Not Our Last


“Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.”

- Captain Wentworth’s letter, Persuasion (Jane Austen).

Let this goodbye of ours, not our last,

Not be the passion of frothy soaps,

But bloom with sails, tied to a mast.

//

Mind addled by salt, five fingers grasped on the past,

Your compass is silver and exact, in misted slopes,

Let this goodbye of ours, not our last,

//

End with salt sea-tears, they cannot cover an ocean so vast

Not mussed hair,tangled sheets and web-ropes,

But bloom with sails, tied to a mast.

//

Be you Commander or Mast

-er, you will shine like pearl-lustre, the colour of sea soaps,

Let this goodbye of ours, not our last,

//

Not a drinking fest or a 30-day fast

We grasp onto each other, dissolving like sea-foam,

Bloom with sails, tied to a mast.

//

In deep waters, lives the dearest freshness of trust

Each morning, at the bright brink eastward springs hope

Let this goodbye of ours, not our last,

Bloom with sails, tied to a mast.

//

I have never written a villanelle before. But I must admit that writing one is no easy feat. Hats off to Dylan Thomas and Elizabeth Bishop!

Technologically Inclined


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Of late, I’ve become more technologically inclined. So fast that it has even taken me by surprise. It only hit me after owning a Kindle Touch AND an iPad (2).

People have always seen me as an old-fashioned girl who champions brick-and-mortar book shops and paperbacks. And I suppose I’ve always yearned to adhere to that stereotype.

However, being set in my ways, you can imagine that I was quite resistant to electronic books. arms old almost see me go up in arms against the proliferation of technology. Especially when I first heard of eBooks.

Ugh.. Who can read on a screen? Forget trees, it’s a screen!!

Alas, I am now a proud Kindle owner and have not looked back since. A couple of months ago, my mom asked me if I would like a Kindle for Christmas. Given the convoluted means of purchasing the machine and the Kindle books, I quickly rejected my mom’s offer.

My sweeping rejection was perhaps an automatic response tempered by the large shelf of books in my room. Not to mention that I was very proud of my paperbacks. It pained me if I were to ever abdicate in favor of Modernisation.

As a rational being, I wanted to make an informed, rather than impassioned, rejection of technology. The more research I did, the more I became convinced that the Kindle was perfect for me. Even made for me. It was like the moment when Adam first looked at Eve, and knew that they were meant to be. It is of no little exaggeration for me to even say that the Kindle was probably made from the flesh of my limb. Because whatever genius made it probably had me in mind.

Up to getting my hands on it, there were times when I second-guessed my decision. (Now I can perfectly empathize with men who anxiously wait to receive their mail-order brides) O how the human errs.

As a pragmatic creature, I was astounded by the wealth of possibilities the Kindle store presented for me, especially that of the cheaper variety. Books are infinitely cheaper on Amazon. But perhaps even better was the fact that I could buy books on their release date. All this while congratulating yourself for using such an environmentally-friendly product.

Of course, I still treasure my paperbacks. But no longer do I harbor foolish fantasies of owning a library. The impracticalities of such dreams is almost insupportable given its extravagance.

More significantly, it boils down to the purpose of books. Are they meant to look pretty on a bookshelf or to be read? It is human folly to be prejudiced but even more so when we choose to cling to foolish notions that are based on loose leaves of whimsies. Books are meant to depart knowledge, open up realms of imagination that is not at all dependent on how “nice” a book looks or feels. The Kindle has stripped stylistic conventions of books and re-packaged them in its basic format.

Cuddling with a Kindle holds little merit for book lovers. But hey, don’t hate it till you’ve tried it.

Rediscover


With accordance to a higher tradition, this post should reflect on the year behind and muse on the year ahead. Unfortunately, I’ve already broken the first law by posting on January 4 rather than on New Year’s Eve/Day. So please, bear with me.

Personally, I’m really glad that 2012 has finally arrived. For personal reasons. and also because I tend to prefer even-numbered years to odd-numbered ones, 2011 was, overall, a terrible year. I don’t think I’ll launch into a tirade of self-pity. I do need to clarify that it was a terrible year for my writing.

If you may/may not have noticed, I didn’t compose too many posts in 2011. Part of the reason was my busy schedule and the fact that I participated in three different writing competitions. They weren’t particularly time-consuming but it did force me to write quite a bit.

And what kind of a writer would I be if I did not do a lot of reading? In 2011, I read 57 books in total. It’s a pretty paltry number to me. And if you’re wondering that I was so vain to keep a track record of the number of books that I read, then you are quite obviously not a Goodreads user. Thus, I invested most of my time doing plenty of research for future writings.

Of course, 2011 was not entirely terrible, it also had its peak moments. But mostly unrelated to writing or academia. I have been taking informal lessons in social relations and humility (although my younger brother would opine otherwise).

In 2012, however, I will be going on a journey of rediscovery (with and against my will). It sounds like a title for those “coming-of-age” novels (Does anyone know what they actually mean?) or the snappy by-line for Eat. Pray. Love. Or perhaps I’m just flattering myself by drawing comparisons to the smiling Mona Lisa, Juliet Roberts.

Fortunately, there has been no break-ups in the family nor tragedy. Just the mediocre soap operas that haunt my every day that are hardly worth a self-discovery trip of any sort.

In the latter half of the year, I resolve to be a more open and sociable person. And as usual, resolve to write more creative works too. Hopefully, I’ll be able to churn out a proper play. Something I have not quite attempted to do before. And perhaps another essay for the JASNA Essay Contest. And perhaps I’ll return to Singapore a more ‘smiley’ person.

Cheers!

Agon


“Anything worth doing, is worth doing well.- Lois McMaster Bujold, Memory.

Agony

“probably formed by Wyclif on the Latin agōnia of the Vulgate; though also found in 14th cent. French, agonie . The Latin is < Greek ἀγωνία contest, hence, mental struggle, anguish; < ἀγών , agon n.q.v.

The development of the senses in Greek was < 1. A struggle for victory in the games; 2. Any struggle; 3. Mental struggle, anguish, e.g. Christ’s anguish in Gethsemane.” – Oxford English Dictionary.

After studying in University for three semesters, I have learnt many things. A good majority of it is non-academic. Of course, I’ve had to learn them the hard way. No one said life is easy.

Studying in college can really challenge you and make you wonder if what you are studying is really worth studying at all. In school, you will meet many people. Maybe make some friends. And it’s not so much school challenging you.

Rather, it is the people you meet who are the catalyst (and cause) of your ‘struggle’. I hesitate to use the word “struggle” since there are bigger problems in life than school. But it’s a universal truth that the present will always present itself in the worst way possible. It’s a perennial condition.

After awhile, you will get tired of trying. You ask yourself if all this hard work (or s***) is truly worth it. You may try harder than that joker in the corner and sound brilliant in discussions but s/he will get the A. Not you. Again, no one said that life is fair.

The following excerpt will capture everything I want to say. Succinctly.

“Why?”

“Because I won’t let them do it to me. I can’t believe you haven’t seen through all this crap yet, Ender. But I guess you’re young. These other armies, they aren’t the enemy. It’s the teachers, they’re the enemy. They get us to fight each other, to hate each other. The game is everything. Win win win. It amounts to nothing. We kill ourselves, go crazy trying to beat each other, and all the time the old bastards are watching us, studying us, discovering our weak points, deciding whether we’re good enough or not. Well, good enough for what? I was six years old when they brought me here. What the hell did I know? They decided I was right for the program, but nobody ever asked me if the program was right for me.” – Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game.

And yes, you  will have every reason to be angry. All this anger and struggling will compel anyone to find an alternative support group.

Like getting a lovely companion (aka girlfriend/boyfriend). I suppose it’s nice to release all that stress on someone and make you feel loved again before you explode from all this lack of affection.

It’s also another reason why ‘religious’ societies are very active in school as well. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a cynic. In fact, I’m a fervent supporter of such groups. It’s always nice to have a group of people to huddle with.

Along the way, some of your seniors in school will tell you to stop “trying” because “there is no point in it”. I suppose that is true. You may not reap any physical rewards from working harder than someone else. Like Dink (from the earlier excerpt), you will grow weary of trying to win and decide to leave it to the fates to decide. Eventually, you will be complicit in the order of things.

So yes, I suppose there had better be a good reason why you’re studying whatever it is you are studying. You may just be really good at it. Or you may just love it. If you belong to neither category, more likely, you are floundering somewhere in the sea. I ally myself with the latter, with several meager attempts to group myself with the latter.

But you know what.

(Here’s where you go “What?”)

There is value in the struggle. That is a *lesson* I’ve learnt from Literature. It’s the reason why we have Romantic poets, twentieth century writers and postmodern writers. It is also the reason why great men always have tumultuous childhoods or trying times. It is hackneyed, but it is true. I’m not trying to inspire you or anything. Far from it. I’m just stating a truth. They’re all trying to break out of a mould. Breaking out of tradition.

“I don’t understand the agon, Odysseus,” said a young woman in the third row. Ada knew her name was Peaen. She was intelligent, a skeptic of all things, but this was her fourth day here.

“The agon is simply the comparison of all like things, one to the other,” Odysseus said softly but clearly, “and the judgment of those things as equal to, greater than, or lesser than. All things in the universe take part in the dynamic of agon.” Odysseus pointed to the dead tree he was sitting on. “Was this tree greater than, lesser than, or simply equal to… that tree?” He pointed to a tall living tree up the hill, at the edge of the forest there…

“That tree is living,” called the heavy man who had spoken earlier. “It must be superior to the dead tree.”

“Are all living things superior to all dead things?… Is a dung merchant alive today a better man than Achilles was then, even if Achilles is dead now?”

“That’s comparing unlike things,” cried a woman.

“No,” said Odysseus. “Both are men. Both were born. Both will die. It matters little if one still breathes and the other resides only in the impotent shades of Hades. One must be able to compare men- or women – and that is why we need to know our fathers. Our mothers. Our history. Our story.”

“Who is to the final judge of agon then?” asked a serious, older man in the fifth row. “Birds, bugs, or men?”

“All,” answered Odysseus. “Each in his turn. But the only judge who counts is you.”- Dan Simmons, Ilium.

If you are a cynic or pragmatist, you may think that this excerpt won’t necessarily apply to you. Well perhaps it won’t. And you may also be thinking that I’m going all “Lit”-ish on you.

But think about it. And yes, the word “agony” comes from the root word “agon”. Odysseus is talking about your conscience. But he is also talking about the value of struggle and death. Who are you pleasing? Or trying to please? Is it leaving behind a legacy behind like Achilles did? Odysseus will probably think so.

You may not be seeking to be a world-changer. In fact, you just want to do well enough in life not to stand out (too much) or be a loser on the streets. That’s fine. I’m sure most people desire the same thing. There is no folly in such desire. But I don’t suppose it makes you any different from a nomad wandering around.

In fact, it even says so in the Bible.

(Oh no, she’s going to go all ‘religious’ on us).

The Bible talks about struggling more than anything else. If you remember the story about Job, then you would know what I mean. Even if you aren’t a Christian, you should be familiar with the story. Or Paul and his thorn in the flesh.

12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.- Ephesians 6:12

What about Jesus and being stoned? The cross is the very emblem of struggle. And yes, there is value in that struggle.

I find the greatest comfort in the Bible and being Christian. It’s terribly depressing to think that you’re doing all of this for money or maybe personal merit. And I don’t mean this as an insult to atheists or agnostics. It is the one question they can never answer well enough for me.

Why try if I’m going to die?

Or perhaps I’m over-simplifying things. Many atheists are brilliant people. Of course they have every license to say that if they are brilliant. Most of them have got it made already. But what about the average person?

Me? I’m just a humble soul who has somehow hit on a pretty profound truth. Not very impressive stuff. I don’t claim to be an expert about school. Or the rat race. Or life.

To Borrow or To Buy


As of now, I am at home waiting for the delivery of my books from Kinokuniya, wrapped in my quilt blanket and listening to trashy pop singers who rhyme with Selena Gomez and Nikki Minaj.

Such wonderful self-confession has now compelled me to write about purchasing/borrowing books. In Singapore.

(And no, listening to trashy pop music has no bearing on this post. Thus, there was a noticeable absence of transitional words or a comma to indicate any correlation).

As a Literature major, you always get asked the same questions:

  1. So what are you going to after you graduate? Teach?
  2. Got any good books to recommend to me?
  3. Where do you get your books from?

People often do not have the courtesy to separate teaching from my future after I graduate. Most Literature majors are known for their acerbic wit. Being a polite and docile person, hardly anyone asking me this has felt the brunt of my stunning wit.

As for the second question, my answers always vary. I may love Austen and Shakespeare but I don’t recommend it to any Tom, Dick or Harry. Perhaps if I’m feeling motivated enough, I may be compelled to do a post on “Books You Should Read”.

Alright, no one actually asks me that last question but I’m pretty sure they’re thinking it in their head and are too polite to verbalise it.

I get my books from a variety of places. And being a cheapskate, I always look to the local libraries. So it’s no surprise that typing “nlb” into my URL bar automatically fills it with http://catalogue.nlb.gov.sg/. It’s not the most amazing site in the world. In fact, it’s pretty one-dimensional. So why not just walk to the nearest local library to borrow books?

Long gone are the days when I actually take two hours to browse for books. It’s too time-consuming and if you are like me, you would already have a list of books that you would be interested in reading. Going online to the NLB catalogue helps me plan where I should get my books. For example, if Book A is available (and NOT ON LOAN) in A and B while Book B is available at only B. It would thus make sense to travel to B instead of A and B. And you would have the satisfaction of having  borrowed a book that you have been eyeing for a long time.

Or if that book is in the Repository Used Book Collection (For example Stephanie Barron’s Jane and The Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor), you can always reserve the book online for S$1.50. It’s not a token price to pay and you can always pick it up at a convenient place.

Some of my friends enjoy possessing a paperback, which is fine and dandy. I have nothing against owning paperbacks. In fact, I am currently in possession of a fine enough library of books to last me a long while. But really, when buying books, I always ask myself two questions:

  1. Am I going to read this book 10 times?
  2. Ten years from now, will I still read this book?

The second question may be a tad difficult to answer. How would you know if you’re going to read this when you’re middle-aged? You should always read a book you read five years or ten years ago. Your emotional/intellectual response may surprise you. And gratify your ailing heart when you’re fifty.

While you may harbour quixotic notions of owning a room with mahogany bookshelves and well-stocked with books, all that bourgeois wastefulness is not environmentally-friendly (says the person who collects wrapping paper) and may be slightly pretentious. Dude/Gal, who are you kidding. Unless it’s well-thumbed, you can’t say that you’ve actually read it.

On the same tangent, I am also rather fond of second-hand books. I sometimes scour for books at the NLB book sales which the National Library holds about twice a year. You can’t get terribly wonderful books sometimes but if you look hard enough, they may be lurking somewhere.

Alternatively, I also visit SG Book Exchange. Most of the people selling books there are of population “bourgeois wastefulness”. It is true that some of them have only read the book once, left it in their storeroom for awhile and decide to sell it online later. Some of them sell their books very cheaply and I have gotten many books off there at wonderful prices in equally wonderful condition.

So what about brand new books?

Kinokuniya’s Bookweb Singapore is also on my speed dial (online). Many people always complain that they sell their books at exorbitant prices. That may be true if you are looking for something like Larsson’s “The Girl Who..” or other mainstream novels which you can easily purchase at Popular Singapore or Times Bookstore. Another friend has told me that I’m not longer supporting bricks and mortar bookstores. But if there is a certain book that you would really like to read but is not mainstream enough, Kinokuniya’s Bookweb Singapore site is a wonderful catalogue and it tells you how soon it will take to arrive. Also, they will tell you when they will arrive at your place by sending you an e-mail in advance.

I have also recently discovered the NOQ Online Store Asia which sells its books at amazingly cheap prices. The only catch is that you have to pay a S$20 membership price to enjoy these discounts. I haven’t signed up for one yet but it may be tempting for book-buyers.

Some of my peers buy books on Books Depository UK which has free delivery but I don’t find it any cheaper than what you would get at Kinokuniya.

However, if you have friends in the UK, books there are even cheaper. Especially on Amazon.co.uk. The prices there are about a third to three-quarters the price you would get in Singapore. I can now get my books at those “amaz”-ing prices (yes, I have already self-examined myself thoroughly).  By serendipity, I have many friends studying in the UK and do not mind carting books back to Singapore for me. <cue evil laughter>.

These are just an exhaustive list of options I have when it comes to book-buying/borrowing. And you can imagine that I keep a lot of tabs open when I’m sourcing for books.

For the curious readers, I am still wrapped in my quilt blanket and going to cuddle with a book on my bed to wait for the delivery man.

P.S. Unless you have an iPhone, the mobile library website is highly ineffective.