Hope comes in blue wonder
Flapping its tails of vigor,
Little Tiger wonders in silence
If he can touch the brilliance.
I often feel excluded from circles of literary people who seem to think less of what I have written. Be it self-conscious or counterintuitive perception, but my senses feel acutely from the stolid reaction or derisive comments on writing platforms. When my writing is derided or ignored, I take arms against the invisible keyboard scoundrels to guard the bastion of my creative world. Otherwise, I will remain a victim of ruthless bullying combined with barbarous ridicule, which I do not deserve, ever. I am only a human, so there’s no magnanimous pretext of “constructive criticism” because there’s no such.
There are new comments for my review of a particular book posted on Amazon. The acrid and derisive comments that my writing was incomprehensible pierced my heart with a great spear and put my entire body fixed to the wall. While I have been trying to write better, the comments only affirm a doubt about the purpose of writing. The common denominators of the words were as follows:
Though I always try not to associate people with their national characteristics, men who speak English as their mother tongue have a certain air of arrogance, young or old, and seem to delight in schadenfreude. What makes these men put their hands on keyboards to pillory my writing skills in public is astonishingly callous and vile. I am with the disappointment dipped in the anger of Timon of Athens uttering, “The unkindest beast is kinder than a man.” How rightly so.
People associate a fluency of language with a level of intellect, believing that thinking shapes language. Therefore, solecism in writing equals a lack of education, learning disability, or low intelligence. It is their ignorance of such a mode of thought because language is instinct, not a thinking product. It is said that the windows of learning other languages are typically closed at the age of 13. Given that fact, shall we regard someone who tries to exercise an adopted language by writing, however poorly, as a buffoonish dilettant pitifully trying to simulate the impossible?
I am more in sorrow than in anger as I am trying to compose my emotions’ agitated waves. That does not mean I beg for customary sympathy, empty consolation, or instant charity. I want to defy being put in a public pillory to endure underserving mockery, harassment, and ridicule like a poor maid masquerading as a refined lady of high society. Truth is truth to the end of reckoning, and it will reveal itself someday. You may not like my writing, but that doesn’t give you an ipso facto reason to belittle it.
The history of immigrants equals to the history of humankind. It has always been and will be part of the civilization of the world: Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the Trojans’ migration into modern-day Italy, the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, the Norman conquest of England, peoples of all continents landing on America, and many others still counting to this date. It is innately natural for man to move to a place for different reasons, whether they result from cohesion, or volition, or a little bit of both. Jersy Skolimowski’s “Moonlighting” (1982), a British film about a polish electrician named Nowak leading a team working illegally in Lonon, focuses on his daily moments of existential vertigo between the winds of the world and provisional needs of livelihood.
Nowak is an intelligent laborer who accepts the offer from a Polish government official to renovate his house in London with lucrative promise, plus a taste of glamourous capitalism. Yet at the first taste of cold London and cold Londoner that makes his presence miserably pathetic and casually ignorable, Nowak decides to survive in a game of hide-and-seek as best as he can. The work is his only painkiller that rids anxiety and worries off his chest, but the effect is only temporary and minimal. As Rome is a great city when you have money, so is London, and Nowak and his team live their provisional days in hiding and stalking under the suspicion of their not-so-gentlemanly and kindly English neighbors. They regard the Polish workers as no more different than poor foreigners unsuitable for their daily English landscapes. Nowak chooses to be a Hector of his own with his crew of non-speaking polish in a vertigo of existential quandy.
Setting in the early 1980s when Poland was going through her first labor pain of democracy with Lech Wałęsa leading Solidarity Movement, the film’s realistic portrayal of illegal workers’ dailiness is visually palatable. The narrative of Nowak transcends to a ballad of Man anxiously adhering to a sense of purpose that gives him a reason to live in a harsh land surrounded by strangers who don’t like them. It’s a film about how changes in the world affect an individual’s daily life based on a symbolic interactionist theory. The present and future of Nowak and his team cannot escape from the winds of changes crossing their faces, which change the compass of the wheel of fortune.
The film is a hidden gem, starring the veteran English actor Jeremy Irons, whose excellent performance of Nowak deserves special recognition from the Polish audience. Irons is so convincingly Polish in appearance, manners, and speech that the non-speaking performance of the other Polish actors as his team of laborers serves to make his presence more outstandingly Polish. Also, the director being Polish himself contributes to the genuineness of the story’s narrative, which guards against patronizingly officious outsider’s perspectives of the people he wants to tell about because it is also his story. For these reasons, Moonlighting is a bracing film that makes you think whether existentialism in which experience proceeds essence is right.
John Steinbeck was all man. He was a writer of muscles. I meant the powers of strong individuality that disagreed with grandstanding with the political in-vogue trends of his time with his writing as literature for an ideology of grand cultural context, not for the mind’s pleasurable satisfaction. In a word, Steinbeck appears to be in touch with the real world, with the characters realistic and stories palatable, not confined in the seclusion of a leisurely abstract world of the elite. The Amiable Fleas conveys all of the charms described above of Steinbeck as an attractive raconteur at his best: humorous, heartfelt, and honest in his tough cowboy appearance in a strange city filled with quaint aromas of the old civilization.
The Amiable Fleas is Steinbeck’s testimonial narrative of the truth found in life’s ordinariness; the meaning of life realized in the joy of small pleasure against provisional needs of instant fame and worldly prestige. It’s an innate folly of human nature trying to reason against the significance of Serenity, Courage, and Wisdom as if they are remotely associated with Intellect. As Steinbeck held against criticism about avoiding the political and social issues of his time, he tried to reason his own reason for writing about such simple truth of life.
The Amiable Fleas is the res ipsa loquiter of the value of small things that Steinbeck treasures, for it is what keeps the troublesome, pugnacious, bickering human tribe tamable and bearable with humor, which is a handmaid to hope and resilience. The amiable fleas represent the idyllic but oddly likable bunch of professionally intellectual people whose existence is a canvas of abstract painting that lacks a touch of realism. The poet, the architect, and the painter occupy their self-designated seats in the eponymous restaurants in Paris, doing nothing but contemplating about their artistic works in the selfishness of intellectual stasis. The excellent chef of the restaurant M. Amite embodies an artist whose ambition is the stir that his honest mind raises. The desire for fame is the infirmity of his admirably good, hearty nature. The star of the Michelin Guide is the apple of the discord, a symbol of outside influence that incites M. Amite’s ambition, not from his love of cooking to please his feline friend named Apollo. M. Amite is the image of an artist swayed by the great things of the world, even if it would cause him a loss of joyful dailiness.
Originally published in the historically renowned French newspaper Le Figaro on July 31, 1954, as the tenth weekly installment of “One American in Paris,” The Amiable Fleas was published in English for the first time July-November 2019 issue of Strand Magazine. The background of this charming and heartwarming short story was that Steinbeck wanted to be himself, not how the French media imagined him to be or wanted to create their version of him from the counterproductive interviews with the American writer. And so he wrote a series of short stories that only he could tell with his quintessentially American way of storytelling. Yet the result is beyond the territorial boundaries and cultural enclaves, for the narrative reaches the hearts of not only the hard-to-please sophisticated Parisian readers but also the universal readers of all ages. Steinbeck is undeniably American to the core. Yet his love of realism that gives a new viewpoint upon dailiness of life enables readers of the world to get a fresh, bright hold upon our problems. Given that perspective, everything is something, and everyone is someone.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If dogs are man’s best friends with their childlike artlessness and uninhibited affection, what are cats? Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green Gables, answered thus: “Cats are so nice and selfish.” Writers and Their Cats by Alison Nastasi is a delightful illustration of such a relationship between writers and their cats with peek-a-boo glimpses of the celebrity authors’ unknown personal aspects behind the public façade.
The fascination with the graceful demeanor and graceful capriciousness of cats is particularly intense among the volatile and imaginative writers as the muse of their lettered labyrinths. Edgar Allan Poe wished he could write as mysteriously good as his cat Catarina who liked to hover herself over Poe’s shoulders while he was writing. Mark Twain, whom I used to associate with something of a Dog Father, turns out to be a godfather of cats who rented cats to city dwellers during their holidays in the countryside. Twain also named his cats commensurate with his wicked sense of humor: Satan, Soapy Sal, Lazy, etc. Furthermore, Twain proclaimed that anyone who likes a cat is his friend. The imposing figure of rough and tough Ernest Hemingway may not match the delicate silhouettes of cats’ sophisticated society. Still, Papa Hemingway loved them with the tenderness he rarely showed even to his better halves.
The book also introduces readers to various writers of our digital era whose love of cats takes them to the world outside their comfort zones in selective solitude. Patricia Highsmith, a high-strung, highly opinionated, no-nonsense author of The Talented Mr. Ripley, reveals her Tate-a-Tate moments by greeting her cat, “We are going to have a great day today.” Marion James, who wrote A Brief History of Seven Killings, met Tom the Cat at a café in Brooklyn, New York, who, like the writer, enjoyed being outside among people because both of them thrived on the liveliness of the world around them as a creative force. Then Peeti Shency, the Indian novelist and artist, writes about the experience of sharing a terrific story about her trip to the Kedar-Gouri Temple dedicated to the eponymous goddess with a particular fondness of cats, thus elevating them to the divine status of the immortals. Shency resurrects the legends of holy cats in the temple to our digitalized reality of the world and connects them to our need for their presence for nature’s mysteriousness.
There are many other writers in the book whose love for their cats are touching. They all confess to their odes to cats that only cats can understand what they are and who they are. Whether or not cats have a supernatural sense of reading people’s minds, I have no intelligence. Still, I do know that a cat is good at observing your movement and facial expression from my observation of Toro, a 12-week old male brown tabby kitten, who likes to watch me what I am doing and where I am going. A cat is a curiously interesting beast, and it is this semblance of intelligence that makes a cat so attractive to the imaginative, high-strung writers. If you have a cat at home and a writer at heart, this book will present you with a delightful treat to your mind, packed full of beautiful pictures of writers and their cats not in grim portraiture but natural snapshots. Readers may tempt to show the writers’ photos with their cats to your cats.