Posted in book review

‘My Girl, Fiona: A Collection of Essays’ by Denise Gwen

My Girl, Fiona: A Collection of Essays by Denise Gwen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Sometimes we see ourselves in animals – here I mean the mammals, especially — and relate our mental images to them, whether they are pets living under the same roofs or wild ones in nature or zoos. That is why animals are apropos mediums to project our mirror images into their figures without exposing our naked selves outright. And that is what Denise Gwen does in her elegantly poignant collection of essays My Girl, Fiona.

Fiona is a hippopotamus the author adopted emotionally from her struggling birth into the world at Cincinnati Zoo. Abandoned by her enormous mother, the vulnerable yet adorable baby Fiona chimed the emotional bell of the author on the octaves of her family. Fiona, the name of Gaelic origin, provokes the image of a vivacious fairy whose feistiness and resilience elements make her all the more mysterious and, not to mention, beautiful. But the beauty is uncommon and only kind, which strikes Edgar Allan Poe’s wise dictum that “There is no exquisite beauty without strangeness in proportions.” Then the adorable hippo Fiona becomes a kaleidoscope of images of women, representing the Exquisite Beauty Tribe. It consists of her youngest sister, whose name is also Fiona, her feisty Welsh late mother, and herself in midlife crisis blotted with sentimental reminiscences. Added to this tribe is Shrek’s wife is Princess Fiona. Her transformation from conventional slender beauty to a green-colored ogre-like her beloved hubby is a guest of honor in the Fiona Parthenon. One way or another, they all share the beauty marks of uniqueness, confidence, and self-esteem as the author brings them into life in the alchemy of words, brewing the images into a fascinating pastiche of the Fair Fiona.

Animal stories charged with human emotions may well turn to the art of anthropomorphism in which animals speak like us with accents varied from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. But the author nuances the overtly human sentimentality in her narratives lest they should become schmaltz through Fiona, the lovely hippo. Also, the way she narrates with an elegantly apt choice of words and poignantly witty expressions is reminiscent of the British writing style I am familiar with. In fact, before finishing the book, I suspected her of being British for the reasons mentioned above. Consequently, I wasn’t miles away from the speculation because her mother was a proud Welsh who remained Welsh in her spirit and language during her lifetime. My Girl, Fiona is a thoughtful and heartful memoir disguised as short fiction apart from egotistical meanderings, which many celebrities nowadays indulge in stories that lack universal empathy. It is also a compact book you can read without leaps of attention and boredom in your spare time.



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Posted in book review

‘I Belong Here’, by Anita Sethi – Book Review

To tell a story within you is an expression of yourself, an affirmation of your identity, in an expanse of will wielded by the spirit of freedom. Storytelling is, in fact, a way of logotherapy that helps you find meaning in life from your daily tasks to your traumatic experiences by sublimating the pains of the heart to the blessings of the spirit, in the realization of Amore Feti. In this book, Anita Sethi shoehorns her experience of racism in England into a rivetingly ingenious travel memoir in the spectacle of a beautiful natural landscape where she belongs.

Her narrative has a lyrical quality with a poet’s rhythm that reminds me of a Portuguese Fado song. Her words sing her story of an uneasy love relationship with her own country into a continuous fugue of love, betrayal, loneliness, and friendship vested with her experiences with people and nature. It is at once dolorous and enchanting as if to listen to a mysteriously elusive melody hummed by a ghost of a sad maiden who died in brokenheartedness. Yet, this doesn’t mean Sethi is a ghost damsel in distress bemoaning her betrayed love. She is a warrior who chose the pen to vindicate her attacker and other minor offenders of her South Asian ethnicity as a way to overcome her fear and anxiousness, arising from her ashes like Nietzsche’s noble phoenix.

Sethi’s narrative then becomes a eulogy to the natural landscape of Great Britain; she finds an elbow room, a niche, her library of wonder. As Shakespeare pointed out, nature is exempt from public haunt, finds good in everything. It is a grand luxurious spa free of charge to all, although that is not always tainted by the malice of incivility on the part of humans. However, Sethi, in her story, asserts that no one can take away her right to belong in the beauty of nature and the country she regards as a home and proclaims her self-identity by telling her personal story incorporating the words into the images of British mountains and forests, exempting her from a malady of social ills and elevating her to the citizens of the Universe.

The book is an excellent bedtime fellow when you want something thoughtful but not burdened with elements associated with scholarly apparatuses. The narrative is flowing melodiously, and the author’s spirit is within the texts, full of emotions but nuanced in her infatuation with the beauty of British landscapes that provide her with holistic healing power. They say you don’t protect what you don’t care about, and you don’t care what you have not experienced. To appreciate the value of this book doesn’t mean you have to be of a particular ethnicity, gender, or race. As long as you have taste and judgment universal in all humans, especially with a strong sense of empathy and a lover of nature, you will find her story alluringly gripping and feel her pains and loves as if they were your own.

Posted in Miscellany

Psychology of a cat

Toro after a visit to the vet in Little Tokyo

When my eleven-months old cat Toro started drooling in white foams last Wednesday evening after swallowing a tiny flying insect in my bedroom, I was in a panic. I called nearby emergencies, describing the state Toro was in, but they told me his symptoms were not regarded as critical. Instead, they told me to monitor him, so I did. He stopped drooling the next day and drank a lot of water. Nevertheless, my concern was still growing, doubled with regret that Toro should have met an owner in a vast, spacious home with that which would make him happy. The pang of grief punctuated my already broken heart, and I was distraught.

“I am not feeling very well.”

Luckily, a vet to whom I had previously taken Toro for his difficulty in excreting in Little Tokyo said she could see Toro on Saturday morning. The waiting period until the appointment was an ordeal by the torture of the heart. My spirit was sunk in a sea of sadness, blaming myself for not providing Toro the optimum environment to thrive in his best feline nature. The bedroom is so tiny that it is more of a den, and the living room where my elderly infirm mother spends most of the day intermittently is off-limit to Toro by keeping him alone during the day when I am working. My evening playing with him might probably bore him to death because my lack of creativity fails to invent more stimulating kinds of play that will perk up his energy. I cannot help but think that I am becoming a bane of Toro’s existence, the cause of his unhappiness.

Pre-idopathic cytitis diagnosis time when Toro liked me

To pour lead on my open wound in the heart, when I finally took Toro to the vet on Saturday, she diagnosed him with idiopathic cystitis. She showed me a scanned copy of Toro’s mildly swollen bladders with information on the illness caused by stress. That’s it. The diagnosis realized my imagination and shattered a slim hope of something other than STRESS. I see all the cares I had given to Toro as best as I could beyond my measure by taking him to vets and telling him how much I loved him as much as I could dissipate into the elusive dreams of my little happiness with Toro. My happy moments with Toro vanished into yesterdays, bidding farewells to tomorrows.

“More exciting play!”

It’s been a week since the diagnosis, and now Toro has changed. Toro now hides under the bed, doesn’t come up to my bed, and avoids me when I am home. Besides, he doesn’t eat as much as he used to, about which the vet told me to be patient because that could be the effect of changing his prescriptive diet from gastrointestinal to urinary care. What is strange about his sudden change of behaviors is that he was never like this from his previous visits to vets. Come what may, Toro seems to be unhappy, and I am very downtrodden for his changed behavior. He was the only one who showed me his affection.

Toro in his whimsical mood for playing

I still remember his adorable, curious big eyes peeping out of an opening from a box carrier when I brought him from Ventura Animal Shelter last August at the age of nine weeks. Purring and kneading are long gone. My reason suggests that re-homing Toro is the best I can do for his happiness, yet my heart tells me not to listen to it and look for another place for a better living environment. Nevertheless, I yield to my heart’s voice and want to believe that there is still hope for us to be happy in a better living condition. I hope to see mirth wonton around us and happiness sparkle before our very eyes soon.

Posted in Miscellany

A perfect cat owner?: confession of a novice

I remember watching the cat guru Jackson Galaxy’s post on YouTube about a prison where a group of inmates is assigned each cat for mental and a behavioral correctional program. The inmates seemed calm and content just as their foster feline friends reflected and talked of the amazing effects on their hearts hardened by the world never kind to them. The images of a condemned man in a cell and a homeless cat from a shelter became a beautiful impressionist painting with an air of serenity wrapped up in the soft sweet twilight colored by the warm hues of pleasantness that filled the canvass and stayed in the heart of the beholder – forever. The loneliness cut in halves transformed into togetherness, and there was nothing else but the mutual need for love and care. With the picturesque imagery engraved in my heart’s shrine, I cannot help but question the generic prerequisites for being an ideal cat owner indoctrinated by those professing to know things about pets. The doctrines of a perfect cat owner are as follows: you have to live in a space wide enough for her to exercise her natural hunting instinct, to have another cat to prevent anxiety, aggression, and loneliness, and most of all, to be a near-perfect human full of love and understanding blessed with material means to satisfy the need of a cat to the extent possible. The protocols remind me of eugenics elements by which only the best males and females can produce offspring desirable for humankind. Only the superhuman race can fall in love, beget children, and raise them to be perfect in physical and mental attributes to continue the Superhumanity. On the same token, being an ideal cat owner is to be an ideal person who deserves love from nature because of his ideally perfect being—quite the Nietzschean idea of Superhumanity. 

An ideal cat owner’s doctrines align against the condemned man’s images and the homeless cat in a cell. Then I also look at my 4-month old tabby cat Toro, whom I adopted from a shelter three months ago. Is he unhappy with me in this tiny apartment room? Is it because of boredom and separation anxiety doubled with a significant change of environment from pastoral life to city life that has driven him to a sudden pulsing and biting my hands and feet? Does he hate me because I leave him at home all day long with a mother who hates him when I go to work? Does he want to leave me and be adopted to a loving, perfect new owner because of my imperfection? Am I less qualified than the inmate to have a cat altogether? The thoughts smothered under the ineffective veil of forced positivism have reached the point where they can no more bear the suffocation and begun to erupt the lavas in the fiery magnitude.


As a first-time pet owner, I like to think that it is not a coincidence but Providence that Toro has come to my life because he was the only kitten who came to me and my brother bunting his little flurry head against our hands through the cold metals of the cage in the shelter. Toro and I are much alike in many aspects: leisured time in seclusion, uncompromising individuality, insatiable curiosity, innate sensitivity, and unfailing feistiness. We also instinctively know each other’s mood because when I am dejected, Toro studies my facial movements and comes nearer to me with those adorable eyes filled with liquid warmth. Then I look at the cute little Toro before me and think that genuine love and care transcends the high walls of a grim prison and eclipses the roof of a perfect happy house. There is a home sweet home for me and Toro in my tiny apartment.

Posted in book review

‘Coal Black Mornings’, by Brett Anderson – review

Coal Black MorningsCoal Black Mornings by Brett Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Albert Einstein once said, “There comes a point in your life when you need to stop reading other people’s books and write your own.” That said, the story of Brett Anderson, the founder and lead singer of English rock band Suede from London, has a polyphony of vicissitudes woven by multiple strands of existential life experience and innate artistic sensibilities which seems to give him a status fused with the wisdom of an Orwellian thinker and the suaveness of a modern day troubadour in a stylishly insouciant way. Now, on his second calling as a writer, Anderson in Coal Black Mornings tells a story of his family and himself without “the usual coke and gold discs” in such a way that it strikes the hearts of the ordinary and underlings alike who feel a burden of existential needs on their shoulders that smother their creative spirits and ambitions.

Anderson traces the long and winding road that led him from a childhood as a sentimental boy from a poor but culturally sophisticated family. A poverty of material comforts was reconciled with a wealth of artistic sensibilities and intellectual proclivity inherited from his eccentric taxi-driving father whose saint was Franz Liest and his quiet and beautiful painter mother who used to make clothes for him and his elder sister. He evokes the grim, bleak, and dreary scenes of very real urban poverty in which a lack of money can make you feel debagged and insignificant, but he does not hold grudge against the discomfort of such poverty because it became a part of his inspiration for his music that empathizes with the feelings of others in distress. Anderson charts the wandering romance of loneliness and creativity in an existential reality where his wings of artistic aspiration were often clipped by chains of subsistence. It’s a literary catalog of his ongoing journey of life, a personal treaty on the depth and breadth of his life so far, which the author wants to dedicate to his son who will continue a saga of his beloved family.

This is a heartfelt, sincere memoir of an artist who tells it all about himself in hope of chiming the bells of emotions of readers whose life stories share the same elements of existential life when they collide with ideals and dreams that are universal in kindred spirits all around the world. Coal Black Mornings is a literary kaleidoscope of one man’s vicissitudes of life, many of which illuminate the glory of being beautifully misfit in materialistic society. Anderson said that this book was primarily written for his son and that any form of public accolade would be a bonus to him. He was right because the book told me that I wasn’t alone and that I am not alone by feeling misfit. Here we come, the beautiful ones.

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