Posted by: Corri van de Stege | October 7, 2012

Cobwebs: gadget-rich and time-poor

When I place yet another picture of yet another railway station on facebook whilst waiting for the train to take me cross country to Wales my son sends me a link to a poem by David Orr, The Train.  It sums up the sense of alienation, of no longer feeling part of the real world but of having entered an abstract alternative world where connections and connectivity have become lost:

‘Not that anyone will care, / But as I was sitting there / On the 8:07 to New Haven,/ I was struck by lightning, /

and then at the end:

So, ignored, I burned to death. / Later, someone sat in my seat / And my ashes ruined his suit./

I will be gone, leaving only my ashes: and all this frantic activity will have gone without trace, pop, and no one will care one way or the other.

I return late on Friday night, too tired to sleep, tossing and turning, mulling over in my head the implications of the extension of a contract awarded that will once more send me packing overnight bags and off on long train journeys, but work that will see me treading a very fine balance between keeping the peace (and trust) between clients.

My gadgets are a welcome relief in this frantic and tiring existence and I marvel at the ease with which I can now carry around an endless supply of books on my Kindle, whilst also collecting some amazing apps on my Ipad: there are the Shakespeare’s Sonnets including notes, performances, perspectives, and scholarly introductions; there’s an app on Leonardo da Vinci (Anatomy) with background readings and information on Leonardo, and the drawings, detailed and details and readings; a recent one I downloaded is on Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, that allows you to read the book but also explore topics and materials.

I have downloaded a World Atlas App that allows me to click and visit places that my book journeys take me on, places I have never visited.  I promise myself that once I retire from my job I wil spend days, weeks, months savouring every one of these apps from beginning to end.  For the time being I can click on them every so often as a distraction at the end of a day.

I am trying to finish the shortlisted Booker Prize books and am currently reading The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng, a mesmerising story of loss and the prospect of memory loss, of forgetting what you have lost:

‘Once I lose all ability to communicate with the world outside myself, nothing will be left but what I remember.  My memories will be like a sandbar, cut off from the shore of the incoming tide.’

The story of Judge Teoh, or Yun Ling an English speaking Chinese woman, who resigns from her post and retires to Yugiri, the estate left to her by the Emperor’s gardener Aritomo and memories slowly unfold. Yun Ling and her sister were held in a Japanese prison of war camp on Malaya and the story opens up a world for me that I know little about: second world war camps and experiences in Asia, the treatment of the Chinese under the Japanese, the ethnic unrest and distrust.  Along the way, this is a story about the design of a Japanese garden in memory of Yun Ling’s sister who did not survive the camp.

I am impressed by the books on the shortlist: so far I have read Hilary Mantel‘s Bring Up the Bodies’ and Swimming Home’ by Deborah Levy.  The last one an unnerving story of an ordinary but uneasy holiday by two couples and one daughter in the South of France; and a holiday that is totally disrupted by the appearance of an unstable young woman.  Mantel’s book and writing surpasses all, as far as I am concerned: she writes so wonderfully well, the sentences and paragraphs creating a visual story in your mind, fluent and without gaps.  Considering Wyatt’s writing and whether or not he has committed treason by writing verses about the king’s wife, Wyatt says that once he has been taken to the Tower he won’t come out.  People forever wonder what it is that he has actually written, is it about real people and events or is it about an imaginary thing?

‘When Wyatt writes, his lines fledge feathers, and unfolding this plumag they dive below their meaning and skim above it.  They tell us that the rules of power and the rules of war are the same, the art is to deceive; and you will deceive, and be deceived in your turn, whether you are an ambassador or a suitor. ‘

and

‘A statute is written to entrap meaning, a poem to escape it.  A quill, sharpened, can stir and rustle like the pinions of angels. ‘

This is a book that you will want to reread, for the simple beauty of the sentences and paragraphs but also for the story itself, of Cromwell and of a different picture of what life might have been like.

And so we slowly enter autumn, planting bulbs and marvelling at the mushrooms that come up in the most amazing and contorted forms across my garden.

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