An exercise in memory

Things discussed in the span of three hours:

God, atheism, Buddhism, mental health, Catholicism, nature v. nurture, memory, whether the duality of good/evil is fair or ultimately biased, whether we can have a conversation that doesn’t result in one person being told he/she’s wrong, happiness, karma, reincarnation, Mario, texting, breakups, whether I will be punished for having free will, whether a person who is isolated from birth will be an atheist or a believer in religion, serotonin, anger, vespas, uncertainty, the inability to write, drugs, being used, using, San Francisco, leaving, abuse, parents, detachment, despair, dependence, birthdays, peer pressure, breaking the rules, death, weed, cigarettes, alcohol, therapy, fear, irrationality, farting, insecurity, men, women, children, cheating, sex, being thirsty, disability, fragmentation, the norton anthology of literary theory and criticism, dance, tagalog, age, Lennard J. Davis, honors classes, communication, mutual respect, friends, the 1950s, sexism, TV shows, USF.

Books of my life

There have been few books that have truly impacted me. Sure, there are the usual suspects like “Beloved,” “Heart of Darkness,” and “Lolita;” those are books everyone seems to love and quote from endlessly, but my list is much shorter. I guess I will start in chronological order, with the earliest first. I’ll also separate the list into Fiction/Nonfiction/Poetry.

Fiction

One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez (first read ~1999)

In all honesty, I need to reread this novel. I think I read it at least ten years ago, if not more, and I can hardly remember it. What I do remember is Marquez’ use of magical realism, which I believe to be one of the finest literary modes in use. Magical realism has come to define the way I view writing, and in some ways, the way I view living as well. Marquez was the first writer to challenge and inspire me. Reading this novel was like being taken into a room and battered with ideas for 468 pages.

Blindness – Jose Saramago (first read 2002)

I read this novel six times. I was a senior in high school and Blindness was assigned by our AP Lit teacher. After I read this, my friend B and I had to do a project discussing Saramago’s work through the lens of formalism. For some reason, we wrote our paper in six hours, the day before we were supposed to present it. We ended up getting a D. We had a good laugh about that recently. The novel itself astonished me for its inventive structure and the cast of characters Saramago employs. There’s not much to say about it in terms of plot, except for the fact that everyone in the world suddenly goes blind, with the exception of a woman. Characters are known by descriptive apellations (the doctor, the doctor’s wife, the girl with dark glasses). Some of the most visceral scenes take place in a mental asylum, inside which the blind have been quarantined. The novel is an examination of social breakdown and a possible allegory for the human condition. The ending will prove whether you are an optimist or a pessimist. I think this novel influenced me most of all through Saramago’s style, which mimics blindness and defies standard literary conventions by avoiding dialogic quotation marks and proper sentence structure.

Pale Fire – Vladimir Nabokov (first read 2008)

One of my picks for the top ten novels of the 20th century, Nabokov’s Pale Fire is absolutely worth the time spent arduously trying to get through the first half of the book. If you know Nabokov’s style, the novel is full of laughs. Everything is a joke played on the reader. I for one, love this, because it drives me to figure out what is going on. This novel is a perfect example of fantastic structure and slow plot reveals. Kinbote, the “narrator,” if I may call him that, is farcical to the extreme. His notes on specific lines (the novel purports to be an analysis of a poem) become flat-out digressions which have little or nothing to do with the lines they are referencing. I read Pale Fire the night of the final for my Nabokov class, in about six hours. Hell of a ride.

Disgrace – J.M. Coetzee (first read 2009)

Simply stated, this is the best novel I have ever read. Focusing on justice/animal rights/rape/post-apartheid South Africa, Coetzee manages to show one man’s fall from relative grace and his struggle for redemption. This novel is an exercise in understanding and accepting futility. I want to say that, once again, the ending will prove whether you are an optimist or a pessimist. This is one of the fastest reads you’ll likely encounter, because Coetzee’s language is pared down to almost nothing.

The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood (first read 2009)

I’ve already talked about this book at length, so I’ll just say that Atwood is a genius and leave it at that.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World – Haruki Murakami (first read 2009)

In my opinion, this is Murakami’s best novel. A mixture of science fiction, hardboiled noir, romance, and philosophy, Murakami will make you question the meaning of your life. There’s also an amazing statement on immortality, which is encompassed within an eternal subdivision of time.

Nonfiction

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – Dave Eggers (first read 2004)

What else did you think would be on this list? Eggers’ memoir gave me hope for being a writer. I think I unconsciously try to emulate his bold style. With the exception of the MTV scenes, this memoir is incredible. It’s both an examination of Eggers’ life after the death of his parents, and an ironic statement on the art of self-referential writing.

Poetry

Autobiography of Red – Anne Carson (first read 2004)

This is an updated retelling of the myth of Geryon, a monster slain by Herakles as part of his Ten Labors. This doesn’t really qualify as a pure work of poetry, because it is a novel in verse. It puts Geryon into the modern day body of a young man who falls in love with Herakles, but is later betrayed by him. Geryon loves photography and has red wings and travels to Argentina and sits in cafes watching tango dancers. Highly recommended.

A list of inconseqential irrelevancies and trivialities

It’s midnight and I’m thinking about the past, about things that must be done before I go to bed. For what must be the fourth or fifth time, I’ve gone to school to find the office I need to talk to closed. I’ve gone to Borders too many times instead of going home to get some work done. Although reading Margaret Atwood is always enjoyable, I haven’t been writing or revising, I haven’t been workshopping. I have residency applications due in less than two weeks, which means I have to send them out in about a week, and I’ve yet to come up with a cohesive set of project ideas, much less a writing sample.

Then there are logistical things to worry about: how am I going to pay the application fees, should I considering reapplying to MFAs this year, why haven’t I submitted anything to any publication in over six months? I really have only myself to blame, for all these problems, so I’ll stick to that.

A lot of these posts are strictly for me, though some are for others. I have no idea how many days my hair has been growing. 130 days seems like it was a long time ago. My hair now curls at the back of my neck and flows over my ears.

Surfer girl, surfer girl

Love random allusions to old Beach Boys’ songs. Nevertheless, this isn’t about the Beach Boys.

Since I’ve never really been the type to ask people out in person, I’ve always been rather interested in online dating. Sure, there’s a stigma against it, but if you find someone great, it’s hard to judge whether meeting them in person would have been a better alternative. We use the internet every day, so why not put it to use in another potentially productive way?

Anyway, I’ve used craigslist for a while, for everything, and there are some decent people posting ads there. Sadly, most of the ads posted now are spam, so it makes it hard to find legitimate postings. It’s funny, because as a guy, my chances of getting a reply from anyone are something close to 1 in 30, for two reasons: women get something like 200 messages in 24 hours, while men of the same potential caliber may get 5, and then of course, people always want a picture.

There’s the horrible tendency to make lists on craigslist, and it is hateful. If you don’t fit someone’s list of qualities, which for women is exactly the same – at least 6ft tall, tattoos, etc. – then you’re pretty much fucked, but that’s if you even get past the part where they look at your photo or bother to open your email.

I like craigslist because once in a while there will be a really cool ad that catches me by surprise and exhibits some sort of individual quality. I swear, every ad has the same bunch of interests, which include “staying out and also staying in.” That’s the best fucking cliche I’ve ever seen. Who doesn’t like to stay out or stay in? When there’s a good, ad, it’s really good. It’s like reading someone’s facial expression.

I like craigslist and other sites because it’s easy to just send someone an email and not have to worry about being rejected in person. I know, it would be better if I went out and met someone and had the nerve to talk to them, but I’m not that kind of person. I have met some great people online. One was my ex, two were people I dated, others are current friends, etc.

To get to the subject of the post: I emailed someone and also posted a satirical ad (because I was angry with all the listing going on) that was a huge list of the most vapid shit I’ve encountered. I actually got a response from the person I emailed, and responses from the ad I posted. Strangely enough, two of the responses were from girls who spoke Russian, which is kind of cool. I’m not usually interested in girls who are Russian or speak Russian because I sometimes feel intimidated by them because my Russian isn’t exceptionally good. It’s also weird to meet them and to wonder which language you should speak to them in. Then again, I dated a Russian girl with whom I was able to speak in both languages, and it was awesome because we could talk in Russian around English speakers and not have to worry about being overheard.

One of the girls is planning to move to LA, and we’ve had these wonderful email exchanges about Russian literature and surfing and whatnot, and she’s tall, which I find really endearing, seeing as the last girl I dated was 4’11”, and this girl is 6 feet tall. I can’t tell you how annoying it sometimes was to date the really short girl.

So, surfer girl seems like a connection worth having. She actually knows who Bulgakov is! I can’t tell you how amazed I am.

Now that I’ve gone and embarrassed myself, the next post won’t be so interesting.