those whose lives were saturated by unwarranted sadness, and what could be a kinder antidote to sadness than death itself?”

Yiyun Li also wrote,
 People don’t vanish from one’s life ;they come back in disguise.

Maybe it is about closure, some people have caught up with many of their school friends or varsity friends while some people choose to move on without a trace and leave their school friends wondering what could have happened to them. As a rule  most people will only let you in for what they want you to know and if you think about it, do you really want or need to know about  all the  things that have happened to the people you know? 
Beijing Dec'07
Kinder than Solitude is a fiction about three childhood friends who have chosen to live apart, two of them stayed away from their homeland while one of them remained behind in Beijing. They are  all haunted by a mysterious incident whereby a friend of theirs was poisoned and ended up in vegetative state for twenty-one years. In 1989, Ruyu , a fifteen year old  orphan was sent by her adoptive family  to Beijing to live with a relative and her family  and there she had met Moran and Boyang who had been close friends since they were children. At the relative’s place, she had to share a room with their only child, Shaoai, a rebellious twenty-two year old young woman who was  obstinate and has relentlessly caused her parents distress and pain. Against her parents’ wishes, Shoai had been active in the democratic protest in the summer and had to face disciplinary action from the university where she was studying international trade and relations. The story is about the loss of innocence in Moran and Boyang. Before Ruyu’s arrival, their school life had been straightforward and sweet. Ruyu had learnt not to trust anyone ever since she was very young. She had once been deceived by a girl in first grade who had often begged to be taken to her home and she had promised not to tell a soul about the visit, “yet the day after the visit everyone in the class seemed to have leaned something about her home, and even a couple of teachers came to ask her about her grandaunts’books.

 While the story is rather straightforward, Li’s descriptions of the characters and their psyches are definite and compelling. Li  writes as she describes a young girl whom Boyang is attracted to  when he is old enough to be her sugar daddy: “ What made her different from other disillusioned souls? All young people start with untainted dreams, but how many would retain their capacities to dream? How many could refrain from transforming themselves into corruptors of other untainted dreams? We are all wardens and executors biding our time; what’s taken from us, what’s killed in us, we wait for our turn to avenge.

Kinder than Solitude written by Yiyun Li is a page turner that keeps you in suspense about the irresolvable crime that has caused three friends to become estranged and how each character is driven into loneliness and solitude by the weightiness of  their own memory and guilt about the incident in which a friend of theirs has been poisoned. Another insightful writing about how one cannot  extricate oneself from one’s past no matter how hard one tries. Kinder than Solitude is not just about a murder mystery. click

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Difficult Resolution

Some people do not seem to have difficulties making decisions  as they know their  priorities and they do not think too much about what they do and what they have been told to do. They go about their daily life and execute tasks without much thinking and will carry on their lives doing what everyone else is doing. They are achievement and goal oriented. They are pragmatic people. While some people constantly find themselves in a bind and even if they do not like what they are doing, they will carry on doing what they are doing as they know it is essential to earn a living and they are uncertain about venturing beyond what they deem their limitations. It is therefore inspiring to know that there are always some people  who are brave enough to follow through what they believe is their calling and they are focused in pursuing their dreams as they make unconventional choices. Whatever we wish to do or not to do with our lives, there will be the difficult resolution which usually becomes the necessary resolution.

A cousin of mine once comments that my life is a hundred times better than my mother’s. I love my mother but I used to be angry with her for being weak. On reflection, she was strong in the way she could be given the circumstances she was in. She was a traditional woman and she had given up her job as a needlework teacher  at a secondary school in order to care for the family. When my late dad started his own enterprise, she had cooked meals for his workers and helped around in the workplace. She was a very humble person, definitely an introvert who had imparted in me the passion to read and she used to save up news article about Sanmao 三毛, a travel writer so that I could read them when I was home for my vacation during varsity days. Both my mother and I felt that Sanmao led a  very adventurous and romantic lifestyle. The Taiwanese writer had written about her experiences living in the Sahara desert and we had enjoyed reading them. My mother’s  heart was broken when she  discovered that my dad had another family. She originally came from a neighbouring country  so  when her marriage went terribly wrong, there was nowhere else to run to. After witnessing what my mother had gone through in her lifetime, I am constantly preoccupied with seeking my own personal happiness separate from the role of a wife and mother. I am very often drawn to stories that centre around women’s struggles and success as I find them inspiring.

Stella Bain , a novel written by Anita Shreve is about a woman of exceptionally strong character and stamina. The protagonist, Etna Bliss is extremely courageous as she was determined to go through insurmountable distance to right a wrong that  has been caused by her husband. The story is set in the late 19th Century and early 20th century where Etna has set out to France to serve as a nurse’s aide in the war. She is determined to track down someone who has been sent to war as an ambulance driver with the British Red Cross in France after his reputation and academic career have been ruined as a result of her husband’s manipulation. Etna feels that she owes it to her husband’s rival who has been victimized and sent away from his homeland to France .

Despite her strength, I do not find myself particularly motivated or moved by Etna Bliss while I find the character whom she tries to track down inspiring and endearing.  Even when the going gets tough, Phillip Asher looks for beauty in order to survive the war zone.
‘ Etna is suddenly curious. “What do you do when you’re not driving?”
He sits back and twirls his glass. “ If you mean a pastime, I suppose I’d have to say I look for ….well….beauty. It sounds ridiculous, but you’d be surprised how difficult it is .”
“ It doesn’t sound ridiculous to me at all.”
“ It’s a humble but challenging quest in this place, a bit like a treasure hunt. When I find something, I note it in a small notebook I carry. Keeps me from going mad, I suppose.”
“What have you found?’
He sits back and clears his throat. “I once saw a large flower struggling to poke through the earth. The cracks in the soil caught my attention. I watched the bent stalk pop up as if it were spring-loaded. It was amazing. Let’s see.” He takes a sip of wine. “I saw a beautiful man, an officer.” He pauses, his face somber, perhaps remembering a death. “ A field of snow , lit pink. A tooled navy leather journal a soldier kept inside his uniform. He’d barely made two weeks of entries before he was killed. I once watched a priest take ten years off a man’s simply by calming his nerves. Gunfire is beautiful. If you didn’t know what it signified, you’d think it was beautiful , too.”'

I am not familiar with Anita Shreve’s writings and perhaps this may not be the best book to start.  I somehow cannot fully empathize with the main protagonist in Stella Bain despite the fact that she suffers amnesia after having gone through extraordinary circumstances and is pushed beyond her limits. Anita Shreve is obviously portraying a woman whose courage and noble intentions are intended to be inspiring. While I appreciate that  Etna is definitely a woman struggling to live life on her own terms, due to the complex situation she has landed herself in, I find the character rather contrived.  As a rule, I believe that there is often a lot of truth  in fictions and  fictions can be closer to truth. Despite all the vivid descriptions about the  horror of World War I and the post-trauma stress disorder termed as shell shock that was suffered by many who were involved in the front , I find that the female character, Etna Bliss remains purely fictitious only. Nonetheless the book is absorbing enough to make a compelling read.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

It must be?

Casablanca is one of my favourite films and I was glad that it was amongst the films selection on board a long haul flight I had recently taken. There are films that I can watch repeatedly and some of the scenes in these movies still move me despite having watched them again and again.  I would  have found such films less poignant when I was in my teens as I used to believe that the choices are our own and it is within our power to make them for which we must be responsible. As time goes by, I realize that  there are always difficult choices and some things are just not meant to be.

Translated from the Czech by  Michael Henry Heim
Milan Kundera writes in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.  since the first rehearsal for life is life itself’”. Which shall we choose  ? Weight or lightness?

The premise of Kunderas novel is based on its authors analysis about the dichotomy between lightness and weight in the light of Nietzsches philosophy about eternal return ( I must qualify that I have not read Nietzche) and whether we can combat fate by  choosing  to live under weight like Tereza and Franz  or lightness like the characters, Tomas and Sabina. As the novel progresses, I find that both lightness and weight are manifested in all the main characters in the novel, some more apparent than others.

Tereza yearned for  her mothers love and was willing to do anything to gain her mothers love and she became the culprit for her mothers unhappiness. One day she decided to escape her old life by finding Tomas with whom she had recently acquainted when he happened to be in her town, a small Czech town some hundred and twenty five miles from Prague. Tomas, a surgeon,  went to the hotel restaurant where she was working as a waitress. When Tomas ordered a cognac, the radio happened to be playing the composition by Beethoven and she had known the music from the time a string quartet from Prague visited her town. Whenever she heard Beethoven, she would be touched. However if it was not Tomas, she might not have noticed the music.

Chance and chance alone has a message for us. Everything that occurs out of necessity, everything expected, repeated day in and day out, is mute. Only chance can speak to us. We read its message much as gypsies read the images made by coffee grounds at the bottom of a cup.

To assuage Terezas sufferings, Tomas married her and gave her a puppy. Tereza wanted commitment from Tomas who was incapable of giving up his incessant womanizing. When they moved to Zurich, Tereza  returned to Prague leaving Tomas behind because she could not live abroad. After two days of her absence ,Tomas felt like he had been hit by a weight and he  had to leave his job and he said Es muss sein to the Swiss doctor who had offered him the position. Es muss  sein. It must be. Tomas found himself being burdened by his love for Tereza and he returned to Prague to be with Tereza.

Sabina,  a painter  who had a liaison with Tomas would be charmed more by betrayal than fidelity and she had commitment issues when she was with Franz, a professor in Geneva. Franz was drawn to Sabinas persona who was a revelation to him as she  came  from a land where there were incidents of persecution, enemy tanks, prison , banned books and he felt that by contrast his life was  light. Franz desired weight as opposed to Sabina who represented lightness and to Frank, Sabina represented a different dimension .

Sabina protested. She said that conflict, drama ,and tragedy didn’t mean a thing; there was nothing inherently valuable in them, nothing deserving of respect or admiration.

 Sabina had no love for that drama while Franz who, despite having written and published several scholarly books that had received considerable acclaims,  felt  that words that had been spewed out were not real life as they were a sea of words with no weight and no resemblance to life. 

How often we feel weighed down by our commitments and ties and we  struggle to gain an equilibrium between breaking free and a sense of belonging and finding meaning in our lives.Love, freedom and death make up the meaning of our lives. We desire lightness yet we cannot help feeling the weight as we celebrate our ties and commitments. Relationships are what give meanings and value in our lives. Muss es sein? Es muss sein. The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a novel which  I hope to read again as I have not fully digested all of it and I may have oversimplified my understanding of the novel. The sentences are  beautifully written ( as translated from the Czech by  Michael Henry Heim) and the way the narrator interjects with the author's musings makes me want to read the book again. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Coming of Age

Maturity may bring about some level of sensibilities but age has nothing to do with maturity and sensibilities. Perhaps age and experience can make a difference in the way we approach a subject or the manner we  perform or execute a particular task or tackle a certain problem, but I find that  age has nothing to do with how one thinks.  While I am not saying that we are no older than how we feel, I like to believe that we remain forever ourselves no matter what age we are. The saying that people mellow as they grow old often eludes me although it is not impossible for us to become better persons when we make conscious efforts to improve ourselves if we know and acknowledge our failings.

I believe age plays a role in the way one processes and assesses information. How we  assess a certain situation largely depends on what we have learnt from previous experiences although our  regards about the world generally remain unchanged at best they may be manifested in different forms over the years. It is interesting to note that in  the French classes that I attend at the Alliance Francaise, I see that students who are still going to school somehow are much relaxed during classes whereas adults have a tendency to try to rationalize everything and analyze the workings of certain sentences or the logic of what is  printed in the texts instead of simply enjoying the texts and feel the language. How wonderful it is  to be totally unassuming and open to whatever information  you might be handed.

These days, apart from reading novels and some non-fictions, I also read articles that talk about how to prevent dementia and avoid amnesia simply because I get a little worrisome whenever  I become forgetful. Then I remind myself that I was also a forgetful and absent minded person particularly in my teens as I never remembered anything I had studied in school anyway. I used to take everything rather seriously in my youth when I was often  lacking in confidence and at times feeling smug and righteous and having problems with angst and mood swings  and now that I try not to take most things too seriously, I do not think that older necessarily means wiser. One thing I have learnt is that the world remains utterly unchanged despite our efforts and  humanity never fails to intrigue.

A friend has passed me some issues of London Review of Books and I came across an article written by Jenny Diski . The article  is a review on the book “Out of Time” authored  by Lynne Segal. In her article entitled, “However I Smell” , Diski writes, “One of the problems of ageing is knowing when to start complaining about being old.”  Diski relates about how  an woman who worked with elderly people had emailed to tell her that the 85-year-olds she worked with would describe people her age young after having read something of hers in which she described herself, at 66 , as old. 

Diski also writes in the said article,

“ ….the degeneration of the body will alter and limit how you can live, whether you can get out, continue to work and travel. I can’t think of anything about the reality of ageing which improves a person’s life. The wisdom people speak of that is supposed to come to us in old age seems to be in much shorter supply than I imagined, and apart from that , it’s a matter of how self-deceptively, or stoically, you are able or prepared to put up with the depletions, dependency and indignities of getting old.”

So aptly put , indeed. While we must be prepared to  accept some certainties or limitations of life, we tend to avoid thinking about  growing old though mortality is ineluctable. I believe that everything I hear or read is something I have  meant to hear or read. You hear what you want to hear, you see what you want to see  and  you  read what you want to read. When I was thinking about dignified aging, the article “However I Smell”  presented itself. It is published  in Volume 36 Number 9 issue of the London Review of Books. As I grow older, I certainly find that my reserve of  optimism  has diminished in its supply so is the abundance of spontaneity  while cynicism has its way of inviting itself into one’s mind, firmly engrained. In some ways I miss my youth when I could get  excited over things and look at stuff through rose tinted glasses. You win some, you lose some.  Whatever works. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Juggling Words

Colosseum or Coliseum also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre in Rome

What do lawyers do? As we juggle words and shuffle papers, we render our services in helping  our clients to get out of whatever legal troubles they land themselves in and carry out their endeavours by obeying the law.

A woman walked into the office half an hour before our office closed. She needed some legal advice. I decided to see her as I thought that should not take long. As it turned out , I had to ask one of my staff to stay back to type a letter and photocopy the documents which she had brought with her. These days, I find that I have become less independent at work in the sense that I no longer wish to attend to the clerical part of the work. The woman’s problem was to do with her husband’s and as he  had suffered a stroke, she had to deal with a legal problem  that  was to do with a property that he had rented out years ago. After listening to her story for some twenty minutes, I told her that in order to stop the execution proceedings that are already set in motion, it would be practical to offer a good sum of money as ex-gratia payment to the claimant that happened to be the Electricity Board. She had brought along all the necessary documents and it was apparent from those documents  that  they had engaged a solicitor as soon as they got wind of what the tenant had done before absconding years ago. Notwithstanding the correspondences between the previous solicitor and the Electricity Board, the latter had gone ahead and obtained the judgment without the couple’s knowledge. Even though she claimed that the  electricity had been tampered with by her previous tenant, as the subscriber for the particular account, her husband would be liable to settle the outstanding charges for all intents and purposes. I could tell that she was not a push over though she acted like she was just a housewife who needed legal advice and she was apologetic. That reminds me of another incident where the wife had acted like she was merely taking instructions from the husband and that her husband would be very furious with her if she had not executed the instructions given by the husband properly. I could not recall what exactly happened in my other case but all I remember was that it had left a bad taste in my mouth and yet I never learnt simply because I believe that it is our professional duty to render legal help to these ordinary folks.

When I asked the woman how she ended up walking into my firm, she said she happened to be in the vicinity when she went to the bank a few doors from our office and she decided to walk into our firm. As we were preparing the letter for her, one of my office partners returned to the office after a meeting. When I saw that they acknowledged each other, I asked her why she had not mentioned that she knew my partner. Later on I found out from my partner that he had already handled a couple of matters for her. Maybe I should give the woman the benefit of the doubt that  she was just confused. While I do find that clients do not  usually give you the complete picture, I still feel that it was quite unnecessary for her to be evasive about how she ended up coming to our firm for consultation. She must have figured out that since my partner said he would not be available  on that day, she did not have to mention the fact that she knew and had consulted one of our firm lawyers on other matters before. To me, all these are tell tale signs as to whether a client is being completely honest with you. I
became less sympathetic to her plight upon knowing that she had not been completely honest with me.

To Kill a Mocking-bird is  a book that I had been meaning to read for years . There is a copy of the novel sitting on one of the bookshelves in my house and my husband tells me that the book belongs to me. I cannot remember buying the book. As a bibliophile, I have not read all the books that I have  bought  over the years and with a few exceptions, I usually  remember having bought them. Anyway I was very glad that I finally got round to reading the book at the end of my recent trip. When I finished reading the novel on board the flight home , I was touched and moved to tears. I  wonder  whether the story would have affected me as much as the present if I had read it before I started practising law. The author, Harper Lee is indeed a very good story teller. She gradually led us into the story through the voice of Scout Finch who had recalled her growing up years in Maycomb when she  and her brother  who was four years her senior were both children. While the core of the story is about racial injustice,the author painstakingly took us through the scenes and the characters in  Maycomb to help us understand the neighbourhood and their inhabitants. Atticus Finch is a widower and he had to single handedly bring up two young children with the help of Calpurnia, their cook who had been with the family since Jem Finch was born. Lemonade in the morning was a summer-time ritual for their household as Calpunia would set a pitcher  and appeared in the front door and yelled  Lemonade time ! You all get in outa that hot sun ‘fore you fry alive!’ Scout had felt her tyrannical presence as long as she could remember and Atticus always took the side of Calpunia and  Atticus said Calpurnia had more education than most coloured folks.’  Atticus played and read to his children , and treated them with courteous detachment.
Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself’  is  how Lee describes Maycomb.

Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it . In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the court- house sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then; a black dog suffered on a summer’s day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering  shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o’clock naps, and by nightfall were life soft tea-cakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.

Atticus went to Montgomery to read law and returned to Maycomb to begin his practice after being admitted to the bar. His first two clients were the last two persons hanged in the Maycomb County jail . As there was nothing much Atticus could do for his clients who refused the state’s generous offer to escape the gallows if they pleaded guilty to second- degree murder, he had a distaste for the practice of criminal law. He practised economy more than anything. Scout started going to school and one day,  someone in school announced that Scout Finch’s daddy defended niggers so she had to ask Atticus.

“‘Do you defend niggers, Atticus?’ I asked him that evening.
‘Of course I do. Don’t say nigger, Scout. That’s common.’
‘’s what everybody at school says.’
‘From now on it’ll be everybody less one – ‘
‘ Well if you don’t want me to grow up talkin’ that way, why do you send me to school?’’

Scout had wanted to avoid school but her dad would not let her quit school as it was the law. She had a profound distaste for school since the first day of school when the teacher discovered that she could read and her teacher had ordered that she should ask her dad to stop teaching her to read.

Atticus explained to Scout about why he had to defend Tom Robinson.
‘Atticus sighed.
I am simply defending a Negro – his name’s Tom Robinson. He lives in that little settlement beyond the town dump.  He’s a member of Calpurnia’s church, and Cal knows his family ell. She says they ‘re clean –living folks. Scout, you aren’t old enough to understand some things yet, but there’s been some high talk around town to the effect that I shouldn’t do much about defending his man. It’s a peculiar case-it won’t come to trial until summer session. John Taylor was kind enough to give us a postponement…’
“ If you shouldn’t be defendin’ him, then why are you doin’ it ?
For a number of reasons, he told Scout.
 Because I could never ask you to mind me again. Scout, simply by the nature of the work, every lawyer gets at least one case in his lifetime that affects him personally. This one’s mine, I guess. You might hear some ugly talk about it at school, but do one thing for me if you will :you just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t let ‘em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change….it’s a good one, even if it does resist learning.
‘ Atticus, are we going to win it?’
‘No , honey.’
‘Then why-’
‘Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win,’ Atticus said.
‘Come here, Scout,’ said Atticus. I crawled into his lap and tucked my head under his chin. He put his arms around and rocked me gently. ‘It’s different this time,’ he said.’ This time we aren’t fighting the Yankees, we’re fighting our friends. But remember this , no matter how bitter things get, they’re still our friends and this is still our home.’

The character, Atticus Finch is inspiring and his courage and principles are what  everyone of us must try to  emulate and uphold.The story is brilliantly told.