THOUGHTS: National Vegetarian Week – Why I’m Veggie

I gave up meat on January 5th 2015, and it was the easiest thing I ever did. HERE I WILL INTERJECT AND CONFESS BEFORE MY HOUSEMATES RAT ME OUT: I did finish a bottle of Lea & Perrins after discovering about two months down the line that it contains anchovies… (what kind of idiot sauce contains fish???) and I figured since I’d already bought it, I might as well finish the job…

 
Besides the hidden sneaky fish juice, which taught me to always check labels (baby steps), I don’t see myself ever eat meat again. I don’t need to, and neither do I want to. If Jaime on Bear Grylls: The Island can live on a desert island for six weeks without touching meat, so can I. My survival doesn’t depend on the death of other sentient beings. And I’d argue that animals are 100x more sentient than whatever the modern human has been reduced to.

 
My epiphany came in a number of forms. Firstly, meat is expensive, if you want the good stuff. I would always have leaned towards the free range/organic/butcher’s produce anyway, and student budgets don’t tend to support that. So I drastically reduced my meat consumption when I went to uni. It also cuts out the amount of times I’ve drunkenly eaten raw-in-the-middle chicken kievs after nights out, and that one time I realised I was eating a raw chicken burger but it was so nice I took my chances. Vegetarianism is therefore a wise choice in curtailing my risk of contracting salmonella.

 
The second may be the eight or nine years I was vegetarian anyway growing up, which was a handy reassurance that I would manage it fine. My mother tells me I had to be dragged from Safeway kicking and screaming after clocking a raw chicken on the shelves as a very little kid and enquiring as to what the hell it was. She informed me it was a chicken; I distraughtly asked where its head and feathers were, and chaos ensued. I also started so much of a scene in the lunch hall when I first started school and was served a slab of meat that the dinner ladies begged Mum to put me on the veggie menu because I was putting the other kids off their overcooked cow. An anarchist protester since c.1998.

 
Somewhere along the line I lost my strident sense of morality, cultivating a love of BLTs, chicken nuggets, turkey twizzlers, meatball subs, scotch eggs, Texas BBQ Dominos, Wetherspoons Mexican burgers, SAUSAGES… until the day the love of my life had a literal head-on brush with death. Lulu is my fluffy squirrel-cat, my own living dolly, the CATalyst of my meat-free life and, even at 7-years-old, always my baby kitten. She was born when I was 13 after our rescue cat got pregnant and my mum decided she could not part with any of her four resultant babies. Lulu is my sassy beautiful feline soulmate; we have identical strops and are equally bitch-faced and unapproachable. Whatever souls are made of, hers and mine are the same.

 
So when my brother rang me while I was in the library last winter to tell me that she’d been run over (the circumstances of her horrific injuries are somewhat dodgy, and to say she was accidentally hit at night is the only eventuality we’d like to contemplate), I packed up my things and ran home crying, caring less about the people I disturbed on the street. The idea that the mini jet-black puff-ball I’d adored since the day she was born could die, or likely lose a leg if she lived, was pretty direly disgustingly bleak. What eventually happened, though, was my mum shelling out a lot of money for a top veterinary surgeon in Winchester to save her – when I say a lot, I mean A LOT. Like, her savings towards a deposit for a house are now a year behind. A l o t. (Sidenote: if you’re not willing to do the same for your pet, you shouldn’t have one). Lulubear lives to see another day, after a long, arduous recovery.

 
During this recovery, I witnessed something. I’d always regarded my total of six cats as family members anyway, but this incident uncannily reminded me that Lulu is mortally, vulnerably alive in the exact same way I am. Here was a cat. A cat that had always been fiercely independent, that depended on us for nothing really; she didn’t need us to survive. She came back for easy food and shelter and safety and for territorial reasons, probably, which is just a fact that you accept when you have cats. There isn’t much bringing them back to you. The fact that they choose to stay is nice enough. But, in the first weeks that I was with her during her house arrest to repair her shattered leg, held together by rods and plaster, she cried and cried in her cage at night. She relished the couple of hours a day she got to spend outside the cage, sitting quietly and contently on our laps until it was cage time again, making no attempt at escape because she was in too much pain and needed the comfort. In that short time, she’d hug so close to my mum (moreover her mum now), wrapping her healthy front leg around mum’s neck, something she’d never do when well, or reaching it out to me sat next to her. Maybe this was for some reassurance when she was scared, or begging for sympathy hugs, or to show gratitude. Because at times I know she was thanking us.

 
And aren’t all those actions and eventualities just what a child would do? We like to conveniently forget that animals have thoughts and feelings as well, all the more than we do, I’d argue as fact. And seeing my kitten beg for her life was never anything I was going to have on my hands to put a lamb or a pig or a cow through again. Why would you think they don’t react the same way that you would when they realise they’re going to die? The ‘humane’ death thing doesn’t work… There is no right way to kill something that doesn’t want to die. (=If you were so bothered about Halal you wouldn’t eat meat at all, shut the fuck up). Why would I watch my mother spend pretty much her life savings on rescuing my cat from certain death while spending my own money conveniently condemning others to the same fate for no other reason than “it tastes nice”…………………………No more.

 
ox Namaste, peace, dharma, zen & love xo

BOOKS: Jack Kerouac – ‘Lonesome Traveler’

“There’s nothing nobler than to put up with a few inconveniences like snakes and dust for the sake of absolute freedom”

My first attempt at this book (collection of short stories/diary entries recording parts of world travels) was summer 2013, and I think I got to story no.3 ‘Mexico Fellaheen’ before giving up. If this is to be your first Kerouac attempt, probably don’t do it. I tried again with The Dharma Bums the next summer and so was borne the epiphany that I need to get through all beat gen literature. One day soon (probably this summer, I feel like summer is prime beatnik time) I’ll re-read The Dharma Bums and write it the ode it deserves. I DIGRESS: this is a trialling read, I’ll explain why forthrightly, but it’s been the most rewarding and enriching trial of a book since my encounter with Lord of the Flies.

Lonesome Traveler consists of 157 pages of 8 stories:

0 Author’s Intro

1 Piers of the Homeless Night

2 Mexico Fellaheen

3 The Railroad Earth

4 Slobs of the Kitchen Sea

5 New York Scenes

6 Alone on a Mountaintop

7 Big Trip to Europe

8 The Vanishing American Hobo.

The true battle comes when reaching The Railroad Earth – I’m pretty sure only the brave make it to New York Scenes. This is autobiographical recording of a fast life on the road, ie., some parts are written in stream of consciousness trance. There is sparse punctuation, block pages of text, constant description consisting of no storyline; such is life. Chapters 3 and 4 are true examples of writing for yourself and no one else; though slightly voyeuristic I’m glad for the insight. I lost my bookmark out of The Railroad Earth at one point and couldn’t for the life of me find where I’d left the night before. I theorise that these parts might be the hardest to read – being blatantly unnarrativised – because it was at these points he was working to save money for further travel, albeit while traveling, and wasn’t free to spend days alone just on observation and that’s where the delving thought he does so masterfully is usually cultivated.

The rest are a lot more easy-going in comparison, some more than others. My undoubted favourite is always going to be 6, ‘Alone on a Mountaintop’. I get lost in knowing that’s where I want to be one day, and Kerouac’s time spent there was definitely the inspiration (or one point of) for Ray’s expedition to desolation in Dharma Bums. There are so many earmarked pages that I’ve saved in this book and most come from here, when Kerouac spends 3 months alone on a mountain range learning to live in desolation and ultimately learning that he no longer needs it – “No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true inner strength.”; “And I realized I didn’t have to hide myself in desolation but could accept society for better or for worse”.

I love the way the other beat movement writers appear in and out of his writing; there will be casual mentions of staying with William Seward Burroughs or meeting up with Neal Cassady in any corner of the world and the larks they get up to before parting ways and being comfortable in the knowledge that they’ll meet again soon like the most beautiful admirable security and loyalty.

I’m definitely enchanted with beat lit because it exemplifies what I think is true humanity: being free and being able to be free while having strong bases in people world-over. The last story, ‘The Vanishing American Hobo’ is more a social commentary on why and how this is not allowed to happen any more: moral panic over strangers, the commodification of humans, then an expression of disillusionment with people as cogs in capitalist machines, which I’m seeing emerging as a pattern ever more in my reading. Kerouac watched the ‘bum’ as he knew it die over his lifetime, coming to a head in the 1950s; while postmodern lit today contains traces of the same frustration (see The Dream, the last chapter of Barnes’ A History of the World…).

If you want some pure insight into life as it is meant to be lived – doing what you want to do, when you want to, given that it serves a good honest truth – try this. You’ll find me working through Kerouac’s lifetime work if you need me. 8)

BOOKS: Margaret Atwood – ‘The Edible Woman’

Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

This curious tale was read as a set text for my Gender & Sexuality module at uni; hence my well-loved, pre-owned £3 copy! I read up a lot of Goodreads reviews after I finished the book and the overwhelming consensus was “strange”. Maybe it was the fact that I had a good idea of what was coming, or that I found protagonist Marian actually startlingly relatable, but I didn’t think that about it at any time during the reading process. I found this novel incredibly easy to swallow. (-Not sorry for that great pun)

From the beginning, I admired Atwood’s unrivalled observation skills and her ease of putting it to paper. I read in passing that The Edible Woman was her first novel, and that she wrote it aged 23; which I’m sure is thoroughly impressive to everyone who has read it. Her astute analogies and quaint ways of noticing and describing minor details are really charming and kept me interested for the duration of the text.

The undercurrent of feminism (or protofeminism as Atwood described it; as it was written prior to the 1970s first wave feminist movement) contributing to Marian’s condition here maybe wouldn’t be so apparent if I hadn’t studied it academically. The story follows Marian, a young woman in her 20s, who upon becoming engaged finds that the loss of her identity in pleasing her fiance and conforming to societal expectations of a betrothed woman causes her to lose her appetite almost entirely. Marian’s observations of her friend Clara and her landlady who lives downstairs instil in her a panic and crisis of what she will be expected to become once she is married and has children, which dominates her mind and manifests itself in a rejection of food which some compare to anorexia nervosa, though is never addressed as such. Blatant sexist situations occur throughout, such as Marian’s dismissal from her job prior to her wedding, and a conversation with Clara’s husband in which he muses that women should not be allowed to go to university so that they don’t feel their studies are wasted after marriage, that clearly situate the text in the protofeminist era that Atwood identifies as ahead of its time. Marian’s physical repulsion in response to her oppression is a powerful analogy of the illness that sexism causes to women, men and society; and is not uncommon. It echoes the late 1800-early 1900 epidemic of female hysteria, of which women were diagnosed when they exhibited loss of appetite and eating disorder, depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental illness that now are associated with oppression and women’s lack of freedom and control of their own lives. Brought forward to the 1960s, such diagnosis is still easily applied, and hardly obscene to relate to the 2000s anorexia and bulimia epidemics as a result of highly sexualised media culture.

A flawless read for anyone wanting an insight into the pre-feminist 1960s era, beautifully articulated and certainly food for thought. (Hehe)

BOOKS: Julian Barnes – ‘A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters’

“History isn’t what happened. History is just what historians tell us.”

Barnes’ A History… was my first read of 2015; though should have been read much before that, seeing as I wrote a second year degree exam answer on it about 20 days later (sorry lecturers) (though I’m sure they’re not shocked by these kind of admissions by now, and pretty certain the majority of them did the same as undergrads, else they cannot be human). Knowing that I had to produce a scholarly essay on the text in an hour on the day of the exam, my first thought when getting to grips with it was “oooooooohhhhh shit”. This is a dense, intricate and complex novel that daunted me at first, though this kind of intricacy is what compels me to finish a book. I can’t wait to finish them so that loose ends can be tied and wrapped up neatly! In this case, I can’t say that ending the book is automatically satisfactory. There are a gazillion ‘ends’ presented, mostly because it is divided into ’10 1/2′ chapters as the title informs, but then each chapter is a different short story and each contains countless intertextual references; both to other stories that make up the novel and a plethora of separate works, many religious. Matching up these loose ends would be like sifting through a really large vat of spaghetti; so really, the reading of this novel doesn’t end with the last page, but with research in and around it if you really want a clear understanding… which I don’t even know if I still do!

Reading this novel is definitely enhanced by understanding the term and concept of historiography – the study of the study of history. A History… is a postmodern critique of the way in which we blindly accept the version of world history presented to us as fact. Before studying A History…, and historiographic theory (mostly Linda Hutcheon), I had never thought to question the glaringly obvious oversight that all written documents are filtered through the subjective accounts of one or a group of persons’ world view, and this too applies to what we know to be ‘history’. In short, what we know of the past is not ‘history’, or ‘the history of the world’ but indeed ‘a history’: one viewpoint which can never be confirmed or denied. The events are in the past, the people who experienced it dead. If they are alive, we take their account as the closest to objective truth we can, though it must be generally accepted that each person will tell even a slightly different account of the same event. Human condition of fallible memory and conditioned viewpoint therefore dictates that there can be no such thing as objective truth. These matters are discussed in the novel in Chapter 5: Shipwreck, Chapter 7: Three Simple Stories, and the ‘1/2’ chapter Parenthesis, between chapters 8 and 9, in which Barnes speaks directly to the reader as himself.

So far I’ve done this novel a massive injustice and just made it sound really heavy and boring! Be assured that the alternate history routine isn’t ‘shoved in your face’, or even obvious until well into the book. The reader (without any prior knowledge of the text) only begins to make connections and question the ‘motive’ of the novel probably at Parenthesis, in hindsight. The stories are at first presented as whimsical, exaggerated and highly fictional – though upon futher reading it’s made apparent that this is purposeful in order to draw attention to the inherently fictitious nature of recording history. Brief plot outlines of stories include Chapter 1: The Stowaway which is a subversive account of what ‘really’ happened on Noah’s Ark according to an illegitimate woodworm passenger; Chapter 2: The Visitors concerns a famous presenter/entertainer forced to become a terrorist negotiator on board a cruise ship; Chapter 8: Upstream! is made up of letters from an actor filming in a jungle and working with a native tribe (this chapter is of most interest to me – there is something Barnes is conveying here that I’m not getting!). For me, Chapter 10: The Dream cements A History... as a great novel, in its portrayal and critique of the 21st century consumerist heaven and the scepticism of an educated eye.

This is a fascinating and eye-opening novel which draws your attention to food for thought that you’d probably never dreamt of, which is one of the reasons I love to read. I’m excited to one day have time to read more Barnes novels, and in fact more novels by most authors I was introduced to whilst studying Postmodernism (Angela Carter, Don DeLillo) – definitely one of my favourite university modules so far.

[ As I’m mostly reading set texts for my degree, many of them will be discussed here – partly because writing about them breeds more thought/insight into them, and also because I’d love to help any struggling students to understand them a bit more, as others have done for me when frantically googling them! ]

BOOKS: Sylvia Plath – ‘The Bell Jar’

The trouble was, I had been inadequate all along, I simply hadn’t thought about it.

*Notice* First post for my new venture: A BLOG. I hear that’s how everyone gets jobs and shit done these days. Other recent ventures include starting a journal (a very sad, handwritten book) and challenging myself to read 20 whole books this year, recorded on Goodreads… but already cheated at that by listing a short story and a play I had to read for uni which each took me under an hour to finish.

Besides those, The Bell Jar was the second actual novel-length book I’ve read so far in 2015 – the first being Julian Barnes’ A History of the World in Ten and a Half Chapters, which I may write about after this one. I feel I should be able to write a decent blog post on A History after I wrote an exam essay on it as part of my degree, but equally feel vastly unqualified for such a task as there’s so many reallllly intelligent analyses of it already on the internet which I don’t think I can touch at this stage in my… ‘career’.

To begin: Bell Jar wasn’t all that I expected. By that, I mean it wasn’t half as dark. For my first year’s university exams I studied Plath’s Collected Poems which set a precedent for my presumptions of her novel. I can’t decide whether I’m more relieved by the sedate content in comparison, or disappointed. There definitely is a certain disappointment, but at the same time I was pleasantly surprised throughout reading it not to be dogged with nightmares about severed thumbs, evil tulips and spurned zombie daughters.

I think what I liked most about this novel is the analogy of being depressed likened to being shut in a bell jar. Plath’s depiction of relief from depression, as if the bell jar is lifted allowing in fresh air and freedom, resonates in many a shared experience; perhaps a major factor in the great success of the novel. Likening depression to feeling trapped inside a glass confine is clever, relatable and sad. The sufferer – Esther Greenwood, in this case, as Plath’s protagonist – sees their distorted world through clear curved glass but is prevented from engaging. Confinement ould be said to be a central theme of the story; Esther is confined to her expectations of working life and college, her family home over summer as her depression takes hold, her worries about her career path, and then her illness which results in confinement to a mental institution.

During my time studying Plath’s poetry at uni, we were taught not to presume Plath’s work is autobiographical. We had to view each poem as a representation of thoughts and feelings or something, and not necessarily her own. Thinking about this now, I reject it. Any reading around the life and times of Sylvia Plath points to her work being highly autobiographical – the bees? The German? The hospitals!!! As a result of recklessly abandoning my lovely lecturer’s well-meaning and expert advice, I read this book as a kind of fictitious version of what is essentially a true story. Or rather, Plath’s ideal of her own life’s story. Having half-attempted to narrate my own life story before has highlighted a tendency to rose-tint one’s own experiences. While I can’t say this novel is ‘rose-tinted’, due to some pretty macabre instances (though how would I know – I’m not Plath. And I think that’s what my lecturer was getting at all along but that’s a whole new tangent), it’s fairly safe to assume that a large portion of the content of this story is things which did happen to Plath, reworked for fiction. I think. Maybe. Nobody knows but Plath, and none of it is up for confirmation any time soon.

I was eager to start this book after hearing people say it changed their life, but I should have known that I was setting myself up for a let down there after I read The Beach under the same pretences. But I did love The Beach! It just didn’t radically change my outlook or make me a better person like I had hoped (Can books do such a thing? A discussion for another day). And neither did this. I never thought I’d be in a position where I enjoyed poetry over a novel, but this case has done just that, and I’m quite glad by it. I liked some poetry! It’s a Christmas miracle! Despite not enjoying it as much as I’d hoped, it’s an easy and pleasant read – even inoffensive, which is, on reflection, the main reason it let me down. I’d gone in prepared to wrestle a rottweiler and got sort of rebuffed a nonchalant labrador.