Friday, June 30, 2006

Reading The Hours by Michael Cunningham


"[...] she is fascinated by the idea of a woman like that, a woman of such brilliance, such strangeness, such immeasurable sorrow; a woman who had genius but still filled her pocket with a stone and waded out into a river. She, Laura, likes to imagine (it's one of her most closely held secrets) that she has a touch of brilliance herself, just a hint of it, though she knows most people probably walk around with similar hopeful suspicions curled up like tiny fists inside them, never divulged. She wonders, while she pushes a cart through the supermarket or has her hair done, it the other women aren't all thinking, to some degree or other, the same thing: Here is the brilliant spirit, the woman of sorrows, the woman of transcendent joys, who would rather be elsewhere, who has consented to perform simple and essentially foolish tasks, to examine tomatoes, to sit under a hair dryer, because it is her art and her duty."

A USA Today reviewer said of The Hours: "If this book does not make you jump up from the sofa, looking at life and literature in new ways, check to see if you have a pulse." and I completely agree with his words. The Hours is that one, rare book, which has marked me, has opened my eyes to the invisible essence, invisible truth, has felt special from the very first page onwards.

It is a story about three women: Virginia Woolf, Laura Brown and Clarissa Vaughan. The three stories feel almost like a single story, they're so similar, so interwoven, dealing with the same issues of life. They're about one day in the lives of the women: in 1923 Virginia is beginning to write Mrs. Dalloway and is recuperating from her illness in the suburbs of London. In 1949 Laura is a pregnant woman with a three-year old son, Richie, and is planning her husband's birthday and baking him a cake. In 1999 Clarissa is planning a party for her beloved friend, who is dying from AIDS. At the end of the book we realize what the connection between the stories was and the women are brought together.

The story is absorbing, the quality with which Cunningham portrays the individual characters is breathtaking, his empathy and understanding of the inner life of his characters is enchanting. He manages to create the illusion that each of the characters has a life of her own, that they're separate entities, that he knows all the little details of their lives, all their opinions and reflections, is privy to their most intimate, most secret thoughts. Also the narration is fluent, superbly lyrical without being overbearing. His skill with dialogues is apparent, but even more than that Cunningham possesses the quality of being able to put into words the most everyday feelings and notions, the silent exchanges that occur in between the lines of a dialogue in such a way as makes you realize that they're your feelings and it could as well be your life.

It is useless to deny that my favourite character was Laura Brown. I identify the most with her, I feel her pain most acutely, I understand (or I think I do) how the silent, almost invisible, but none the less present demands to be a perfect mother and wife in a perfect household begin to constrain her, how they begin to eat her from the inside. How it pains her that she doesn't seem to be a natural at raising children and baking cakes. How she feels that what her life has become is a day from the life of some other person wholly unconnected to herself. The following excerpt best describes her pain.

"It seems suddenly easy to bake a cake, to raise a child. She loves her son purely, as mothers do - she does not resent him, does not wish to leave. She loves her husband and is glad to be married. It seems possible (it does not seem impossible) that she's slipped across an invisible line line, the line that has always separated her from what she would prefer to feel, who she would prefer to be. It does not seem impossible that she has undergone a subtle but profound transformation, here in this kitchen, at this most ordinary of moments: She has caught up with herself. [...] It seems she will be fine. She will not lose hope. She will not mourn her lost possibilities, her unexplored talents (what if she has no talents at all?). She will remain devoted to her son, her husband, her home and duties, all her gifts. She will want this second child."

Laura's pain at being unable to be really happy in an "ideal" marriage, with a lovely child, a nice house in a respectable neighbourhood and a good income is a frustration we all feel at times. There are other people who'd kill to be in our places and yet we want more or want it different or don't want it at all. Hers is the story about a woman who wants something else from her life than is desirable, than is expected of her. She is a woman, living in a time, not quite unlike today, when what is expected shapes you more than what you want from yourself. She is a woman who wants to fight the norms, but without going into the street and tearing her bra.

She wants to please, desperately, because she has little self-esteem, but simultaneously she wants to be herself, even if it is the strange, foreign-looking woman, the woman of sorrow and pathos, the woman who deserts everything to be what she thinks she is. Taken in the light of 1950s, her decision is not only brave but almost revolutionary. And it is a decision that carves deep wounds into all members of her family. Here is a woman who did right and wrong at the same time. Here is the everyperson - who does right and who does wrong in the same moment. Who hurts and who is unbearably kind in the same blink of the eye.

The Hours is a book I reread frequently. It is a time when I meditate while reading. I dive into this river of words, I swim with the current and sometimes against it, I taste the water and ask myself whether the sheer act of diving into the river was right. I like that the book is short, but to the point, and that the story is told with such mastery of language. I might be wrong, but then again you're always prejudiced about your favourite books. I recommend this little wonder to you, especially as we have a Slovenian translation, too. (Although I will venture to say that the original is much better.)


P.S. I'm still interested in your opinions regarding the new design of my blog.

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posted by Nadezhda | 16:22 | 6 comments | links to this post

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Places of meditation


It feels odd, even silly to be without responsibilities today. My mind still struggles to come to terms with the concept of holidays. Somehow, and I fail to understand why (I thought it will be a relief!), it feels strange to be without a detailed to-do list, to fall short of achieving your daily agenda, to feel numbly reckless at one and paralysyingly scared at other times. I even watched the evening football match yesterday and I don't think I ever would were I not a bit confused at the moment, like someone who doesn't know his place.

Holidays have never surprized me in this manner. I don't have to go back to my desk and force myself to concentrate, force myself to be productive. These last few days have been very hard on me. I could not focus, my mind kept drifting away, I was reading as sluggishly as a boat drifts seemingly aimlessly downstream on Ljubljanica on a hot summer afternoon. It is hardest, I suppose, when you're at war with yourself. When you know doing something would be good for yourself, and you want to do it, but the body resists. Keeps un-focusing, keeps running away like a small, scared child whose trust you yet have to gain. I forced myself to read, to revise, to cram. I knew it was good for me, but it instilled in me a sense of unrest, a sense of obligation and guilt. I feel like I have not done my thing, like the show isn't over yet and there is more to be done. I feel restless, I want to be doing things, but now, for a change, the time has come to rest. How your body sometimes seems to live a life very detached from your own has always surprized me. There have been times when the body was longing for action, the mind for meditation.

I have thus dutifully written a to-do list, full of plans for the summer. There are articles I want to write, a mentor for my (possible, but not very likely) Prešeren's research paper to contact, blog entries to complete, lots of reading to get to, resuming running on a daily basis, chats with friends I've neglected because of exams...

But I haven't started either of these things. It is so hot, I'm constantly fighting away a mild dehydration induced headache. The pains has numbed me, has deprived me of a desire to do things. I am restless, - with a headache and a mind which wants nothing better than a rest. I sleep throughout the afternoon. It only gets cold enough to enable me to live in the evening. I breathe the humid and hot air with difficulty, which is something I never noticed when I was studying. My backside sticks to every surface I sit on. Or I am too hot in a longer pair of shorts. If there's one thing I do not cope well with, then it's moist hotness.

I'm trying to write a book-report for the blog (actually several reports), but the inspiration isn't there (here) yet, so bear with me a little longer. I should have it up in a day or two. I'm rereading The Hours and reading The Learning Brain and I hope to be able to post about them soon, too. I'm also planning on writing about Ljubljana's Summer Festival, since I'm going to attend quite a few performances. But until such happy time when my sweat-covered fingers won't adhere to the keyboard anymore, please, let's just keep our sweaty fingers crossed for some rain. Just a day. A day is all I need.

P.S. Please report and mistakes and erroers you might find in the new layout. I've already found some, but perhaps not everything. Don't be shy. :)

posted by Nadezhda | 17:17 | 13 comments | links to this post

Monday, June 26, 2006

One more time

I (again) ask you to keep your fingers crossed for me tomorrow, Tuesday, from 9.30 to 11.00. This is deadly serious and my pulse is already sky-high.

posted by Nadezhda | 16:20 | 9 comments | links to this post

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

One down...

...and one to go. I'm very, very, very happy with how this exam went.

P. S. By the way, I need all your positive thoughts, prayers and good wishes tomorrow at 9.00 a.m. (It seems much easier to persevere when you have the finish line in sight. Just a little bit longer. Just a little bit.)

posted by Nadezhda | 10:17 | 9 comments | links to this post

Friday, June 16, 2006

P.S.

What to do if you spent the day only half-conscious, because you slept only 4 hours, attended a dance class in freakishly humidly hot weather, which only went to exhaust you further, then studied for 5 hours, wrote (hopefully also passed WELL) an exam, went home in the middle of the rush hour (so it took you extra long and the bus driver wouldn't to wait for you either, so it only took longer), again in the humidly-hot-exhausting-energy-of-all-living-things-weather with flip flops which give you blisters (only three today, God was exceedingly good to me, but must not be bitter or sarcastic about it!), then ate the few remaining of the lunch on an achingly-empty-stomach and crawled to your room to study some more?

Which of course was prevented by a thought that I haven't yet checked my e-mail today (wouldn't hurt to miss a day, since the Inbox hardly ever changes, and what does change is the number of "increase your sexual desire" spam e-mails I get, which offer me an instant and a harder erection, not that I myself need one, but it doesn't stop those spammers!) and brother just had, had, had to have me watch an episode of South Park. Then I finally tried to study, but my eyes kept closing, my vision became more blurred by the second and yet I ploughed on. After and hour and a half, I admitted my defeat and took a 20-minute power nap, which almost saved my life. Then I successfully studied for yet an hour and a half. Then boyfriend came to pick me up and we went to his place, where I almost fell asleep twice and he even deliberated whether we should really go to sleep at 22.00 already (otherwise a preposterous suggestion!).

And now at half an hour over midnight, I feel as awake as a rabbit, my eyes fully open, my mind ready to engage in an adventure. Needless to say, I have to wake up at 6.30 tomorrow and boyfriend has been sleeping for almost an hour.

What do you expect of a nighthawk like me who usually wakes up at ten o'clock and goes to sleep at three in the morning, huh?

Go to bed, close your eyelids and pray for sleep.

posted by Nadezhda | 00:27 | 2 comments | links to this post

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Farewell to dance

Today was the last ballet class for me before the Summer break starts. It went well and I must admit I'm really happy with the pace of my progress. My extension to the left (right unfortunately still painful) is wonderfully high, my technique improved (although only in details), I feel more secure in pirouettes and I've managed to do quite a few fouettes (Italian style) lately. You might recall that this particular step was slightly problematic for me a while ago. And as for the teacher, her attitude improved immensely, she issued two or three corrections per class and was generally supportive. She paid attention to details, which is what I need, because mainly I've already mastered the "basic" technique.

Anyway, a three-month-long summer break awaits me. Not that I'm particularly glad it's that time of the year again, but it happens every year - and I survive every time, so I'll just have to bear it. Meanwhile, for the sake of trying to get better than you were a month ago:

Tasks/Chores/Details to work on/Time for general improvement:
1. Start the abdominals work-out - my core's really not quite as firm as I'd need and like it to be - have got top get in shape a.s.a.p.!
2. Work with therabands and pointes to improve the arch in the right foot.
3. Keep stretching twice a week to maintain and improve flexibility - it'd be a shame to lose what I gained, especially in turn out and extension.
4. Apply ice to the sore hamstring daily until the injury heals.
5. Buy new tights. :) (Old ones have so many runs and tears it has become increasingly embarassing to wear them.) Also, highly advisable: attach a new elastic to your leotard with
spaghetti straps as it is improper to reveal almost half of your bosom in grand port de bras.
6. Resume ballet classes in September.

posted by Nadezhda | 23:59 | 0 comments | links to this post

Monday, June 12, 2006

About the only decent photo of me

And about the only thing I could do in the little time I've been devoting to my blog lately. Additionally, I also think this falls under the category: "doesn't give too much away", since you probably know dozens upon dozens of girls with brown eyes.

There! An update in 10 minutes, must be my record.

posted by Nadezhda | 15:20 | 4 comments | links to this post

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The butterfly effect

In a week I'm writing an exam. I can already feel the hypersecretion of gastric acid in my stomach (better known as the "butterflies"). I'm quite positive that this one exam will/should/could (?) go well. About the other one I'm less certain.

And then there's the everlasting "what if?".

Imagination into over-drive.
What if I fail both? What if I fail the more difficult one? What if I pass, but just barely? - Breathe. Inhale, exhale. The tiny voice in my head tries: "It's not as grim as it seems. Wait until you get there. Maybe you'll be fine. Most probably you'll be fine." But fails.

Again, I don't seem to be convinced. What if? I still have 14 days to go until the second exam. I'm slowly running out of time. I slowly begin to feel the white flames of panic licking my insides. Driving me towards insanity.

Breathe.
Steady yourself. You can do it.

Can I? At the moment everything seems so ... impossible?
I try to face the situation, try to prevent the blind panic overtaking my brain. To be master of myself. Do not let yourself repeat the stories of yesteryear. You still have half the time. If you use it well, you still can have at least 50% and more. What if I don't use it well? Yesterday was one long day - but I failed to reach the target. I barely studied 8 hours. Decidedly too little. Let's aim for more today.

But what if? Despite everything?

posted by Nadezhda | 11:39 | 4 comments | links to this post

Monday, June 05, 2006

Beauties



These lovely beauties await me when I'm finished with my exams. Can't wait to start! Also, I'd like to read some Coelho, as I haven't read any of his books and I'd like to re-read some classics like Madame Bovary.

P.S. Those interested in creative writing course, be sure to check Bo's last comment here.

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posted by Nadezhda | 16:27 | 13 comments | links to this post

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Almost bankrupt

As soon as I finish these exams, I'll go to library and borrow a whole stack of books. I have also bought some books during the year, which I haven't read yet but I hope to read them as well. Then I'm planning on going to a summer dance school. I'm really sorry to hear that this year it's only going to last 6 days (I long for at least 10 days!). Then there's Ljubljana's Summer Festival and already I found 8 performances that I and boyfriend absolutely must see. Naturally, these are the more expensive ones, but I'm glad that at least the film projections are cheap (less than 2 euros).

Additionally, I got an invitation for a creative writing weekend in Autumn, which I'm really looking forward to attend, but it's quite expensive for only a weekend. (I have to provide a few sheets of my writing, so it wouldn't hurt me if I wrote some during the Summer as well - I haven't written, really written for several hours at a time in ages! It's high time I got my pens and notebooks out. Yes, I'm the oldfashioned type. I handwrite it first and then type it out as I'm working on a second draft.)

Thank God I have an aunt who can provide me with a well paying summer job! I'll really need those little green pieces of paper.

posted by Nadezhda | 11:49 | 10 comments | links to this post

Thursday, June 01, 2006

It was time to update!

It shouldn't have escaped your notice that I've made some changes to the blog. I've updated the Blogs I Read section and as there were quite a few blogs, I divided them into categories. The division is rather crudely made (I hope there are no objections from your side), for which I apologize, but in my defence: am currently without any inspiration how to do it better.

The other addition is something you would never (and quite rightfully so) expect from me. I've added an e-mail address so you can write to me. Please bear in mind that this is not meant to be a substitute for commenting. The mail's only there for the faint-hearted, shy, silent lurkers, who have tons of ideas how to improve this blog, but never manage to pull their strength together and write a comment. I'm most welcoming of all ideas, criticism and (hopefully also) praise. And for certain someones: please, bear in mind that I will not reply to invitations "to talk things over a cup of tea", as I have bad experiences with meeting online "friends" in real life. (Sorry, but that's all I can say about that incident.)

And as for the reason for posting my contact information: a certain someone has (as of late) a grudge against me. I noticed this and asked the person to explain why he was angry at me. He said he can reply in an e-mail. Surely that was pure evil, because he knew how reluctant I was to share my e-mail. Then (curious what he blamed me for) I opened a new e-mail account and sent him an e-mail and he was so polite as not to reply to it for more than a week. He never even said he changed his mind about telling me what he blames me for.

This is internet. I write the words you read, but you might interpret them differently than how I mean them. Sometimes I also don't quite manage to explain things properly. I don't want the limitations of the medium to get between us. If you have a question, ask. And before you blame me for something I didn't mean the way you took it, could you at least have the decency to say you're offended? (So I could appologize?) Because skulking away and feeling sorry for yourself (and then waiting for me to ask you what's wrong) really isn't my preferred way of sorting things out.

posted by Nadezhda | 11:17 | 3 comments | links to this post