Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet

I don't write reviews and this isn't really one. The only time I wrote anything remotely resembling a review, was a book report for a high school English class and I got an appalling mark for it (a C if you're wondering. I never felt the need to apply myself in languages).

I first spotted The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet in Exclusives Books in Domestic Departures at Cape Town International. It's my habit to browse bookshops in airports but despite my warnings to myself that I rarely leave bookshops empty-handed, that I have no more space for books, that Exclusive's books are generally overpriced and that I cannot afford an overpriced book and that I already have a pile of unread books, I still ventured in. To browse. Just browse. Right?

I'd already noticed several books that peaked my interest (the new Niffenegger, the new Mieville) but luckily their exorbitant price tags frightened me off.

It was the cover of The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet that grabbed my attention (see above).* A few times I've been attracted to books with appealing covers but luckily, unlike some terrible wines I've picked based on attractive labelling, I'd never bought a book that was terrible but had an attractive cover and decided to have a closer look. I turned the book over to read the synopsis. It was the first part of the first sentence that sold the book:

T.S Spivet is a genuis mapmaker...

I glanced down at the price tag hoping beyond hope that it wouldn't frighten me off as was the case with the other books despite knowing subconsciously that I had to have the book no matter the price. Surprisingly, and to my relief, the price wasn't all that frightening and the fact that I had a R20 discount voucher in my wallet was enough justification to leave the bookshop less than empty-handed.

I was drawn into the book by the unconventional style it was written in. The illustrations are not just for the benefit of the cover but compromise about two-thirds of the book. Margin notes and illustrations are lead off from the main text by arrows and often serve as more than mere footnotes, containing integral information about both story and character.**

While I might enjoy reading their stories, there are few dysfunctional (and young) characters I identify and empathise with to the extent that I did with 12 year old T.S. Spivet. I make maps but I'm not a genius at it (or anything else for that matter). I've come a long way since 12 too.

There was more empathising than identifying with T.S. We have mapmaking in common, albeit of a different sort. We're both incredibly observant of the world and analyse it neurotically. We find adult behaviour quite strange (often I find my own adult behaviour quite strange). And T.S. is surrounded by people that don't quite understand him. But that's it as far as similarities go. T.S. is very odd and uses his obsessive mapmaking, which goes beyond that of your typical topographical map, as a coping mechanism for his lack of understanding of the world. He's also not your average 12 year old. His vocabulary is far too large and so is his grasp of philosophical and metaphysical concepts, and he has insight that most adults lack.***

T.S.'s story is one of inquisitiveness, discovery, imagination, and adventure but is also filled with longing, melancholy, loneliness and guilt.

The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet is by no means a perfect debut for writer Reif Larsen and I was quite surprised (and sometimes confused) by the turns the book took in the second and last thirds but I accepted the story the writer wanted to tell and the open-ended conclusion. It's a sad ending**** despite T.S. apparently finding the belonging he was looking for. The saddest ending for me since Flowers for Algernon, A Scanner Darkly and Firmin.

I'm grateful to the author for writing a book in an original, quirky style and for writing such a rich character. The book, despite its faults, is important to me***** but I cannot really convey in words what it means to me. It was something to with the oddities of people, life and the world in general and how we all try and make sense of it in our way.

* This was my first introduction to the book. It was after finishing the book and looking it up online that I discovered that there was considerable hype surrounding the release of the book last year. I was quite surprised that I was completely oblivious to it.

**Some reviews have noted that this is distracting. Especially when having to turn the book sideways to read them. I loved it though. I found it engaging and it made me feel a bit like a kid again to be honest.

***Well, he is a genius after all. While it might seem unrealistic, I felt that this further emphasised T.S.'s oddness but made it easier for me to identify with him than other young characters.

****This is open to interpretation.

*****The reason for this blog post.

For proper reviews go here and here.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Plan, plans, planning

At some point I decided it would be cool to work in museum. Not right now. But someday when I'm a suitable age to be an eccentric museum curator. Yes, I've even created a persona for myself. It involves wearing tweed, bow ties, and smoking a pipe (I don't really like pipes so I'll substitute the pipe with a fake one. Possibly one that blows bubbles. Come to think of it, I don't really like tweed or bow ties either. Ok, clearly the persona needs some work).

I applied for a museum job once. The museum interview was a few days before the interview for my current job and it went horrible. All my carefully planned answers went down the drain once seated in front of the interview panel. I can't explain why I was the nervous, stammering wreck that I was that day compared to a few days later when I breezed through the interview for my first job at the company I work at now. The pop psychologist in me says that I wanted that job more and screwed up the museum one purposely.

Lately I was thinking how different it would have been if it'd been the other way round. Well, there are plenty of ways it would have been different but more importantly I realised that I wouldn't mind working in a museum (especially when I reach that enigmatic, suitable age). Alas, I also realised that I'm not suitably qualified to work in a museum. Sure, I have a more than suitable degree (Archaeology), but that's part of the problem. I only have one degree and most museum curators have some postgraduate qualification. Which got me looking at museum qualifications. Yes, this does exist as a valid degree. You can even get multiple degrees in it!

Just, not in South Africa. Museum studies are not offered at any South African institutions. I knew this already and my first line of inquiry was internationally but was none the less disappointed when double-checking the local universities.

Studying overseas is quite a long-term plan and a convenient way of realising a vague aspiration to live overseas for a bit provided I can scrape together some A LOT! of money (donations welcome). And volunteer experience since quite a few of the postgrad programs require work experience.

I emailed the local museum (the national one) and my first volunteer shift was this morning. And yes, I was doing glorified sorting and packing but, man!, did I love it. I'm volunteering in pre-colonial archaeology and it was just marvelous (I reckon my eccentric museum curator would use the word 'marvelous') being surrounded by all the artefacts. The stone tools, the ostrich egg shells, the unidentified fauna fragments. I had a thought that archaeology can be a morbid profession, studying the remnants of someone's life and the items that once gave it meaning.

The store room at the museum is massive and smells like cardboard (the boxes everything is packed in) and dust and is filled with the excavated remains of all those significant archaeological sites that I read about in so many articles but never visited. I even found a few boxes whose contents my old professor dug up.

Even if my long term plan of studying overseas doesn't happen (long term is, well, long and things can change, especially my mind), volunteering at the museum would still be an amazing experience. As I exited through the museum, past the whale exhibition, just shy of the dinosaur one, I felt exhilarated.

Yes, museum, this the start of a beautiful relationship.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


The Arcade Fire - Ready to Start

Businessmen drink my blood
Like the kids in art school said they would
And I guess I'll just begin again
You say can we still be friends

If I was scared, I would
And if I was bored, you know I would
And if I was yours, but I'm not

All the kids have always known
That the emperor wears new clothes
But to bow to down to them anyway
Is better than to be alone

If I was scared, I would
And if I was bored, you know I would
And if I was yours, but I'm not

Now you're knocking at my door
Saying please come out against the night
But I would rather be alone
Than pretend I feel alright

If the businessmen drink my blood
Like the kids in art school said they would
Then I guess I'll just begin again
You say can we still be friends

If I was scared, I would
And if I was pure, you know I would
And if I was yours, but I'm not

Now I'm Ready to Start

If I was scared, I would
And if I was pure, you know I would
And if I was yours, but I'm not

Now I'm Ready to Start

Now I'm Ready to Start
I would rather be wrong
Than live in the shadows of your song
My mind is open wide
And now I'm ready to start

Now I'm Ready to Start
My mind is open wide
Now I'm Ready to Start
Not sure you'll open the door
To step out into the dark
Now I'm ready!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Shameless self-promotion

Memento Vivere readers meet The F Number (hint: click on the link).

The F number is my photography blog where I will post daily (hopefully!) photos. I started it in an effort to use my camera more and to improve my photography.

Have a look around and please comment.

Monday, June 7, 2010

I biked here!

Woah! 2 posts in one day! Well, when I saw the video below I had to share it. As well as an incredibly embarrasing video of me riding a bike in Utrecht. Thankfully traffic wasn't as bad when I was riding. Good thing since I almost went over the handle bars every time I stopped, crashed into a pavement once (I managed to get off the bike before falling) and couldn't turn left (mental block?!). The traffic in Amsterdam is worse.

The weekend that was

It started innocently enough. It always does doesn't it. But in all fairness we did take a cab to Long Street so that I can avoid drunken driving. I shouldn't be surprised by how it turned out.

"Can you take a picture of us" was how it started. This was after we'd already had 3 drinks including tequila shots but we were still fairly well behaved. Foreign accents are always a conversation started and I guess that's why we ended up in conversation with 3 local guys who probably wanted to know where my housemate is from (US by the way). While uhming and ahhing a lot about heading to the Pink Strip in Green Point more drinks were bought by our new friends as well an American tourist who felt the need to buy us Jagermeisters for some reason or the other.

Wait. I'm leaving out some details like a new lesbian friend trying to score the straight guy and straight guy remarking what a terrible lesbian she makes. Sister Mary James promoting his her new show and freaking out Jagermeister American. Jagermeister American being pregnant, balancing a drink on his pregnant "belly" and giving birth somewhere in Cape to Cuba (the baby didn't make it he told us). None of this was strange to us at that point.

Eventually terrible lesbian convinces us to go to Beaulah's the lesbian club in Green Point and the only one in Cape Town. 7 of us pile into a cab. It's a Tazz. Yes, that's right. Seven. In a Tazz. The driver has to take back routes to avoid being stopped by the cops. I'm sitting in the front on the lap of one of the guys. The music was pumping and I briefly thought about dancing but that would've been highly inappropriate in the lap of a married man. Also, I couldn't really move being scrunched up against the ceiling. Some very unflattering pictures were taken that you won't be seeing on this blog but might pop up on Facebook some time. At some point I wondered exactly what the hell we're doing but didn't care too much since all the double whiskeys, tequilas and that one Jagermeister had entered my bloodstream by then. Eventually we reached Green Point and married guy opened the door while he assured me that he was not trying to touch my arse and I, quite gracefully, tumbled out of the cab, landing on my feet.

Terrible lesbian was adamant that Friday nights are the best nights at Beaulah's but when we got there it was quite empty. Very few lesbians in sight but my couchsurfer managed to attract immediate attention from the few that were there. Terrible lesbian got upset that straight guy wasn't into her. He has a valid reason though. He has a girlfriend and he's faithful. I stuck to the bar and chatted to the boys and my new housemate while others braved the dancefloor. I'll be damned if I can remember what we talked about though. The naughtiness scale was mentioned. Someone claimed to be a 10 but I contended that I am a 3.

I did brave the dancefloor but not for long and soon afterward found myself being swung around on the empty bit where people would've been dancing had there been more than 10 people present. This was despite my protests that I cannot dance. I'm not entirely sure how I'm was still able to stand at this point never mind handle being swung around.

Terrible lesbian had left with another guy but she wasn't to be the only one with that title for the evening. When alcohol and high heel thresholds were reached and just before we headed home I ended up snogging a guy. Yes, trust me to score a guy in a lesbian club. And thus, I was the butt of jokes on the cab ride home.

The hangovers the next day were severe and our plan to leave early for a trip to the winelands didn't quite materialise. We had delicious pizzas at Bohemia in Stellenbosch (next to the famous Mystic Boer) with lots of water to drink with our meal. I'm was so dehydrated that despite all the water I've had I didn't need to pee. We were too late to go to wine farms since most of them closed at 4pm but managed to find one still open. The wine tasting was unsuccessful since all of our bodies rebelled against the smell and taste of anything remotely alcoholic. It wasn't so much a drunken weekend as a drunken Friday night but the booze we drank was enough for an entire weekend.

The winelands were peaceful as always except for a flock of noisy ibises. We left, me a bottle of Quoin Rock Chardonnay richer, to have an alcohol and meat free braai at home.

Sunday was uneventful, my surfer left much to my disappointment and my housemate was working. I slept for most of the day and tidied up the mess that had accumulated over the week, later settling in to read and watch TV while I waited for my next surfer.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

28 years

28 years ago (give or take some seconds) I was born into this world. I've always identified with (and lived vicariously through) the Dresden Dolls' Girl Anachronism. I wonder if I would've been different had I been born naturally (not that that was an option anyway).

you can tell
from the scars on my arms
and cracks in my hips
and the dents in my car
and the blisters on my lips
that i'm not the carefullest of girls
you can tell
from the glass on the floor
and the strings that're breaking
and i keep on breaking more
and it looks like i am shaking
but it's just the temperature
and then again
if it were any colder i could disengage
if i were any older i could act my age
but i don't think that you'd believe me
it's just the way the operation made me
and you can tell
from the state of my room
that they let me out too soon
and the pills that i ate
came a couple years too late
and ive got some issues to work through
there i go again
pretending to be you
that i have a soul beneath the surface
trying to convince you
it was accidentally on purpose
i am not so serious
this passion is a plagiarism
i might join your century
but only on a rare occasion
i was taken out
before the labor pains set in and now
behold the world's worst accident
i am the girl anachronism
and you can tell
by the red in my eyes
and the bruises on my thighs
and the knots in my hair
and the bathtub full of flies
that i'm not right now at all
there i go again
pretending that i'll fall
don't call the doctors
cause they've seen it all before
they'll say just
she'll learn
the attention just encourages her
and you can tell
from the full-body cast
that i'm sorry that i asked
though you did everything you could
(like any decent person would)
but i might be catching so don't touch
you'll start believing you're immune to gravity and stuff
don't get me wet
because the bandages will all come off
and you can tell
from the smoke at the stake
that the current state is critical
well it is the little things, for instance:
in the time it takes to break it she can make up ten excuses:
please excuse her for the day, its just the way the medication makes her...
i don't necessarily believe there is a cure for this
so i might join your century but only as a doubtful guest
i was too precarious removed as a caesarian
behold the worlds worst accident