The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

Thoughts at reading the first 250 pages of the book:

Rambling treatment on communism, made less interesting by the fact that I simply do not81Fe79gaTNL care about the major or minor characters, their thoughts, ideas, their situation and involvement in politics of their day and age which should have been relevant for a later generation far removed from the politics following the Second World War, but the author seems to have little disregard for an audience other than that of her time and age. The feministic ideals are apparent but too shallow to have a considerable impression on me. The Black Book has so far been a tiresome tirade on Anna’s experiences with her novel, the inception of the idea which flowered into her only novel correlated with her theories on communism and involvement and eventual disillusion with the said political ideology.

I still don’t care about Paul, Jimmy, Ted and Willi despite the exhausting details of their in-party lives – the characters in Anna’s journal entry are just that, characters and not people. I’m not concerned with their misfortunes and personality traits, they are neither inspiring not interesting, rather seem irrelevant to the initial plot of two women discussing highly charged domestic affairs. Here’s to hoping these minor male characters are bought to sense in the book ahead.

Excerpt

“And the others? Paul and Willi together, talking about history—interminably. Jimmy in argument with Paul—usually about history; but in fact what Jimmy was saying, over and over again, was that Paul was frivolous, cold, heartless. But Paul and Ted had no connection with each other, they did not even quarrel.”

“But instead of the hard drinks he wanted us to order, we asked for wine, and he brought us chilled white Cape wine. It was very good wine; and we did not want to drink the raw Cape brandy Mr Boothby brought us but we did drink it, and then some more wine.”

Skipping lines terminally. Tedious and boring read on political agendas and political activism. Anna’s introversion is excluded, the diary detailing on observations rather than personal learning and emotional experiences. Throughout the diary entries, Anna seems like a bland author far removed from her fellows despite having shared an important phase of her life within them.

Thoughts on the first 850 pages

After the tedious blathering covering the first four, five hundred pages, Anna’s half-finished story of Ella brought about the true beauty of the novel – Ella and Paul’s characters breathe fresh refinement into a novel that is just now beginning to form shape. Interesting, vibrant and true to life the story of Ella and Paul, and the commencement of a doomed relationship provides for an interesting, introspective read.

Thoughts on Chapter 2

I find myself skipping yet again the story of Comrade Stalin. Why must Anna, or rather Lessing, brazenly torture the reader with outdated, intangible, politically motivated stories which seem so disconnected to the “original” plot of the story (that of Anna and Molly’s lives) that it virtually renders the reader (myself alone) uninterested and dispirited.

Thank goodness, the Stalin story lasted a few pages and still I have no mind for revisiting them since by now I know that would be futile.

Ella’s aborted relationship with Paul has had dire effects on her, much relatable to any harsh breakup one goes through. While I was reading Ella’s story, I kept reimagining Anna as if the writer and her character are inseparable, two extensions of one person. Ella is Anna, Anna is Ella (or at least what she hopes to be).

Thoughts on the Third Half

The De Silva story profoundly angered me, which if I can trace back is the exact response the writer (or feminists as a whole) want to elicit from me: to viciously loathe the male gender. Anna’s portrayal of De Silva is nothing short of ridiculous, and it was not only his character that made me furious but also that of Anna who is briefing in her diary his hateful personality, his childish need for mothering, yet she sleeps with him the very night he bares a grim story to her.

So far all the men Anna has associated with have been married, with dutiful albeit miserable wives and a handful of children. Anna seems to care for the poor wives only when a certain time has lapsed in her relationship with a married man and when he starts to show his true colours, his weaknesses and shortcomings. That is when Anna begins to pity the home bound wives, she begins to sympathise with them just and only when the man begins to fall short of her expectations. This behaviour is ugly and notorious, and does it not go against the feminist ideals? In other words, Anna uses a married man for as long as he succeeds to meet her expectations, and when he begins to fall at par, she discards him using his wife and character traits as a crutch.

Thoughts on Chapter 4

Anna’s relationship with Saul Green is undetermined. She is in love with a hurtful, indifferent, very complex man despite having been in a relationship with all previous men who exhibited the same traits Saul Green does single-handedly. It is pitiful and ugly. Has Anna learnt nothing? Did she fall in love with Saul only when she claimed to herself that she might? Did that very question trigger her feelings even when she knew deep in her heart he was bad for her? Or has she come about to love him because he needs mothering, since all the previous men in her life were in need of constant pampering?

This brings me to another point, that of the novel being a solely feminist read. Do feminists believe that all men have an inherent need to be nurtured? This may even be derived from the Freudian concept of Oedipus Complex, but in this case it runs the other way around. Isn’t it dangerous for women to believe that any male around them is there to seek validation of the self, that they must be a crutch for them? The men in the novel are definitely portrayed as such, but I tend to disagree with harsh conviction. Yes, women are naturally inclined to be softer in matters of heart, are more nurturing than their male counterpart but that does not give one the right to treat their men as they would a child, to extend to them the same ideas and thoughts as one would with a young one. This is a dangerous book in terms of the hatred it invokes against the male gender and how it typifies their kind.

What is the meaning and implication of an androgynous mind? Anna seems to refer to it time and time again, this time in reference to Saul Green – the multifaceted, troubled man she has taken under her wings as a lover and as a child:

“I slept and I dreamed the dream. This time there was no disguise anywhere. I was the malicious male-female dwarf figure, the principle of joy-in-destruction; and Saul was my counterpart, male-female, my brother and my sister, and we were dancing in some open place”

Now that the tumultuous relationship between Anna and Saul had ended, I sighed with relief only to find out a few pages later that she would go to bed yet again with an American, a novelist, a broken half, a man-child Milt and to add to that, a tenant of hers. I’m aggravated to say the least.

“You don’t think there’s something slightly extraordinary about a state of affairs where a man walks into a woman’s flat and says: I’ve got to share our bed because I fall into space if I sleep alone, but I can’t make love to you because if I do I’ll hate you?”…

And later:

“In the morning she felt from deadly cold in her arms, a weight of terrible cold, like holding death. She slowly rubbed him warm and awake. Warm, awake, and grateful, he came into her. But by then she was already armed against him, she could not prevent herself from being tense, she could not relax.”

This duplicitous, self-antagonising behaviour exhibited by Anna who keeps making the same mistakes over and over have gotten tedious and rotten by now. As much as I enjoyed reading about her chaotic relationship with Saul, her slow descent into madness around him, I was much relieved when it ended. And now we are here again, the last few pages of this momentous novel and I feel as a reader I have learnt as little from this story as Anna has from her life.

What a flat ending! Molly’s getting married, Anna will be dishing out marriage advice, Tommy and Marion and Richard will continue living their usual lives; I’m unmoved by Paul, Willi, Ted, Jimmy, MaryAnn, Mrs. Boothsby and the whole Mashopi Hotel gang…on the whole an unfulfilled, quick ending to an otherwise unnecessarily long, rambling novel marked by keen insights here and there. My first impressions remain unchanged.

“The point is,” said Anna, “as far as I can see, everything is cracking up.”

So perhaps the end of the novel is justified in terms of not only Anna’s growth, but that of political ideologies, and other ideals the society vouches for.

FREE WOMEN 1:
ANNA MEETS HER FRIEND MOLLY IN THE SUMMER OF 1957 AFTER A SEPARATION

• The two women were alone in the London flat. “The point is,” said Anna, as her friend came back from the telephone on the landing, “the point is, that as far as I can see, everything’s cracking up.”

• When the two women went out together, Anna deliberately effaced herself and played to the dramatic Molly. When they were alone, she tended to take the lead

• Molly, abrupt, straightforward, tactless, had frankly domineered Anna

• But now, sitting with Molly talking, as they had so many hundreds of times before, Anna was saying to herself: Why do I always have this awful need to make other people see things as I do? It’s childish, why should they? What it amounts to is that I’m scared of being alone in what I feel.

• And so had his eyes been, like Tommy’s even when he was looking at someone: as if turned inwards on himself

• “They aren’t—what I mean is—they aren’t what they do; but if I start working with you, then I’ll be what I do. Don’t you see that?”

• She did not want Tommy flushed out of the safe period of contemplation she was offering him by the fire of Richard’s ridicule.

• “I didn’t know Anna was writing at all, these days,” said Molly, coming in firmly. “I don’t,” said Anna, quickly. “There you are,” said Tommy. “Why do you say that?” “I remember telling you that I’d been afflicted with an awful feeling of disgust, of futility. Perhaps I don’t like spreading those emotions.”

• “Do you realise how many of the things we say are just echoes.”

• “I reverted to my most primitive communist phase—you remember, when one thinks all one has to do is to shoot the bastards—that is, before one learned their opposite numbers are just as irresponsible”

• “Because this is the country we know. The other countries are the places we don’t think in.”

• “Well he’s currently in prison so I suppose by this time next year he’ll be Prime Minister.”

• She covered the windows over, listening with pleasure to the intimate sliding sound of the curtain runners in their deep grooves

• When I said that to Mother Sugar she replied with the small nod of satisfaction people use for these resounding truths, that the artist writes out of an incapacity to live. I remember the nausea I felt when she said it; I feel the reluctance of disgust now when I write it: it is because this business about art and the artist has become so debased, the property of every sloppy-minded amateur that any person with a real connection with the arts wants to run a hundred miles at the sight of the small satisfied nod, the complacent smile

• Now, writing about it, I have to switch it off, or “a story” would begin to emerge, a novel, and not the truth. It is like remembering a particularly intense love affair, or a sexual obsession. And it is extraordinary how, as the nostalgia deepens, the excitement “stories” begin to form, to breed like cells under a microscope

• Yet the communists had inspired them because a dedicated faith in humanity spreads ripples in all directions.

• It was from Willi I learned how many women like to be bullied. It was humiliating and I used to fight against accepting it as true. But I’ve seen it over and over again

• Anna,” he said, or chanted. “Anna, beautiful Anna, absurd Anna, mad Anna, our consolation in this wilderness, Anna of the tolerantly amused black eyes

• George needed a woman to submit to him, he needed a woman to be under his spell physically. And men can no longer dominate women in this way without feeling guilty about it

• If there is a couple in the centre of a group with a real full sexual relationship it acts like a catalyst for the others, and often, indeed, destroys the group altogether

• I have never, in all my life, been so desperately and wildly and painfully happy as I was then. It was so strong I couldn’t believe it. I remember saying to myself, This is it, this is being happy, and at the same time I was appalled because it had come out of so much ugliness and unhappiness. And all the time, down our cold faces, pressed together, the hot tears were running.

• Better the evils we know

• A born talker, never stops talking, but the most interesting kind of talker there is, she never knows what she is going to say until it is out of her mouth, so that she is continually blushing, catching herself up short, explaining just what it is she has meant, or laughing nervously. Or she stops with a puzzled frown in the middle of a sentence, as if to say: “Surely I don’t think that?” So while she talks she has the appearance of someone listening

• There are hundreds and thousands of people, all over the country, simmering away in misery and no one cares

• She was thinking: If I go, I’ll have to iron something to wear. She almost got up to examine her clothes, but frowned and thought: If I’m thinking of what to wear, that means that I really want to go? How odd. Perhaps I do want to go? After all, I’m always doing this, saying I won’t do something, then I change my mind. The point is, my mind is probably already made up. But which way? I don’t change my mind. I suddenly find myself doing something when I’ve said I wouldn’t. Yes. And now I’ve no idea at all what I’ve decided.

• To move, mile after mile, through the weight of ugliness that is London in its faceless peripheral wastes made her angry; then the anger ebbed out, leaving fear

• Looking around again she saw it was not a party, but an association of people who were there because the Wests had said: “It’s time we asked some people around,” and they had come saying: “I suppose we’ve got to go over to the Wests.”

• “On the surface everything’s fine—all quiet and tame and suburban. But underneath it’s poisonous. It’s full of hatred and envy and people being lonely.”

• Every fibre of herself is woven with him, and she cannot imagine living without him. The mere idea of being without him causes a black cold fear to enclose her, so she does not think of it. And she is clinging, so she comes to realise, to this image of the other woman, the third, as a sort of safety or protection for herself.

• “You and I are the boulder-pushers. All our lives, you and I, we’ll put all our energies, all our talents, into pushing a great boulder up a mountain. The boulder is the truth that the great men know by instinct, and the mountain is the stupidity of mankind.”

• And yet I, Anna, like Ella with Paul, refused to see it. Paul gave birth to Ella, the naïve Ella. He destroyed in her the knowing, doubting, sophisticated Ella and again and again he put her intelligence to sleep, and with her willing connivance, so that she floated darkly on her love for him, on her naivety, which is another word for a spontaneous creative faith. And when his own distrust of himself destroyed this woman-in-love, so that she began thinking, she would fight to return to naivety.

• What Ella lost during those five years was the power to create through naivety.

• She told herself that she knew no one who was absorbed heart and soul in the work they did; everyone seemed to work reluctantly, or with cynicism, or with a divided mind, so

• Ella had a dream which was unpleasant and disturbing. She was in the ugly little house, with its little rooms that were all different from each other. She was Paul’s wife, and only by an effort of will could she prevent the house disintegrating, and flying off in all directions because of the conflict between the rooms. She decided she must furnish the whole house again, in one style, hers. But as soon as she hung new curtains or painted a room out, Muriel’s room was re-created. Ella was like a ghost in this house and she realised it would hold together, somehow, as long as Muriel’s spirit was in it and it was holding together precisely because every room belonged to a different epoch, a different spirit. And Ella saw herself standing in the kitchen, her hand on the pile of Women at Home; she was a “sexy piece” (she could hear the words being said, by Dr West) with a tight coloured skirt and a very tight jersey and her hair was cut fashionably. And Ella realised that Muriel was not there after all, she had gone to Nigeria to join Paul, and Ella was waiting in the house until Paul came back.

• Yes, the stupid faith and naivety and trust had led, quite logically, into her standing at the window waiting for a man whom she knew, quite well, would never come to her again.

• To show a woman loving a man one should show her cooking a meal for him or opening a bottle of wine for the meal, while she waits for his ring at the door. Or waking in the morning before he does to see his face change from the calm of sleep into a smile of welcome. Yes. To be repeated a thousand times. But that isn’t literature. Probably better as a film. Yes, the physical quality of life, that’s living, and not the analysis afterwards, or the moments of discord or premonition. A shot in a film: Ella slowly peeling an orange, handing Paul yellow segments of the fruit, which he takes, one after another, thoughtfully, frowning: he is thinking of something else.

• She is there because she cannot deeply feel about anything. She is frozen

• “But yesterday I met a woman who has been in psychoanalysis for ten years—an American naturally.”

• It occurred to me, looking at this room, that the raw unfinished quality in my life was precisely what was valuable in it and I should hold fast to it

• All I can remember when I wake is that I have been crying. When I told Mrs Marks, she said: “The tears we shed in our sleep are the only genuine tears we shed in our lives. The waking tears are self-pity.” I said: “That’s very poetic, but I can’t believe you mean it.” “And why not?” “Because when I go to sleep knowing I am going to cry, there’s pleasure in it.”

• “All self-knowledge is knowing, on deeper and deeper levels, what one knew before.”

• 12th Jan, 1952 When President Truman told the world, early in 1950, that the U.S. would accelerate efforts to produce the H-bomb—which would have, according to the scientists, an explosive effect 1,000 times greater than the Hiroshima bomb, or equal to twenty million tons of T.N.T.—Albert Einstein pointed out quietly that there “emerges, more and more distinctly, the spectre of general annihilation.” Statesman

FREE WOMEN 2:
TWO VISITS, SOME TELEPHONE CALLS AND A TRAGEDY

• And it isn’t even as if I can compare present offerings with some beautiful past experience, because I can’t remember ever being really satisfied, I’ve never said: Yes, this is it

• He said that if he was Chief of Police trying to root out communists somewhere, he’d ask one question: Would you go to an undeveloped country and run a country clinic for fifty people? All the Reds would answer: “No, because what’s the point of improving the health of fifty people when the basic organisation of society is unchanged.”

• What he actually said was, the result of the communist countries on Europe is that people can’t be bothered. Because everyone’s got used to the idea of whole countries changing completely in about three years—like China or Russia. And if they can’t see a complete change ahead, they can’t be bothered

• “You sit here writing and writing, but no one can see it—that’s arrogant, I told you so before. And you aren’t even honest enough to let yourself be what you are—everything’s divided off and split up.”

• “I’m serious. Now tell me. You used to live by a philosophy—well didn’t you?” “I suppose so.” “And now you say, the communist myth. So what do you live by now? No, don’t use words like stoicism, it doesn’t mean anything.” “It seems to me something like this—every so often, perhaps once in a century, there’s a sort of—act of faith. A well of faith fills up, and there’s an enormous heave forward in one country or another, and that’s a forward movement for the whole world. Because it’s an act of imagination—of what is possible for the whole world. In our century it was 1917 in Russia. And in China. Then the well runs dry, because, as you say, the cruelty and the ugliness are too strong. Then the well slowly fills again. And then there’s another painful lurch forward.” “A lurch forward?” he said. “Yes.” “In spite of everything, a lurch forward?” “Yes—because every time the dream gets stronger. If people can imagine something, there’ll come a time when they’ll achieve it.”

• I can’t stop thinking about this phenomenon—that when two of us meet, our discussions are on a totally different level than when there are three people present. Two people, and it is two persons, from a critical tradition, discussing politics as people not communists would discuss them

• Remembering always what Michael says—that this is a time when it is impossible to know the truth about anything

• She had never, since he had left her, been able to achieve a vaginal orgasm; she was able to reach the sharp violence of the exterior orgasm, her hand becoming Paul’s hand, mourning as she did so, the loss of her real self. She slept, overstimulated, nervous, exhausted, cheated

• She was unable, so weakened was she as an independent being, to enjoy sitting at a table publicly without a man’s protection,

• Ella found herself in the grip of a sensation which, when she examined it, turned out to be loneliness. It was as if, between her and the groups of people, were a space of cold air, an emotional vacuum. The sensation was of physical cold, of physical isolation. She was thinking of Paul again: so powerfully that it seemed inconceivable that he should not simply walk in through a door and come up to her

• Ella was thinking: But with Paul, I would have come in that time—so what’s wrong?—it’s not enough to say, I don’t love this man? She understood suddenly that she would never come with this man. She thought: for women like me, integrity isn’t chastity, it isn’t fidelity, it isn’t any of the old words. Integrity is the orgasm. That is something I haven’t any control over. I could never have an orgasm with this man, I can give pleasure and that’s all. But why not? Am I saying that I can never come except with a man I love? Because what sort of a desert am I condemning myself to if that’s true?

• He smiled, his eyes shut. The smile was strong and warm; out of another world than the one where he says: But Anna, why should I count? I felt “nonsense,” of course he won’t leave me; he can’t smile at me, like that, and mean to leave me. I lay down beside him, on my back…

• I say something like this: “Art during the Middle Ages was communal, unindividual; it came out of a group consciousness. It was without the driving painful individuality of the art of the bourgeois era. And one day, we will leave behind the driving egotism of individual art. We will return to an art which will express not man’s self-divisions and separateness from his fellows but his responsibility for his fellows and his brotherhood. Art from the West…”

• I say: “That’s treachery.” “To what?” “To humanism.” He thinks and says: “The idea of humanism will change like everything else.” I say: “Then it will become something else. But humanism stands for the whole person, the whole individual, striving to become as conscious and responsible as possible about everything in the universe

FREE WOMEN 3:
TOMMY ADJUSTS HIMSELF TO BEING BLIND WHILE THE OLDER PEOPLE TRY TO HELP HIM

• Now she put her face in her hands and wept, differently, through her whole body. When she had finished crying, she looked up and said, trying to smile: “I oughtn’t to cry. He’ll hear me.” There was gallantry in that smile even now.

• At precisely three o’clock she was presenting herself to Richard’s secretary, telling herself that of course he would make a point of keeping her waiting. About ten minutes she judged would be the amount of time necessary to feed his vanity. Fifteen minutes later she was informed she might enter.

• But the happy or well-mated insects stood all around us, one above the other, with their bright round idiotic black eyes staring

• A writer is the conscience of the world.

• Sometimes I think the one form of experience people are incapable of learning from is the political experience.

• She thinks that nothing has occurred which has not been happening all her life

• He leaves and she thinks for the hundredth time that in their emotional life all these intelligent men use a level so much lower than anything they use for work, that they might be different creatures.

• I see Ella, walking slowly about a big empty room, thinking, waiting. I, Anna, see Ella. Who is, of course, Anna

• For she is remembering Paul’s saying: There is no such thing as a frigid woman, there are only incompetent men.

• He remains alone, withdrawing from his wife into books and the dry, spare dreams of a man who might have been a poet or a mystic. And in fact, when he dies, journals, poems, fragments of prose are found in locked drawers.

• Keep four notebooks, a black notebook, which is to do with Anna Wulf the writer; a red notebook, concerned with politics; a yellow notebook, in which I make stories out of my experience; and a blue notebook which tries to be a diary

• Yet now I read those entries and feel nothing. I am increasingly afflicted by vertigo where words mean nothing. Words mean nothing. They have become, when I think, not the form into which experience is shaped, but a series of meaningless sounds, like nursery talk, and away to one side of experience

• For words are form, and if I am at a pitch where shape, form, expression are nothing, then I am nothing, for it has become clear to me, reading the notebooks, that I remain Anna because of a certain kind of intelligence. This intelligence is dissolving and I am very frightened
• And Nelson’s wife was locked, I could see, in some permanent, controlled hysteria. Then I understood that they all were; they were all people on the extreme edge of themselves, controlling it, holding it, while hysteria flickered in the good-humoured barbed talk, in the shrewd, on-guard eyes.

FREE WOMEN 4:
ANNA AND MOLLY INFLUENCE TOMMY, FOR THE BETTER. MARION LEAVES RICHARD. ANNA DOES NOT FEEL HERSELF

• He said: Do you realise how many generations it takes to make a society where buses run on time? Where business letters get answered efficiently? Where you can trust your ministers not to take bribes?

• When the sex is over, she knows that for him it has meant accomplishing something. She says sharply, out of instinctive knowledge, not knowing she was going to say it: “You’ve just been making love to someone else.” He says quickly: “How did you know?” And then, just as if he has not said, how did you know, he says: “I haven’t. You’re imagining it.” Then, because of her tense miserable silence, he says, sullen: “I didn’t think it would matter. You have to understand, I don’t take it seriously.” This last remark makes her feel diminished and destroyed, as if she does not exist as a woman.

• 14 A SHORT NOVEL A man and a woman, married or in a long relationship, secretly read each other’s diaries in which (and it is a point of honour with them both) their thoughts about each other are recorded with the utmost frankness. Both know that the other is reading what he/she writes, but for a while objectivity is maintained. Then, slowly, they begin writing falsely, first unconsciously; then consciously, so as to influence the other. The position is reached where each keeps two diaries, one for private use, and locked up; and the second for the other to read. Then one of them makes a slip of the tongue, or a mistake, and the other accuses him/her of having found the secret diary. A terrible quarrel which drives them apart forever, not because of the original diaries—“but we both knew we were reading those diaries, that doesn’t count, how can you be so dishonest as to read my private diary!”

• I’d forgotten, something from my child hood. I used at night to sit up in bed and play what I called “the game.” First I created the room I sat in, object by object, “naming” everything, bed, chair, curtains, till it was whole in my mind, then move out of the room, creating the house, then out of the house, slowly creating the street, then rise into the air, looking down on London, at the enormous sprawling wastes of London, but holding at the same time the room and the house and the street in my mind, and then England, the shape of England in Britain, then the little group of islands lying against the continent, then slowly, slowly, I would create the world, continent by continent, ocean by ocean (but the point of “the game” was to create this vastness while holding the bedroom, the house, the street in their littleness in my mind at the same time), until the point was reached where I moved out into space, and watched the world, a sunlit ball in the sky, turning and rolling beneath me. Then, having reached that point, with the stars around me, and the little earth turning underneath me, I’d try to imagine at the same time, a drop of water, swarming with life, or a green leaf. Sometimes I could reach what I wanted, a simultaneous knowledge of vastness and of smallness. Or I would concentrate on a single creature, a small coloured fish in a pool, or a single flower, or a moth, and try to create, to “name” the being of the flower, the moth, the fish, slowly creating around it the forest, or the sea-pool, or the space of blowing night air that tilted my wings. And then, out, suddenly, from the smallness into space.

• I’d forgotten what making love with a real man is like. And I’d forgotten what it was like to lie in the arms of a man one loves. I’d forgotten what it was like to be in love like this, so that a step on the stair makes one’s heart beat, and the warmth of his shoulder against my palm is all the joy there is in life.

• Something strange happens when one writes about oneself. That is, one’s self direct, not one’s self projected. The result is cold, pitiless, judging. Or if not judging, then there’s no life in it—yes, that’s it, it’s lifeless.

• When he leaves the flat “to go for a little walk” my nerves seem to stretch out and follow him, as if tied to him.

• I thought: He’s right to hate me and to prefer other women, I’m hateful. And I began to think longingly of this other woman out there, kind and generous and strong enough to give him what he needed without asking for anything in return. I remember Mother Sugar and how she “taught” me about the obsessions of jealousy being part homosexuality. But the lesson at the time seemed rather academic, nothing to do with me, Anna. I wondered if I wanted to make love with that woman he was with now.

• I think how I, Anna Wulf, sit here waiting, not knowing who is going to come down the stairs, the gentle brotherly affectionate man, who knows me, Anna; or a furtive and cunning child; or a madman full of hate.

• These last three days I have been inside madness. When he came downstairs he looked very ill; his eyes were sharp bright wary animals inside circles of brownish bruised flesh; his mouth was tight, like a weapon. He had a jaunty soldier air, and I knew all his energies were absorbed in simply holding himself together. All his different personalities were fused in the being who fought only for survival. He gave me repeated glances of appeal, of which he was not aware. This was only a creature at the limits of itself

• I slept and I dreamed the dream. This time there was no disguise anywhere. I was the malicious male-female dwarf figure, the principle of joy-in-destruction; and Saul was my counterpart, male-female, my brother and my sister, and we were dancing in some open place,

• Anna, is it only me? I feel as if I’m living inside a sort of improbable farce.” “No, it isn’t only you.” “I know, and that makes it even worse.”

THE GOLDEN NOTEBOOK

• It was an illumination—one of those things one has always known, but never really understood before—that all sanity depends on this: that it should be a delight to feel the roughness of a carpet under smooth soles, a delight to feel heat strike the skin, a delight to stand upright, knowing the bones are moving easily under flesh. If this goes, then the conviction of life goes too.
• “There’s a great black mountain. It’s human stupidity. There are a group of people who push a boulder up the mountain. When they’ve got a few feet up, there’s a war, or the wrong sort of revolution, and the boulder rolls down—not to the bottom, it always manages to end a few inches higher than when it started. So the group of people put their shoulders to the boulder and start pushing again. Meanwhile, at the top of the mountain stand a few great men. Sometimes they look down and nod and say: Good, the boulder-pushers are still on duty. But meanwhile we are meditating about the nature of space, or what it will be like when the world is full of people who don’t hate and fear and murder”

• Saul wanted to see what would happen. And so did I. I could feel in myself, stronger than anything else, a spiteful, positively joyous interest—as if he, Saul and I were two unknown quantities, two forces anonymous, without personality. It was as if the room held two totally malignant beings who, if the other suddenly fell dead or began screaming with pain, would say: “Well, so that’s it, is it?”

• “I’m going to give you the first sentence then. There are the two women you are, Anna. Write down: The two women were alone in the London flat.” “You want me to begin a novel with The two women were alone in the London flat?” “Why say it like that? Write it, Anna.” I wrote it. “You’re going to write that book, you’re going to write it, you’re going to finish it.”

FREE WOMEN 5:
MOLLY GETS MARRIED AND ANNA HAS AN AFFAIR

• There’s only one real sin, and that is to persuade oneself that the second-best is anything but the second-best. What’s the use of always hankering after Michael?

• It was as if she, Anna, were a central point of awareness, being attacked by a million unco-ordinated facts, and the central point would disappear if she proved unable to weigh and balance the facts, take them all into account

• “None of you ask for anything—except everything, but just for so long as you need it.”

Advertisements

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

  • I reminded myself that depression lies, because it does.
  • My new mantra was “Decorum is highly overrated and probably causes cancer.”
  • I write this mantra on myself every single time I have to get onstage or do a book1005_furiously-happy reading. “Pretend you’re good at it.” I’d like to think that one day I’ll be able to leave off the “pretend,” but for now pretending works just fine
  • One of the best things you can do as a parent is to realize that your child is nothing like you, and everything like you.
  • What the shit we’re doing. Hell, there are probably people out there right now who consider us to be shiny people (bless their stupid, stupid hearts) and that’s pretty much proof that none of our brains can be trusted to accurately measure the value of anyone, much less ourselves.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

  • And if they were, then this was probably the shithole to live in—it was cheap, it was downtown, and their prospective landlord already had a crush on fifty percent of them.
  • We don’t get the families we deserve,” Willem had said once when they had been very stoned. He was, of course, speaking of Jude.
  • His presence beneath Willem’s bunk as familiar and constant as the sea.
  • But these were days of self-fulfillment, where settling for something that was not quite your first choice of a life seemed weak-willed and ignoble. Somewhere, surrendering to what seemed to be your fate had changed from being dignified to being a sign of your own cowardice. There were times when the pressure to achieve happiness felt almost oppressive, as if happiness were something that everyone should and could attain, and that any sort of compromise in its pursuit was somehow your fault
  • At nights, he and his parents would have silent meals; he could almost feel them pulling away, as if they were unpeeling themselves from their lives as parents of two children and readying themselves to drift toward a new identity elsewhere.
  • He wanted to scream at his parents, to hit them, to elicit from them something—some melting into grief, some loss of composure, some recognition that something large had happened, that in Hemming’s death they had lost something vital and necessary to their lives. He didn’t care if they really felt that way or not: he just needed them to say it, he needed to feel that something lay beneath their imperturbable calm, that somewhere within them ran a thin stream of quick, cool water, teeming with delicate lives, minnows and grasses and tiny white flowers, all tender and easily wounded and so vulnerable you couldn’t see them without aching for them.
  • But you could, you did: he was proof of that. It was like any relationship, he felt—it took constant pruning, and dedication, and vigilance, and if neither party wanted to make the effort, why wouldn’t it wither?
  • They would never have demanded he be like them; they hardly wanted to be themselves.
  • And so he had begun his adulthood, the last three years spent bobbing from bank to 22822858bank in a muck-bottomed pond, the trees above and around him blotting out the light, making it too dark for him to see whether the lake he was in opened up into a river or whether it was contained, its own small universe in which he might spend years, decades—his life—searching bumblingly for a way out that didn’t exist, had never existed. If he had an agent, someone to guide him, she might be able to show him how to escape, how to find his way downstream. But he didn’t, not yet (he had to be optimistic enough to think it was still a matter of “yet”), and so he was left in the company of other seekers, all of them looking for that same elusive tributary, through which few left the lake and by which no one ever wanted to return.
  • But then the feeling would dissipate, and he would be left alone to scan the arts section of the paper, and read about other people who were doing the kinds of things he didn’t even have the expansiveness, the arrogance of imagination to dream of, and in those hours the world would feel very large, and the lake very empty, and the night very black, and he would wish he were back in Wyoming, waiting at the end of the road for Hemming, where the only path he had to navigate was the one back to his parents’ house, where the porch light washed the night with honey.
  • As if lack of privilege were a competition that he was still determined to win, even in the face of another’s clear and inarguable triumph.
  • Much of his friendship with Jude, it often seemed, was not letting himself ask the questions he knew he ought to, because he was afraid of the answers.
  • You understood that proof of your friendship lay in keeping your distance, in accepting what was told you, in turning and walking away when the door was shut in your face instead of trying to force it open again
  • And it was only much later that Willem would wonder whether Jude had been saddened or relieved that he had been so readily believed.
  • He was astonished but relieved by how easily they accepted that, and grateful too for their self-absorption. None of them really wanted to listen to someone else’s story anyway; they only wanted to tell their own.
  • They were his friends, his first friends, and he understood that friendship was a series of exchanges: of affections, of time, sometimes of money, always of information
  • You have to talk about these things while they’re fresh. Or you’ll never talk about them
  • What you may not know is that this course load reflects—beautifully, simply—the very structure of our society, the very mechanics of what a society, our particular society, needs to make it work. To have a society, you first need an institutional framework: that’s constitutional law. You need a system of punishment: that’s criminal. You need to know that you have a system in place that will make those other systems work: that’s civil procedure. You need a way to govern matters of domain and ownership: that’s property. You need to know that someone will be financially accountable for injuries caused you by others: that’s torts. And finally, you need to know that people will keep their agreements, that they will honour their promises: and that is contracts.”
  • Could you have a real friendship if some part of you was always expecting betrayal? He
  • He experienced the singular pleasure of watching people he loved fall in love with other people he loved
  • For all their interest in history, they were collectively irritated when he took interest in his own, as if he was persisting in a particularly tiresome hobby that he wasn’t outgrowing at a fast enough rate
  • Fairness is for happy people, for people who have been lucky enough to have lived a life defined more by certainties than by ambiguities.
  • It is morals that help us make the laws, but morals do not help us apply them.
  • if he could forget it was him, he could almost see how lovely an image it was, and why JB would have been attracted to it: for the strange person in it who looked so frightened and watchful, who was discernibly neither female nor male, whose clothes looked borrowed, who was mimicking the gestures and postures of adulthood while clearly understanding nothing of them.
  • the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.”
  • Lately, he had been wondering if co-dependence was such a bad thing. He took pleasure in his friendships, and it didn’t hurt anyone, so who cared if it was co-dependent or not? And anyway, how was a friendship any more co-dependent than a relationship? Why was it admirable when you were twenty-seven but creepy when you were thirty-seven? Why wasn’t friendship as good as a relationship? Why wasn’t it even better? It was two people who remained together, day after day, bound not by sex or physical attraction or money or children or property, but only by the shared agreement to keep going, the mutual dedication to a union that could never be codified. Friendship was witnessing another’s slow drip of miseries, and long bouts of boredom, and occasional triumphs. It was feeling honoured by the privilege of getting to be present for another person’s most dismal moments, and knowing that you could be dismal around him in return.
  • Talk to me, he sometimes wanted to shout at Jude. Tell me things. Tell me what I need to do to make you talk to me.
  • It was sometimes incredible to him how much he cared about someone who refused to tell him any of the things friends shared with each other—how he had lived before they met, what he feared, what he craved, who he was attracted to, the mortifications and sadnesses of daily life
  • Their childhoods had been so paltry, so gray, compared to his, that it seemed they were constantly being dazzled as adults.
  • Their world is governed by children, little despots whose needs—school and camp and activities and tutors—dictate every decision, and will for the next ten, fifteen, eighteen years. Having children has provided their adulthood with an instant and non-negotiable sense of purpose and direction: they decide the length and location of that year’s vacation; they determine if there will be any leftover money, and if so, how it might be spent; they give shape to a day, a week, a year, a life. Children are a kind of cartography, and all one has to do is obey the map they present to you on the day they are born.
  • I admired how she knew, well before I did, that the point of a child is not what you hope he will accomplish in your name but the pleasure that he will bring you, whatever form it comes in, even if it is a form that is barely recognizable as pleasure at all—and, more important, the pleasure you will be privileged to bring him
  • We had made someone together, and we had watched him die together. Sometimes I felt that there was something physical connecting us, a long rope that stretched between Boston and Portland: when she tugged on her end, I felt it on mine. Wherever she went, wherever I went, there it would be, that shining twined string that stretched and pulled but never broke, our every movement reminding us of what we would never have again.
  • he was made aware of how much time he actually spent controlling his memories, how much concentration it took, how fragile his command over them had been all along.
  • Eventually he had learned how to manage the memories. He couldn’t stop them—after they had begun, they had never ended—but he had grown more adept at anticipating their arrival. He became able to diagnose it, that moment or day in which he could tell that something was going to visit him, and he would have to figure out how it wanted to be addressed: Did it want confrontation, or soothing, or simply attention? He would determine what sort of hospitality it wanted, and then he would determine how to make it leave, to retreat back to that other place.
  • As you got older, you realized that really, there were very few people you truly wanted to be around for more than a few days at a time, and yet here you were with someone you wanted to be around for years, even when he was at his most opaque and confusing
  • He would remember, then, Harold’s claim that life compensated for its losses, and he would realize the truth of that, although sometimes it would seem like life had not just compensated for itself but had done so extravagantly, as if his very life was begging him to forgive it, as if it were piling riches upon him, smothering him in all things beautiful and wonderful and hoped-for so he wouldn’t resent it, so he would allow it to keep moving him forward
  • Wasn’t friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely?
  • It was precisely these scenes he missed the most from his own life with Willem, the forgettable, in-between moments in which nothing seemed to be happening but whose absence was singularly unfillable.
  • When Jacob was a baby, I would find myself feeling more assured with each month he lived, as if the longer he stayed in this world, the more deeply he would become anchored to it, as if by being alive, he was staking claim to life itself
  • So much of cooking, it seemed, was petting and bathing and monitoring and flipping and turning and soothing: demands I associated with human infancy.

An Untitled Sci-Fi Story

It’s been sand-storming for ages now. Well not ages exactly, more like two to three earth days. But that counts for a lot here. Anyways, I’m tired of the sky raining dust particles at us. I want to set my foot outside of this capsule for a while, even though there is not much to do here, I do enjoy the occasional wandering about. In fancy terms, it’s called taking a promenade. There aren’t any walkways here so you just walk about on the dust, at least you get to stretch your legs. I don’t know what my next assignment is but I’ve a folder here full of papers which I haven’t bothered to go through yet. The dust storm has slowed us down considerably so I’m guessing we have plenty of time till we reach wherever it is we have to be. I’m also guessing, and this is a wild guess, that these boys are part of the assignment too. Why else would we all be stuffed in a small capsule, and sent off on urgent notice? They usually hold off long expeditions till the storms settle down. Pretty much like back on Earth when Pa would happily arrange for a day at the beach and Ma would get busy in the kitchen making sandwiches, and Pa would come downstairs in some ridiculous outfit as I helped Ma put all the food supplies in the picnic basket and she’d laugh at him for looking absurd to which he would give his signature grin – ear to ear smile, showing the greasy front teeth, and then we’d be interrupted by a loud howl from upstairs followed by peals of thunder and lightning and we’d run to the kitchen window overlooking the street and Pa would sigh and put his heavy hand on my shoulder and tell us we’d better watch something on the telly till the storm clears and the storm would sometimes clear but by then it’d be evening and what’s the point of going to the beach in the dark, Pa would say, so Ma would set a table outside in the lawn and we’d finish off the contents of the picnic basket before the moon came up.

It’s getting more darker and brown and everything has a sour, metallic smell. Even the air inside the capsule tastes like sand grains and it really annoys me. But a good thing is that as I’m the Captain, I have my own seat up front, that’s right behind the Power Driver. I think the other fellas are just cramped up, maybe two in one seat, maybe some are scrambled right across the floor. But I can’t think about that right now. I need to stretch my legs and there just isn’t enough space. I could take a short walk across the capsule but I might end up trampling someone and I really don’t want to be reported. They say it isn’t pretty where they take you if you are reported. I’ve heard a couple of rumors of some burly guys, roughing you up and throwing you in a pit full of dense smog they accumulated years ago from Earth, and if you aren’t strong enough, you just choke yourself to death or suffocate till the medics arrive and I’ve heard more about the former than the latter. So I will just stay put, maybe soon enough we can make a short stop somewhere. Pa always said that patience was the most rewarding of all values, he’d always say that and he was clever enough to quote some book on it and whenever we had a family dinner, and Ma would be getting late with setting the table and someone would be foolish enough to lightly complain about the dinner getting late, that’d be Pa’s ticket to getting into a conversation about the virtues of patience and after the table was set and we’d all eaten, Pa would reach out for a toothpick and announce the reward for patience that we had all been blessed with in form of food and how excellent it would be if we could all do this often. Pa was very patient the day he was assigned to go back to Earth, to check for survivors and report back and I remember him boarding a capsule very similar to this one, with five other men, and I now sometimes wonder how patient he must have been when he was reported missing along with four others by one of his crew members on the tenth or eleventh earth day and he’d come back without him and four others.

“Where’s you from?” I hear a gruff voice aimed at me. I can’t see the fella’s face because it is dark and everyone looks the same in the shadows but I assumed the boy was sitting somewhere close to me.

“Quarter-C,” I reply dully. I’m not interested in striking up a conversation but it wouldn’t be too bad if I wasn’t made to talk much. I might as well pass the time evaluating which fella is up for which task from my folder, which by the way I still haven’t opened.

“I’m from X-253,” he says.

“Oh in the Capsule Station?”

“No, not in the Station, next to it. E’rrybody thinks it’s in it but is not.”

I can hear pellets of sand hit the roof above my head and it really annoys me. By the looks of it, the storm won’t be tiring out any time soon.

“Err been down to the Water Precinct Cap’n?” The 253er had come closer to me and I could see his grim face through barricaded lights that had somehow made their way through the thick blanket of dust outside. His eyes were dull and there were dirt marks all over his scaly face. Somehow he reminded me of dead fish but here in this capsule everyone looked the same and smelled the same. I replied that I hadn’t. I had lied through my teeth but this fella won’t catch me anytime soon. He looked dumber than anyone I had ever seen. He nudged another young man to come nearer to where I was sitting and the latter looked no better than the 253er. I surmised they must be no younger than twenty-eight.

“We was stationed there for some time,” the 253er who lived next to the Capsule Station and not in it said.

“Tell ‘im guy.” He nudged his partner again.

“Ya Cap’n we lived there fo’ time, you haven’t seen the dandiest sight there yet.”

Of course I had, but I was going to humor these kids for now, you know, to pass the time. It’d make it easy to forget my knees for a while.

“We was assigned to same chamber an’ oh boy it was attached to those latrines like back on Earth and we’d get water thee fo times a day.”

“Not a day would go by when we wasn’t clean as pipe…”

“…an’ Cap’n we smelt good too,” 253er retorted and both him and his guy stifled their laugh.

The sand and dust continued to pour from the skies and I fidgeted more and more with the folder on my lap. I had missed my call for breakfast before departing on this damning trip, and my growling insides weren’t helping. The 253er and his guy had gone back to their seats or to the floor, I hadn’t bothered asking them or checking for myself. Water Precinct was where I was assigned when Pa left and then ten, eleven Earth days later I saw his name on Missing in Action list but I couldn’t complain or question anyone because no one had any answers, and I didn’t want to be reported, and no one was related to anyone on this dusty, muddy, sandy planet, we had left all our bonds and relations back on earth and here we were either First Captains, Second Captains, or Comrades, or Commander-in-Chains, or Duty Boys – Third Grade or Duty Boys – Fourth Grade and the grades went all the way to four hundred and twenty three and no more because there wasn’t enough manpower beyond four hundred and twenty three to be assigned four hundred and twenty four. Back on Earth, Ma was still Ma when she died and we had to bury her on a rainy day, and she was still Ma when Pa would take me to her grave and ask me to talk to her as if she could hear me but I was no kid then, and it sounded stupid to me but I couldn’t say no to Pa, we were alone, and he only had me, and I only him and we had only each other now so Ma was still Ma.

I know the Higher-Ups lied when they told all us Captains of Quarter-C that our water rations be cut by half, they lied through their teeth just like I lied to these two fellas, and I had to exercise Pa’s patience then, I knew the truth, water was plenty for us all, I had been to Water Precinct twice since Pa had been reported missing, and I also knew the Higher-Ups were lying about Pa because Pa could never go missing, he was the least missing person on this planet or back home on Earth. Ma missed my final school day because she was having a brother for me, but Pa came even though he had to leave soon because of an emergency but he came, and then at my graduation Pa was there even though he was suffering from a bout of illness, and when we were recruited he came and was not missing and he told me he’d meet me here on this forsaken brown, dusty planet, and when I reached here, Pa was here too – not missing but here, he welcomed me from far away because he wasn’t Pa anymore, he was given a title that I never found out but that is how I was to approach him but I never got the chance because Pa was assigned to go back and then he went missing. How can someone who has never gone missing, go missing?

My legs were feeling queasy by then so I decided to distract myself by looking over the contents of the folder. I felt that the capsule has slowed down considerably to the point of stopping altogether and I wondered if we hadn’t moved at all the whole while. After all the capsules aren’t meant to travel during storms but they made ours do it and maybe we were now stuck in Gray Plains, they were called so even though they were red because for miles and miles there was no structure around and the Higher-Ups used this field only for experimentation which we were then to record from our office chambers, measure, evaluate and report. I was mostly assigned as Second or Third Field Captain, never the first because I wasn’t physically fit, owing to my knee and I mostly travelled alone so then this capsule was sufficient for me but this time they had stuffed it with some Duty Boys who smelled of fish and talked about water in their young and fanciful ways.

“Cap’n you know where we to?” 253er’s guy was back. I knew his question was addressed to me but I decided to ignore him. Someone from the back of the capsule repeated the question and a silence fell over the capsule, silence only interrupted by the dust swooshing outside with more might than ever. I could faintly see all heads turned towards where I was sitting. I counted some five heads, all which looked alike and smelled alike and now even asked the same question. I still hadn’t opened the folder containing the task assignment but I couldn’t stay silent for long.

“I’m the Launcher, Cap’n are we gon’ launch some ship or sumfin?” I recognized this voice, he had been at the Quarter-C many times.
“Em hopin’ to launch some shoo’ers Cap’n been while since we done done it.”

“Naah I hope we goin to get some crummies,” came another voice from the floor confirming my doubt that some kid was sprawling on the damp, cold, brazen floor. When I had left Earth, I was that kid too and boy was it lonely down there, I had been prepared for the Shift for quite some time, all of us had, but when it happened, when it actually happened it felt raw and dangerous and we were all petrified and I knew some guy in my capsule who completely broke down so they had to put him in lockdown lest he scare other Shifters too. And Pa had said that he’d meet me here so in the back of my head I was consoled by that thought but I couldn’t call him Pa. That journey was longer than any of the journeys we had ever took on Earth even when Pa took me to the Western States on his car that squeaked every time we took a turn and on which I learnt for the first time how to replace a tire. But then the Blight came and Ma died and later Pa got sick but he made it because he would never go missing and the governments started recruiting those who survived the Blight to become the First Shifters and then the day of the Shift came and the capsule was full to the brim so I had to take up the floor along with some documents and because my legs are always too tall for my body I spread them until some dumb guy tripped over my knee.

He was a daft kid and all these Duty Boys are just as dim-witted, talking about water and food and firing shooters like they are on a vacation. You can’t expect much from a bunch of young boys who all looked like one another under the dusty light and smelled of dead fish and had dirt marks all over their faces. The Launcher came up to me and I saw the same raw dullness in his eyes that I had seen in the eyes of the 253er and his guy. His look was vacant and his eyes did not seem to correspond to what he was saying as if they had a mind of their own.

“Cap’n whas am I to do?” His voice was recognizably nasal and that’s how I had known that he had been to Quarter-C many times. All Launchers voices had nasal intonation because they spent too much time outside of the capsules and chambers. If he was any closer to me I might have smelled dust on his tongue.

“I just have to go through this file and I will let you know.” I felt all ears on me but that reply was satisfactory enough for all the Duty-Boys to resume whatever they were doing. The Launcher went back and I was once again left alone with the darned folder. I opened it and the title “Operation Thetan-V” blasted in my face through the first page. I borrowed a light-pen from 253er’s guy and went through the contents of the file as the storm blazed outside with more ferocity than I could remember. I couldn’t tell if the capsule had come to a complete stand still or if we were moving at an extremely slow speed. The Power Driver was coded to only communicate with the Commander-in-Chains and since none had been assigned on this journey, I or rather we all were at the mercy of Father Time and the sand storm and the Power Driver of course. From the Operation map I deduced that we were probably, maybe, actually definitely in the Gray Plains, the one where the Higher-Ups would conduct experimentations and that our destination was marked at Quadrant Celesta which was the farthest point up North and I had often heard of Quadrant Celesta but never been there nor did I know what kind of operations were carried out there. Maybe they were setting up the greens but that was an old plan since nothing green could sprout from the red dirt beneath our shoes; or maybe they inducted the new recruits, and trained them, starting off with the Pledge of the Shift which basically renounced all earthly relations, where the newcomers avowed for survival and homeliness and Collective Progress as it was officially known, and were then assigned to their respective titles. But why would I need to take a bunch of Duty-Boys back?

I heard the 253er shuffle closer again so I closed the file.

“Cap’n you ever been to them water-worlds?” I replied that I had not, and this time I was telling the truth. The 253er seemed to believe me and kept chattering on, more to himself than for my benefit.

“Cap’n I heard we was to haul one closer one day…”

The 253er’s guy rejoined in a huddle around me.

“Ya Cap’n, when we was stationed at Water Precinct we heard ’em Higher-Ups talk about it all the time.”

“Them says water-worlds jus got water and no dust.”

“And some says they got greens too cuz where is water there is greens too but no dust.”

“Ya no dust.”

“That’s scientifically impossible…” I interrupted both of them. A certain sadness seemed to dawn on their already long, dull faces. I could sense the excitement of a useless conversation draining away. These boys were dumb, talking on and on about things here and there but I felt guilty nonetheless. Everyone here was tired of the dust. All Shifters were, except the Higher-Ups maybe because they never left the Water Precinct which was of the highest order of all Precincts. Fantasy has no time here, we were always working towards the Collective Progress and survival to make this new abode a home but I felt guilty for throwing away the one thing these two silly Duty-Boys had in common. They went back to their respective seats or floor in the capsule and I was partially grateful for that. I was not in the position to apologies for my interruption, after all it was rational and I felt guilty only to have been the source of unpleasantness. The confined capsule was boring on my nerves now and I was still uncomfortable in my legs. Meanwhile the storm raged outside and the Duty-Boys had all resumed their chatter, I thought about the missed breakfast and how I longed to be back in my chambers once I had completed the task at hand, to stretch my legs, have some food and get some Rest Time. I recall getting tireless every night, aching to go back home to Pa and Ma during long college days and also when the training for Shifters began on Earth but by then Ma was six feet under ground and Pa and I were being inducted as Individual Survivors which was the first step in letting go off relations and the training continued till Pa was no longer Pa and I was aboard the capsule, off to this dirt hole, but Ma was always Ma and will be Ma because that’s how we had buried her.

I opened the file once again, went through the map detailing our journey, again deduced that we were most certainly stuck in the Gray Plains and decided to skim through the pages. Somewhere it said the Thetan Operations were vital to the Collective Progress of the community and at another page it said something about a “cleanse” which I recalled had to do with harnessing energy off moonlight which was our primary energy source, for now that is. Unless of course we hauled one of those “water-worlds” the 253er had so passionately talked about. I chuckled to myself at that and resumed reading ahead. I knew cleansing operations needed a Detectorist or two, one of those heavy set guys who ensured the completion of every task, were given special keys to go about chambers and capsules without authorization and if I had known any better, they also knew how to decode Power Drivers. What exactly was there job nobody seemed to know except that you could spot a Detectorist from a mile away owing to his bulky physique which made them look almost non-human. I saw one or two around the time when Pa went missing but it was a common sight at the Water Precinct, I guess there secret role was that of Protectors which was never assigned back on Earth even though everybody talked about getting into Protection and eventually everyone forgot about it here. So if we were going on a cleansing task, they must have assigned a Detectorist even though why they didn’t appoint a Commander-in-Chain, who would have been much more of a help.

“Anyone here a Detectorist?” I inquired in a loud voice and a silence once again fell over the entire capsule. They had all turned their heads towards me and I couldn’t make out who was who since everyone looked the same in the crimson light as the dust and sand continued to punch us from all sides.

“Not me Cap’n, I’m a Duty-Boy, Seventeenth Grade.”

“I’m Duty-Boy, Twenty-Fifth Grade goin’ up to Twenty-Four soon sir.”

“Launcher here Cap’n though I wouldn’ mind musclin’ up.”

“Summer-Blinker ‘ere sir but I go meself suspended fir actin up stupid.” The fourth voice came somewhere from the floor, maybe the same kid who had wished we were off to get Crummies as if the Higher-Ups would assemble a team of men only to acquire food, that too on such a storm-stricken day.

“Thas weird,” came a new voice somewhere from the dark corners of the capsule that my eye hadn’t bothered navigating, even though I had counted his head earlier on.

“What is?” I inquired, looking at the direction of the voice but seeing no particular outline of a person.

“The Blinky boy got suspended so did I.”

“Me and ‘im ‘ere wuz suspended too tell ’em guy…”

“Neh we was striked off once…”

“We still got two mo’ so we good.” the 253er who lived beside Capsule Station and not in it spoke with the same excitement he had when talking about the damned water-worlds.

“What do you do?” I interrupted once again, hoping the wise-guy at the end knew it was meant for him.

“Detectorist, was one.”

I quickly began shuffling through the contents of the file.

“Wha strikes?” the Launcher questioned, assuming the others would answer him but they all waited on me with their stupid faces.

“Umm, I dunno, never heard of them…” I had forgotten which page I was last skimming through. Something about moonlight energy.

“Cap’n you ain’t heard of strikes?”

“Errbody heard of ’em sir, ain’t you lot givin em out?”

What? No. I had never heard of one strike or three for that matter and I had never been asked to give them out. I was mostly the Field Captain, Second or Third, analyzing experiments and sending reports to the Higher-Ups. These fellas were surely out of their minds, nobody had ever said anything about strikes.

“Fir offence sir,” the 253er’s guy said in a matter-of-factly tone as if it was known to everybody except me. What were these guys talking about? Nobody got a first or second offence. You were directly reported the first time and sent off to punishment where some guys would throw you in a pit of…

“First offence, an’ the second, an’ then third after which you done fo’ good.”

NO NO NO! They had it all wrong, here your first mistake would be the last one, and you’d be reported directly and be sent away, that’s what we were all told, and that’s why I never reported the kid who roughed up my knee and never asked no questions about Pa. I shuffled through the pages till I came to the one titled “Missing in Action” and my heart stopped, so did my hands and I paid no attention to what a bunch of simple-minded Duty-Boys said or thought, and the sand continued to pelt overhead with might and before me lay a list of names next to numbered bullets with the last five names highlighted in red. Nauss, Somme, Bob, Kimley and Speirre.

“We call em Reds, us Launchers,” the Launcher who wanted to fire some shooters said. So it was either strikes or reds or reports but I never heard of strikes nor reds. “Last week I done shootin some ship wrong, so they give me a Red, I was done frighten…”

“So we all offenders holed up in ‘ere, Cap’n?” I know the question was directed at me, coming off from the distant corner, the Detectorist still hadn’t made himself noticeable.

But before I could answer, the Summer-Blinker interrupted to my relief.

“Whas you in here fo mister?”

I continued looking at the highlighted names. Mine wasn’t in it.

“I refuse to do somebuddys dirdy work.” So the Detectorist had refused to obey orders and that was definitely something that must have been reported.

Was Pa’s name here? The pen’s light was fading, my knee had started bothering me again and I could once again smell the dead fish strongly in the capsule.

“I ain’t got crummy for days pal,” the Summer-Blinker announced. “I asked for mo crummy and they suspended me, I done stupid too.”

Summer-Blinkers were Duty-Boys assigned on solar projects and nothing could go wrong there since all they had to do was report on the sun. And how could someone commit an offence on noting the Sun that came out daily and shone from the thick blanket of haze, I mean all you had to do was note down the time it rose and the time it set. Only someone really stupid could have committed a mistake there. So here I had two Duty-Boys, one Launcher, one Summer-Blinker and one Detectorist, all of whom had done a wrong one way or another, all of whom looked like the other and smelled like the other.

“So why we all here sir Cap’n, whas you done wrong?”

I looked up and through the dusty red light I could see all heads turned my way again. I was puzzled over the Missing in Action list and what it was doing in the file handed over to me by one of my supervisors. I hadn’t searched for Pa’s name yet, and I was having trouble putting two and two together which for some reason made five, but that wasn’t right now was it? My name wasn’t in the list and there were five names highlighted in red and I couldn’t recall having done anything wrong. Like the time when the neighbors accused me of having broken their garden pots and when Ma and Pa asked me I couldn’t…

“Cap’n you a’ight?” The Detectorist had finally come in view. He stood in the midst of the capsule, a few feet away from me but I could smell his dusty breath from far off. I suddenly became aware that I was sweating profusely, became aware of the raging storm outside the metal capsule, the dust and sand that hit us all with ferocity isolating us in a cubicle small enough for one person save six amidst the Gray Plains from my recent conjecture and that five of six of us had gotten reported, directly, indiscriminately and certainly.

The five stupid boys had huddled around me again and I felt a surge of emotion as if I was nearing a harsh reality that would hit me harder than if the capsule collapsed and I was buried under feet and feet of dust and soil and sand.

“Whea we off to sir?”

“You still ain’t assign us jobs Cap’n.”

“Whas the task file say?”

I thought of Pa and how he had boarded a capsule similar to this one along with five other men but he was no Captain, he was no First Captain or Second Captain or Third Captain or Field Captain of any degree. Pa was Pa just as Ma was Ma but he was no Pa here so I never knew what his title was. Pa was a broad-shouldered guy with strong muscles and an ear-to-ear grin which showed off his greasy but perfect teeth and when Pa hugged me after Ma died, I felt safe, and when Pa hugged me again at my graduation, I felt safe. I didn’t want to find Pa’s name on here but I wanted to confirm the fate of the five fellas who craned over me like shadows and now except the Detectorist who still looked stupid and huge, I began to see differences in the four pairs of eyes. Their faces became more detailed, I ignored the dirt marks on 253er and on his guy’s face, the Launcher seemed like a steady kid, the Blinker looked confused.

“Whas the matter Cap’n?”

I didn’t know who asked me the question. It didn’t matter who did or maybe it did.

“Which one of you is Somme?” I knew my voice was shaky, I was sweating and perplexed. I wanted time to stop just like the capsule had.

“Thas me sir,” the Blinker lad said.

“And…Kimley?”

“Aye Cap’n.” The Launcher was Kimley.

“Bob?”

“Me, Bob.”

Before I could ask again the 253er intervened.

“You Bob the Detectorist?”

“Yea!”

The 253er and his guy quickly went towards him in the same excitement that was present in their water-world conversation.

“You Bob the Detectorist really?”

“Yea!”

“Cap’n you knows him went to the Earth?”

I hadn’t. I didn’t know Detectorists could make trips to Earth, but then again I had not known a lot. I hadn’t known about the strikes or the Reds or if we were definitely in the Gray Plains where the Higher-Ups experimented.

“You also in Protection?” 253ers guy asked him excitedly.

“I was.”

The Launcher went back to his seat and so did the Blinker. I was left with the file on my lap, an uneasy knee and grumbling insides, still wondering if I should look for Pa’s name in the list with the five red highlighted names of my companions.

“You eva cleansed pal?” Someone asked. I was engrossed in mulling over the possibility of finding Pa’s name here or not finding it.

“First cleanser on Earth, not proud of it.”

“How many ya cleansed?”

“Five there, not proud.”

“So then ya refused?”

“Ya the last batch.”

“So they put ya in hea. You hear thas Cap’n? He done major offence refusin’ to do cleanse.”

Major offence, minor offence it all meant the same to me. Strikes or no strikes, Reds or no Reds, I hadn’t known this all. Why hadn’t I been told about all this during the induction when we were recruited as First Shifters? The Higher-Ups had been lyin’ through their teeth all along. Everything was in discrepancy. Nothing matched. Nothing was similar, aside from the smell of dead fish now. I had made up my mind. I started scrolling through the list under the fast fading light emitting from 253er’s guy…a bunch of names I never knew, never heard of, all missing, gone, vanished, never to return even though they were First Shifters or had been Individual Survivors. Pleam, Rabble, Hui, Flange…Suri, Dean, Wright…single names, a list of first names only…all Missing in Action.

“Whose ya first cleanse pal?” The Launcher with his raspy voice asked. They all seemed interested in him and his dull job. Harvesting energy off moonbeams, making sure all assignments completed on time and were duly accounted for.

“A fellow Detectorist.”

“What?” I inadvertently asked. What has moonlight energy got to do with a “fellow Detectorist”?

“I cleanse a fellow Detectorist, ya know, on Earth, not proud o’ it.”

Singe…Synge…J.P…Flanders…Bickler…Strahle…Song…

“What’s the moon got to do with it?” I asked, still focused on the ever-going list of names, first names only.

“The wha?”

“The moon Bob.”

Stupid guy needed clarification amidst ensuing chaos. Strahle again…Thimble…Nugyen…Meralise…Forche…Mickey…

“Whas the moon got to do anyfin with cleansin?”

I was annoyed now. I was going to burst at these imbeciles any moment now. I was with a bunch of idiots who knew nothing, including me.

“What the hell are you saying Bob?”

“I’m sayin the moon’s got nuffin’ to do with cleansin sir.”

“Cap’n, whas the matter? What moon?”

Patience, a noble virtue, I exercised to a great extent in that moment. I thought I’d clarify myself since nobody knew anything here or outside or on this damning planet.

“The moon you harness the energy from. The Cleansing process. You clean the moonbeams?”

I saw their faces turned towards me, aghast, as if I had gone mad. The shadows of the storm danced on their faces and frightened me. The storm howled.

“I ain’t heard of that Cap’n,” the Launcher said. The Blinker agreed and so did the two other Duty-boys.

Nonsense, I thought.

“Sir I ain’t knowin whas you talkin about. Cleanse ain’t that. I expunged a fellow Detectorist sir. Thas me job. Thas was my job.”

Now I was confused, like the Blinker boy earlier on.

“You what?” I didn’t know what made me ask that. Sweat trickled down my forehead, burning my eyes but I kept looking at the hefty figure ahead of me. I was beginning to be terrified, something I had never experienced in a long time, since Ma’s death at least when the Blight caught her.

“I took five fellas out to Earth an’ expunged them. Not proud of it.”

“An’ he refuse to take other four out so they done suspend him.” The Blinker explained as if I hadn’t heard the Detectorist before.

“Ya jus’ last week I think.”

I looked at my companions with dazed eyes. I was shocked, frozen, the pieces of the puzzle were all coming together and somehow I didn’t want them to. I wished for time to stop. I wished for Pa’s hug. I wished for safety. I was once again a thirteen earth years old.

“Cap’n ya a’ight?”

I mustered some courage and asked if anyone knew what Celesta was. Not to my surprise, the Detectorist answered.

“We was workin’ there on an’ off when we expunge.”

An Insignificant Person

Written on 12th November, 2015 at 12:58 AM

Do you know what irony is? Life throws it at us once in a while. Most of the times it catches us unaware. But at times, sometimes that is, at very rare times, you realize it but by then of course it is too late. The ironic instance has passed by you. You just missed it in the moment. One such instance has happened to me in recent memory. Not more than a week, or two ago. I wanted to ask of her to call me the moment she sat on the plane. I had tried calling her twice, thrice the day of her flight, but she hadn’t picked up my call. I decided to message her to call me, “call me when you are sitting in the plane”, was how the message would go. But then I decided against it. I felt it was too desperate of me. What’d she think, I thought. We had been apart for quite some time now, and to ask this of a person was a huge deal. You can only ask it if you have been very close, not once but throughout till the time of their departure. But we hadn’t. I thought she’d think how desperate is this guy, why would he want me to call him, to be the last voice she hears before she departs for another continent. Why should I be the last person she talks to while her feet are still on the same stretched ground as mine? I thought she must have other people to talk to, more important people, like perhaps her parents. “Mum, dad, I’m in the plane,” she’d tell them over a phone call as they waited for her outside in the airport parking lot. Why would they leave the airport before their daughter took off? They probably wanted to hear the plane revving its engines up, maybe take off too. That would assure them that their daughter was safe, in the plane, going to another chunk of land altogether, separated by miles and miles of ocean. “Take care of yourself,” her parents would tell her, as if it needed be said, but unspoken words are too much of a burden. We ought to say things often, before it’s too late. I thought she wasn’t even thinking of me then, what with so many people waiting on her. My existence would be the last thought that’d ever occur to her. Once you get in the plane, it hits you that you are leaving your family back here, you start questioning what the future holds for you, what will a new place do for you. But those questions were probably whirring in her mind, never to surface. Anyways, as I said, I must be the last thought she ought to have.

Around eight at night, I called her again but she didn’t pick up. I assumed she was busy with last minute flight preparations, greeting family members, her cousins and grandparents, and uncles and aunts. She had a big family. Her phone must be on silent. I knew I had missed her. I should have called her earlier to say goodbye, among other things I wanted to say. Perhaps I should have called her at five, when she would have been relatively free, maybe even waking up from a small nap. I had lost my chance, and that was that. I would never get to hear her voice whilst she remained in the country. I didn’t know when I would next hear from her. It saddened me greatly but I had to get through that night, and get through it without her thoughts bothering me much. So I decided to get high. I had been getting high continuously for the past three days, and I had never had such a long run with it. Tonight would mark the fourth day, and it’d help me immensely to get over a gut-wrenching pain I can’t explain. I felt like my innards were whizzing around within me, my stomach seemed to be a zero-g cavity, and my mind was all over the place, just scattered. After nine, I couldn’t muster a single coherent thought. But I had to get through that night. So I smoked up, smoked up real good. I put my phone on silent and went to sleep. The kind of sleep that often overtakes me when I’m high. A dreamless sleep. Dreaming another dream about her was the last thing I needed that night. I decided to call her one last time at precisely 11:20 PM. And then I slept.

I woke up suddenly sometime around midnight. I don’t know what woke me up exactly, but my arm naturally spurred in the direction of my phone. I unlocked it and saw a missed call. It was from her. She had called me at 11:27 PM. Just a mere seven minutes after I had slept. I had missed her call because my phone was on silent. Because I didn’t want to hear its nauseating vibrations when I am high and asleep. I loathe that. But that made me miss her call. I had lost again, I thought to myself. I immediately tried calling back. I must have called her seven, eight times in a mere minute. The worst part of it was I could hear no dial tone, no busy tone, no operator telling me “the number you are dialing is turned off, please try later” or “the number you are dialing is currently inaccessible, please try again.” Nothing. Zilch. It was just silence, and then the call would automatically drop, leaving me looking at the black wallpaper on my phone, baffled. I kept trying again and again to reach her, thinking the whole while to myself, maybe I’ll get her now, and maybe I’ll hear a beep this time, maybe an operator this time. I called and called but nobody picked up. I was hoping for signals to reach her in Bangkok, a layover, she had told me earlier. Maybe by some opportune, timeless miracle her phone signals would catch mine all the way out of this country into another. It was a preposterous thought but the likelihood of it happening seemed too real for me. But no, it was all silence. Pitch black, harrowing, silence. I had really missed her this time. And that too, just by a mere half hour. Our five years had condensed into those seven minutes of missed calls on both ends. It was comedic timing at best. Irony of unbounded proportion. So I smoked up another doobie and went to sleep this time, only to wake up the next morning. It was a dreamless sleep.

It was Friday then. It was Saturday next and I woke up to a few messages, five to be exact. All they said were “Thank you so much”, “I tried calling you from the plane”, “Anyways”, “I’m in Melbourne” and “Keep in touch.” I re-read the second message again and again, over and over. And that was it. Irony. Beautiful irony, woeful irony, dramatic irony, Irony with a capital ‘I’.