Monday 31 August 2009

Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity

This woman is my new guru. Seriously. I'm only 123 pages into Eat, Pray, Love but I'm hooked and entranced and inspired by what she's saying. And then I saw this video. She make me want to write more and makes me believe I can do it.

Ole to her!

Saturday 29 August 2009

The day my library dreams came crashing down...

Something occurred to me the other day. I was half way through unpacking my boxes of things I had shipped from NZ to Taiwan and the unthinkable was happening. I was running out of shelf space. And fast. I had brought nearly all of my beloved books nearly 9000 kilometres and I wasn't sure if I'd be able to fit them all in! The shelves had looked so roomy when we first bought the apartment, with the previous owner's stuff all gone and only space, space and more space stretching out invitingly in front of us.

Then I properly moved here and realised a few things.

First of all, I'm married now so that means 50/50 share of everything. There are two sets of shelves, one filled with my precious books, the other is filled with miscellaneous junk belonging to his nibs. But fair is fair. It's an equal partnership after all, and it would be completely immoral and awful of me to covet his shelf space.... wouldn't it...?

Second of all, Taiwan apartments are a whole lot smaller than New Zealand houses. You don't have the ability to spread out - at all. If you leave something in the lounge I swear it takes up 300% more space than it would have done in the average NZ home. So a place for everything and everything in it's place and all that malarky. Which means all of my books need to be housed on their shelves at all times except perhaps the one I am currently reading which might find a cubby hole next to the bed.

For the first time in my entire book hoarding career, I am being forced to 'double shelve'.

And it was the necessitation of this double shelving that lead me to my next crashing conclusion: I was going to have to be way more responsible about my future book buying. No longer were the days of browsing around and picking up a book willy nilly just because I fancied adding it to my collection. Oh no. We have fallen on hard times here, people. Hard times with no spare shelves. If I want to buy a book now I'm going to have to think carefully. It may eventually even come to the "one book in and another one out" policy.

On those lines I've already weeded out about 10 books that I know I will never read again (or haven't read and never intend to - like the Barbara Taylor Bradford that was given to me as a gift in Whitcoulls one day, its just not my kind of read) that I'm planning to gift to the Taipei expat community centre in a Bookcrossing kind of way (more info on Bookcrossing here). Which will be kind of fun but to be honest, I'm far to attached to ever give most of my books away. I've bought them with the intention of keeping them as much loved members of my paperback family and the thought of releasing most of them isn't one I'm prepared to entertain right now.

But then again - who knows. As more and more excellent books are published and I get itchy fingers in the bookstore.... well, they're going to have to go somewhere, and unless I acquire some carpentry skills out of nowhere then somethings going to have to give.

That, or I stage a hostile take-over of those other shelves!

Thursday 27 August 2009

The tragedy of defeat...

Photo credit: Here

I just watched Revolutionary Road (2008, dir. Sam Mendes). The credits haven't even finished rolling yet - I just had to respond to it immediately.

I hadn't realised what this film was really about before I watched it as I hadn't read any reviews or read the book on which it was based (written by Richard Yates, 1961) but I'd known from the moment it was released in the movies I wanted to see it, somehow I knew it was my kind of film. And I wasn't wrong. It was fantastically acted, the storyline was superb and the characterisation was amazing. I like real characters like Frank and April, those who make mistakes and have serious flaws. The kind of people you believe in.

But I'm not writing this as a review although if my word means anything: see it if you haven't or better yet read the book. Also, stop reading here as the following contains spoilers.

I'm writing this because I somehow identify in a strange way with April. To be in a rut so deep you can barely see out of is a horrifying fate for someone with spirit and dreams. The only thing worse than this fate is to see a ray of hope shining over the top of the rut (more like a trench, to be honest) and grasp hold of it, pin your dreams to it and see it as the means of escape from the boredom and unhappiness stretching out in front of you.... only to have that hope extinguished. To have seen what might have been and been so close to change, the change you so desperately need to survive another day of your life, only to have the door slammed in your face by the one person you thought was on your side.

In April I see something I fear: that the person she loved most in the world had the ability to break her. All because he was too scared to try something different. He entrapped her, denied her the thing she most wanted - escape. He snuffed out her dreams and there was nothing she could do about it - except the most tragic and final solution possible. Frank allowed himself to be defeated by his own fear and in allowing himself to be defeated he inflicted on April a life she couldn't bear to live.

To be so completely and totally trapped within your marriage and your life is a terrifying prospect and one that is no longer as common to many women, thanks to the advent of feminism - at least in the Western world. However, I don't think that this means this story is outdated and neither do I think the message behind it is less imperative than it was when the book was released nearly 50 years ago. I think that the key message is that living a life which is unfulfilled and being surrounded by mediocrity is only one small step away from a sort of death. Accepting mediocrity and accepting not being fulfilled is defeat - the defeat of your spirit. If you have the ability and wherewithal to make a change, the ability to really do something about your life but you fail to do so because of fear or a lack of inner strength to just get on and do it is signalling you've given up. You're out of the game. That's when life ceases to be a life and becomes merely an existence.

Making that change doesn't have to be big. You don't have to move to Paris. You just need to grab life with both hands and give it a shake and see what comes out. So long as whatever that is makes you happy, then you're alive. If you give up on life it seems to me that you may as well be dead - cos you almost certainly are on the inside.

Saturday 8 August 2009

Now THAT is impressive...

I was listening to a podcast that I have recently discovered, Books on the Nightstand, this morning when something they were discussing piqued my attention. A British lady named Louise Brown, a 91 year old pensioner, has made newspapers for the extraordinary achievement of borrowing and reading nearly 25,000 library books in her lifetime to date. She takes out 12 a week. A week! She's nearly exhausted her local library's collection of large print books! What a legend.

Suddenly my reading load seemed piffly by comparison and I started to wonder why. I mean, I love reading. I adore books. You may have noticed this very subtle fact from the content of my blog and if you know me personally you surely know me to be addicted to the printed word.

I concluded, after some reflection, that I just don't dedicate as much time as I should to reading (and by "should" I mean "want to"). I used to spend hours and hours reading as a kid but then, as I got older and invariably busier, I realise that reading has slipped down my priorities list without me noticing. I just haven't set aside the time I would like to for it. A big distraction for me has been the internet - Facebook, reading news articles, catching up on emails and googling random questions that pop into my head (like why do people yell "Geronimo!!" when they jump out of a plane?) All well and good, really but it has seriously cut into my beloved reading time.

So! I'm taking action. My challenge to myself is to use the internet less and do a bit more reading and try and get back into the habit of reaching for my books first when I have some spare time rather than turning on the laptop. I'm nearly two thirds of the way through Falling Man by Don DeLillo and hope to finish that by tomorrow or early next week and then I'll probably be working on another post 9/11 book (the thesis looms after all!) which is exciting.

So to all my dear books, I know I've been a bit remiss of late and not picked you up as often as I could have but I'm a reformed woman. And you have Louise Brown to thank for that!

Thursday 6 August 2009

Culture shockin'

've done this before, you know, this moving country lark. Of course, that was 14 years ago when I was a good deal younger and it was to a country that spoke (a version) of my mother tongue and had a culture that wasn't a million miles removed from the one I had grown up in thus far.

This move is something quite different.

I've been here for four weeks now and I'm just starting to get a handle on what it means to live here. The language. The culture. The masses of people and profusion of concrete. Driving on the other side of the road - not just a trick for young players who are also trying to drive but a hazard for newbies trying to cross the road who are used to looking left, then right then left again. The proliferation of all kinds of signs in neon and flashing lights. People staring at me because I'm the only white woman in a 5 mile radius. Yup, I've got a case of severe culture shock.

Apparently, according to anthropologist Kalervo Oberg (1901-1973) there are four stages to culture shock:
1) The Honeymoon Stage - Where everything is new and exciting.

2) The Crisis or Culture Shock Stage - Reality hits! Everything is overwhelming and you're insanely homesick.

3) The Adjustment or Recovery Stage - Things become a bit more normal and you feel somewhat more settled. This stage is not a clear stage as it involves a bit of oscillation between Honeymoon stage excitement and Crisis stage depression and frustration but hey - it's progress.

4) The Adaptation Stage where you've come through the darkness and made it out to the other side and you feel settled and comfortable in your new environment.

At this stage I'd estimate myself to be in the third stage. I'm excited to be here but on occasion I just want to curl up in a ball and hide. The main anxiety for me is going out alone without the hubby in tow. As he's originally a local, fluent in the language and culture and has been living here for the past 2ish years, he can translate for me, guide me across roads and gently guide me on issues I'm unsure about ("what on earth is THAT?!") Not to mention that when I'm with him and people stare at me I don't really mind but when I'm by myself, already feeling self-conscious and awkward the last thing I want is to think people are witnessing my awkwardness.

I was thinking about what culture shock means to me personally the other day and basically I boiled it down to complete and utter DIFFERENCE. You come to a place with ideas and expectations only to be met with a completely different reality. It's not just the big things like "I can't understand a damn word that person just said!" it's the small things too. In fact I think the small things are sometimes the ones that make bigger cracks in your ability to cope as they're usually things you never realised would be an issue.

Small things like going to a public loo and there being no tissue supplied, or not being able to flush the tissue down the loo and having to stuff it into the bin provided (ill-attended public toilets on a hot day - not advisable). Things like going for a walk and there are no pavements in one half of the town. Going to the supermarket and the layout is completely different and confusing and it takes you three times as long to find what you wanted. Sometimes you don't find what you wanted. The constant smell in the air - not necessarily a nasty smell, just a smell of something or other. My favourites are when you go shopping and you are blatantly reminded that you're just not in Kansas anymore, Toto, by seeing some of the things that are sold. For instance vodka on the shelf next to the magazines at the local 7/11. Or a wide and interesting array of sex toys (including items for gentlemen) at eye level in aisle six alongside the stationery at your local supermarket.

It's things like this that are culture shock to me. The things I didn't expect and couldn't possibly have anticipated. The things that blow your mind and leave them in a forever-expanded state. This is what travelling is about, after all, right? Seeing things that make you go "Wow!" or "Gross!" or "Who knew?!" It's coming home with a armload of "You'll never guess what!" stories. It's knowing that you've been there and experienced that.

I just wish it wasn't so damn hard is all. Mind you - I guess nothing worth achieving was ever easy... or so they keep telling me!

Saturday 1 August 2009

E-Book vs actual book

Photo credit: Here

I learnt a new word today: Kindle.

Kindle /'kIn-dəl/ (n)
The device upon which e-books and other digital media may be viewed. Weighs about the same as a light paper back and can (without additional storage devices like SD cards) store about 200 non-illustrated titles.

I heard about this on The Strand, the weekend edition of the BBC's global arts and entertainment programme, last week. Immediately I was driven to wikipedia to find out what on earth this thing was all about and see for myself the very thing that was apparently threatening to wipe out my beloved paperbacked friends and the havens that shelve them. I found this article - apparently the Kindle and other devices like it such as the Sony Reader are the "iPod moment" for the publishing industry according to Miguel, an assistant in a London bookstore being interviewed for The Strand. He said that he thought this was "the future of literature" as books were clearly not sustainable due to the amount of paper they require and how many trees have to be cut down to meet this demand. And yes, I admit, thats a very large amount of paper, sure. But what about the negative environmental impact of manufacturing this device? What about when it breaks or is no longer useful - everything mechanical has a limited shelf-life and I'm pretty sure it won't be so easily passed on or recycled as an old book.

Photo credit: Here

It got me seriously thinking though. Would I ever consider buying one of these things? At their current price (around US$250) it's a definite "Are you kidding?!" from me, but let's imagine for a moment that money is no object.... Nope, I still wouldn't want one unless there was a really good practical reason for it like I was about to be marooned on a desert island where I could not take any books (but there was, handily, a power source) and I had no other human contact for a month. I mean, it's not like I'm a technophobe. I have a much loved iPod and regularly purchase music from their iTunes store. I've even downloaded a couple of audiobooks onto my iPod but I never seem to finish them - it's just not the same as reading the book proper.

Reading a book is an experience. It's not just about the plot or the characters. It's a journey that starts with choosing a book at your local library or bookstore - two places I absolutely adore. Going into a library or bookstore is like coming home. You can smell the books, see the covers and run your fingers over shelves of untold reading delight that awaits you. Walking around a bookstore you discover things - a cover catches your eye or you see a "Our Recommendations" tag and hey presto, you pick up a book and you're pulled into a world you would never have known else. The journey continues when you get home and your new book makes it's way onto the bookshelf, nestling alongside all of the other books (if you're like me) you've acquired over the last however many years. Well worn favourites live alongside those you have still yet to read on the ever-burgeoning "Gotta read that!" list.

Then, of course, is the experience of reading. Nothing can quite beat the feeling of settling down in your favoured reading location with your new acquisition or a battered copy of a book you've read a million times but always get something new out of. Nothing can beat the smell or feel of the pages as you open the cover. Nothing can beat the hot cup of tea by your side as you plunge into a new world or revisit a well-trodden road, which more often or not I look up at an hour later to find cold and untouched - the hallmark of a good book. You see - it really isn't about the story. And I think those that claim that soon enough books will be outdated and merely a relic of a past time are wildly underestimating the strength or extent of the love affair between that exists between bookworms and our beloved books.

Photo credit: Here

The Kindle and the Sony Reader and other inventions like it are all well and good but will never ever truly replace the book. At least not as long as I'm alive.