10 out of 10 would visit again

Commonplace Entry #10

Five straight days she spent in front of the television, staring at crumbled banks and hospitals, whole blocks of stores in flames, severed rail lines and expressways. She never said a word. Sunk deep in the cushions of the sofa, her mouth clamped shut, she wouldn’t answer when Komura spoke to her. She wouldn’t shake her head or nod. Komura could not be sure the sound of his voice was even getting through to her.

-Haruki Murakami, from “Ufo in Kashiro” in After the Quake 

I thought it would be appropriate to end with this commonplace entry, considering we began the English 303: Advanced Expository Writing course by reading Haruki Murakami’s essay, “The Running Novelist.” Coincidentally, I finished After the Quake just before I began the course, which made his essay all the more interesting.

When natural disasters occur in other parts of the world, few people stop to think what is going through the minds of those who are forced to suffer the consequences; many are just happy it didn’t happen to them. In this passage, Murakami helps readers picture a victim of the disaster. She is in shock, and unsure of how to cope. She can’t even muster the words to talk to her own husband, Komura.

This is actually the first paragraph of the story. You don’t know what her name is or where she comes from; she could be anyone. Yet, you understand what she must be feeling. 

Commonplace Entry #9

Jonas shrugged. He followed them inside. But he had been startled by the newchild’s eyes. Mirrors were rare in the community; they weren’t forbidden, but there was no real need of them, and Jonas had simply never bothered to look at himself very often even if he found himself in a location where a mirror existed. Now, seeing the newchild and its expression, he was reminded that the light eyes were not only a rarity but gave the one who had them a certain look—what is it? Depth, he decided; as if one were looking into the clear water of the river, down to the bottom, where things might lurk which hadn’t been discovered yet. He felt self-conscious, realizing that he, too, had that look.

 – Lois Lowry, from The Giver

 If you have read The Giver, you know that this passage exhibits a great amount of foreshadowing.  And even if you haven’t, I’m sure you could point out a couple of key phrases that alert readers that this passage is an important one; for example, “hadn’t been discovered yet” and “he, too, had that look [of depth].”

I really enjoy Lowry’s writing technique. The short sentences she uses to describe actions, straight to the point, zero fluff. The way her narration includes Jonas’ train of thought. I’d highly recommend this book to anyone, especially for a nice summer read. It is brilliantly written, as well as insightful.

Commonplace Entry #8

Because I don’t live in either my past or my future. I’m interested only in the present. If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man. You’ll see that there is life in the desert, that there are stars in the heavens, and that tribesmen fight because they are part of the human race. Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living right now.

 – Paulo Coelho, from The Alchemist

This reminds me of John Green’s message in The Fault in Our Stars (refer to commonplace entry 3): “be here now,” except that Coelho says it so much better. I know it seems that I am trying to attack Green, and for a lot of you, that is simply unacceptable, but I’m not. Every sentence that Coehlo writes is relevant to the point he is trying to make, where as Green beats around the bush a whole lot, which tends to bore me. Coehlo keeps his readers focused on what matters.

Commonplace Entry #7

Amid the gray, an incongruous band of daytime blue asserts itself. To the west, a pink sun already begins its descent. The effect is of three isolated aspects, distinct phases of the day. All of it, strewn across the horizon, is contained in his vision.

– Jhumpa Lahiri, from The Lowland

In this passage, Lahiri describes a sunset like never before. She personifies the color blue, which I thought was brilliant and beautiful. I love that she separates the three colors: gray, blue, and pink and distinguishes them as three separate phases of the day. Somehow they all come together to create a perfect sunset.

Commonplace Entry #6

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world
my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry
—the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says
we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph
And death i think is no parenthesis


– E.E. Cummings, since feeling is first

In this poem, E.E. Cummings compares aspects of writing to feelings. He writes to say that life and love cannot be like grammar. Those who follow the rules do not live or love to the full extent. Cummings happens to be one of my favorite poets, however, I’m not sure I fully agree with him. I agree that not all lives are meant to be lived conventionally, following the silent rules society creates. But I don’t think what he is describing is love, but rather, passion and lust. He writes that kisses from his love are better than wisdom, and that there is nothing better than the way her eyelids flutter. This doesn’t sound like love to me.

Commonplace Entry #5

And that roaring creek was a beauty by moonlight, those flashes of flying moon water, that snow white foam, those black-as-pitch trees, regular elfin paradises of shadow and moon. The air began to get warmer and nicer and in fact I thought I could begin to smell people again. We could smell the nice raunchy tide smell of the lake water, and flowers, and softer dust of down below. Everything up there had smelled of ice and snow and heartless spine rock. Here there was the smell of sun-heated wood, sunny dust resting in the moonlight, lake mud, flowers, straw, all those good things of the earth.

– Jack Kerouac, from The Dharma Bums

I find the imagery used in this book absolutely captivating.  My favorite part of reading anything is imagining it in my head. The author’s description allows for readers to paint a vivid picture. Once the masterpiece is completed, Kerouac tells you how the air feels and how it smells so that you can place yourself in the image he has helped you create.

Commonplace Entry #4

                                                                Tra, la, la, in your snatch fits pleasure
Broom-shaped pleasure
Deep greedy and Googling every corner
Dead in the middle
Of the C-O double-M -O-N
Little did I know then
That the Mandela Boys soon become Mandela Men
Tall woman, pull the pylons down
And wrap them around the necks
Of all the feckless men that queue to be the next
Fingers, ring la la la la la la la leaders
Queue jumpers
Rock fist paper scissors, la la la la la la la lingered fluffers
Be Quiet
In your hoof lies the heartland
Where we tent for our treasure, pleasure, leisure
It’s all in your eyes
In your snatch fits pleasure, broom-shaped pleasure
Deep greedy and Googling every corner
Tra, la, la, Tra, la, Tra-a, la, la la la la la la la
Ohhh, blended by the lights

– Alt-J, “Fitzpleasure”

Alt-J has been one of my favorite bands for the past year, however, understanding the lyrics as they are sung is nearly impossible. Reading the lyrics is the only way to understand what lead singer, Joe Newman, is saying, but not what he means. The song, “Fitzpleasure,” is referencing a chapter in the novel Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr. The novel, published in 1964, takes “an unflinching look at the potential brutality of urban life” (Martins). I was astonished to find that after listening to the song a countless number of times, I never once associated it with gang rape, which is what it is about.

I’m not quite sure what angle the songwriters were trying to take as they wrote this song. Although it is not necessarily embracing rape culture, it’s not disapproving of it either. It is simply retelling a story. However, the phrases “in your snatch fits pleasure” and “broom-shaped pleasure” threw me off and made me rethink what the writers meant. The phrase “broom-shaped pleasure” was actually referring to how members of the gang killed the woman, Tralala, with a broom. Whether that meant the raping and killing was pleasurable for the gang members or for the woman was left ambiguous.

Commonplace Entry #3

I kept thinking about my shoulder, which hurt, and also I still had the headache, but maybe only because I’d been thinking about a girl who’d died of brain cancer. I kept telling myself to compartmentalize, to be here now at the circular table (arguably too large in diameter for three people and definitely too large for two) with this soggy broccoli and a black-bean burger that all the ketchup in the world could not adequately moisten. I told myself that imagining a met in my brain or my shoulder would not affect the invisible reality going on inside of me, and that therefore all such thoughts were wasted moments in a life composed of a definitionally finite set of such moments. I even tried to tell myself to live my best life today.

 – John Green, from The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars movie recently landed in theaters and I have already encountered countless Facebook statuses and tweets raving about how it left so many as speechless and heartbroken as the book did.  I haven’t seen it, but I did read the book, which, in my case, generated little excitement for the movie’s release. I did not enjoy John Green’s writing style whatsoever; in my opinion, it is basic and lacks sentence variety and punctuation. I would get lost in Green’s reeling sentences. I couldn’t tell if he meant for the story to be narrated by Hazel, the main character, or if novel was a constant stream of her thoughts. The book did, however, hold some insightful little reminders, like the one mentioned in the quote above: “be here now.”

Commonplace Entry #2

With his soft painter’s hands
how quickly he peels me
like a prickly pear
removing my thorns.
In one flash
he becomes Diego the butcher 
whose third eye can see
into the abattoir of my chest 
where my heart hangs
from a meat-hook.

– Pascale Petit, “Prickly Pears”

This poem was written in reference to the relationship between the two renowned Mexican painters, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. The author writes the poem from Frida’s perspective, telling the audience of how Diego disarms her with the sweetness and delicateness of a “soft painter’s hands” and then turns into a butcher who minces and pulverizes her heart. Frida was a strong woman, except when it came to Diego. The author equates Frida’s heart to a piece of meat and Diego, it’s butcher, which I find very fitting.

Commonplace Entry #1

I had a swimming feeling in my heart like a creature thrashing to get out and wanting to stay in at the same time. That is how much I came I love this man. This is how it is when a person joins your body and there is a part of your mind that swims to join that person against your will.

– Amy Tan, from The Joy Luck Club


Amy Tan managed to perfectly sum up a feeling in an image. I admire her ability to do this so successfully because it something that I haven’t managed to get just right. She didn’t just write that Ying-Ying St. Clair didn’t mean to love this man, but came to love him irrevocably anyway. She painted her readers a picture so that they could understand and feel, even if just for a moment, the way Ying Ying did.