I’ve been home in New Zealand for 12 days; it’s midnight now, heralding the 13th night I’ve spent. This year the garden seems as green as ever. An olive tree that I never knew was an olive tree rests peacefully in one corner, its characteristic leaf colour reflected in the lavender hedges at the other end of the strip. Evenings take on a classical tinge. There doesn’t seem to be a cloud in the sky some days, when I’m reading beneath the shade of a magnolia tree, leaning on old sack-cloth which covers a pile of firewood too big to fit into the box behind the garage.
I have not written because I have been sating myself on the presence of my family. Coming home feels like a hand smoothing my hair, and a voice in my ear saying that life is ok. That I am ok. That one day the world will be ok. I can’t speak, or write, or sleep — I’m paralysed with happiness in the presence of something I hadn’t realised I’d lost until now: safety. I stopped feeling that at some point. I started feeling afraid.
Besides which, there are so many things to atone for. So many.
I can’t stop touching my parents and my little brother (who is the quintessential child) as if they’d disappear for some reason or as if to reassure myself that this is all real.
I want to tell someone about lying across my mother’s lap, staring at the ceiling and the olive tree in the corner with its thin, classical leaves forming a grove and the scent of jasmine vines that have crept up the side of the house and onto the French veranda. Seeing my mother’s hair where it’s been dyed by hena where it wasn’t last year and crying for no reason, softly, remembering her from the same angle as i always had seen her, as a child — jawline, cheeks, looking out at something then looking at me with some sort of joke, and a smile.
Winning Upwords is a memory; beating them all at poker; flying a remote control hellicopter in the park; going to the golf club (all, now that I think of it, fairly boyish things); the first night home, my grandparents giving me a new car (which brought me to tears, because of who they are, and what it means for them to do this, which is personal and has a deep-seated history to do with the sino-japanese war); driving; cooking for 4 people; baking almost every day.
I am such a child here: I am in no way responsible for feeding myself or paying things off. There is someone to help me move heavy things around the house, or buy milk when I run out. There’s a TV. I can walk around in more than just one room. There’s always food in the fridge. It is always warm. I’m never hungry or tired. (It should disturb me, this greediness for shelter and warmth, but I’m too joyful to think of it now).
There is no way to write about love. We can all try and try, but those feelings and things have a life of their own. The closest thing I can say is this: if one day in my life I am lucky enough to replicate this kind of thing for the rest of my life (and moreso if I am able to give this to at least one other person), I will have fulfilled my mission in the universe.
I can’t put this kind of joy into words. Only that I appreciate its coming more than I can say. :)
"An flash game made by Paolo Pedercini of Molle Industria, ‘Every Day The Same Dream’ is a short, bleak little tale about a day in a man’s life. Or, rather, every day, since they’re all the same, and nothing he can ever do will change that. Or will it?" [source]
In the desert I saw a creature, naked, bestial, Who, squatting upon the ground, Held his heart in his hands, And ate of it. I said: “Is it good, friend?” "It is bitter - bitter," he answered; "But I like it Because it is bitter, And because it is my heart.”
“I regret nothing. There have been things I missed, but I ask no questions, because I have loved it, such as it has been, even the moments of emptiness, even the unanswered—and that I loved it, that is the unanswered in my life.”—from ‘The Fountainhead’ — Ayn Rand (via fuckyeahliteraryquotes)
It has been the most humid beginning to December this year - the wettest in the last 5 years I’ve been here. There’s a weight in the air unfamiliar to all of us, given the years of drought.
An absolute stranger died the other day, aged 23. I heard about it on Facebook when mutual friends put up eulogies. I don’t know if it’s right to be writing about it here. Weird, how it impacted the life of a total stranger across the Tasman. Maybe I’ll erase this later.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about faith. There are so many reasons, if I were Christian, to question God. For instance, the death of a child, or people who die alone and in pain, starving, unloved; a 23 year old with hepatic carcinoma. My mother started going to church because she realised she couldn’t understand the world she lived in suddenly. Mostly I think my mother feels guilty about something and wants to make sense of it. I am blessed to have a mother who loves her children more than she loves herself, more than she loves the universe. It’s this love she feels guilty about - how inadequate it is in her mind somehow, no matter what we say or do or think. Because nothing in the world is perfect, least of all love. One day I want to love a child of my own that much. One day that child of my own will hopefully love me as much as I love my mother.
Unlike Mum, it’s these inexplicable things that make me think hesitate about God. A lot. More than I should for someone who has not stepped in a church for a very long time, and who wasn’t brought up religious at all.
How can you go through medical school and still have blind optimism that someone will pull through against all odds?
Besides which, hope is a dangerous thing.
About relationships, I used to wonder, isn’t love enough? About dying children, I used to wonder, isn’t hope enough? About myself, I used to wonder, isn’t being good enough?
Why isn’t it enough to be good?
And what if one is not inherently good, anyway? What if one is rotten through and through? Being forgiven is one thing — isn’t it better to change? Perhaps this was why I liked The Great Gatsby. Because people were rotten there, and it’s the same rotten-ness that I’ve been feeling about the world recently, inexplicably (and incredibly ungratefully, I hate to admit). I haven’t been the most positive person this year, contrary to how I usually am and it puzzles me more than anybody.
I asked a cab driver on my way to work (late, as usual — always late) if he believed in something and he told me that he was Buddhist. He then showed me a glove box compartment filled with Christan self help books and talked about spirituality. Hearing someone talk about their life was healing. He talked about reading, and his goal of 30 minutes a day, 1 book per month. The self-help books he was interested in, his buying habits on Amazon. Other people are so interesting — I lost that kind of fascination along the way over the last few years, too caught up in my own life.
Last night at the grad ball after party, C. and I were accosted by her friend S., who I’d briefly encountered in Frankston last year. Strange, I’d talked to him on and off during the year and gone to his birthday but I didn’t actually know him all too well. And now he (along with everyone else I didn’t really know well but would have liked to) was graduating and it seemed too late. I mentioned this to C.
"He’s a nice guy," she said, "but he has so many issues."
S. is an incredibly nice person, so it surprised me that he had any. When I said so, C. said, “I’m glad you agree that he’s fantastic. I wish he felt that way about himself too, sometimes.”
Again, surprise. Then it occurred to me I didn’t know C. all that well either. We’d planted strawberries together and presented them to an elderly woman in a nursing home; or rather, I bought the pots and dirt and seedlings and planted them in the back yard of a motel and we presented it together. S. had taken a photograph of us together before he left with P.’s camera.
I could have sat under the stars for a good while longer. Everyone was pretty drunk: a classmate was [eloquently but drunkenly] talking about love and trying to figure out where the roots of displaying love came from - how our parents showed love to us and how that translated to how we showed love to each other. We’d just met.
Later, we ended up at the after after party at a P’s house in Hawthorn, where I tiptoed to the patio, shoes in one hand to breathe in fresh air. People were smoking outside, and we had to shut the sliding doors because it was 4 in the morning on a Monday and the neighbours had opened the windows to complain about the noise. It was so warm and sticky, the back of my dress stuck to my skin. The men had unwound their black bow ties and unbuttoned their shirts. We were tired, but we didn’t want to go home.
M. kept talking about how his girlfriend would kill him for staying up late (she’s the sweetest thing). J. put his arms around my waist briefly, in a friendly way, as I lent over the host’s kitchen counter and D., who had been analysing the psychology of love earlier in the evening, mixed interesting shots with elderberry and god knows what else. They were sweet, and surprisingly good.
In the lounge, tired looking people wound themselves around each other, watching a few friends dance periodically. I’ve missed these kind of nights: someone’s house, really good friends; sometimes the roar of the sea in the background. Drunken and tired people saying and doing odd things that made sense in their own train of thought, and that made you smile when you saw or heard them.
They (we) belonged in a novel. It brought back memories of the times I’ve been pulled into random people’s houses completely sober on new years or on warm summer evenings are numerous though not, I realised, for a number of years.
I got home at 5:30 in the morning. The cab had dropped M, J, and D in Carnegie and the image of the three boys (in tuxedos) crossing the street had been momentarily dashing. M. stood in the overgrown lawn of his place for a bit waiting for J and D went the other way, back to his own place. That was the last memory burned into my head. In Wright street the sun was rising. I paused on my doorstep for a bit to watch the street lights turn off and felt really good about the future. I don’t know why. :)
I have a lot to be happy about. And I am. :) So happy.
To I. who died — I don’t even know you, and I don’t have any right to say any of this but I will. I hope your family finds peace some day in God. Thank you for making me realise that I wasn’t really appreciating life the way I should. I hope you’ve found home on the other side.
Your photos look amazing. I wish I had gone — it turns out the friend who I was really waiting on to see the house with me didn’t show. Pathology lab vs. a topiary maze near the sea on the loveliest of early summer Saturdays — a no brainer.
I hope you had as much fun as your gorgeous selves look like you had in your photographs :)
The unbelievable privilege of reading something great for the first time
Last night in a black armchair at Borders, waiting for an old flatmate’s party in East Richmond to begin, I read The Great Gatsby for the first time:
Myrtle pulled her chair close to mine, and suddenly her warm breath poured over me the story of her first meeting with Tom.
“It was on the two little seats facing each other that are always the last ones left on the train. I was going up to New York to see my sister and spend the night. He had on a dress suit and patent leather shoes, and I couldn’t keep my eyes off him, but every time he looked at me I had to pretend to be looking at the advertisement over his head. When we came into the station he was next to me, and his white shirt-front pressed against my arm, and so I told him I’d have to call a policeman, but he knew I lied. I was so excited that when I got into a taxi with him I didn’t hardly know I wasn’t getting into a subway train. All I kept thinking about, over and over, was ‘You can’t live forever; you can’t live forever.’”
- Chapter 2, “The Great Gatsby” — F. Scott Fitzgerald
I couldn’t put it down in my mind, even on the train to East Richmond where I’d in fact been only hours before. It was nearly 8 in the evening and the sun hadn’t even half finished setting. The smell of rain was in the air, because it had been pouring on and off, between the florid spurts of sunshine.
A teacher once said to me, when I told her I was reading Virginia Woolf, “You lucky thing. To be reading Woolf for the first time.” That memory kept echoing in my mind.
So strange. I’d avoided studying it in high school — nobody in my high school took it up, really. We had Blake, and Frame. Atwood. Amy Tan (oh, Amy Tan, whose novels became a reference book for anyone not second generation Chinese about what it was like to be second generation Chinese in a Western society). Never this, and never Thomas Hardy (although I read Tess of the d’Urbervilles voluntarily at a young age and liked it). It must be an American thing.
Gatsby had yet to appear, but already the disquiet in the novel was unbearably familiar. I’d later become trapped in the passages after he meets Daisy. His re-evaluating his entire house by her eyes, his nervousness. The ugliness of the other characters (and society), in a profound way, and his transformation from that in what is revealed about him. The image of him floating in his summer pool on the first day of autumn, trying to force the past back.
Aren’t we all looking for something that redeems us?
But this story’s about the loss of the American dream, something that you sense as soon as you pick the thing up. There’s something rotten about everyone in it, the kind of rotteness that comes from the inside. A critic wrote, “What else is there for Gatsby to do but to _____” (don’t want to ruin the ending for people who haven’t read it). It’s sad that it’s the only thing that makes sense in the book world — a perfect, beautiful prose world. In real life, we have to pick ourselves up somehow and carry on somehow. Also, what if we’re never transformed? What if rotten is all we ever are? How are rotten people meant to get over themselves?
…I guess Daisy answers that question quite early on in the piece.
How could I have missed this book? I think I will come to love it :))
A friend from Auckland came over to Melbourne today. It must be summer. The past always comes to visit before the beginning of summer.
Vaibhav, who has actually been living in Adelaide for almost as long as I’ve been living in Melbourne, looks exactly the same. Exactly. We wind our way through the laneways and smells of lunchtime in the city to a tea place in Block Arcade, which has apparantly been there since the 1800s. Lots of chai tea, chicken salad, zucchini flowers and raspberry cheesecake later, we felt well acquainted with the minutiae of our everyday lives.
How was my research? How was his Spanish? How were his exams? His family had moved across to Australia a few years ago and now his younger sister was also in Adelaide. They had moved in together in a shabbier suburb. He’d almost gotten mugged once.
Hopes and dreams was an art gallery thing. The red cobble of the upper National Gallery fountain looked from afar like autumn leaves, which was confusing. We wandered around upstairs in contemporary art, then at photographs of urban sprawl from the 1990s. A security guard snuck us into a preview of Unnerved, an amazing exhibition of New Zealand art.
At the end of it all, we ended up at Cafe Segovia, staring out at the rain dripping off the eaves in lane and people trying to pass in the narrow sheltered spaces without getting dripped on. As we’d left the gallery low hung rain clouds had made the world seem like a dream. Towers reached into the sky and disappeared. I thought, we’re in Babylon and we the world might be divided again.
My tummy rebelled at the thought of wine. We began this trek into the past. First with lovers, then with love, then to those we loved, namely N who is common to both of us, and the places where we loved everything, everyone - namely, Auckland.
He laughed as we walked to the place where we would part. “Do you remember the time when I dropped you at your house — your old one? As I backed out of your driveway I ran over a recycling bin and dragged it with me up the road. I just remember you laughing so hard on the curb as you saw me. You had a look on your face that said, oh Vaibhav.”
I laughed too.
I love our common past. In Auckland, you could do anything. Or maybe it was the age, before we became communities with professional/personal boundaries and eyes and ears that were pasted to the wall. People who don’t call you back, and people who you don’t call back because you are afraid of being hurt (who you think about with guilt constantly).
Perhaps it’s an age thing more than anything.
But I like that we’re here now, in Melbourne and Adelaide. He told me that it was only when he saw me that he started to think of all these things and I realised it was similar for me too. Our everyday lives held us up to the present: “When I leave tomorrow, we’ll both go back to ourselves.”
We hugged on the corner of Little Collins and Swanston. I had a lab dinner in Chinatown that couldn’t be missed. So early to part, and yet so late. I took a photograph.
That’s what I’m blessed with. I’m so grateful that I’ve been loved my entire life. Good years and bad. A legacy of love.