The Man in the Bookstore

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You hear about it sometimes.  You see it in movies, read about it in works of fiction.

You never thought it would happen to you.

You never imagined you would walk into a bookstore, browse languorously in the poetry section and end up having an hour long conversation with a total stranger about the kind of words you both love.  You didn’t think instances like this existed outside of anecdotes.  But they do, and now you have one to share too.

You can now tell people how, while holding on to a Lorrie Moore novel you’ve been meaning to read, you were tapped on the shoulder gently and told, ‘You’re going to love that book. It’s one of my favourites.’  You can reminisce on how you responded with surprised but suppressed glee and told this man that Moore is one of your favourite writers, one that has greatly influenced your own writing style.  You can recount how you both then stood in the poetry aisle in companionable silence, which was soon broken by him picking out a slim anthology from the racks and asking you if you’ve ever read anything like it.

You can narrate then how responded in the negative but launched into a tirade about the kind of poetry you do enjoy, about how Zbigniew Herbert gives you goosebumps and Jack Gilbert makes you want to sit on a bench under a tree and weep.  You can tell people about the stories this man told you, about the poetry festival he organises and the many great writers and poets he’s interacted with.  You can smilingly share with them what you shared with him, that words will always be your first love, no matter where you go or what you do; that even though your career path has nothing to do with stanzas and plots, it’s what you think about and indulge in on your daily commute across the Charles and the small hazy window of time right before you fall asleep every night.

You can elaborate on the characters he told you about, the Moroccan store-owner who speaks a new language every time they meet or the owner of a Central Square tavern who happily displays this man’s artwork, the artwork you were amazed to hear about because of its sheer simplicity of it being a collection of pieces made up of broken and discarded bits of picture frames.  You can tell people of how stunned you were to hear about this, and how it only added to the beauty of the strange but welcome encounter.  If you are interrupted, you can veer the conversation back with another quiet but simple story he shared with you about one of his favourite poets, who writes about a refugee who, at displacement, took his house door off its hinges to take it with himself to wherever he was going next.  You can go into detail the way this man did about how this refugee, if he ever returns, will reattach the withered door to his old home to solidify his return; or will place this old door to wherever he settles next and will build his new home around it, to remember the foundation of where he came from.

You can muse on how this stunning story touched you because you could relate, because you have been displaced your whole life and have no doors to carry, only the idea of something that could feel like home but has yet to be discovered.  You can tell people how you asked this man more about this poet he loves, and in return, told him about a poet you love, a poet whose writing is so frenzied and manic you feel like you’re helplessly dancing along to a rhythm so remarkably fast your feet ache to catch up.

You could go on. But you won’t. You don’t need to tell anyone you bought all the books he pointed to, including one by the poet he loves.  You don’t need to tell them how you walked into this bookstore because your soul was down and the only thing that could revive it was some old-fashioned make-believe. You experienced something sacred today, something that added a bounce back into your step, something that made you grateful for who you are and where you are, something that reminded you that there is still magic in the world, even if it is just in a bookstore around the corner.

 

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‘Do Tell’ by Richard Hoffman

 

 

Nietzscheanistic Words

Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote, “That for which we find words is something already dead in our hearts.”

That’s a pretty amazing sentence right there, but then again Nietzsche had a tendency to say and write things with a pretty high shock value. 

When you think about it, though, he has a point.  What do we really use words for?  A common answer to this would be that we use them to express our thoughts, ideas and sentiments.  But do we really do that all the time?  Do we not use words to instead to convey and communicate what we wish was within us?

We use them to articulate that which cannot otherwise be articulated.  Literary language calls attention to itself, it is beautiful in and of itself, and clarity and clear-cut explicitness is not its main objective.  The beauty lies in the confusion, the seemingly arbitrary collage of letters.  It awakens you.

Much of what we do in life, on a day-to-day basis, is done unconsciously, and literary language enables and allows us to go through the experiences again consciously.  This is what I think Nietzsche was trying to say.  The words we use when we write are an assault, an undermining, on the language of everyday-ness and they force us to re-engage with the realities of the world.  They communicate the numbness and oblivion that’s taken over our hearts, and in the act of writing about it, we become aware of this unawareness.

It’s a remarkable process, and we go through it everytime we write down even a single word.

On a lighter and completely irrelevant note, Team Canada (Men’s hockey) won the highly-yearned-for Gold Medal last night at the Winter Olympics.  It was a nail-biting game that kept you at the edge of the seat and all the other cliches you can think of, and the winning goal was made in overtime.  Good job, Team Canada, it really was about time.

Ivy League is just a click away..

We truly are living in the Technology age.  It’s the Information era of the hand-held laptop, with a screen just slightly bigger than the one on our Crackberries and iPods.  We’ve synchronised not only our playlists but our entire lives based on how fast our DSL connection is and how efficient our neat little metallic gadgets are.  A whole world built on 0s and 1s can now enable us to see, learn, understand and even question whatever we want, whenever we want and from whevever we want.  This is a time where anything and everything can be accessed within mere nanoseconds through the world wide web.  I had previously thought that the only way I could receive a Harvard education was by getting accepted at the mother of all educational institutions.  But I stand corrected.

During my last literature class, my professor recommended that we all take a look at www.academicearth.org.  What a find!  It’s got online lecture videos of every course imaginable from what I like to call The Big 5 (Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Yale & Stanford) as well as other equally reputed universities like NYU and UCLA.  From engineering and physics to IR and law, there are loads of subjects to look into, and the lectures are all given by professors who are truly awe-inspiring and the epitome of all that is brilliant.

I personally think my own Literature professor at LUMS is a force to be reckoned with; his passion for the subject overflows and floods the rest of us who sit there, listening captivatedly.  But after watching a lecture on Literary Theory by Paul Fry at Yale, I can see where my professor gets it from.  But then again, like my father says, all these ‘literary types’ are equally eccentric and a tad bit strange.  But isn’t that what makes them so appealing and awesome in the first place?

Nonetheless, the website is a hidden treasure.  I still cannot get over the fact that I can listen to lectures like ‘The Morality of Murder’ (Harvard) and “The World is Flat’ (MIT) simply by going on a website and putting my headphones on.  I hope that one day, even lectures given by the great faculty members of LUMS will be uploaded and watched and appreciated just as much, considering that LUMS has actually been hailed as the ‘Harvard’ of the subcontinent.  As sinister as the implications of high-speed virtual access may be with regards to fraud and sexual inappropriateness, the fact that it has led to me being able to attend a class at Harvard from my dormroom at LUMS is simply and literally nothing short of a miracle.  Thank you, you geeky, overly-horny and excessively introvert geniuses of Silicon Valley.