Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A Tale of Two Women

The Door by Magda Szabo, printed through NYRB, was a challenging read for me. Not so much of the intellectual depth or the story itself, but rather the "relationship" between the two main women. Magda is a successful writer who is married and lives an affluent lifestyle. Due to the pressures of her and her husband's lives, they decide to hire Emerence, an older woman living in their village, as their housekeeper. Right from the beginning, Emerence comes across as a brash, unapologetic, and illiterate woman who could care less about the world. She has her small number of friends, her house filled with cats that no one may enter, and her housekeeping duties. Whenever someone tries to show compassion toward her, she lashes out with vitriolic words or she suddenly turns to stone and refuses to speak as punishment to the one who offended her. Yet, even with her bristling manner, Emerence shows her form of love toward Magda and Magda feels honoured to be the recipient of such a rare emotion.

I won't give all of the story away but like I said earlier, this was a challenging read for me. Although everyone seemed to eventually forgive Emerence for her ways, I found myself wondering about her power. Even when Magda tells her off and walks away, she is later wracked with guilt over what's she said to Emerence and then later feels that she deserved it. Everyone in the town knows of Emerence and willingly give her power to remain the same and never change. In all honesty, I wanted to stop reading the book several times yet I felt compelled to read it to see how it would end. I had to see how far the relationship between the two women would go. She refused care when people discovered that she had had a stroke and was living in filth. When someone tried to visit her, she yelled at them to go away and leave her alone. When Magda and her husband finally accepted Emerence's gift of a little dog statue, Emerence dusted it then threw it to the ground, causing it to shatter - this act later lead to peace in the household for quite some time. When a friend of hers committed suicide, Emerence advised Magda that she wouldn't have stopped her - if her friend was still lonely after being cared for and fed, then apparently she wanted to die. Sometimes, those who have nothing to lose can become the mirror of the world - they show the weakness of humanity in a truthful light with no apologies. Perhaps that was Emerence's job but then again, I know she wouldn't have cared less.


Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Down Below to Madness

Ever since I read her collection of short stories published through The Dorothy Project, I have been in love with Leonora Carrington. Her madness, her surreal visions - all of it. However, I returned to the book that got me interested in her from the beginning - Down Below, as printed through NYRB. It is here in which Carrington tells of her decent into madness after her lover, Max Ernst, was arrested by the Nazis in Provence. She traveled to Spain to escape the Nazis yet ended up in an institution. This slim yet powerful book made me shake my head several times as Carrington tells her audience of her "attempts" to Down Below in order to escape the doctor and his staff and their cruel ways. Although she finally was able to leave, I wondered if perhaps this experience changed her in some form. In describing her madness and coming out of it, was she exposed to something more than the rest of us? Whenever I viewed her paintings, I wondered if they were the result of her madness that transformed into a "better" view of her world. Her words seem so calm in describing her decent - almost like an artist describing his "masterpiece" to the world and knowing that perhaps, the world won't understand it.


Monday, May 28, 2018

A Weekend of Guilt

Every so often, I enjoy reading what I like to call a "quiet novel". The characters spend their days contemplating their acts and when something tragic does occur, it is muted and subdued yet still powerful. Bernhard Schlink's The Weekend is one of those novels. I was first introduced to his work while watching the film The Reader (never read the book - I know, I know) and I fell in love with the tragically beautiful story. The Weekend kept me gripped within its story as the ending came with a sense of "hope" for all of the characters.

Jorg has finally been released after spending 24 years in jail for being part of the infamous Baader-Meinhof group, as his sister Christiane prepares a weekend celebration for him. Friends and loved ones will spend the weekend with their long lost friend, yet all is not right under the seemingly calm surface of the country weekend. Truths finally come into the light, most of them painful, while emotions will flare as the past is brought in as a guest. At the center of it all is Jorg, who merely wants to reconnect with the outside world and try to seek out his new place in life. However, there are those who wish for him to return to his past life, one filled with loud voices, murders, and actions carried out in the name of an idea of a supposedly better world.

Schlink's writing reminded me of W. G. Sebald - quiet, thoughtful, yet no less compelling. I found myself sitting with the group and wondering if his friends truly saw him as their friend or a symbol of something they despised and secretly (or not so secretly) adored. While others stood in the back to watch the parade go by, Jorg was in the middle of it. I felt sorry for him - after being released, Schlink describes him as a broken down older man. Has the parade moved on without him, or did it silently wait for him to be released? And if it did, does he truly want to be a part of it again or just walk away?


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

To Fight The World, One Must Look Within

Although I'd heard of Pema Chodron, this is the first time I've ever read her work. When I finished reading When Things Fall Apart, published through Shambhala Publications, I repeatedly said, "Wow." This book is for anyone, not just Buddhists, because the message is simple: when things fall apart, look within to find the "answer".

These times are filled with much running around, constant feeding of information, and the desire to want more and more. Yet, we also suffer from depression, anxiety, fears, worries, "bad luck", everything. We think our lives are perfect until we lose a job, our spouse or partner decides to leave us, or unwanted and disturbing thoughts begin to creep into our minds and make us doubt ourselves. So, what do we do when things fall apart?

For some of us, the answer is talk with friends, go on retail therapy, alcohol or drugs, mindless sex, or anything else that would allow us to enjoy a sort of escapism - a feeling of pleasure from so much pain. Yet, as Chodron writes, what if we realized that pain COULD be pleasure? What if rather than running away from our fears and pain, we actually looked at it as a sense of pleasure in that it may teach us something about ourselves? Rather than run from the loneliness, we embrace it and see it for what it is, then let it go because we are stronger than that?

This book had me nodding YES so many times - her words are simple yet they carry a deeper meaning. In order to fight the battle of the world, we must look within for the strength. We alone have the power to look at our fears and darkness and see them for what they truly are. We must be still in order to move. We must be silent in order to hear. We must show compassion to ourselves and then to others. It may be easier said than done but when I honestly began showing compassion toward myself and others, I felt a shift. It was "moving mountains" but it was enough to get my attention and to make me want to continue doing it.

Thank you for your words, Pema Chodron. I truly do appreciate them.

Ex Libris.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Five of Cups

She wanted to get away. Drop everything and just run. She could feel her pulse racing as the thoughts continued to pound in her mind. Run away, run away, run away. She closed her eyes and told herself that it was only a dream, that people who run are those who needed to calm down and focus. She opened her eyes and looked around her living room, then began to talk with herself.
"The Five of Cups," she told herself, "is a powerful card. It tells me, now, that I look for the things I don't have rather than the things I already have. The one man who didn't want me. The job I should have taken. The friends I desperately wanted. The books I didn't publish. Instead, I have a wonderful partner in my life, the three books I've already published, the friends who take me as I am, and the chance to breathe in a forest on Saturdays." She leaned back in her couch and took in her surroundings. Silent books, ready for her to read them. Photography she loved to collect. Already calm emotions that needed to be acknowledged. She raided her eyes to the ceiling and thought of walking along a train track with one bag, one bag only. One step followed by another with the same problems tied to her neck. She wanted release and freedom and found it suffocating that she even wanted such a thing. She opened her hand and looked at the crumpled Five of Cups card that was determined to imprint her skin.