Goodbye JD

Margaret Atwood wrote in Negotiating with the Dead that “all writing of the narrative kind, and perhaps all writing, is motivated, deep down, by a fear and fascination with mortality – by a desire to make the risky trip to the Underworld, and to bring something or someone back from the dead.” (p.156) Perhaps it is true that writers do write for the only reason that they fear their own death. I wondered today, in hearing the news of the death of my favourite author of all time, did JD Salinger write because he feared death? I’m sure his experience on the front line in World War II made him feel like he had no choice but to write. But as far as the world is concerned, the man stopped writing after the sixties. Or did he?

I was first introduced to Salinger by way of a university course called Religion and Literature at the University of Toronto. My professor introduced me to Franny & Zooey, which continues to be the most influential book in my life. My professor said that he half-hoped for the day Salinger would die, so that maybe his writing for the past fifty years would finally be available for us to read.

Sorry, my thoughts are a bit scattered with this post.

One day, in an attempt to save our relationship, my ex boyfriend presented me with the one thing I wanted most in this world – the no longer published writing of JD Salinger. The story goes that some man in Texas had a word document that contained transcribed versions of stolen pages from back issues of magazines that had once published the stories. They were in libraries in universities, scattered across America. Salinger refused to let them be reprinted. And after all the hype about the influence of his only novel The Catcher in the Rye it seems like Salinger had it with society, retreated to the mountains and refused to let anything else be published. The man in Texas had them in a digital format, and gave them to my ex to win me back. You might have figured out the end to the story.

But I have all his stories now (I think). And I love them. And I could read them again and again.

And like my professor I am waiting for the vault to open, to have more Salinger to read. Because I can’t get enough. This man changed my life, and made me want to become a writer. I am heartbroken that he is gone and that he had such a tormented existence.

My prof once said that Salinger regretted killing Seymour in A Perfect Day for a Bananafish. Seymour Glass was exactly what his name meant. He “sees” “through” society and the shit. But at the end of the story, Seymour kills himself because he can’t stand the superficiality. But the hero is the one who sees more, and should rise above it. He doesn’t kill himself. He dies, of natural causes, deep in the forest of the mountains of New Hampshire.

Thank you JD. You changed my life. I’m sad you are gone.

You must see “The Cove”

20090116_cove_560x300

When I was sixteen I used to post up flyers around school with an image of an elephant with a target pointed directly at it’s forehead. Underneath it read a quote by Ghandi – “The greatness of a people can be measured by how well it treats it’s animals.” I used to carry this poster wherever I went. I was a vegetarian. I used baking soda and vinegar to clean long before eco-products where even something people talked about. I was an activist if ever there existed one; writing letters to animal welfare organizations, trying to figure out how to get myself over to Africa to feed orphaned elephants, trying to learn Swahili, going to lectures by Jane Goodall and Biruté Gladikas.

Then I went to university, got overwhelmed in my science course at U of T and dropped out of zoology. I went into art, and then for some reason I ceased to have a voice, a cause, a reason. My artwork came out of myself, I stopped preaching, became bored of my own broken record, and started eating meat again.

After watching “The Cove“, I began to wonder again what happened to that part of me. Where did that dynamite go?  This documentary covers the awful and unnecessary destruction of dolphins in Japan. For no other reason than exploiting them in entertainment shows, these beautiful and intelligent animals are herded, selected from and then subsequently massacred. The problem is, their meat is not even suitable for human consumption. The high content of mercury makes them dangerous for us to eat. So why do a select number of fishermen slaughter thousands of dolphins each year? Because of a misguided idea that dolphins are “pests” destroying their fishing catches. I encourage everyone to try to see this documentary as soon as  they can.

I think most of us have it and I think we CAN affect change in so many ways. The primary way is to be an activist consumer. It’s so important that the decisions we make as consumers affects every company. And we must support sustainable practices.

STOP GOING TO SHOWS THAT EXPLOIT DOLPHINS AND WHALES. This means, Marine Land, Sea World and probably Canada’s Wonderland. We must stop the trade of these beautiful creatures.

EAT SUSTAINABLY. Think before you eat (and buy).

Please read more and spread the word about this documentary and this problem. I know there are so many issues in the world today that it’s hard to get behind just one. But I think this is the trick. Be strong about one issue, not weak about many and eventually we can affect real change.

Get even more info here.

The Bell Jar

sylvia_plath

I suppose the only one benefit to being sick is that I actually can get some reading done. Having been holed up with my chronic bronchitus again for over a week I’ve had no choice but to finish off Murakami and move on to Plath (given that I don’t have a TV).

About one year ago, I impulsively bought “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath, for no reason I can remember, but have shelved it as a result of Paris, new job, new boyfriend and too much work. But I’m halfway through, and I’m only sorry to know that there were no more books written after this one. It is an incredible book. It is so raw and honest, and feels so familiar. I liken it to the work of my favourite, J.D Salinger. I’m not sure if any literary scholar would do the same but their styles and genre of writing seem so similar to me.

I’ve already starting dog earing pages, where paragraphs have stunned me with their honest brilliance.

—-

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green-fig in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and off-beat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quiet make out.

I saw myself sitting at the crotch of this fig-tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest…”

—-

Being sick and reading are the two things that make me realize I’m not really doing what I want to do. And I might not always be able to do it. So I damn well better start.

shark fin soup

We were driving down the QEW when my father told me that we would be eating shark fin soup at dinner. This was, of course, not the first large chinese formal dinner for me. For some strange reason, I have been going to these dinners all my life, even though I am not, by any means, chinese. Eating with chopsticks, those little red envelopes with money in them, and drinking copious amounts of green tea was normal to me by my teenage years. Through the family of my father’s best friend, and now his life partner, I have been consistently exposed to the tendencies of chinese culture.

[As a side note, there is a part of me that wonders if this might be what we could call quintessentially “Canadian.” When traveling in Paris, I had tried to explain the differences between Americans and Canadians and I had a lot of difficulty with this. I wonder: is a half-dutch, half-british suburban girl growing up with an asian influence on the side and having friends of all nationalities the True Canadian? Is this what it means to be Canadian? I’m not sure. Can someone explain how New York is any less multicultural than Toronto? Or is New York an anomaly in the bigger picture of the US? Is Toronto an anomaly in the bigger picture of Canada?]

Alright. So, being the environmentalist, artist, Canadian that I am, I immediately protested. I had seen “Shark Water.” I knew the eco-consequences of this. All I could think of was a shark being hauled out of the water, it’s fin being sliced off while still alive, and being thrown back into the ocean to die a slow death. I remembered my tears.

But what was I to do? The only white girl, my father’s daughter. The only one who couldn’t speak Cantonese. Should I be the one to make a scene by rejecting the dish? I was sitting at the table with the guest of honor. And this dish was being served as a symbol of how important she is. So I decided. This will be the one and only time I will eat this. I will try it. I will judge this for myself. I will not make a scene (if I had been 17 years old, I’m sure I would have done the complete opposite).

And so, as the bowl was placed in front of me, my father leans over and says “It’s very good for your knees, for the ligaments.” And then his partner leans over to me and says,”It’s great for your skin, for the collagen.” And then her son, leaning over to his 5 year old cousin (who doesn’t want to eat it) says, “Just eat it, it’s good for you. Very healthy.”

I realized at that moment, it would not make a difference. Whether I ate this soup or not. And though I never will again (it was completely tasteless), I realized at that moment, that the cultural force was so strong, that it would be like moving mountains to eliminate shark fin soup from the menu of chinese weddings and other feasts. Whether it was for the so-called health properties, or the simple display of wealth and importance, it wouldn’t matter. It wouldn’t matter if all sharks became endangered, or if the balance of the oceans was upset so much that it caused the entire oceanic ecosystem to collapse. It wouldn’t matter that this “soup” funds organized crime, or that finning is a truly inhumane act, or if scientists claim that it was actually HARMFUL because of the high levels of mercury found in fins. And even if it wasn’t a $1.2 billion dollar industry, it just wouldn’t matter, because deep at the heart of the culture, there are beliefs, superstitions, and absolute conviction that these pieces of stringy white cartilage, from the fin of a shark is just plain “good for you.” And this will never, ever change.

Read more about Shark Fin Soup

The menu:
Suckling Pig & Jelly Fish Platter
Braised Whole Abalones with Oyster Sauce
Winter Melon with Shrimp Mousse in Crystal Sauce
Shark Fin Soup with Cured Ham in Supreme Broth
Buddhist’s Delights (I thought this was funny after the soup)
Roasted Crispy Squabs
Braised Lobsters with Supreme Sauce
Steamed Fish with Green Onion in Soya Sauce
Fried Rice with Seafood & Shredded Conpoy
Braised E-mein Noodles with Enoki Mushroom
Birthday Buns
Dessert