Writing About Stars

Books are the cheapest holiday money can buy and writing is the best therapy, for anything.
Reading right now: Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong & Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

They slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they never recovered.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise 

Journal Entry #4

     Today is Monday, which means that the vendors bring their new products in, and everything is at its freshest. Summer has finally arrived. For the past week, I rarely used my blankets at night, and mosquitoes are moving around. I can hear them buzzing loudly as they float around the air, as if they were weightless. 

     In my childhood, the summers were spent on a sleepy and run-down farm, where every acre was covered in emerald greens and rice paddies. My family and I lived in a small brown spot in the midst of this wilderness. I grow up in a moist paradise: therefore mosquitoes were our daily visitors, and if mud wasn’t in our pores, we were considered unworthy. I love the summer, the fresh air that blows from the farmland, the visitors that cross Hanoi once their schools are over on their way home. 
     A troubled looking mother walked in to my garden, asking to see me and wanted to have her fortune told. She had a little girl next to her, maybe two years old, who as far as I could tell rushed off to the flower bushes behind me. She told me that she was very young and was only passing through. There was a sullen tone to her voice, like a beautiful flower standing outside as the summer showers rolled over it. She was desperately looking for answers, but didn’t know how to ask the right questions. 
     I offered her some tea, telling her that this is a place where one should abandon all fear, all worry and all negative thoughts. “Thank you.” was all she whispered as she sipped her tea. 
     Her fortune didn’t reveal what she had hoped for. There were dark clouds roaming on her open fields, and the darkness seemed like it was going to stay with her for quite some time. “There are just fortunes, miss. They’re not always right, it’s not an exact science.” 
     Although I tried to tell her that things might turn out completely different, she didn’t want to hear it. All she kept saying was “I knew it, I knew it.” This fortune worried me: I wasn’t one to give out bad fortunes, at least not for the most part. She was worried for a reason but I wasn’t sure if she wanted to share this with me, perhaps she was no longer very fond of me. Being the barer of bad news is never easy. 
     It took her a while to calm down, and that was when she began to tell me why she was worried: She was travelling from a little village, about two days from Hanoi, to the border in order to escape her family. Back in the village she had fallen in love with her family’s enemy. The little girl walking around my garden was the fruit of her star-crossed love. Love had cost her her freedom and the love of her life. It had cost her the warmth of her home, the love of her family. She was trying to desperately escape everything she left behind, and she planned on doing all of this by escaping her family’s whereabouts. 
     My fortune worried the young mother, as in the villages of Vietnam family relations are taken very seriously: what your family says is law. Someone who breaks the law will be exiled, or hunted down. 
     She didn’t want to stay with me for very long after that. I wasn’t surprised, but still saddened by her departure. I told her to come back any time she wished, and she told me that she would definitely take me up on the offer. 
     There was nothing more to tell about this warm summer day. My thoughts dragged along after the young mother, but there was nothing more I could do. All I did was pray that I was wrong with my fortune. 
     This was one of the moments where I hated this profession.
Somewhere in the distance, the street vendors were packing up their stands. I knew the sun was setting.  
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

humansofnewyork:

"People confuse the source of their happiness. They become temporarily happy when they get a new car, or a new house, or a new marriage. And they think that they are suddenly happy because of this new thing in their life. In reality, they are happy because for a brief moment, they are without desire. But then soon another desire comes along. And the search continues."

humansofnewyork:

"People confuse the source of their happiness. They become temporarily happy when they get a new car, or a new house, or a new marriage. And they think that they are suddenly happy because of this new thing in their life. In reality, they are happy because for a brief moment, they are without desire. But then soon another desire comes along. And the search continues."

Journal Entry #3

     A writer came to me today, to get his fortune told. It was the first time I ever sat down with a writer and spoke to one. Before I lost my sight, I spent most of my time reading about strange and exotic places, far away cities and languages that are so different from mine. 

     He sat down and greeted me, telling me that he was only passing through and was going to write a memoir about his travels. I thought of how wonderful it would’ve been to read it and how wonderful it would be to become a part of this journey. He  told me about the hardships of being a writer, especially with the current government and the poorness of the people. Writing was an art that needed to feed on the literate and could only survive through them. He didn’t seem to be so interested in the money the job brought along, it struck me as if he just wanted his story told. 
     He said that he came here, to me, for two reasons. First, he wanted to find out about his future, was he going to be successful? Was his story going to reach hundreds, maybe thousands? He also wanted to include me in his memoir, he was looking for simple people and their knowledge. He was eager on knowing more about me, taking to me. He was looking forward to getting to know me.
      I enjoyed the young man’s company. He was one of the few people whom I have met who wanted to do art, and nothing else. How beautiful it must be to make art, to step back and look at the creation that belongs to you… I really am envious of artists. Mankind rarely creates anything worth looking at, for the most part it is too busy destroying everything. 
     The young writer informed me that he was already in three other cities and a dozen of small villages. He had eaten many delicacies, listened to everyone’s stories and had refined the art of travel. Then, in the middle of his sentence he stopped and asked me: “what was your greatest dream?” 
     And I told him. I was telling him about how all I wanted to do was to travel, but fate had a different plan for me. I was telling him about it with some great passion, it was as if some fire got rekindled inside of me. As a fortune teller you listen and you talk to someone about their future. You never really get to talk to anyone about yourself. I don’t mind, I really don’t. It just seems a little odd, now that it’s my turn to tell a story. The writer seemed positively surprised that a blind man like myself would like to travel. 
     The man’s future seemed bright and colorful, I told him that he was going to on quite a few adventures and that these adventures will be what feed the contents of his head and the imagination which will make the book come alive. He stayed until it was five in the afternoon and then took off, hitchhiking his way across Vietnam. “Don’t worry, I won’t forget about you,” was what he said as he left my veranda and my yard. 
     I do hope he comes back.
      

Journal Entry #2

     I woke up this morning to the sound of two blackbirds singing. As far as I could tell, they were sitting on one of the pomegranate tree branches and were enjoying their warm morning. The spring warmth had finally entered my garden, even the birds were eager to share these news with everyone.

     I got up, just like every morning and made my way to the window. Fresh air, especially in a city like this, can only be found in the early morning, or in the late night. My mornings were serene, there was nothing special about them. I placed the kettle on the stove, waiting for its whistle to blow, telling me when I can have my daily tea. Eating breakfast alone still pains me sometimes. Back when my wife was here, the breakfast she prepared resembled the food prepared for weddings or ceremonies. Now I find myself stuck here, eating a piece of black bread with jam. The anger inside me subsided years ago. She left me almost two decades ago with nothing more than the house I live in now, and my fortune telling business. She ran off, with another man, to another life. 
     I played her departure over and over again in my mind, to the best of my abilities. 
***
     She woke me up early one morning, earlier than usual. The house was so quiet that I could hear her breathing from the other side of the kitchen. Not even the birds were singing. She sat me down, because the house was still relatively new and I still had to get used to the placement of the furniture. “Binh, I can’t stay here any longer,” she whispered with a  shaky voice. “I know that you love me, and I know that once I loved you too, but this is no longer me.” Everyone in this part of the city knew the truth about her. I did too. She had another man she visited very frequently. From what they told me he was good looking and also quite wealthy. 
     I was waiting for her to tell me about the man she was leaving me for, but all she said was “sorry” and the next thing I hear was her picking up a heavy bag and the veranda door screeching. 
     I sat there for the whole day with the hopes that she would come back and that all of this was just a terribly constructed nightmare. The old massive wood clock struck seven in the evening when I realised that maybe she wasn’t going to come back. I had no appetite, let alone the strength to get up and get crackers from the cabinet. 
     Although this happened a lifetime ago, I find myself reflecting back, thinking of what I could’ve done right and what made her leave in the first place. Maybe she didn’t leave with this man, maybe she just had to get away from all of this once and for all. I suppose for someone who is a fortune teller, the worst part is that I cannot tell my own fortune, my own future. I was caught by surprise. Then again, I had very little to offer. Many times after she left I fond myself thinking that her departure was because I was blind and although we were working on adapting to this new challenge, maybe she didn’t sign up for this and maybe she never thought she had to deal with such an imperative sickness at such an early stage. Maybe I just wasn’t good enough for her: a blind old man who makes a living through looking into people’s futures. Maybe she was looking for something bigger in life. 
     Her hunger and thirst for adventure had always surprised me. It was like my love for travelling, but I had never seen something so strong and intense. She was like a wild bird: you could try to cage her, but she would still find a way out.
     Maybe none of this was my fault in the end.  

Journal Entry #1: The Blind Fortune Teller

     The sky must’ve been cloudy. I could feel the rain approaching slowly, my bones began to ache the way they always do when storm clouds barge in. There was a warmth around me. As if the wind had mixed a gust of warmness into itself, the wind chimes that hung by the edge of my tiny brick house started playing a melody.

     I was looking forward to the rain, being able to hear it slowly drizzle down onto the square tiles of the floor always calmed me down. I was happy because my garden would be watered, I won’t have to ask for help with the flowers this time around. Usually I manage alright: I can always find my way around my house and my garden. It’s just that when you look after living things like plants, you have to see how they’re doing. I could never tell if one of them was sick. The vendors that have their stands a little down the street always help me, and in return I tell them how their future looks.
     Before my wife left, she built this spot of green and red. Green like the trees and plants, red like the brick house I inhabit. When I first touched the trees around me with my younger hands, they were shorter than I was. Now I’m not tall enough to reach the top of them. Seventeen years do fly by sometimes. Some days go by fast, others drag on in an unimaginable way. But once you sit down and remind yourself how long its been, you realise that everything belongs to the past with the blink of an eye.
      Farmers that come to town lend me their hands for help: they plant one or two flowers, tell me how my garden is doing, and most importantly they talk to me and tell me about their adventures and travels. When I was a young boy all I wanted to do was travel, but my country was poor. I married and settled down, then I got sick and blind. It was as if the spirits of my family and ancestors didn’t want me to travel, it was as if they did everything they could to stop me from leaving this place. I’m not particularly angry about it, it is fate. There is only so much you can do about it and instead of being angry about it, I tried to make the best of it. Fortune telling is how I compensate for my lack of travels.
     People from all around the world come to Hanoi to see me and to hear what I have to say. My presence couldn’t affect my travels, but it surely affects the travels of the ones around me. In order to come and see me, they have to travel and see the countryside. All the greens and all the liveliness… it’s as if I can still see all of it so very clearly. Although the cities aren’t as green, the moment you step out of the city’s boundaries, you were surrounded by what resembled a tropical forest: there were weeds taller than most children, trees with branches long enough to reach out the the heavens and flowers bright enough to help land a plane. 
     I always ask the farmers and my visitors to tell me about what they see on their way here. I ask them to point to places on a map, pin them there with a little needle so that I can trace their ways with my fingers. I live for the days when travellers come to Hanoi to hear me tell them what they want to know, I love to be able to tell them that they can return the favor by telling me about their journeys.
     There are some people that come by often to Hanoi. Then there are those who come by once a lifetime, but their stories are so captivating that I replay them in my head over and over again. I suppose some people are more like their nomadic ancestors, who spent there days telling stories and drawing pictures with their tongues. For a moment our lives meet, our minds intertwine, and then everyone continues on their own way. 
     The rain just began to land on the floor. The clock struck six in the evening. Soon enough the vendors would pack up their stands and make their way home. I will close up a little later, maybe and hour or two after they pass by. 
     The soil beings to smell with its signature rain scent and the birds begin to quiet down. They never seem to sing when it rains.  

A “Preflection”: Paradise of the Blind

     I haven’t previously read many authors who originated from the East, and was sharing her stories from that area. To me, dipping my toes into unfamiliar ponds seemed extraordinary. The only books that I have read and that were concerned about the eastern hemisphere were Fasting, Feasting, the Alchemist (perhaps), the Kite Runner, a Thousand Splendid Suns, the Thief and the Dogs. I have felt the western plot lines of novels run down my spine one too many times, and haven’t really known anything else. The familiarity of westernised literature seemed more inviting, up until now. 

    What Duong Thu Huong has written in her novel isn’t some sad story about a girl. Somehow its something much much deeper than that. Her writing style captivates one, her eccentric culture and its tastes water your mouth, the sights of Vietnam paint the most wonderful water-colour paintings in your mind. You can’t help but dream of the richness of her green and yellow, of her gray and red. Huong has placed freedom and captivity next to one another, weaved hatred and love together, clashed cultures and looked through the windows of communists and merchants of the 1980s.
     Sometimes I forget that there are other cultures out there, and so it just gets harder to appreciate the pen and paper Huong has used to create this novel. All I could think about while reading her work and turning page after page after page, was that I hadn’t known about this work of literature before. The question is why? If it was another IB school, in another year, my classmates and I wouldn’t have stumbled upon this. The idea of stumbling on to literature by accident makes me giddy and joyful inside, but it also makes me worry. More people should be reading this, and more people should appreciate the rich images of a country far away from where we currently stand.
     For those of you who know me, and know how I write, you know how much a good paragraph of imagery can make me smile. For me a book that consists of nothing but action, is just like a mindless action movie. I love mindless action movies, but there is a reason I don’t read them: I merely watch them on an oversized screen with largely built speakers. Unlike Annie Dillard’s pilgrimage in some irrelevant creek, Paradise of the Blind has the right balance of imagery and action. There is nothing overwhelming about it, there is nothing that resembles a sort of pressure to describe things.
     So in the future, if anyone asks me about Vietnam, I’m going to press this book into their hands and I’m going to tell them that this is one of the best ways to experience a place, using all five of the senses. 
  
      - It was five in the evening, and everything was radiant, bathed in the hazy gold of sunset: the buildings, the tree-lined streets, the woods scattered through the suburbs. Even the dresses on the young girls seemed to float more seductively. I could have watched all this forever, my spirit soothed, calmer now.
We’re all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.

Charles Bukowski 

When you don’t share your problems, you resent hearing the problems of other people.

Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters