Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mini Review - Anthem by Ayn Rand

One vs. Many. Singular vs. Plural. Ayn Rand knew better than anyone else that the needs of one far outweighed the needs of the many. The individual creative person would not and should not give in to serve the masses, even if it meant death to that person. Such thoughts and others were known as Objectivism, a philosophical theory created by Ayn Rand. Her literary works such as The Fountainhead (my favourite) and Atlas Shrugged clearly expressed Rand’s view of the world with special attention to who should rule and who should be ruled in the world. Such is the case with her smaller yet still powerful work Anthem, of which I read in about an hour and it left me feeling dizzy. We are forced to view the world in the future, when all people acknowledge themselves as WE and everything is shared. Although there is a council that makes the decisions for all, everyone is in a sort of caste system for life. No one smiles, no one creates and yet there is a sort of peace underneath it all. In this nightmarish world we hear a voice – Equality 7-2521 – who knows the rules of their world but begins to look for something more. Through their job of being a street sweeper, the fires of individuality burn, catching fire to another named Liberty 5-3000, whom Equality begins to call the Golden One. The rest of the book tells of how far they will go in order to answer the question inside of themselves: Who are we, then who am I? The use of I to describe a person is forbidden and yet Equality desires to do such a thing. Remembrance of the ways things used to be come forth to destroy this futuristic society, forcing people to remember what it used to be like and to remember that the individual is more powerful than the majority. Those are the thoughts of Ayn Rand for her time and the world now.

Book Review - This Must be the Place by Anna Winger

It has always been the saying that Misery Loves Company. When one is immersed in their own pain, they seek out someone else, consciously or subconsciously, who is hurting and who can possibly share in their misery party without actually doing anything about removing it. The two main characters from Ann Winger’s first book, This Must Be The Place, engage in this ritual but their lives are forever changed because of it. In a corner of Berlin Germany resides Walter, a former German teen actor who left his career during its peak to move to California and Disney, only to return with his tail between his legs and to become the dubbed voice for Tom Cruise. He desperately holds onto scraps of his former life for it is all that keeps him going and yet keeps him stuck, preventing him from any kind of advancement. He is everyone and he is no one, going so far as to blend in his apartment after his much younger lover (and better actress) leaves him. However, it is during one day that he is intrigued by a young man and woman fighting outside of his apartment complex. The couple turns out to be Americans Dave and Hope, who recently moved to Berlin due to a job offer for Dave, the recent destruction of 9/11, and Hope’s failed pregnancy.
Hope is a young woman struggling to find her own sense of worth in Berlin but she is afraid to do so. She has no friends and her only outlet is her German language class, in which the other students consistently avoid her. Her husband is a chipper and frightfully optimistic man who travels to Poland for long periods of time for his job (pornography), not fully understanding his own wife and giving her what she needs. It is Fate, then, that the two sources of desolation finally meet and compare notes on just who is worse off, later realizing that neither of them truly are; they just refuse to let go of their emotional baggage and that is what makes them so real in the book.
I will admit that I had never heard of Winger until by accident while I visited Sherlock’s Bookstore in Lebanon, Tennessee for a book signing event that I was part of. I am glad that I found this book, for now I realize that there are still some damn good authors out there, ones who can tell such a simple story with such depth and detail that one feels they are truly there with the characters. I felt I was there with Hope as she carefully peeled away layers of the wallpaper in her apartment, revealing a treasure both on the walls and within herself. Winger makes the readers want the best for Walter, and that Life is not truly at its depressing end for him even though he refuses to stop looking back, not only at his acting career, but his problematic family past as well. There is restlessness in both Hope and Walter; unfinished business revealed through their friendship and understood that it needed to be completed. It is necessary for Hope and Walter to meet, for each one provides the mirror to reflect on the other person’s life followed with the question of, “Just what in the hell are you doing?” The reflections portrayed are not pretty but they are honest and enough of a catalyst to divert and change what is sorely lacking in Hope and Walter’s lives. Winger’s writing style is simple, a bit like Hemingway, and yet she has her own voice within these pages, a voice that gave such life to two characters that sorely needed to evaluate and change their own.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Flash Story - Alarm Clock

Good morning. My name is Phillip and I woke up. Not the kind of waking up one has after having 7 to 8 hours of a good night's rest. No, the kind of waking up I am talking about is the waking up of the mind, of finally understanding just what in the hell is going on around me. Too often, I saw people who walked around with blinders on their heads, keeping them focused on their menial task at hand and yet ignoring the rest of the world; if the world did not care about them, then why should they? Thankfully, I am no longer one of those. I used to be like you: had a cubicle job, lived in a decent apartment, and paid my bills on time. I had no purpose, no added seasonings to my world. I just was. Suddenly on a day, you don't need to know which one, I sat by my window in my living room, enjoying a hot cup of Earl Grey tea while reading a book. I can't even remember the title or the author now. In any case, while I read and sipped from my mug, something in my brain clicked on. I began to taste every ingredient of my tea: the bergamot, the tea leaves, even the dirt that the leaves grew from. I could see women dressed in bright clothing, hunched over in a verdant valley, carefully picking the leaves that would eventually become my tea. I could feel every letter, every word in my book. I took a sniff of the book before I realized what I was doing and unexpectedly, I could smell the ink, the parchment, and the sweat on the brow of the machine operator who created this book. I could even see the author herself, sitting alone at her desk that overlooked a park covered in snow and her feelings of loss, anger, frustration and still hope while she typed out the words that would become the novel. Freaking out slightly but still remaining calm, I closed the book and began to truly look at the world around me and it was then that I knew I finally woke up. Suddenly, my connection to this mundane world had been disconnected and re-routed to another but similar world, one filled with emotions, sensations, things seen and unseen, and I was to be a part of said world. My eyes began to burn because I used them for the first time. I was drunk with sensations, wanting to see and feel and love all over again, only this time I would do it right. Since then I have not looked back and I am glad for it. To be awake made me realize that I had been living a lie my entire life but that there was hope for me. I know I am not the only one out there and perhaps I shall meet some of my ilk but for now, I am awake. Thank you and good morning.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Short Story - Chinese

Diana sat across from Timothy, her boyfriend of five years, eating her second plate of Chinese dumplings, while watching him use chopsticks with a dexterity that she had never seen with any one else. She loved him for the simple fact that he loved her and that was enough. Her previous boyfriend was a shadow of Timothy and she was glad he did her the favour of leaving when he did. She knew that that relationship would never work and true to her word, it did not last. So, when Timothy literally dropped into her lap (he tripped over someone’s foot at a party and landed in her lap while she sat on the couch), she knew it was meant to be. She used to never believe in Fate until that night and since then, she never looked back with doubt or fear on anything she did, even if it was wrong in the eyes of others. It was her life and no one else’s. Timothy handled his silver chopsticks with dexterity and for a moment, her mind flashed to the last time they made love, which was that morning. She remembered his slender hands caressing every part of her body, traveling from her long black hair to her parts untouched for such a long time. Those were the parts that hungered for a simple touch from someone other than herself; they were the parts that needed love more so than everything else. When Timothy made love, he put himself into it completely and left nothing out; that was his way with anything. If anything meant something to him, he explored it completely without reserve. So it was that their lovemaking that morning was intense, giving and receiving, and spilling over with passion. His chopsticks picked up a piece of sesame chicken without even seeming to move his fingers and within seconds, the succulent piece was in his mouth and he chewed it thoughtfully. His Irish green eyes now found her sparkling brown ones and he smiled, reassuring her that time was now on her side.