Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Making Happiness

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

We are relentless. Our stubborn attempt to make happiness even if all odds are against us persists. We cling to each other for comfort. We continually relive a lifetime's worth of happy memories and hope against hope to make more of them soon. 

Monday, December 30, 2019

Writing Naked

Monday, December 30, 2019

People often curate themselves online to present a certain image of themselves. I am guilty of that. On Instagram I am that widely traveled, always smiling girl who doesn't harbor dour, cynical, melancholic thoughts. It is here, in this blog, that I reveal my true self: a recluse who thrives in the solitary way of life, choosing to close herself off and limit her social interactions to people and events that would not disrupt her carefully ordered existence. In this space I put into words my thoughts stripped bare, guided by Denis Johnson's lasting advice: "Write naked. That means write what you would never say. Write in blood. As if ink is too precious you can't waste it. Write in exile, as if you are never going to get home again, and you have to call back every detail. "

Sunday, December 29, 2019

How?

Sunday, December 29, 2019

How do you comfort somebody who is miles and miles away? How do you make him feel the depth of your love for him? How can you support him in his worst moments when you can't even give him a hug? How do you ask for divine intervention when you don't believe in prayers? How can you deny your spirit to succumb to utter despondency when hope is slowly slipping away? 

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Calories

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Yesterday I finally managed to drag myself out of bed at 5 in the morning to go for a run. It's been six days since my last run, and I've been eating irrestible holiday food at my mom's place at an indefensible rate. In dire need to burn off all these calories, I wonder, what will it take to get back in shape after this two-week break?

Friday, December 27, 2019

Too Late

Friday, December 27, 2019

“…I was sorry for her, sorry for her delayed and failed life, sorry for the delays and failures of life in general. I thought that if the right time gets missed, if one has refused or been refused something for too long, it’s too late, even if it is finally tackled with energy and received with joy. Or is there no such thing as “too late”? Is there only “late,” and is “late” always better than “never”? I don’t know.”

~ Bernhard Schlink, The Reader, 1995

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Best Books I Read in 2019

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Of the 85 books I read this year, these are the ones that made me sigh, seethe, weep, laugh, and think:
  1. Improvement, Joan Silber, 2017. Like the interwoven strands of a Turkish rug, the characters and cross-cultural relationships are intertwined in this beautifully written, intricately rendered novel. 
  2. The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai, 2018. A fictional recreation of the AIDS crisis in Chicago in the 1980s, this book is an affecting meditation on friendship, grief, loss, memory, death, and art. 
  3. A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara, 2015. This is a harrowing, infuriating, and disturbing novel that seems to say that everything is hopeless and life is meaningless and not worth living. 
  4. The People in the Trees, Hanya Yanagihara, 2013. Centered on a Nobel Prize winner convicted of sexual abuse of his adopted sons, the novel provides a critique of Western imperialism and scientific hubris while raising questions such as: Is morality culturally relative? Is suffering and the destruction of a whole culture, an entire society justifiable in the name of science? 
  5. The Only Story, Julian Barnes, 2018. Such a bleak, heartbreaking novel about the love between a young man and a woman old enough to be his mother. 
  6. Conversations With Friends, Sally Rooney, 2017. This is a novel I devoured in one sitting. 
  7. Normal People, Sally Rooney, 2018. On the surface, this book tells the story of two people connecting, falling in love, and struggling to make their relationship work, but is much, much more than that. 
  8. Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-delusion, Jia Tolentino, 2019. What I love about this collection if essays is the author's intense self-awareness. 
  9. The Chosen, Chaim Potom, 1967. This novel is about the friendship between two Jewish boys and the contrasts between two  aspects of Jewish faith: hasidic vs orthodox, tradition vs modernity.
  10. How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story on How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS, David France, 2016. This nonfiction book, a well-researched account of the AIDS crisis, focuses on the medical, political, and social struggle to fight the disease. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

25 December

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Is it a coincidence that I started 2019 reading a book about the AIDS crisis and now, almost at year's end, I'm reading another book about the same topic? Early this year I picked up Rebecca Makkai's The Great Believers, a fictional recreation of the AIDS crisis in Chicago in the 1980s. It is a very affecting meditation on friendship, grief, loss, memory, death, and art. David France's nonfiction work How to Survive a Plague, which I started reading this month, tells the story of the fight against AIDS. It gives testament to the grassroots movement that fought against the disease and the system that perpetuated it but doesn't romanticise those battles into sentimental feel-good narratives. 

Since its Christmas day, shouldn't I be reading a more cheerful book? Maybe I should stop reading altogether and just spend the day watching The Witcher instead. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Turning Pain Into Honey

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The late John Updike said that "being able to write instantly becomes a kind of shield, a way of too instantly transforming pain into honey." I guess that's what I've been doing the past few days - endlessly reworking words until they feel right, seeking comfort in recording the past and in doing so reliving happy memories.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Battered Suitcase

Monday, December 23, 2019

All the traveling eventually took its toll on my suitcase. I lugged it around South America for a month, and two years after I took it out of storage and stuffed it with clothes for Japan. It didn't show any signs of damage until we reached Kyoto. Its wheels started wobbling as I was hauling the bag uphill to our accommodation in Sannen-zaka and finally broke when we arrived in Takayama. We weren't even halfway to our inn when it happened. There wasn't a cab in sight so D had to drag that heavy, wheelless luggage for almost a kilometer. I was cringing in embarrassment yet laughing so hard because of how hilarious the whole thing was. 

We roamed the neighborhood to look for a replacement, but we couldn't find a store that sells inexpensive luggage. We returned to the inn and explained our predicament to the guy who was manning the front desk. He was extremely helpful. He directed us to two nearby thrift stores, 2nd Street and Santa, where we could find second hand suitcases. He even drew a map so we'd know exactly where to go.

Santa has everything you can think of--kitchenware, bags, clothes, washing machines, shovels, vinyl, furniture, record players, the works. There we found a cheap yet ancient Mickey Mouse hardcase that was huge, looked a bit battered, and weighed a ton. We bought it anyway.  Curious as to what the other store has to offer, we then walked to 2nd Street. It was five times bigger than Santa! Thrilled and overwhelmed, I succumbed to the lure of shopping and returned to the inn with four beautiful handbags.

Everytime I look at my ancient yet astonishingly sturdy suitcase, I am reminded of that shopping adventure we had in Japan. 

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Five Months Ago

Sunday, December 22, 2019

I wrote this five months ago:

16 July 2019
I'm now reading a book by Arundhati Roy, My Seditious Heart. It's a collection of essays she'd written in the past 20 years. The essays are mostly about the building of the huge Sardar Sarovar Dam that spans the three Indian states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Gujarat. From the start she's been adamant in her opposition to the construction of the dam for the evils it could or would bring to local communities: flooding, lost homes, lost livelihoods. She is incandescent with rage.
The only person I know who would be interested in this is you. But you're not here. I miss you so. 

Saturday, December 21, 2019

What are the Odds?

Saturday, December 21, 2019

What are the odds of both of us forgetting our keys that very same day? It seemed improbable, but we did. You had to wait for hours for me to get home. And when I did, I didn't have my keys either. Incredulous, we looked at each other and burst into laughter. The chances of us falling in love and staying together are slimmer, yet here we are, defying the odds, contradicting expectations. 

Friday, December 20, 2019

Honey

Friday, December 20, 2019

His name is Eduardo, some call him Ed or Daddo, but he is always honey to me. We've been together for twelve years now. He is my travel partner, my closest friend, my lifeline, my cheerleader, and my one and only fan. He is my life's constant. He makes the best burger in the world. He is 20 years my senior and is sometimes mistaken for my father. He is the only person who has the patience to listen to me ramble about dead authors, dreadful traffic, Duolingo, and the desperate state of the world. He obligingly reads the obscure books that I recommend and (grudgingly) wakes up  in the wee hours of the morning to go running with me. He doesn't believe in any supreme being and neither do I. He is at times taciturn and inscrutable. He likes to travel to exotic places like I do but leaves all the planning to me. He refuses the straitjacket of conventional life and is unconcerned with position and appearances. He loves the Cubs, chess, his big bike, street food, golf, okra, his kids, and me. He makes me happy. He is old, fat, bald, and now ill, yet he is and will always be the love of my life.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Our Temple Stay in Koyasan, Japan

Thursday, December 19, 2019

We left the neon-signed excitement of Osaka in favor of a muted, monastic life in Koyasan. Koyasan, with its wooden temples nestled in fog among cedar trees, perfectly typifies how I’ve always envisioned Japan. It is my favorite among all the places we visited in the country.
Temple lodging (shukubo) in Koyasan
Since the railway to Koyasan was damaged by the typhoon, we had to take the bus instead of the train. From the bus stop, we walked to Zoufukuin, a Buddhist temple where we stayed for two nights. The moment I saw those slippers meticulously lined up at the entrance of the temple, a sense of tranquility that lingered throughout our stay came over me. We removed our shoes, put on the slippers, and then entered the temple where we were greeted by a monk who gave us a tour of the place: the communal bath, the prayer room, the shared bathroom, the gardens, our room. A traditional Japanese room stripped back to bare essentials, ours had tatami mats, sliding doors, a big picture window, a low wooden table with zabuton (floor cushions), two futons, two sets of yukata (cotton robe) hanging on a rack, and a portable heater. With the temperature going as low as 2°C at night and the heater barely heating up the space, the room felt cold but not uncomfortably so. Sitting in its spacious silence with D at my side, I felt soothed.

Guests at the temple follow a strict schedule: the public bath is open from 4 to 9 pm; nobody can enter or leave the property between 9 pm and 6 am; breakfast starts at 7 am, right after the 6 am prayer ceremony, while dinner is at 5:30 pm; and the meals served are all vegetarian (shojin ryori). I don’t know about D, but this regimented life appealed to me because of the self-discipline and austerity it entails.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Exactly a Year Ago Today

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

I wrote this in my notebook exactly a year ago today:

18 December 2018
Coming from an hour and a half of traffic, tired and weary, I come home to my honey puttering in the kitchen. The table is set: perfectly cooked chicken with boiled beans and tomatoes on the side. He smiles at me, and I felt happiness course through me. Life is great, I thought.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Of Nobel Prizes and Great Conversations

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Yesterday I came across an article about how winning a Nobel Prize for Literature affects book sales. The article included a slideshow on the past Nobel winners since 2000. As I looked at the pictures, I remembered all the conversations we had about those authors year after year: When Kazuo Ishiguro won in 2017, you asked me if I've read any of his works. I replied that I've read all of his works and we spent the next couple of hours discussing his books--by discussing I mean me doing my usual monologue like a hateful pundit and you patiently listening to me, indulging me like you always do. In 2016 Bob Dylan won. Remember how enraged I was about that? You thought it funny when I said that if the Nobel Prize committee in Sweden felt so compelled to give the award to an American musician, they should've just given it to Bruce Springsteen for at least he actually wrote a book, a good one at that, one that even Philip Roth read and enjoyed! And let's not forget about Mario Vargas Llosa winning in 2010. The following year I insisted that we stay at an inn in Peru mainly because it has great reviews and partly because it's named after one of Vargas Llosa's novels, The Green House. That proved to be a great pick, didn't it? For we had a wonderful stay, one of the best we've ever had. In 2007, Doris Lessing was awarded the Nobel. Like her, I won big-time that year because that was the year I met you. 
 
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