Making the Same Mistakes: TWICE


I am somewhat furious. To say the least. I don’t know how to frame this and how to even talk about this without some fury. I had a friend, a childhood friend, who I used to get along great with. But it seems, whenever things get a bit messy in her life, she has this tendency to blow up on me. And abandon me. In the worst possible times in my life. I do not know how even to understand what is going on with her. First moment, she asks advice from me: I tell her a dude she is interested in isn’t always treating her fairly but since she has a connection with him, and since he is polyamorous, why not just talk it out with him? Tell him, you want a deeper thing.

And recently, she is going the self-saboteur path of contacting her former best friend. Why? — The fuck I know. She decided to not talk this woman for three years, block her as they had a row and then finally thinks things will change between them because she is more successful in life. Hard Truth: she didn’t. We both agreed that you two are always on different life paths and that she does not even understand or care for your achievements. But does that stop my friend from wanting validation from this chick, who also a mutual childhood friend of ours (though I know her longer), who never has given a shit about her? NO. The chick goes back to shit she cares about — dating, marriage and possible partners. Not about any other kinds of success. Which, she seems to me, pisses my friend off more. Because she hadn’t full on dated in a while aside this new polyamorous dude she is kinda dating.

Of course, she will be pissed that polyamorous guy wants to keep his options open. Wants to keep his French girlfriend and like not full-on date my friend. Well, what did you expect? He is polyamorous. And, he has been polyamorous for ten years of his life. Now, he MAY change his mind and make you solid, but that is gonna take time. For 2 weeks she has been pissed that this guy stated: “I already have my primary; maybe, you will be my secondary.”

Translation: He is being and asshole. Like, seriously, you don’t talk like this with someone who is not used to p[olyamorous dating. And also, I personally think, if she was his secondary, the primary girlfriend needs to know he has a 2nd steady girlfriend somewhere else. Those are the rules. But it is NOT seemingly happening like that. She and the guy are smitten but she wants them to be exclusive. But she is not telling him this. She rather run away than face her fears. She was wanting to become invisible, without saying anything. This dude keeps on following her FB as in, if she makes minor changes, a slight PFP change, he ‘likes’ it immediately. Imagine what he would do in her Insta?

I wanted to be fair. I said, hey, don’t do that. Clearly, you like one another. Clearly, you want something with this dude, so why not just say it? Hey, say I like you and that can we be exclusive? Anyways, she gets pissed at me just because I say I am not like her former best friend and would ‘steal’ her guy. Dude, until that day I did not even know what he looked like. AND I just said it with a context. She was showing me her current’s beau’s ex-girlfriends and current girlfriend AND we both agreed one of his hook ups were super hot looking. Now, I said I liked that girl’s style. But seeing she was feeling insecure, which was plainly obvious, I just said that to assure her.

And, what does she do? Yell at me because she cannot yell at the guy she is somewhat dating. Calls me ‘dumb’ — says she is better than me in many ways. Now, seeing that she is doing better financially than me at the moment, this stung. I told her it is not fair to compare. And she was calling me ‘mean’ saying so what if her ex-bestie stole a guy she liked, she had so many other achievements. The fucked up thing is I always celebrate her achievements. I was telling her don’t listen to her ex-bestie, don’t make her feel you down, just know you are awesome and matter in the here and now.

She was feeling bad and we had to hang up. But then after five I called her again. Said sorry more times, even acknowledged maybe I was being dumb (you can imagine this is a BIG thing to do) and then I joked with her and made her laugh so that she didn’t go to bed unhappy. Then the next day, I sent her messages and tried to make her happy by asking how she was and gave her two Emily Dickinson poems about strength , love and friendship.

She proceeds to keep on calling me ‘dumb’ — when I ask why is she doing this? She has the audacity to reply that she is doing this because she has been so nice and good to others so people take advantage of her. So, now, she will be mean and she is practicing on me. Like WTF dude? You are not nice or considerate. You are selfish and really arrogant and reckless and I am so pissed that you are like this that you think you can call me ‘dumb’ so many times and get away with it. Like, seriously, if you weren’t my childhood friend, I would have grilled your head in. Then she is like, we shouldn’t be good friends anymore, I ‘inject’ her with ‘negativity’, even unintentionally, and she wants to be happy.

Like seriously? Where have I been ‘triggering’, ‘negative’ and ‘mean’ — she did this one before and called me ‘toxic’ and then came back saying sorry back at the end of 2019. Like, what the fuck is her deal? It is not my fault babe if polymamorous dude doesn’t wanna make you exclusive. It’s not like I sucked his dick and told him not to date you. He just doesn’t wanna date you fully. Maybe, he is just not that into you. And, that has NOTHING to do with you. But if you think you can blow up on me again just ’cause you are going through a shitty time in your life again. FUCK OFF

Seriously, fuck off. It takes a lot of energy and focus and love, to listen to someone rant but also get sad and mad. But we do it because we love people. We wish to support them and value them. Show them they are not alone in any struggle they are facing. And, like we wish to be valued as well. We want to be acknowledged and loved in return. Love has to be mutual and respect is mandatory. Why should we not care and respect each other? This is the bare minimum in any kind of relationship.

It was then and there, I decided to block her. I have had enough of this sort of abysmal level of friendship — where like some weird pet, you are only asked to make someone happy. As if happiness is always guaranteed, always an aspiration in life, without any struggle or any hurdle or any challenge. Like, we are two different people, we can definitely NOT get each other at times. And, one time, I make a mistake, fail to get you, and you just blow up at me. For all the times I did not get you, there were so MANY MORE where I did get you. Comforted you, consoled you, loved and supported you as my friend. And, if that is not a convincing argument then NOTHING EVER will be. You cannot be a perfect friend automaton to someone. You need to be a person. And, a person can sometimes fail. But in that failure, you can rise up stronger and better, know your mistakes, aim to do better and be better. I given her the chance to do that and again she threw our friendship at my face.

I don’t wanna settle for less really. I am a person who has some value. Yes, I am feeling more isolated and alone now. COVID19 didn’t make anything else easy. But when someone decides to be an ass to you during a pandemic, you can actually measure what sort of person they are. When people are at such stakes and decide not to show compassion, mercy or even basic level understanding it actually tells more about them than you. I am tired of loving so unconditionally than I become unconditionally erased.

I do not wish to do that anymore. If she comes back again, apologises again. I may forgive but I will NEVER forget and this intimacy won’t be hers anymore. There is this boundary, my Mom said, which she crossed and you know what? That water sunk that bridge. I don’t wanna be around for the next breakdown and the next episode of being a bitch, because it is now clearer to me more than ever that she was being this wholesome cunt and I am not gonna enable that behaviour anymore.

If friendship always meant happiness then we would never need the intimate, the messy, the feelings of rage, hate and love and the salve that bound people thicker than blood and more soothing than water.

The Story Doesn’t Care

What I enjoyed about this piece is the reality we don’t live in ideal and perfect circumstances but fortunately neither does our writing have to as well. Thank you for this piece ❤

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

JulieBy Julie D. Lillis

Bed made and dishes washed, I stare at an unblinking white screen. I frittered away the morning, answering emails and writing far-away friends. I needed to do that, I told myself, just like I needed to bake the apple pie that now simmers in the oven. Sometimes I think I am a genius at procrastination. But, eventually, I am left with nothing to do but write.

My dad spent nearly 50 years as a journalist. His longtime editor at The Christian Science Monitor used to say, “The story doesn’t care.” As in, the story doesn’t care that you have writer’s block or are famished, that your sources haven’t called you back. The story just wants to be told.

I used to think that a real writer needed her own room to write in, that without a dedicated space, a writer could not write. I made my…

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[I just realised I published a draft by accident. Lol. I think it was an accident. But it had one word on it. That was “truthful.” This is funny as I don’t remember what I intended to write about this. It is funny, regardless, I am going to keep it. It kinda is a one word way of telling about my writing in general at this time xD].

Writing Till Now

Sometimes, I don’t know how am I still doing it. All the writing. I wonder what it will lead to. I am actually uncertain. I don’t know if my writing possesses any value, as in, any integral value. All I know is to write. There is nothing else I know or truly possess. Is it an auto-generative inheritance? Or, something I have inherited without the clause to the roots to the DNA of the heritage? Or, maybe it has been both both. A multifarious of items. All I know is how to write. Nothing more. Nothing less. Maybe, more. Maybe less. Yet, in which capacity? I am not sure of. 

When I started writing here so many years ago, I was quite the optimist. I guess we all begin with some sense of optimism if not necessarily obligation. I don’t think I have been a success here as I have wanted? Or, has it been that how I was thinking was not necessarily curated to my own needs? No. That is not entirely true. I had written so much back then. My whole heart was an outpouring of writing and I felt very happy knowing that I could do it. This writing. Even if not masterful (sometimes so subjective) was definitely my own little place in the woods. A clearing. A forest. An ocean. Things I could do with my writing that seemed impossible with everything else.  

Everything else was a whole category that still remains unsorted. I don’t really know what I want from life even now. It seems archaically silly, clichéd, stereotyped — those forms of crises you read about all the time and wonder why people feel that way. Then begin to feel yourself. In one way, you are not a freak. You are still human. Even if it seems some days your humanity is as tethered as a cloud by your window. That ancient balloon that you think of with thoughts and imagine shapes and still can’t understand why you can’t fill it up with the helium with your own desires. Hear that squeakiness of the whole thing and even if it seems super funny to others — you wish to keep it for yourself. 

I understand writing for yourself is important. You cannot really feed yourself entirely on the validation of others. In a way, that is surrogate cannibalism — surrogate cannibalistic modes of engagement; fleshed up with someone else, them eating you and you eating them. Wanting validation. Craving it. I understand. It’s important. Yet, it’s not a subsistent crop. Not the meat you want on top. It doesn’t always work out the way you want. I keep on reminding myself because when you are starved it feels any dish would do; though, there is a reason you have a palate and a tongue, the muscles, the cheeks, the kinds of teeth you are meant to have. Not every dish can do. It just won’t suffice. 

The world online is much crowded and murkier than it was at least 20 years ago. Online interactions do not verbatim copy the verbal, the non-verbal, the etiquette you were once used to even in the last 5-10 years. And, etiquette is not universal. Netiquette, as it has been called, can vary in spaces. And, in online social media spaces, it varies tenfold than in actual geographical spaces. One of the main reasons? We don’t really to have deal with people do we? Not in the same way we have to deal with people even in the workplace. You can’t just block an annoying colleague on the go nor can you suddenly give an expletive and run off. There are more immediate consequences to what you are doing. So, you are more apt and careful. Even if being impulsive is your default, you know, you can’t do that always on the face-on-face level. Street-on-street level. Desk-by-desk level. Bullying exists but you will notice in the world of bodies it is more aptly felt, recognised and alerted. 

It is hard to write online too. Your audience may be larger, more global than local, but how do we know how much global it is? How much local it is? The cheerier days of the global village have been put on hiatus: or in oldspeak net — revamping/reconstruction for a few days. Before Web 2.0, it was harder to even imagine doing short term word changes without unplugging something. When I first came upon WordPress, it was still relatively less advertised and unknown (LiveJournal still holding some cards), with a minimum set of themes. It’s .org program may have been used countlessly on many independent websites but it was not the hosting giant we know of today. Now, I am introduced to a new Block Editor (hoping it allows me to write in the fonts I chose for my website and not some default it chose for me. Ironically, 3 months ago this was possible). 

Signalling back, I am stating that because of the many choices we have, because of how many different changes to mediums of expression, life, lifestyles, growth in certain sectors and the rise of many social media fandoms, writing online has become both easier and harder. You can feel pressurised to conform, be bullied, be critiqued without apology, have a person spam you with less consequences and you may still persist, with a chip on your shoulder. Albeit, the optimism have somewhat dimmed though it may brighten again soon. I should be writing more now. I have more free time now. Yet, there are things that do not come to me as easily as they did before? Is it a writer’s block? Partly. Partly, perhaps I am curating and censoring myself. There may a need in me now to choose more quality over quantity though for me I would like to think I always managed a good enough if not the best balance of it. 

I want to still keep on writing many things. I know I can. I know I will. This is not arrogance or mere wilfully, nonchalant confidence. It is a blessing. And, experience. I have been doing this for so long. I been doing doing for most of my childhood, teenage and adult life. Yes, there may be milestones I am missing. I am not going to say that there has been no struggle; that the reason of doing it and the weight of giving up haven’t loomed over me. It has. More than once. That I haven’t achieved what I wanted so what was the point? The use? Is it because I did for so long that giving up would mean I wasted so much? So, I am stubborn because I don’t want it to be a waste? 

Well, that kind of stubbornness is useful in writing even if there is so much waste. I mean, I don’t think it is polluting the environment much. Nor, has it polluted my own life. However, it has most certainly NOT been a waste. Whatever I have written. Whatever I have continued to write. It has shaped a lot of me. Shaped a lot of who I am and who I will be. Things have changed. Things have not changed. My writing has stayed the same but also grown. It has made new branches and nodes of engagement and involvement. I like what I write even if it is not the best subjects out there. It is not merely only I can write this, from my point of view, but because I know this need and want in me to write is unique to me and won’t come again and it is me and no one else. 

I still don’t know if it is important. If it has any integral value. I am sure this uncertainness is part of a process. Gradually, I might be reaching a destination I am not fully aware of and if it’s great then I cannot be happier. It is easier to have a meteoric rise and then fall and decimate the dinosaurs of your expectations. The evolution and extinction, the unchanged and the stellar qualities of my writing may still be going on. I can feel that strength in me. 

Perhaps, right now, here and now, I am where I need and wish to be. Even if the stars seem unfamiliar and the course a bit rougher, it is where I am destined and worked to be. You can’t tether clouds to your window because you are not meant to see only through one window. 

The Idiot by Elif Batuman, an introspection and a review

My friend @Sentient Garden had written a very insightful review on Kafka on the Shore by Murakami.  They critique Murakami a lot and have fairly read a lot of his books thus their critiques are not unfounded nor are they lacking in reason. There are certain tropes or things Murakami followed that many modern day readers may not inherently agree with. I had started reading Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage and though I was skimming, let’s just say the novel, though not inherently bad, would be heavily critiqued by some people in the era of #MeToo and at times rightfully so considering how the novel transpires  with some of its core.

Some of the nuances Sen got from the novel, that they feel are a “thing” in most of Murakami’s novel is the fetishisation of the uncomfortable (Trigger warnings ahead for sexual abuse, transphobia and homophobia/queerphobia):

Sakura and Miss Saeki, our only significant adult female characters, sexually prey on Kafka Tamura. The former by an ‘innocent’ handjob, and the latter by regular intercourse in the office. I’m always down for commentary by way of Lolita, but Kafka on the Shore is decidedly not that – Sakura and Miss Saeki are treated wholly sympathetically with no indication of any lasting discomfort on Kafka’s part. It is, for the most part, intended to be a titillating fantasy, one that conveniently ignores the real harm of female sexual predation on underaged boys. I can perhaps see an attempt to make the sexy uncomfortable, but this honestly happens so obsessively in Murakami’s novels that I don’t think that’s the intention anymore.

The gay trans man Oshima is easily the most awful attempt at representation in a Murakami novel. Kafka and Oshima’s older brother misgender and undermine his identity near the end of the book, the former having a fetishistic bent to it. Oshima does a similar thing that I mentioned female characters do in which he tells complete strangers how he has sex with men’s behinds using his vagina…you know, something that would ordinarily be an awful dysphoric experience for real trans men.

Granted, Murakami is not the only author who does this, considering titillating things that are “alternate,” “othered” and so on and so forth is something that happens in fiction a lot in a particular era. I understand that era as I am a person who has somewhat come from that era. It doesn’t always make it right nor does it make it “safe” or even “risqué” anymore. Sometimes, it is just uncomfortable. It does not serve any purpose aside that discomfort. Yet, the seeming “aesthetics” of the time was that sexual “awakenings” are to be “liked.” Though the question Sen asked is obviously imperative: should not abuse be highlighted and acknowledged?

One of the things Sen had mentioned that interested me highly and was en pointe was these lines:

Unless someone has a better name for it, I’m just going to go ahead and call it the Evangelion phenomenon – when you incorporate outside cultural references purely for aesthetic reasons, without a true understanding of neither origin nor significance.

Sometimes, we unfortunately, use references because they are popular or because we want to show our understanding or knowledge or use the popularity of tropes/references as a way to pivot forward in our own careers, life or just on social media. Social media is a good place for this to happen. Sure, we all desire some clout or influence, so we reblog from prestigious people, or verified twitter accounts and/or users,  However, it must align to what we really believe and how we really think some things; at least subjective and genuine. It seems that many authors, even before the advent of the net’s popularities and popularisms, used the “meme” culture’s bandwagon fashion to explore certain subjects. I cannot at all blame them for this was once what the market considered  “good writing.” The ability to categorise and research a myriad of discourses and pepper it through your work. Even I am guilty of that. I am somewhat doing it now.

What matters is the efficacy. It can be a hit or a miss. A good example of this is Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco, which started off on a cool note about a Pendulum and even about an engine but then focused so much on museum artifacts in its premise that I just gave up on it. The Name of the Rose used old medieval texts and detective fiction and that read through better. The thing is is how things read and how we can also see them flow and intersect. Good writing is usually about those checks and balances (as noted in the Indie-like film Paperman).  So, even if you use a whole armada of references it just has to work in your novel.

I used Sen’s review initially as they really understood why certain things can and cannot work. They allowed me to explain a bit of the “mememisation” of knowledge, which can both useful but also caustic and entropic, close to a disintegration of original intents and purposes. An early 2000s anime Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex explored the way knowledge is disseminated in the internet age, without much of the authorial imprints and signatures, allowing both widespread knowledge or knowledge itself being cult or deified into something else as para-religious accessorization or losing its validity due to untraceable sources. Or, even without a source, its latter adaptations get clout and spike revolutionary, both minor and major, advocacies. Sometimes, this is useful as anything, other times, it is not at all optimistic. GITS: SAC was on the slightly optimist trail in the first series and then on its second series it showed the downfall of said knowledge dissemination. It highlights that culture is also culpable of getting onto the bandwagon of hating many disenfranchised people: classic discriminations and racisms run amok with memisations and not necessarily a form of knowledge that could be valid or “ideal” or its usefulness disintegrates almost immediately.

Knowledge, in this positionality, is not a vacuum. Its sustainability also runs on the user base and its relationships with other discourses. I have been writing on this uptil now because The Idiot by Elif Batuman seems to extrapolate these in its formal and non-formal ways of addressing language, psychology, semantics, semiotics, culture, mathematics and even “biological” attractions (it has its own queer leanings).  The novel is in first person, but you can see the references, it is set in the 90s, when net was only being introduced to the public, especially academically to the student bases of Harvard and many such prestigious universities. The novel is aware of its own “privileges”, Selin, the protagonist, is Turkish-American and as grown up in America as an American. She is very introverted. She has certain aspects to her that would remind you of Anna Karenina, but she has more self-awareness than the other protagonist, but it leads to somewhat similar circumstances. Yet, the knowledge is conscious to point that neither protagonist is at fault of this.

The novel is aware of intellectualist biases, the case of the ivory towers, of young people acting silly but ONLY because older adults also act silly and provide no such respite from the situation. A classic example Selin documents, is when she is in a Literature class and she notes the professor hardly listens to the students’ questions and seem to go on about his own way. Selin is gravely disappointed at this. You realise why. Even when you are older, you expected teachers, instructors or professors, to be amicable, approachable and/or understanding. Selin is only eighteen years old. And, it shows. I could relate a lot to her because I had been like that age and I knew when I started uni I acted pretty much similarly. At times cocky, at times so sure of my knowledge, at times really unsure, pressurised, bored — wanting connection with people but not knowing “how” as in how to seemingly adult. Or, function. Many older adults do not necessarily grow out of this because we are not given the circumstances or contexts to do so as effectively as we want. and surprisingly, the novel is aware of those things. There are also many funny, introspective pages:

I found myself alone for the first time in days. Remembering that they had said I could eat whatever I wanted, I cut a big slice of apple cake and ate it while reading Dracula. It felt amazing to eat anything without having to listen, nod, smile, or do anything with my eyebrows. Dracula visited the Wolf Department at the Zoological Gardens. “These wolves seem upset at something,” he observed. The next morning the cage was all twisted out of shape and the gray wolf Berserker was missing. Dracula had temporarily inhabited its body. Dracula had a totally different experience at the zoo from that of other people.

Batuman, Elif. The Idiot (p. 329).

These are references. Yet, they are interwoven into the fabric of the novel as subtle influences or foreshadowings or stuff that people generally do that may not have some higher Modernist meanings in their lives. Reading is something Selin loves to do and thinking and analysing. It may seem common and not “extraordinary” but it doesn’t have to be at all. It is what it is. It makes the novel something you read and don’t feel intellectually biased upon. Even if some of the settings are in Harvard you feel at home with Selin because she thinks she is “boring”, “plain”, “simple”, “naive” and at times “redundant”, yet she is hardly any of those things.

Selin’s story also actively questions the gendered views on passiveness and activeness. Selin is active, she does do things yet realistically they don’t always lead to drama or to seemingly popular outcomes. Selin is also passive but you will see many female and male characters having the same outcomes and demeanours despite what they say or aspire to do. Batuman’s craft is showing how people think they are NOT something but are actually more powerful than they seemingly are even when look passive or ar acting passive. Passiveness has potential too and just going out and doing things is not necessarily strength. Selin attempts to do things. At times, she is successful and you marvel at her strength. Other times, she is not and you realise how real that is and you are grateful the novel did not censor those aspects out. That it expected them because the author was writing a thing that would be gotten by many people especially POCs because they know what it is also like to be Selin, to be from cultures that can be conservative but also quite liberal and progressive.

There are a few gems in the novel that explain this. Note the writing style and how beautifully Batuman writes certain things:

“Right,” I said. I couldn’t imagine viewing Bill’s presence on Earth as any kind of a miracle, but wasn’t that itself the miracle—that love really was an obscure and unfathomable connection between individuals, and not an economic contest where everyone was matched up according to how quantifiably lovable they were?

Batuman, Elif. The Idiot (p. 364).

Because I was in the front, I didn’t have to steer, or set the rhythm. I just had to row at the pace that he set, to keep us from going in circles. As he spoke, I felt how I liked following instructions, and it made me ashamed. Following instructions was what had led to the Holocaust. And yet it turned out that shame was a separate thing. If you enjoyed something, you enjoyed it, whether or not you were also ashamed.

Batuman, Elif. The Idiot (p. 374).

Selin is not necessarily submissive nor is she necessarily dominant. The reasons is because she is young. Following instructions is something that logic-oriented people usually like, however, the downside, as Selin is intelligent and self-aware to realise is that you “come-off” as passive if you are AFAB/NB/a young woman, which has become so inseminated into mainstream cultures that she becomes conscious of doing something that to a man doing would seem like “disciplined” or “useful/resourceful” or a good “soldier.” Yet, considering the socio-political gendered scripts don’t take that as something autonomous or having agency for AFABs/NBs/women. It is taken a perverse turn so Selin feels ashamed. These lines depict some inrospections the novel ventures into.

As, Selin is self-aware but she is also disenfranchised by cultural and gender scripts around her. At one point, Selin even asked why is a “rationale” so important or why does “reason” govern pleasure so much as in people asking why you to do things. It is not there isn’t a reason, there could be but it seems cultures love to ask AFABs/young women/women/NB people such questions more and more than they do to cis, men especially White, cis men. At another point, Selin considers how “beauty” is dependent on the male-gaze as it is aestheticized using a male-centric grandiose focal point meaning it becomes deftly linimal and Eurocentric. And, she uses this beauty-principle on another White girl that she was quite beautiful because of her simple, clear features and admonishes that why such simple aspects are considered mundane when they are beautiful. Romantics and Modernists be damned. Beautiful can be beautiful in many ways. If truth is beauty then that beauty is not liminal to one gaze.

The novel is filled with such references. There are passages of learning textbooks. One or two of them actually make Selin angry but we the readers are made to realise that her anger is justified or in time her anger would be on other things that don’t necessarily have “neat” endings. Selin questions those a lot: with everything she reads you can see she expects it to educate her about life, love and friendships. This is not gendered but very human. We may question this but seeing that Selin is a young girl we may be biased to think it is because she is a girl she wants that. Actually, everyone else is looking for similar things. Even the male characters. In fact, Orhan Pamuk’s The New Life was essentially speaking of the same things but seeing the male protagonist did not want to admit that we glean it via what he is not saying. Yet, ultimately, in small doses, he admits to it.

The seemingly main plot of the book, via its subtle and trickster blurb, is that it is meant to resonate on a “romance” happening with Selin on the net, a la epistolary style, with a student named Ivan. Ivan is a few years older and is graduating with a degree in mathematics and wants to go to Berkeley for higher math studies. Selin’s first active usage of the net happens when she wants to connect with Ivan outside of learning Russian. Ivan is from Hungary. He is tall and somewhat towers over Selin. He is a contrast in many ways to Selin as he is seemingly an “intellectual” and has very mainstream way of doing things. Selin is interested to know him.

The novel is all about Selin. I am quite happy to say it shows a rich inner and exterior life of Selin without Ivan perturbing all her thoughts or making her unable to do anything. Yes, Ivan makes her restless and additionally she does think on him. The way he absentmindedly flirts with her, the way he calls her name and the way he pays attention to her. Yes, they are sweet things. Yet there is something about them – perhaps as I am older – the reader will find margining towards a level of “obnoxiousness.” However, we would be like Selin in our younger selves. Not knowing how we can be attracted to the “wrong” people or people perhaps not best suited for us. Roxane Gay effectively put it in her goodreads review of the novel: “And Ivan is trash. Utter trash. And the way he was written, to show how terrible and irresistible he was, well, just bravo.”

She also wrote, and I agree:

This was an interesting novel, dense, unique, written from a very specific point of view. One of those books where I marvel that it was published and am grateful it was published because, I mean, who wants to read the same type of book over and over? As someone who went to college in the 90s, not far from where much of this novel takes place, I felt an unexpected amount of nostalgia for that first year of college where you know nothing but think you know everything and are surrounded by people who know nothing but also think they know everything. This novel is incredibly ambitious. There are levels to this shit. The Idiot is easy to read and really difficult to read.

Roxane Gay’s observations are true. The language may seem simple at times but it is complex. There is no “Brevity is the soul of wit” here, it can go on for paragraphs about Selin walking somewhere but it does not sound boring or over-the-top trying hard. It sounds and reads organically and actually gives a visual lexicon to how Selin feels and observes things. Such language also becomes intersected with how Ivan makes Selin feel. It is at times romantic, at times bittersweet, at times hollow and empty but not in a good way. The novel does not romanticise anything; it is aware the protagonist attempts to romanticise certain things because they are naive and because they don’t want to admit the object of their affections have been a major jerk in a way. Haven’t we all faced that? Not only with crushes or lovers but also with friends and family? In fact, there are many gendered, obnoxious things that Ivan does that make Selin realise certain nuggets to their exchanges at times, which bother her as she has not thought of it in such a barbaric or superficial or crude manner:

The breath caught in my throat. It had never occurred to me that power was something he would actually use, on me of all people.

Batuman, Elif. The Idiot (p. 384).

A disturbing part in the novel is when some female characters notice Ivan is doing something nefarious but their silences also speak that they are selfish in not stopping it or that they want to let it go because it may not concern them.  Batuman is aware of unfairness and patriarchal structures but she is also aware how women can let younger girls and other women down. There were times where some girls stayed so mute even when they had the agency to topple or make statements that would work better. Yet, they seem uninterested in Selin possibly because she is Selin. It could also be a racist or cultural discrimination alongside of the disinterest of some people but you see it and the author wants you to question.

Selin is in many ways a writer and has a writer’s sensitivity to the world and also her own inner world. There are a lot of things she extrapolates with a beauty and a delicacy that mesmerises you about her. Selin is not necessarily the eponymous “Idiot” and even if she does silly things we are meant to question even the word “Idiot” and the way it is applied. It could easily be Ivan despite being a math major (that old and arcane subject revered by so many) due to how he behaves. The word “Idiot” cannot always be synomised with words like “foolish” or “ignorant.” It could be synomised with words like “selfish” and “misleading.” The novel makes you think and moves with other exchanges and relationships.

The more potent relationships that Selin have are with her best friends whom she sometimes forget about or rather undermine precisely because she undermines herself. One of them, Svetlana,  who becomes her female best friend, she considers beautiful but also troubled, mirrors a lot of the issues Selin has and in that they seem powerfully connected to the point of actual romantic equanimity/compatibility yet they do waste their time on less deserving people.  Even if the relationship is not romantic Svetlana cares a great deal about Selin and she her. Their friendship is also, realistically, defined by what they do and what they do not do. The ease in which they don’t have to try in front of each other in being their genuine selves is quite warm and real. Svetlana also considered Selin to be highly beautiful in a hypnotic way (you will catch it) and it actually depicts why dudes like Ivan, who are quite boring and selfish, are pitching way above their league. Society makes them think they can hook up with people like Selin. They can only wish.

Selin is unaware of her beauty and strengths thus she comes to doubt her connections with her male best friend, Ralph. Ralph may have some romantic leaning on her but she finds that impossible because of how beautiful Ralph is. She undermines that Ralph may genuinely care about her and one point opines that it could be that he is “gay” so he likes her so much in such a platonic way. It is unfair. And, we can say it is the residual homophobia and misogyny inherent in the 90s and even today that makes Selin question herself so much. Ralph is warm and welcoming and, he is quite real in that he interacts with Selin in an everyday manner and not some romantic tropist way. Ralph is someone who is not only dependable or boring but he is someone who gets Selin or rather isn’t someone that Selin has to try so hard to impress or feel that they become easily jealous or is a hypocrite. Yet, Selin doubts this because of how classic novels and other sources of phallogocentric knowledge seem to tell women/AFAB/NBs that they should not respond to their attractions and not seek beauty but reliability whereas male people are encouraged to only seek beauty. It is due to that Ivan seeks Selin even when they are implicitly, to us readers, incompatible and also we get from Ivan that he isn’t necessarily friendly or even respectful.

Ivan also exoticises Selin as some “Turk” due to Ottoman legacies in Hungary. Selin does not understand this as she is not part of that colonial empire nor has she reproduced its systematic ideals and when she meets people who are keen to know of the Ottoman from her you can see the gaps in her. She is an American. Also, race and colonial aspects are featured hand in hand, at times, more than religion. She does not find any kind of religiosity impressive nor does she seem interested in Ottoman relics but respects Hungary’s artifacts showcasing their defeats of the Ottoman. The same respect is not seemingly given to her all the time. Ivan hardly makes the exchanges easy or even bearable. What Ivan does and does not do feels in itself some PUA moves borderlining on narcissism even before the advent of those tactics online. Selin seems convenient and then she is not. Yet, Selin has not viewed him in those terms. Neither does she do with Ralph or Svetlana or anyone she encounters even VERY difficult people.  Selin feels and thinks. She doesn’t seem to cleave them in some Cartesian manner and does not boast on things she does not know. Even her lack of knowledge feels real. With Ivan, we see someone who is trying very hard and failing miserably. Who uses society’s permissions and chauvinism to be vulpine and arrogant. Selin finds such emotions and ego meaningless. She is right in the human equation.

Ultimately, the novel is about youth and Selin, about questions that people have when they are younger and/or older and shows that friendships, relationships, or society are not always easy. That subjects we wanna learn from may only give us half-answers but not full ones. That our reliance on them is probably as much of a fiction on how we undermine ourselves. It is the novel’s brilliance in catching the impetuousness of being young but also the mature and kind voice of its protagonist that moves it. If it gives references you can see it work in multiple ways. Its comedies are rich, dark at times but ultimately on how life is quite unmanageable within frameworks of the grandiose. Sometimes, life is just you walking in a street. There is no reason why that is less real than something epic written elsewhere in some hallowed tome.

Revolutionary Girl Utena and Gender as Absurd Performance

Not everyone can write about “Revolutionary Girl Utena.” It was one of those gems of anime and media that a few people know and some venture to write on it. It is not “special” or esoteric it just was underrated due to having Shoujo origins and using the genre’s tropes back at them. Nowadays, finally, Utena is being appreciated and recognised for the aspects of it that made it so incredibly good and timeless. Thanks to Sentient Garden to write on it.

Book Review: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

A very good book review on “Kalfka on the Shore” that challenges the certain way we consider novels “timeless” or “good” and how certain things, even back when first published, may have read as problematic. With wit and humour the author of this blog how they have done their research and how they are not pulling punches as a considered “literary heavyweight” can take them.

Light and Dark

Of Books and Stardust

I’ve been trying to post more of my writing rather than keeping it to myself, so here’s a little of what I’ve written since last night. This is something I posted on my Instagram today. I didn’t really know where I was going with it, I just started writing and this is what I ended up posting.


I use my Instagram the same way I use my blog – as an outlet. That means that things get heavy. The reality is that I can’t stand in my light without embracing my darkness. Life is not just a highlight reel of good times, smiles and light. There’s equally trauma and darkness. Perhaps my deep pagan roots feed into this viewpoint but I really believe that we shouldn’t gloss over the darkness. It’s as much a part of us as the light. One can’t exist without the other. But that means…

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Old Stories, New Adventures

As you grow older you realise how important these articles are because we live in a culture that tell us repeatedly that success comes early.

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

By Colby J. BarakPhoto_ColbyJBarak

Most have heard the story of Grandma Moses, a painter who found success in her 70s. Likewise, Laura Ingalls Wilder was in her 70s when her daughter Rose convinced her to write down her stories of growing up in a Little House on the Prairie. In fact, you can Google “late bloomer artists,” and get almost eight million hits, although some sites think success in your 30s is “late.” These anecdotes and statistics are little comfort, however, when you are the one sitting in a classroom full of people the same age as your children, trying to learn something new.

This is how I still feel sometimes in graduate writing classes, which I began taking a few years ago for fun. Sometimes there were other “older” students, but when I found out some were there as part of an outreach program to senior citizens, I went…

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Happy 10 years to me =D

10 years in WordPress =D Thank Allah Almighty! Not everyone can write this long =)

I am happy whatever I have written here. Writing has been there for me during VERY troubled times. And, I am happy to have had it. It makes me so happy to know I can still write and that it has the same meaning to me as it did then as it does now =)

I wanna continue on writing for hopefully another 10 years! =D