Monday, 26 August 2013

Tiny, Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed : Book Review

[ What do you say about a book that caused you to sink into your Sunday and lose the world?
 It makes you want to review it late into the night, in the same form as it was written, something even the genius Ann Holmes of Jezebel couldn't resist in her review. There aren't as many spoilers here as tiny excerpts of beautiful things, which is exactly what this book is. Reading on will give away no ending except make you rush to buy this book and curl up inside a Sunday with it. 
In case it doesn't, then you're an Android and that's pretty cool. 1321132- That's code for, Welcome to my blog, you weird machine.]

Dear Sugar,

I ordered your book online the other day. Is this the first time that I've heard of you? No. I've had your memoir, Wild, sitting on my book shelf for months now. It's just that everyone has convinced me that it will make me cry and feel uplifted at the same time. I wanted to avoid the crying part so it's still unread. I'm sorry about that.

I had my reservations about 'Tiny, Beautiful Things', they say it's a 'self-help' book and I hate self-help books. Fiction can serve the same purpose if you find yourself on the right page at the right time. So here I am, asking you.

1. What is your book about?

2. What are these Tiny, Beautiful Things?

3. And most importantly, dear Sugar, let me ask you the largest and simplest question there is. What is love?

I hope you've got some answers, because I have none.

Burning Bright (with questions)


Dear BBQ,

I've been thinking about how to answer your letter since I got it, and I have many things to say to you. Those things will answer all your questions or maybe none at all. But, I'm going to try

1.  You're right. We must find these twits who have been calling this a 'self help' book and perhaps bop them on the head with a Dale Carnegie hardcover.
Mine is just a culmination of stories. If you read it right, they're stories of grace, forgiveness, horror, exploitation and how amidst all the crap that all of us sometimes must go through, there's always hope and beginning-- what I told one of my readers "Let yourself be gutted. Let it open you. Start there".

2. These tiny, beautiful things are everyday people dealing with everyday monstrosities and enormities. A girl who was sexually assaulted at 17 is struggling to tell her current partner the truth. A man in the South is battling depression and is scared his business will collapse if he seeks help and word gets out. A young boy is forced to be "straight" by his parents who insist that they can love the "gay-ness" away. A young woman is terrified of how little she has accomplished in life in her late 20's and why she can't write like David Foster Wallace, already?
Countless stories where men and women deal with infidelity and wonder whether to indulge, to forgive or to negotiate. A young woman carries a white hot ball of rage inside her because she had a miscarriage and she cannot let the child who didn't live, go.

These are stories of love, longing, grief, the whole she-bang. But like I told one of my letter writing friends "His life is like your life and my life and all the lives of all those people who are reading these words right now. It's a roiling stew of fear and need and desire and love and the hunger to be loved. And mostly, it's the latter."

How do I even begin to answer these questions then?
Well, the only way I know how-- by sharing visceral, intimate experiences from my life. Sometimes they make sense, sometimes they don't.
You know that friend you speak to, the one who watches you struggle each time you share a vulnerability, so she tells you her embarrassing vulnerability to remind you we're all just beautifully, sparklingly human? I try to be that friend. Also, my life is really all I know.
Then there are those letters where the writer has answered his/her own question and dilemma, their answers are desperately entrenched in their questions . So I do what they want me to. I spell it out to them and ask them to find the bravest parts of their souls to follow their truth.

So, you see these are mostly letters of love and stumbling and feeling your way around it. With the exception of one or two crazy ones who write in asking

"WTF, WTF, WTF". I'm asking this question as it applies to everything everyday"

To him, and to you, if you ever asked this I would say

"Ask better questions, sweet pea. The fuck is your life. Answer it."

3.  You asked me about love, didn't you? I could sense your letter was leading up to it. That makes me smile, sweet pea. Because here we are toiling away at our fancy laptops, trying to save the environment, spend time with our family, learn the violin hoping that somehow the structure of all this will one day conspire to whisper to us what love really is.

All I know,
It is not so incomprehensible as you pretend, sweet pea.

Love is the feeling we have for those we care deeply about and hold in high regard. It can be light as the hug we give a friend or heavy as the sacrifices we make for our children. It can be romantic, platonic, familial, fleeting, everlasting, conditional, unconditional, imbued with sorrow, stoked by sex, sullied by abuse, amplified by kindness, twisted by betrayal, deepened by time, darkened by difficulty, leavened by generosity, nourished by humor and “loaded with promises and commitments” that we may or may not want or keep.

The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it.


Thursday, 22 August 2013

Why I Travel?

                                          From Vacation 2012Corals at the bottom of Ko Tao

To Escape.
But that sounds far too simplistic. Even though there are times when the blackened grime of cities and memories has seeped far too deep into your pores and only salt water will clean it out. Could it be for the time? You know the clock works differently when you're away. Days are languid, slow and almost sloth-like. You can keep 2pm on your tongue for as long as you like and when you're done, it will softly give way to a cocktail called 6pm. Shadows tell stories and the passing of time. Do the people living here realize that clock works differently in their city?
You'd almost gotten up to ask, realizing at the last minute that it's only when you're on vacation that you're not pre-occupied with answers. Or perhaps the questions have transformed into completely new ones.

To Taste. 
The food, or the cold, colorful drink traveling into your mouth. Flavours are muted and amplified at the same time. You felt like you never tasted food before, and yet on vacation you rarely overeat. When you're in the city and encounter a delicious meal you will chase it with the zeal of a crazed person and then realize you ate too much, too fast and all you're left with is a stomach ache. The same could be said of love found on vacation and the one you left back home.

To observe. 
How light is writing its own secret message in freckles on your brown skin. Or the big, vast sky that wears every colour so well, but personally burnt orange around 6pm is its favourite. It walks out in this dress and preens in front of you. You never pay much attention so it goes right back to grown-up indigo for the night.
Whole and parts co-exist in a beautiful, symbiotic chorus and you think you can too. Bits of you charred by work and love can live against bits of you too big for the universe and your own dreams to support.

To lose. 
Earrings. I always start out with a pair and return home with one. Inhibitions, prejudices and constructs of self fall softly against gravel, sand and cobbled pavements. It seems to me that vacations and cities you travel to contain a Lost and Found box. Visitors are free to deposit questions, wishes, memories and feelings which don't serve them anymore. Other particularly adventurous visitors pick up deposits by others and make them their own. By the beach, between the grains of sand if you look really carefully you'll find bits of sadness and questions. If you press a sea-shell to your ear it's not the waves you hear but a crescendo of unfinished conversations. Speak back into the sea-shell, there are things you never said which need to be lost too.

To go back home. 
Because belonging was never tied to a person or a place, it was just a feeling you carried in the recesses of your sometimes mangled heart. This belonging would crawl out, often when you're sea side and sit lotus-style inside your chest. Your breaths may not be as ragged and urgent as they are in the city you call home. Sometimes, when you're traveling you even forget to breathe and that's a good thing.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Of Endless Wish lists.

I want obvious miracles. The ones that make you believe in sheer, dogged luck.

I want a puppy and someone to help me with menial puppy duties while I just make time for walks, cuddles and cuteness.

I want a Urdu couplet of heartache dedicated to me. Would've been ideal had this been done by Rumi.

I want Sundays filled with warm April rain, big, fluffy chairs and endless reading time.

I want love, adoration and every degree of affection stored up in this world.

I want unlimited air miles and the weather on my side.

I want ownership. Of a piece of the sky and someone's imagination.

I want to carry the smell of the sea in my hair.

I want to chase passion like a first time marathon runner. Undeterred by how idiotic the profuse sweating is making him look to those on the sidelines.

I want a full, silvery moon and a guitar strumming man singing to me for when the evenings feel lonely.

I want to save the lion and the dolphin. In that order.

I want solitude, parties, routine and excitement to come find me when I'm too lazy to find them myself.

I want to influence culture.

I want enough and too much at the same time. Of things and people I love the most.

I want to collect fallen, autumn leaves from all over the world.

I want to fall in love once a week. With a gorgeous sentence, a deep dimple, a wicked outfit and the feel of skin on skin.

I want beautifully scripted comebacks to occur to me just when I need them. And not the next day.

I want new adventures laced with careless abandon.

I want mystery bottled into a Parisian perfume decanter. To spritz on myself lightly before a night on the town.

I want to explore. Brave new worlds. Inside and out.

                                         (Photo credit: Dandelion Wishes by Anthony Docherty)