Looking for the right questions

I am at my desk in my nook and the thin film of ice on the pink strawberry mochi ice cream on a small black plate next to the laptop looks too pretty to eat. Most of the neighbors are still away judging by the empty parking lot. All I hear is the steady grumble of the refrigerator, the return of the nagging tapping drip in the ceiling now that it is cold enough for the steam radiator to switch on, the familiar click click of the keyboard, the plastic rustling and crunching coming from the other room where my husband is likely snacking on packets of almonds while assembling his latest project. After breakfast we went for a walk and some errands. Carrying the groceries, we remarked how funny it is that we always seem to be on our way towards our next meal. I find myself either eating, washing or drying dishes, eating again, and in between gathering provisions.

The sky was pale grey today, like a clean sheet of paper. The few remaining leaves clung to the wet branches and everything stood still, waiting for the snow. I started the laundry and decided to go out again and listen to an audio book on my phone. It helps to settle my nerves and become one with the places I call home. I took deep breaths and the cold air cleared my mind. I saw the little round woman in the ankle length coat and the red hat with the black fur trim leaning on the green postal relay box, holding an open book with yellowed pages in one hand and puffs of smoke rose from the cigarette held in the other. I see her often, with her back against the thick oak tree, or standing by the shrubs on the sidewalk, always with a book and a cigarette, or swaying side to side with the strained steps of a shaggy brown dog.

I swerved around people carrying shopping bags, the gathering crowd outside the reopened movie theater, the bulky strollers, the window shoppers. People were sitting inside the warm glow in the French cafe. A couple by the window were seated with their elbows on the table and the woman tilted her head to the side and smiled without showing her teeth. There are gigantic round holiday lights draped on a tree and I stood for a moment, just looking at them and the electric wires stretched out in the sky like a tightrope. 

I have been aching to write but the truth is I have been writing. I finished my journal and started a new one this week. Starting a new notebook is always a big deal for me because it is like moving after making yourself at home. It's hard to put the finished one away even though there is no more room for me in it. I keep picking it up from my nightstand and caressing its black leatherette cover, opening it at random and quickly scanning a page. The best writing experience I had this fall is an online memoir writing class I was lucky to take. It has been something I look forward to every week, cozying up with a warm cup of red cherry tea under the desk light and sharing personal stories with strangers. The last session is next Thursday and I am grateful to have had this experience and will miss it immensely. 

I've learned that substance comes from peeling away the layers. Daring yourself to go where you are uncomfortable is crucial, that is where you will find the questions. In personal writing, the answers are not that important. An answer is fluid but a question is like bone, the skeleton on which everything is built on. I've written down some of my childhood memories and in doing so, observed moments I hadn't noticed the first time around. When something holds importance we walk around it in circles, the hardest part is figuring out what that is and how to describe it. I keep asking questions because I don't want it to end. When I am not writing in my journal, or working on an essay, or reading, I am living my life and I am thinking about writing. 

We went for another walk in the evening and the wind caught us by surprise. I was holding my opened umbrella with both hands at my chest and let the wind steer it around in the other direction. I could feel the weight of the rain drops. Looking up at the lampposts, the rain drops transformed into featherweight flurries and slowed down time. They only existed for a brief moment in the street light and I was grateful I looked up. All I want to write is about how infinitely beautiful life is.


Summer turns into fall

I finished reading Edith Wharton's Summer. We read this novel together through the warm months, like a soundtrack to summer days, and while it is already mid-October the change in seasons had not registered with me up until now. I still remember selecting the book at the used-book shop around the end of May and how the cashier, when opening the cover to look for the price marked in pencil on the top right corner of the first page, was excited to tell me the introduction is written by a professor whose class she had taken in college. 

We read Summer at the beach under the shade of my green polka dot umbrella. During that time I was getting to know Charity and felt inspired by her connection to nature. When we read on the cliff by the sea, we were giddy when her hands met with Lucious Harney's. The budding romance followed us on our journeys, on train, bicycle, and ferry trips. I felt as though Charity became a friend who came along with us, who we read bit by bit, prolonging and savoring each segment.

This short and lively book is a romance, and moreover, a story of a young girl discovering herself and her place in the world through her first love. It was first published in 1917 and its subject of premarital sex and a woman's social standing was considered so scandalous at the time that it was out of print for nearly 50 years. What a shame! This book is a beautiful and cautionary tale that should be on the required reading list in schools.

Charity is often described as a "wild" girl whose caretaker, Mr. Royall, is attempting to tame. She finds joy in simple pleasures, but is also simple minded.

"She often climbed up the hill and lay there alone for the mere pleasure of feeling the wind and of rubbing her cheeks in the grass. Generally at such times she did not think of anything, but lay immersed in an inarticulate well-being." (p. 10)

Mr. Royall goes through a great deal of trouble to secure her a place in a boarding school, but she refuses to go and instead spends her time working in the town library. She spend her days in the stuffy library full of ancient books and shows no interest in dusting them, never mind reading them. The library is described as her "prison-house" where she serves time. 

She feels like a bird under Mr. Royall's watch in his house. I like the way the author personifies buildings and scenes in nature, giving them a pulse in tune with Charity's inner world. Through her eyes, the red house is "cheerless and unattended" but equipped with all the essentials and more, representing security.

Her mother's shed on the Mountain is on a "clearing where two or three low houses lay in stony fields, crouching among the rocks as if to brace themselves against the wind." (p. 140) Witnessing the poverty there, she develops an appreciation for the comforts she took for granted at the red house. 

The "deserted house" where she meets Harney is in between the two worlds, a place of passion and escape; however, a dream that is unsustainable. The author foreshadows this towards the second part of the book.

"Charity's heart contracted. The first fall of night after a day of radiance often gave her a sense of hidden menace: it was like looking out over the world as it would be when love had gone from it. She wondered if some day she would sit in that same place and watch in vain for her lover..." (p. 103)

I often questioned whether Charity was meant to be a likeable character. She is impulsive because she is young and naive. Despite these perceived setbacks, her certainty in her emotions is admirable. No matter how fleeting they are, she follows her instincts at all times. Falling in love is like being under an enchanting spell, it is not everlasting but transformative. The memory stays forever while seasons change.


Wrinkles in the grass

"The air was cool and clear, with the autumnal sparkle that a north wind brings to the hills in early summer, and the night had been so still that the dew hung on everything, not as a lingering moisture, but in separate beads that glittered like diamonds on the ferns and grasses." (Summer, Edith Wharton, p. 43)

The hill was mowed and a bee was climbing up the stocks of grass, looking for clover flowers that are no longer there, right underneath our feet. She climbed one strand after another like an acrobat on a tight rope. Sometimes she fell off and disappeared into the grass, then reappeared again. Occasionally a long blade formed a bridge to another, the weight of her body tilting it to its side. I told my husband to hide his feet and he sat crossed legged on the towel.

When I was a child I stepped on a ribwort leaf on a puddle, not noticing the bee floating on it. It stung me and my foot swelled like a balloon and I cried. My parents returned home and found me still standing outside on the dirt road, crying. I remember soaking my foot in a tub of milk and wearing a slip-on shoe only on the good foot for days.

We retraced our steps to the field, to the wrinkles in the grass where we lay hours earlier. There was a single dandelion standing on the far left, outstretched towards the setting sun shining through its translucent globe. 

A fluffy white dog with beige ears climbed up the hill to us and I placed the book face down on my knees. She sniffed our feet and touched her wet nose to my hands, then climbed on the towel and wiggled her behind to sit beside me. The dog leaned against my thigh and felt warm and soft, her belly expanding and shrinking with its rapid breath. The owner followed up and approached us with apologetic comments about the dog, Peppy. She saw the book on my lap and said it's nice we are reading Edith Wharton on a day like this, and petting the dog on the top of her head, asked whether she is a fan too. 

With that weekend the summer has come to an end. There is a patch of light orange leaves on the tree across the parking lot. The tops of the leaves, closest to the sun, are red. I have thought of early fall as my favorite season for the longest time, but I've had a change of heart this summer. I loved this summer and all of its unbearably hot days and shattering thunderstorms. It felt like a season of extreme shifts, teaching me to appreciate all that is gentle. There is a sense of closure in the air now, the smell of wet earth and dust rising from the pavement.  

I'm breaking a wafer ice cream cone into smaller peaces and eating it without any ice cream because there isn't any left. My husband can overhear the crackle and proposes we head out to buy ice cream. I am still in summer mode and crave sweetness and the warmth of the August sun. 

There is so much more I planned to write about, but on that note I'll sign off and prepare to head outside to walk on the glistening sidewalks after this morning's drizzle.


Ode to Summer

Holding a sugar cone with black raspberry chocolate chip ice cream beginning to melt as soon as it comes into contact with the hot air.

The cry of a mourning dove stirring me from sleep.

Rhododendron in hues of pink, lavender, and blue, like a thousand fluffy bouquets around every corner. 

Luscious greens and the melody of tree frogs and crickets chirping away into the night.

The golden evening light climbing the side of the building, a masterpiece of glistening reflections.

The little cat on the windowsill, with his dainty white-sock paws folded under his chest, intently watching us cut stuffed toast at breakfast on the balcony. 

A thin crescent moon in a deep blue sky, fading to a glowing orange on the horizon.

The grace of a swan fanning his wings, alone in the water.

Thick white clouds, like snow covered mountains rising over the city streets, full of wonder and anticipation.

Sinking into a soft patch of grass, like a foam mattress instantly taking our shapes.

Rainy season. 

Mushrooms emerging in the shade and underneath fences, clusters of them like miniature umbrellas arranged by size. The smaller ones standing under the larger ones, and smallest ones squeezed against the stems in between.

The beauty of plantain lilies, I hadn't noticed until now, their white bell flowers transform into a soft lavender at dawn. 

A new straw hat.

The trembling chin of my favorite neighborhood cat, purring and collapsing onto my hand, his furry white belly exposed and vulnerable, rolling over twigs and soil. 

A cargo ship making its way along the shore, everything growing quiet and still in its presence. 

Dragonflies whirring overhead, so many of them, fluttering fluorescent greens, sunlight filtered through their paper-thin wings. 

The last French fry. 

The sweet floral and coconut scents of sun lotion on the beach, salt water and sweltering heat.

A bright and puffy yellow sunflower, its weighty flower head titled down from a towering height. 

The excitement of a bowl of popcorn circling in the microwave, pop, pop, popping like fireworks.

New neighbors, different smoke.The skunky smell of weed making my eyes water. 

Remembering not to place something I don't want to lose in the front zip pocket of my bag that I'm constantly opening and closing. 

Re-reading the same paragraph over and over in bed, the light dimmed, my eyelids heavy with sleep.

The black grease stains on my legs from my bicycle chain after a long trip. 

Binge watching Stranger Things. 

The thunderstorms.

Our silhouettes embracing by a sycamore tree. 

Bonding with a friend over Dawson's Creek.

Overhearing a young musician say, "Do I want to be in a wedding band or the lifestyle being in a wedding band would allow me?" 

Writing to remember and be remembered.

The joy of gliding a fountain pen across the page, midnight blue ink.

Taking forever to leave the house even when we've checked everything off the to-do or to-bring list. 

Having tea with my family.

Focusing on a detail and working outwards. 

The clanking of sail boats swaying side to side in the bay, like wind chimes, early in the morning.


"True joy is a secret thing and is found in solitude"

Being Here Is Everything: The Life of Paula Modersohn-Becker, by Marie Darrieussecqu, Translated from the French by Penny Hueston. The literal translation would have been To be here is a splendor.  

The title alone caught my attention. Before I found this book, I wasn't aware of Paula's art though have a vague recollection of seeing prints in museum gift shops. I found myself reading the concluding two sentences over and over, abrupt and beautiful like the artist's life. 

"Paula is here, with her pictures. We are going to see her." (p. 151)

Darrieussecqu describes seeing the paintings in a museum in Wuppertal, where they were stored in the basement at the time in a "cold exhibition on the gray cement floor" (p. 146). Even in 2014 when the book was written, Paula's and women's art lay hidden from the public while the famous Monets, Gauguins, Van Goghs glowed in the spotlight. The description of the paintings and their location made me think of a tomb. Paula's tomb.

My copy is full of tiny orange sticky notes, tabs marking passages that stirred me. Many of these tiny stickies are torn in twos or threes, pages bookmarked in a hurry, like tying little flags on tree branches when hiking further into an untrodden path in the woods. On the cover, there is Paula's self portrait with irisis. 

"It is a tipping point, a perfect moment. Pure simplicity: this is me, these are the irisis. See: this is what I am, in colors and in two dimensions, mysterious and composed. [...] The beads in the necklace are the same shape and color as her eyes. Her mouth is slightly open, her gaze anxious; she is exhaling, breathing, she is going to speak." (p. 100)

Paula Becker is a German artist and developed an interest in painting from a young age. She is immersed in her art and persuades her parents to let her go to Paris, where she studies at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1900, the year the school allows female pupils (p. 22). She spends her days making and admiring art, falling in love with the city, enjoying simple meals in her small studio consisting of bread, cheese and pears, and sharing her passions with her lifelong friend Clara Westhoff (a sculptor) and their poet friend Rainer Maria Rilke. Paula fancies Otto Modersohn, a landscape painter eleven years her senior, with whom she exchanges letters throughout her travels. Otto's wife dies from tuberculosis and the two promptly marry (p. 55). Paula Becker becomes Paula Modersohn-Becker, and her friends Rilke and Clara are wed the same year. Clara becomes Clara Rilke-Westhoff.

"Why do we tell our deepest secrets, and to whom? At the beginning of a love affair." (p. 50)

Paula and Otto drift apart, primarily because she sought independence and resisted Otto's nudging to bear a child. He didn't take her art very seriously, not like her friend Rainer Maria. Rainer was perhaps, the author ascertains, the only man who saw her as an equal in their lifetime. Paula leaves Otto to live in Paris without his permission. He writes her heartfelt letters in hopes of reaching her. Finally, although she turns him away, she changes her mind and the couple reunite for one last honeymoon together. She becomes a mother unexpectedly, and dies from an embolism after the birth of the child (p. 141).

The author examines Paula's experiences without judgement, portraying the pivotal points of the artist's short life, connecting journal entries and letters between friends and loved ones. Rilke and Paula and Clara, the three were inseparable even when their marriages divided them. She relies on the letters and Paula's art to speak for itself. 

"[T]rue joy is a secret thing and is found in solitude." (p. 133)

This biography is a celebration of Paula's life. A celebration of a serious, rich and beautiful life. 

A celebration of being here.

 


So many beautiful trees had fallen in July

I am writing from the balcony in the afternoon. A pleasant warm breeze brushes my arms every few seconds and the sun, now hidden behind the building, draws slanted line shadows on the wood floor. The floor boards feel warm to the touch, but I mostly keep my feet tucked in and perched on the foot rest under the chair. There was a dove cooing earlier, its call drawing me out here. Doves are one of my favorite kind of bird because I like how they resemble an ordinary city pigeon but much more refined and delicate. I associate the cooing morning dove with summertime, with a bittersweet nostalgia for long summer days that were lonely and treasured all the same.

There is a buzz of air conditioners and tree frogs that sound like something electrical and unnatural. Helicopters are whirring past, and a faint screech of trains turning on the tracks. I'm easily carried away by all these sounds, and distracted by the two white butterflies fluttering around and the cat on the windowsill across. He has folded his paws underneath his chest. When I glance up at him he is either looking back at me or sniffing the net separating him from the outside and squinting his eyes in the direction of the sun. There is a superstition or saying, if a cat folds his front paws under it means a cold day is coming. Similarly, I've noticed moments before the rain birds stop chirping and grow quiet. It is as though every living being is sitting still, awaiting the storm. Whenever I hear birds start chattering it is a sign the rain is over and I crave being outside again.

In July the rain fell like a steady shower in a straight line, and on some days the wind threw it violently in all directions like waves crashing into rocks. I have made a point to look back and summarize the best moments at the end of each month. The truth is, this July has been hard. Leafing through the pages in my journal, there were mostly rainy days. In the aftermath of a thunderstorm, I pulled the bicycle to the side of the road to snap a photograph of an old willow tree that was struck by lightning and texted it to my husband. 
"So many beautiful trees had fallen", he replied. I felt furious at the rain drops blurring my glasses, the heat of adrenaline pumping anger through my veins. I have felt on edge nearly every day. The more time passes the more I realize just how unfair life is and very little surprises me anymore, which makes me feel more angry because I still cling to the hope that it doesn't have to always be this way. 

I heard a woodpecker out here this morning and noticed him climbing up the building, knocking his head against the board as he went, and that made the tightness in my chest loosen its grip. Yesterday we found a new hidden path atop a hill, where the clouds seemed to float in one place against the light blue sky like a painting. We saw the rooftops and skylights of extravagant houses on the street below, and the shrubs on either sides of the rocky path tickled my legs. I witnessed a young robin fly directly into the side of a house, hitting it with a thud and falling in the garden. I crept up on the front steps to investigate, and found he was alright if not a little bit shaken. 

There was a store closing book sale this week and I noticed a thick orange square book on the display shelf outside, "Flowers" on its cover. The spine is faded pink after being in the sun for years. I carefully wrapped it this morning in tissue paper covered in a pattern of clementine branches, a small gift I want to give to my mom in hopes of inspiring her to paint or plant a garden. The book opens with this inscription and is an anthology of art featuring flowers.
"When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not." (Georgia O'Keeffe)

I want you to know that not all our best moments are joyous ones, but if you sit very still and listen you will find a small happiness. 



White Sands

"We looked. We were ready to believe. We were ready to see." (p. 120)

I found White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World by Geoff Dyer in the new non-fiction/travel section in the used book store. The wrinkle of the broken spine down the middle of the simple white soft-cover was what initially made me pick it up. After reading a few pages I knew this would be a good book. Never have I laughed as much as I did reading this book, and paused to look up photos of the mysterious looking places mentioned in this collection. 

The book consists of 10 stand-alone essays, each prefaced with an interesting seemingly unrelated story that has a connecting theme to each piece. Dyer recounts a variety of travel experiences set in French Polynesia, China, New Mexico, the Arctic Circle, and California. His writing exudes curiosity and is rich with insight, mixed with a jaded traveler point of view that comes across as negative but also humorous with a relatable kind of honesty. Initially, I was slightly irritated but found his voice entertaining and enlightening. 

The overall theme is, "[e]verything that has happened stays happened. Everything has consequences." Meaning, even when things don't go as we would have liked and sometimes go terribly wrong, it's how we react and deal with it that makes or breaks a moment. The title, White Sands, refers to a national park in New Mexico. The title also brings to mind pristine white sand beaches, a postcard of an idolized vacation spot, so far from the truth. I searched for White Sands and zoomed in on the striking white park on Google maps, amazed how the area almost looks like a body of water when seen in contrast with the surrounding desert and patches of green. 

I laughed because this book brought back memories of my own travels, when I was at times frustrated and downright disappointed. Thinking back, those experiences are a source of endless internal jokes because they really were not so terrible even though they seemed at the time. When I read about Dyer and his wife being outsmarted by the evading Northern Lights on their "worst" trip, I remembered how we once flew to DC in the springtime solely for the purpose of seeing the cherry blossoms. It rained the entire time and there were no blossoms to be seen, except a brief sighting of pink from the plane window when we departed and the sun came out. 

I remembered the time we were stranded in the airport on Christmas, when I insisted we leave early in case of traffic. We ended up watching almost an entire season of Arrow, sitting on chairs we dragged closer together at a coffee shop at the terminal for hours. It wasn't so bad, we decided, at least we had brought a tablet with us to watch something together and had a cozy place to wait out the storm. 

I remembered the time the hotel bed seemed uncomfortably hard, and upon closer inspection found a sheet of plywood under the mattress that I decided to remove, after which the mattress had promptly collapsed. During this process, we also discovered a very large and fortunately very dead cockroach under the bed. When pointed out to the hotel manager, he said, "Oh good! The poison worked" and that seemed final enough.

I remembered the time I was nearly knocked down by an enormous umbrella that flew out of nowhere on the beach, slicing across my shoulder. The first thought I had was, at least it didn't hit me in the face and break my glasses, which made no sense at all. 

I remembered the many times when the places we wanted to visit where closed for the duration of our stay. All those memories now make me feel lighter when I laugh, even though when they happened I felt weighed down with worry. Often times, imperfect beaches are the more beautiful because there are fewer travelers there to ruin them. 

Simple and whimsical daisies

I walked a few steps backwards to peer through the window of a boutique shop today. The three plush headless mannequins were dressed in a mismatch of patterned skirts and tops, with large tote bags, summery yellows and blues. There were equally intricate postcards in the forefront, leaning on an assortment of tiny cardboard boxes wrapped with carefully placed bows. I decided to go in and was greeted by the cool air and friendly hellos. It is a cramped space with a long clothing rack lined up from the entrance with clothes on hangers on both sides, all the way to the two makeshift curtain changing rooms at the opposite end. 

The clothing wasn't my style, too colorful, too short, too long, too fast fashion, but I liked the tactile sensation of the various textures of fabrics on my fingertips as I perused. I stopped to examine a clean white long-sleeved collared shirt with one pocket on the front, a slightly translucent linen, with sparsely placed embroidered white daises, a simple and whimsical look. I was led to the available changing room, where I pinched a plastic pin to close the curtain. The motion reminded me of clipping the pins on a bag of crackers in our snacks cabinet.

Contemplating the reflection in the mirror, I heard a woman crying behind the other curtained room beside me. Her mother was in there with her, giving her commands to try on this and that, and the young woman whimpered that she gained a lot of weight and looks awful and the mirror makes her look even worse, while her mother pleaded to try one more dress and then perhaps pants and a blouse will be good enough for whatever event they are shopping for. Her sobs sounded like an echo rising from a deep dark well and made me feel sad and sorry. I could see the shifting of the light in the tiny crack in between the two curtains pulled tightly between us. While I buttoned and unbuttoned the shirt, I kept waiting to hear the mother shower her with compliments to make her feel better but those never came. 

I liked the way I looked in the shirt and how light it felt on my body. I stepped back out into the store and a few women squeezed past to avoid the discomfort of the sobs from behind the curtain. The girl's mother came out and was talking to the tall thin and fashionable woman who works there, explaining the situation and asking for advice on what to have her try on next. At the register, the cashier folded the shirt and told me she was surprised it was still there. It is a size Large and later I wondered, maybe that has some correlation. I can still hear the pitiful sobs of the girl in the changing room and while I feel sorry for her, I also feel a new found appreciation for myself knowing my fluctuating waistline doesn't define my self worth. 

A friend recently told me that I looked happy and healthy in a photo I shared with her. In the photo, I am standing behind my bicycle with a big grin on my face. Initially I felt a little sad, reading too much into the word healthy, assuming it implies I've gained weight because I have. Then I thought of the desperation in the sobbing I heard today and how heart-wrenching it was. I too am human and self conscious and insecure, but the older I get the more I appreciate my body and love myself as a whole regardless of its size.

On my walk home, I spoke with my mom on the phone and told her about the scene in the boutique and she told me - why of course, what's important is that you love yourself no matter what change your body is going through. She said it so matter of fact. I wish I had believed that when I was younger, because I truly believe it now. You're only young once. I wore a favorite pair of pants this week and by the time I came home, I exhaled in relief when I unzipped them. I could always put myself on an exercise and diet regimen, but I don't see it as important to my current quality of life.


June is the smell of lilacs still lingering in the air

June is reading under a tree on the far end of a wide grassy hill. Turning towards the shade and feeling the heat of the sun on the back of your neck. Shooing away ants and spiders insisting on climbing onto you and everything you touch. A faint rattle of a bell, like the sound of a coin bouncing off the floor when it slips your fingers in the laundry room, and all of a sudden a small white curly dog jumps on the opened book on the towel and nearly licks your nose. The owner comes closer and keeps saying he is sorry, but it is a moment of shared excitement you are not sorry for. The soft fur briefly brushes against your forearm and the little bell scurries off. 

There are two kinds of people. When your hat is blown away by the wind and falls on the road, one kind drives over it and the other sees you standing on the side and stops to let you retrieve it. You tell yourself you should always strive to be the second kind. 

It is enjoying a meal at a high top table outside your favorite restaurant. Observing a group of young women in long dresses and one man cross the street to the Italian restaurant. One of the women is in a reddish pink dress with interesting flowy sleeves that drape like a shawl, hot pink hair and pink glasses and no shoes. The group peeks inside the window and turns back, calling out to a buff man in a white apron who just came out from his restaurant for a break. Do you have alcohol? they yell, and he yells back he doesn't but they are welcome to bring their own. They regroup and cross the street again to walk past and look at you plate, go inside and backtrack again. The young man says this place doesn't have drinks either but is cooler because it serves sodas. They walk down the street in a single file and you wonder why people don't do their research.

June is the smell of pancakes on Sunday morning, sweetness with a hint of vanilla. 

It is a woman next door singing. You can't make out the words or tune, but it sounds familiar somehow and reminds you of theater productions. 

You stare at the blank journals on the bookshelf, tracing their spines, picking one up and turning the pages. You imagine what it will feel like to write in them and can't make up your mind, because you finished writing in yours and need to start a new one.

It is walking up a steep hill, dragging your legs that seem to weigh twice as much in the relentless summer heat. It is gently rocking in a hammock together, listening to the shaky leaves of the oak tree above us and watching the sun climb down. It is watching just one more episode of Stranger Things while eating banana split ice cream out of matching bowls, because you're trying to have sensible portions but you keep refilling the bowl anyway. 

June is when you are anticipating the moment you will be bicycling down a particular street where the trees form a canopy, and you slightly lift your helmet to wipe the sweat off your forehead and feel the wind. 

The labored breath and snorting of a pug who is out on a walk with his owner trailing behind. 

It is a sweat soaked runner who walks with hunched shoulders, defeated like someone who has given up on outrunning a rain storm. 

An abstract sculpture suddenly takes up space on your path, a giant rock resembling a coral reef. People turn their heads and stop to look at this unusual thing materialized overnight. You tend to notice what is out of place and not what has already been there. 

You keep browsing in the bookstore on your way home from work, buying more books and ordering notebooks online for adrenaline. 

June is the old matted cat too tired to patrol around his yard, lying flat on the stoop, who slides down the steps like liquid to get closer to you.

It is looking for bunnies on your evening strolls. The two of you search for the one with the sprained leg. You see him in a spot where he is not usually spotted, chewing a blade of grass on a new lawn. He pauses mid-chew, his jaw turned to one side and then another, mastering the art of pretending to be elsewhere for the sake of blending in.

June is a strange dream where your shoes are full of sand and you see a house under construction in the middle of nowhere. It is a house of someone you know back in time. You try to take a photo for when you travel to the present but you can't find your phone and the sun hurts your eyes.

It is a thunderstorm. The rain streams down like a high pressure shower and within minutes it is over and a warm glow shines from around the corner. The tree stands perfectly still, when just a moment before the branches shook violently and a green flash card rose up from a balcony and flew up the roof of the building and into the sky. 

In June you miss the vibrant green of May and blooming hydrangeas that now lay collapsed from the heat. 

You start writing in a new journal and wonder if you've made a mistake, but now that you have filled several pages you no longer fidget with the bookmark. It is starting to feel like home and you feel something like happiness. 

June is the smell of lilacs still lingering in the air even though the flowers are gone.


Limits to devotion

“We are, all of us, molded and remolded by those who have loved us, and though that love may pass, we remain none the less their work – a work that very likely they do not recognize, and which is never exactly what they intended."

I came across this epigraph in a memoir and wanted to read the source. François Mauriac’s The Desert of Love, English translation by Gerard Hopkins, is a brilliant novel revolving around the shared experience of a father and son coincidentally infatuated with the same woman and the impact this passion has on the rest of their lives. I thoroughly enjoyed this story because it is not what it seems. This is a story about the awakening of desire, not of sexual love, but of the desire to come alive.

The story takes place in the early 1900s in a small town in France. Paul Courrèges lives in a lively multi-generational household. He is a respectable doctor and is quick to defend Maria Cross, who is one of his patients, whenever someone speaks ill of her. Maria Cross leads an unconventional life as a mistress to a Monsier Larousselle, left alone under the pretense of being a caretaker of one of his residences. She spends her days stretched on the sofa in the drawing-room, occupying herself with books and daydreams. She has the doctor tied around her finger, entertaining herself with sending him secret invitations to long visits in her room. After a while, she grows bored of him and shatters his heart before any semblance of the romance he imagines comes to fruition.

Paul’s son, Raymond, is an unruly and sensitive young man in the formative years of his youth. He just so happens to lock eyes with Maria on a six o’clock trolley on his way to school. The two are attracted to one another instantly, and this daily non-verbal rendezvous on the tram rekindles some excitement in her life and slowly transforms him into a man – at least in the outward sense. Paul, preoccupied with suffering from his heartbreak despair, barely recognizes the handsome man sitting across him at the dining table.

The story opens with Raymond, seventeen years later, seeing Maria Cross enter a bar.

“He recognized her as he would a road familiar to him in childhood, even though the oaks once shading it had been cut down.” (p. 10)
Struck down by the experience of his first love, he remembers her and the story takes us back to his upbringing and shifts perspectives from Paul, Raymond, and Maria Cross. Neither Paul nor Raymond could ever have her, because having her would shatter the “mysterious enchantment” in their eyes. Infatuation drives us to use another as “prop” for our idealized self, as John Armstrong puts it in his exploration of the variety of loves in Conditions of Love. Raymond needed Maria Cross to see himself as the desirable man he longed to be, and gave Paul a spring to his step in his otherwise lonely life. In Maria Cross, Paul fancies an “intellectual” partner to have deep conversations with and fantasizes about re-living his youth.

Paul’s wife, Lucie, is another suffering character.
“Tangled in her clumsy efforts at tenderness, she was, as it were, always groping her way forward with outstretched hands. But whenever she touched him it was to bruise.” (p. 27)

She constantly talks to him about trifles, town gossip and conflicts with their servants, drawing him away. When the doctor is bed-ridden and suddenly musters the strength to go see Maria Cross after being called, his wife is struck by jealousy and horror, still attends to him. She runs after him, “breathless,” bringing him a piece of bread and a chocolate bar for his trip. The choice of food, a chocolate bar, made me picture the two of them as children playing house. Children, who at first loved each other, and now cohabitate.

The most moving scene, to me, is where Paul finds himself alone in the garden outside their home in the evening after another failed attempt at conversing with his son. Lost in thought and feeling weak, he places his hand over the bark of a chestnut tree and remembers his children had carved their initials on it when they were younger. He embraces the tree and lays his cheek against the bark, a tender and vulnerable gesture of affection and unconditional love that is so difficult for him to express to his family members. 

“No love, no friendship can ever cross the path of our destiny without leaving some mark upon it forever.” (p. 62)
Infatuation, love, fear of aging, and a hunger to live, all of these concepts and desires are timeless. I enjoyed this book because the portrayed experiences of each character are relatable even today, and each profound in their own way. While there are romantic undertones, it is truly a story about the unbreakable bond between a father and son. Maria Cross is merely a catalyst for their shared desire to live.


May is...

May is an allium flower bulb cupped in my hands. It is a month of vibrant greens and blossoms carpeting paths and pavements. A time when the cluster of houses on the hill across the pond is hidden by the green expanse of trees.

Elm tree seed pods twirl down like cherry blossoms in the wind. Their shapes resemble miniature avocado slices or pears. Sometimes I find them inside my notebook, in my hair and on my clothes when I come home.

A hawk and a blackbird circle each other while I stand at a red light. The hawk's beige feathered belly stands out against the clear blue sky. The hawk goes round and round, concentrating on the rooftop of an apartment building, and the blackbird follows like a dog nipping its tail.  

Sitting on the ground at the pond, I lifted my eyes from the page to watch as a plump bumble bee buzzes low to the ground, brushing past tiny twigs and dry leaves. She rises higher and flutters hypnotically, disturbed by the noise of a circular saw whirring across the water.

May is the month of home improvements.

May is when the creeping phlox drape the stone barriers and flower pots outside shops. Walking down the street, I saw a petite old woman walking the opposite direction lean down to brush the palm of her hand against the waterfall of these violet flowers. Seeing the gesture lightened my step.

There was an evening when a thick mass of bluish purplish clouds veiled the sky and everything looked still, even the voluminous green leaves on the tree outside the window was motionless. Everything was enveloped in a warm glow contrasting the darkness, like an artificial light in a dream.

May is the sweet taste of black raspberry ice cream in a sugar cone. 

In late May, there is an eerie kind of silence before the rain comes - a smell of wet earth mixed with concrete, nature's foreshadowing. It feels like holding my breath in a large empty space, alone. 

It is raining now and I keep tugging at my sleeves to warm my hands. The upstairs neighbor has come home and has filled the room with the thumping of bare footed footsteps and the occasional thud of objects falling to the floor directly above my head. Despite the seeming annoyance of these sounds, they have become as comforting as the sound of the sizzle and crackle of a meal on a hot skillet. 

As I write, my husband is committing a sacrilege of drawing on the walls where he will place ceramic tiles. The other day I was slicing peppers on the cutting board with the soundtrack from Strangers Things playing on the speaker, while he was shimming a drawer on the wall beside me. The kitchen was alive with music and the repeated motions of individual actions, our limbs swinging to their own rhythms. It was such a lively moment and while we were concentrating on separate tasks I felt a shared happiness. 

This May we went away to the coast for our first mini-vacation in a while. We stretched out on matching striped towels at a beach inhabited only by seagulls and us. I dragged my feet in the sand when we had to leave. It grew cold, the sun was setting, it was time to go to another context. I had wished time would pause for a moment longer in the one we were in.

The rain has drenched everything. The daffodils and tulips stand devoid of flowers. Rhododendron, pink, purple and red, are the most colorful now. Walking home we spotted a wet rabbit sitting on a patch of brown mulch, nearly blending in. He looked back in profile, chewing, stopping, chewing again. May is when the rabbits come out earlier in the day, exploring better options, but our resident bunny prefers his lawn even if someone had the audacity to throw mulch over it.


"I had no use for nostalgia if it took up space"

This past weekend I exchanged a war romance novel in the free little library for Coming Clean, a memoir by Kimberly Rae Miller. Dodger, the Border Terrier sitting guard by the structure in the fenced front yard, wagged his tail and furrowed his sun kissed brows as I opened the little wooden door to swap the books. The title written in black chalk on the spine caught my attention. The cover has a small paper heart in gradual stages of crumpling, laid out in a grid of twelve against a white background. It leads to believe two scenarios, either the paper heart was whole and crumpled into a tiny ball by the time it reached the top of the left corner or it started out crumpled and was unfolded and made whole again- the smoothed heart bearing the words "a memoir" on the bottom right corner. I see it this way: No matter what happens, the creases and wrinkles can be carefully undone to restore the heart to its original shape.

I read the book in almost one sitting. The writing style isn't remarkable, but the story is captivating and kept me alert and wanting to know what comes next. It is a coming of age story unfolding in chronological order about growing up in a household drowning in material possessions and shame. Kimberly's father barricades himself behind towers of papers and knick-knacks. Her mother follows in the same footsteps, buying products from infomercials that serve as a boxed surface to stack more objects that are never used. The living conditions she describes are horrible and brought up images I had seen in documentaries and films featuring hoarding and homelessness. 

She tells her story with utmost honesty, and humor at times. The experiences she went through made her grow up fast, and certain memories she unveiled made me feel conflicted with stifling a laugh while simultaneously feeling incredibly sad. The problem with hoarding is there is no end to it. It is a mountain of stuff covering undealt with emotions and trauma, building more trauma in the endless cycle of collecting and cleaning, like coming up for air to rapidly descend to the bottom over and over. I often felt claustrophobic reading about the condition of her childhood homes, the despair she felt living with her parents and taking care of them in her adult life. 

Thin pink strips of sticky notes pop out from the fore-edge like a fan. There were so many passages that questioned and answered each other. Her father's eyes looking out in the distance, somewhere out of reach. She writes he "wandered off" buried in the ceiling high piles of accumulated stuff, "his body just hadn't gone anywhere" (p. 40). Observing him sitting in the hospital waiting room when her mom was in a life saving surgery, he was holding onto a newspaper but instead of reading it, "running his fingers through the pages, touching the corners, feeling around the headlines, the paper soothing him" (p. 173). After their first house burned down and her parents purchased a larger house, she "was sure there was no way [they] would be able to find enough paper to fill it up with" (p. 57). But they did, time and time again, and she came to clean it up over and over because they were too ashamed to ask anyone else for help. 

She managed to keep the hoarding a secret throughout her childhood and teenage years, even through college, but the secrecy of her family's shame haunted her adulthood and manifested itself in PTSD-like nightmares. When she was living with her parents, she bought them wedding bands for their anniversary and they lost them immediately. "Things were always getting lost," she writes, "it was never worth the trouble looking for them for fear of what else we might find" (p. 175). Looking that fear in the eye and coming clean, as the title suggests, is what it takes to move forward. 


Capturing time

We were sitting on the bench at the front of the pond, holding each other's hands, our legs crossed in the same direction, enjoying the warmth of the sun on our backs. A shadow of a hawk flew above us and we tilted our heads up to watch at the same time and my husband said, "That's a good shot." A capture, I thought, that wasn't photographed. 

Whenever I see something beautiful or remarkable, there is an itch to reach for my phone to take a picture. This used to be instinctive but something I notice hasn't been my immediate response anymore. My husband says we have a tendency to want to take photographs because memory is fallible. Sometimes I think that is precisely why I don't reach for my phone, because I want to remember having felt something memorable rather than the actual thing itself. That is not to say that I am not a prolific photo-taker. I recently switched to a new cell phone after holding on to my old Motorola model for six years. The camera on the new phone is impressive and I've been having fun taking photos, in awe of the sharpness compared to the blurry pictures I'm used to. 

Looking through my recent gallery, there are photos of blue skies and tree branches coming in from the bottom, closeups of pink buds on the cusp of opening, a red tulip in macro, a cherry tree with a green house with white window panes in the background, a view of my bookshelf with the string of lights turned on, a Joan Didion book and its title mirrored upside down on the glass on top of the dresser, a sunny side egg and turkey bacon on a plate, a heart shaped pot on the stove with dumplings in boiling water, a round cake with a bunny tail made of white frosting in a display case, the tip of a fountain pen, a Tudor style house with a 19th century church golden in the light to its left, a ginger cat looking out from a window, a tabby cat on a window, the back of my favorite black and white spotted little cat sitting on the sidewalk, my mom taking pictures of me on her cell phone, the picture she took of me that she sent me, my husband's profile while reading a book, a series of selfies of the two of us, a solar powered lucky cat waving his hand in a window with a reflection of me in a baseball hat taking a photo and my husband looking to the side behind me, a window with a large photo of Audrey Hepburn holding a long cigarette in a frame on the wall inside, bare trees reflecting in the glass. 

Why do I take photographs? To capture a moment. Why do I choose not to? To capture it with words. When I was a child I had a tape recorder and then a video camera. I annoyed my parents incessantly with both, but can't remember the last time we rewound those tapes as a family. But when I read a page in an old diary, the memories appear as vivid as any picture - still or in motion. They say a photograph can speak a thousand words, but I've always thought a written record can speak even more and sometimes a sentence is all it takes. I don't remember when or how I changed my photo taking habits. Gradually, over the years, I found I wanted to put less effort into photographing moments and started writing about them instead. I do remember a particular vacation trip when I brought along a larger sized journal, some picture corners tucked in the back, and a glue stick. Instead of taking photos all the time, I became more attentive to collecting little trinkets I could glue in the journal and write around them - pressed leaves, receipts from coffee shops, a torn sugar packet, crinkly candy wrapper, a postcard. Looking back on these entries makes me relive those memories more than their photographs. 

I've come to understand, reliving memories through recording them is what this blog is all about. As tempting as it is to share a photo, I want to write about what it meant to me. I've often wanted to post photos alongside these blog entries but feel it wouldn't be right, because these posts are my way of digging deeper. I want to capture what I see and experience with words. That is why I started writing, that is why I write.


The contents of my life


This world of ours is piled high with farewells and goodbyes of so many different kinds, like the evening sky renewing itself again and again from one instant to the next - and I didn't want to forget a single one.
(Goodbye Tsugumi, Banana Yoshimoto) 

When a pot of water on a stove comes to boil it makes a bubbling sound. The gurgling grows louder and seeing the foam begin to rise, I lift the glass lid and lower the temperature. I poke and stir the mushroom and chicken filled dumplings in the water with a spatula, wishing them to float up faster. In life, it's hard to tell when something has started or is mid-way to an end. Unpredictable. A friend recently told me big changes often occur in the grey, in those moments in between the extremes.

Right now it is raining and I'm typing at the kitchen counter under the dimmed pendant lights, the shadows of my fingers follow the pressing and clicking of the keys. There are a few hazy pink drops at the bottom of my transparent tea mug, cold by now. I'm looking at the stack of A6 journals I finished writing in the past year. I have taken them out of hiding to examine this evening, and to add the recently finished January-early March journal to the pile. I have kept a journal since I was a child, but it had always been a sporadic kind of thing. It has only been since this past year when I started writing every day and has become a daily ritual, like brushing my teeth, something I do because it has to be done and feels better afterwards. 

Whenever I reach the very last page, I continue onto the cardboard page on the back right before the back cover. To give the last entry some breathing room, I tend to set the finished notebook aside and return to it a day or two later. In the meantime, I inspect the empty notebooks on my bookshelf and decide which one I will write in next. Even though they are nearly all identical, all a soft white cover Leuchtturm1917 pocket notebook with either blank or lined pages, choosing one is like selecting a ripe watermelon. I have to give each one a gentle knock and listen for the hollow sound, promising sweetness. 

Once I am ready to sift through the finished notebook, I skim the pages in search of something that catches my attention. A memory deemed pretty or interesting enough to note, a passage that stands out, something I think I'd want to remember. The first two sheets contain a table of contents where I note a word or phrase to summarize a specific entry, noting the page number. These notebooks have 121 pages, which fit at most 3 months of my life. There are several hard cover ones, 185 pages, containing a 5 month archive. I forgot to mention, I also number each notebook on the inside of the front cover and attach a sticker on the cover with the start/end date range to make it easier for my future self to reference. 

One of my favorite things about keeping a daily journal is being able to refer to where I was exactly a year ago on the same date. For example, today in 2020, I returned from a walk at the pond and promised myself I would close my laptop by 6pm every work day. On this same week, I had stood by the kitchen window, leaning into the sunlight, witnessing a wet wipe fall out of neighboring window and twirl in the air like the plastic bag scene in American Beauty. It was the week we bicycled to a home furnishing store to look for a kitchen mat that would serve as a standing desk mat, the week we watched Altered Carbon on Netflix every night. The week my mom stopped by to drop off some food, and I saved the little chicken sticker she stuck on the container to hide the price or ingredients on the label. When the cluster of purplish blue crocus popped up on the bottom of a fence and I crouched down to take their picture. That made me so happy, as it did today too. This afternoon I saw the same flowers, their velvety petals closed, hiding their delicate orange centers. 

There is a hint of a new season in the air, the scent of wet soil, friend potatoes and onions riding the breeze. Last autumn's leaves pilled at the doors of closed restaurants and nail salons, like uninvited guests overstaying their welcome, have been scooped away. The skeleton waving in the attic window in the house at the pond is gone. March started with sunlight traveling across the kitchen, the days getting longer, shorter, colder, warmer, then longer again. I miss seeing the skeleton with his blue mask, his arm outstretched on the window frame in a permanent hello. I got used to seeing him there and don't feel ready for the goodbyes and farewells, I don't think anyone ever is.

 

The Lost Suitcase

The Lost Suitcase: Reflections on the Literary Life by Nicholas Delbanco is a collection of eight essays, with an eponymous novella in the middle. Delbanco's essays contain insightful personal reflections and lessons from his experience as both a writer and a teacher. The novella is unlike anything I've read before, a fictional experiment where the author takes the reader through several alternate scenarios and character interpretations. 

The story follows Ernest Hemingway's fictionalized first wife, AnneLise (Hadley) losing a suitcase containing all of his life's work on a train journey from Paris to Switzerland (based on real events). In the first scenario, AnneLise is a naive and absentminded young bridge who forgets to keep her eyes on the suitcase and runs to his embrace for forgiveness. In another, she purposely abandons the suitcase with the "unclaimed and unwanted" items at the station as revenge for his relentless infidelity. In my favorite version, she is both his teacher and muse, opening the suitcase out of boredom and curiosity in her train car. After reading the disappointing drafts, she contemplates discarding the suitcase to force him to start from scratch without confrontation. Instead, she delivers the suitcase to him and asks him never to publish any of it. He "yields" and together they come up with a stolen suitcase story. He hides it out of sight until many years later, alone, he opens that memory. Their relationships is ripped apart in all versions, the contents of the suitcase being the substance of their marriage. 

 

But this story of theirs is remembered; this object feels totemic and when he returns to it, as AnneLise predicted, not after her death but the death of their marriage, not in twenty or in thirty years but forty years thereafter, when he opens it once more the wind that coursed through the cedars down the mountain and then through the bedroom in Schrunz comes gusting out replete with that most private grief, the past.

 

An interesting fact I discovered while reading this book, the contents of the suitcase were actually published in Hemingway's A Moveable Feast memoir after his death.


Wonders like these

 

Everyone lives the way she knows best. What I mean by "their happiness" is living a life untouched as much as possible by the knowledge that we are really, all of us, alone. 
(Kitchen, Banana Yoshimoto)

This afternoon everything was standing still, all was calm, the wind ceased its rattling, the sparrows in the bushes sat fluffed in silence, everything frozen under an enormous pale sky. I wanted to be part of this calm and took myself out for a walk, listening to an audio book on my cell phone once again, making my way over the ice on the wooded path, feeling the jolt of the heat run through me with each slip and the occasional crackling sound in my headphones as the cold gripped the wires.

I keep thinking of that first snowfall in February, when the snowflakes fluttered down and covered everything in a thick blanket of white. The snow was so remarkable that day, and all through the evening, the sky glowed in hues of violet and orange. We stood by the kitchen window and watched it coming down, even with the light switched off it looked as though night never came. I tried to take photographs but the results failed to capture how magical it truly was.

I keep thinking of how everything is shaped in the context of memories. I came across a passage in a book that made me laugh, the part about an NSU Prinz that goes aflame every time its owners placed their groceries or passengers on the seat where the metal springs made contact with the car battery. I remembered sitting in the back seat of a car as a child in the winter, dangling my legs while my parents were inspecting something under the hood. It was cold and I could see my breath clouds inside. The car had caught on fire because my parents turned on the heat, and my dad was waving his hat at the flames. Seeing the look of horror on my mom's face told me I had to get out, and I opened the door and fell face down into the snow. I was okay and the fire put out, but my dad singed his hat. I wonder how much of that memory is actually true, or if it something I built in my mind from the stories I heard growing up.

I keep thinking how I am subconsciously creating a shared experience in an effort to connect. Somedays I brew the same tea for myself, read the same books a friend or stranger recommends, watch the same series on Netflix, all in an effort to experience the same context. When our eyes gaze at the moon we are looking at the same object and each seeing something different, existing alongside another in this shared space - alone, but not alone. The world is full of wonders like these.



Only thieves and children run

 

From him I learned how to wash substances to rid them of impurities and bring out the true colors. (Girl with a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier)

I read Girl with a Pearl Earring in one sitting. I wanted to know what happens to Griet, the intelligent and beautiful young woman constrained under the eyes and hands of men. I found it most telling how often the author described Griet's observation of hands, touch, and the looks she felt cast her way. Her father's hands were stained blue from his trade, the butcher and his son had bloodied fingernails, her own hands became "workers hands" at a young age, while she and Vermeer cleansed their hands after mixing colors in his studio.

She learned to see "the true colors" in people, their real desires and intentions. Everyone in her life was tainted, dirtied, and only the master's gaze and hands "pure." I don't think the master had ill intentions, but he obviously used his authority for his own benefit.

I like how the statement "only thieves and children run" came up twice in the novel as well as the image of the spinning knife on a floor. I saw the knife as a dial on a compass, with Griet standing in the center of the eight-pointed star in her town and ultimately making the decision that would better her life under the circumstances. She wasn't a thief but a child who had to grow up quickly. 
 

Truly great people emit a light that warms the hearts of those around them.

 

Truly great people emit a light that warms the hearts of those around them. When that light has been put out, a heavy shadow of despair descends. (Kitchen, Yoshimoto Banana)
Kitchen is a heartfelt story told by Mikage, the narrator, a young woman orphaned in a big house after the last of her family members (her grandmother) passes away. Grieving and alone, the hum of the refrigerator lulls her to sleep and the kitchen is the only place she feels at ease. Her kind neighbor, Yuichi, and his unconventional mother, Eriko, invite her to stay in their home to help her cope. The kitchen becomes the focal point where Mikage enjoys preparing meals for the three of them, where they come together as a family. Mikage forms a bond with the two of them and after an unforeseeable loss, develops a deeper friendship with Yuichi. She settles back in her home alone and thrives in a new job as a cooking assistant while Yuichi struggles with life, the two of them growing more intertwined in their shared grief. The love story reminded me of Fumi, the narrator in Love Songs from Asleep, where she described a haunting voice that touches "the area of [her] heart that was the most tightly clenched, helping those knots to loosen."

I was surprised to find Moonlight Shadow, Banana Yoshimoto's first novella, included in Kitchen. In Moonlight Shadow, the narrator mourns the death of her boyfriend with his brother. Through a series of magical events, she is able to say goodbye to her loved one and find it in herself to move on. Banana Yoshimoto credits a Mike OIdfield song with the same title as inspiration for the story. Moonlight Shadow feels like a much more compact and romanticized story, sharing the same theme of love and loss. I am certain the English translation doesn't do it justice, but found Kitchen more moving than Moonlight Shadow. A part of me still wonders what Yuichi decided after he finished the katsudon Mikage brought him, did he agree to "go on to more difficult, happier places, whatever comes, together" with her? 
 

Journal picking

My favorite writing notebook is the softcover pocket Leuchtturm1917 journal. I found one with a flexible soft white cover in a local bookstore years ago and loved that it lies flat, has creamy off-white paper, faintly printed lined and grid versions, and feels overall superior to its Moleskine counterpart. The Leuchtturm1917 has since grown and introduced new sizes, colors, and a variety of styles that seem to have kicked off with the popularity of bullet journaling.

I went through phases with my journaling preferences. Early in college I experimented with a variety of different styles of notebooks, and there was that period of time where I filled stacks of cow-print composition notebooks inspired by the film Henry Fool. I have since strictly kept a pocket Leuchtturm1917 and go through one about every 3 months. I recently purchased two plain medium hardcovers and noticed a striking difference. I shared my past woes with the decline of paper and binding quality with Nifty at Notebook Stories, but noticed a new development.

No Leuchtturm1917 is the same, each has a slightly different cover overhang and binding imperfections. While the "old" and "new" versions are both made in Taiwan (the even newer ones are now made in China and have declined in paper quality), there are interesting differences. By the way, the "old" version I am referring to is not the same as the glorious ones that were made when they first started selling them in the US. Those had a single bookmark and creamier paper. How can one tell if the sealed notebook is the old or new version? Here is a tip! The old one has a smaller font on the back of the jacket. The new one has a "FSC" stamp on the lower right. That's pretty much all you can tell from the outside to determine if the precious old style is in the stack. Yes, I am the weirdo looking through and comparing them in that stationary aisle, like a picky eater selecting the right kind of apple or knocking on a watermelon because they all look alike but not the same inside.

The "if lost" opening page has been redesigned. The table of contents looks very different and shortened to 2 pages instead of 3. The old book has 249 marked pages, the new ends on 251. The branding and markings in the new notebook are darker and bolder. I prefer the old version with the smaller and lighter numbering. The binding, luckily, looks the same but I can't say the same about the paper until I use them. The new version has 80 G/QM paper marked on the inside of the front cover, but feels thinner to the touch compared to the older version (I tested this by touching both with my eyes closed to remove bias). The changes are subtle, but these are the sorts of things I notice right away. The bold numbering on the bottom of the pages is unnerving.

Have you used a Leuchtturm1917 notebook before? What are your notebook pet peeves? 
 
 

Everything beautiful is painted in melancholy

There is a heaviness after the holidays that comes with the anticipated return to routine. The snow has melted, uncovering a brown mush of a long forgotten autumn. Christmas trees discarded on the sidewalks, the forced festivities put away in that out of reach shelf in the back of the closet. I often feel like a pitiful child at the end of summer vacation, when a long break comes to a close and it is time to wipe the dust off my laptop and lose track of the hours counting down to the weekend. The weekends too, speed past like a smudge of trees outside the window of a fast moving train. A new year marks a new beginning. Isn't it too much pressure for one calendar day? It is too much pressure for any one person.

I'm detail oriented. When I talk or write to a friend, I describe the moment. I set the scene, location, scents, sights, sounds, what I am in the middle of or was doing right before. I feel it is important because the time and place influences my state of mind, the context of musings and questions. Take me out of the present moment and I am like an entirely different person. I didn't realize the extent of this until a friend brought it up, and then I remembered instances when I've been told similar things. I am detail oriented and some view it as a quality while others are annoyed or intimidated. I consider it my quality. 

I took myself on a walk when the sun already set and a cool deep blue tinted the horizon in a settling fog. I listened to the first chapter of Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto on my cell phone, and when I returned I played a part I liked without headphones for my husband while we drank tea and he slowly cut slivers of Camembert cheese for a Challah bun I shouldn't have eaten but did. As we chewed and listened, pausing with his hand in a package of wafers to quiet the plastic crackling while listening to the important sentences, the tunnel of trees on either side of the path came to me. The path I walked on while hearing the very same words read by the robotic US female local voice #1. Everything, almost everything, is in context of a memory. 

Everything beautiful is painted in melancholy because it doesn't last. I saw these words on a page in one of my diaries and can't remember if it was something I thought or read somewhere. Knowing me, I would have noted down where it came from.

In this moment, I am perched on the edge of a kitchen chair. It is not the most comfortable position and I could always scoot back. I don't know why I do this but I always have, probably because I used to work jobs where I needed to frequently alternate between standing and sitting. The light is dimmed and a candle is flickering in a cup next to me, a cup with a cat that appears to be sleeping in a fetal position with the words "Can't adult today" stylized around it. It is supposed to smell like green tea, but has a floral scent I can't put my finger on. My diary lies open on the opposite side, where I looked to get me going with this post, a book, another notebook, a small speaker, an assortment of wires and chargers within reach. The fridge just started rumbling in another cycle started off with a grunt, and there is an unnerving tapping noise in the heat pipe behind me by the window. 

ps: I am glad I have kept going with this blog. It feels like a cozy nook I've carved out for myself and gives me incentive to keep writing. I'm planning to build up the courage and share a little more about myself on here soon.


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