31 December 2021

Last lessons

Of the year, that is.

This morning a trainee and I were discussing legacy. Unable to articulate his thoughts, he shared a poem, which according to him encapsulates every Japanese's life-desire, including his.

Be Not Defeated By The Rain
Kenji Miyazawa
(Translated by David Sulz)

Be not defeated by the rain. Nor let the wind prove your better.
Succumb not to the snows of winter. Nor be bested by the heat of summer.

Be strong in body. Unfettered by desire. Not enticed to anger. Cultivate a quiet joy.
Count yourself last in everything. Put others before you.
Watch well and listen closely. Hold the learned lessons dear.

A thatch-roof house, in a meadow, nestled in a pine grove's shade.

A handful of rice, some miso, and a few vegetables to suffice for the day.

If, to the East, a child lies sick: Go forth and nurse him to health.
If, to the West, an old lady stands exhausted: Go forth, and relieve her of burden.
If, to the South, a man lies dying: Go forth with words of courage to dispel his fear.
If, to the North, an argument or fight ensues:
Go forth and beg them stop such a waste of effort and of spirit.

In times of drought, shed tears of sympathy.
In summers cold, walk in concern and empathy.

Stand aloof of the unknowing masses:
Better dismissed as useless than flattered as a "Great Man".

This is my goal, the person I strive to become.

(Via Kenji-World)

It's so funny, when he sent me the first English translation he found, he quickly dismissed it as bad, shook his head and searched some more. I couldn't identify the translator, but instead found many other translations. Most of them were similar to each other, and my trainee eventually chose a slightly improved version of what he initially sent.

A few more minutes of research led me to David Sulz's translation (quoted in full above). The longer lines, I felt, served the poem's prosaic diction well while providing a rhythmic flow. Simple, lofty.

Another writer, and another David — Novak this time, also "fiddled" (to use his word) with the Miyazawa poem. He called his work a loose paraphrase of Ameni Mo Makezu and an adaptation of Sulz's translation. His is more poetic in diction and structure, which doesn't mean that it's better. Though fun to read out loud, the tone borders on condescension.

There was a time when I wanted to learn Japanese, so I could read haikus in their orignal form, because I just knew that something great is lost in translation. Learning the language entails learning a new writing system, so I gave up.

I've been training Japanese professionals in Business English for three years now. On good days, I am convinced that I have demystified their culture. On bad days, I have demystified their beautiful cuture.

It's the last working day of 2021. Another trainee left a gem for me to keep in my mind's pocket. Not so much a discovery but a reminder. She says there is no such thing as luck. If anything, luck is a result of practice.

Keep writing, Razel, keep practising.

29 December 2021


My little world, for a little while.

Something very pre-Covid happened last Monday: I commuted to and from Makati to have my hair-cut, shop, dine, and hate on the crowd.

It has been a solid 21 months since I've done that and boy, does it feel good.


Once upon a time, Greenbelt 3 was the place to go to if I would like to go book-shopping. Facing the road was the two-storey Power Books, where my university friends and I spent countless hours and cash on books and possibly coffee.

The book-store had evolved into a book-slash-office-and-school-supplies-store until it closed and was replaced by an H&M.

With its evolution and eventual demise, good literary books, especially poetry, have been a struggle to find; and somehow my excitement to hunt for rare gems in second-hand book shops have also waned. Finding gold that's dirt cheap becomes meaningless if that's the only option you have.


Another category of books in abundance during that time was music books: sheet music, method books, classical etudes, 'song hits' (lead sheet of popular music). These are close to extinct these days.

In my early years of piano lessons, I hoarded them. What the hell was I going to do with a complete collection of Chopin etudes? Nothing, but as hoarder mentality goes, I thought I might play it in the future.

Along with it, I bought Czerny etudes, which looked intimading back then. Guess what, I've been using Czerny 599 since I re-enrolled in piano lessons last September. Am now half-way through. Not so intimading anymore.

While I'm at it, I also have the complete score of Cats, because I just love the damned musical. As I gain confidence in playing, I mess around with a few songs every now and then.

Maybe I'll soon give a Chopin etude a go.


My heart leapt when I saw Béla Bartók's Mikrokosmos, because I didn't expect to see it.

Where I avoid a life of excess, books are a worthy exception. There will always be space and time for them.

Last Monday, I dropped by several book shops in the area, feeling hopeful. Being out and about is something I've missed. What makes me happier is that my appetite for book-hunting is back.

The long walk was rewarded. I found what seemed to be the last copies of Béla Bartók's Mikrokosmos volumes 4 and 6, as well as a beautiful collection of Kundiman (traditional Filipino love songs) transcribed for piano.

Eagerly I scanned them, but not before I settled at a nice café to enjoy lunch and unwrapping my books. The difficulties in each page, coupled with the understanding of what made them difficult, were sources of excitement. Same goes when I open a book of poetry or fiction. It all felt familiar. It all felt new.


I, too, sometimes have regrets about delaying things. If I had focused on writing more in my twenties, then I would've already published my very own book.

Those years, instead, were spent doing the things that I wanted to do when I wanted to do them: I went to graduate school and met some of my best friends, took piano leassons, learned to swim, somehow got into a conservatory, applied for jobs, quit them, earned, saved, invested, stared at clouds, drank vodka at the bar and pretended to like it.

No time was wasted. Although it appeared so due to a constant message of living a linear life-narrative. The moment I strayed from the part where we're supposed to fall in love at 16 should've been a clue that I am not meant for this brand of normalcy.

Neither is this pandemic taking away my zest for living despite everything it is taking away.

30 November 2021

Highlights from 'The Black Notebook'

Modiano, Patrick. The Black Notebook. Mariner, 2016.

My favorite bookstagrammer (is that how you call them?) told me that "[Patrick Modiano] has a very delicate way of painting nostalgia and memory." I only started to see that in the latter part of The Black Notebook.
"We're almost there," she said, "It's at the beginning of Rue Blanche..."

Last night, I dreamed that we were following the same route, probably because of what I had just written. I heard her voice, "It's at the beginning of Rue Blanche," and I slowly turned toward her. I said:

"At number 23?"

She appeared not to hear. We walked at a stready pace, her arm in mine.

"I once knew a girl named Mireille Sampierry who lived at 23 Rue Blanche."

She didn't react. She remained silent, as if I hadn't said a word, or as if the distance between us in time was so great that my voice could no longer reach her.

But that evening, I didn't yet know the name Mireille Sampierry. (p89)

For context, Mireille Sampierry is one of the aliases of Dannie (the girl in the dialogue), whom Jean (the narrator) is talking to.

Modiano has done this several times in the novel — mix the present with the past, real events with dreams; but here it stands out, as Jean, after so many years, begins to understand who Dannie really is. Starting with her name.

If only she exists in the present and not in Jean's memory.

That passage evokes the sensation of a vivid dream. In my experience, a bad dream is less heartbreaking, because waking up vanquishes it. A beautiful dream, however, where you could swear that you are laughing with your estranged friend, ends with the cold reality of it being just that — a dream.


Some underlined bits:

But Sundays, especially in late afternoon, if you are alone, open a breach in time. You need only slip into it. (p3)

Rather than always subjecting others to interrogation, it's better to accept them as they are, without comment. (p46)

Trinité Church, its dark façade like a giant bird at rest. (p89)

What a strange feeling, every time, when you learn things twenty years after the fact about people you once knew... You finally decipher, thanks to a secret code, what you had lived through in confusion and without really understanding... A car ride at night with the headlights off, and no matter how tightly you press your forehead against the window, you have no reference points. And besides, did you really ask that many questions about where you were going? Twenty years later, you follow the same path by day and finally see all the details surrounding you. But so what? It's too late, and no one is left. (p93)

Do we have the right to judge the people we love? If we love them, it's for a reason, and that reason prevents us from judging them — doesn't it? (p117)

31 October 2021

From acoustic to digital

The piano makes me happy, which means it makes me sad if I can't engage with it daily in some way — playing, practising, messing around — and at a level that allows me to utilise my brain and limbs to full capacity.

Joke goes that you know you're in a Filipino household when there's an unused, out-of-tune upright piano. My childhood home fit the stereotype. Except that we played it.

Filipinos my age would remember a time when basic music theory was taught in primary school. We learned so-fa syllables, the parts of the grand staff, and had to perform a simple tune by the end of the term. Mary Had A Little Lamb was the first entry in my humble repertoire.

That's about it with my formal music education from childhood to adolescence. I clung on to the little knowledge I had to teach my self further. I bought sheet music of popular songs at National Bookstore and painstakingly figured out the rhythm, identified the notes and typed them on the keyboard. When I graduated and started working, I saved — no, I allotted money for piano lessons. Commitment was effortless, that I've studied with the same teacher for two years straight.

I was the only one in the family who was serious about the instrument. So when I moved to my apartment, I brought the piano — a black, warm-toned Yamaha U1 — with me.

Prior to moving, I also changed jobs. It was more demanding, but also something I had always wanted: writing for a big publication. Still, the piano held its place in my life as an equally demanding but autotelic enterprise.

I continued to learn new pieces and improve my sight-reading; though I couldn't do a full-on practice, especially where technique and dynamics were concerned. The tenants in our townhouse wouldn't have it with the torturous scales, the endless repetition of an out-of-context bar slowed down to 30 beats per minute, worse, a wrong note in an otherwise elegant phrase.

Despite the playing, I felt silenced. The whole situation made me google hybrids, and that was pretty much it. I couldn't take another step to solving my problem as these hi-tech pianos are way too expensive, as if you're buying a brand new grand.

Locked at home, my sadness and itch to strike keys made me think about caving in to digital pianos. Music students use them, so who I am to be so picky?

The image that immediately came to mind was one of those slab portables used for gigging, and yes, those that fit snuggly into dorm rooms. I was happy to settle with that, also because I didn't have to burn a hole in my pocket.

Until a bit of digging — two or three more clicks down the DP rabbit hole — introduced me to the world of digital piano consoles. Me being me, I was drawn by appearance. They were beautiful. Function-wise, they had built-in covers and the pedals were secured at the bottom. Price-wise, I had to be creative in finding ways to pay for one. And me being me, I just knew that I had to get myself this piece of furniture that plays music. And get it I did.

It didn't take long for me to decide which digital piano to buy. Thankfully analysis paralysis wasn't part of the shopping experince as the choices available here were limited, and so was my budget.

With a short-list of models based on weeks of research and phone calls, I was thrilled to take a trip to the showrooms. This thrill tempered as soon as I pressed a single key. Customer reviews and even music professionals rave about how these brands and products "sound and feel like an acoustic piano". Totally untrue.

There was no give, no sensation of catching back what you've let go, no vibration.

But I was dead set on playing again and playing freely. So I didn't leave without purchasing a digital piano which had the best action, tone and, well, design.

Since the unit was delievered in August, I was playing and practising non-stop. And it didn't feel like I was making up for lost time. I was genuinely enjoying myself. Very quickly I learned that comparing a digital piano to a "real" aka acoustic piano is unproductive. The former is its own instrument — and is the instrument I need right now.

My interests are endless and fleeting, however, the piano has been a constant fixture in spaces I've decided to call home. I consider myself a forever-beginner. A serious hobbyist. Perhaps an advantage I should embrace. Seeing younger and better pianists than me is awe-inspiring. If this were my career, I'd be jealous and resentful (character flaw revealed), and hold back from enjoying their performance. On the opposite end, when I see a struggling self-taught beginner, I root for them.

Playing the piano is a pleasurable problem-solving activity for me. One where I easily slip into the zone, and once there, I have only my body to tell me when to stop. The practice provides a tangible feeling of success and improvement. And it gives me a sense of control.

In the real world, I do not exactly know whether I have done or been good or bad; and very few of its workings are within my control. It's insane the amount of money I've spent (and continue to spend) on lessons, accessories, books on top of the piano itself, a machine that keeps me sane.

15 September 2021

Venus and Mars in Aries 4th House

Everyday view from the kitchen window

You read your horoscope and think it can apply to literally anyone in the world. Then you go deeper into your birth chart, review house systems and find this:
Venus in the 4th House
Venus in the fourth house means that these people are the happiest in their own home, or that they would like to have an ideal home. These people have an emotional connection with their home. They love their house or flat and they try to make it nice and neat, often with real artistic talent.

Mars in the 4th House
Mars in the fourth house points to energy in the home of these people. They aggressively seek security... This position of Mars usually means conflicts in the household and family. People with Mars in the fourth house often avoid marriage. Sometimes it can mean a person who puts great efforts into building or rebuilding his house or who has a rather aggressive interest in his surroundings.

(Via Astro-Seek ; Whole Sign house system)

Holy shit. That it even uses the words 'flat' and 'aggressive' is ridiculous, because spot-on. My Venus and Mars are both in Aries, both in the Fourth House. We associate Venus with sexual attraction, Mars with desire and drive, and Aries with fiery possessiveness; but never have I thought of these energies manifesting in the material home. Yet it makes perfect sense to me.

I am over-protective of my space. Since 2014, you could say that I've been building another shell, a shelter (sorry, can't help it). All this time I've been adding and substracting articles, repairing parts of and beautifying this tiniest of flats. It's a never-ending process, too.

What's all the work for? I imagine entertaining. Oh the dinnerware sets I bought, the table for two — or more. A piano for my sanity and to serenade guests. Where my clothes are myself in public, my house is myself in private.

In both spheres, what I share remains minimal. Thing is, I rarely bring in anyone here. If my public persona is closed off, my apartment door is just as tightly shut. There is so much stress in cleaning up before and after visitors, and then the constant fear of someone breaking something. And to be honest, I don't quite know how to say, Hey, can you leave now? It's time for me to be alone.

13 August 2021

I learn to keep quiet

I learn to keep quiet so they'll think nothing and everything of me.

02 July 2021

Notes on 'The House of the Scorpion'

Farmer, Nancy. The House of the Scorpion. Atheneum, 2002.

Judging by the book cover, The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer must be brilliant. The Newberry medal has always been a sound guide for me when it comes to picking out Young Adult fiction. (I don't 100% believe in awards, but they do serve some purpose.)

In the front cover is a Newberry Honor seal along with a National Book Award and a Michael L Printz Honor. I would've ignored these accolades, given the not-so-attractive cover art, and return the book to its place in the shelf, if not for the back cover endorsement by Ursula K Le Guin.

Farmer doesn't have Le Guin's evocative language and profundity (a comparison is uncalled for, but forgive my knee-jerk reaction). She does have an ambitious sense of scale, though, plus the ability to hold your attention with a good plot, pace, and enough characters to care about — and hate.

Writers are rarely successful in developing a character that would elicit varied emotions from the reader, or maybe they don't just try; but Farmer has done it and everything else so well that I am now on the hunt for the sequel, The Lord of Opium.

Some underlined bits:

She was overflowing with life. Everything delighted or devasted or fascinated her. (p 212)

Friendship was a pain, Matt thought. All these years he'd wanted friends, and now he discovered they came with strings attached. (pp 311 – 312)

Mi abuelita said I mustn't be afraid of skeletons because I carry my own around inside. She told me to feel my ribs and make friends with them. (p 351)

If you have read the book and would like to talk about that death, my socials are open.

18 June 2021


Am not returning this book. Joke/not joke.

My niece brought this book to my apartment and left it, that is, forgot to bring it back home, as she does with all the things she brings — toys, art, whatnot — during her visits.

Cowell, Philip (author); Hildebrand, Caz (illustrator). This Is Me, Period. Clarkson Potter, 2017.

It's a clever, playful book on punctuations, with a hint of sassy pedantry between the pages.

No one's too young for a semicolon or a William Blake reference.

I could see the little lovers of this book loving Lynn Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves once they're older and ready to read longer texts.

My favorite page.

By the way, a couple of weeks before I came across This Is Me, Period, one of my favorite podcasts, The Verb, released an episode on Pausing and Punctuation.

The punctuation gods compel me to ask, what are your most beloved references on grammar and punctuation?

09 June 2021

The Hollow

My Agatha Christie binge has extended into the small screen (of my 11-inch MacBook). Thanks to the good YouTubers of the world, I can now enjoy the British drama series Agatha Christie's Poirot. Naturally (for me, that is), I started with the episodes based on novels I've already read, thrilled to see how they are reimagined for TV.

The title I enjoyed most from my small Christie collection is The Hollow. I talked about the main character, Henrietta Savernake on the podcast, and here I'd like to discuss what really makes the novel great. To put it simply, it's how the characters are profiled.

Christie, Agatha. The Hollow. Berkley, 1963

Henrietta, for example, is introduced to the reader right smack in the middle of her work, while sculpting with a model. We are inside her mind, following her artistic process. We understand that she doesn't need the model to copy from but rather to inform her art. What she draws from the model — a stranger whom she convinced to sit for her — is something a casual observer would fail to appreciate.
None of the features were clearly defined. It was Nausicaa remembered, not seen... (p 12)
In that chapter, we can see Henrietta's dedication to creating art, as well as her detachment to the human being in front of her.

Then there's the chapter on Gerda, over-thinking whether to send the mutton back to the kitchen to be kept warm or to leave it on the table because her husband John might arrive any moment now.

The whole world had shrunk to a leg of mutton getting cold on a dish. (p 25)
Here we understand why people regard her as a slow-witted woman deeply devoted to her man.

There is also Lucy Angkatell and her tireless but never tiresome chatter. She's painted as someone who could do something completely bizarre (she has), and say something completely illogical (she does), yet you'll forgive her, at best ignore her.

The Hollow is a big house, and for a weekend where it's filled with colorful people, it remains that: hollow. Because somehow each of the guests has an emptiness in them. I'd been wondering, The Hollow is an odd name for a property. Suitable in our story, though.

A brief note on art. Henrietta sculpts. And I know that there's a reason why she is a sculptress. Later on, one of her pieces becomes a hiding place for an evidence. More than that, the crime scene itself is another one of her creations, however far from a masterpiece. She showed her hand, and Poirot catches this. As the saying goes, the best art conceals itself.

These character sketches and intimate scenes are absent in the TV adaptation. What I get in exchange is a stunning visual. The 1989 series is a breather from the ultra-slick productions of the present. Quite a pleasure to see the houses, locations, dresses and hairstyles of the time.

Ah, Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran) is the bomb! Which is also to say the acting is top-notch. It's hard to read the next Poirot mystery now and not see David Suchet in my head.

I recently unsubscried to Netflix, because it's forcing me to consume poor-quality shows, and shows I'm barely interested in. Thanks to the good YouTubers of the world, I think I'll be fine.

25 May 2021

Language bondage

So I was writing a special podcast episode for Cirilo Bautista's death anniversary. I re-read his essay, Of Water and the Art of Poetry, published in A Passionate Patience (Anvil, 1995).

In one passage he sums up what we may consider as his ars poetica:

Every poem attempts to invent a language that will free language from the bondage of language. That is a crude way of saying it, but it is the only way of saying it. Though language is the poem's medium, it is also the poem's assassin, and the poet must frustrate it at all cost. His war with words succeeds only when his composition strips them of their patinaed arrogance, bleeds them to death, and resurrects them to a new life. That, of course, is not enough for the idealist who would like the poem to be free of language; but for the present, in this fractured world, that will suffice. Thus, the war perpetuates the crisis, and the poet hardly gets a soldier's rest. [Emphases mine] (p 46)

Elegantly and precisely articulated. And you know what I thought of after reading it, especially the first lines? Gloria Estefan. I'm trying to say I love you, / but the words get in the way.

Then another remembrance, a statement from Alain De Botton, but which exact source and context escape me now. He says, "'Not to find the right words is paradoxically often the best proof that the right words are meant."

I have my own variation on the theme, which I am still drafting in my head and, thinking of Cirilo's belief in the folk tradition, maybe it'll find expression in a podcast or a video, or in conversations once I find myself back in social circles.

30 April 2021

Actors and poems

I may now be a fan of Lauren Ambrose.

One of my ex-editors forwarded to me an invitation to the first-ever virtual gala of Poetry & the Creative Mind for the Academy of American Poets. The event is in celebration of national poetry month.

I've always thought that poets shouldn't read their poems as writing and performing are two different skills. That's why I rarely attend poetry readings — most of the poeple (ie, [non-performance] poets) onstage simply throw words aways. A boringly narcissistic exercise.

Actors reading poems, however, is exciting. This morning's (on my side of the world) affair bore such excitement.

Honored readers at Poetry & the Creative Mind 2021. Photo via the Academy of American Poets.

The poem that stood out was A Fixed Idea by Amy Lowell and read by Lauren Ambrose. I am not familiar with the work, even the name of the latter, but after hearing her selections, I would like to get to know her more. She chose One Art by Elizabeth Bishop — fine, it's hard not to like that perfect poem — and the beautiful, complex, yet unbelievably accessible Lowell sonnet.

Lauren and I seem to have the same taste in poetry. We like structure, something that right away says, I speak the same language as you, though foreign. And we like depth.

A fixed idea
Amy Lowell

What torture lurks within a single thought
When grown too constant; and however kind,
However welcome still, the weary mind
Aches with its presence. Dull remembrance taught
Remembers on unceasingly; unsought
The old delight is with us but to find
That all recurring joy is pain refined,
Become a habit, and we struggle, caught.
You lie upon my heart as on a nest,
Folded in peace, for you can never know
How crushed I am with having you at rest
Heavy upon my life. I love you so
You bind my freedom from its rightful quest.
In mercy lift your drooping wings and go.

The hour-long event was streamed on YouTube, but it's currently unavailable for viewing. No big deal. What's important is that you take a look at the program, which has a list of the poems read as well as correcponding links to the entire poems themselves. Another wonderful poetry resource.

05 March 2021

When I grow up

This day marks the first anniversary of my solo viewing of Matilda the Musical, the last live performance I saw before Covid-19 came into the picture, right into the fucking foreground.

The show is still with me, meaning I still listen to When I grow up on loop.

Composer and lyricist Tim Minchin said in an interview that people would come to him, saying that something in the song made them feel something they didn't expect and couldn't quite explain. Tim seems to prefer keeping the mystery, because "to dissect the frog is to kill the frog".

I am not that kind of person. To me the magic lies in the clockwork. So let me explain what went on inside me as I listened to the song.

Children, including my once-upon-a-time self, know that adults are invincible. (My niece would prosaically ask me to untagle her slinky as if I could never fail.) Therefore they foresee an adult life where they eat sweets every day on the way to work, go to bed late every night and wake up when the sun comes up. And they can't wait for it.

As an adult it's easy to feel pity for the child whose dreams will be shattered, and we mourn their forthcoming loss of innocence.

Then Miss Honey enters the stage singing the same phrase, When I grow up. What she does is sing to me and the child inside who is still there, still afraid, and still believing in her fantasies. For this grown-up, things like peace and justice are just right around the corner. Despite the real world teaching me that unicorns don't exist, I go on with life quietly pursuing their trail.

24 February 2021


Delaney, JP. The Girl Before. Ballantine Books, 2017.

One Folgate Street isn't my vibe. Houses that look like museums are not it. Neither are those Pinterest interior vignettes. Too perfect. Dust is its own cozy filter.

Like the would-be tenants, who at first are doubtful of this architectural milestone, I slowly see its arguments. We are continuous with our environment. Where we live becomes us in as much as we diffuse ourselves in the place we call home.

The book, of course — like its fantasy, if fantastic house — is exaggerating. At least for me it requires much more effort to suspend my disbelief, to imagine that there are actual people who could leave their normal messy homes and embrace a stark lifestyle.

Techno-architect Edward Monkford seems to subcribe to a minimalist philosophy. Frankly, I don't know what minimalism is. Based on the descriptions in the novel, however, I would phrase it as a philosophy of focus. In a romantic partnership, for example, he has developed an unwritten manifesto. The relationship shall carry on as long as the conditions are perfect. When it's no longer the case, that's a sign to move on. As such, his best relationships can last a weekend, some years. Length doesn't matter; quality does.

Edward also makes it a rule "to only ever look at one thing in a museum... Any more and you can't appreciate what you're seeing." (p 135)

Mulling over that sentence, maybe there is a minimalist in me. Again, I do not know what it means. Perhaps what I'm trying to say is I aspire for a life defined by neatness and clarity. If the universe gives me two can openers, a choice must be made: which of these will I discard? There are many things that I want to not only do but do well, yet my resources compel me to go through another process of elimination.

"This is hard-water area, Jane... If you're not careful you'll get limescale building up on the stone. It's really noticeable. Really, you should dry the shower off every time you use it."
"Isn't that a bit — well, obsessive?"
"No," he says. "It's whatever the opposite of lazy is." He considers, "meticulous, perhaps."
"Isn't life simply too short to dry showers after you use them?"
"Or perhaps," he says reasonably, "life is simply too short to live it less perfectly than it could be lived." (pp 140 – 141)
I am both Jane and Eward in that exchange. Lazy and obsessive. Somehow I have to accept that cleaning up and — to extend the idea — dull routines, even making mistakes and correcting them are joyful obsessions.

Always I go for the homey. As I think about it, I don't know what it means either. My pre-apartment self would say weathered couches, mismatched cups and saucers (which I can't stand now), knickknacks (also can't stand), and colors. Not imperfection brought on by neglect. Warmth is a huge ingredient and it's hard to manufacture. By this I know exactly what I mean. Human warth. All the fuss about building a house, buying the right furniture and dinnerware aren't for show, but for living alongside and building a life with others.

What I speak of is the house as a limb by which you can express love.


To those who saw the photo of the book (coincidentally taken at a restaurant known for its homey ambience and ridiculous prices — can't help but take the opportunity to critique) and expected a review, I apologize. I honestly didn't know (how many times have I said this already?) what to write; but it's been my habit to respond to what I've read with a blog. Quickly, yes I enjoyed The Girl Before very much. It made me feel scared, which is a compliment. It made me read hundreds of pages and push through to the end despite my eyes wanting to sleep. It made me want to read author JP Delaney's next thriller, Believe Me.

13 January 2021

Evil and art

Fitzgerald, Penelope. The Bookshop. Mariner Books, 2015.

David Nicholls warned me, in his introduction to The Bookshop, about the devastation awaiting at the end. I seek sad stories because of the catharsis they can bring; because, as many before me have noted, in fiction your pain is manageable. Therefore Nicholls, in his eloquence, convinced me, even made me excited to read on.

I felt none of the emotions above after finishing the book. Rather, I was angry. The villains weren't villains, yet neither were they ambiguous characters. No, they were normal. With no deep motivations for their cruelty, no mental illness or an abusive family. They were just being themselves.

Florence Green was "simply a woman, no longer young, who [wanted] to keep a bookshop". She found the Old House that no one seemed to care about and thought that that was a good enough place to do business. Then there was Mrs Gamart, who, after learning about Florence's plans, was suddenly keen on creating an arts center in that very spot.

Mrs Gamart reminds me of billionaires who love charity not because they are generous but because of what they gain out of it. She is also a reminder that art and nobleness have no logical connection.

It's not like you can accuse Florence of not fighting because she did fight. But alas, what chance did she have against the most influential of the influentials.

Well, she did have a powerful ally in Mr Brundish. Unfortunately, he died.

What is truly hair-raising for me is that author Penelope Fitzgerald didn't write Mrs Gamart as this malicious manipulator. She rarely made an appearance. That's the face of evil itself: invisible. We didn't see her mastermind the demise of Florence's bookshop. The biggest blow she dealt to Florence, we learned about in another character's passing statement.

Adding salt to the wound, Florence would never know the truth about her champion, Mr Brundish, no thanks to a lie by Mrs Gamart. Aside from losing her bookshop, she will spend the rest of her days belieiving that even Mr Brundish finally accepted the idea of an arts center.

Some underlined bits

Between themselves they could arrange many matters, though what they arranged was quite often a matter of chance. (p 29)

Her courage, after all, was only a determination to survive. (p 109)

It was defeat, but defeat is less unwelcome if you are tired. (p 151)

If you're not strong, I do not recommend that you read this book.

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