Saturday, July 1, 2017

Comfort Zone

Wheelock Place, Singapore

My houseguests will not be leaving soon and there is nothing I can do about it. The feeling I have reminds me of the feeling that I had as a child when I sat in my father's car feeling sorry that all the movie tickets were sold out. Looking back I know it was sheer feeling of powerless. I have to adapt to television noise, chatter and activities around the house. How I miss the empty space and quiet at home. I get disorientated. A month ago, my younger daughter was home and she asked me if I had the SD card reader. I knew I had it somewhere and I just could not recall where I had tucked it away and then weeks later,  I came across not just one but two of them. I can usually place where I have kept my things and as I had to shift my books and papers out of their comfort zone i.e. the study, I  could not recall where I had shifted these things to after clearing up the space to make it into a guest room.

The fabric at home has changed. I know I need to change my mindset to embrace the situation. People are distractions to me and there are good days and bad days, some days I cope better than others.  I feel unsettled, so distracted and distressed that my reading has much slowed down and I have not been able to write much. I have to curb that feeling of dismay when another unproductive day bites the dust. 

Julian Barnes is one of my favourite writers. He writes with such elegance and efficacy. Since I first read The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, I have bought almost every book written by the ever brilliant author. I find his prose witty and his observations insightful. In Talking It Over, every character narrates the story through his or her perspectives. It is about Oliver Russell, the never do well flamboyant friend of Stuart Hughes, his very old friend since school days. It is a love triangle story about how Oliver steals Stuart's wife, Gillian Wyatt.  Oliver falls in love with Gillian on the day she marries his good friend, Stuart. From their monologues, you get to know that Stuart is a young banker who is careful with his finances and not a confident person. Oliver is pedantic and yet a wilder type, an unfulfilled soul who winds up teaching at Shakespeare School of English and even manages to get himself sacked from the institution. Stuart and Oliver have struck an unlikely friendship throughout the years. Gillian is an art restorer and a former social worker. 

Through the different accounts by Stuart, Gillian and Oliver and several minor characters, the story is told. 
Stuart       Everything starts here. That’s what I keep repeating to myself. Everything starts  here.
            I was only average at school. I was never encouraged to think that I should aim for university. I did a correspondence course in economics and commercial law, then got accepted by the Bank as a general trainee. I work in the foreign exchange department. I’d better not mention the Bank’s name, just in case they don’t like it. But you’ll have heard of them. They’ve made it fairly clear to me that I’ll never be a high-flier, but every company needs some people who aren’t high-fliers, and that’s all right by me. My parents were the type of parents who always seemed faintly disappointed by whatever it was you did, as if you were constantly letting them down in small ways.

Oliver     I have to be near her, do you understand? I have to win her, I have to earn her, but first I have to be near her.

Gillian    I love Stuart. Now I love Oliver. Everyone got hurt. Of course I feel guilty. What would you have done? 

Again this is from Stuart.

'One of the first things people tell you about money is that it’s an illusion. It’s notional. If you give someone a dollar bill it’s not ‘worth’ a dollar – it’s ‘worth’ a small piece of paper and a small amount of printer’s ink – but everyone agrees, everyone subscribes to the illusion that it’s worth a dollar, and therefore it is. All the money in the world only means what it does because people subscribe to the same illusion about it. Why gold, why platinum? Because everyone agrees to place this value upon them. And so on.

         You can probably see where I’m leading. The other world illusion, the other thing that exists simply because everyone agrees to place a certain value on it, is love. Now you may call me a jaundiced observer, but that’s my conclusion. And I’ve just been pretty close up to it. I’ve had my nose rubbed in love, thank you very much. I’ve put my nose as close against love as I put my nose to the screen when I’m talking it over with money. And it seems to me there are parallels to be drawn. '

Each character is giving his or her own version of the story from his or her point of view and when we place these accounts together, they give a fair picture of what happens. You know it is fiction yet it is credible and it is dark when these characters are taken over by what and how they think about love. 

Years ago I read Love,etc, a sequel to Talking it Over. Love, etc is set ten years later and was written some ten years after Talking it Over. In Love, etc, we know that Stuart has since remarried, got divorced again but he has a successful organic food business. 

Life is work in progress so are we. As we grow up, there are always difficult situations that are thrown at us and years later, we probably end up in a place where we look back and wonder," What was all that about ?". I feel that whatever circumstances we are confronted with and whatever decisions or indecisions we may have made at the time, they are all necessary so we can be in a better place from where we once were. In the meantime,  we have to focus on the present and look forward to brighter days ahead.