Friday, November 24, 2006

Moving Lessons

I finally managed to find an apartment to move into this month and though at first it seemed ideal-too ideal in fact-I was proven wrong once again. Having endured listening to my narrations about the travails of moving, a coworker remarked, giving me a friendly and sympathetic pat on my arm, "And so you shall learn".

The following lessons I've learnt contain within them metaphors for other aspects of one's life as well.

*When the first apartment you visit is really hideos, everything else you see afterward looks much better, thus serving to only deceive you in the long-run. So don't fall for false-charm, mere illusions, the first good one just because what you had seen before that was awful.

*Do look at the state of the closet before you sign the lease. If the closet is falling apart, either get it fixed before you move in, or better yet, don't move in for this might foreshadow other pressing problems you would rather not be invovled with.

*Try to move in with a friend or at least a friend of a friend, or friend of a friend of a friend or....(you get the picture). But seriously, it is much better to room with someone you have some connection with, someone whose background you'd be able to verify. Even though your roommate does not have to be your best friend, you want her to be something close to a friend at least. You do not want to live in a hostile environment with someone who you cannot get along with, whose tastes do not agree with yours. When living together, make sure you can be friends first.

*Visit the apartment more than once to test if the heaters are working well. You do not want to be left alone shivering on a cold winter's night simply because the landlord has slacked off and didn't check on the heating in your room, which your rent is supposed to pay for. Become familiar with the place and investigate core devices like the heater and windows.

*Buy furniture before you move in. You do not want to contract a backache/neck-ache/headache, the day after sleeping on a mat on the hard floor which would prevent you from celebrating your first day of the move-in. Plus, you don't want to sleep so close to the floor that you start worrying if there are mice scuttling around without your knowledge. Do get a full night's rest, especially on your first night there.

*Be aware that you are no longer in a house. This means you can no longer take for granted that the kitchen equipment is for everyone to use. The last thing you need is to be snubbed by your new roommate, where she requests that you "kindly ask her permission first before you use anything that is not yours". Again,this could create household tension so take this with a dose of humor. Laugh it off if you can, instead of burning with embarassment. We all make mistakes and do buy your own toaster-oven if you don't have one already. They almost always come in handy ;)

*It is wise to err on the side of caution than otherwise. You want to make sure the neighborhood is relatively safe and that the building is free from theft and the like.

*Ask about where you'll be doing your laundry and once again, don't assume you are in a house and that you can do it in the basement. All places do not operate that way. You don't want to be walking to a laundromat, lugging loads of laundry, when there is a snow storm outside and you are wearing your last pair of clean underwear.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Madame Bovary's Legacy of Unfulfillment.

In Flaubert's classic novel, Madame Bovary, the protagonist who is also the title character faces a grim life of domestic disappointment. Married to a man of mediocre intelligence and naivete who fails to recognize her needs as well as her tendency to go astray, Emma Bovary grows increasingly despondent with her domestic life, becoming physically ill in the process. Neither her removal to the country for a "rest cure" nor the birth of her baby daughter Berthe brings her the sort of joy she seeks. For she wants above all else, excitement in her life, passion, warmth, and freedom to act as she chose devoid of having to maintain homely decorum. In order to escape a life of stagnation, she resorts to having affairs with several men, taking care to carefully conceal them from the eyes of her husband who is wrapped up in his own simple thoughts befitting a country doctor. Unable to wholly win the love of the sort of man she desires, finding either one's affections lacking or her own passion for him insufficient to sustain the relationship, and burdened by debts and public exposure of her scandalous relationships, she commits suicide and dies in agony through eating arsenic. The tragedy of Emma Bovary is a result of her extreme desire, for she is passionate, excessively so and is devoid of an equal who could complement her.

In a similar vein, Kate Winslet's Sara Pierce of the recently released movie Little Children is dissatisfied with her role as a suburban housewife, stay-at-home Mom. She is distinguished from other suburban women of the neighborhood by her physical seperation from them as well as her pensive expression, as is shown in this still. Like Emma Bovary, she does not find motherhood satisfying and she longs for excitement, someone to ravish with her potent desire, a desire she is forced to keep bottled up in her middle-class suburbian surroundings. When she learns that her husband does not find her enough to please him, she seeks to experiment her sexuality on her own terms. She embarks on an affair with Brad Adamson, a stay-at-home Dad struggling with his own problems, who lives nearby.

It is interesting that Sara is the one who initiates the relationship, as much as Emma Bovary is in Flaubert's novel. Sara's connection to Emma is delineated later in the movie when Sara's friend invites her to attend a Book Club meeting where the members were discussing Flaubert's classic. When it came to her turn for comments, Sara remarks by defending Emma's actions, concluding that Emma had no choice but to give up her life of repression for one of passion, one of hunger. She stresses that although she doesn not condone Emma's unfaithfulness, she does admire her power of rebellion, her "hunger". The other women in the Book Club circle listen to Sara in awe and many agree with her, hardly realizing that Sara was able to speak so earnestly by living Emma Bovary's life herself.

Nevertheless, despite seeking to change their situations, both Emma and Sara lead lives of unfufillment and thwarted hopes. Emma dies a bitter death after entangling in financial difficulties, and unable to confess her scandals to her husband and fearing exposure. Sara cannot fully comprehend why she desires Brad and in what way. It is not clear if she loves him or if she is only temporarily distracting herself from her troubles by sleeping with him. She is a character who is incomplete. Like she reveals in the middle of the film that although she started studying for a Master's degree in English, she did not complete it, she does the same with her affair with Brad: she starts and although it is explosive, she does not complete it. In the end, Sara does return to her life with her young daughter, athough we do not know if she will tolerate the waywardness of her husband, remain a stay-at-home Mom or whether she will seek a better life for herself. Just as the movie does not give us the answers, we are left perpetually in doubt.

We, the viewers, are also left unfulfilled.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What is in between "Between"?

In a memorable end to the movie The Hours, Nicole Kidman, who plays Virginia Woolf, is shown wading through the river just moments before she drowns. Her last lines, addressed to her husband Leonard, are as follows:

"Leonard, always the years between us, always the years, always the love.
Always the hours."

I found the word "between" rather ambigious in meaning and wondered if I am alone in thinking so.

What does "between" in that line mean? Does Woolf mean the years she and Leonard had together? Or can it mean the years they differed from each other, the years apart they seemed emotionally? Is what she says on the surface meant to mask the unhappiness she felt within regaring her relationship with her husband?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Writing Laura Brown

Occupied with working on my graduate school applications and apartment hunts, desperately desiring the escape into Fiction, the World of the Imagination, I found myself pondering about Laura Brown's position in Michael Cunningham's The Hours.

I wondered why Laura Brown is written into the novel. What is her role? Is she necessary?

Of all the characters in the novel, Laura Brown was the one I liked the most. Virginia seemed too absorbed and convoluted, which isn't necessarily bad, but these qualities did place a barrier between the reader and the writer. Clarissa seemed too giving, too mellow, and rather superficial in her ability to erase any discomfort she might feel.

Virginia is a character struggling with her Art: for she is an artist first and foremost. For that character to find happiness, she must have the freedom to write, a room of her own, which is denied her when her husband removes her away from the sparkling brilliance of London into the dreary confines of a country estate, for the sake of a "rest cure", an attempt to cure her mania. Virginia, despite her struggles, is a great novelist for she works hard at her craft, as if it is the only thing that matters.

Clarissa, with her poise, demeanor, and connections to the rich and famous, appears rather shallow at first. Although she does exhibit having experienced the semblance of an "awakening" by the end, I found the effect quite flat. Whereas she had been previously satisfied with giving lavish dinner parties, entertaining famous people, and being faithful to her long-term lover Sally, her "unraveling" to Louis, and Richard's catastrophic death have shown her that it is the moment that matters, that everything else is secondary. Though Clarissa is shocked by her friend--and ex-boyfriend's--sudden demise, she does not weep and in fact, a part of her contemplates suicide. But only for a fleeting moment. We later see her, after hearing Laura Brown's confession, making love to Sally, who has had her own awakening, values her partner, and is eager to reignite the flames of their relationship. But what has changed for Clarissa? Will she be satisfied with her relationship with Sally? Will she continue to give lavish parties? Will she accept her daughter's friendship with a working-class woman? More importantly, how much will she want?

Laura Brown is in between these two characters, quite literally, as is shown on the DVD and book cover. Laura Brown is neither as absorbed in her work as Virginia, nor is she superficially satisfied as is Clarissa. Whereas Virginia commits suicide and Clarissa mildly contemplates it, Laura comes within inches of taking her own life, only to disregard the thought, with a momentary lapse in time. While Virginia dies and Clarissa lives, Laura is caught being both dead and alive: she "dies" when she leaves her life of being a suburban mother and she lives when she creates a life of her own in Toronto, away from family responsibilities. It is Laura's nearness to death that brings her closer to Virginia than Clarissa, as is shown in her proximity to Virginia in the DVD cover.

But what is Laura Brown's role in The Hours? She is Richard's mother and Richard influences Clarissa. Richard's earlier experiences with Laura are described in the book and they have no doubt influenced the boy as he became a writer. So one possibility is that Richard's ability to write is a result of Laura's influence on him, his witnessing her depression, and along with it, her desire, a desire potent enough to destroy the structure of the family. Aside from being Richard's mother, Laura also is the link between Virginia and Clarissa. Unlike Clarissa, it is Laura who is obsessed with Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia's novel. After she has learnt to find peace in a moment and to seek her freedom through her reading of the novel, she conveys this message to Clarissa. Clarissa now knows that it is possible to "look life in the face, always, to look life in the face, and to know it for what it last, to love it for what it is, and then to put it away.". Maybe this message could only be transferred from one female onto another, and therefore Richard would not suffice. As the DVD cover shows, Laura is in a row behind both Clarissa and Virginia, thus signifying her function as a link between the other two women. Her position also reveals a hierarchy, in that she seems subordinate to both Virginia and Clarissa. Perhaps this "position" addresses the very question I posed about Laura Brown's role in the beginning of this essay: How important is Laura in relation to the other two?

Could the novel survive without Laura Brown? I believe not. For if that were the case, there would be no Richard Brown and no one to influence Clarissa. In short, we wouldn't have a story.

Could Laura survive on her own? I am not sure. She tries to live on her own, she deserts her family, choosing life over death. But what sort of life is that? Did she not feel remorse, guilt at what she has done? Could her newly-discovered freedom compensate for what she had left behind? By writing Laura as he had done so in the novel, Cunningham empowers and disenfranchises her at the same time. She is powerful in that she has access to the past as well as the future: Virginia writes the character of Mrs. Dalloway but it is Laura who can physically touch this character. Conversely, Laura knows two Mrs. Dalloways: one from Virginia's novel and one from real-life and it is because of Laura that the two can merge for Laura is the reader, the interpreter of Virginia's novel.

Though powerful, she is also trapped. Cunningham has placed her in two worlds: she inhabits in the past and the future at the same time. Even though she approves of her leaving her family, she is reminded of her position as a mother, one who hurt her family, when Richard dies, a position that will be branded on her all her life.

Paradoxically, Laura Brown, a woman who seeks her own freedom is trapped by Cunningham's writing her into his story.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Novelist (maybe?)

Despite having to prepare for another exam I am taking next month, and possibly a second one the same month, writing my Personal Statement, applying for my post-graduate studies, switching apartments, and working a full-time job, I have decided to take the plunge and try this anyway:

I have wanted to write a story for a while and this would have seemed like the ideal month to try and work at it along with a group of other writers had it not been for the timing especially as I am saddled with so many other priorities. However, I have decided to do what I can anyway, even if it is only a short story.

For today marks the start of the National Novel Writing Month and I am a:

I hadn't noticed it before but I ask: Why is there a man in that icon and why is that the only one availabe for participants to use?