Suspended in what Banana Yoshimoto calls the ‘cosmic darkness’.
Humans cannot be let free to roam. We cannot be untethered. The image I have in mind is that of an astronaut drifting in space. Free, by all means, of all bonds. But she is left alone to wonder, to gaze upon the cosmos, to reach the ends of time and space, and ultimately to surrender.
That is how I feel now: adrift in loneliness, unbound by responsibilities or impositions. I stare into space, conjure a bit of it wherever I go. It’s deep and dark, like the bottom of the ocean, where I’m walking. I wish there was a lamp in my hand, one of the old ones fueled by oil. Something heavy to weigh me down and help me feel the comforting Earth beneath my feet. To bring me back.
Who knew there was a balance in this too? That too much freedom is a curse, and we were all meant to belong somewhere.
Cut off a kite string and it is lost, forever. Pull it too tight and it never fulfills its purpose. To fly, while being planted in the ground. To be a tree, rooted solidly in place, but with flowers that dance with the breeze.
Note: A few years back, someone on this blog kindly shared some book/author recommendations. Among them was Banana Yoshimoto, who I started reading just a few days ago. “Kitchen” was the exact book I needed at the time to make sense of myself. Totally recommend it.
It started with a frantic search for Beauty, something I was looking for like a missing gold earring. I couldn’t find it where I was: somewhere amidst smog-stained skyscrapers and the confines of open offices. To no avail I turned myself inside out. To no avail, I looked out the window, soaked in the morning dew and afternoon sun. It was as though Life was consumed by endless shades of grey. Like I had swapped my rose-coloured glasses for smoke-tinted shades.
Beauty would not come my way: it refused to sprout from the cracks in the concrete, to touch me even through broken streams of sunlight. Spurned by the world, I turned inwards, chasing the ball of light flitting about my consciousness. But there was something off about it, too. It was oddly calm, unmoving as though tranquilised. Then, uncharacteristically, I turned to others. I made the first step then the second and the third. And let me just say: people are beautiful but I wouldn’t go looking for Beauty with a capital ‘B’ in them.
And then finally, colour appeared to me in the lazy, drawled-out sentences of a yellowed library book that hadn’t been borrowed in 25 years. It is there, in creamy pages infused with a nostalgic scent that I finally felt the sun dappled on my face. I awoke to the sweet smell of pressed camellias and the lone sound of a lovesick violin… I found beauty in someone else’s eyes, I felt warmth through some other skin.
It was such a lazy novel to read: not much happened but the passage of time. The plot mainly stayed in place, only ever swaying slightly to the left or right, like a person who is trying not to fall asleep even as their head lolls about this and that way. I did fall asleep to it so many times though, rocked by visions of summers eternal and love enduring. These words left on my eyelids daydreams the way a pressed flower leaves its feathery marks on the pages of an old book. It was slow too, unhurried like a riverboat trip through time. My heart slowed to a gentle, rhythmic beat, joining birdsong and the rustle of leaves in their naturalness.
Ah, all these unfathomably rich sentences, these pages overflowing with wonder and an underlying magic — these Spanish names, the gorgeous sound of the R’s I’ve been learning to pronounce. Fermina Daza, Juvenal Urbino de la Calle, Florentino Ariza. Oh and the stretched-out sonorities: San Juan de la Ciénaga, Escolástica.
Lazy, drawled out like a long summer afternoon on the terrace, body too heavy to move significantly, uninhibited, tired, forming slurred words, limbs far too lax to hold any tension…
” One last time, like a lover at the train station, I will bury my nose in the heart of the pages, deeply inhale the smell of books : ink and paper mixed with the smell of slow adventures and home.”
I am a bad writer because I do not read. Not enough anyway; not nearly enough.
I remember once during university, a girl from the same journalism course interviewed a writer, a model/photographer who was, by all means, not a bad person at all. He had this sort of effortless confidence about him, and was a quite decent photographer, too. He was popular and not unkind, from what I could tell. And so, as he was working towards getting a book published, he declared, with all the confidence of a well-loved model/photographer who would have a following no matter what, that he did not read.
“I’m lazy,” he said “but that’s not why I don’t read. There are people who find an escape in books, I want to create those escape routes.”
As I look back at my own experiences reading books, I have to say I can’t quite agree with that. I do not want to. You can imagine, in a lecture room full of journalism students (even those who specialised in the more technical aspects like filming, or video-editing) that this did not go down very well. Our professor was quite scandalised. If he’d had a pearl necklace, I can tell you he would have clutched it with one hand, briskly waving a pocket fan with the other, thoroughly vexed.
But I feel like if you want to create a refuge, you must know what it means to be in one, first. To crave it, to stumble and falter through life looking for that warm orange glow without really knowing that you are, and to finally find it, not even understanding how wonderful it is that you have. Even if it is temporary, even if the book ends. It is important to feel that for one moment, you have been found. Seen, for what you truly are.
That’s also why I want to read. So that I can plunge into books that feel like pieces of myself scattered in someone else’s brain. To be able to read sentences once, twice, ten times over, and still feel like I am being stabbed by the words, so shocking, so resonating with some kind of inner truth they are. Because I want to glide down heaps of pages in the blink of an eye, carried by the smooth writing, the intrinsic flow of ideas, the way they unravel and bloom and die.
Like I’ve done numerous (not yet countless) times before, I want to have long, silent conversations with books, with the stories they tell. I want to feel wounded as a figment of someone’s imagination is struck by the same fate as I. And afterwards, I will draw patterns on the cover, tracing over the embossed lettering with the very tips of my fingers. One last time, like a lover at the train station, I will bury my nose in the heart of the pages, deeply inhale the smell of books : ink and paper mixed with the smell of slow adventures and home. In the aftermath, I will stare at the ceiling, feeling oh-so-full and yet also cut short, and I will talk to long-dead authors in my head. “Your ideas elevate mine.” I will say.
I am not a pure original; I doubt anyone is. At times, I will find pieces of something interspersed in someone else’s words, and I will feel the strongest pull towards it— and I will decide that that part is “me”.
I have not come from myself, after all. I am a jagged piece of this universe and so I find myself in all the probable and improbable places it has to offer. I am scattered, constantly reinventing myself and being reinvented by the world(s) I find myself in.
“Looking back, it is so much more. Life happens twice, I believe. Once in the moment, and again in retrospect.”
Memories of my teenage years have turned into wispy little clouds. Something you could blow apart with your breath and yet something that still occupies space. I remember the greater themes, the main emotions, but the little details always escape me, out through a mousehole in my brain. I’ve always been a ‘bigger picture’ kind of person, for better or worse.
And in the ‘bigger picture’ versus ‘detail-oriented’ debate, I’ve always sided with my view of things. Though always secretly wishing that I could have both.
But how lucky am I, that I have time capsules buried around this earth. That memories are not just floating bits of data, that they are connected to scents and places, times and people.
I pushed open the doors to the library, and deeply inhaled the scent of books and summers past. It smelled of rainy Saturdays spent cooped up in a hushed library, of too-warm afternoons spent falling asleep, nose deep between the pages of an open tome. It smelled of extended lunch breaks spent reciting verse in the small school library.
It is home, this room filled with books.
It is lacking, yes. It lost its one copy of ‘The Little Prince’ and the floorboards are a little wonky.
But it is home.
It has been for a long time, now.
I’ve been borrowing books here ever since I was 12. Oh, back then, I was painfully shy and my nascent social anxiety did not make it very easy to be out in a cramped room with strangers. But I remember now, that first day. Even with all my fears lodged in my throat, I had been able to breathe in deeply the scent of inked pages, and then out.
As someone who did not fit anywhere else, who was still searching for some place to belong in, this was home.
My first home away from home. The kind of home you have to find when you grow up and your worlds, your circles expand. When you have to exist in places other than school and ‘home’. When you have to find yourself.
But you don’t really notice when you do it, when you spend every Saturday at the city library. You don’t notice how it shapes you or your life, how it later turns into an elaborate explanation of why you are who you are now. You do not realise how later on, it will turn into ‘that summer when I was 14 and used to go to the library every week’. Looking back, it is so much more. Life happens twice, I believe. Once in the moment, and again in retrospect.
But that library was my first safe-place. My little treasure-box, my solitary island. A place where I had long, silent conversations with characters from other universes, where I befriended authors I would never meet.
To think I forgot all of those feelings at one moment in time, that I lived my life not remembering seems ludicrous. But how lucky am I that I have time capsules buried around the city. That memories are not just floating bits of data, easily lost to Time.
So, during the storm, Mrs Q’s desktop (an old, ancient steam-run machine) was destroyed not by flames, not by a short-circuit either. No, this mighty beast would not fall to such weak adversaries. No, it was the water that dripped from the ceiling that did it. And it was not even a waterfall, by any means. Not even a stream’s worth of water. Just… annoying little droplets. A mighty beast, indeed. May it rest in peace.
So now, because good things only happen to me, Mrs Q is sharing my desk and my (not actually mine) computer. Now, I do not dislike Mrs Q. She has a very calm energy about her that I appreciate. But I have to admit I dislike her elbows. Especially when they’re accidentally befriending my stomach or upper arms. On another note though, believe it or not, today was actually *gasp* busy.
I mean, I only stared off into space for about 10 minutes every hour. That’s how serious it was. The whole office had broken out of a lethargic spell, instead moving around in a frenzy, like hens after a fox has stolen their eggs. Faxes were coming in every 20 minutes, mails needed to be sent, people had to reached.
But as someone who has been a university student, this was nothing. Nothing. But everyone in the office was breathless and panicking. Mrs. Hautemante only had time for one home call today. And the secretary Mrs Emile was…well, she was chill. She was just sipping her tea, overlooking the whole thing, like Caesar watching gladiators fight it out. And oh, did Mrs H. just draw blood from Mrs Q.? Who would have thought? Dreadful, dreadful business, office work…
But it is in the midst of all this ‘chaos’ that everyone suddenly remembers that: “Hey… you know…we have an intern? 😏😈”
I actually worked today. And even though it mostly consisted of Word documents and Excel sheets (the horror), it was fun, in a way. To work as a team.
And oh, lunch was all sorts of ethereal.
You see, I’ve been reading when I can. Because I surmise that it is not an activity they can really call you out for, like: “Hey, you young person there! You future of our nation, put that book down!”. And boy, the book I have been reading. After the Holy Trinity of Dystopias (Namely, “Brave New World”, “1984” and “Fahrenheit 451”) it somehow fit in so well. It was my first time reading Terry Pratchett and I have zero regrets. The book I read was the wackiest, cleverest, funniest and most absurd thing in existence. Something to help escape from the overwhelming normalcy of the office and to shake off the scent of Excel sheets clinging to my skin. And I did it surrounded by trees and greenery, somewhere I could hear the rustling contact of wind and leaves, where the sunlight danced in spots of warmth over cream paper.
I mean, just…just take a look. Also, Spoiler Alert for “Going Postal” by Terry Pratchett!
And after that kind of lunch —alone, reading a book beneath a tree, with just a trace of wind and spots of sunlight— who could really remember what happened next?
These afternoons, as the sun warms my desk in streaks of golden light, as the end of the working day is near, and yet so far away, when I get to take a break from being an anonymous intern, I keep remembering the days when I was young and tragically beautiful.
When I was there but never quite so, all swept up in my own world, walled off by all the books I would read. Back in those days when the character from my book was the perfect representation of the romantic hero, and that being the case, so was I. He was beautiful with sad eyes. With longings only he could understand and dreams only he could reach. And all the others, wary and awed, watched his life unravel, secretly wishing they were in on that marvelous secret that was his world.
He sat in quiet, blooming gardens or by a stream, behind the school yard or in places no one would ever look for him in. The sunlight falling through the leaves like freckles on his face, the wind softly blowing the overlong hair back and forth across a cold, pensive face. And often, I would be somewhere under the shade of an ancient tree, a book or journal tucked safely under my arm, utterly detached from this Earth though being so close to its roots. I read about a shy young boy, yet to be a man and the way he only started living in the summer of his 15th year.
I remember the afternoons that were golden and too warm, when we spoke together of hidden castles and a love that vanished without a trace of having ever been. I remember the heaviness in our stomachs as we breathed in the scent of death that now covered young, innocent love. As our eyes clouded with grief and something gripped at our ribs, wanting to pry them open. I remember closing my eyes and hoping the words would change—that, somehow, love would grow and so would life. But no tears can rewrite a story, even as they spill on the ink and distort the writing.
Before the tears, I remember falling asleep to the soft, droning voice that read the freshness of the woods, and the clearness of blue eyes and a fantasy that happened, hidden somewhere between cities that had not yet been built. I slowly faded out of consciousness, reality blurring with the warmth of the evening. That moment, it was something fragile and quiet and all my own.
I remember being saved by people I would never meet. Characters that once might have been alive, but who died with the people who brought them to life on cream-coloured paper. People whose fates are now forever lost. Somewhere in a plane crashed in the Mediterranean sea, or in the French woods, covered by moss.
“He did not desire her,” I remember the soft voice saying, “No, they loved each other in strong bonds of friendship.”
I had never read something so deliberately. Nor, I suspect, will I ever. I was tragically young and hungry, hungry for words and experiences that I know well enough now. There is no mystery left. No tragedy to my ephemerality. Too old, too weary now to be that person with the sad eyes.
But even now, I want to eat the book sometimes. Or find some other way to swallow the pages, to find some means to make it stay with me. There were other times, too, when I looked at the name on the front of the cover, traced it and thought: ” I am touching a part of your soul. If only you knew.”
“If only you had known what you would be, maybe, maybe…”
Note: This one is about a book that is very dear to my heart. Something I studied as a teen, as part of my French literature classes. If you’d like to know the title, leave me a message (Aha, I’m a little protective over it) and I’ll get back to you ^^