Summer Reading

My morning temper, which I had kept repressed since college, has reared its ugly head again. I thought I had put it to rest. The weather doesn’t help. We get some rain here and there in Shanghai and after each storm, for a brief few hours, the air is clean and crisp. Mostly, it’s been getting hotter, more stifling. It’s only mid-July; the worst is yet to come.

After finishing The World According to Garp, I felt haunted by the Under Toad. When I crossed the street, I imagined speeding cars and drivers with their diverted attention. When I rode taxis, I imagined turns taken too sharply and the steering wheel spinning out of control. Following Garp with A Dance with Dragons hasn’t helped; I dream of fire and ashes.

Unexpectedly, it was my morning temper that chased away the Under Toad. This morning as I rode the elevator, instead of envisioning some imminent calamity, I saw myself growing sharper teeth and claws, growling at the passenger beside me. Since then, I’ve felt surprisingly safe. Impatient and irritated, but safe.

I haven’t written much so far this year outside of school and work, but I have read plenty. Out of the ones I’ve read, here are my top 5:

I also really enjoyed This Is How Your Lose Her by Junot Diaz and and The Hours by Michael Cunningham. I’d recommend any of these for your summer reading. I wouldn’t call any of them “light”, but I think each of these has something great to offer.

I haven’t been writing lately. Not writing because I haven’t found the time and not writing because the words aren’t coming to me are quite different. The latter is much more alarming. I plan on reading through the summer then taking a short break early fall to gather my thoughts. I suspect once I start writing again, my morning temper will be gone. Looking forward to that, and feeling like myself again.

The Writing Process

I’ve been lost for days trying to write about light. I can’t remember when the idea came to me but it’s been there for a while, brewing in my head. I catch words and phrases, I keep waiting for it to reveal more of itself to me, but it’s just smoke and shadows.

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I see greatness though. I see greatness in a lot of things much too early. I see the potential for greatness and that comes with pressure. I feel as if the story is relying on me to make it great and I don’t know if I can meet its expectations.

A tormented process, writing is. All the time, words are coming to me, half-developed, asking me to set them free. I mull over them, like an overprotective mother, wanting to keep them contained until they’re more ready. When will that be? How much more ready? Then I can feel the words slipping out of my mind and that scares me. There’s a brief window between “getting there” and “gone” and my timing is never perfect.

How much do I love it though, the writing, the words, the process. More than anything else in the world, it sets me free, it enables me to breathe. In that moment of frantically catching the words as they reach their peak and feeling like the Muses themselves are smiling at me, I am whole.

So I shall keep writing, for as long as the words will have me.

When Claritin Fails

I was kept up till 4:30 in the morning by my allergies last night, this morning, whichever.

The first few hours weren’t too bad. I was up reading anyway. I’m in the middle of The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedman. It’s not a page turner in the usual sense but it is fascinating.

By 3 a.m., I had used three different types of nasal sprays. I wandered down to the kitchen and heated some soup. Then I returned to my room with both the humidifier and air purifier turned on high.

By 4 a.m., I no longer had the focus to read about the identification of the feminine in the 1950s, so I delved into my old journals. A piece of loose-leaf fell out of one of them; it was covered in my handwriting.

“This music is making me feel a very strong love for you.”
“Just this music?”
“This music and whatever hormones that are produced in me.”
“Why does it have to be anything? Why not just because I’m good to you and I feel the love for you?”

“a costume of indifference” — when he’s got a grasp on his words, they’re impeccable

Maybe he would’ve done this more eloquently, maybe he would’ve used more literary devices, but it probably also would’ve been longer, much longer. 

And I thought about you everyday. A day hasn’t gone by when you didn’t find your way into my mind. That’s the work of nostalgia. 

I like to think it was nonfiction but it could just as easily be a story I was working on. There were no names or dates. I was so succinct with my words back then. Now everything is described in detail, entire conversations are documented. I used to write to strength my hold on the past, now I write so I can forget. It is a terrible burden trying to carry the weight of all my memories.

Month of Love

In February, I felt inspired to write a series of entries tagged “month of love.” It was a hectic month for me, a feast of love and obligations. I’ve got enough sense to know how lucky I am to have these “obligations”, that I had traveled halfway across the world for these “obligations”, but they took a lot out of me nevertheless.

And though I enjoyed being needed by family and friends, I needed me too. I needed me to sit by the window and watch the snow drift silently outside. I needed me to call Expedia, pick up my dry cleaning, and respond to emails! I needed me to light some candles and sink into a tub of bubbles.

I was drowning and writing saved me. I wrote late into the night after each exhausting day. The lack of sleep did not mitigate the chaos of February but it allowed me to breathe. I wrote about love as uncensored as I could. I took full advantage of the month and the at times unclear distinction between fiction and non fiction.

For the first time since I started using WordPress, after leaving behind more than seven years of faithful Xanga blogging, I finally took an axe to the previously formidable bounds of rwmscrambled. I hope it’s only the beginning.

In the month of love and since, I have received a lot of unsolicited advice. Advice such as “don’t take the risk or invest too much, you might get hurt,” “it’s better to not have feelings,” “don’t even try because it probably won’t work out.”

Come on!

Is that what life is supposed to be? Carefully planned steps that ensure we risk little and gain even less? Running away at the first sign of uncertainty? Locking our hearts in a steel case next to our dreams and tossing the whole thing as far as we can? Placing limits and conditions on our abilities and feelings?

I can’t live that way. Love has made me a believer.

Love it seems can survive even a war and a zero winter. Like the snow-raspberries, our host explained, love is like that, and he told us how these flimsy delicacies appear always in February, whatever the weather, whatever the prospects. No one knows why, when pines are withered at the roots and rough sheep have to be kept indoors, these impossible hot-house things still grow.

The Passion

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

A memoir of sorts by Haruki Murakami.

I read this book hurriedly, racing against time.  My friend had left some of his books with me when he left to study abroad and I had put off reading them for a year, reading instead my own books.  So when he finally came back to claim these books, I asked him to give me an extra week with them.  There was one book I wanted to read especially, the one by Murakami about running and writing.

It was a quick read; I finished a third of it with ease just by reading on BART.  But then my week got busier, with an impromptu visit, a Cirque du Soleil show, and a book club meeting, I was exhausted everyday and couldn’t squeeze out enough time to read.

We had agreed upon 9pm today as the pick up time.  I didn’t get home until almost 8 and managed to postpone the meeting back an hour.  I was determined to finish the book before he arrived at my apartment.  So I read vigorously, lamenting at times that I was unable to pause to fully absorb the lessons.  It felt like I was running my own race.  The more panicked I felt about the time, the faster I read but the slower I absorbed the words, which led to repeated readings of the same paragraphs.  Soon I resigned to reading at my own usual pace and was able to finish everything except the Afterword just before my phone rang.

Begrudgingly, I grabbed his other books.  If I had known that an extra 15 minutes was all I needed, I would’ve read more during lunch or left work a little earlier.  I hurriedly pulled on my boots and leather jacket and rushed out the door.  It felt like I had just finished a final without completing the conclusion, which often happened during in-class finals.  I walked out the building to see a white SUV parked just far enough to ensure that I would feel the rain.  I waited for the passenger side door to open before I walked out.  I was barely aware of the raindrops as I handed over the books to him.  He checked the titles quickly before nodding an approval.  I threw my arms around him for a final goodbye.  It was a solid hug, not one of those lazy, one-armed hugs.  No, this was a hug that beseeched the parting before a long-term departure.

I walked back to my apartment with gratitude.  With his visit, in the span of a week, I was able to cross two things off my list.  Although I now have to obtain my own copy of this book, probably in electronic form, so I can finish the Afterword.