CLIFF: Anytime I want to, I can close my eyes and call it back. Then it’s like I’m really back there and I can practically hear that field buzzing. In a way, it’s like I never left that field. In a way – it’s like I can’t.
(The single light fades, and bright summer sunshine fills the stage. Dorothy is on the ground, reading a book.)
-The Land of Cockaigne, David Ives (1995)
In the past few months, I’ve taken a brief hiatus from this blog to focus on sorting my life out living.
In this post, I feature my first ever guest blogger, Ray Hecht, an American writer who has published books about Ohio, California, Hong Kong and Shenzhen, where he has been living since 2008.
You can find out more about him through his blog: https://rayhecht.com/
“How do I write? Why do I write? What do I write? This is what I am writing: I am writing Mr. Potter. It begins this way; this is its first sentence: ‘Mr. Potter was my father, my father’s name was Mr. Potter.’ So much went into that one sentence; much happened before I settled on those eleven words.”
-Jamaica Kincaid, ‘Those Words That Echo… Echo… Echo Through Life’ (1999)
Two weeks ago, I went to a writer’s open forum hosted at the University of Hong Kong, titled ‘How, What and Why Do Writers Write? A Conversation between David Tang, Hannah Rothschild, Simon Winchester and Wilbur Smith’.
(From left to right) Simon Winchester, Hannah Rothschild, David Tang, Wilbur Smith
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
– Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877)
“All happy families are more or less dissimilar; all unhappy ones are more or less alike,’, says a great Russian writer in the beginning of a famous novel…”
– Vladimir Nabokov, Ada or Ardor (1969)
Last week, I finished reading the fourth and final sequel in John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom tetralogy.
First love, last rites (left to right): Rabbit, Run – Rabbit Redux – Rabbit is Rich – Rabbit at Rest
For a fiction maniac like me, this is cause for celebration, because I don’t think I’ve ever fully completed a novel series. I abandoned grew out of Harry Potter after The Half-Blood Prince (6th book), and – shock horror – I’ve never been big enough on Tolkien or high fantasy to plough through the LOTRs.
In fact, after an extended period of fiction sampling in the past 10 months, I can pretty much confirm that my literary taste tends towards the opposite of sci-fi and fantasy, which is realism, and American realism, in particular. British realism is more in the tradition of Charles Dickens, George Eliot and – if you want something grimmer and more naturalistic – Thomas Hardy, all of which are authors I have grown to love and admire, but wouldn’t put at the top of my ‘to-read’ list any time soon.
“How human the metallic peal of the trams! How happy the landscape of simple rain falling on the street resurrected from the chasm!
Oh Lisbon, my home!”
– Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, Entry 74
After a month-long hiatus, I’ve finally returned to the blogosphere:
Hola, mi carino, mi blog.
Reason for being MIA: Earlier this month, I went on a trip to Spain and Portugal with my mates, and let’s just say that readjusting to Hong Kong life took some time.
Originally, I had planned on writing a travelogue detailing each part of our journey from the east of Spain to the west of Portugal (Barcelona to Madrid to Lisbon and finally, to Porto), but:
(a) that would yield a gargantuan ‘guide’ which probably won’t rival TripAdvisor in terms of comprehensiveness or readability, and
(b) I figured that I, well, wanted to talk about something else instead.
Stop all the clocks, Hong Kong people.
That which we hold dear about this city
is likely to end in 2047.
But if we do not recognise the objective
passing of time, might we stay
in the present?
– Tammy Ho Lai-Ming, ‘2047’ (2016)
If Hong Kong poets writing in English are few and far between, then female Hong Kong poets writing in English would be the human equivalent of unicorns here, given how uncommon a species they are in this 7.3 million-people city.
But if you think they’re rare, then you’ve not met Tammy Ho Lai-Ming, who is not only a locally born and bred prize-winning poet, but also a Dickens scholar, an English professor, an academic editor and a literary journal co-founder. Prior to completing her PhD in English Language and Literature at King’s College London, Tammy gained a First Class Honours degree in English Studies and Translation at the University of Hong Kong.
We shall not attempt to give the reader an idea of that tetrahedron nose – that horse-shoe mouth – that small left eye over-shadowed by a red bushy brow, while the right eye disappeared entirely under an enormous wart – of those straggling teeth with breaches here and there like the battlements of a fortress – of that horny lip, over which one of those teeth projected like the tusk of an elephant – of that forked chin –
– Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1833)
I woke up this morning with two red, saucer-sized welts under my left eye. Swollen and sore to the touch, I grabbed the nearest reflective surface in alarm.
After ten minutes of microscopic self-inspection before the mirror, the first thought that crossed my mind was:
I might as well go back to bed.
If I sleep for long enough, maybe there’s a chance that I could sleep these Welts Brothers away.
Uh, fat chance, more like.
“To you, Mom was always Mom. It never occurred to you that she had once taken her first step, or had once been three or twelve or twenty years old. Mom was Mom. She was born as Mom.”
– Kyung-Sook Shin, Please Look After Mom (2008)
I had an argument with mom last Tuesday.
Today is Tuesday. Which means that one week on, we’ve still not spoken a word to each other.
The argument wasn’t over anything major: owing to some construction-induced drilling next door, I semi-flipped shit and started ranting to her about how urban neighbourhoods in HK have no absolutely no respect for residential peace and that if I had the chance I’d move to some other place like Idaho or Iceland or any random island.
“The impulse to write is almost always fired by reading. Reading, the love of reading, is what makes you dream of becoming a writer. And long after you’ve become a writer, reading books others write – and rereading the beloved books of the past – constitutes an irresistible distraction from writing.
Distraction. Consolation. Torment. And yes, inspiration.”
– Susan Sontag, ‘Directions: Write, Read, Rewrite.’ in Writers on Writing (2001)
Ever seen a pillow menu before? If not, you’re not missing out on much. Except for just about the most hilarious piece of literature I’ve recently come across. Check it out:
Item 12: An Igusa pillow. “Remarkably comfortable” and “made from Japanese Igusa grass”. And a “comforel pillow” that’s so mind-blowingly comfortable the word ‘comfortable’ alone no longer suffices to convey the extent of its comfort. You’ve gotta hand it to human civilisation sometimes. When your bedtime agony is about deliberating between a “micro and ball-fiber pillow (FIRM)” and a “feather and down pillow (FIRM)”, that’s how you can tell humanity has made real leaps and strides since the d-o-wn of time.
‘Litera-Chats with Jen’ is a series of interviews that I’ll doing with anyone who’s got the reading and/or writing itch. Down the line, some of my interviewees will be writers, established or budding alike, but for now most of them will just be friends and family, aka peeps who have enough love/tolerance/patience to put up with my cross-examining curveballs.
In my first ever ‘litera-chat’, I feature Brian Ng, a friend and fellow lit-lover who studies English Literature and Economics at the University of Chicago. His writing has appeared on Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Business Insider, the Chicago Maroon, and the South China Morning Post.
Brian has an opinion about a lot of things. He dislikes how the word ‘liminal’ is used to death in undergraduate English papers; he despises the Swiss-born, Cambridge-educated philosopher-writer Alain de Botton whose “ideal audience”, he says, “is a UBS Managing Director who wants to convince his therapist that he’s interesting”, and he has very little time for the cultural philistinism that pervades Hong Kong, the city which both of us call home.