Norwegian Wood (Spoilers)

    Toru, the narrator, teeters between the living and the dead. His life is pervaded first by his best friend, Kizuki’s suicide, and later by Naoko’s (Kizuki’s girlfriend’s) suicide–a girl he came to love. Even the distant characters, like his college acquaintance’s girlfriend Hatsumi, succumb to a similar fate.

    The book is told as a memory, from the perspective of a much older Toru, prompted by the older Toru happening upon a song Naoko used to love. In the opening chapter comes the book’s only semi-resolution–the simple fact that Toru didn’t happen to fall into the cycle of love and death that haunted him during his college years. The book actually ends with him lost in the middle of a more metaphorical version of this dilemma, with Toru quietly and desperately trying to climb out of that field well that Naoko mentioned every so often consumes wanderers. Toru ultimately finds himself in some unknown middle ground, having lived so long with the burdens of doubtful half-existences. While we know Toru wasn’t physically consumed by death, it’s still one thing to live life, and another to live as a memory. As Reiko–Naoko’s roommate in the sanatorium–described of herself at the end, “All you’re looking at is the lingering memory of what I used to be. The most important part of me, what used to be inside, died years ago, and I’m just functioning by remote memory.” How Toru chose to live his life is left to the reader’s imagination.

    I suppose what really pulls at the heart strings in this story isn’t so much Toru’s perspective, but the lack of Naoko’s perspective. As a girl, she witnessed her much adored older sister hang herself. She grew up with one friend, Kizuki, who she ended up dating, and who ended up killing himself at seventeen. Her mental state fell apart as a college student when she began to hear voices, and not long after, she hangs herself deep in the woods. Those are the facts, but how she felt and what was in her mind remain very much remain up in the air. There should have been hope for such a girl.  Nevertheless, during her last conversation with Toru she says, “realize how grateful I am that you came to see me here…I know it’s going to save me if anything will.” She knows her life may very well be beyond help, but just like so much else, she keeps it to herself. What tortured me as a reader was how hard she tried–how hard she tried to make herself “right again,” for Toru. It felt like watching a drowning victim trying to cry out for help, but getting only a mouthful of water each time they tried.

    Norwegian Wood tackles death as both a tragedy and a natural occurrence. Each tragedy is individual, and each has its own sorrows and its own lessons. As Toru writes, “Death is  not the opposite of life but an innate part of life. By living our lives, we nurture death…No truth, no sincerity, no strength, no kindness can cure that sorrow. All we can do is see it through to the end…”

    Naoko is contrasted by Midori, juxtaposed in Toru’s own heart. While Naoko portrays an unobtainable perfection, she is full of death and sorrow. While Midori embodies frivolous desires of the living, she is real and alive. As Midori herself puts it, “I’m a real, live girl, with real, live blood gushing through my veins.” A perfect story is impossible for Toru at this point, which adds to the minor key of the entire novel. Toru will never be able to pull Naoko away from her own tortured soul and make everyone happy.

    The only other book I’ve read of Murakami’s was Kafka On The Shore. And just like that one, Norwegian Wood left me in desperate need of a moment to catch my thoughts.  The characters seemed woven so intimately and sincerely I was inclined to believe Murakami was writing a sort of fictional autobiography. The translator’s notes clarify that this wasn’t the author’s intentions at all. The very fact that the clarification had to be made, nonetheless, is telling of Murakami’s writing style.

 

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‘Becca

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    She was old and battered when I found her. She’d been dropped on her side time and time again and her scars showed it. I found her huddled inside a small hole-in-the-wall garage out in Staten Island of all places.

    “You can have her for $700 if you want her as is,” said a voice from deeper inside the garage. “Or I could fix her up for you and you can have her for a grand.”

    Becca was just a black Suzuki 250, but her bigger frame made her look like she could tussle with bigger boys. I had gotten my motorcycle license after just 2 days of riding a year prior, but between then and now I hadn’t so much as touched a bike. So the next logical step was to take Becca on a road trip. I would take her on a small 250 mile ride down to see Susan, who was in Maryland for the summer.

    The first few times you sit on a bike–as you turn the keys and flip the engine on–it really does feel like you’re dealing with an animal, complete with a personality and voice. You can’t help but put your hand on the gas tank as if saying, “Whoa there,” as her engine settles from being jolted awake.

    There are without a doubt, benefits to road tripping with four wheels: comfort, more storage space, passengers to keep you entertained, and so on. But riding a motorcycle offers a more intimate experience with your surroundings. I grew up in New Jersey, but ever since hitting 18, I’ve been making my bed in New York City. I don’t think it’d be a stretch to say I’ve traveled the roads between New Jersey and New York City a hundred or so times. But it wasn’t until I traveled that highway on a motorcycle did I realize an up-until-then unnoticed aspect of that road: the smell. Oh goodness, that smell. It’s putrid. A mix of swamps, factory fumes, and salt water. That stretch of highway was nauseating to say the least. I can’t make that trip anymore, even in a car, without being haunted by the smell. I loved it.

    As I mentioned, my first road trip with Becca was down to Maryland, from New York City. Like a lot of first-time-arounds, there were mistakes made. But as the saying goes, “Live and learn.”

        -Wind. Oh gosh, the wind. Even on a seemingly windless day, traveling 80 miles per hour (or in ol’ Becca’s case 60 miles per hour if going downhill) will make it seem like Zeus himself is trying to blow you down. Being absolutely inexperienced and choosing to learn from the aforementioned “live and learn” method (as opposed to the more logical, but less exciting, “research online” method), I’ve learned of the necessity of windshields. The wind will freeze your knees, and throw your helmet-laden head back. And imperceptible debris hitting your neck  will feel like rocks. So unless you are actively trying to strengthen your neck muscles, windshields windshields windshields.

        -Sunlight is your friend. For some, now inconceivable reason, I chose to make my trip after sunset. Actually I do know the reasons: A.) I normally work night shift, so I thought I’d be most attuned to this time (turns out, I merely adopted the dark), and B.) Being a complete rookie, I figured there’d be less cars around me at midnight to hit and be hit by. But what resulted was simply me not being able to enjoy the scenery on the trip, because as it turns out, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland all look exactly the same when it’s pitch black outside. Perhaps this could’ve worked with better headlights. But with the dingy headlights that ‘Becca came with I probably couldn’t make out a fire in pitch black field.

        -Time. Give yourself extra time to accommodate for the unpredictable (i.e. rain).

    Road tripping on a bike though, really is an introvert’s dream. There’s nothing but you, your thoughts, and the road. You can stop where you want, and you can park virtually anywhere. The feel of the road, the smell of the air, and even the sound of the passings. The degree of freedom that intertwines with the intimacy you can create with the environment brings about an absolutely romantic feeling to the whole thing.

Jazz on the Park

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©NAYYAR PHOTOGRAPHY

    I was eighteen.

    Anya was from Russia. She was tall and slim, with long, curly brown hair. She wore a grey tank top with slim brown jeans. Her face glistened in a mixture of her oils and a day’s sweat that somehow worked for her, and she looked comfortable. She sat outside in the courtyard smoking. She lit my first cigarette.

    John and his group of friends were from the UK. John was maybe 5’5, and weighed about 110 pounds. He taught me the difference between College and Uni in the UK.

    I didn’t realize Eduardo was there until a few hours into the night. He had been sleeping on the floor, halfway past the entrance to the bathroom. Eduardo was backpacking with his friends from Mexico, and it was his birthday. We sang him happy birthday in our respective languages. He was the reason we were all here.

    The next morning I met Jean. He was from France, and he was here by himself, on a whim. A tall, slim, man with greased back black hair, and a thick, artistic mustache to top it all off. He had thin legs, and tight black jeans that hugged those thin legs.  He taught me that fromage wasn’t used as an adjective in the French language.

Lessons from Work (1) – Second Thoughts

    I was working the overnight with someone I’d never been partnered with. I can’t remember what we were talking about, but he stopped mid-sentence. Something had caught his attention. I’d seen it out of the corner of my eye too, but I wasn’t about to make out what it was. “What’s going on?” I asked him.

    Further down the street a woman had been making her way to the subway station when a guy jumped her and was soon pulling her by the hair.

     Al stared silently for maybe a split second before slamming down the gas pedal and gunning it to the scene. Despite having pulled up right next to him, he made no acknowledgement of our presence whatsoever. Only when Al rolled down the window and shouted at him did he let go of the girl and offer us his full attention. He walked toward us with his arm stretched out and his hand shaped in the form of a gun the way kids do when they play cops ‘n robbers. He kept on walking toward us, eventually reaching into the door. My partner, who was the type of guy that had had enough bullshit for a lifetime twenty years ago, replied by saying, “Oh, now I’mma break your fuckin’ arm off.” Al pushed open the door, and I knew that, as they say in the streets nowadays, shit was about to go down.

    Only a certain paralysis seemed to possess me. I froze for a second while my mind went over a hundred and one possible scenarios. Do I radio for backup? Should I hit the emergency button? Do I get out and fight? What if he has a weapon? Most people, when faced with some spontaneous dilemma experience the same paralysis I did. I’ve been in enough of these scenarios now to understand that experience helps tremendously with making such decisions.

    There are certain situations that warrant taking a step back and lengthy consideration, but there are others that call for instantaneous actions based on a more primal instinct. Whether or not anyone agrees with what Al did, it remains certain that he had distinct morals ingrained in him for which he was ready to act upon in a moment’s notice. He saw something that he so disagreed with, he didn’t offer a chance for second thoughts before making a move. And it’s in this moment, I think, that most decisions are made. How you act, and even whether or not you act is decided in this split second, perhaps even before your brain finishes interpreting what it’s witnessing. When passing a stranger in need of help, the choice to help them is made in this moment—and if we find ourselves contemplating our moves, the choice toward inaction has often already been made.


Partner’s name has been changed for anonymity

On the Loch Ness Monster

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    Last Fall I found myself spending the days after my brother’s wedding visiting the landmarks of Scotland with my new family members. One day in particular, we stopped by the Scottish Highland’s famous Loch Ness, home of the undecidedly existing Loch Ness Monster.

    Most adults visiting the lake, I’m assuming, don’t actually expect to spot a monster of any sort. For the most part, they’re there to see that captivating landscape: rolling hills losing themselves to the water, trailed by the crumbling walls of a medieval fortress. But just for a second, a childish thought passes. What if?

    The loch is massive actually. It stretches twenty-three miles, from the River Oich to the Bona Narrows. Lost between the loch and the castle ruins, the scene possesses an intriguing ability to both calm you and take your breath away. You see a ripple in the water that’s obviously from the wind or some common fish, but you stare at it just a split second longer. What if? And in that second, the calm of the landscape transforms into the calm before a storm. And in that second, the loch allows you to make that leap of mind that you made so regularly as a child. And just for that second, you become so ignorantly hopeful and youthfully impressionable.

What can be said of this?

    I was no astrology buff, but growing up I could point out Polaris. You see, the two stars at the end of the big dipper form a line that points right at the North Star, and if you turned toward that, you knew you were facing north. True north. And from there, if you waited long enough, the little dipper—whose tip itself is the North Star—would reveal itself. And in the winter time, the three stars of Orion’s belt were instinctively apparent. And if it were high enough in the sky, you knew Orion’s sword (or for some reason as my adolescent mind imagined it, Orion’s sword sheath) pointed you south.

    Now a days, things seemed to have changed. You see, if I get off the N train in Queens, and the RFK bridge is to my left, then to walk south I have to turn around. And if you’re sitting on the 1 train and the amount of wealthier looking folks starts decreasing, well then you must be travelling north.

    So if I’m walking down 89th street and I see the cars on 3rd Avenue travel from my left to the right, then the hunter Orion must wake up behind me.

From “Promises to Keep”

     “To me this is the first principle of life, the foundational principle, and a lesson you can’t learn at the feet of any wise man: Get up! The art of living is simply getting up after you’ve been knocked down. It’s a lesson taught by example and learned in the doing. I got that lesson every day while growing up in a nondescript split-level house in the suburbs of Wilmington Delaware. My dad, Joseph Robinette Biden Sr., was a man of few words. What I learned from him, I learned from watching. He’d been knocked down hard as a young man, lost something he knew he could never get back. But he never stopped trying. He was the first one up in our house every morning, clean-shaven, elegantly dressed, putting on the coffee, getting ready to go to the car dealership, to a job he never really liked. My brother Jim said most mornings he could hear our dad singing in the kitchen. My dad had grace. He never, ever gave up, and he never complained. “The world doesn’t owe you a living, Joey,” he used to say, but without rancor. He had no time for self-pity. He didn’t judge a man by how many times he got knocked down but by how fast he got up.

    Get up! That was his phrase, and it has echoed through my life. The world dropped you on your head? My dad would say, Get up! You’re lying in bed feeling sorry for yourself? Get up! You got knocked on your ass on the football field? Get up! Bad grade? Get up! The girl’s parents won’t let her go out with a Catholic boy? Get up!

        It wasn’t just the small things but the big oneswhen the only voice I could hear was my own. After the surgery, Senator, you might lose the ability to speak? Get up! The newspapers are calling you a plagiarist, Biden? Get up! Your wife and daughterI’m sorry, Joe, there was nothing we could do to save them? Get up! Flunked a class at law school? Get up! Kids make fun of you because you stutter, Bu-bu-bu-bu-bu-Biden? Get up!


Biden, Joseph R. Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2008, xxii-xxiii. Print.