THE X-GENERATION v.s. PROUST


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I’m supposed to be  reading Proust, but I’m not. I’m  playing hooky.  Instead of slogging through Proust I’m giggling my way through the cult classic by Douglas Coupland The X-Generation.

 During yet another of my tidy-outs in preparation for the annual Cavendish Centre Charity Book Sale, I found the battered little paperback, its screaming pink cover only a little faded, and I thought : must read this again before I turf it into the Donations Box.  And believe me, the escapades of the Silicon Valley ‘90s generation make a welcome escape hatch from Proust’s rural village life, in Combray, France.

I can hear you thinking:”Why on earth is this woman reading Proust?”

Good question. The blame falls squarely on the Norwegian novelist, Karl Ove Knausgaard, he of recent fame – see my blog post titled Making Soup & Contemplating Life. Having finished Vol I of his family saga and reading lit crits of his novel/memoir, whatever it is, I kept finding comparisons between KOK and Proust. My curiosity was piqued.  I’d never read Proust. Which was hardly surprising, given the fact that the 1950s Rhodesian education system did not venture into the dangerous waters of European culture. The closest we came was a route march through a Shakespeare play and Keats’ poetry. I suppose I might have encountered Proust had I studied Literature at University, but my life took a different direction, namely towards earning a living, and not the quiet groves of academia.

So at this late stage of my life, I’m dipping my toes into European cultural waters and I’m not sure I’m a happy bather. Proust is so long-winded! Verbose would be an understatement. One sentence can colonise an entire page. At this stage of my life, I’m definitely a citizen of the blogosphere, a traveller thru the World Wide Web, where short sound-bytes do the trick. Even Wikipaedia has short entries.

So picking up Generation X  and taking a breather was pure relief. And a great deal more entertaining, I should add. If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favour and do so – it’s fresh, even though it was first published in 1991. Apparently Coupland was tasked to write a non-fiction account of the birth cohort that followed the wave of baby-boomers, but he wrote a novel instead, and voila! Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture hit the shelves. The book follows the lives of three disillusioned and alienated twenty-somethings, living in LA. It sounds grim, but it isn’t.  Slowly it became a cult novel, and one of his catchphrases McJob *  became part of late 20th century language;  *(indicative of a boring, regimented, lowly-paid occupation – do I need to spell out the analogy between this and the famous American food chain? No? Good! I don’t want to be sued by an American mega-food-corp).

As for finishing Vol 1 of Proust’s In Search of  ….   well … umm … maybe. Fortunately a kindly librarian gave me an extended two month loan period on the book. I’m going to need it. And possibly an extension on that. On the other hand, I could also say ‘fuggedaboutit’ and return it to the Library. Time will tell.

And yes, I can see why others have compared KOK to Proust – they both share a passion for trivial detail, but at least Knausgaard looks like a rock star. Weary readers can always rest their eyes on his pic inside the book jacket for light relief!

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WHERE DOES THE TIME GO ? 


 

It’s really quite ridiculous. Here I am, retired, and finding myself without a second to even sneeze. Busy, busy, busy.

Friends phone me up to arrange a coffee date, and we find ourselves one or two weeks hence  into our diaries … because its ten days before I have a free slot – crazy! Anybody would think I was a top flight executive. Any day now I’ll need a Social Secretary to manage my diary.

People often say “You keep yourself so busy!” either in tones of admiration or condemnation (delete inapplicable).  Not so. I’m not deliberately  trying to keep busy.  It’s just that there are so many interesting things to do or see. Plus there are my weekly addictive sessions with Mah Jongg and Scrabble. Not giving those up!

And then there’s the theory that as you age, time speeds up in an inverse ration to your age – or something – I’ve never grasped that. I know I should, but I haven’t.  I remember, when I was about 5 or 6 years old, how it took FOREVER for Christmas and your birthday to come around again, whereas nowadays I’m clutching my forehead and gasping, only another 62 days until Christmas – where did the year go??   Never mind the Christmas juggernaut rolling towards us – lately I wake up in the morning, and find that its Friday again,! Dammit, we just had  Friday! Where on earth did the week get to?

I’m definitely running out of time.

Recently a psychic told me I have another 20 years left to me before I depart this mortal plane. Yes, well, no fine … On the one hand I was immensely cheered because it means I now have time to finish my Fantasy novels. And it may take that long. I felt as if I’d been given a gift: another twenty years! Wow!  But on the bad days, it doesn’t seem like such a bonanza.

There’s an old saying “Man proposes, God disposes”. Perhaps the best thing to do is live each day as best we can. An old song had the line  yesterday is history, tomorrow still a mystery  and all we really have is NOW, just this moment, as the Buddhists would say. And this moment. And this moment.  That old American hippie, Ram Dass, once wrote a book titled “Be Here Now”. Pretty good advice.

 

 

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24 HOUR QUARANTINE FOR MY TIME-TRAP


 

I can hear your response: Huh? What’s a Time-trap?

Here is a brief guide to  help identify the pests:

  • They’re generally rectangular
  • The casing is usually black, grey or silver; but they also come in funky colours, much loved by the young
  • The small traps house their own power supply, but the larger ones require connections to the mains
  • Their tribal names may include Nokia, Blackberry, Sony, HP, Apple, Samsung, Dell, Lenovo – do I need to go on?

Who wouldn’t rather be watching TV, or playing games on their i-phone/tablet, or surfing the net on their PC, rather than dutifully editing their novel? Come on, ‘fess up!  We’re only human, after all.

I’m indebted to my writing friend, Dawn, who acts as my Writer’s Conscience, on writing issues, and she introduced me to this hold-all term. And I thought: Yesss! She’s right (again!) I know just what she means.

So on Saturday I vowed not to turn on my PC which is my biggest writing Time-trap. I don’t own a Smartphone, and my elderly Nokia mobile serves as a useful tool and nothing more. TV? My mother brainwashed me years ago about the crime of wasting daylight hours by watching TV, so that takes care of that.

For me the PC  is a magic carpet to anywhere in the world – or the universe, for that matter. It’s an Aladdin’s cave of entertainment and information, where I’ve spent many happy exploratory hours instead of working on my novel, on my memoir, on my blog posts, on my competition entries – the list is endless. Sigh.

So I resolutely left the PC sulking in its corner on Saturday and accomplished so much without its evil influence – I was quite astonished by the end of the day, when I climbed onto the couch, for some mental chewing gum i.e. TV.  I tidied out cupboards, sorted out my craft material – throwing out a ton of STUFF in the process; I made huge in-roads on a craft project that’s lurked around for months; I wrote a book review;  I mended my favourite yellow jersey; I read 4 chapters of a novel that I’ve been struggling to finish; I made West African Sweet Potato Stew for supper, and last of all, I made my cat deliriously happy by providing under-cat heating once I flopped onto the couch.

All in all a good day. Today I switched the beast on, but it’s been strictly business, including typing this blog post.

Give it a whirl: go on a PC fast – you’ll save power, do a million worthy things, and feel so virtuous at the end of the day. In fact, I’m going to declare one quarantine day every week. I might even finish the tapestry I’ve been avoiding for the last two years. Stranger things have happened.

 

 

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MY LIGHTBULB MOMENT – ADDAMS FAMILY STYLE


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Recently an on-line acquaintance sent me an invitation to join Zorpia, so – ever obliging – I clicked YES, and the deed was done; another social network: well – why not? I’m an accomplished Facebooker, a reluctant LINKED IN member (does anyone ever actually get any work via LinkedIn I wonder?) so Zorpia – pouf! This we can do. Until I discovered it’s prime purpose was a Dating Site.

Yes, well, no fine. I’ve joined Dating Agencies before, way back when, back in the misty past before electronic grabbed us by our digits, when cellphones didn’t exist – yes, readers, there was such a time,  hard to believe I know, but there was such a time. And I was three decades younger, and a good time was had by all. But now? In my senior years?  Hmm, I’m not so sure.

I’ve been deleting invitations and refusing to click on prospective beaux. A real old killjoy, that’s me.  But tonight it hit me like a runaway express train – I had the classic AHA Moment – I know what’s missing on Zorpia. Yup. The light bulb went on while I was watching one of my favourite movies  Addams Family Values. It’s a wild comedy  set in its own dark universe, containing two glorious, wonderful creatures, a stirring reminder of eternal love and volcanic passion. I’m speaking of Gomez and Morticia Addams, of course.

The American cartoonist Charles Addams created the macabre Addams Family in the pages of the New Yorker magazine, during the 1940s; and then some 40 years later two movies arrived, based on the cartoon characters: The Addams Family  followed by Addams FamilyValues.

 Anjelica Huston gives a bravura performance as the tall, mysterious, remote, stylishly gowned Morticia – she of the blood red talons, the smouldering glances, the dead white skin, the swishing fish-tail hems of her black, black gowns. Her consort is Gomez Addams (unkindly referred to somewhere along the line as ‘that over-heated Spaniard’ played by the actor Raul Julia with superb verve); he is the epitome of suavity, with his thin mustache, his brilliantined hair, his fancy waistcoats, his top hat, his cane (in reality its a swordstick : of course it is! What else would it be?) He’s elegance personified, but with a dangerous edge – fencing and knife throwing are but a few of his many talents. Whoever arranged the movie casting should have received an award – the casting is inspired.

Although Morticia and Gomez are married – with two homicidal, dark children, (Wednesday – the girl, and Pugsley – the boy) plus a new baby to prove it – they are still passionately in love with each other. Morticia has but to throw a languorous sideways glance at Gomez and huskily whisper “Mon cher” and Gomez  is inflamed with passion, covering her with kisses from her crimson fingertips up to her marble neck, and murmuring  seductively of painful delights to come – tonight, and forever! Amorous phrases, murmured in a foreign language – any foreign language – are as a match to a petrol bowser, so far as Gomez is concerned.

There’s a marvellous scene in Addams FamilyValues  where Gomez and Morticia perform a tango at a gypsy night-club. It’s the most dramatic, sensual tango I’ve ever seen – makes Strictly Come Dancing look like the Teddy Bears’ Picnic . At one point Gomez whirls Morticia around so fast that she spins away down the dance floor, her fishtail hem and the dance-floor catching fire from the exploding passion and music as she spins – it’s sensational!

Now that’s what I’m missing on Zorpia – the romance, the passion. If there’s a suave gentleman on Zorpia who relates to Morticia and Gomez’ fiery romance, and he can tango – well! What can I say? I’ll be squeezing into my slinky black sequins and dusting off my black dancing shoes ….. can’t wait!

 

 

 

 

 

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THIS IS THE VOICE OF AMERICA.


My love affair with the Radio continues.

As I lay in bed, alternately groaning and cursing during a  bout of gastric ‘flu, my feeble hand managed to grasp my Samsung Galaxy tablet, and started fiddling with the icon marked BBC Radio. I have to say, I think that small action improved  my health  more than all the ginger tea, Probiotics, and other remedies combined.

I spent a happy time discovering a weird variety of  stations ; one  poured out Bangladeshi Classical music; another pumped out jolly  accordion/organ sing-a-long tunes from the Nederlands. Radio Venice offering baroque music. A station in Sweden broadcasting in Farsi. I’m still trying to work that one out. And,  no, I don’t speak Farsi. Radio Mediterranean offered a heady mix of Armenian, Arabic, Italian, French, Greek music. There were umpteen Polish stations promoting music from hip-hop, to acid jazz, to urban funk, lounge, and salsa. Fabulous! Almost worth being sick. Almost, but not quite.

Long ago, when I was a misunderstood teenager, I was given a portable radio – battery powered, of course, I’m speaking of the pre-electronic age, a.k.a. The Olden Days. It  had short, long and medium wave reception. I think it was a Phillips radio, in a smart cream and chocolate plastic casing. I absolutely loved it, and would spend hours twiddling the dial, fighting the dreadful static and the waning battery power, straining my ears for the tiniest snatch of LM Radio’s weekly Hit Parade, or trolling through foreign language stations, listening to streams of exotic sounding languages, and desperately wishing I could understand some of it.

But the one station that was always amazingly clear, was the Voice of America. You knew immediately when you hit it, because out poured a stream of jazz, or  Benny Goodman’s band, playing a swing tune. Just knowing that I was listening to someone or something from half-way across the globe gave me such a thrill. It still does. Over and out!

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MAKING SOUP & CONTEMPLATING LIFE


 

Because I’m currently reading, no : absorbing – or trying to – Mary Paterson’s book “The Monks and Me”, I’m paying careful attention to peeling carrots, the rasp of the peeler, and plop  of the peel landing in the bin. Next comes the peeler over the cylindrical shape of the sweet potato – no rasping this time – just the thin purple peel dropping silently into the bin; noting the myriad little indentations still clad in skin. Taking the washed  potato to the old yellow and white chopping board; the cool,wet pressure against my left hand as I grip it firmly, the pressure of the knife handle in my right hand, the effort to force the knife through the thick object. Then the crisp chop-chop-chop sound of the knife as I slice the potato into batons. The creamy white flesh against the bright yellow tea-kettle design on my antique chopping board. Paying attention.

How much attention do we pay to our daily lives? In my case – very little. Whilst I may be multi-tasking  all day long, for how much of this time am I really present with my actions? Not much. I know I spend 90% of my time preoccupied with plans, thoughts, ideas, reminders, rehearsing speeches, more plans , the occasional  memory fragment, more plans … and so it goes, all day long. Mary Paterson went on a 40-day silent retreat at Plum Village in France, the monastery of renowned Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn. She diligently followed the routine, the schedule, the meditation periods, the Noble Silence, the instruction on Mindfulness (be here now!  as Ram Das so succinctly said, so long ago).  And it paid off. As she puts it, “she returned Home” to a peaceful place within.  The book is very readable, in short chapters, one for every day of her retreat. So: if you’re feeling beleaguered by pressures of modern life, read this book! And start  paying attention.  Slowing down.  It works.

Another writer who is  currently receiving a lot of attention, is the Norwegian writer, Karl Ove Knausgaard, with his mammoth exploration of his life titled in Norwegian ‘Min Kamp’ – yes, that’s right, ‘Mein Kampf” in German and in English : My Struggle. It was Socrates who proclaimed : . An unexamined life is not worth living. The unexamined life is not the life for man. KOK has certainly taken this dictum to heart.

One Goodreads writer sourly recorded that it had been too much of a struggle, and she’d abandoned the book. Others lavished 5-star reviews, while others wondered why the trivial minutiae in his daily life was of any interest or importance to his readers. I saw him  being interviewed by Razia Iqbal on BBC arts & culture programme, Talking Books,  recorded at the Hay Book Festival this year, and was smitten by his Viking good looks – those blue eyes and that silver hair! However, I’m not sure that I’m up for a 3 000+ page exposition of his life, some of which appears to be sordid and difficult e.g. the aftermath of the death of his alcoholic father. Not only this, but the account of Knausgaard’s life is not a memoir, says the author, it’s a novel, despite being a blisteringly true account of current events within his own family. Some of whom are now not speaking to him. No, really, he cannot have it both ways. Either it’s a memoir, or it’s fiction. And if it’s a factual account of events and people in his life, including himself, then surely its ….  Oh I don’t know. Life’s too short. Go figure.

For some reason, whilst chopping veg for my soup (and obviously not paying attention to what I was doing  – yet again!) I recalled reading a book by Marilyn Robinson titled Gilead*, which is narrated by an old minister, living in a small American town, at the end of his life,  and the reader is privy to his reflections about his life. This remarkably short book was a masterpiece of simplicity and clarity, humility and wisdom. I think I’ll buy a copy of Gilead  and forgo the task of enduing the Norwegian saga.
*Marilynne Robinson’s second novel, Gilead (2004), won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Ambassador Book Award. Gilead takes the form of a letter from an ageing Iowa preacher to his seven-year-old son. Written in simple and sparse prose, it is an uplifting meditation on life. http://contemporarylit.about.com/

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RECENT READS: The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson. (translated from Swedish)


 

 

Definitely the jolliest Swedish book I’ve ever read! Somehow Swedish novels – and  I must confess I’ve only read Swedish crime novels – tend to be heavy and dark.

The novel is a surreal comedy, a sort of Charlie Chaplin (i.e. the 100 year old Allan,) on steroids; a tall story, a funny story, and actually a very skilful exposition about the utter futility of politics and war.

There are parallel strands : 100 year old Allan Carlsson – an explosives expert, who really enjoys a drink or two, escapes from the Old Age Home on his 100th birthday. He escapes slowly and ineptly, but en route manages to get tangled up with criminals, has a huge adventure, makes new friends, and gets married for the first time at age 101. The second strand is alternate chapter flashbacks to Allan Carlsson’s remarkable life, which takes the reader through the decades. The mild Allan meets every world leader of note (Stalin, Mao, Harry Truman, to mention a few) and plays a part in world events. Along the way Jonasson points out the weaknesses of all the “isms’” that his hero encounters. Actually, to be accurate, the mild Allan is more of an anti-hero, than a hero. It’s an engaging read, with the daring insertion of a live adult elephant , yes, a real, live elephant, into the Swedish countryside!

The novel was greatly acclaimed; rightly so. It’s fresh and inventive and belongs in the Mann Booker Nomination Lists.

 

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REFLECTIONS ON MY FIRST JOB


 

My first job, when I left school aged 17, was with  a firm of lawyers who came straight out of a Charles Dickens novel:  Calderwood, Bryce Hendrie, Smith & Abercrombie.  The year may have been 1959, the town may have been Bulawayo, the country may have been Rhodesia but the atmosphere was definitely mid-Victorian.  We had to wear stockings to the office, and only dresses or skirt and blouse; trousers?  No, no, no! Not permitted.

I was hired as a Junior Shorthand Typist. The typewriters were manual Underwoods, weighed a ton, and left your fingers sore at day’s end from pounding those keys.    Typex hadn’t been invented, neither had the photocopier – it was carbon paper copies and no erasures allowed!

 

If a Senior Staff member passed you in the corridor you were expected to flatten yourself against the wall and wait until they had swept past.

Every Thursday the entire office received cake at tea-time, Mr Bryce-Hendrie having left a specific bequest in his Will with the proviso that  his favourite, Fly Cemetry slices from Downings Bakery , be served. In case you’re wondering about the disgusting name, the cake consists of a hard biscuit top and bottom with a sticky mixture of minced cake fruit sandwiching the two together. Very more-ish, despite the awful popular name.

Because I was a bright little button they decided to shift me from the Debt Collections Dept and teach me the glories of Property Conveyancing .  Debt collection might have been squalid, but at least it wasn’t boring.  Conveyancing, I soon discovered, was stultifyingly boring.  So after six months of hard labour, for the princely sum of Seventeen Pounds per month (approx ZAR34-00 : can you believe it, & on this I paid rent at the Girls’ Hostel, as well as daily running costs i.e. cigarettes, toiletries etc ). I left this Dickensian style salt-mine  – freedom at last! but it was short-lived, my next job was in the office of a textile weaving mill: deafeningly noisy, underpaid, and baffling  – terrible working conditions – I lasted two months there. The only bright spot was a devastatingly handsome Portuguese factory Manager who gave me lessons in Portuguese; confined alas to the language, because he had a fierce, buxom Portuguese girlfriend . My Portuguese never progressed much beyond polite greetings, plus a scattering of words which I already  knew  from one of Nyasaland’s native languages, Chinyanja, which I spoke fluently in those years. So I knew useful things like the Portuguese words for hat and shoes, but not much else.

As you can see, my entry into the workplace was varied, un-enjoyable, and driven by economic necessity. Pretty much the story of the remainder of my working life, I regret to say. Job satisfaction and career didn’t feature much in my working life, but keeping a roof over my head and food on the table was Numero Uno for many years. I assume there’s a moral in it somewhere – darned if I know what it might have been!

 

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BINGEING AT THE LIT FEST


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The weather is autumn perfect. Leaves are red and gold. The encircling mountains are chocolate-box blue. So is the sunny sky.  Gardens are bright with flowers, apricot hibiscus bushes are lush. Broekie lace trims verandahs, paintwork is fresh, verges are clipped green mats. It’s got to be Franschoek in May. It’s the annual Franschoek Literary Festival.

Everybody’s here: the literati and the glitterati; the bookworms and the browsers; the wannabe writers and the published stars; the critics and the columnists; the nervous new panellists and the blasé old stalwarts.  Biographers trade secrets in coffee lounge corners, while the blue rinse brigade congregate in wine bars and brag about their literary dinner parties. The Hospice book sale is in full swing, and the elderly ladies down the road in the rambling second-hand store have dusted off their smiles along with their calculators. The impeccable owner of Africana and First Editions sits magisterially at his burnished desk and welcomes patrons into what he describes as an extension of his private library . And it is indeed meticulously arranged, the books are slip-covered in library film, categorised to the last decimal point. It seems crass to disturb the gleaming displays by actually purchasing a volume. However, the prices are so rich and rare (like everything else in Franschoek) that this impecunious blogger scuttles away, suitably chastened.

A more affordable option is the chocolate shop – it reeks of chocolate, and is crammed with sinfully enticing merchandise wherever you look, and I succumb. My willpower can resist only so much temptation, and then I crumble. But it was worth it – oh! that  chocolate marzipan, flavoured with orange peel … one of life’s little pleasures and indulgences.

A quick pit-stop at the coffee wagon, and then on to happy hours of panel discussions, interviews, debates. The only downside is my backside, when forced to sit on bone-achingly hard pews in a church, which serves as one of the venues. But a quick sprint through the streets to the next venue,  helps to ease the aching a little.

I listen to academics expound; poets are surprisingly hard-nosed about sales figures; book review columnists ask awkward questions; publishers get technical; new writers gush enthusiastically or mutter unhappily; successful novelists toss bon mots to the adoring audience. And, I regret to say, several writers speak in condemnatory tones about bloggers who dare to write reviews of their work. Hey! Come on guys! Us bloggers are not out to crucify you! And not all Lit Bloggers are ignorant yahoos from the murky electronic depths – in fact, I have read many deeply erudite book reviews on Literary Blog sites. Just because we don’t have an MA in Creative  Writing doesn’t automatically consign us to the ignoramus section – we’re writers too, and more importantly most of us are your readers, or your prospective target market. A little fellowship here would be appreciated.

That said, it was a grand event, and I can’t wait for next year’s Franschoek Literary Festival.

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TO TWEET OR NOT TO TWEET ….


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To tweet or not to tweet …. that is the question. A thoroughly 21st century question it is too. Are we going to Twitter or are we not going to Twitter?

It became glaringly apparent at the Franschoek Literary Festival, that if you’re an author who’s looking to widen your readership and boost your book sales, then you’d better be out there Twittering briskly on your Smartphone and diving boldly into the Twitterverse. Or whatever it’s called. One wit told us that an amalgam of the predominant social media titles leaves you with the tag  Twitface … Do I want to be a Twitface? Do I need to be a Twitface? I’m already Facebooking and that’s time consuming enough. Will I land up with thumb sprain if I tweet as well?

I’m no Luddite, I’m all for electronica, but  somehow Twitter is a byte too far for me. When do the Twits find time to do anything else? Like write, and work on their books, for instance?  Or cook a meal/play with the cat/commune with their significant other? And do I want 4 000 followers eagerly awaiting my latest pronouncement on what I ate for breakfast, or some other equally vitally info-byte?

Two speakers at the Lit Fest compared Twitter to having a huge, noisy cocktail party yammnering constantly in their heads. No thank you. Not for me. I have enough trouble dealing with my own plethora of mental debris let alone time and headspace to take on other people’s Twitter Trivia.

I recall a very old children’s rhyme that said:


The Wise Owl

The wise old owl
Sat in an oak.
The more he saw,
The less he spoke.
The less he spoke,
The more he heard.
Why can’t we be like
That wise old bird?

‘Nuff said.

 

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