In Which I Write a Letter to Eliza Victoria

Dearest Eliza,

I’d like to think that I’m not an asshole.

I’m not nice. I’m not kind. I’m surly, and miserable, and impatient, and I don’t like most people.

Even then I’d still like to think that I know better than to judge other people by how they look.

I would never greet someone with “ang taba mo na!“, or be so dickish as to side-eye a fat person for doing something as normal as eating.

But then I was reading your novel, Dwellers, and I came upon this:

You are so fat, you are so useless, you take up the space meant for better, more disciplined people…

It hit me like a ton of bricks.

And I realized that yes, I’m an asshole.

I don’t think I’m prejudiced. I don’t think I’m an insensitive bitch. But how many times have I stared disdainfully at fat people on public transport, irritated that they were taking up too much space and making life difficult for us “normal” ones?

I could try and excuse it as a side effect of this country’s terrible transport system. I could argue that “I don’t really mean it” and that I’m just “irritated”.

I could insist that I’m not a dick till I’m blue in the face, but it wouldn’t make it less true.

I’m an asshole, even if I don’t mean to be one.

Even if it’s not all the time.

Even if my default setting is decent human.

Because that’s what it means, doesn’t it? That I believe myself better, more deserving of space because I’m thin and therefore socially acceptable?

I read that line from your novel over and over and over again. I know it’s not the core of your story. I understand that.

But for at least a couple of minutes I forgot the whodunit and wanted to bury my face somewhere no one will find it, because I was ashamed.

I guess that’s how it is when your ugly thoughts are thrown back at you.

So thank you, really. It stings a bit to have my ugliness laid out bare – to actually put them into words and make me realize that I have quite a long way to go before I become the decent person I imagine myself to be.

PS: your novel is excellent, as always.

In Which I Am Happy To Identify With Wizard Howl

In an unprecedented move, I actually finished a Korean drama without prompting. In the past, I would only watch those shows if (a) they are funny; and (b) they have incredible dance moves, i.e. Kim Sam Soon.

Now. I am the sort of person you can easily drag down multiple rabbit holes. I cannot just read one page of TV Tropes. No. I have to go through every interesting link I find. It is not surprising to find more than twenty tabs of TV Tropes open once I get started.

So it should come as no surprise that watching You From Another Star resulted in three things:

  1. My obsession with Jeon Ji-Hyun’s makeup.
  2. My obsession with the accuracy of the historical aspect of the show.
  3. My obsession with the book The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

The protagonist of You From Another Star identified with Edward Tulane — a china rabbit who is punished because he doesn’t know how to love other people — and the book is referenced multiple times in the show.

Particularly notable is this quote:

I have learned how to love. And it’s a terrible thing. I’m broken. My heart is broken. Help me.

I read the book. I hated it.

I know it’s a book for children. Doesn’t matter. It still has to answer for its senseless premise: why would you even expect a china rabbit to know love?

What the hell is wrong with you?

(It is perhaps quite obvious now that I really dislike the book. Frowny face here.)

But this post isn’t about You From Another Star, or Edward Tulane, or love.

It’s about identification.

Frankly, I feel bad for the dude who identified with Edward Tulane. It’s so bleak and unhappy to identify with such a dramatically unfortunate character. Sure, the ending’s happy, but I don’t think I want to identify with a rabbit who has his noggin broken into 21 pieces.

Nope.

I mentioned once before that Howl’s Moving Castle is my favorite book. With much deference to Hayao Miyazaki’s version, I have to say that the book is one hundred percent more magical and more meaningful as far as I am concerned.

This is because the movie creates a Howl that is almost one million times different from the real Howl — a thing I have decided to talk about now.

Or eventually.

Let me start by saying this: when I was younger, I lived my life like I was Stephen Chow in a Stephen Chow movie. God of Cookery is remarkable to me because of two things. First, it is one of the funniest films I have ever seen. Second, it taught me that you can be a terrible person and it will all be fine, as long as you are smart.

You can be a total asshole and nobody will care, because you’re the asshole who gets things done.

So for most of my teenage years, plus my years in college, I honestly believed that I could be as horrible as I wanted and it would be fine, because I’m the Stephen Chow in this Stephen Chow movie.

Until, of course, I got out of school and into “the real world”.

I learned two things then:

  1. I’m not actually that smart.
  2. People skills count.

I had zero people skills, because I spent most of my life assuming that my brain would get me through. It’s hard to work with people when you don’t like people and you’re scared of people, and all your false bravado is swept away.

I can still get things done, and occasionally people still think that I am pretty good (at whatever it is I do, I’m not quite sure what, either), but the problem is that I know the truth now, and my youthful hubris is gone.

So.

Let’s get back to Wizard Howl.

Howl is intelligent and a good wizard, but not really quite the best. He’s okay. He’s mediocre.

He’s vain. He’s shallow. He’s stuck up.

He tries to slither out of things. He throws tantrums. He’s an absolute terror when ill.

He’s afraid.

When I first read Howl’s Moving Castle, I immediately fell in love with Sophie Hatter. Author Diana Wynne Jones once noted with much mirth that she found it weird how so many women wanted to marry Howl despite his terrible personality.

I read the book but I didn’t want to marry Howl.

I wanted to marry Sophie.

Because Sophie is the dream.

Howl is scared, because he knows his limitations. His bravura requires that he be show-offy and dramatic, but in truth he knows he’s almost always in over his head.

He’s constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, for people to realize that he’s mediocre rather than excellent.

With Sophie, though, there’s no need to put up false pretenses, because she already knows his weaknesses and she doesn’t care.

So every time I feel scared, overwhelmed, anxious, in over my head, I crack open my copy of Howl’s Moving Castle and let Sophie take care of me.

In Which I Imagine the Marvel Versions in Gaiman’s Norse Novel

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Odd and the Frost Giants

Neil Gaiman

My experience with Neil Gaiman has been largely hit and sort of miss. When I love his novels I love them extremely, like Neverwhere and his collaboration with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens. Some of his works, though, leave me sort of meh. American Gods didn't really get me, and I'm sort of on the fence with Coraline. The Other Mother cuts a frightening figure, but I'm not sure the story itself is all that.

Now we come to Odd and the Frost Giants, or frost giant if we're being honest. I think what makes the novel wonderful is Gaiman's easygoing prose. There's nothing overly dramatic, and he lets the readers take on Norse mythology without going into complicated detail. Though it would have been nice to see more of the gods interaction with each other, I honestly believe readers are familiar enough with Odin, Thor, and Loki to know what they're like.

I like it. I really really like it. It's just a lot of fun to have a protagonist like Odd.

(The bit about his parents having a normal relationship after his father basically kidnapped his mother from Scotland is seriously wishful thinking, but I will let that slide.)

I think it helped a lot that I kept picturing Anthony Hopkins, Chris Hemsworth, and Tom Hiddleston while reading the gods in this novel. It just made things a lot more fun.

If only we got a longer novel, I think this would have been one of my favourite Gaiman works.

 

In Which I Figure I Might As Well Stop Writing Now

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The Remains of the Day

Kazuo Ishiguro

I suppose there is no need to belabor the fact that Kazuo Ishiguro is a master, but I can’t help it. The man is an absolute genius.

His Never Let Me Go is still one of my favorite books — I recommend it to anyone who listens (or anything that moves, actually) — and I remember crying buckets while reading it. I haven’t seen the film. I suppose with such beautiful prose I simply cannot be bothered with someone else’s interpretation of it.

Interestingly, it took much longer for me to get into The Remains of the Day. I suppose it just didn’t click as quickly as Never did with me. I mean, why would I be interested in an aging English butler?

But that’s the beauty of books, isn’t it? You read and you find yourself immersed in someone else’s life, someone else’s point of view, even if just for an hour or a two.

And so when I finally did read the novel properly, I tried to kick myself for not doing so earlier. It’s incredible. [Pardon me now, because it’s unlikely I’ll be able to find the proper words to describe its enormous impact on me.]

Ishiguro — in his trademark subdued manner — shows us a man who gladly gave his service, principles, life, and even dignity to another and now wonders whether or not he made the right choice.

Part of him wants to believe that he did; he tries to justify it a few times. Because if he was wrong, and if all of his life was dedicated to serving a man who was not just wrong, but horribly so, what then?

Are the final years of his life to be wasted away in regret?

But the magic of The Remains of the Day is that it doesn’t dump all of these things on the reader. It doesn’t even actually say anything outright. To the end Mr. Stevens is a man of few words, and it is testament to the genius of Ishiguro that the reader understands how powerful the conflict and regret is in the character without the writer having to resort to drama and hysterics.

Dignity, Mr. Stevens analyses throughout the novel. It is arguable that Mr. Stevens made a mistake. His entire life in the service of Lord Darlington; losing Miss Kenton; and realising that his best years are over and all he has left is regret — these should have broken him and left him a bitter shell of a man.

But he has dignity, and even when he has nothing else left he has that at least, because he can face regret with quiet acceptance and the decision to make the most of what days he has left.

I don’t even know why I’m still blabbing. Go and read it. Ishiguro does it better than anyone else.

*Image stolen from Wikipedia

In Which I Revisit My Favourite Austen Couple

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Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen


Can you believe it's been 200 years? I can. The first time I read Pride and Prejudice I was rather young and had no real understanding of it. I liked it though, because who doesn't like Lizzy and Mr. Darcy?

But a few years back I reread it and it just resonated.

It was around the time my parents started fretting about the fact that I'm still single. I realised, unfortunately, that there were a lot of similarities between the book and my life, and it pissed me off. I still like the book, but having a life similar to Pride and Prejudice is no fun unless you have someone like Mr. Darcy attached to you. Otherwise it's just a sucky story with no happy ending in sight.

See, the Chinese have rather weird expectations when it comes to relationships and marriage. My parents aren't exactly antiquated, but you will not believe how similar my mother is to Mrs. Bennet. I'll say the latter is a lot more mean-spirited, but occasionally my mom makes weird statements like “maybe you're still single because you lack appeal” or “you should attend the party; you might meet people” and I'm reminded that they're similar enough to cause consternation.

My father – and you may choose not to believe me, but I'm not lying – is constantly bemused like Mr. Bennet. There's something particularly similar between the two of them, but it's not something I'd like to discuss.

We're not rich (I was introduced to someone pretty loaded once, and my mom said, “we're lucky they're interested”), I have two sisters (thankfully neither of them is Kitty or Lydia or Mary), and we belong to a culture antiquated enough to be rather similar to the novel's environment. It's not fun.

But enough about that.

More than the similarities to my own life, I think what makes the book so well-loved is Austen's ability to create really funny stories. She has mastered the comedy of errors, pointing out the oddities of people who try so hard to be civilised.

200 years later, her words still ring true. There are still people like Mrs. Bennet, condescending bitches like Lady Catherine, catty women like Miss Bingley, and awful toads like Mr. Collins.

Horrible truth, you know, but at least that gives us hope that 200 years after, there might still be a Mr. Darcy somewhere out there.