- That colonialism was evil. There seems to be some resurgence of a need to propose that there might have been some good in colonialism after all. Sorry but no. Accidently, the odd good thing might have happened. But that is no justification.
- The Holocaust happened and was horrific.
- The atom bomb was inexcusable. (even if, you know, the war would have gone on and the bad guys may have won, so it’s okay that we condemn generations of them to cancer).
- The caste system is wrong (no, it was not just assigning people to different occupations. Please.)
- That slavery was a blight on human history (No, African-Americans should not get over it).
- People have the right to body autonomy at the very least.
These are scattered thoughts, not a review
- Overall, I liked it.
- I like books about art, so I was prone to like it. The artwork at the centre of the book by a little know artist, a painting I would have otherwise looked at and gone meh. But the characters in the book read so much significance into it, which is exactly what art does. It’s the details, the more you look at it, that you realize the thing is not the obvious thing but a spark something else (yeah, I’m being articulate here). But apart from that, how the book set up that one painting as a touchstone – or keystone as Theo calls it – speaks so much to the idea of the art object as fetish.
- The book is also a bildungsroman and I’m a sucker for that too. It’s been compared to Dickens (well, Great Expectations I guess), but I’m not a fan of Dickens – sacrilegiously, I don’t think I’ve read an entire Dickens novel ever although I’ve read the abridged versions as a kid so I feel like I have (and maybe I will remedy that). I thought it was more Cacther in the Rye in spirit, what with the precocious New York boys and all.
- That said, why does Donna Tartt seem to always have male protagonists? (oh wait, I realize the middle book doesn’t). I wasn’t a great fan of The Secret History. I hated all the characters in that book. The protagonist was tolerable but just about; it was never clear to me why he was so enamored of the others. Even the horrible thing they did was pretty obvious. There’s a better book about girls obsessed with their Latin teacher with a deep dark mystery that I read. Maybe because it has girls, and their feelings and motivations and characters are better drawn.
- People have said they didn’t like anyone in this book either, but I liked Theo (mostly) and even Boris and definitely Andy. In fact, I disliked Theo the most when he chose not to call Andy when he came to New York.
- There is a point at which, however, the book just gets to be too much. Like okay all literature from the 20th C onwards is bound to be miserable, but the rollercoaster that is Theo’s life just got to me at some point. Every time things seemed to be settling down, bam! another crisis. At one point, I couldn’t take it any longer and turned to Wikipedia for a plot summary, which at least tided me through one of the crises that pained me the most. After all that, the book came as close to a happy ending as a 21st C novel with literary pretensions will allow so I guess that’s some consolation.
- There seems to be debate about whether the book is literature or not. This is always a sticky question, but I guess if Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom is, then why not this? Though, yes, as someone has pointed out, some of the metaphors (the moon one) for example are trite, and I did think that stream of consciousness parts could not hold a candle to the greats of that style – Woolf, Joyce, or even Allen Ginsberg.
- One reviewer on goodreads.com said that if it’s possible for a book to give one PSTD, then this one did it for her. I won’t say the book traumatized me, but it was hard going in parts, mainly because so much happens to the same person. The story and characters will, however, stay with me, so there’s that.
It’s apparent that the #Metoo movement has now entered the backlash phase, with critiques of the movement going too far, the dangers of not following due process, etc. etc. It is almost amusing to see “liberal” men expressing their unease, of course prefaced with how they absolutely respect women but you know.
Over dinner, one of my friends started pontificating about the movement and how now some woman in the US is suing her boss for putting his arm around her, and how Michelle Williams got money out of Mark Wahlberg. His rant was filled with misinformation (e.g. Williams never asked Wahlberg for money, but he was embarrassed when it was pointed out how he was paid so much more than her to reshoot scene in their movie and so donated the money to the Time’s Up fund, not to Williams). But more obvious was his discomfort at the opposite gender essentially striking back.
Then someone else said how offices have now become so constrained by fear that one hesitates to even compliment a coworker. The clincher was when one guy started suggesting that the women who were abused by Harvey Weinstein kinda sorta deserved it because why would they go there at night.
All through this the women in the room maintained silence, until someone could bear it no longer and shared her own experience of sexual harassment in the workplace and how an arm around a woman can be really creepy depending on whose arm it is and where it is placed. A couple of others, including myself, pitched in.
But apart from a few comments, I stayed quiet and when I could bear it no longer, walked away. I am actually quite proud of myself for not really engaging. My policy on these issues is that these kind of drawing room discussions cost more than they are worth:
- Certain topics concerning politics and social justice tend to get heated. People have entrenched positions, and it’s hard to ensure that the discussion remains civil especially after a couple of bottles of wine. Better to not even go there. If one does engage, compose one’s response, state one’s position and then back off. There’s no point getting into an argument in a social setting, because honestly I have yet to see anyone getting ‘converted’, people just go away upset.
- Discussions related to women’s issues are particularly triggering for me. They are both theoretical and deeply personal. I cannot trust myself to keep my composure and be polite in the face of thinly veiled misogyny.
- Usually men discussing women’s issues do not want to learn or change. They want to win. If they wanted to learn, they would listen more carefully to women instead of mansplaining our lives to us.
- There is so much information out there on gender injustice – and other forms of social injustice for that matter – that people serious about educating themselves could do so without demanding explanations from those at the receiving end of injustice.
- It is not incumbent on the disenfranchised to explain and justify their pain to the privileged.
- Those of us interested in social justice have to save our energy for bigger fights, to pick our battles carefully.
I respect and am grateful to those women who choose to speak up and patiently engage with these men who just never get it on the off-chance that one of them may see the light (though the odds are slim). However, I reserve the right to not be that woman all the time, even though I am an avowed feminist. Sometimes, if I feel up to it, I will. Somtime’s silence or a dignified exit is the best response to willful stupidity, which is really fear and defensiveness.
I recently finished all 25 of the Sue Grafton’s alphabet titled detective stories, starring the female detective Kinsey Milhone. After three years of reading almost nothing unrelated to my PhD – even the chick lit was read with an analytical mind and anything not related was read with latent guilt – reading something as innocuous as not one, not two, but two dozen detective stories was like a luxury that I had to keep pinching myself about. I had promised that I would not just read light stuff, but literary stuff – well that would happen anyway – but also academic stuff. Right now, though, I seem to be basking in the frivolous, if one can call crime that.
These are not the most ingeniously plotted narratives – I could guess what happened at the end of more than a few, especially as I went deeper into the series. There are long descriptions that one could just skip – what she saw and how she felt while running (I actually liked this because she seemed to describe my own sentiment while running so perfectly). More tedious are the detailed descriptions of Santa Teresa landmarks (initially I appreciate the sense of place, and then it wore on a bit too much) and worse the landscape and geography, but hey, she’s got to fill pages.
One part of the appeal are the characters – Kinsey, her neighbour Henry, the feisty restaurant owner Rosie and the other members of her surrogate family. There are slowly progressing plotlines such as Kinsey discovering more of her own family history and her relationships with men. As the series progresses, Grafton gets more experimental in her writing – nothing pomo, but I could see she was trying new things. From telling the story only from Kinsey’s perspective, she introduces multiple perspectives and also chronological leaps back and forth. I must say that I preferred the parts that focused on Kinsey, though in the very last book, I did like the multiple perspectives.
I believe Grafton had some biases. She described people’s body weight in detail, and often the fat ones didn’t turn out to be nice. Pearl in the last couple of books is an exception. I also recall that when there were gay people in the book, they ended up being baddies. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but hey I kind of almost have a doctorate in that.
Ultimately, the appeal of the detective genre – as opposed to crime thriller – is that despite the crime and the potential for mayhem, the world rights itself. The detective by solving the mystery restores order to the world. That is subliminal satisfaction of the genre. That is why I found it so comforting to read at a tumultuous time in my life.
[MILD SPOILERS ALERT]
If I had to pick a favourite, I’d say the Y book – though maybe because it’s most fresh in my mind, but I also liked the high school setting and drama. I liked the ending of the X book best. I loved the romance in the book in which she and Dietz get together.
Grafton died before she could finish the last Z book in the series, which is a shame. I believe she would have tied up some loose ends in that final book. By the Y book, Kinsey was financially secure. She had come to terms with, if not completely embraced, the idea of having some blood-relations. The chick lit enthusiast and auntyji in me of course wants to see her settled down. Because of the way Y was set up, I’d put my money on her landing up with Cheney. I wouldn’t have minding Dietz, but somehow I don’t think that would have happened. Actually, any of the three men in Kinsey’s life would be fine by me. I would also liked to see Henry get together with Pete Wolinsky’s widow Ruthie.
Having agonised over birthday parties for five years (not that I actually went ahead and had them; I’ve hotsted two birthday parties in a seven-year period), I quickly dispensed with them this year. Asked the kids if they would like one, and they didn’t seem enthused except for the prospect of getting lots of gifts, which to me is not good reason to throw a party. Furthermore, if the choice is between Disneyland and a party, Mickey and friends win out all the way. Mimi’s birthday is placed so near our arrival back from India every year, that I’m loathe to plan anything for her anyway. But with Nene we have a shot at it.
Except, he didn’t seem keen. And I had my hands full with work, so I proposed an indoor karting track and he agreed. I asked if he wanted to invite a couple of friends and he said no, so I ended up booking an early slot. On the day however he wanted his bestie along but it was too late. Next year, I’ll plan something with a few friends. He did end up having a good time though, being a natural at the wheel, and after our turn, we went to Sham Shui Po and rambled around. It was a nice day.
Instead of the usual cartoon themed cake, Nene was sensible enough to choose a good chocolate cake from a nicer bakery. We had the usual cake cutting at home. Mimi’s birthday was on a school day and I had just started work, so it was even more low key. She chose a panda shaped cake but it had coconut icing that she didn’t care for and they messed up the filling. Worse, I was sick that day and couldn’t partake of the birthday pizza boo! But she got to distribute goody bags (with bangles and bracelets I’d picked up in India) so that made it special for her.
Mimi elected to go to Disneyland, so that’s what we did. Although we didn’t make it on her actual birthday, we were able to get her the birthday badge (which is basically attendants wishing you at rides and giving you a sticker) and she felt special. To my surprise, Nene was jealous and threw a fit (which he does very rarely, possibly he wasn’t feeling too well as his cast had just come off), and I had a teary moment when Mimi took her sticker off her dress and gave it to him to stop his tears.
Having removed his cast only the day before, we had gained a promise from Nene that he would skip the rollercoasters. However, in Toy Storyland, he saw a super scary ride and his desire to try it won V over. That done they also went on the Grizzly rollercoaster and Hyper Space Mountain. So much for resolutions.
It was a fun day, but we’ve been to Disneyland so often, dare I say its magic is wearing off a bit. I have a strategy when we visit the park so that we get the most out of the rides with the least amount of queuing. Sadly they’ve removed the Buzz Lightyear ride, which was always a hit among the littles. It’s been replaced by an Ironman Experience that I must say is pretty fab. It integrates the superhero powers and Hong Kong extremely well though it can be a bit daunting for a kid. Well, some kids, Nene of course loved it, Mimi was a bit scared.
Mimi remains as fiery as ever. She has calmed down a bit … for her. However, she still flies into rages. I have become to come down on this now. I believe that she is old enough to get a grip, and for a firm word to quell her. Nevertheless, it’s a work in progress.
Like Nene last year, Mimi had a tough start to her first primary school year socially because she is new while many of the other kids have been around a year. There was drama for a bit when it appeared that she was caught in a triangle of three girls with some exclusions going on. But it appears that she has settled down now. It helps that she really likes her teacher.
If Nene is gender non-conforming in some ways, Mimi is all girl. She is into dressing up and craft. I have a box of craft supplies and we look up ideas on Pinterest and execute them. She also loves colouring, especially with a partner that she can discuss her ideas with and give instructions. She loves conversations with me which involve looking at a line-up of stuff – cars, items on a magazine page, clothes in a shop, and picking out which we like. She also loves doing personality quizzes. This, she clearly inherited from yours truly.
Although she is not scared of the dark, she threw a fit to get her vaccine. V had to drag her to the doctor kicking and screaming, and she even gave the doctor a good kick. She had to get two of her front teeth pulled because they showed no signs of falling out even when the permanent teeth were half up. We were really fortunate to find a very good dentist to do this, after the first one in my area I went to basically seemed as afraid of the task as Mimi. She is also afraid of lots of stuff in movies when she doesn’t know what’s coming – even if there’s a threat of a sad scene coming. She tends to watch the same movies over and over because getting through the sad parts of a new one takes so much out of her. Hmmm, do I sense a romance novel fan in the making?
I had pegged Mimi for the academic one as she loves homework. She was happy to help Nene write his homework when his arm was in a cast. But she’s actually selective about what she likes. Practising for dictation is a struggle and I haven’t clued into how to teach her to get her to memorise spellings, something that Nene seems to ace on his own. She also mixes up her b’s and d’s, p’s and q’s and even the direction of the hook of j. In the past, she might have been labelled dyslexic but that’s not how it’s categorised now. Her teacher says to just encourage her to write correctly. She has been improving except when she overthinks. Mainly she likes to do things she does well and gets frustrated and easily gives up anything that requires some struggle. Hmmm reminds of someone again…
Edited to add
Some more things I remembered and want to record:
Mimi’s love for animals, especially cats, continues. She thinks she’s a cat herself and when she’s overwhelmed with positive emotion will meow and lick you. When we Skyped with her tita when we were on holiday in India, she couldn’t get a word out and they spent five minutes meowing at each other.
Mispronunciations I’m too charmed with to correct:
Brang (for brought)
Read Part 1 here.
Sometimes I do a double-take when I look at my children. I cannot believe how big they are. Nene is almost up to my shoulder. Sometimes photos of them come up on Facebook and I cannot believe how little, how chubby they once were.
More to the point, how their personalities have developed. Nene is still the sporty kid, the kid who can run and jump and acquire a skill that requires balance easily – he went from a bike with trainers to without in a few tries, he could stand up on a surfboard before any of us. He is still into the mechanics of how things move. But this year, he has developed a new fixation – all things shiny, especially if it can be translated into monetary value.
He became obsessed with Monopoly fairly quickly, and I’m sorry to say, that when our family plays, I’m unfailingly the loser. Nene has both luck and daring on his side – the latter he explained to me is needed to win. You need to be fearless and go all in, he told me in not so many words. Okay, fine, but how come I keep landing on the tax spot over and over again?
That taste for the big ones escalated into a fascination with gold. Well, I might have contributed. He became obsessed with ‘crystals’ – these semi-translucent rocks he picked up in the park – and then with diamonds. I explained to him that if you might as well buy gold, as unlike diamonds, it can appreciate in value. He grasped that quickly, although he’s not quite got over his crystal obsession. So rocks, gems and jewellery are his current obsession. I mentioned to him that he has some gold of his own gifted to him when he was born stored in our locker – he badgered me to show him. All this went down very well with his Malayalee grandmother who promptly got him a thick gold chain and earned a place forever in his heart. At last a kid who appreciates the kind of gifts she’d like to give.
He is obsessed with going into jewellery shops, particularly gold shops. Since we are not buying, the reception is mixed. I took him to the silver shop I used to patronise as a college student, and he picked out a ring for himself. The other ladies in the shop giggled, but once the shopkeeper clued in, he was quizzical but friendly.
He has his own jewellery collection – a jade necklace, a (fake) pearl necklace, (fake) diamond earings and some bangles – that he wears at home, and then he dips into my jewellery drawer. “I’m a bit sad, mummy,” he confessed one day. “Because I can’t get holes in my ears and wear earrings.”
I saw V’s ears perk up. V and my helpers have been every now and then lobbying for Mimi to get earrings. I have always been against it. Well, most people do the piercings when the girls are babies and I was not having it. There is so much to do for a baby without having to deal with the very real chance of infected piercings. Ditto for children. I feel earrings are an unnecessary accessory and whoever wants to get them can do so when they are old enough to manage the pain and deal with its aftermath. And I had anticipated a situation where my male child would ask for earrings too.
And so it came to pass. My girl shows no strong interest in getting her ears pierced. The pain is enough to deter her. My son on the other hand clearly would like to have earrings. The pain doesn’t faze him. But he is aware, as he told me, that “boys don’t wear earrings.”
I told him that while it’s not common for boys to wear earrings, if he really wanted to, I would support him. “Mr J wears earrings,” he said of a teacher at his school. “There you go,” I said. But, I added, I am not for piercings at his age, whether for boys or girls. When he is older, he can decide if he really wants to go ahead.
The fact is that I am aware that my boy will be taking on more than the pain and the chance of infection by piercing his ears. He will have to deal with the inevitable questions and teasing. None of his boy friends share his passion for jewellery. Once when he stood outside a jewellery shop, a salesman came outside. “He likes jewellery,” I explained. “You can buy some for your girlfriend,” the man said. “I have my own jewellery,” Nene replied, and there was a hint of defiance in his voice.
The narratives of transgender kids and the desire to stretch the boundaries of gender echoes in my head. I will not force my kids into conformity, even though we do follow gender norms. However, breaking certain taboos is a harsh battle and they need to want to break them enough for me to encourage it. It is also apparent to me how easy it would be to shame them into conformity. My helper, for example, is appalled by the idea of Nene wanting earrings and has told him so.
Nene’s love for jewellery may well be a quirk. I asked him today why he loves jewellery and he said, “because it’s shiny and it’s valuable.” Jewellery is at the intersection of two of his strong interests – making money and shiny stuff. In fact, I know my father-in-law is into jewellery too, although he doesn’t go so far as to wear much of it. Let’s see.
The other thing that Nene has progressed in is reading. He reads so fluently now, it’s hard to believe that he was in an English support class when he started school (his school has quite a rigorous programme for Reception kids while Nene attended a kindergarten that was pretty la di da academically). In fact, I believe it is the ESL class that really helped him take off in reading, and I’m glad they didn’t push him into the regular ground where he would have struggled.
Because Nene is the sporty type, I had pinned him down as non-academic. However, he actually is doing well academically. I had also pegged him for the shy guy – which he still is among strangers – but he was picked to play an elf with a few lines of his own for the school play and he did well. He also is quite popular – he told me the other day “mum, you know everybody likes me … I have so many friends.” Happy as I was to hear that, I used the occasion to remind him to be nice to everyone and try to include kids who don’t have friends.
To be continued …
Although I was thrilled to have found a job, I wasn’t looking forward to starting work. I anticipated a tough transition from three years of essentially being my own boss to being chained to a desk under someone else’s supervision. I was also faintly anxious about my ability to ace the job itself. I have years of journalistic experience, but that’s in print, and now the focus is on digital.
Unlike previous job starts, though, this time I’m older and more seasoned, if not wiser. I expected it to be lonely. I planned to hold back and not be my usual chipper self. I needed to get a reading on my boss, who was said to be and seemed to be nice, but you never know. My goal was to take it a day at a time.
The couple of days were tiring, and though my colleagues seemed nice, there was the usual awkwardness. There is one dour old guy, but it’s a measure of how much I’ve grown that I figured immediately that it’s him not me, and when I did say a few words to him (with expectations that I might get a monosyllable) I was pleasantly surprised that he replies. I wasn’t totally at sea because I’ve worked at this publication before and know some people though much has changed.
Unfortunately, I picked up some kind of bug and on day 2, an hour after I got home, I started throwing up and continued all night. The puking continued till 4 am and I was considering not going into work. Last year, this would have let to paroxysms of anxiety over what to do, but this time I just decided to reserve judgement till morning proper … and if I was really sick and couldn’t make it in, so be it. Thankfully, by 7 am, the vomiting had ceased and though I was weak, I decided to go in.
This is the worst of fulltime work. A night of puking should warrant rest, but it’s never so simple. There’s a girl in my team who is clearly sick and coughing but she still comes in. She did take one day off, but she needs more.
Somehow I managed to get through that day, carrying plain congee with me for lunch. Having some work to do actually helped. I found the first couple of days during which I had barely anything to do the most tiring. I had to remind myself how much I was being paid to sit there.
Once I recovered, and got used to the commute, dare I say I’ve been liking it. I enjoy editing, and the bonus is that I get to choose images and videos and create a package. It takes me back to my early days on the desk of newspapers in India where we would ‘make pages’ in addition to editing. Technology has made this so much easier. The stuff I’m editing is interesting, things I’d like to read which is why I jumped at this section in the first place.
My boss and colleagues seem nice. The guy at my desk is fairly new too and very helpful. Things I appreciate about my boss: he did what I’d expect a normal boss to do – introduce me around, plan out a bit of work, be friendly, offer some feedback, ask me about lunch and tell me where to get it, include me in a team lunch, ask me how I’m doing after a week and give some feedback. You’d be surprised how this is not always the case.
I really hope this lasts, though in my maturity I’m going to wait for a couple of months to call it for sure.
I was so meh about the ‘festive’ season this year, that I thought I’d ignore New Year. But there are some things I’d still like to get done this year:
- For the god-knows-how-many-years-running, be calmer. I read this anechdote on Quora about the difference between responding and reacting which was attributed to Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google. Reacting is knee-jerk, instinctive, flustered action; responding is pausing, thinking, making a choice. In my interactions with my family members, I find myself reacting. In V’s case, it’s because he knows exactly which buttons to push. I need to respond more. Or just not react more. Freeze basically. But well, I’ve said this more, so let’s see.
- Not get hassled when I have do something slightly unpleasant (e.g. exchange discount coupons, handle taxes, cook, follow up on research paper that has not been published yet). Just do it.
- Pick up after myself more. We have slightly more domestic help than we need at the moment and it’s easy to just let someone else pick up after me. But on principle, I’m going to this as a matter of discipline. Depends on how tiring the new job is, though.
- Brush my teeth at night more.
- Check my own bank accounts and savings status more.
- Find a way to exercise even with my new full-time job and eat.less.chips (after the stash I brought back from India is over).
- Write something creative OR submit one more research paper from the thesis.
This is the year that I found the lights switching off on a lot of things.
Not so much my relationships with family and friends, but my expectations of them. Everything has been shifted to a low setting, with an accompanying level of engagement from my end. Part of this was due to crazy pace and uncertainty in my professional life for the last six months of the year. I had very little time to reach out, but I also found that to be equally true of the people I care about. They too were preoccupied either with work, children, health issues or just the general drama of their own lives.
I’ve been disappointed by people I hoped for support from, but this disappointment has been greeted with a shrug rather than a rage against the machine. More and more I’m coming around to the idea that people have their own shit, they go through phases and if their crazy phase and yours happens to occur at the same time, something’s got to give (this is probably the story of my marriage’s downturn). It doesn’t many anyone the bad guy.
But I know I’m not been there for anyone as I probably should have. And that’s because I’m so depleted myself. I am beginning to understand the husband or maybe you just become like your significant other, because finally, I’m resorting to exactly his defense mechanism – withdrawing into myself, seeking solitude, blocking out what I don’t like or want to deal with. No more digging deep, I’m just gliding these days. Any painful emotion, I just open my Kindle and start reading.
I’ve done enough deep digging over the years to recognize crap for what it is. The thing is recognition is not healing. Once you know the harmful pattern you’re in, how do you break out of it? Noone really has the answer to that, and if you live with someone who has their own destructive patterns to deal with, well. Let’s just watch an episode of Mad Men instead. V’s strategy has been coasting, without much analysis so far, and although that’s not my choice of survival mode and I resent playing the game on his terms yet again, having tried everything else I can thing of, here I am. It takes two to tango after all.
The laughable thing that always happen is that when you – even inadvertently – start mirroring someone’s else’s behaviour, they can’t handle it. I always come to this point with men.
The problem is that for me, this is not a temporary measure. Something in me has indeed broken off and floated away. I’m not sure I actually want that part back anymore. I’m liking this shut down. I don’t want the lights on anymore. I’m getting comfortable in the dark.