Monday, April 4, 2011

Must I read?

I read for a living. As an editor, it is my primary duty to read. Not just read read (as in skim, riffle, glance), but to really read - to really understand, appreciate, respond, digest, ruminate on the numerous scientific articles that, for better or worse, I feel I am almost married to.

But as soon as my 7 hours is done, I put aside the stacks of articles I worked on... and start to read again. This time, for myself. When I am not reading I feel antsy, like something is amiss, that the universe is not aligned properly, that something has horribly, terribly gone wrong. For that matter I never go anywhere without a book or three (hence my penchant for large bags), lest I be caught - heaven forbid - without any reading paraphernalia. I reckon I spend a good 12 hours a day reading, and am perhaps the only one happy when the Metro is running late. I even spend an inordinate amount of time reading labels on cans at the grocery store, stretching what should have been a 30 minute trip to an hour-long excursion. It's a compulsion.

In his first letter to the young poet Franz Xaver Kappus, Rene Rilke bids him to "scale the depths of [his] being" to answer the question every creative being must ask: "Must I write [or paint, or scuplt, or cook, or draw, or create, for that matter]?" Kappus, he says, must go within himself, "search for the cause, to find the impetus that bids [him] write." The test, according to Rilke, is to determine whether "it [stretches] out its roots in the deepest place of [his] heart" and whether or not he can "avow that [he] would die if [he] were forbidden to write."

I don't write poetry, and I'm not inclined to. But I feel like I am answering Rilke's words when I question myself over my book-and-reading obsession (and the attendant expenses that it necessitates). I do feel, in a way, that reading is a highly creative process, for in reading we are asked to create meaning from the words, bounded in turn by the terms, conditions, and definitions set by the very words themselves. Each creation is personal, unique, and will never be the same for different readers. I create my own meaning from reading, even if it is only a meaning.

So, will I die if I don't read? Yes, without a shade of doubt. And not just in any metaphorical or metaphysical or meta-whatever sense of dying. I mean it in a real, absolute, physical extinction.
Hence, I must read.

New books for April!
I should set up a monthly direct deposit to Borders' account.

Thursday, March 31, 2011


Proust's most famous "involuntary memory" moment had to do with a madeleine dipped in tea. I was reminded of this literary bit while reading the final pages of J. Alvarez's "How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents," wherein Fifi wonders whether her memory would ever be involuntarily unleashed by textbook representations of the little statuette their maid, Chucha, held over their heads before the family absconded to New York.

As madeleine is to Proust, so tinola is to me. Tinola, chicken in gingery broth, always reminds me of rainy days, where the tropical typhoons would unleash so much fury, classes were canceled, roads flooded, and dozens of pails set out to catch the water dripping in through the roof. My sisters and I would do our rain dance, learned (incredibly) from Catholic school, to prolong the storm, which meant more days to spend lolling around the house, reading Sweet Valley twins or Nancy Drew or anything else but homework. Back when our cousins still lived with us, the empty room on the second floor of the house would be turned into a romp room. Despite the howling winds outside, we would throw open the windows, blast the radio, turn up the TV, and play video games the whole day.

Today was a tinola day, a gray, dreary, wet, cold, and bleh day. Mike was not feeling well, and even the cat was extra snuggly. I didn't have unripe papaya, which is added to the soup for sweetness. Neither did I have chili pepper leaves, added for bitterness, a perfect complement to the pungency of ginger. What I did have on hand was a bunch of chinese mustard greens -- slightly sweet stems, bitter leaves. Added to the chicken drumsticks browned with the garlic, onion, ginger, and fish sauce, it added the layer of flavor I had been looking for in all my other attempts at this dish.

Tinola with chinese mustrad greens

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sick day and K. Stockett's "The Help"

I had to take a sick day as my neck has been bothering me, and I seem to be hovering on the edge of a major flu attack. I'm immobilized in bed with my laptop and Totoro, who, through some arcane instinctual reflex, always stays a good 15 inches away from me. Perhaps he doesn't want whatever bug I'm harboring?

The only way to get him to cuddle up next to me (and with "cuddle" used in the loosest way possible here) is by putting his thick blue fleece blanket near my leg. Totoro goes into his zen state, kneading the life out of blanket, purring ever so loudly, content with the feel of fluff beneath his paws. It's such a funny sight, especially when his eyes turn to slits, and he seems caught in some transcendental, almost religious, experience. I always wonder what goes through his mind.

Just learned from Time magazine that a movie version of "The Help" by K. Stockett will be released this summer. Hmm. I am very ambivalent about the novel. I loved the characters, though, but the writing did not do it for me. I felt it was extending its reach too much, trying too hard to be the novel (of what?). But while it was lackluster in that aspect, her characters (especially Minny, of the chocolate pie incident, and Aibileen) were infinitely endearing. 

Once it's on Netflix, I will probably watch it, perhaps in conjunction with "Driving Miss Daisy," "Downton Abbey," "Remains of the Day" and of course, "Upstairs, Downstairs" - the seminal work that has inspired these studies on master-help relations. If anything, "The Help" has had me thinking aboutt exploring this relation from a Filipino-Chinese context (which I feel, from experience, partly mirrors that of the American South experience.) Hmm.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

It used to be that bookshelves

Had shelves. As in, on the top shelf, second middle shelf, etc. Totoro arrived, however, and now instead of shelves, they have "basement," "lobby," "second floor." Mike, one day, just blurted it, lamenting how fast Totoro was growing, how he has effectively moved up from the "lobby" (formerly the second from the lowest shelf" to the "second floor."

Totoro has now managed to reach the third floor, thanks in part to a curiously placed ledge (his old scratching post) sticking out from the bottom of my bed. He has been trying to go up to the fourth floor, but no luck yet. THe most he has been able to do is clear the shelf of all the gewgaws I have placed there: Mardi Gras beads (straight from New Orleans!), sunblock, and new books that have yet to find their place.


I finally finished organizing my two bookcases. The bigger one, in the living area, and that has since become Totoro's town house, contains all my philosophy, school, and some random fiction books. The basement (as with any house I've been in), contains random crap that for some reason or another I can't seem to part with. The lobby has my Norton anthologies from grad school, the second floor houses my philosophy books. The third floor holds my philosophy books (in Latin, gifts from a former professor), art books (mostly on Seurat and Escher) and leftover books from school. The fourth floor contains a small sampling of my fiction books. The attic has CDs and some LPs. 

The smaller one in bedroom holds all my food and cooking books and YA novels. The basement, covered with a fleece blanket, is Totoro's napping area. 

"Stop reading and feed me!"

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I wake up today

And Totoro has tracked poop all over the bathroom floor.

Upon moving in with me, he established this one cardinal rule to living with him: Clean his litter box as soon as he's done doing the deed, or else you pay for it. He lets me know once he's evacuated his bowels - meowing and following me, the pitch ever increasing, his insistence more ominous, until I give in and scoop and flush. Then he checks the toilet bowl, checks to make sure, yep, she did a good job.

So when he doesn't get his way - when his precious booda dome is less than immaculate! - he goes in, and plays in his crap and tracks it all over the bathroom, the toilet seat, the bathtub, the sink, and even the walls.

I did not eat breakfast today.

"What?!?! You hit snooze like 10 times!"