Education

I am nearly finished reading this booked called ‘Educated’ by Tara Westover. Oh my goodness. I CAN’T put it down. It’s a memoir that certainly needed to be written. You know how some 20-somethings write ‘memoirs’ and you’re just reading it thinking, ok first, did this person ever read anything apart from the back of a jam jar? And secondly, this person did not live life yet, and the life they lived already is so mundane that they really should not have written about it.

But, like, teenagers buy this book by the millions because it’s a famous YouTuber that they love.

Yes, this book is NOT like those books. Sure, Tara Westover is relatively young, but her life is so strange and odd and powerful, and the way she writes is so intense and gripping, that I have to read it every second I get, and when I am not reading it I am thinking about it.

It’s all about how she was brought up in the isolated mountains of Idaho as a Mormon, with an extreme father. She never set foot in a school and her family thought the Medical Establishment was part of the Illuminati and the Government were evil and wanted to control everybody. She barely learnt anything ‘academic’, but her life was filled with roughness, injury, thinking on the spot and extreme resourcefulness. In spite of, or perhaps because of this, she managed to succeed at exams to get her into a good university, which then allowed her to get a very prestigious scholarship into Cambridge University.

The story is gripping, detailing, among other things, the horrific injuries she, her siblings and parents obtained from reckless and ruthless actions (driving through snowstorms with no seats in the car and enduring severe accidents, climbing into dumping baskets in a junkyard, setting themselves on fire ‘accidentally’) without medical intervention, just recovery at home at the hands of their herbal expert mother. I cannot get it out of my head.

Above all, this story inspires me so much. That a person who had never studied or read anything apart from the Bible and Book of Mormon could then go and write the ‘best essays seen in 30 years of teaching’ (Cambridge senior profession proclamation) SHOWS me that sometimes what we pin as of ultimate importance, perhaps is just not that important. Maybe training kids from an early age to think the academic thoughts others have had before them and which have been refined for their brains is the wrong way to go about it? Maybe you ought to let children be as free as possible, and think as much of their own individual thoughts as possible, in order to create great thinkers within them?

Tara Westover describes her childhood as ‘loveless’, she was abused physically by her older brother, and felt that all her siblings and her mother suffered at the hands of her bipolar lunatic father. Yet at the same time she was given experiences that very few other children have. She worked in a junkyard with her father at age ten and learnt so many things which she applied in her later years studying at college, things which were not academic in the slightest but gave her a high advantage over others who had been trained for this sort of education their whole lives.

One of the main things to take away from this book is that the author suffered crippling depression from the aftermath of what she endured as a child. She became ostracised from her family for daring to speak up about the physical and verbal abuse she received from her older brother, but she still weathered through it and got a PhD, achieved her goals, and above all, did not let her experiences mould her. She decided to take control and mould herself. That is what is inspiring about Tara Westover.

If you love reading about lives that are out of the ordinary, and minds filled with the richness of learning, both physical and mental, and experiences which are painful and horrific but also very true, and which shaped a life in such an interesting way, then this book is certainly for you.

It’s for sure for me. It’s made me even more determined to get a Master’s degree, something I have been wanting for a while but have been dubious about following through with.

On Human Suffering

I managed to read two books this week because I deleted instagram from my phone. Instagram is highly addictive because it contains all sorts of high quality imagery as well as lets you know via short videos what your friends and ‘influencers’ are up to.

I used to use it for fashion inspiration and also to see what nice pictures my friends took on their out-and-abouts, but now my feed is all full of parenting, education and food ‘inspiration’. I must say I have learnt a lot about how to deal with my toddler by following the relevant experts and experienced mothers.

It helps when you’re isolated and can’t really share experiences with many mothers.

However, it is also a waste of time because you can end up scrolling your feed for 45 WHOLE MINUTES after your bubba has gone to bed and not realise the time.

‘That’s it,’ I said firmly last Monday, ‘THAT IS IT. I’m done with this sodding app.’

And because I suddenly had pockets of time free from scrolling, when I picked up my phone I went to the ‘books’ section to see what I’d left to dwindle.

And I found I had two books in there at 0%.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christie Lefteri, and The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.

I know. Deep and heavy subject matter. But I delved in.

I started with The Beekeeper of Aleppo, purely because it was the first option in my library. It read like a sad, haunting poem. The imagery in this book was beautiful. The story was heartbreaking and you really felt like you were in the characters’ shoes. Christie Lefteri is the daughter of Cypriot refugees, and she was brought up in London. And, speaking as someone with Arab blood, I could very much tell that her portrayal of Syrians, their food and their way of life, even the words they used and how they spoke to each other, was very much through an overly romanticised western lens. This bothered me a little, but the story was so well-written that I was completely hooked throughout. Christie Lefteri did a beautiful job portraying the lives of people who are so often vilified in today’s media, and for that alone she deserves five stars. Most people like the Ibrahim family in this book will certainly not have the happy ending they did, but I think more than anything this story was meant to humanise refugees, and show that if they had any other choice, they would not be making these devastating decisions. I couldn’t stop thinking about this book and it haunted me for days afterwards. The author based this story on a collection of true stories she had heard from the mouths of refugees during her time as a volunteer at several refugee camps.

I then moved on to The Tattooist of Auschwitz. It was written well, certainly, but after Christie Lefteri’s haunting writing, this one felt a little monotonous. Like I was reading a screenplay. Throughout the entire book I never knew how the characters really felt, it was like I was being held at arms length by the author. If you overlook that, and just read the book for the sake of the plot (which is based on a true story), then you begin to really feel the story. And there are parts which are absolutely horrifying and I wish I never read, but know that it was a must to know these things. Because these things are happening again to many people around the world, and they always say ‘We will never forget the holocaust’ but they did forget it. Because humans are still suffering in horrible ways today, at the hands of evil regimes, for their religion! I was hooked on this book, I both dreaded each new page and anticipated it.

Reading two books so close to one another, both of which detail human suffering in such explicit ways makes me grateful, so grateful, that I live in ‘peace’. I have a home that isn’t bombed to a shell, my son is not lying dead in my arms with unseeing eyes. My family are not being gassed in chambers or taken away to evil camps. My siblings are squabbling peacefully and my mother is ranting about my sister’s shoes in the hallway. We are going through hard times, for sure. People are losing their jobs, dying, losing loved ones. But opening my eyes to this sort of suffering makes me realise that sometimes I complain too much, and it’s much better to count one’s blessings.

And delete instagram and read real books.

24 out of my 25 books for 2020. I think I am doing quite well.

Fancy Yourself a Writer?

Writing a book is an incredibly hard thing. I fancy myself a writer but I have never properly finished writing a book. Sure, I’ve written drafts, but it’s a mammoth task turning a draft into something that flows with the smooth syrupy confidence of authentic maple syrup over some self-assured pancakes.

I have read plenty of books and judged them mercilessly. Some books feel cheap to me and I can SEE the potential in them, the words leap out in broken shatters, begging to be re-strung, imploring the author to please re-dress them, as they tumble about their pages in clumsy clusters. Some books just need a good editor.

Then there are other books that lift my feet right off the ground. I find myself amazed and defeated all at once. I find myself nursing an ache that won’t go away. How do people put pen to paper and release such magnificent things? Worlds and vivid imagery and passionate characters with all the dimensions of a kaleidoscope.

As an example, I was reading Ian McEwan’s Atonement, and when I reached the end I felt despair when I realised that he had attempted to dumb his novel down, since it was written by his heroine, Briony. I opened the first page of Gerald Durrell’s ‘My Family and Other Animals’ and was floored by the ushering in of a leaden August sky by a biting wind that blew out July. The life in their words seethe and sizzle on the faded pages on which they were printed. And I don’t know how. 

So yes. Writing a book is a very difficult thing. And I am sure the people who wrote the ‘badly written’ books must have thought that their books were ‘well written’, else they would be ashamed to have them out in the world. So, that begs the question, HOW do you know your writing is ‘good enough’?

 

On Reading and Narrating

I am reading a book now called Mrs Bridge.

It is written quite simply, with simple events and simple people. So far. Chapters are 3/4 of a page long, and deal with the simple people doing simple things. Except there appears to be an underlying shift under all the simplicity. A coiled snake, waiting to spring. It is a far cry from the previous book I was reading, in the manner of its writing. Less of the explosion, more mature. No feelings. Well, barely any. And always concealed under decorum.

You may be wondering how I am now managing to read whilst also navigating busy days with an ever-moving, ever-learning 6 month old (7 months on Sunday).

Well, I now read arduously during his ridiculously short naps. 40 minutes is all he has. I no longer rush about doing chores or beautifying myself. I am done with that. Chores accumulate the minute I have finished choring them, and I am just fat now. So until I lose this baby fat I really am not going to bother shoving myself uncomfortably into nice clothes and feeling depressed that they don’t fit me like they did pre-baby. I am just going to wear my leggings and my hoodies and feel comfortable, and lie on my sofa reading until the baby wakes up, when the cycle of shallow breaths (from me. Need to learn how to breathe deep more often) and nonstop exhaustion starts again.

How do people with more than one kid do it? Am I just so selfish?

I also strap baby in his pram, stick my headphones on and walk for two or three hours, listening to audiobooks. The weather is lovely for that now. It is September, and the August wasps are waning. There are so many Painted Ladies adorning flowers and fluttering here and there, landing on the top of the pram more than once. Blackberries drop lusciously from pregnant wild bushes, and their juice is just so sweet on the tongue. It is a lovely season, this season of late summer. Things are lush, there is no heavy sticky haze of heat, and the wind is fresh.

So I get my reading in, and the baby stares out at nature, smiles and gurgles at me, attempts to grab things, and eventually falls asleep, tired out by all the colour and stimulation.

And for me?

Well, it is a break from chores and baby entertainment.

We read so many books together everyday, sing songs, play games, and I try to talk to him as much as I can, narrating EVERYTHING. Right, i am putting your sock on. Oh stop wriggling your feet, naughty boy. That’s it. There. Both socks on. They had better stay on else you’ll get cold toes! Oh look it is raining outside. Shall we try to touch it. That’s it. No, don’t touch the muddy windowsill that Mummy hasn’t cleaned since before you were born (true story). Ok. Shall we read this book? No? You want to put it in your mouth. Alright. Can Mummy drink a cup of tea now? Look at this toy. How it rattles.

I am sick of my own damn voice I tell you. And sometimes I just want to be silent.

And I am quite isolated and know that lately, in society, a lot of new mums are, whereas they weren’t before. It is just how we live now. And I just can’t help thinking how bad that is for mental health, and how it might negatively impact the good I am trying to impart to my son.

 

Purple, Orange and Black

Books and films, in essence, are thoughts. Other people’s thoughts, that you think when you read them. You may take them as an opinion and inherently disagree, but these are still thoughts and ideas, and they add to your trove of thoughts and ideas and influence you. That is all there is to say about that.

I was not worried that The Colour Purple would influence me negatively, because if anything, it is the story of strength and perseverance through the roughest of lives. But I remember reading Alice Walker as a child, and Toni Morrison, and I remember feeling terrified and revolted, and wishing that the BOOK, you know, the symbol of happiness and life and adventure, wasn’t so vicious and dark. I kept trying to pick it up again, hoping this time it wouldn’t be as gruesome, but it was, and I felt violated. Of course, I am not blaming the books. The books are wonderful, and helped to highlight to many unfortunate things in the world, and gave a voice to previously unheard voices. But I was only nine, and I wasn’t allowed to read it but I still did, so I only had myself to blame.

And so, when I read The Colour Purple, I was tentative and afraid.  I was worried I would read more terrible things that would leave a nasty taste in my mouth, no matter they were the harsh reality, and still are the harsh reality of so many women around the earth. I don’t want to know that these things can happen, I don’t want to read about them in sordid detail, and hear the literary thoughts of those who inflict them, because these thoughts are the real thoughts that have been thought by real people. People who, if I saw on a day to day basis, I would probably avoid. I would. I think I would. I wouldn’t want to associate with them, because I wouldn’t want to learn what was in such a toxic brain. I wouldn’t want to familiarise myself with those kinds of thoughts. And so, when such thoughts, even when married to GOOD ones, are in my hands, in my living room, on my sofa, I feel violated. I feel obnoxious and worried and disgusted and heartbroken.

I watched the most recent season of Orange is the new Black, and while it was raw and honest and reflective of what is true for so many black people in America, I felt that it was poor. Why do the white people get good endings? Why did the black girl have to be condemned, and the Mexican girl get deported? Life is hopeless if you’re ‘coloured’ in America, this show seems to say. There is no hope for you.

I think that is a shockingly poor message. I think that while reflecting on what really does happen, there should be something to incite some change, too. Some flicker of hope. Something to suggest that there is a way out, that we have to keep fighting, not just give up. Was this show made by white people? This is black, this is white. That is the message I got. And that is how it is.

And reading The Colour Purple, right after watching the last season of Orange is the New Black, opened my eyes wide. Things have only changed in the past hundred or so years in terms of technology and social perception. Things have not changed when it comes to how non-white people are treated in America. But Alice Walker comes out soaring, compared to the makers of OITNB. She screams from the rooftops that all is not lost, that there is hope, that a poor, black woman can overcome her adversaries and succeed. In spite of them, because of them.

 

 

 

the-color-purple-the-kawaii-kollective.jpg

On Type

Today I felt like just picking up my pen and writing something. By pen I mean, of course, my figurative pen. Does anybody write their writings with real pens nowadays?

Since I took up typing as the default means to save my thoughts down, my handwriting has become atrocious. I do keep a journal and sometimes, reading back, I can barely read what I’ve written! Do you reckon proper handwriting is a dying art?

Back when I was a mite or a tot or a youngling, I used to write with pens a plenty. I hated the keyboard because it took so long to find all the letters and by the time I had, the words had vamoosed from my mind.

Sometimes you just gotta get those words down before they go, and keyboards back then just didn’t cut it – mostly because I was inexperienced and we got our first family PC (a large bottomed affair) when I was 10. Now I can type quicker than I can write, and writing gives me wrist-ache!

Not to mention, of course, the tediousness of having to type up everything you have written, meaning you’re spending double the amount of time writing the same thing.

Apparently they now have these new technological pens that literally scan handwriting into text. So you just run it over what you’ve written, like a highlighter, and it scans the sentences into text format on a screen for you. How marvellous is that?! It’s relatively new and you can only get it in the US for about 80$ but look how the world is changing.

Do you prefer to type your writings, or pen them down as the great writers of yore would have done?

Idaho

When I was studying my Creative Writing module, as part of my English Language and Literature degree, my tutor spoke about a feature of writing that incorporated film techniques. She tried to make us incorporate some of these techniques in our own writing, and cited the example of Charles Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’, where the visual descriptions of Pip’s parents’ graves provide vivid imagery, almost like a camera panning out over the gravesite and then the view of the countryside spilling over the hills.

But that was where it stopped with Great Expectations.

And if you want to read a book that makes you feel like you are watching an emotive film, not just visually, then Idaho is the book for you.

Emily Ruskovich has a natural affinity for words. Her words are like vines, growing around the pages and entwining with her story, so they cease to be black letters on a white page, and instead become a blurred window into her motion picture.

She doesn’t just describe things, she adds a voice to them, increasing the volume when she needs to and beaming radio silence when the moment shouts for it. And what a loud silence it is.

And behind everything is the soft piano music, gently playing to the rhythm of the characters’ lives and they go forward and backward in time.

It is all very well for me to lament on the poetic nature of Ruskovich’s writing, but I expect the burning question you have is what is this book about?

And I shall tell you, and not tell you, all in one breath, because I can’t tell you what it is about without doing the book justice.

It’s about a family, both past and present, shattered by uncontrollable and controlled, horrific events, and a degenerative disease. It is breathtaking, yet slow paced. And it rises and rises in pitch as the book goes on, crashing loudly and beautifully at its highest peak, and then softly trundling down a rocky mountain towards the end. Ruskovich uses her writing talent to create a written film, and I mean this quite literally.

It took me three months to read this book. I know because I started it when my tulips started to sprout, and finished it today, when my tulips are long withered away and the summer flowers are in full bloom. It is a slow read, there is so much to take in, and the pace leaps about between timelines, so it is hard to keep up. I was also left frustrated at the end, because there were questions there that I felt weren’t answered sufficiently.

I sat back and thought about that, however. The book was written in such a way as to reflect real life themes, emotions and human growth and change, and in real life there aren’t always answers, there are only humans dealing with questions, and growing with them, until they become part of what defines us.

I thoroughly was mesmerized by Idaho, Emily Ruskovich ensnared me with her beautiful poetic prose, she flabbergasted me with how she dealt with such treacherous topics and yet managed to make something so vibrantly, painfully beautiful.

 

9780099593959.jpg

The Thorn Birds

A peado priest falls in love with a little girl.

No, I am joking. He doesn’t. He only ‘falls in love’ with her when she develops a pair of … I can’t think of a dignified name for those things.

No that is too vulgar. Anyway that really isn’t the entirety of the story, but I think it caused sensation when it was published because that is what stood out the most.

That isn’t what this book was about. I read the last sentence today.

And we still do it. Still we do it.

Do what?

Put thorns in our breasts, that’s what.

This book touched me beyond my brain cells. It touched somewhere deep inside my cranium, some would call it a soul. It prodded it and then it simpered like an evil waif, and vanished, leaving me looking down at a new hole. A bit surprised, actually. I didn’t think it would affect me this way.

Somebody once told me that once you have read or seen something, it is a thought in your brain. It belongs to you. You cannot un-think it.

When a writer writes so well that you feel like you are one with the characters, feeling things they feel, even though you have never felt these things… you have bent to the will of the pen. You have never felt those things? Oh, but you have. You’ve felt an echo of them. And now, you know.

I didn’t like all of the characters, but I liked them immensely.

This book didn’t sear me because of its plot, or its characters. Its plot was devastating, to be sure, and its characters deeply twisted and vastly, enormously human. But this book had a soul of its own. It is life, itself.

Sure, it was life from the perspective of one individual brain, but it seethed into being, it spluttered, it gasped, it breathed.

I really wish I didn’t read it, because I can’t un-think it.

But I am glad I did.

301

A Pain

Nursing a heartache for the last four days. A strange heartache. A growing pain, if you will.

You see, I was introduced to Margaret Mitchell’s South America, and travelled through the pages of Gone with the Wind, dragged along by a headstrong, selfish, vain, villainess who forced me against my will to hate her and sympathise with her in equal measure.

I certainly will not write a review, for I am sure there are countless reviews out there, loving and hating Gone with the Wind and analysing it to the ends of the earth and back. I feel sad that there is so much analysis of it out there, because I felt privy to something rich and private and entirely soul-wrecking, that I wish it belonged to me alone.

I felt sucked into a very real world, taken on a roller coaster of emotions so intense that I could barely focus on my work, and then spluttered out at the end with not a damned care. I felt like crawling away into a hole and licking my wounds, the same way Scarlett did at the end of the book. I felt cheated, but also as though I was given a marvellous gift. I felt angry, but also enlightened, as though a window of thought which had never occurred to me had just opened before my eyes.

And this is why I say I am having growing pains.

You see, the world has shifted a little. Old hatreds and prejudices have moved sideways, giving way to new understandings. I certainly don’t take the political happenings of the book as pure fact, but it certainly gave me an insight into what was fact for a large number of people. It made me think, so to speak, from the perspective of ‘the enemy’. The slave owner. The people who were so morally amiss in my dictionary. They are no longer like that. They are now humans. Humans who err, who have arrogance, and love, and humility, and confusion, and hatred, just like all the other humans who do.

The way the world is currently, is because of systems which humans, who are essentially all the same, follow. People fought each other in plenty of wars, and ultimately, it really did not matter what they were fighting for, because there was error and evil on both sides, as well as innocence and good.

And that is why I have been nursing a heartache.

I feel like I have been blind for so long, and now my eyes have been opened.

I feel like I will no longer look at things at face value, because, underlying everything, is years and years worth of prejudice and heritage and taught attitudes.

I will no longer rely solely on my taught attitudes to make judgements on people and cultures around me.

I will ask, why, first.

I will try to understand the world in which I live, because in order to move forward with people, in harmony, one must understand them.

Gone with the Wind was heartbreaking because nobody understood each other. It was a personification, in a way, of a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people, because of stubbornness and greed. And, if you think about it, that is why all wars are fought.

If only people understood each other.

My heart hurts because I have had a stark realisation that they never will. I can, you can, WE can, but the collective won’t.

 

Rilla of Ingleside

I have heartache, dearest reader.

A heartache borne of the most insipid of things. It’s tragic, really. So painful. The world is so bleak and old, yet so young and fresh.

A long time ago, when I was a wee mite of eight years old, I acquainted myself with Anne Shirely. She lit my life, I assure you. She was eclectic and electric, and her mind soared through mine, influencing everything I touched and saw after that.

Just everything.

I only had the first three books growing up, and the sixth. And oh, how fitting, really. No pain or fear or sorrow touched my soul, the literary world remained quite tame.

Now, I am 23 years old, and have tripped back to old Prince Edward Island, only Anne is older and she has a budding family. Today, I finished reading the last proper book in the Anne of Green Gables series, ‘Rilla of Ingleside.’

I am left feeling bereft. Almost in grief, and it is so stupid, because it isn’t even real, and real life is so much more than this. So why do I feel this way?

You see, in the later ‘Anne’ books, the Anne Shirely we know and love so dearly recedes further and further away from us. In fact, she has already receded by the end of Anne of the Island. Going into Anne of Windy Poplars, we have her in epistolary form, and it isn’t quite tangible because she spends all her time talking about other people. People who aren’t the old, loved Avonlea people, at that! In Anne’s House of Dreams, it is much the same way. Anne starts a new life with Gilbert but we actually learn far more about those around them, than we do about Anne and Gilbert. It’s sad, but Montgomery seems to have drifted away from them. I don’t feel like we had a proper goodbye.

Anne’s House of Dreams introduces us, in so many words, to the first sore loss suffered by Anne. Her first born child dies mere hours after birth, and little ‘Joyce’ is buried in the garden of her ‘House of Dreams’. Montgomery skirts ever so delicately around the subject, dressing it with literary frills, most likely due to the impropriety of uttering such things aloud.

But, in Rilla of Ingleside, it is much worse. Oh, so much worse. Anne is a mother, and we barely ever hear from her except a reaction here, a comment there, an illness over thataway and a reproachful look or two. We learn Marilla Cuthbert has died, but not how or when. We learn Mrs Rachel Lynde has made a throw for the spare room bed, but never hear a single peep from the respected lady. In fact, we’ve heard neither a peep or pipe from neither of the two ladies since Anne’s House of Dreams, and even then they barely said two sentenced. As for the prolific, bursting-with-character Davy, why, he went off and married and had kids and that, reader, seemed to be that! This book is about Rilla Blythe, the youngest of the Blythe children, during the First World War.

This book is about growth and pain. This book is about the blooming of life, and the suddenness of death. This is about anticipation and terror, about love and suffering and patience and, well yes, laughter. Plenty of it. The same spirit of Anne of Green Gables, the same odd characters, but tinged now, tinged with the burnt brush of life. Singed and papery, ready to crumble at any moment.

The older I grow, the more my mind expands, the more I am aware of the sheer finiteness of life. The definite end, looming in sight. The pain, just around the corner. The sheer love, enveloping everything. The yearning hunger that is humanity, always reaching, always wanting, always crying out for more. But can we handle more? So much love, yet so much pain.

Rilla of Ingleside brought all that to the forefront in the most raw way possible.

You see, Anne has always been in my heart. Her children have always been in my heart. I dreamed their lives were so wonderful, and they are, they are such fantastic people, one can very well see why Montgomery wanted to escape her grim life and lose herself amongst her almost-perfect characters.

And because Anne has always been in my heart, her joys and pains are my joys and pains. Her children, in some strange way, feel like mine. Rilla’s siblings, feel like mine.

Walter Blythe (oh it hurts) feels like my brother, my son, my lost beautiful soul following the call of the piper, part of the dead army, fighting for the freedom of his loved ones.

Why, when he isn’t real?! When none of them are real?!WHY? And why does it hurt so much to say goodbye?