These paper boats of mine are meant to dance on the ripples of hours, and not reach any destination... Rabindranath Tagore

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past...F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Great Gatsby

We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.
On the way to the river are the old dormitories, used for something else now, with their fairy-tale turrets, painted white and gold and blue. When we think of the past it's the beautiful things we pick out. We want to believe it was all like that.
--from Margaret Atwood - The Handmaid's Tale

Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another's skin, another's voice, another's soul.
- Joyce Carol Oates

Friday, January 12, 2018

Some Kind of Freak

Some Kind of Freak - Satya Robyn (22nd December 2017)

in a world of
social norms and
political correctness
I stagger
sometimes getting it right
mostly getting it wrong

my younger days
born of a mother who barely knew me
(too drunk
too tangled in boyfriends)
could have instilled
the freak in me

some say a crisis brings on
the weird
the odd
the voices
on that note
I'm keeping it classical and
'No Comment'

the workshop
is outside
taxidermy is an art
my art -
even if others squirm -
to me
it is my way of being in contact
with life

I am learning to live with
the me that is
the hermit
the hermit learning to cook
the hermit with a dog
the hermit learning to feel

till the iced Gran springs from the workshop freezer
that is

and then a whole new chapter of weirdness
(in a world of
social norms and
political correctness)
could begin
mightn't it?

it could begin with fish fingers

but for now
what matters most are
my voices
my shape shifters

they know my buttons
to push

Some Kind of FreakSome Kind of Freak by Satya Robyn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jude Horridge, a taxidermist, is a social misfit thrust into living independently. He takes his taxidermy art, his guilt of appearing to be a murderer and the burden of his voices with him. He learns to cook (with a little help from Google), learns to measure social cues and to cope with text messages. Importantly, he learns to feel loved, even give love, thanks to a dog named Shadow. Jude learns to adapt to the life he has and accepts what he is. Incredibly, it is other social misfits, such as lesbian Beth ('He worried that he might have come to depend on her for a basic level of happiness'), who help Jude. The narrative beautifully spins a web of mesmerising adventure and intrigue. Overall, an incredible, dramatic, psychological insight into the stresses and questions buried deep in those who fly under the conventional social radar.
P.S. For me, there seems to be some interesting allusions to 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' - Mark Haddon (2003). Both novels feature a hermit-like male character struggling to identify logical sense in the world around.

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Know Me 
Imagine seeing through the eyes of an unusual character, Jude Horridge; exploring the mind processes of that character; almost living the life of that character. Imagine surprise twists in that life that belie any trace of convention. Add an atmosphere of tense drama and mystery -('The tail was proving tricky' - opening sentence), and there is a tantalising view of a book that defies narrow labels. A lively writing style carries the reader on an almost 'psychedelic journey' that could be the very real life of some 'unknown someone' in our society who is very different. A psychological masterpiece!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Little Journey

A Little Journey - Short story by Ray Bradbury
(Project Gutenberg e-book published February 10, 2016
Also available American Literature
- published in the August 1951 edition of the magazine, Galaxy Science Fiction.)

on her way to God's heaven
via Mars

on Mars
her room is like a cell
the whole Restorium smells of boiled cabbage and tennis shoes

but she has paid her way
her ticket is money invested

not even her host of the Egyptian eyes
and Comedy Mask smile
can sway her from her quest

not even the rocket
a mere battered copper pot
can sway her from her mission

her rickety life
to reach heaven
to reach her Lord

and revel in

His golden handshake

A Little JourneyA Little Journey by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A 'little journey' Mars, to heavenly space...O the irony, right from the title...Old Mrs Bellowes wants to fly her rickety life 'up, up and away' on the one final, ultimate adventure...And ultimate it is. But ironically - far from a spiritual journey - the adventure is burdened with character masks and material values. Hindu mystics and Indian philosophers could not satisfy Mrs Bellowes' need to reach God. But the crafty Mr Thirkell offered her tangible transport - for a price - to the final golden handshake. This short story is a playful microcosm of worldly ethics and their possible, quirky outcomes.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Boxing Day

For four years my father drove me on Boxing Day
to spend time with my mother
who lived on her own
in a small bungalow facing the sea.

my mother was an annual routine
I grudgingly endured

I made my first journey when I was thirteen...

my mother was a living ghost
being but scarcely living
It always felt as if there was something separating her from life itself and even perhaps from herself.
She was my duty
my suffrance
my scheduled
my automatic withdrawal from
my current reality

I made the last one when I was seventeen.

'Boxing Day' is one of  David Park's 13 stories in 'Gods and Angels' (2016)

Sunday, December 24, 2017

My Father As I Recall Him...

The Ladies' Home Journal - February 1892
Source: The Ladies' Home Journal

The Ladies' Home Journal, originally based in New York, is a long-running American women's monthly magazine, now published by the Meredith Corporation.
The Ladies' Home Journal began publication in 1883 as
"The Ladies' Home Journal and Practical Housekeeper".
It dropped the latter part of the name in the late 1880s.
In 2014, the Meredith Corporation announced that the magazine would no longer be a monthly
but a special interest magazine as of July 2014.
Production of these special issues is in the Meredith Corporation headquarters, Iowa.
Mary (Mamie) Dickens (1838-1896) was Dickens' eldest daughter.
She remained with her father until his death in 1870.
Mamie never married.
My Father As I Recall Him was not published as a book until shortly after Mamie's death in 1896.
Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

eldest of ten children
a father intent on writing
even being the characters in his novels
mirroring them

could there possibly be
any room for
a child

her father adored Gad's Hill
and animals

he felt intense compassion for
the sick and suffering

his own novels revealed
he had a great knowledge of
and sympathy for
children not his own

could there possibly be
any room for
any loving room
for one child

his child

his eldest daughter

My Father as I Recall HimMy Father as I Recall Him by Mamie Dickens
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mamie's writings are so sad and almost painful. Knowing other dimensions of her father Charles Dickens' life, there is a feeling that Mamie must be blind, must be in denial that her father could possibly be anything other than a just, a kind and loving man to all - even animals. Perhaps Mamie is recording the father that she would like Dickens to be. After all, Mamie never left her father when he separated from her mother, Catherine. Mamie was there when Dickens died of stroke. It almost seems that her whole life, her reason for being revolved around her father. Little routines - such as Christmas celebrations, being granted time in her father's study while he worked - become idolised moments. Mamie never seems to leave behind the child she was, longing for her father's love. That is so sad, so painful.

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Mamie is the eldest of ten siblings. Her father is the respected writer Charles Dickens. Mamie seems to feel a sense of urgency to expel shady rumours about the life of her father. Nowhere in her writing does she judge her father, nor even mention some of the tensions with his wife Catherine Hogarth whom he publicly slandered. Mamie doesn't mention her father's separation from his wife in 1858 or his intimate relationship with actress Ellen Ternan. Mamie mentions a train crash which seemed to haunt her father's life, but does not mention that Ellen and Ellen's mother were on the train with her father at the time. For Mamie, Charles Dickens is the ideal father, a home man, kind, caring and good. Her book almost seems to be written from a child's perspective, in a child's words - so odd, because Mamie was just over 50 years old when her writing was first published in 'The Ladies Home Journal'. Mamie seems to blindly idolise her father. But then, is she a child desperate for love?

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

This Side of Paradise

This Side of Paradise (1920) - debut novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The title comes from a line in Rupert Brookes' poem called Tiare Tahiti:
Well this side of Paradise!...
There's little comfort in the wise

It was always the becoming

His young ego was a flower and a weight
A smug flower and a leaden weight
But he was no aristocratic stereotype

He was a draft
A sketch in motion

He was willing to taste
The profits of the moneyed class
He was willing to see and hear 
The clubbing clamour of exclusive Princeton
He was willing to feel 
Love - of sorts
(Physical and spiritual)

But he preferred the scents of 
writing poetry
and imaginative walks in the rain

He was a sketch in motion
Awaiting clear shape

It was always the becoming he dreamed of
never the being

This Side of ParadiseThis Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So the young upper class have it all? They have endless money? They have status that leads to opportunities beyond the lower classes? Amory Blaine is born into privileged society in pre World War 1 years, but his growing up years are hardly smooth, bearing little connection to an easy lifestyle. Amory's entrance into Princeton University does not guarantee he fits in with the university characters, club cultures or expectations. His birthplace mansion on Lake Geneva doesn't help him win his love for Rosalind. In fact, the debt attached ensures Rosalind's eyes seek matrimony elsewhere. She cannot contemplate a life in a small apartment on Amory's wage as a writer. This book offers an intriguing dive into the shadows behind aristocratic glamour. All is not what it seems. And Amory is far more than a snobbish, insensitive character with a burgeoning ego. Even Amory himself keeps searching for what he could be and what he could become. We follow his journey through his readings, his poetry and his regular walks in the rain.

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What Paradise? 
Growing up can be be a confusing battle ground. For Amory Blaine, at first, a privileged young traveller, the journey involves attacking and deflecting the onslaught of traditional ideals and values. Money from his parents' exclusive estate in Geneva does not guarantee happiness (because it dwindles by his mother Beatrice's death) and nor do the exclusive clubs at Princeton University. Women play Amory's emotions until the appearance of Rosalind Connage. But Amory's love of Rosalind cannot match with Rosalind's need for the mighty flow of money. She chooses money over love. Monseigneur Darcy, as a father figure, offers Amory spiritual happiness, but that is not enough for Amory. So Amory wins and loses friends, dreams, writes poetry and walks in the rains hoping to find some reality he can call his own. This book is an amazing glimpse of upper class American lifestyles pre, during and maybe after World War I.

Monday, December 18, 2017


Vikings - A Concise History of the Vikings (2016) - Henry Freeman

long ship heroes
painted by history as blood-thirsty warriors

could they really be

long ship 

trail blazers

 Vikings: A Concise History of the VikingsVikings: A Concise History of the Vikings by Henry Freeman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A thirst to know more about those intrepid Vikings of legendary history led me to this book. Who were the Vikings beyond the brash invaders in long ships? Did they really hold people to ransom in the 8th to 11th centuries A.D.? The Viking altercations with the Frankish emperor Charlemagne are intriguing. That explains one reason for Viking assaults on monasteries. In early days Vikings traded in human beings... people were sold as merchandise...But what people and why? The book leaves the question hanging in space...The Vikings, at one stage, sacked and looted Paris...But then what? Often, this book makes amazing claims about the Vikings, but there is no evidence or source to substantiate the claims...So frustrating...Who would believe that Kiev Vikings became an elite military unit in the Byzantine Empire to protect the Emperor. So what active duty did they perform? Evidence? While this book only claims to be a concise history of the Vikings - intriguing as it may be - perhaps it is a little too concise for the history lover?

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Behind the Viking mask
A refreshing insight into the Viking impact on northern worlds. Beyond the axe-wielding, horned helmet raiders of popular, staged history, the book suggests that the Vikings are a group of people intent on active progress beyond home borders and maybe even valued sustainability. Unbelievable that the Viking groups from Norway, Denmark and Sweden had little solidarity with each other and were even prone to some in-fighting if the circumstance involved land or bounty. Further, most amazing must be the fact that Vikings became an elite army unit for the Byzantine Empire. This book traces Viking footprints well, but, as enlightening as many facts may be, there is still the one major question that seems to get little attention and exploration. When and why did the Vikings embark on a trail of invasion, plunder and settlement? What was the first spark?

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness (1899) - Joseph Conrad

Steaming blindly into the unknown

unknown jungles
unknown humanity
unknown heat
unknown pressures

but the greatest unknown
the greatest fear
the greatest horror

the shock

to meet

the unknown self

Heart of DarknessHeart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When cultural and social conventions slam up against the unknown in a past era of colonial drive and glory, some strange impressions emerge. Kurtz is the enigmatic adventurer in the heart of Africa who pounds the trail for the British ivory trade, but subconsciously, even unwillingly, finds the darkness in his soul. Marlow, the narrator, seeks the thrill of sailing away from 'sepulchral' London and, by chance, aligns with the intrepid, 'god-like' Kurtz. In the background, steamy African humanity seems to be scooped into a monochromatic pit of savagery, rather distasteful to 21st century norms. For some readers, this may be abhorrent. But times then were the times. This novel has become a mirror of late 19th century trends and attitudes. Accept the existence of those features, and the novel becomes a dark horror of a self-absorbed humanity. Kurtz and Marlow could almost be the slim hope that some see 'the truth'.

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In the Pits of Dark Humanity
Getting to know the raw heartbeat of the soul is not for the faint-hearted. Kurtz, in colonial Africa, is an intrepid adventurer seeking ivory treasures. By chance, he is thrust into a spiralling freefall, a reluctant confrontation with his own inner darkness. Marlow, the narrator, (the Henry Morton Stanley of Dr Livingstone history), seeks the elusive, god-like? enigma that is Kurtz. The Kurtz he finds is unnervingly like the man Marlow realises is the man he himself is subconsciously becoming. Set in a rich tapestry of steamy jungles, waters and shifty sheds of an Africa on a precipice, this novella introduces 'the horror' of greedy, blind civilisation bent on invasive self-destruction.
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