August Aspirations: Monthly Missives from The Dream Pedlar
Hello again, Dreamer!
After the burst of excitement that July brought – long days of blue skies and summer sunshine, a vacation, and a new book release – August has been a rather quiet month. A sort of lull between the feral freedom of July and the back-to-school frenzy of September.
And with little D not being so little anymore, now that he's grown more eager to discover the world of summer camps, I've had much time to indulge in my two favourite pastimes in a hiatus: gazing out of the window, and reading.
But let's begin at the beginning, because this month it all began with The Sandman! The screen adaptation of Neil Gaiman's beloved comic book series was, like its main protagonist himself, an utterly gorgeous dream!
I haven't read The Sandman comics, but I've read almost everything else Gaiman has written. In fact, stumbling across Gaiman's novels and short stories more than a decade ago was what brought me to writing fantasy in the first place.
I remember the delight of reading Neverwhere, and just when I thought this must have been the best novel I'd ever read, I picked up Anansi Boys and was completely blown away.
When I finished reading it, I went for a walk in the neighbourhood – this was in Singapore where we were living at the time – wondering what would happen if I were to go and knock on the door of this house at the end of the street that had been lying empty for months.
It wasn't abandoned. It wasn't boarded up or anything. But it was empty. Lights did not come on, its windows were never opened, and no voices spilled out on to the street. And I often wondered if all I needed to do was knock or ring the doorbell and someone would come to the door and let me in to a secret party that was going on in full swing even though you couldn't tell looking in from the outside.
Around the same time, I came across Erin Morgenstern's flax-golden tales and The Night Circus, and I was convinced that magic was to be found in the suburbs of North America. In the blood-red and golden leaves of its fall, in the unhurried flakes of snow of its winter, in the psychedelic-green leaves of its spring, in the beach waves, criss-crossing contrails, and popsicle tongues of its summer.
How right I was! And how wrong, too!
Because while anyone can show you their magic, no one knows to tell you that the trick to finding your own magic is to make it yourself in the first place.
It took me long enough to figure out that the only kind of magic that won't leave me feeling as if something is wrong or missing from my life, that won't leave me with an achy longing for something more, something different, is the one I create.
Often, I find it in that intangible capturing of an idea at 2 a.m., in the writing or typing of letters to form words and sentences on paper or screen. Like this one here. And the next. And the one after that.
But then that too is just as fleeting, gone – poof! – as soon as the story or the book is finished and displayed, because all the magic had been in the creating and not in the creation, even though it is only the latter that the world gets to see.
On one hand, it has come as such a relief to understand this, to know that looking outwards won't help, to understand that rephrasing the same question will not yield a different answer.
Yet, it remains incredibly difficult to follow this nugget of wisdom, to remember to look inwards when all that comes into view is a big, crazy mess no one in their right mind would want to get all tangled up in, not knowing whether it can even be salvaged in the first place.
Up on the wall in front of my writing desk is a small reactangle of paper bearing a quote attributed to the actress Sally Field.
The struggle is the work.
It helps. On some days.
On other days, poetry comes to the rescue.
YOUR BOAT, YOUR WORDS by Pat Schneider
Your boat, they will tell you,
cannot leave the harbor
But they will neglect to mention
that discipline has a vanishing point,
an invisible horizon where belief takes over.
They will not whisper to you the secret
that they themselves have not fully understood: that
belief is the only wind with breath enough
to take you past the deadly calms, the stopped motion
toward that place you have imagined,
the existence of which you cannot prove
except by going there.
And then there are times when neither knowledge nor belief comes to the rescue, because there are other matters that tug at my heart.
For you see, in less than a couple of weeks, summer will draw to a close and D will head back to school. The relentless hurtling of time towards that eventuality fills me with great sorrow.
On the mornings we wake up early enough, D and I look out of the window for the moon. Off late, we've found her in the company of a large, unblinking planet that a random app on the internet tells us is Jupiter.
On late afternoons, in the lull before dinnertime and bedtime routines beckon, we make our way to the sidewalk outside and watch the vehicles go by. Or we lie on the grass and look up at the blue sky criss-crossed with contrails. Or we stay indoors and watch the dance of leaf-shadow on the wall.
In times like these, even as I savour the last few days of summer with my child, my inner and outer worlds feel very tenuous and fragile. No matter how many times I face change and loss, every new encounter feels like the very first and I find myself unprepared, unmoored, resisting, until there is nothing left to do but to let it all wash over me and take me in its flow.
Tales for Dreamers
I asked the wise old lady where I could find happiness, and this was her reply
This month's tale is from the archives. I can't remember where this picture was taken, but seeing as I wrote this tale in the summer of 2015 – lifetimes ago, it feels like – I reckon this was somewhere in Québec. I found the tale apt and in keeping with today's words on belief and magic and heartbreaking, beautiful life. So here it is.
Books You May Love
I began this month reading a lot of mysteries, and all of them turned out to be historical mysteries by some strange and delightful twist of fate. But I've saved the best for the last, and that wasn't a historical mystery.
First, I came across The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson, which promised to be a mystery – double mystery, in fact – set in a private boarding high-school, Ellingham Academy, located atop a mountain in Burlington, Vermont.
The protagonist Stevie Bell sets out to solve a murder and a disappearance that took place nearly 100 years ago when the school was founded, and finds herself ensnared in a present-day murder as well.
It was only after I finished reading the book, which ends in a cliffhanger although one of the mysteries is somewhat solved, did I realize that I had picked up Book 2 of a trilogy titled Truly Devious!
I promptly grabbed Book 3, The Hand on The Wall, which was also a very enticing read and in which everything is nicely and neatly wrapped up. I intend to pick up Book 1 – Truly Devious – at some point, but there are more books in the series which follow Stevie Bell as she solves crimes outside of the academy. Book 4, The Box in The Woods, waits for me patiently on the bookshelf.
Another book I was engrossed in this month was A Game of Fear by Charles Todd, Book 24 in a series featuring Inspector Ian Rutledge of the Scotland Yard, a shell-shocked WWI veteran who lives with a voice inside his head, that of a fellow soldier he killed in the war.
In addition to the solving of mysteries in the early 20th century, we get an insider's view into the workings of Rutledge's mind as he grapples with his mental and emotional issues. I absolutely loved this aspect of the book in addition to the mystery – it was also spooky and scary in all the right places – and the historical setting.
Charles Todd was actually a mother-son duo, but the mother passed away a year ago. As with the Maureen Johnson book, I didn't realise I had picked up a book that wasn't the first of a series, which is great because now I have an entire series of 23 books to look forward to, and Book 1, A Test of Wills, is what I will begin reading later this evening.
And then there was yet another historical mystery I lost myself in: The Dying Day by Vaseem Khan. Much to my endless delight, this one is set in 1950s Bombay, shortly after India secured independence from British rule.
It features a strong female protagonist, India's first female inspector, Persis Wadia, who solves crimes while also battling gender discrimination at work, family pressure to get married, and romantic feelings for her colleague, English forensic scientist, Archie Blackwell.
It's a rather cerebral kind of mystery, one filled with riddles and puzzles, which reminded me of the daily cryptic crossword puzzle in The Hindu, a widely circulated English-language newspaper in India.
And that brought to mind the elitism that was associated with intellectual prowess when I was growing up, one that I have jettisoned now in favour of contemplating the unsolvable mysteries of the heart and soul. Still, that didn't take away from the pleasure of reading The Dying Day.
Again, this turned out to be Book 2 in the Malabar House series, which means more Persis-in-1950s-Bombay stories to look forward to!
And now, the book that stole my heart and ripped it into a thousand pieces and put it all together again in the span of 300 or so pages: The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean.
At its very essence, the story is about a group of secret Families living on the Yorkshire moors for whom books are literally food. And when they eat books, they retain all the content.
But it is also about so much more! Motherhood. Patriarchy. Systemic oppression. Loyalty towards family. Sibling dynamics. Love for one's children. True and trustworthy friendship. All these are portrayed beautifully against the backdrop of this very fascinating and engrossing fantasy world.
I loved it so much that I wrote an entire blog post on it.
And now after these moments of tender togetherness, we must part ways, dear Dreamer! Our lives wait for us to live them through all the heartaches and joys, the ceaseless change and stifling monotony of it all.
In parting, I will leave you with the words of L. R. Knost, author and gentle parenting advocate.
Life is amazing. And then it's awful. And then it's amazing again. And in between the amazing and awful, it's ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That's just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life.
And it's breathtakingly beautiful.
~ L. R. Knost
May every breath lighten our hearts, nourish our souls, and carry us with grace through the transitoriness of life.