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Curator of Snippets

"Hey, you know that band you kept making me go see?"

[we saw them once, but I was going through a spotify phase]

"just heard that song you like… in the new Spiderman movie."

I.. I’m just glad it wasn’t “The Quotidian Beasts”

also, I give up on everything. 

The ten people who read this blog already know I watch Almost Famous when I get heartsore. Each time I get obsessed with a different song

(usually, yes, a Zep song; that’s the way). 

It’s not christmas, but it’s getting on that time I have to make a decision about christmas, and this is my song this weekend. 

(If you think this means the decision has been made, you’d not be wrong, but I’m not ready to admit this yet) 

Bite Me

There was time when, for professional reasons, I read a lot of romance. I’ve read, thus, every genre that contemporary romance has to offer, and disliked them all. I don’t hate them—I can’t summon enough passion for that, so let’s just say it was a phase of my life that was spent extremely stoned. I think people allot themselves a certain quota for mawkish sentimentality, and mine is reserved for music. Very rarely in my life have I been moved by love-letters, for instance, whereas I’m always floored by even the most amateur serenading. The only sub-genre I’ve never read are regencies; the job didn’t call for any. Last weekend I read seven and skimmed a dozen more. I was sober. It was excruciating. I didn’t like Feisty Virgins even when I was one, which was so long ago and so much pain ago that it’s not a time I want to revisit. I’ve never seen the appeal of a dashing rake (ok, lie, but I certainly don’t see the appeal of a reforming a rake.) It angers me that the genre allows writers to hide behind the era and indulge in the most appalling politics. I suspect the only regency romance I might enjoy will have to feature one of those faceless women that the rakes are forever fucking while they fantasize about the virgins. 

But I am trying to suspend judgement and read at least one. This is a version of love, however twisted it seems to me, that appeals to generations of women. Eventually one must prevail. Right? Right? 

There was one novel, though, that moved me over into full disgust. It was a contemporary, called Bet Me. I finished it early this morning, went to work, went to a museum, even went shopping, and still it haunts me, a poltergeist in my ear cackling wildly. So here goes an exorcism.

There is a dumpy woman and a gorgeous man. They spend a month not fucking, cos the woman thinks the man bet her ex that they would. He hasn’t. At the end of this month they get engaged. She’s insecure cos she’s a woman in a romance novel and that’s what women in romance novels do. His problem is he’s so devastating and so perfect and so rich that women keep falling for him and then he loses interest. He spends a lot of the novel avoiding one such woman. She’s completely starkers, which is supposed to make his behavior more acceptable, only, well, he did spend eight months with her so one could argue he’s why she lost her mind. 

Anyway, misery must be distributed to be borne, and here is a (very truncated) list of quibbles: 

  1. The heroine is not fat. She can’t fit into a size eight corset. No one who is larger than a 34C can. I’m a big woman, but I have a reasonably slim torso. I wear size eight. The average american woman likely wears a ten, which is why it’s the medium size. So unless everyone in this novel lives in Vogue, Minerva Dobbs has a perfectly normal figure.  
  2. The guy, Calvin something, repeatedly tells Minerva that she’s “round.” He also tells her she’s the kind of woman who looks better naked that dressed. Both these statements are intended to be compliments. I’d sock someone who said either of these things to me, unless I am actually naked and not in full possession of my wits. 
  3. The fashion advice. Oh goddess the fashion advice. Min’s “makeover” chiefly consists of lace bras and flowing garments. I would wear La Perla everyday if I could afford it, so no argument there. But I am in awe of the sheer ineptitude of the latter.  Assuming Min is actually fat, which is to say a size 8 top wouldn’t fit her like size 8 trousers wouldn’t fit mesurely by the age of 33 she knows the first rule of being big is “thou shalt not do diaphanous”? But then she’s a woman who wears furry heels, so maybe not. 
  4. A lot of Calvin’s so-called problems are attributed to dyslexia. One of the people I love most in the world is dyslexic. So I can tell you this for a surety: it does not make people ruthless bastards who con everyone into thinking they are sexy tortured empaths. 
  5.  Min is called “man-hating”, often and unironically.  I didn’t know you were allowed to say that in the 21st century, let alone to a woman who french-kisses someone on a second non-date. Apparently calling a man on his crap, however feebly, means you detest the species. 
  6. The plot makes absolutely no sense, but Aisha has an excellent explanation for that. There is one honest scene with believable emotion. Predictably it entails serenading. (Min loves Elvis passionately, and her non-Calvin plan is to wait for him to, er, resurrect. I would totally read that novel, though only someone with Min’s colossal nitwittery could possibly think he would make a good lover. Cal meanwhile likes the Costello Elvis, which, you know, he wouldbut neither of them seem to listen to any other bands.)
  7. The obsession with chicken marsala, about which don’t even. 
  8. There is bondage so bad it makes 50 Shades seem sexy. 

And that is the dreadful thought I leave you to ponder. 

(Ok, I’m not that cruel. Here is my maudlin song of the week to sublimate) 

I’ll just go bury myself in murder and mayhem then. 

In Praise of Politeness

I had a fantastic two days of plays and music and movies. (How to Train Your Dragon 2 is, btw, the best blockbuster of 2014). They were spent ignoring my computer, and I no longer have twitter on my phone, so I only caught up on the latest mess on the literary internet this evening in Tabs. Is it only me or do they now occur more frequently, a growing avalanche in a teacup? 

Assuming you aren’t a lit person who lives in New York, I shall summarise. Edward Champion, the guy who runs the Bat Segundo podcast, wrote a horrid rant ravaging Emily Gould, a memoirist-novelist. He says she’s the figurehead for a generation of privileged women he calls “Middling Millennials” who he claims are colonising Almighty Literature. He then proceeds to call them (us?) all a bunch of names and traces a “history” of Gould’s mighty capacity for tactlessness, one of those things everyone in New York is endlessly fascinated by and no one elsewhere cares about. He was (rightly) shamed for this and couldn’t deal with the volume and vitriol of the backlash. He tried to throw himself off a bridge, or he said he would anyway. He was prevented.  

[Added, about three hours later: catching up on my surfing, I learned that in a thrilling display of masculine solidarity, the Tamil writer Jeyamohan said similar things with very desi flourish. He disapproves of women writing at all, not just my misguided generation]

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Re-Statement of Romance

equally, a lovesong for bogey

The night knows nothing of the chants of night.
it is what it is as I am what I am:
and in perceiving this I best perceive myself

And you. Only we two may interchange
each in the other what each has to give.
Only we two are one, not you and night,

Nor night and I, but you and I, alone,
so much alone, so deeply by ourselves,
so far beyond casual solitudes,

The night is only the background of our selves,
supremely true each to its separate self,
in the pale light that each upon the other throws. 

— Wallace Stevens. 

how utterly marvellous this man is. 


Prayer to Persephone

I was interviewed this week, by a young child who wears magenta jeans. It was disconcerting and extremely unpleasant (though the young child was very nice) and I hope to never have to do it again, which goes against my stated ambition of “being a great writer even if that means not always being a working writer” yeah, I was pompous, and then she asked me about social media and I admitted I did it entirely wrong and basically doomed myself.
Anyway, this is what, if I had any presence of mind at all, I woulda said. I too was once proud and wild, until the world beat it out of me. (ha, right) 


Prayer to Persephone

I was interviewed this week, by a young child who wears magenta jeans. It was disconcerting and extremely unpleasant (though the young child was very nice) and I hope to never have to do it again, which goes against my stated ambition of “being a great writer even if that means not always being a working writer” yeah, I was pompous, and then she asked me about social media and I admitted I did it entirely wrong and basically doomed myself.

Anyway, this is what, if I had any presence of mind at all, I woulda said. I too was once proud and wild, until the world beat it out of me. (ha, right) 

For K, without whom this might never have been written. 

For C, without whom such an equal music would never have been sought 

For M, without whom happiness might have had the last word 

and for bogey, without whom I am a grifter in the wind, and who turned four earlier this week. 

as complex as I am fictional: hardboiled murderous cyborg. 

as complex as I am fictional: hardboiled murderous cyborg. 

(Source: giganticworlds)

let’s just say I’m having a very huffy watching-buffy-in-2004 month stuck in fucking new york. 


People I know have been dying for a long time. But it’s only recently their deaths have accumulated urgency, like the end of their vitality was mine to share. Past a certain age, the death of each person you knew creates a void that you know will never fill, that you will never even seek to fill. Past that age, the death of a person you knew, even fleetingly, can feel, for a while, like the death of someone you loved. I met Matthew Power only thrice, and I communicated with him off-and-on for a few months. I can hardly imagine the loss that the people who shared his life have to endure. But to all mourning there is a public aspect, and to that I will add my respects. I owe his grace and his generosity that much. I will remember the hours we spent chatting amiably about sea turtles, and the kindness and encouragement he showed my writing. I will read his words, over and over, until I am numb. And I will hope that, in his final moments, he found peace. 

The Inevitable Lightness. 

The roads and everything on them fly up and dissolve
a net rises from the world
the cobweb in which it was dying
and the earth breathes naked with its new scars
and sky everywhere.

— W.S. Merwin. 


The Fates of Sugar Hill.

This weekend, reading Subashini’s masterful return-post, I started thinking about what it means to disrespect a blog. It struck me, for the first time, that perhaps it isn’t bogey who refused me, but that I spurned her when I began questioning the value of the work we did together. Then the Doniger thing happened, and while I’m not quite ready to return to the Big Blog yet, this is my peace-offering. Of sorts. 

In my time in the North East (gods I have grown to hate that imperial shorthand) only two memories became wholly, privately mine. One is the perfect day spent scrambling through Sohra. The other is the afternoon described below in what I called “a critical fairytale” in class.

It is, of course, nothing of the kind. 


Once upon a time, in a faraway country, a woman went walking in a sacred forest. It was forbidden to tame the forest or to leave with anything—memories made here belong to the forest. Not a leaf nor a twig could be disturbed, on pain of enduring a dreary, loveless life chased by the sceptres of dread and lost things. In this country, love was not sought, like a river or a mountain, it was an ent within a vast wood. It would find you, if you left the paths of the civilised and ventured, bold and steadfast, into the heart of the forest. If you entered, and agreed to leave transformed and empty. As she ambled, the woman thought about all the things solitary people contemplate when they escape society: the approaching death of her ancient, wise dog; the three-hour drive through hillside that had been destroyed for coal and limestone; the fairytales and myths that this small patch of wild wood had inspired, the fairytale, indeed, of love itself. But mostly she thought about Harlem, to which she would return in a few weeks. Harlem, where she would have to find another refuge, because love, which had found her so lately, had abandoned her again. 

Harlem is where Manhattan grows crooked. Some might argue Manhattan is born that way, the maze that is the city creeping out of the ocean like a splayed cephalopod, twisting this way and that, but the insular villages of the south make sense, if only to themselves. They inhabit their own logic: Chelsea is glitzy; Chinatown is kitschy; Alphabet City is schmaltzy. Harlem is a forest, trackless and depthless, a forest embroiled in a perennial argument with itself. So contested is the idea of Harlem that even its boundaries aren’t defined, in a borough otherwise devoted to borders. Is Spanish Harlem truly Harlem? Is Manhattanville? Harlem’s avenues sprout and tangle and disappear—St Nicholas Avenue, for instance, starts at Lennox Avenue, on 111h Street and swerves hesitantly west, until it finally blends into Broadway at 169h Street. Unlike the measured and predictable tread of New York’s more famous diagonal, St Nicholas rambles. 

At 135th Street, in the heart of Harlem’s Renaissance district, St Nicholas stretches along a park. To the west of this steep, ridged park is the City College of New York, the oldest public university in the United States. To the east is Strivers’ Row, where the woman was hoping to find a temporary home, away from the hostile memories of Sugar Hill. Finding your bearings in the neighbourhood around Strivers’ Row can be like orienting yourself in a gothic spaceship—a doughty dilapidated worlds-spanning vessel that witnessed a million generations of humanity, until a nostalgic fairy fond of bizarre buildings lost herself within it. It is a brooding, hulking space made light by pixie-dust. 

Yes, the woman wheezed as she climbed the steep cliffs of Mawphlang grove in Meghalaya, that was where a home might be found. There she might walk again, and, beneath the filigree arches across minuscule Convent Avenue, she would find her rhythm, her eye, and herself. In that place, which has always welcomed people who arrive with nothing but the little money they’ve saved, a little money they trade for a dream: a dream of belonging, or security, or, in this case, a dream of renewal. 


It has been a tempestuous few months. Heck, it has been a tempestuous year. For only the second time ever, emotional turbulence has utterly ruined my work life—and it is the first time it has done so in a manner I am wholly aware of. I watched my whole life whirl into chaos, and it was, in a perverse way, quite interesting. I saw it happen, and yet I couldn’t stop it, not for love nor sanity. The only explanation I have is congruence.  It happened because it had to happen. It happened not to teach me something (for life is not an illustration of principle) but to demonstrate something. 

I am a solitary person, and it takes many leaps, short and long, for me to contemplate the considerable implications of being lonely. And I have been lonely. Is it my fault? Likely. Will I do anything about it, besides learn to live with it? Unlikely. For I am a profoundly lazy person, especially about exploring the deeper trenches of my humanity. I prefer to pretend they don’t exist, and for the most part that works well. I have what my mother once called emotional inertia. It takes ages for me to make decisions, and even longer to realise I have a decision to make, but once I do it is resolved speedily. I drift, I strike, I retreat, I close. Din the oyster monster. Sometimes, however, events outpace my ability to process them, and that happened a lot this year. It wrecked me. 

But I finally find myself in the eye of the storm (quite literally, it is splash and flash and booming thunder outside as I write this). I will pay a price for it, of course, one always does, but it’s not a price I can foresee, and that’s not nothing. 

And so I reread Jane Gardam’s Bilgewater, as I often do when I find myself at the crossroads of destiny. The first time I read it I was fourteen, and a far mathsier person than I am now. The revelation that fiction is truth, magnified and magnificent, gobsmacked me as it does her. The vagaries and cruelties of fate were, for me as they are for Bilgewater, an equation. That faith—that one’s emotions can be logically assembled (or dissembled)—has never left me, despite life’s many attempts to convince me otherwise. I am blinder than she is, but then I try harder. 

Some of this has to do with intuition; when you perceive others’ emotions almost as strongly as your own, it is easier to abstract them than to endure them. Or, if you have that bent, to manipulate them. Envy, for instance—I notice it, but I don’t have the gene—which makes it laughably easy to engineer, given enough time and patience. Time and patience that I mercifully lack. Or rage, an emotion with which I am so intimate that we have domesticated each other. Oh, it would amazingly helpful to use people, but I’d need to be a great deal less interested in them to do so. And thus they become points on a graph. With my own emotions this is sometimes not the most efficient approach, and that’s when I turn to books like Bilgewater, which is funny and wise and barmy and has paragraphs like this one: 

The next day was the general paper and I chose an essay called Coincidence. I wrote steadily, easily, fluently, unhesitatingly. I wrote of chess, relating it to mathematics, of the final appropriateness of events, of Shakespeare with reference to Hamlet, of the The Tempest with reference to Sycorax, of the Eumenides, the “Kindly Ones” with reference (veiled) to father, Mrs. Deering, and the Reverend Boakes. I wrote of truth, and the necessity of it not to be manipulated and veiled in white samite, veiled in black sables, of Terrapin, of Terrapin’s versatile father—in philosophical terms of course. I ended with a dissertation on the mathematical peace experienced in the realms of chess, in the pathways beyond accident, coincidence, or desire.  

There is lot a person can do with Bilgewater, critically speaking. It is beautifully structured, so that the ending feels ordained without being in the least inevitable. The plot accelerates into such velocity towards the close that each sentence feels momentous. And the people, so subtly evoked. But analysing a book eventually ruins it, and I will need Bilgewater for many years to come. So, well, read it yourself. 


I have been having headaches. Horrid, blinding ones, which can be rather paranoid making in the eaves of a cold afternoon. And so, as one does, I read Borges compulsively, until I see his words etched into my mind.  


The skull within, the secret, shuttered heart,
the byways of the blood I never see,
the underworld of dreaming, that Proteus,
the nape, the viscera, the skeleton.
I am all those things. Amazingly,
I am too the memory of a sword
and of a solitary, falling sun,
turning itself to gold, then gray, the nothing. 
I am the one who sees the approaching ships
from harbour. And I am the dwindled books, 
the rare engravings worn away by time;
the one who envies those already dead.
Stranger to be the man who interlaces
such words as these, in some room in a house. 

A Blind Man

I do not know what face is looking back
whenever I look at the face in the mirror;
I do not know what old face seeks its image
in silent and already weary anger.
Slow in my blindness, with my hand I feel
the contours of my face. A flash of light
gets through to me. I have made out your hair,
the colour of ash and at the same time, gold. 
I say again that I have lost no more
than the inconsequential skin of things. 
These wise words come from Milton, and are noble,
but then I think of letters and of roses. 
I think, too, that if I could see my features,
I would know who I am, this precious afternoon. 

Also it was comforting to be rescued from the practical perils of metaphor today. 

On saturday night I sat in a bar and wrote my first poem in a decade. 

My first one… since. There has always been a safety in your gaze. 

I look for uncomplicated hymns
but love has none.

Anne Sexton, from “A Little Uncomplicated Hymn,” in Anne Sexton: The Complete Poems (Houghton Mifflin, 1981)

(Source: hiddenshores, via apoetreflects)