new windows

So… We finally got the broken windows replaced after that epic hail storm from a few weeks back. We also replaced some of the non-broken windows because they were just really old. The new windows are, well, new. What I mean to say is that the style is different, and the glass looks cleaner (for now, anyway), so these new windows are quite amazing, even if they really are nothing fancy. It’s not just about having new windows, but having a new way of looking out upon the world.

I can be particularly pensive around special occasions and milestones, so, naturally, instead of just appreciating the practical benefits of these new windows, I started thinking about perspectives and what else I’ve come to look at differently this year. I feel like this year has gone so quickly that I kind of wonder if I’ve managed to learn anything in these last twelve months at all.

One of the first things I thought of was that I’ve learnt that I don’t have to force myself to finish every book that I start. This is actually quite the revelation for me since, before this year, I probably never left a book half-read (or less than fully-read). And that’s probably because of a number of factors: Firstly, I’m quite good at accepting different genres and writing styles, so there aren’t many books that I dislike, and even fewer books that I dislike enough to abandon part way. This is likely because, secondly, I’m not overly critical and can be quite patient, so I might persist with a book in the hopes that it will get better, or something will happen in the story to make the whole thing worthwhile.

But I’ve come to realise that leaving a novel unfinished is not just about whether I’m hooked into it enough (although, granted, that is a signifcant deciding factor), but also about whether I do expect the journey to be worth my while. There are so many books out there that I want to read; I shouldn’t be using up valuable time reading something that’s unengaging. It is unreasonable for me to insist that I will enjoy every book that I read. (Conversely, I am worried about missing out on great novels if I get so hung up on crossing things off my TBR list that I stop picking up books at random. But I suppose this is more about leaving a book part of the way through, not rejecting a book before I’ve even read the first chapter.)

I don’t actually want to say which book it was that I didn’t manage to finish this year. Yes, it was only one book, but when I think about it, it did kind of feel like a weight was lifted from me when I accepted that I couldn’t finish it before it was due back at the library (partly because I just wasn’t engaged in the story, and partly because of external factors like not having enough time for reading). I’m actually not sure if I want to re-attempt reading that book another time, or just let the memory of it fade away in the recesses of my mind…

Just have to remember: It’s not admitting defeat – it’s recognising when it’s time to move on.

going up

I’m a big fan of incidental exercise, and I’ll often opt for stairs over elevators or even escalators. It might seem quite trivial, but it baffles me when I see able-bodied people (particularly school kids and teenagers) taking the elevator at the bus station when it’s always faster to take the stairs. I like to give benefit of the doubt, so I assume that maybe they’re just tired (but, really, it’s just 30 steps!)

At work, I always take the stairs – three flights every morning, unless I’m with someone who is opposed to stairs. Conversely, I’m positively delighted when the person I’m walking with (if I happen to be walking in to work with someone) unexpectedly suggests that we take the stairs (not many people do, and those that do don’t do so often enough).

Maybe I need to suggest stairs more often… The other day, I was showing our intern to a certain part of the hospital – six storeys up – and I asked if she wanted to take the stairs. To my surprise, she said yes. I actually had to ask a second time because I’d expected at least a bit of resistance, but she hadn’t even hesitated when she answered. “Respect plus”, as a friend of mine would say.

There generally aren’t too many other people taking the stairs in the medical centre (even though the lift is quite slow), and most of the other stair-goers are people who work in the building (and know that the lift is very slow). A few weeks ago, I came across an older gentleman taking the stairs up to the first or second floor (can’t quite remember which but I feel like it was the second floor). He had the slightest limp and was evidently not as fit as he used to be. But still he wanted to take the stairs.

He was quite cheerful too. I was also headed up the stairs, and he suggested that I could overtake him, since he’s not very fast. But I was in no hurry (I was about ten minutes early for work), and told him as such. He wasn’t going that slowly anyway, so I let him continue at his own pace, and I followed at a leisurely pace, making small talk about incidental exercise.

I don’t remember much else about that morning; I don’t remember what he looked like. But something about that incident has just stuck with me. I think it’s mostly because this gentleman, who had every excuse to take the elevator – his age, his physical ability, that he probably had an important appointment to go to – he still chose to take the stairs for apparently no other reason than because he can. He’s not going to not take the stairs because people expect him to take the elevator. Maybe it’s just me, but I find something truly admirable in that.

gratitude post

It feels like it’s been a long time since I’ve written more than one post in a week (which is my self-enforced bare minimum). What excuses can I use – too tired, lazy, uninspired? Doesn’t really matter, I suppose. These last few days, however, I’ve been getting that familiar feeling of desperately needing to write something. Not of anything in particular, but just something. It’s kind of like how I get restless if I haven’t gone for a run for a long time (a couple of weeks is a long time) but sometimes I just really want to run somewhere, even if I just went for a run two days ago.

Maybe I should do an end-of-year reflective sort of post now, since this post is evidently going to turn out to be just random, disjointed thoughts, anyway…

Wait, I have a better idea! I have, for a long time, considered it a shame that we don’t have a Thanksgiving-type holiday here. I don’t know a whole lot about Thanksgiving, but from what I gather (from TV shows, movies, etc and even from WordPress posts by people in places where Thanksgiving is celebrated), there’s a lot of gratitude involved and a lot of blessing counting. I know we’re well past Thanksgiving now, and almost at Christmas (well, not really – there’s still ten more days), but warm & fuzzy sentiments seem to get closer to the surface as the year wraps up, and I’m supposing that now’s a good a time as any for a gratitude post!

I may or may not have attempted to do this sort of post before (I honestly don’t remember, but it sounds like something I would’ve attempted to do) and, if so, I probably chickened out and didn’t publish it because, you know, as sentimental as I am, I’m not great with this mushy, pour-your-heart-out stuff. Not that it’s going to turn out like that, but we’ll see…

Let’s start out with something I find easy to write about: books. I am grateful that my eyesight is still good and that I have access to so much good literature. My most favourite book that I’ve read this year is probably ‘The World According to Garp’ (John Irving), followed closely by ‘Burial Rites’ (Hannah Kent). There have also been many other great reads that will probably stay with me for a long time. (Check out the ‘Books’ category in the filing cabinet on the side if you’re interested.)

I am grateful for my fitness and health, not only because it means that I can run and cycle and (since my trip to Queenstown this year) can go snowboarding, but also because it means I can help my parents with yard work and other chores, and because I’ve never had to take a sick day (since high school…?). Fitness is something that I’ve come to value a lot in recent years, and that’s what drives me to look after myself.

I am grateful that I have a stable job that I like, at a place that I like, with people that are amazing. (After much deliberation, I’m not going to elaborate on this one because I don’t think that I’ll be able to bring myself to publish the post if I do.)

I am grateful for the friends I met during school or work who I’ve stayed in touch with, even if it’s just randomly here and there. Even those who I hardly see any more, or not nearly as often as I might like – it is still exactly like that line from that song: “my universe will never be the same; I’m glad you came” (“Glad you came” by The Wanted) (Again, I can’t bring myself to elaborate on this because I will flake out and delete this post. Also, any attempt at sufficiently elaborating will most likely make this post ten times longer than it already is.)

And, of course, I’m grateful for my family because even though we don’t follow the lovey-dovey model of perfect (or nauseating) families, they are, after all, family.

Oh gosh, I think I’m all cheesed out now. Time to go for a run!

on the edge

Imagine, if you will, a line on a page that starts at point A …and then goes all over the page in random directions – sharp corners and smooth curves, unexpected twists and sudden turns. A line that moves unpredictably, even moving off the page, in three dimensions, like the most extreme and most impossible rollercoaster you can imagine. And, like a rollercoaster, the line eventually returns to point A, where it started. And you enjoyed the ride for the most part, but the journey was almost beyond belief.

That’s pretty much how I feel after reading Haruki Murakami’s ‘Kafka on the Shore’. I thought I’d read some pretty weird and random novels in the past (e.g. ‘The World According to Garp’) but this was on another level altogether.

I was initially quite excited to find a copy of KOTS at the library, and even more excited to start reading it. I’m not really sure why, but I just felt like this was going to be an important book – a significant and meaningful story. Well, I certainly can’t say that I was disappointed. It’s definitely a rather deep, philosophical and thought-provoking read.

At times, when I was most immersed in the book, it felt like it was slowly, subtlely changing my way of thinking, making me look at things differently, so that I see significance in minor details, while realising the unnecessary attention and emphasis given to things of little import (in the grand scheme of things). It’s kind of hard to explain, but it’s almost like the surreality (not sure if that’s actually a proper, accepted word) of KOTS seeped into the real world.

But, being honest (and I’m always honest here), I’m not entirely sure of what I’ve taken away, or what I’ve learnt, from reading KOTS. I actually don’t really fully understand the point of Kafka’s journey (as I said, it was like a crazy rollercoaster that finished where it started). And then there’s the other characters – Nakata, Hoshino, Oshima, Miss Saeki – and the interplay between them all. They sometimes seem too convenient to the story, especially how Oshima and Miss Saeki take Kafka in, and how Hoshino randomly decides to tag along with Nakata to help him out just because he reminds him of his grandpa.

I feel like maybe I could decipher it all if I went back through the book and really thought about it and deconstructed everything, but I also feel like part of the profoundness of the book arises from this confusion and mystery. I’m also thinking that perhaps the story feels important because it always seemed like Kafka was doing important things. But it’s not that straight-forward (KOTS is most definitely not a straight-forward book) because, as I said, he just returns to point A in the end. So was it really that important?

I’m not even sure that this post is making much sense. I reckon the books I read influence how I write (whether these effects are far-reaching or short-lived is another matter) and maybe KOTS has left my mind a bit disjointed.

While I was still reading KOTS, I wrote down some words to describe the story: abstract, bizarre, “interesting”, thought-provoking, etc. I think “thought-provoking” is the best descriptor – not just because it has made me think about life, but because I spent a lot of time wondering what the heck was going on. It was one WTF moment after another. There were also some unanswered questions at the end, so if you like having all loose ends neatly tied up at the conclusion of a story, then you might not be too fond of KOTS.

This was my first Murakami novel and, I think, the first novel I’ve read that’s been translated from Japanese. I reckon I’ll always have reservations about reading translated texts, but until I have the mental and temporal capacity to learn Japanese, French, Spanish, etc (or re-learn for Japanese), I’m afraid I have to trust in other people’s interpretations (or otherwise miss out on incredible stories like this one). I consider Japanese to be quite an eloquent and beautiful language, and I think that this preconception made me feel like the English translation didn’t do the story justice. There were several occasions when I paused during my reading and wondered if some of the nuances had been lost because, despite the scope of the English language, there are still feelings and concepts that we don’t have words for.

I did try to ignore the fact that it was a translated version but it wasn’t as easy to do as with other translated novels I’ve read (e.g. ‘The Angel’s Game’). Nevertheless, in the end, I almost feel like the juxtaposition between the simple – well, not simple per se, but not-as-nuanced language – the contrast between that and the complex nature of the subject matter actually kind of worked out well. But, you know, who am I to say that the translation wasn’t wholly accurate?

I reckon ‘Kafka on the Shore’ is one of those novels that could be discussed for hours on end – if only I knew people who have read it. As with ‘The World According to Garp’, I wish I could recommend KOTS to everyone, but I’m not sure if many of my friends would actually enjoy it. I suppose if you like to be challenged by what you read, then try ‘Kafka on the Shore’, or try any Murakami novels. I’m definitely keen to read more of his works.

rain, hail, shine

There are only 28 days left in the year. This year has been a bit of a blur; it’s been a bit of a whirlwind. But I think it’s a bit early to get all reflective and reminiscent, so let’s leave that for another post.

These last six days have been quite a whirlwind – these six days since that epic hail storm last Thursday. Hail the size of cricket balls, apparently (and probably just as heavy) and winds reaching up to 140km/h. It’s a wonder that our house is still standing (our house is pretty old).

There are many broken windows in my area (my house included). Lots of cars dented and windshields cracked. My neighbour’s house took a bit of a battering, but at least the damage seems to be mostly superficial. I’m amazed there aren’t more fallen trees; I haven’t really seen any in my neighbourhood, anyway. I’m supposing that our banana trees don’t count. They weren’t so much fallen as bent. I had to cut some of them down yesterday morning before work.

It was quite a sight to behold, waking up on Friday morning and going outside to survey the damage. It looked and smelt like a battlefield in a war fought between trees and other plants. The backyard was just completely covered with leaves and branches. I’d never seen anything like it.

As bad as everything seemed, I didn’t want to be negative about it. It seems that my mind is constantly looking toward the positive. Leaves all over the ground? Excellent, I’ll rake them up over the week-end (raking leaves is one of my most favourite garden chores). Some stuff got wet? Not a problem – we need to get rid of a few things, and the rest will dry up eventually.

And then there are the “at leasts”: At least no one was hurt (that I personally know); at least only one side of the house was affected; at least the roof didn’t fly away; at least we didn’t lose power. (Well, we did lose power briefly at one stage, but it wasn’t for very long at all.)

It’s also sort of reassuring to know that we have the capacity to deal with problems like this.