Memorial Day Musings (stream of consciousness)

When I was younger, Memorial Day was often a gray-green, sleepy day—a little chilly. It was not a holiday we “celebrated,” at least not with cookouts or get-togethers. With some rhododendrons or other flowers from our garden, we’d drive up to the distant cemetery where my great-grandparents were buried under a range of shady trees. An easy place to get lost. I only remember my great-grandpa; I used to bring him toddler-drawn pictures when we visited him in the nursing home.

It was war—or rather, the jobs that came from WW2—which brought the family to the Seattle area originally, where the navy and airline industries boosted the economy before big tech. My grandpa was drafted into the Korean War. He was a conscientious objector who served as a medic in Europe. It was a case of God using a negative situation for good, because he’d often warmly recollect his times there and the people he met. It was the one big adventure of his life.

It seems odd that we (millennials, primarily) spend so much of our lives looking for the next thing, or trying to realize some self that can never manifest fully. Cynically we might say that people of times past, like my grandpa, just didn’t have many choices in life, driven in particular directions by the economy and social or family obligations. (To some extent, this is still the case.) But it might also be said that, for better or worse, they were always part of something bigger. He was always part of his church, part of his community. I wonder what that would look like today. Something selfless and servant-like, that transcends mere “culture wars”…

Everyone is legendary when they are gone. It is hard to show people appreciation when they are alive, and maybe we focus too much on their flaws. As the quote from Gatsby goes:

Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead.

Even the shady criminal who states this to Nick knows that much.

As someone who views most wars as unjust, I see Memorial Day as a particularly bittersweet holiday. One wishes vainly some lessons might be learned so there would be fewer people to mourn in the future, so that these solemn observances might carry some more resonance and change of (national) heart. Wishful thinking.

I am not in the Seattle area anymore, at least not in persona… I recently moved to another place, which I prefer to keep private for now. It is a nicer place, objectively speaking—but home is home, you know? However, over the last several months, the concept of impermanence (most famously found in Buddhism but also very present in Christianity) has been a solace. To be comfortable with impermanence and “pilgrimage” feels like a step forward, spiritually. I’m not there yet, but I would like to be. It helps to lighten the weight of grief and mute worries about the future.

Reading… I finished Feng Shui Modern (2022) by Cliff Tan, a book on feng shui, interior design, and design psychology. It was a 5-star read, highly useful and enjoyable. I still have Pastor Gavin Ortlund’s book to finish (Why God Makes Sense in a World That Doesn’t, 2021) and finally have the mental space to do so. I’m also reading The Last Gift (2011) by Abdulrazak Gurnah, a story about an immigrant family in England, and rereading Memories of the Future by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky. Memories is a whim of a reread… in a particularly bleak mood, I scanned my shelves the other day and settled on 1920s Soviet surrealism. But I am getting a lot more out of it this time, thanks to becoming a better reader via the Reading the World challenge which gets me out of my comfort zone often.

The first story in Memories (it is a collection of short stories) is called “Quadraturin.” It is about a man who lives in a cramped studio apartment. A door-to-door salesman brings him a potion which, if applied correctly, will expand his room beyond its meager, permitted confines. Intrigued, the protagonist sets to work, although with the growing anxiety that his landlady will find out. Alas, as with many fairytales, the solution to his problem becomes a double-edged sword…

A naive (obvious) interpretation would suggest that Quadraturin represents individual freedom pushing against the social structure. I am not sure, however, this was the author’s intention, given that events take a downward turn in and of themselves. I was struck by the idea that escape itself may, if untested, prove to be more deadly than the situation one is trying to escape from. Grasping at anything that comes your way is hardly a way out. It is like Humphrey in The Sea Wolf or Edward in The Island of Dr. Moreau… being adrift at sea might be preferable to being rescued by a pirate. Perhaps I am just projecting my own feelings upon the story, though. I highly recommend it either way.

This feels great. I want to write more often again…

My blog is no longer about classic literature mainly, but I will keep for now, since it has decent SEO and the trouble of changing it is hardly worthwhile. I still love classics, after all. I want to read East of Eden this year, if I can possibly find the time to start something so long.

My own writing has fallen by the wayside. I occasionally eek out a poem or two. I have a great, rambling novel in mind but am lacking the mental wherewithal to actually start it. It’s ok; if it’s good enough, it can wait.

Till next time…

Unreviewed Films, Mostly Oldies

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

This is a very bizarre movie about a woman accused of insanity after her cousin dies on their vacation. You can tell it was based on a play (by Tennessee Williams) due to its being composed mainly of very long monologues (the highlight being a trippy speech given by Kathrine Hepburn playing a crazed Miss Havisham-like character). The ending is extremely macabre, but it stuck with me and carried with it the closure of a sinister poetic justice. There is a lot of Freudian stuff in this one which makes it feel dated, but honestly, I didn’t hate it.

A Patch of Blue (1965)

Sidney Poitier plays a compassionate office worker who befriends a young blind woman at the park on his lunch breaks. Little does he know that Selina (Elizabeth Hartman) suffers more from her abusive family than her lack of sight, and when her trauma meets his kindness, she has a hard time letting go. I couldn’t give this film less than 5 stars. While parts of it were a bit 60s-dated, nevertheless it was a painfully beautiful film from start to finish, albeit extremely depressing. It ought to be seen once, but maybe not again.

The Letter (1940)

I was excited to watch this movie because it is based on a story by W. Somerset Maugham, who wrote the wonderful The Painted Veil and The Razor’s Edge. Alas his brilliance doesn’t quite shine in this film, which is a scandal-mystery that takes place in Singapore, with all of the cringey portrayals of Asians and Eurasians you might expect from this time period. On a happier note, Bette Davis was excellent in the leading role as a woman who claims to have shot a man in self-defense. Still, I didn’t particularly enjoy this and spent the latter part of it hoping (guiltily…) that a certain character would also meet their demise so it could all be over with.

My Neighbor, Totoro (1988)

Totoro was my latest Studio Ghibli viewing. It is a simple story of a family moving to an old house and the children exploring and making friends with ghosts. Not much in the way of plot compared to some of the others. I would rank it somewhere in the middle of what I’ve seen so far… it’s not bad, it’s just not amazing. Very much geared towards younger kids, although it does have some Shinto themes in it (praying to forest spirits). I did think the cat bus was awfully cute!