Been taking a long break from reading, and I want to get back into it, so here are the ones I read to get back into the swing of things.
This is How You Lose Her – Junot Diaz
Read The Brief Wondorous Life of Oscar Wao a while ago and liked it so I picked this up on a whim - and to be honest this book underwhelmed me. The main premise of the book is “a tale about a young man’s struggle to overcome his cultural training and inner habits in order to create lasting relationships” which I guess I should have found out before hand before I picked this up.. While I’m aware that you do not have to like a protagonist to appreciate this book, Yunior, simply failed to hold my interests. I found his tribulations as trivial, and even though he finally manages to see women in the end as ‘fully human’ there was no real lesson or accomplishment that felt earned. I did like the vivid characterization of Santa Domingo though, and his dry humour peppered throughout the book.
East of Eden – John Steinbeck
Decided to make a more conscious effort at reading more literary classics and this is the first book by Steinbeck I’ve read and to be honest I was semi-intimidated by it, but this was so good.
The Gold Finch – Donna Tart
Was extremely excited to dive into this, especially because The Secret History is in my Top 5 books. While the pacing of this is nowhere as deliberately consise and gripping as in TSH (and often times I found it meandering slighty) she retains the same lush descriptions and created such a dense visual field that you find yourself sucked in anyway. The plot and characters hooked me in right from the beginning.
• 13 May 2014
This story I read recently stayed with me long after I turned off my laptop, so eloquently written by a girl who struggled to come to terms with the reality and the aftermath of her sexual assault. Also this article about victim blaming and this one is particularly helpful for shedding some light on rape culture from a male perspective.
I’ve been extremely fortunate to reside in Singapore, a country with a relatively low crime rate and where the level of street harassment is minimal, and yet I’ve not been immune to the ugliness of men, their brute force and their sloppy desire for sexual contact. I can recall with vivid clarity the things I’ve personally had to put up with: the number of times a man has said something sexually derogatory towards me, unwanted advances I’ve received despite expressing my disinterest, the times where I’m still being kissed anyway, touched anyway, unable to do a single dammed thing about it. I often wonder if they can sense my meekness from afar, if I’m seen as easy prey because of the non confrontational nature Asian culture, how girls are expected to be good by varying platitudes of chaste and submissiveness. If those standards have led me to be overcome with an innate desire to remain polite even when someone crosses my boundaries.
My mother tells me off every time I put on anything remotely revealing, “It’d be your fault if something should happen to you” she says matter of factly. I can’t blame her despite the immediate resentment. It’s the way she was brought up, and the way her mum was brought up. We’ve all been raised to be wary of strange men. It is a paranoia that seeps sinisterly into my daily routines, the acute awareness of my femininity, of not submitting myself to a situation that could potentially endanger myself, to be cautious of any perceived threat. Every time I get into an elevator alone with a man, every time I’m walking home alone, each step I take to navigate the world through these boundaries of fear, as though I am partly responsible if something should happen.
In a world where a man goes on killing rampage because he’s still a virgin, where a girl who’s raped becomes the centre of ridicule and harassment until she is driven to suicide, I am neither shocked nor surprised by the number of times I’ve heard men and women viciously comment, “she deserves to be raped with what she’s wearing” on local media sites. It is a sentiment that carries the age-old ideals that are still so pervasive today, the way in which people are quick to justify the actions of the perpetrator and blame the victims for somehow encouraging those actions.
Because of this it is so disheartening to see so many women still afraid of associating themselves with feminism. That the image of the ugly, angry, bra-burning, man-hating feminist continues to eclipse the underlying message of equal rights between sexes. The slut shaming and victim blaming is an extension of internalized misogyny. That we still feel we don’t deserve respect, that we view women who stand up for themselves as derogatory, that we must continue to swallow the blame, accept this treatment and remain in a role that is subservient to men. And it is this inadvertently internalized misogyny is exactly how rape culture is perpetuated. When we don’t even view ourselves as equal, where we don’t value ourselves enough to stand up against this. There is still so much more we can do to raise awareness on respectful behavior towards girls and the true meaning of consent.
• 27 April 2014
"You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book… or you take a trip… and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom (when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it. They work in offices. They drive a car. They picnic with their families. They raise children. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death. Some never awaken.”
Anaïs Nin,The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1
• 27 April 2014
I’m at a family gathering when a distant uncle remarks, “You look like you’ve gained weight”. His booming voice cuts across the room as he folds his elbows, makes the motion of a chicken as if to further emphasize his point. It’s a comment that would’ve sent teenage me into a spiral of shame. This time I’m simply stunned into silence, indignant. Perhaps because the last time he saw me had been years ago. His daughter who stands beside him and is about twice my size looks mortified. The rest of the adults in our vicinity pass sheepish smiles, unsure of how to react. I am immediately struck with shame for my own lack of response. For not sticking up for myself.
Like so many before me, women have become accustomed to the idea that our bodies have become public space. To be critiqued and judged, sexualized and commoditized without our consent. They have never solely belonged to us. Instead we have become compliant, molding ourselves to fit conventional standards. I grew up acutely aware of this, but the invisible benchmark of perfection was like a mirage, no matter how much I desired and hungered of it, it was always somehow out of grasp.
The danger of constantly being affronted with how you are not good enough is that at some point, you begin to believe it.
I want to talk about the time my self-esteem hinged entirely on a boy who’s past time involved cutting me down to pieces. How his appearances didn’t matter but there was an implicit expectation that I needed to work on mine. I want to talk about how we shrink ourselves, willing our bodies to occupy less space, deem ourselves unworthy. We learn to subsist on the generosity of men, to apologize for our choices, our desires, our needs. I want to talk about the generations of mothers, sisters, wives and lovers with their knees on the bathroom tiles purging themselves because their bodies have become an abject of hate, an instrument to inflict punishments they think they deserve. I want to talk about being young and being uncomfortable with my body - with the things that it could do. How it often felt like a prize to be given away, to be lost and the subsequent shame of relinquishing that power to a man. Sex meant saving ourselves as though our salvation depended on it. We are glutted with guilt before we know what to do with it.
While the struggle towards self-acceptance is nothing new or out of the ordinary, it has been so often trivialized. I am reluctant to articulate how I feel about my body for fear of criticism. That my inability to see myself as “beautiful” would be interpreted as attention seeking; merely a way to extract compliments and pity. It’s a trope we consciously veer away from because here is the irony: We’ve been programmed to desire conventional beauty but the moment we begin to express any desire for it, we are immediately seen as vapid and narcissistic. That we’ve put too much thought into our appearances, instead of our intellect and our personality. Our insecurities towards our bodies, betray the projected image of self confidence we are supposed to exude and we are judged and shamed for it.
If I’m not a thin, white conventionally attractive woman can I still love and appreciate myself? And if I don’t is it okay for me to actually admit it? These are the questions we need to ask ourselves so we can have a more nuanced discussion on self image. I think there is a certain power in owning our own body but there is also power in exposing the parts of you that are most vulnerable, so the rest of us can take courage in the fact that we are not alone. It’s important that we continually speak out, to break the myths of au natural perfection, so we can bolster each other and refute ideals that have been internalized, so interwoven into the fabric of our society. That we can forge a greater understanding of ourselves that continually redefines and challenges our own perceptions of beauty. YES our appearances matter. Not because we discount them, but because we value our worth, embrace them, and we should be proud of them.
I am turning twenty four in October and there is a part of me that still can’t quite believe it’s taken me this long to make peace with my body. It’s a slow progress: waving the white flag to the parts you deem broken and ugly. Some days I am still guilty of nitpicking its flaws, the blemishes on my face, the weird scar on my thighs, my pudgy fingers, and the numbers on a scale. Other days I choose to focus on the less tangible things: the prickly heat of sunlight on my skin, the taste of ice cream on my tongue, feeling my lovers kisses down my spine. The way my body is capable of reacting to the world, the way it opens up and absorbs all of it. It’s pretty divine. It’s okay to be you. It’s okay to exist.
• 20 April 2014
Managed to catch Charles Bradley and he was amazing live. so much fun. this song makes me think of slow dancing in your living room on a lazy afternoon, sunlight filtering in through the blinds, blissfully in love.
And on a slightly different note, also saw Washed Out during Mosaic which was also amazing. Barring the couple beside us who were publicly grinding and making out. That was not so amazing. But anyway, here is one of my favourites from their new album, Paracosm.
• 20 March 2014
words or lack thereof-
A look means more than any number of words,
a pitfall in your eyes,
an indent in our conversation
There are never any words left
under my tongue,
nothing else hidden on your face
In an event of a catastrophe
We speak to each other in mute
And I hang onto the things that you don’t say
Mark the passage of time more carefully this way
• 6 March 2014
I’ve been thinking a lot about why we cling so hopelessly to the romantic failures in our past in one way or another. Get swept up in the wistfulness of it, that we might have made it work somehow; the idea that we came so close and ended up falling short. We begin to romanticize the poignancy of our heartbreak, maybe because it’s our propensity to save what is lost, fix what is broken. Or perhaps as way to soothe ourselves, what could have been is far more enticing than reality.
It’s funny how we choose to fondly remember the good moments, those summers together, the ferocity with which our love consumed us, and not the destruction that followed. I’ve chosen to block out those memories like a scab intuitively protecting its wound. The gush of blood will not gush forth, instead diluted and mellowed down till there is nothing left but a dull scar. I will not write about our collective failures, the pain and mistrust I carried with me, or the widening gulf that displaced us, all of the reasons that led me to leave you in the first place. Those reasons seem inconsequential now, but only because I’ve been wishing for a version of you and a version of me that remain unscathed by the brutality of time, by heartbreak. How I’ve chosen to stay in love with the idea of you instead, someone who never really existed at all
• 26 February 2014
"That one’s actually kind of literal, wanting to get out of some anxiety-filled public situation, where there’s a party of something and you just want to escape and be home, close the doors with someone that you really care about and just be stupid and laugh. Forgetting about social pretenses and how you have to act in public, you can just be a fool with this person, you know, ugly and awkward and silly and they won’t judge you." Matt Berninger on Slow Show
Even with High Violet & Trouble Will Find Me, this is the album, the song I always come back to.
• 25 February 2014
"All three women (and myself as well) were unmarried, living alone, and working to assist people in real need in countries around the world. Despite the fact that I immediately felt accepted, supported, challenged and nurtured by each of them, when I first joined their weekly dinner group, I felt sorry for them. They weren’t married, they weren’t mothers – and at this time, and up until very recently, I clung to the belief that this constituted some failure on their part. They found me equally mystifying. Was I really worried about the size of my ass or trying to finagle a recent date with a man they thought (from my description) was boring and slightly odious? (He was.) Was it a good use of my time, they wondered, to hang out in bars getting smashed and looking to score and by doing this (they were rightfully doubtful) find “the love of my life” when I said I wanted to be a writer? Sure, sure, I said, but I dismissed their concerns, and mourned what I interpreted as their missed opportunities to have a real life, which I assumed would only start for me when I was married and a mother. I loved them, but in my mind I was remembering that old phrase I’d heard for most of my life, in hushed and shameful tones: old maid. I was also keen to make my life look “normal” and “acceptable” in some way because I have a disability; if I didn’t get the body part right, I reasoned (irrationally, although it seemed quite rational at the time), I could get the “what your life looks like” part right. While I was obsessing about how I looked and who would love me, these women were helping to save the world – not in a way that would win them accolades, certainly – but the work they were doing was important and life-giving. And there I sat, foolishly pitying them. ”
Emily Rapp, Transformation & Transandence, The Power of Female Friendship.
• 30 January 2014