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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Posted in book review, Miscellany

A travesty of some things

I’m thrilled to read good stuff- I mean a real good one!

Oscar Wilde, the wonderfully strange writer with a keen eye on the panoply of human behaviors, knew about voyeuristic streaks on human nature when he said thus: “One must keep a diary when traveling anywhere by train or coach to read something sensational.” Maybe that’s why people like to read the lives of others. Maybe that’s why the memoir, which I regard very much as a diary written backward in time, always bestride the bestselling list of nonfiction of The New York Times Book Review, which has become a formidably profitable genre of American literature. Admittedly, it’s awe-inspiring to read a success story of one whose hardscrabble background is a fortiori certifiable and renders a kind of feel-good sentiment with something of a vicarious experience to the reader sharing similar constraints of life in one way or another, or it may seem so. Frankly, any of the best-selling memoirs can hardly be less a modern version of Cinderella story than it seems to me, which is nothing but a proud exhibition of achievements by a select few (“The Chosen”) in the melee.

I might be cruel, only to be real. I am all the more respectful of anyone who has risen above biological/social inhibitions in his/her own fashion. But this topic of Triumph of Will over difficulties has become a literary fad, as though anyone who had rough and tough times in growing up somewhere in the backwater of downtrodden south or mid-western regions were suddenly in a zealous Olympic competition of writing the most heart-wrenching personal story on one cardinal condition: that the writer must have a very good career that provisions him/her with a nice place to live and loving, understanding significant other into the bargain. That is, unless a would-be writer of memoir is well-established in society, it’s not worth the writing of the story because after all, who’s gonna read your story if you still live among the melee with some ordinary, if not nondescript, job with meager income to barely get by despite your noble resilient spirit and evergreen hope to better yourself?

It’s all derivative of one model!

For example, the October 7, 2018 issue of The New York Times Review carries an elegant book review of “Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt With Family Addiction”, a newest memoir of a certain popular illustrator-writer of children’s books named Jarrett Krosoczka, hailed as another survivor of economic and social determinism. The review presents the book as a courageous live-to-tell account of his childhood shadowed by his mother’s drug addiction and of his triumphant accomplishment as a successful artist who can presumably inspire many kids unfortunately mired in disadvantaged surroundings through no faults of their own. The spirit is commendable, but the gist is visceral. According to the elegant summary of the book, Krosoczka was better off than many other kids in his station because he had lumpish but loving grandparents who took care of him and encouraged his artistic inclinations, plus a cast of odd but good characters that complemented the other void of affectionate attention needed for a child. Back in our real nonfiction contemporary life, how many kids are fortunate to be endowed with the luck he had, and what if a kid struggling to escape from the plight with his intelligence and industry turned out to be just an ordinary adult still laboring to make the ends meet, while still secretly entertaining the thought of becoming somebody in his solitude? Would you think that his life is a failure? The memoir of this kind is more of a resume of individual experiences and achievements that, in a twist of irony, provokes a sort of catharsis in the reader as if he were watching a television drama that would made him feel like living in a holistic virtual reality.

In all fairness of my acerbic and arbitrary opinion on the review of the aforesaid memoir, it goes against the grain not to point out other popular memoirs perching on the best-selling list: Educated by Tara Westover is about her story of how she got away from her bohemian parents to immerse herself in scholarship; Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance, another one by a Yale Law School Graduate recounting the struggles of the white working class struggles through the story of his own impoverished childhood; Heartland by Sarah Smarsh, a daughter of a poor wheat farmer in Kansas telling her poverty-stricken childhood into adolescence and the hard lives of the working class in the Mid-West; and finally, Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, revealing her errant childhood and her struggle to be away from the rabble that led her to a gainful literary success. And I suspect that there will be more memoirs to be published in future like new soppy television movies in production.

Am I being too acerbic? But that is how I feel.

As someone who regards Courage, Endeavor, and Resilience as great American drama in three acts, I am all for reading about someone who would continue his/her secret aspiration, while keeping the foot firmly grounded in reality, such as Laura Ingalles Wilder, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Jane Austen, and Charlotte Bronte, all of whom continued to tend their ordinary daily duties and responsibilities even after their literary success. To say it’s an anachronistic and antediluvian mode of thinking in the 21st century is to depreciate their literary geniuses and modus vivendi peculiar to the ethos of their times. However, the love of the writing must not corrupt into the worship of the hero. It’s the sense of the writer’s spirit that addresses the spirit of the reader, not the pageantry accolades of material successes that seem to be the bedrock of the memoir riding on the crest of popularity of rags-to-riches telltale revelations. We might live in an Orwellian world of reality prioritizing the ostentatious display of wealth or power, but we shall not devalue the truthfulness and value of ordinary life where the meaning of life depends upon whether or not we fulfill the demands placed upon our daily tasks however insignificant or trifle they may seem. For this reason, I don’t subscribe to the popularity of the best-selling Cinderella memoirs in which the sacredness of ordinariness in combination with the peculiar magic of literature is conspicuous by its absence.

Posted in book review

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass CastleThe Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dickensian world of poverty is so abominably tenebrous that we tend to think of it simply as an anachronistic, if not antediluvian, work of fiction apropos of a bygone Victorian era, without translating its elemental essence of nobleness of human spirit that arises from predicaments into our own zeitgeist. The fictitious characters of Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, and Pip are the embodiment of such resilience, phoenix-like spirits enduring sordid conditions that life could impose upon us to the extent possible. Spinoza, the Dutch thinker and watchmaker, once said that it is Amor fati, love of fate, by which man’s inner strength could raise him above his outward fate. In fact, Nietzsche centuries after corroborated by saying: “That which does not kill me only makes me stronger.” Given the above axioms, what if someone in our contemporary time a fortiori lives to tell such victory of human spirit? That was the reason that I chose The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. All of the aforesaid noble triumph of human spirit over existential horrors of life is substantively and stoically recorded in this compelling living memoir with all her spirit, with all her intelligence, and with all her heart.

The story starts as Walls invites us to board her memory train and travel back in times until we return to where we depart along the long and winding railroads of her windy but beloved past. We meet her charismatic, intelligent father whose engineering feats are passed in smolder by his ever independent, anti-establishment, recalcitrant spirit a fortiori emboldened by a spirit of Dionysian portion. The artistically inclined mother is all liberality: She is a devout Catholic – although far from being sanctimonious – and has a heart of gold, save a practical sense of the world. Then there are one brother and two sisters, all of whom are highly intelligent and well-behaved thanks to the moral upbringing by their parents. The parents do not have the gumption to support their children, let alone themselves in terms of economic security, which was the cause of the existential ills of the family, pushing Walls into a position of  a de facto breadwinner of the family.

What is most profoundly august about Walls through living amid the straits of constant economic insecurity, frequent threats of family separation by social agencies, and dangers of physical harassments was her strong sense of responsibility for her life and for her family that enabled her to endure the existential predicaments. Many people mired in such situations might have develop disputatious streaks of rebellion against everything ascribed to them. However, Walls and her siblings took different attitudinal values to their existential dilemmas: they held on to a sense of purpose and a tenacious grasp on togetherness nurtured by their yearning to achieve a higher aim in life. In fact, such attitude toward life corresponds to one of the tenets of Logotheraphy: in order to find a meaning of life however trivial or nihilistic it many seem, taking a different, constructive stance on what is ascribed helps us to rise above biological, social, and cultural inhibitions during a difficult times because we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to. Which also brings us back to Spinoza’s Amor fati axiom: a different approach to our suffering is sublimated into supremeaning of life in travails by believing in its meaning to every situation with will to live a meaningful life, which then ceases to be a suffering itself.

The literary merit of this memoir lies in its absence of unbridled namby-pamby outpourings of emotions in the narrative with a certain air of stoicism. Ironically, Walls’s frank, touchy-willy, matter-of-fact manner of discoursing her story belies her overwhelmingly heartrending heartaches, disappointments, and dismay smothered under factual descriptions of her past that renders the authority of truth and the power of reality without hindrance of prohibitive emotions that often results in fabrication. In her literary confession, Wall achieves catharsis by putting what was in her mind on pages after pages, pushing her pen through in expense of her will to come to terms with her parents, let alone herself, producing forgiveness of her parents’ wrongdoings and acceptance of their frailties in a package of love and tenderness.

All in all, Walls’ s message to her reader is clear: you can’t choose your fate, such as a family, but you can choose what to make out of what you are given. In one way or another, the story itself chimes the bells of emotions and thoughts of many of us: the problems and issues that the Walls had and the ones we have or had are not oranges and apples through our voyages of life. Walls shows us that notwithstanding all the vicissitudes of life, self-reliance, resilience, and determination helps us to sail through with cheerfulness and humor as handmaids to courage. This honest-to-goodness tale of a woman rising above the planes of her inhibitions speaks straightly to our hearts. This book is a one-of-kind testament to its veracity and quality that upon reading this book, you will feel as if you knew Walls telling a story with a sense of elemental kinship which you can relate to. Moreover, this bona fide memori gives us a sense of relief that no family is perfectly blissful, which resonates with Tolstoy’s view of families as inscribed on the first page of Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”


Posted in book review

Before I go by Catherine Cookson

Before I GoBefore I Go by Catherine Cookson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my first encounter with Mrs. Cookson in her writing. What a world of writing she immersed herself in out of the melee! The book is one of her post mortem work discovered by her estate with the other unpublished novel, and I can see Mrs. Cookson must have intended to have this memoir published after she’s long gone because of the self-evident title of “Before I go”. This book is filled with her innermost feelings towards her family – her mother whom she called “Our Kate” and her dearest husband Tom and the people who entered her life, such as Nan Smith, the various doctors who attended to her lifelong health frailty, and her faith as a doubting Catholic. As an illegitimate child of an unwed mother from a poverty-stricken family, Mrs. Cookson however did not yield herself to the the bare necessities of life as it demanded.

Mrs. Cookson was a true example of a triumph of will and hope over experience and condition. Working as a manageress in a laundry, the author did not resign herself to the complacency of her social class. Instead, she raised herself above the hubbub of life and arrived as a fine writer who wrote about people whom the readers could relate to based upon her experiences. Also, her Catholic faith, which she had been fighting with reason to no avail, was the bedrock of her character and shaped the way she looked at the world around her. For it was her faith to which she held on in times of trouble and from which her compassion, pity, and forgiveness sprang.

What I like about Mrs. Cookson is her feistiness and pride which distinguished her from her peers and people of similar social origins. But this does not mean that she became haughty and untouchable with her literary success; on the contrary, Mrs. Cookson still retained her charitable nature although she often lamented about it because of people’s appropriation of her compassion and pity gratuitously.

The reader will be able to read the mind and heart of this fine and very human writer. It’s not about her lifelong health problems of nose-bleeding, 8 miscarriages, and a peripheral vision by advanced age; this memoir is about Mrs. Cookson’s resilient spirit that enabled her to rise above the planes of biological hindrance and societal prejudices.