The Loveliness of The Long Distance Runner

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Isnt’t that quite a lovely title for a story? An English love story, for that matter. And it was one of the twenty eight original works by masters of the craft (ie: Elizabeth Bowen, Katherine Mansfield, W. Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf – to name a few) that has been picked and edited by John Sutherland in The Oxford Book of English Love Stories. Plenty of gems to dive into, covering a whole spectrum on the timeless subject of love, and I’m sure it won’t be difficult to find a story that can just fit the mood (and ardour) of the moment.ūüėČ

I had picked the lovely title above as the first story to dip into, mainly because the words had spoken to my imagination and had conjured up a rather promising picture of what the story might be (well, turns out it wasn’t what I had imagined, but I loved it nonetheless!).¬†I was also¬†curious (and surprised) to learn that this piece was by Sara Maitland, whom I have so far only been able to associate her name with non-fiction works. Will definitely look out for her works of fiction too, from now on.

My lover has the most beautiful body in the world. Because she runs. I fell in love with her because she had the most beautiful body I had ever seen. What, when it comes down to it, is the difference between my devouring of her as a sex-object and her competitive running? Anyway, she says that she does not run competitively. Anyway, I say that I do not any longer love her just because she has the most beautiful body.

The Anatomy of Hope

Anatomy of Hope - Groopman

Dr. Jerome Groopman’s The Anatomy of Hope: How People Prevail in the Face of Illness, may not be the kind of book with a title that will grab your attention and make you reach out for it from the shelves, but I am glad I did. Not only did I find it to be insightful and informative, but it was also much more readable than I had imagined (no thanks to the¬†title) and did make for a most engaging read. I was really taken in by the sincere humility and honesty in which Dr. Groopman’s voice came across on the subject matter.

I learned much, and found the writing to be really helpful.

Personally, the past few years have been a rather¬†exhaustive struggle for me in trying to help someone dear in my life, see hope. Dr. Groopman’s insights and observations have no doubt given me now a better understanding on the matter, ¬†and armed me with better tools to approach the¬†subject, moving forward.

I thought about this, how our minds naturally jump to picture the negative outcome and stall there. It is because the mind is frozen by fear, and fear overwhelms hope.

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Hope can arrive only when you recognize that there are real options and that you have genuine choices. Hope can flourish only when you believe that what you can do can make a difference, that your actions can bring a future different from the present.
To have hope, then, is to acquire belief in your ability to have some control over your circumstances. You are no longer entirely at the mercy of forces outside yourself.

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To hope under the most extreme circumstances is an act of defiance that [….] permits a person to live his life on his own terms. It is part of the human spirit to endure and give a miracle a chance to happen….

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I’ve come to believe that the way the body talks to the brain powerfully shapes our sense of hope or despair. [….]
Hope, then, is constructed not just from rational deliberation, from the conscious weighing of information; it arises as an amalgam of thought and feeling, the feelings created in part by neural input from the organs and tissues.

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The question of hope became more than just a subject of study for Dr. Groopman¬†when¬†a ruptured lumbar disc, sustained while he was training¬†for the 1979 Boston Marathon, found the doctor himself¬†becoming¬†the patient. It was to be the start of a long and debilitating journey, of living life with pain as a constant companion, for¬†the next nineteen years. After nearly having given up all hope of recovery, Dr. Groopman was finally referred to the ‘right’ doctor.

“What do I mean that you are worshiping the volcano god of pain?” he asked. “You interpret pain as a red flag, a warning that you are doing damage to your body. So you sacrifice things that you love, activities that give your life joy, to be kept free from pain. You say to the volcano god: ‘I will give up walking long distances if you keep me out of pain. I will give up lifting my children if you keep me out of pain. I will give up travel, because long trips stress my spine. Just keep me from pain.’
“But this god is never fully satisfied with any offering: It is appeased for only a short while. So the more you sacrifice, the more it demands, until your life contracts, as it has, into a very narrow space. I believe you can be freed from your pain. I believe you can rebuild yourself and do much, much more. [….] You think what I am saying is complete bullshit. You’ve lived all these years without any real hope, and it’s hard to open that door and glimpse a different kind of life.
[….] It’s your choice: to try or not to try. You can walk out of my office now and believe everything you’ve believed for the past nineteen years, and live the way you have. Or you can test me. And I’ll tell you now, I’m right.”

I am glad to let you know that those words were indeed put to the test, and finally he was able to recover back the ‘life’ that he had lost in those nineteen long years of chronic pain.

Dr. Groopman also managed to draw a very clear picture of the Body-Mind and Mind-Body Connection, with regards to hope.

This is the vicious cycle. When we feel pain from our physical debility, that pain amplifies our sense of hopelessness; the less hopeful we feel, the fewer endorphins and enkephalins and the more CCK (a chemical that blocks endorphins) we release. The more pain we experience due to these neurochemicals, the less able we are to feel hope.
To break the cycle is the key. It can be broken by the first spark of hope: Hope sets off a chain reaction. Hope tempers pains, and as we sense less pain, that feeling of hope expands, which further reduces pain. As pain subsides, a significant obstacle to enduring a harsh but necessary therapy is removed.

He goes on further to say that even by simply being able to alleviate a patient’s fatigue, which is a common unremitting symptom for many, by just a little, can have major impact on a patient’s sense of hope.

Without hope, nothing could begin; hope offered a real chance to reach a better end. Hope helps us overcome hurdles that we otherwise could not scale, and it moves us forward to a place where healing can occur.

….. no one is beyond the capacity to hope.

And the book closes with these parting thoughts:

….. we are just beginning to appreciate hope’s reach and have not defined its limits. I see hope as the very heart of healing. For those who have hope, it may help some to live longer, and it will help all to live better.

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A Little Goes A Long Way

penguin 5000 miles

Did you all hear of the story about the South American Magellanic penguin who swims 5,000 miles each year to be reunited with the man who saved his life?

It is one of the most heartwarming stories I’ve come across in a long while.

I think we all need to have more stories like this to be reminded  every once in a while, that the world can indeed be a much kinder place, if only we are willing to go the extra mile for a fellow living being, in need of a helping hand.

 

A Matter of Choice

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To love at all is to be vulnerable.
Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.
But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change.
It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.
To love is to be vulnerable.

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

The Joy of Letters

A lovely tender-hearted letter from you to me, from Rome, once the capital of the world and still capital of the Danesi ladies, came to me this last week. What joy. Bless the inventor of writing, be he Chaldean, Arab, or stone-cutter from prehistoric, shapeless scribes without known geography. By words we can write thoughts, we can write loves, hates, hopes, angers, memories, hungers of the soul and senses and make plans for a future.

Janet Flanner, ‘Darlinghissima: Letters to a Friend’

 

I have always loved the idea of letters, be it in the writing or in the receiving of one. Sadly though, both these activities are scarcely happening nowadays (for me, that is.)

I just learned recently that February happens to be the official month of letters, and so was kind of inspired to read some, at least (yeah, I love reading other people’s letters!) :p
Do you?

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January

JANUARY.
It was all things. And it was one thing, like a solid door. Its cold sealed the city in a gray capsule. January was moments, and January was a year. January rained the moments down, and froze them in her memory: the woman she saw peering anxiously by the light of a match at the names in a dark doorway, the man who scribbled a message and handed it to his friend before they parted on the sidewalk, the man who ran a block for a bus and caught it. Every human action seemed to yield a magic. January was a two-faced month, jangling like jester’s bells, crackling like snow crust, pure as any beginning, grim as an old man, mysteriously familiar yet unknown, like a word one can almost but not quite define.

Patricia Highsmith, ‘The Price of Salt’

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January has been a rather good month, in terms of reading, for me. Managed to finish three books (although two of them were actually started before the year began), and it feels good.

I received a review copy of Anne Goodwin’s Sugar and Snails towards the end of last October, and actually started reading it back then. I usually don’t accept review copies since this blog was never much about book reviews anyway and frankly, because I am quite rubbish at it. But my interest was piqued with the storyline and I am glad to say that it has been a rather compelling read. The fact that I took so long to finish was no fault of the book, but simply my own tendency to get easily distracted.

I enjoyed the writing and although the story is told in alternating timelines between the present and the past, it was seamlessly executed. The slow unfolding of the protagonist’s story, is one coming-of-age story of a woman in her midlife who has to deal with secrets that can no longer be kept ‘secret’. To say more would spoil the way the story is meant to be told by the writer, who has very skillfully constructed the many layers in the storytelling.¬† Here’s what the writer has to say about the book.

For a book that is much about restraints and repressions, I found this particular passage to be most liberating.

Waking on the morning after Venus’s party, stretching my arms above my head and pointing my toes into the corners of the bed as the bells of St George’s tumbled in the distance, I felt as free as that twirling toddler in the oversized tutu. Revelling in the full four-foot-six of bed width, and the whole house beyond it. Alone, but not lonely. An entire day ahead of me to spend exactly as I wished. Answerable to no one but myself.

But my favourite line from the book was simply this:

I thought I’d managed to compose my face, if not my feelings…..

Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn is not a book I would have likely chosen on my own to read because I am not really into fantasy books or fairy tales. If it wasn’t because this happens to be one of my favourite blogger‘s favourite book, I would have sadly missed out on the fun and wit (and even some rather profound truths) that came from the surprisingly enjoyable reading experience I had from it. Apart from some of the descriptive narrative on certain landscapes and certain characters which I was a little impatient to get over with at times, it was mostly an engaging read. It is a tale about the adventures and journey of an unicorn (and the friends she made along the way) on a mission to search for the rest of her kind, in order to know that she is not alone. It is also a tale of friendship and love (and much more). Told you I was really bad at reviews. :p

Here are some of my favourite lines from the book:

The magic on you is only magic and will vanish as soon as you are free, but the enchantment of error that you put on me I must wear forever in your eyes. We are not always what we seem, and hardly ever what we dream.

from Schmendrick the magician, who has yet to become great.

“Weaver, freedom is better, freedom is better,” but the spider fled unhearing up and down her iron loom.

from the Unicorn to the spider, who would not stop at her meaningless futile labour.

My secrets guard themselves – will yours do the same?

from King Haggard to the Lady Amalthea.

And here’s the one that really made me laughūüėÄ

Prince Lir said hoarsely, “I must go. There is an ogre of some sort devouring village maidens two days’ ride from here. It is said that he can be slain only by the one who wields the Great Axe of Duke Alban. Unfortunately, Duke Alban himself was one of the first consumed – he was dressed as a village maiden at the time, to deceive the monster – and there is little doubt who holds the Great Axe now.If I do not return, think of me. Farewell.”

The writing is lyrical, and the book is peppered with exquisite little gems such as these: ‘the sigh of a satin gown’; ‘seeing the shadow of their dreams scurry over their faces’; ‘Prince Lir marveled suspiciously, which is an awkward thing to manage….’ and lastly, the delightful closing lines: “And this is what they sang as they went away together, out of this story and into another…..”:)

Despite both the above being engaging reads, it is still without doubt that my January has been just like the opening quote up there…. “It was all things. And it was one thing….”¬† It was Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt (a.k.a. Carol).

I have listened to the audiobook, followed by reading of the ebook (in parts), watched the film, and have been listening to nothing else but the soundtrack from the film ever since. I really love the music score, and am rooting for Carter Burwell to win the Oscar for Best Original Score. And for Cate and Rooney, of course, as well as for Best Screenplay, Best Costumes and Best Cinematography. I still cannot believe that the film was snubbed from a spot for Best Film and Best Director, though.  A real injustice, I feel.

I thought I have read the book some years back, but apparently I must have not read the book properly at all, because I seem to have recalled almost nothing (except the really major scenes) and even what I thought I remembered, turned out to be mostly inaccurate impressions. It was rather shocking to discover how unreliable my memory and impression of the book turned out to be. It was as if I was reading it for the first time again. Which made it all the more thrilling, actually. Quite a treat!

I came away with much more too this time around, and it’s not likely that any of this is going to slip away from memory as easily as it did before, because like a solid door, this particular January and its moments have now been safely shut in.

Carol raised her hand slowly and brushed her hair back, once on either side, and Therese smiled because the gesture was Carol, and it was Carol she loved and would always love. Oh, in a different way now, because she was a different person, and it was like meeting Carol all over again, but it was still Carol and no one else. It would be Carol, in a thousand cities, a thousand houses, in foreign lands where they would go together…..

 

The Rights of A Reader

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You can’t make someone read. Just like you can’t make them fall in love, or dream.

This is Daniel Pennac’s passionate defense of reading for pleasure, and one in which I have decided to take refuge in right at the onset of this new reading year.¬† I find his reminder to readers of their rights to read anything, anywhere, at any time, as long as they are enjoying themselves, to be rather timely in helping me decide to stop reading Emma (in fact, I had already stopped a couple of weeks ago) and to put it back onto the shelves (without feeling guilty) until I find it calling again. My initial plans to read it in conjunction with its 200th anniversary seems to have hit a snag and instead of struggling to overcome it, I have opted to exercise my “right to not finish a book”. For now, at least. I certainly want to come back to it someday, just not now.

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I got this copy from the recent book sales, but it was somehow misplaced and I didn’t even realize it was missing when I shared the photos of the book hauls in my previous year end¬† post until it re-surfaced again sometime last week. Just when I was debating on what to do with Emma. A bookish godsend, I guess.:)

A New Chapter Begins

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WordPress just reminded me that today is the 4th year since I first registered my little blog with them.

Four years ago today, I had wanted a place to call my own, a place where I can indulge in all my bookish passions and obsessions, with little or no reservations. Four years later this day, I am still as enthusiastic about this space as I was then and what it means to me. Though often the enthusiasm may not have been as well represented in terms of the frequency or consistency in the maintenance of the blog, I am still very glad for the existence of this little corner of the blogosphere where I can call, ‘home’.

Here, I know that I am with friends.

:)