A Tale For The Time Being By Ruth Ozeki

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For the time being, standing on the tallest mountaintop,
For the time being, moving on the deepest ocean floor,
For the time being, a demon with three heads and eight arms,
For the time being, the golden sixteen-foot body of a buddha,
For the time being, a monk’s staff or a master’s fly-swatter,
For the time being, a pillar or a lantern,
For the time being, any Dick or Jane,
For the time being, the entire earth and the boundless sky
.

—Dōgen Zenji, “For the Time Being”

Iam currently reading A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki and like Italo Calvino’s If On A Winter Night A Traveler, the book opens with a thought of it being read, speculating on what the reader was doing or thinking while reading the book.

if you’re reading this, then maybe by now you’re wondering about me, too.
You wonder about me.
I wonder about you.
Who are you and what are you doing?
Are you in a New York subway car hanging from a strap, or soaking in your hot tub in Sunnyvale?
Are you sunbathing on a sandy beach in Phuket, or having your toenails buffed in Brighton?
Are you a male or a female or somewhere in between?
Is your girlfriend cooking you a yummy dinner, or are you eating cold Chinese noodles from a box?
Are you curled up with your back turned coldly toward your snoring wife, or are you eagerly waiting for your beautiful lover to finish his bath so you can make passionate love to him?
Do you have a cat and is she sitting on your lap? Does her forehead smell like cedar trees and fresh sweet air?
Actually, it doesn’t matter very much, because by the time you read this, everything will be different, and you will be nowhere in particular, flipping idly through the pages of this book, which happens to be the diary of my last days on earth, wondering if you should keep on reading.
And if you decide not to read any more, hey, no problem, because you’re not the one I was waiting for anyway. But if you do decide to read on, then guess what? You’re my kind of time being and together we’ll make magic!

Sounds interesting no? It seems this and the following pages are taken from a diary of a teenage girl. Let me read more and I will tell you all about it later on.

If the average person were to describe John Beecham in light of his murders

, he’d say he was a social outcast, but nothing could be more superficial, or more untrue. Beecham could never have turned his back on human society, nor society on him, and why? Because he was—perversely, perhaps, but utterly—tied to that society. He was its offspring, its sick conscience—a living reminder of all the hidden crimes we commit when we close ranks to live among each other. He craved human society, craved the chance to show people what their ‘society’ had done to him. And the odd thing is, society craved him, too.”

“Craved him?” I said, as we passed along the quiet perimeter of Washington Square Park. “How do you mean? They’d have shot him through with electricity if they’d had the chance.”

“Yes, but not before holding him up to the world,” Kreizler answered. “We revel in men like Beecham, Moore—they are the easy repositories of all that is dark in our very social world. But the things that helped make Beecham what he was? Those, we tolerate. Those, we even enjoy…”

—Caleb Carr, The Alienist

The Law of Habit And Interest, From ‘ The Alienist’ by Caleb Carr

Good,” Kreizler said with a nod. “So he doesn’t like misrepresentation. Yet he’s a liar himself—we need an explanation for that.”

“He’s learned,” Sara said simply. “He’s been exposed to dishonesty, surrounded by it perhaps, and he does hate it—but he’s picked it up as a method of getting by.”

“And you only do that kind of learning once,” I added. “It’s the same thing as the violence: he saw it, he didn’t like it, but he learned it. The law of habit and interest, just like Professor James says—our minds work on the basis of self-interest, the survival of the organism, and our habitual ways of pursuing that interest become defined when we’re children and adolescents.”

Lucius had grabbed volume one of James’s Principles and leafed to a page: “‘The character has set like plaster,’” he quoted, holding a finger up, “‘never to soften again.’”

“Even if…?” Kreizler asked, drawing him out.

“Even if,” Lucius answered quickly, flipping a page and scanning it with his finger, “those habits become counterproductive in adulthood. Here: ‘Habit dooms us all to fight out the battle of life upon the lines of our nurture or our early choice, and to make the best of a pursuit that disagrees, because there is no other for which we are fitted, and it is too late to begin again.’

The Useful Art Of Skipping

“A sensible person does not read a novel as a task. He reads it as a diversion. He is prepared to interest himself in the characters and is concerned to see how they act in given circumstances, and what happens to them; he sympathizes with their troubles and is gladdened by their joys; he puts himself in their place and, to an extent, lives their lives. Their view of life, their attitude to the great subjects of human speculation, whether stated in words or shown in action, call forth in him a reaction of surprise, of pleasure or of indignation. But he knows instinctively where his interest lies and he follows it as surely as a hound follows the scent of a fox. Sometimes, through the author’s failure, he loses the scent. Then he flounders about till he finds it again. He skips.

– Somerset Maugham, Ten Novels And Their Authors

To Be A Woman Independent And Single

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What is terrible is that after every one of the phases of my life is finished, I am left with no more than some banal commonplace that everyone knows; in this case , that women’s emotions are still fitted for a kind of society that no longer exists. My deep emotions, my real ones, are to do with my relationship with a man. One man. But I don’t live that kind of life and I know few woman who do. So what I feel is irrelevant and silly…I am always coming to a conclusion that my real emotions are foolish, I am always having, as it were, to cancel myself out. I ought to be like a man, caring more for my work than for people; I ought to put my work first, and take men as they come, or find an ordinary comfortable man for bread and butter reasons– but I won’t do it, I can’t be like that…

Ella from The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

This novel have me in a tight grip. As I turned the pages I get sucked more and more into it. I can feel my mood changing, my being, my thoughts, influenced. My dreams becoming vivid intermingling with the characters in the book as if I am living their lives.

The Author a woman. The protagonist a woman who is writing about the life of a woman in the 1950s. About a period of time when the roles of women were set for change. Feminism was rising in a crescendo and women were breaking free from stereotypes but still galled at the fact that they still need the love of a man to make them happy. Her honesty stings. And still so relevant even today. The truth in her words scalds. It forces you to look at what you refuse to acknowledge.I am like a moth drawn to a fire. I cannot stop reading even if it burns me.

©JMKhapra

Illustration by Jofelyn M. Khapra