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Reading Rushdie

It's a sleepless night and I'm reading "Shame" by Salman Rushdie. (If you haven't read any of Rushdie's books, I do recommend them. I read some of his books when in my adolescence, and I think my own writing style was greatly affected by his style - among with Joseph Heller and Douglas Adams. Well, but instead of wandering deeper into literary references, let's go back to me reading a book, instead of sleeping, tonight.) As far as I can remember, I've had a tendency to stay up late and wake up slowly. This week I've tried to maintain a rhythm of waking up at 8 am, no matter what time I went to sleep. But today it backfired - already at 6.30 pm I felt drowsy and had trouble getting anything done. So I cooked food, ate, took care of minimum household chores, listened to some music trying to stay awake, until it was 9pm and I collapsed to bed, hoping to sleep tight for eleven hours. Alas, it didn't work as I woke up after an hour of sleep. I know tomorrow will be a long day of work, so what to do now? I decided to resort to an old habit of night-time reading. Some thirty pages into the story, and a bunch of old memories and thoughts surfaced, so I set the book aside and opened up the laptop to write this. So here goes;

I have no idea what will be the main themes in the story of "Shame". But it opens with descriptions of the main character feeling himself totally outside of everything, not connected to other people. Also, that comes with a feeling of living near the edge of the world - that maybe just behind the corner there is the land's end, and a bottomless abyss awaits. And the story starts at some (fictional) place in the borderlands of Pakistan, in the colonial times of British rule. A lot of characters of the story appear somewhat displaced, not at home in their surroundings. All of this is told in Rushdie's characteristic tone of magical realism, where fiction is based on facts, and not everything is quite real (but UnReal, in a way). Not to mention the not-so-linear way of storytelling, where the present moment is constantly dotted with references to past and future events.

Somehow, all of this made me (again) think about the atmosphere of my own childhood. How I always felt like an observer, and how I learned that it is not wise to express my thoughts aloud, so there hardly was any opportunity for a real conversation. I learned to read about the age of seven, and pretty soon I became a regular user of our local small-town library. At those times they even had a library bus, and one of the stops was next to our house. I can't remember if the library bus stopped there once a week or every second week. But anyhow, it was an enormous opportunity, opening up the whole wide world. (Yes, no-one could even imagine internet at those times.) Reading a book gave me some basic sense of being connected with other people. And also, books exposed me to ideas and themes far beyond my ordinary sphere of experience (which, frankly, was rather limited and rigid at those times). I especially remember being inspired by Salman Rushdie's spiralling stories, where same incidents got told several times, always a bit differently for the context had changed as the reader got to know more. And how mundane little things - like frozen droplets of blood - grew to be symbols for a whole network of meanings. The circular loops of Rushdie's storytelling was probably the first time I ever really felt what an alternative to Western linear way of thinking would be. Sure, I had read descriptions of these differences, but a theory without a direct experience is always somehow hollow and pale. Reading a story can convey a more direct and emotionally felt sense of meaning. The meaning of embracing non-linearity, in this case. (Also, Rushdie's use of symbols s something which felt familiar and natural to me, it probably rhymes well with the way my own mind works. That's radical, too, for most of the time in my childhood and adolescence I only had experiences of the workings of my mind being alien to other people.)

Earlier today I thought of my own ways of not being a part of any group. All the aspects I like in the freedom of solitude. (Like, the freedom of thought. Not really identifying with this or that political group makes it easier to critically evaluate agendas and arguments of different political movements - there isn't that much 'my-side bias', ie. the tendency to favour ones own group while being more harsh towards the arguments of rival groups. I find this kind of detached neutrality central to my own philosophical stance.) But then, also, I think social bonds are a basic need for a human being, and a lack of meaningful social interaction will have ill effects just as lack of proper nutrition will have.

Today I had only one customer for massage. A grandma bit older than 90, still living at her home. Every time I visit her she reflects how the surrounding houses used to be full of life, families living there and often visiting others. But nowadays all the neighbouring houses are empty, and at a times it feels lonely. I've already learned to reserve enough time when visiting her, so that I've time to sit down to drink coffee with her. I'd guess it means a lot to her to have some company, and for me it is nice enough. Although, I always notice how I'm slowed down by my introvert habits - I don't always know what to say or what to ask, nothing comes to my mind and I fall silent, waiting for the grandma to say something which I can reply to. That's not a big problem, but somehow it illustrates my general difficulties with social interaction. I don't always know how to socially interact, so the whole process is energy-consuming and often leaves me with a feeling that I didn't really share my inner self, so I was 'social' only in some superficial sense of the word, instead of that deep feeling of being connected with others.

So there I was, alone at home around 10pm, staring into the darkness of the empty house. For a while I just relaxed, hoping to drift back asleep. As that didn't work I felt empty, disconnected and somewhat disinterested. It is dark. There's nothing urgent which needs to be done. Or is it that there's nothing to do? Write a letter to a friend? I have no words to say. Write a piece of code? Feels like too much work. I don't want to work now, I want to rest. But what can one do, resting all alone in the dark in a sleepless night? Read, yes, one can read. So I got up and picked "Shame" by Salman Rushdie. Some thirty pages into the story, and I noticed my mood greatly improved. Reading the story restored a sense of a spark of magic in the realism of my own life. Reading the words crafted by an another mind gave me the basic sense of being connected; that there is this vital flow of emotional and mental energy from a mind to another.

Oh well. At the time of posting this is is 2 am. I still aim to wake up 8 am the coming morning so that I'll have enough time for all the work there's going to be. At the moment I'm not feeling so very sleepy, but I hope that changes once I turn off the lights and crawl back into the bed.

Reading Rushdie.
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I can relate to this a lot. For me, it is like a wall of ice between me and the other person and I can't break through it, can't get the words out, can't quite get the meaning across the distance.

Is it easier sometimes with people you know well or people who feel like you? For me I don't really have people like that offline, but online it is easier to find some kinship.

Wall of ice, that sounds familiar to me.

Well, sure it feels easier to socialize with some people. But it is a bit complicated. First, an unspoken sense of 'kinship' influences a lot. With some people it feels that a mutual understanding comes naturally, that we are speaking the same language, so it is easier to get a message across. Sometimes I find it easier to speak with strangers, or a newly made friend, if there is some kind of sense of underlying mutual understanding. Because with strangers I don't have established patterns of social behaviour - there isn't that feeling of 'I have never before talked about this kind of topics with that person, what if it is something that person doesn't want to share with me, or what I say would somehow cause trouble?'. I've noticed that even with people who I know well I have this tendency to react to what they say - I seldom initiate a discussion about a topic we haven't talked before. That sometimes leaves me with a feeling that there are a lot of things inside me which I don't share with anyone, not even with the people I consider my close friends. But lately I've paid more attention to that - why should I wait for others to ask me about something; if I feel a need to share a thought or a feeling, then maybe I can just say that aloud, yes?

All that being said, I still find writing so much easier than speaking aloud in a face-to-face situation. There still are things to learn in this regard, some ice left to thaw.

Here's a Litku Klemetti solo performance, a song which uses thawing of ice as a metaphor for inner freeze. "Here I stand with a pale face, until the park thaws. Two more months to wait, just staring at the wall..."

The last part, about the book improving one's mood, this is so true. Each time I feel somewhat down, I read a book. It has a magical effect almost instantly. But it must be a paper book, not on the computer.

Now, about the social interaction, most people in Brazil, where I'm from, would not have a problem interacting with strangers. Sometimes it even feels like you know the person forever, and you just talked a bit inside the bus, or the supermarket line, or while shopping in a market.

Ah, in Finnish culture the normal is not to talk with strangers. I remember once, on a commuter train from Vilppula to Tampere, the train was fully packed, all seats reserved and a lot of people standing and sitting on the aisle. And it was all silent. Near me there was a couple, and when they talked to each other they whispered, as if not to disturb the collective silence. In a way I liked the atmosphere; a touch of serenity and holiness, a collective ritual where we all asserted our belonging-together by respecting the shared introvert traits. Hehe, I didn't talk a line with that couple, but I still carry the memory in my heart and feel an unspoken bond with those people I don't know. Simple because we were together in that moment =)

But, yes, there are also moments when I wish that Finnish people could learn to be a bit more lively and talkative. And even dancing-on-the-streets -kind of a happy. Or, I mean, free to express their happiness if they happen to feel like singing and dancing on the streets. Although, I have a feeling that this has changed a bit since I was a kid, which is good.

(It might appear as a paradox, but personally I sometimes find myself whistling and taking dance steps when walking the village centre. But that is partly because in those moments I'm not communicating with anyone, I'm just in my own personal sphere doing my own thing not caring about what others think or talk about me. Years ago I had trouble maintaining this personal space in the presence of other people, but nowadays it comes rather naturally. I dance as if no-one was watching.)


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