Reading, a railway rehabilitated, and a stationmaster cat

railwaybazaar“I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I was on it.”—Paul Theroux

Around four months ago, while killing time inside a bookstore, I saw this book and much as I’m embarrassed to admit, finally made my acquaintance with Paul Theroux.

The title was the one that lured me in. And the back cover copy finished me off: “Here Theroux recounts his early adventures on an unusual grand continental tour. Asia’s fabled trains—the Orient Express, the Khyber Pass Local, the Frontier Mail, the Golden Arrow to Kuala Lumpur, the Mandalay Express, the Trans-Siberian Express—are the stars of a journey that takes him on a loop eastbound from London’s Victoria Station to Tokyo Central…” A railway adventure if there ever was one.

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Missing Nirvana

Thanks to my sister’s friend, I finally got hold of a copy of Rob Sheffield’s Love is a Mix Tape – Life and Loss, One Song at a Time. Sheffield is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone and the book is a memoir about meeting the girl of his dreams, of watching her die, and a lot of mix tapes through their years together.

While another friend of my sister recommended it (we were at Borders in Bangkok and he got the last copy, damnit!), the “Mix tape” in the title did it for me. On the book: “Mix tapes: We all have our favorites. Stick one into a deck, press play, and you’re instantly transported to another time in your life.” Never a truer statement made. Like any kid growing up in the 80s and 90s, I had my share of mix tapes (eventually mixed CDs), some I made, others given. Almost all I can no longer find, probably buried in some shoebox.

Sheffield’s book is so much like a mix tape. Some references to a song or an artist make me remember. Childhood in the late 1980s spent listening to  Top 40 hits (Casey Kasem! Rick Dees!) and recording my favorites on a cassette tape, and getting shocked and seduced by grunge in the early 1990s, particularly by Nirvana.

In the chapter of August 1994,  Sheffield writes about the summer “when Kurt was dead but the promise of rock was raging on.” He writes about his fears as a husband, he writes about the MTV Unplugged special of Nirvana that kept airing over and over; Kurt singing “all through Unplugged, about the kind of love you can’t leave until you die… The married guy was a lot more disturbing to me than the dead junkie.”

I didn’t hear this back then when I was 13. All I saw and heard was this blonde guy and his band, with his guitar and scratchy voice, singing about feeling stupid and contagious, about being so lonely (and that’s okay), about a girl…so much angst, misery, love and being able to sing/shout all about it through the guitar riffs. My teenage heart was happy.

By the end of the chapter–and Sheffield writes it brilliantly, hitting the nail on the head when it comes to listening to Cobain–I was asking my husband for the iPod and shuffling through my closet for those shoeboxes. I wanted to listen to Kurt again. Maybe this time, decades older and married, I’ll hear through some of his songs about the kind of love you can’t leave until you die. Or just be transported back to that time when you felt nobody would understand what you’re feeling, besides some band from another part of the world.

“But when I listen to Kurt, he’s not ready to die, at least not in his music–the boy on Unplugged doesn’t sound the same as the man who gave up on him.A boy is what he sounds like, turning his private pain into teenage news… I hear a scruffy sloppy guitar boy trying to sing his life. I hear a teenage Jesus superstar on the radio with a song about a sunbeam, a song about a girl, flushed with the romance of punk rock. I hear the noise in his voice, and I hear the boy trying to scare the darkness away. I wish I could hear what happened next, but nothing did.” Thank you Rob Sheffield.

Revelations and lessons from cleaning a bookshelf

What do you do when you have a glorious, free day? When you’ve sent all your stories to your editors the night before? And when you have no immediate deadlines? For me, the answer was to clean my bookshelf. I’ve been meaning to clean the bookshelf in the bedroom for the past few weeks after I realized the growing number of books I kept buying and haven’t gotten around to reading yet (or what I call my ‘book debt’). They could no longer fit in the said small shelf and have taken residence on every known surface in the room. There was going to be a way to make them all fit. I was determined. It took more than an afternoon though as there were distractions, but I did discover a few things…

I love this photo by GREEN iS from Flickr (link on the photo), but I am glad that I didn't have to clean these many books

Do not watch Atonement. Or some other depressing, tragic movie. I’ve been putting off watching it because I know the story, I know how devastating the ending will be, and I know I’ll be a weeping mess. I thought, I’ll be distracted with the cleaning, that I won’t really pay attention, I won’t feel invested in the characters, and I won’t feel bad when it’s revealed that (spoilers for fellow late-Atonement viewers) Robbie and Cecilia both die and Robbie was never really able to come back to her after being wrongly accused and sent to fight in the war. And there are wet tissues and some dusty books on the floor. I’m crying and sneezing at the same time and I don’t get around to cleaning the dusty shelf until I get myself together.

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Do not step into the bookstore

Have you ever walked into a bookstore, told yourself you’re just going to browse, and ended up being drawn to the cash register with a couple of books held close to your chest? I have. Too many times. I get this giddy, triumphant feeling, especially if I find the title I want under a heap of books on sale. (Particularly, because I’m not the most patient bargain hunter. In fact, I’m one of those people who’ll likely sit out one of those scavenger hunt games.)

And then I get home and look at my bookshelf, the bedside table, my desk, the boxes beside my desk, my work chair, and wonder if there’s still some space or surface besides the floor where I can put these new books. Where can they join the rest of the unread books scattered about or shoved in little corners? This is the time I tell myself I shouldn’t go inside bookstores every chance I get. Ignore the sale sign. Ignore the wonderful smell of books.

When we went up to Baguio, this note to self was completely set aside as one of the places on top of my must-see list in the city is the bookstore next to Casa Vallejo called, Mt Cloud Bookshop. A friend of mine told me about it, so after P and I put down our bags and got settled in the house, we headed to Casa Vallejo and the bookshop.

slouching somewhere

Beside Casa Vallejo

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Running and panting

In Haruki Murakami’s book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (recommended by a supportive sister after I declared my pledge to start running and conquer that half-marathon in Angkor Wat), he describes how you can distinguish a beginner runner from a veteran. The ones panting are beginners. I know it’s simple observation, but I think about it every time I run and start to pant, I’m reminded I’m a beginner.

Though running implies speed, becoming a runner takes time–like any other goal worth pursuing. I need to focus. I need to be consistent. Every day, I keep in mind a little goal–finish my 30-minute run (or walk during ‘rest days’). If there are deadlines, I tell myself I have to learn to be more focused on finishing whatever is due. Not log on to the time-suck that is Twitter or Facebook and get distracted. I can use that time to run. Finish my story earlier…so I have time to run. (I’m doing 30 minutes a day for now while following this 8-week beginning runner’s training program from Runner’s World.)

Of course, I hope that each day that I run will help me get closer to my goal of running a half-marathon this year. But even with such a lofty goal (for me anyway, it is), running is a humbling pursuit. It constantly reminds you of your limits, of how far you still have to go. But you keep doing it anyway. Because for one day or for 30 minutes, you get to go through it. You get to push yourself. Even with so much panting involved.

Here’s a wonderful passage from Mr. Murakami’s book (find a great review for it here):

Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life–and for me, for writing as well.