Friday, 14 October 2016

...that Utopia is Inexistent

I have been wondering about sad books for a little while now. I think it started sometime in August when I finished a novel called My Sister’s Keeper by Jodie Picoult, a novel which just shattered me into a million pieces. Currently, I am reading a book called If I Stay by Gayle Forman and I am hardly fifteen pages in but I am already getting heartbroken. I am just going to share a paragraph from it here to give a feel of the first few pages of the book:
“I see Dad first. Even from several feet away, I can make out the protrusion of the pipe in his jacket pocket. “Dad,” I call, but as I walk toward him, the pavement grows slick and there are gray chunks of what looks like cauliflower. I know what I’m seeing right away but it somehow does not immediately connect back to my father. What springs into my mind are those news reports about tornadoes or fires, how they’ll ravage one house but leave the one next door intact. Pieces of my father’s brain are on the asphalt.”
Here’s something else: the narrator is not ‘intact’, she’s also extremely hurt but I will leave it at that for the time being.
So why do we like sad books?
I feel it is worse for me because I tend to seek out sad books. I make conscious efforts to search for and find sad books. On kindle I search for the tag ‘sad’, I go on and search for books before buying, I look for quotes that seem sad, I find sad taglines and such things. When I go to bookstores, I read blurbs for hours of a plethora on books to seek out which ones I envisage could be the saddest and buy them. I am a sucker for sad stories. And here is the thing, I am not alone. Many people prefer heart-wrenchingly, paralyzingly sad books to the happier, sugary ones.
I have a few things to say on this.
There’s a Greek term in the field of dramatic art called Catharsis which basically describes the effects that tragedy (and comedy) have on the audience. The dictionary defines Catharsis as I would like to describe it for the purpose of this post: ‘the act or process of purification or purgation of the emotions (as pity and fear) primarily through art.’ For me, I see it as this: We come to sad stories because we want to be relieved of something even if that something may only exist in our minds or in our thoughts. I read sad books because they tend to have this ability to cleanse me of infirmities that are only emotional in existence. I am purged when I read a sad book. It is a somewhat difficult concept, I must confess.
Also, when things are too happy, they seem unreal, unnatural. A sad book is something that is likelier to happen in the real world because the world is actually a sad, messed up place where bad things happen to good people. Life is not a bed of roses and sad books remind us of this. Happily ever afters, most of the time, only ever happens in fairy tales like Cinderella and Snow White and Rapunzel (and Shrek).
I enjoy a book that takes my emotions on a rollercoaster journey. I need characters that are flawed, just like me, broken, just like me. I want to be able to sympathize with a character in a book because life is happening to him, because life is happening to her as it happens to every other person. I want to be able to question the things that I have accepted with open arms before and I want the writer to give me a fantastic reason to question those things. I want to be told by a good story that many times, life is no utopia: that utopia is inexistent, that happiness is not a butterfly and that it is okay for things not to be perfect.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Happiness Is Not A Butterfly

‘I hate you, I wish to never see you again,’ she said the words as though they were meant to leave her mouth and transform into a machete and slash your throat.
The day you met her, the rain began suddenly. The clouds became dark and saturated like cotton-wool dipped in iodine. You were walking back to your off campus apartment from class and she was walking back to somewhere from somewhere. You scurried for cover when it began to rain – you found a shade by the Social Science Lecture Theatre. She joined you seconds later, she was drenched already and you wanted to ask her what the point of finding a shade was since she was already that soaked, it made you laugh.
‘What is funny?’ She asked.
‘Oh I’m sorry. It has nothing to do with you.’
‘It better not,’ she hissed. Apparently, the rain, apart from having soaked her, had also enraged her.
‘You don’t have to take your anger out on me,’ you said, ‘it’s not my fault that you got drenched.’
‘But you were laughing at me.’
‘I was not laughing at you, I was laughing at something I thought about.’ You lied.
‘Yea, right.’
‘Would you like a handkerchief?’ You said, extending your napkin to her and for the first time, getting a glimpse of her face. She looked like an October afternoon, the way her hair made a bun behind her head and the wetness glued a strand to her forehead, the way her Indigo coloured T-shirt had “Mobile Orchestra” written over it and a set of trumpets painted beneath the writing, the way her nails were polished purple and the way her black jean trouser stopped just before her ankle and her yellow, watermarked sandals had red sand on them.
She collected the handkerchief, ‘thank you.’ She wiped water off her arms and then off her face, very gently, so that she would not also wipe off her makeup, then she adjusted the strand of hair that had been plastered on her forehead so that it went behind her ear.
‘You look beautiful,’ you said. She looked at you and suppressed an urge to smile then returned your napkin. ‘How do you do that?’
‘Do what?’ She asked.
‘Suppress a smile so effortlessly.’
She laughed. ‘I don’t know what you are talking about.’
‘Really, you should not do that. There are probably a million scientific researches that prove that doing that is bad for you. What’s your name?’
‘My name is Jake; short for Jacob.’
Your first date was to the cinema where you both saw an action movie. You thought it was gory and violent and had too many guns and had too many people killing people, and she thought it was awesome. Your second date was to the zoo, you liked the baby possums, their cuteness was affective, she liked the lions and she recorded the sound of their roars and used it as her ringtone.
It was after you had spent three months together that you knew she was special and so you needed to breakup with her: You were both seated on a bench under a neem tree in a park and a butterfly, the variegated colour of a snail’s shell, landed on her lap. She smiled. ‘Someone once said that Happiness is a butterfly; if you try to chase it, you may never catch it, However, sometimes, you could be sitting under a tree, chatting with the love of your life and minding your business and it comes and alights on your lap. You are my happiness, Jacob.’
You smiled because you did not know how else to react. You did not want to be anybody’s happiness the same way you did not want anybody to be your happiness. She was becoming everything, but nobody could become that because you had promised yourself that you would never let anyone get so close to you that they could hurt you. When you were eight years old, your mother left. She took off with a rich man and left you with your father. You never recovered because she was everything, she was heaven in the most golden, glorified definition of the place; she just up and left you alone and cold like a chewing gum whose flavour had been chewed off of it. Years later, you decided that life was better lived without attachments.
That morning, when she called to ask if you were home because she wanted to come over, it took you a minute to say yes, you were home and she could come, you knew you had to do it that day.
‘I’m sorry, Grace.’ You said after she had said that she never wanted to see you again and she had stood up and had picked up her bag and had faced the wall and had begun to sob.
‘Do you know what your problem is?’ She asked and you wondered if the question was supposed to be a rhetorical one. ‘You think you are immune to love. You think you are impervious. But you are not, you see? Nobody is.’
You wanted her to leave; you did not want to hear those theories of hers that she choked people with: This person thinks too little of himself. That person walks as though heaven and earth was created only for her. ‘I am sorry,’ you said again. ‘This just can’t work, you are a good girl, Grace. You deserve way better than me.’
She finally left. She left the way twilight leaves at dusk: the way darkness usurps the lavender: even though you would rather not have it, you cannot stop the darkness from taking over and so you have to let go.
Happiness is not a butterfly, you said to yourself after she left. You do not sit down and wait for it because you may be served with something that you do not want. Happiness is the prerogative of each individual. You find your own or you let your own go, maybe someone else would find it.