Racket

I watched Twilight.  Not just the first one but the whole damn saga and I’m not embarrassed in the least.  Someone with an Ivy League education was equally as excited to watch Eclipse with me at the Thai-Burma border.  So if it’s not above her all you judgey people can take a walk around the block.  Plus, it was mainly for Robert Pattinson.  Yes, my teenage dream transferred from Channing Tatum to that “complicated” London bloke.  Weird.  Though right now you might want to lay off some of the “stuff” Patty.  Just look at Leo Dicaprio to see what too much Ibiza does to the system.

Anyways, have you ever consumed popular books or films to see what exactly all the hype is about?  You soon learn that some of the praise is mainly created through noise and good PR while others actually do deliver.  But popularity produces targets and snobs who feel that these well-liked things aren’t particularly special.  The game-changers never like to be part of the crowd.  I get that, but sometimes it’s nice to smell the roses even if everyone and their mother are doing the same.

Now here’s my take on two blockbusters and one of them even has a Robert Pattinson connection.  Ha.  At the height of its hype it seemed like everyone was talking about “50 shades of Grey.”  Sure it’s not exactly Tolstoy or Ondaatje but it was still entertaining.  I don’t understand how people expect NPR content for every single thing that is produced and consumed in the world.  The smutty parts didn’t exactly thrill or shock me but was definitely an education.  It made me pause and say hmm, I didn’t know there was a method for that.  At the end of the day though it’s not the whips or the room full of toys that excited me.  It’s the powerful man I like, not the handcuffs he offers.  Give me a fully clothed man over Magic Mike any day.  Ideally he’d be reading a paper in the Paris sun with wayfarers and a nicely cut suit.  The Robert Pattinson connection is that “50 Shades” started out as a Twilight fanfic.  So, basically Patty is Christian Grey.  I dig that.  He looks accomplished without being too pretty.

The other successful novel that fully provides what it’s selling is “Crazy Rich Asians” but perhaps I like it for different reasons than the average reader.  It is set in the elite circles of Singapore where the wealth and privilege goes back generations and is not from recent investment in natural resources or whatever else is making money these days.  No, these families exploited people during the colonial era and actually did a good job of protecting their assets.  They were not subjugated by the Europeans but also had a hand in subjugating others.  The premise is that an educated Asian-American woman goes to visit her boyfriend’s family and quickly learns that she is out of her league in his world.  She can’t quite read the social signals or transactions and everyone thinks that she’s fond of him for the wrong reasons, when in fact she only recently learned of his privilege.  Plus clearly in their eyes she is not good enough for him since her blood does not have even a hit of blue.  The first thing I love about this concept is that we are not in Victorian England or Downton Abbey to witness how the upper echelon of racialized individuals operate.  Secondly, the very first chapter that takes place in a European hotel lobby makes up for every instance we’ve had to feel subhuman.  When we were thought to be uncouth (when we weren’t) or to loud (when we aren’t).  Again, the majority of us will never live this reality but the author Kevin Kwan does, and he does not hold back.  You know that he is writing about his cousin’s second wife’s mother-in-law or whomever else is part of his network.  God, I wonder if they still speak to him.  I promise that they turn a nose up that he’s selling their secrets for some pocket change.  The fact of the matter is though that in many societies it still matters who your grandparents were and what your name signals.  Of course there should be more social justice and vast differences in wealth disparity is unfortunate.  But there are certain practices that do stand the test of time.  I do agree that it is gauche to talk about money and there is something to be said about being secure enough about your positioning and where precisely you stand.  Pride and arrogance are two very different things and have varying outcomes.

I will forever roll my eyes at those who are too good for certain programs or products.  Sure, it many not be your thing but it doesn’t mean that someone else can’t find value or connect with it.  Yes, I would never watch those teenage mother shows but maybe it is someone’s current reality or will convince others to prioritize other endeavours.  It’s like these people want everyone to consume bran cereal all the time when a bit of marshmallows or raisins even could liven things up.  Come on now.

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The path

I picked up Cheryl Strayed’s memoir “Wild” precisely because she does the exact opposite of what I would do if I was having a tough time: she takes a hike.  No, literally she hikes the Pacific Crest trail.  God, I wouldn’t do it voluntarily much less when I’m trying to sort through some issues.  But this was Strayed’s path to reemerging from her destructive engagements with drugs and toxic relationships.  After losing her mother suddenly to cancer and having her personal life fall apart, those tactics of heroin and meaningless sex were an attempt to numb the pain.  “Wild” is how she found her way back.

There has been so much praise and press over this work but I was reluctant to commit to reading it.  Perhaps it’s because she takes on a task that is both daunting and completely unappealing to me.  Sometimes I don’t post certain images onto my Tumblr account because even though they’re pretty I know that I wouldn’t actually enjoy it.  You know those really grey pictures with cliffs and the ocean?  I know that in real life I would want to look at it for a total of 2 minutes, be cold and want to get back into the car to drive back to the inn.  If I needed the space to regroup I would either overcommit to work or be somewhere warm and uncomplicated.  In both scenarios I would be comfortable.  Even after forcing myself to give the book a shot there were sections where my eyes glazed over.  Really, it’s meaningless to me what material her sleeping bag is made of or what type of purifying salts she used.  But then as her story progressed I completely understood why she was providing her detailed shopping list.  She took on such a goal to return to the very basics.  Her life had become so full of distractions she needed to only focus on survival and keeping herself alive.  And those very material goods were what kept her from falling off an edge and disappearing for good.  By saving herself numerous times she was ashamed of her reckless behaviour previously.  She begins to respect her body again.

The hike itself is a metaphor for her personal journey and the plot twists make you wonder how it will all end.  In grade 11 we had to fit the life a famous person into the hero’s journey.  The whole purpose of this exercise was to teach you the elements of this type of narrative to incorporate into your own original work.  But tropes become that way for a reason: we all like to think that we are on a hero’s journey, that we will triumph in the end.  The pattern was pretty straightforward: there’s the beginning and childhood that’s fairly uneventful, a calling or talent that brings fame and notoriety, happiness, a setback and then the triumph.  I chose Billie Holliday and it was really difficult to fit her life into this design because she had had so many problems, the resolutions were not definite victories and her last few years weren’t exactly a triumph.  Then again, her art is her triumph and that will always remain right?  But still, this assignment taught me more about the ambiguities in life rather than how to write a good story.

Many of us hope for a long and happy life where at the end there will be a lot clarity.  Perhaps in our last years we’ll have so much time to reflect on how our life resembled the hero’s journey.  We’ll also be at the life stage where we’re more forgiving of ourselves and can rebrand mistakes as simply tests along the way.  Even if tragedy strikes and you don’t get this type of ending, those who loved you most will see your story in this way.  They will remember all of the good.  But if we all took on the attitude that it all gets sorted in the end would we have taken more chances along the way to live a bigger or grander life?  Perhaps we would chase after more of those dreams.  Maybe we wouldn’t give up so easily.  And that’s the best part of Cheryl Strayed’s story, she has the skill to use words and phrases to properly butcher people’s hearts.  She is raw, honest and forthcoming of all the ways she diverged and digressed.  But the best thing she teaches us is to keep on walking.  That we all end up somewhere.

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Wanderlust

When it comes to traveling I’ve always believed that you had to have been there.  How do feelings and “moveable feasts” become words?  Concepts of embodiment and experience are rarely express articulately.  That is why I always try to resist the temptation to go on and on about a trip.  This is one way, amongst others, that social media has enhanced our lives.  On Facebook you can skip through an album at your own pace without having to commit to a lengthy description of each meal or landmark.

I understand why people love to share these images and anecdotes.  They want to relive these moments themselves.  There are few thrills more satisfying than the start of a journey when you’ve just placed the luggage on the scale, have the ticket in hand and you are off to someplace new.  The limitation lies in the fact that you can’t pack your friends or relatives into those duffle bags.  Even if you wanted to they probably have other things to do.  The best part of traveling draws from the nuances but I think everyone appreciates the bigger picture, the Coles notes versions.  Because really, even if you drew them a detailed map of your whole experience it would never capture it or do it justice.  And they probably still have those other things to do.

Not many of us can afford to indulge every whim or seat sale.  This is when travel accounts can fill that void, can feed that hunger to be someplace else.  There are so many books out there that you can pick one for every flight of fancy but they all vary in the quality of writing and how the narrative is presented.  But what draws us to them in the first place is the emotional trigger that sets these individuals off on their adventures.  Because we’ve probably all felt a familiar pull, many of us just bury it.  Traumas often lead us to seek solace where we are unknown and anonymous.  You know the Billie Holiday song about “seeing you in all the old familiar places?”  This is precisely the type of nightmare you try to avoid.  In the midst of a personal crisis, you don’t want to walk down the street past every restaurant or movie theatre that’s hosted your date nights.

There are a couple of travel books that take us on these types of journeys particularly well.  One of the most well-known is “Eat, Pray, Love” which is Elizabeth Gilbert’s attempt to come to terms with her divorce and temper her desire to always be in a relationship.  In all three sites of Italy, India and Bali she actively uses the surroundings to heal her heart in some shape or form.  Nothing is recognizable and so she is able to meditate on these major life changes and strategize where she wants to go from there.  My only critique is that ashrams and palm trees can only get you so far.  In the end you still have to face yourself in the mirror and be okay with your choices.  You need to draw from within, not the external environment.  Because you know, beauty can also wound the heart.

“The Lost Girls” by Baggett, Corbett and Pressner details the adventures of three friends quitting their jobs, leaving their significant others and taking off to “grow” as individuals abroad.  This is all great and good but somehow I feel that their stories are a bit different.  The best part of traveling is being taken out of your comfort zone and having to make new friends.  You don’t necessarily have to flex these muscles when you have your best friends right there with you and two other people to be your sounding boards.  But I love the intention behind it.  The bravest people are those who take those steps that everyone in their social circle deems to be a mistake.  It’s not an escape, it’s just a break from your life.  Living so that the mundane becomes beautiful again.

The last two books I’ll discuss both take place in Paris and their perspectives of the city differ precisely because of their varying realities and approaches.  In “Paris my sweet” by Amy Thomas she literally seems to wish that Paris would fit into her vision of what the city should be.  Needless to say she is often disappointed.  Places are to be adapted to, not changed.   They don’t exist to meet your expectations.  Comparatively in “Paris Letters” Janice Macleod wants to make her time there work, in spite of the inconveniences.  She also seems to be sassy and recognize that not everyone is inherently nice.  I do qualify all this by saying that one found love and the other didn’t.  Not that it matters but the author of “Paris my sweet” literally documents her many romantic frustrations so I feel like it plays a role in her perception of the place.  Sometimes I wondered, girl, are you eating all of those pastries because you want to or because you are sad?  I appreciated this vulnerability because travelling is not one long party.  There are instances when you are definitely lonely.  Sure, not giving a fuck gives you so much freedom.  But in turn no one really has to care about you either.  Well at least not at the depth that you’re probably used to.

I always reach my limit on a holiday when I’m tired of looking at beautiful things.  I cannot wait to get back to the daily routine when my purpose consisted of more than just enjoyment.  This is always my reminder that life is pretty damn good.  Because I want to return to it.

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