Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Sparkle like a nighttime parade

Sensei continued to stare at my arm, all the way down to my palm. His eyes on my palm, he murmured something about me not having any wit lines, even though I had several affair lines. The vertical lines that stick out above your heart line are your wit lines, and your affair lines are the ones that run parallel to your life line, along the base of your thumb. Look, I have many wit lines, he said.

Parade, by Hiromi Kawakami, is a delicate little thing.

Some mischievous sprite nudged this book just so on its shelf at the shop, that I had to investigate it. It's a beautifully designed volume, charmingly illustrated by Takako Yoshitomi. 

The wordcount of the reviews is higher than that of the tale itself. I've never read Hiromi Kawakami, but this is billed as a companion piece to her Strange Weather in Tokyo, which I'll be exploring soon. 

A folktale of tengu and childhood. Hazy memories. A lazy afternoon just after the rainy season.

Subtle, elegant, whimsical, intimate. Light. I feel touched by sparkles.

Open Letters Review: November 2019
Open Letters Review: October 2020
Tony's Reading List

Monday, January 24, 2022

A condition that causes a dimensional shift

Our love was so strong that it felt like a presence in the communal apartment, as if it were another tenant. It had an amorphous shape and weird density; it was less dense than an actual object, but denser than the air in the room. It felt as if I could touch it. I could move my hand through the air and feel resistance in places were love was.

I thought that the lack of love wasn't only empty space. It had a physical presence too. Negative presence. And like negative numbers, it had the ability to multiply and grow. You couldn't stop it.

Something's happening to me. I have trouble sleeping. I have no time for reading or blogging, but there's the same amount of time there's always been. I am almost proud of not reading and not blogging, like I've stuck to a New Year's Resolution to cut down on bad habits.

But I'm not filling my time with anything new. Maybe I take more baths, listen to more podcasts, do more puzzles. I have maintained a 687-day streak of German lessons.

Nothing feels restful. I feel like I'm moving through negative space.

It took me a very long time to read Divide Me by Zero, by Lara Vapnyar. I don't understand why. It's charming, funny, dark. I can relate to the love and loss and death. I can relate to its Slavic outlook, its immigrant status. 

"I'd love to write the novel about Love and Death," I typed. "How both of those words lost their majestic old meanings. People don't really 'love' each other anymore, they either 'worked on a relationship' or 'succumbed to sexual desire.' People don't 'die' either, they 'lost their battles' with various diseases or they simply 'expired' like old products on a shelf. Neither love nor death is considered the most important passage in the life of a person anymore. In my new novel, I would try to restore their proper meanings."

Perhaps, I realize, I've been reading too much of the wrong kind of book. I've been reading to help myself know my heart, I've been going deeper and deeper inside it, probing. But I already know my heart. Perhaps it's time to let it rest quietly, monitor it for anomalies but trust it to function as it's meant to.

I thought that if I could study love the way I used to study math, the knowledge would arm me with some power against the colossal incomprehension and fear I was experiencing.

Divide My by Zero starts and ends with death. In the beginning, as a reflection upon the past, Katya's mother has a gentle death, couched in tenderness and nostalgia. It reaches out beyond the individual; it moves Katya to connect with a stranger, connect with her childhood and her heritage. But in Katya's retelling when we approach her mother's death at the end of the book, it feels abrupt and violent and tragic, isolated in her Escher house, somehow severed from the rest of the world.

One of the results of the compartmentalization was my grossly mistaken belief that what I did in one of my lives couldn't possibly affect people in the others.

I feel like in the six weeks it took me to read this book, my mind was preparing me to read the ending, and stick the landing, to learn this: that despite the playfulness, the wit, the compassion, there is still devastation, and in a very Slavic way life goes on, sometimes better, sometimes worse, often not the way you expected it to.

Sometimes I think that I turned to math the way B. turned to Orthodox Christianity, to fill a spiritual void that became acutely unbearable after my mother died.

If you think about it, math is as good a religion as any. It's both endlessly abstract and irresistibly precise. You can grasp the entire world with the help of math and make it seem less chaotic, unpredictable, and scary. Isn't this why my mother started to work on her last book to begin with? She must have felt that something was wrong; she must have glimpsed into the chaos of death, and she turned to math -- her safe, perfectly structured space.

One way to describe love according to the gospel of math is as a condition that causes a dimensional shift. The emerging new world that contains love becomes so vast that it opens into an entire new dimension, dwarfing all the worlds that existed in your life before you fell in love.


Sunday, January 09, 2022

We can't feel two things at once

The other night I dream I am in Mexico again, but on the mainland, gently drifting, grazing the treetops. I think I am holding something over my head, maybe a sheet, acting like a glider. I watch the jaguar slink across the open field and think, I shouldn't set down in this tree, let me go a bit further, but I'm not afraid, I am just being sensible. I finally alight outside a hotel that is not a hotel. Someone invites me inside, and I stand on the terrace, watching an older couple lounging in the infinity pool, the milky water spilling seemingly onto these plains of Mexico where somewhere my jaguar is watching out for me, is that me in the pool in the milky future with my longtime lover? I can feel the jaguar prowling (for what?), but I know it will not hurt me.

What would my psychotherapist say?

I need to exercise my patience, I'm out of practice. Steady as she goes.

The sickness is sweeping the city. Friends are sick. Colleagues are sick. We are living in lockdown again, under curfew. There are lineups for liquor and groceries again. There appears to be a shortage of catfood, or maybe I live in a neighbourhood with a high-density cat population that is suddenly demanding more substantial sustenance. 

Practice gratitude. "Research has shown that gratitude displaces anxiety: We can't feel two things at once."

I can't read. I can't sculpt. Television bores me. I don't want to work. I tire easily. I play video games for hours on end. My eyes are tired. It's been 673 straight days of German lessons. Isabella, deine Arbeit ist zu stressig, mach Urlaub. My skin is peeling, I'm shedding the sun of Mexico, but I keep silver coral wrapped around my fingers, a new talisman. I go for short walks and smoke illegal menthol cigarettes.

I do research for work. The future is not only useless, it's expensive, I learn. 

And this is why the future, be it NFTs or Memoji or the howling existential horror of the Metaverse, looks so ugly and boring: it reflects the stunted inner lives of the finance and technology professionals who produced it.

The problem then, apart from the howling existential horror of the Metaverse: how to not be stunted, how to unstunt oneself, how to imagine something beautiful and interesting.

I am trying to understand, and embrace, Massive Change. In how I work and in how I live. In how I interact with people and with the world. Everything is a design problem. Design thinking leads by inspiration. It demands the clarity and courage of its convictions. Design is driven by purpose.