Quote for Thought: Just Kids by Patti Smith

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…you could feel a vibration in the air, a sense of hastening. It had started with the moon, inaccessible poem that it was. Now men had walked upon it, rubber treads on a pearl of the gods. Perhaps it was an awareness of time passing, the last summer of the decade. Sometimes I just wanted to raise my hands and stop. But stop what? Maybe just growing up.

I’ve recently finished Just Kids by Patti Smith, a memoir about her youth and life with Robert Mapplethorpe. This book made me smile, but it mostly made me cry. I usually experience my emotions inwardly, but this time I actually cried. It’s a book about two people about my age, even younger, and what they have gone through in their search for artistic life is both sad and admirable. I can’t imagine experiencing everything that they did, and compared to theirs my life’s been quite easy. Still, I could understand them and sympathise with their story and emotional turmoils. Certain aspects of the story reflected some of the things I’ve been through, however far-fetched that might sound. Some doubts and questions they had are the same as those that I’ve often asked myself. It’s interesting to enter the mind of someone so different from you and still find traces of yourself. The experiences may be world apart, but emotions are always similar.

Obviously, it’s a book about art and artists. But even more so, it’s a book about life itself, about growing up, being happy and being hurt, about personal growth and maturing which never stops and can never be completed. It’s about finding yourself. It’s also about the ever-changing concepts of love and friendship which escape any definition. Life is complex and erratic, and this books portrays it beautifully. Life can get scary, and growing-up may seem unachievable or even unwelcome. At this point in my life, I realize that being an adult just means pretending to be one (and I admit I’m not good at it). No one truly grows up. It’ a process without end.

Everything distracted me, but most of all myself.

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I hate summer.

I have the privilege of living next to the sea. However, I’m sometimes really ungrateful and my hate for the hot summer overshadows the beauty of the sea. (In my defence, it really is too hot here…) I love the sea, but I hate the beaches so full of people and I hate being in the sun – I’m really pale so my skin doesn’t appreciate it as well.  In a few days I’m leaving for a vacation in Scotland, a wonderful attempt to escape summer for a while. For now, it’s like this…


I hate summer.

Smell of sweat and sea salt
Trapped by the thick air.

Crickets singing their song
A failed attepmt
To make the heat bareable.

Heavy eyes
From sleepless nights
When breathing seems hard.

Scorching sun
Scarce shade
Skin burns all the same.

Ripe figs
Crushed on the ground
Sticking to the sandals
And dusty feet.

Hot soles
Dragging home
An air-conditioned paradise.

Reading Long Books

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This seems to be the summer of long books for me. Or a year, maybe. It started early this year when I read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Then, I read The Decameron by Giovanni Boccacio and The Once and Future King by T.H. White in June, and now I’ve finished Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady.  All of these are close to, or above 700 pages long. It made me think about long books in general and I felt they deserve a post of their own.

Long books demand a certain level of commitment, and that’s why they are often put aside – it’s what happened to me with The Portrait of a Lady. It’s also easier to find a reason to stop reading a long book if you don’t like it right at the beginning – it’s long, you don’t have the time to waste on it. But sometimes, you read a long book in a heartbeat, without event noticing its length. This happened to me with The Once and Future King and The Decameron. I can’t really say which one I liked more because they are completely different and from a different time period. The Decameron is in a way a collection of short stories so the reading experience is a bit different from reading a novel. I loved it for what it is – a view into the medieval world. I loved The Once and Future King for what it was as well, and I’ve already talked a lot about it. (Review 1Review 2) Now, the other two books are another story.

I must admit, and it saddens me to do it, that I didn’t really enjoy Wolf Hall. I was certain I was going to love it, but it left me disappointed. I felt its length while I was reading it and towards the end I just wanted it finished. The style didn’t suit me. I mostly don’t have a problem with slower reads (I remember when I read Murakami’s 1Q84 – another long book – and was surprised to learn that a lot of people found it slow because I read it quite quickly and thoroughly enjoyed it) but I just couldn’t get into this book. I felt detached from the character(s) and from the story itself. A similar thing happened with The Portrait of a Lady, though I liked it much more than Wolf Hall. In this case, I could relate to the characters. It kept me interested, but at points the descriptive style was too overbearing. I know, the Victorian style is like that, but I’ve read a lot of Victorian novels and I didn’t find them as slow as this one; some of them even made me cry which is not that easy to achieve. It’s an interesting portrayal of human psyche and I appreciate it for that, but it didn’t completely suit me. Why? It’s hard to say, and it’s a question that is almost impossible to answer. It’s hard to explain exactly why something “works” for you. The story isn’t enough, it has to be presented in a way that captures you. And sometimes, I think it’s important to read a book at a right time, a period in your life when it can speak to you best. In a way, you have to find a piece of you in the book you’re reading, even if you didn’t know that piece existed at all – be it your feelings, your interests, experiences you had or the ones you wish for, or even your fears. There’s certainly more to consider, but the truth is – once everything aligns, the number of pages doesn’t matter at all.

What is it that makes a book drag you into a completely different world and forget about the time spent reading it? Well, if any of you have some answers, I’d be glad to hear them.

The Bloody Axe

Everyone in my town avoids me. They will never forget that I murdered a young girl when I was only 11 years old. I don’t quite remember my crime, just glimpses of dispersed images. I don’t know what possessed me to do it, and I’m certain I’d never seen the girl before the night she ended in a puddle of her blood.

“You’ re a minor. If you admit it, you won’t go to a real prison”, my father said.

I remember the bloody axe in my hands and the smudged, red fingers. I’ve never taken an axe in my hands after that.

And this is why today is a hard day for me. I wanted to escape my small town, to start a life elsewhere. I went to college and hoped I’d never return again. The problem was I couldn’t concentrate on my studies. I could never hold my thoughts in order, and flashes of images, always ending in axes and blood, would fill my head and refuse to leave. I also couldn’t help but remember the boys at the correctional, boys who always hit one another, but they mostly hit me, because I was weak. They did it when no one would see. That’s why I couldn’t pass my exams and I had to return home, defeated. Now I live with my parents again and I have to bear their looks of disappointment. Even fear. They don’t really consider me to be their son. Mother always smiles sadly at me and we can never keep long conversations. Father doesn’t even try to speak to me. He refuses to look me in the eyes. I don’t deserve to complain, I know, but I can’t help feeling desperate.

I digress too much. I was telling you that today’s a hard day for me. That’s because I’m looking for a job. And the only job offering in this remote town seems to be – a lumberjack. I don’t want to ask my parents for money, but I have to survive somehow. (Or maybe it would be better if I didn’t?) My father was a lumberjack, before he retired, and I have inherited his strong built. I guess I could make a fine lumberjack, if only the sight of an axe didn’t make me feel terrified. Maybe I was also afraid of myself, of what I could do.

Mr Morris is the one who’s supposed to interview me. I already applied for the job so I hoped he would already prepare himself. I realize now he will never be prepared to see my face. I know he’s reluctant to employ me. I answer his questions like a robot, the answers I’ve learned as a poem. I’m not completely aware of his words, my mind works on its own accord.

“Ok”, he rises from his chair. “We’re short of people so we’ll have to use you.”

He doesn’t mind he sounds harsh. I don’t deserve better.

“Can you start right away?”

I know it’s an order, not a question. I nod and follow him, trying to be silent and appear modest. We enter the storage room. He picks up an axe and stares at it for a while. He doesn’t want to give it to me, but it’s too late now. He looks me in the eyes, trying to find a flicker of madness. I’ve noticed he left the door open behind us.

“Take it”, he says and hands me the axe.

Suddenly, it all comes back to me. I remember my father saying the same words.

I was thirsty that night and I went to get a glass of water. I saw father at the kitchen door. I didn’t see the girl but I could hear her cry.

“I’m going to tell everything!” she screamed.

Father’s axe was always in the kitchen, against the wall. I didn’t even notice him pick it up, I just saw him strike. Blood sprayed my father’s face and her shadow disappeared from my view. She didn’t have the time to scream, she only gargled deeply.

My father’s eyes widened and he covered his mouth with his bloody hands. Then he noticed me, sitting on the stairs.

He called my name. As I approached him, I tried not to look at the girl on the floor.

That was when he said: “Take it.”

That was when he said: “You’re a minor. If you admit it, you won’t go to a real prison.”

Meteor Shower

“Perseid meteor shower and the milky way…”
by craigletourneau on Deviantart
http://fav.me/d5axwyp

Somewhere on the vast internet, I found a writing prompt which said: write a short story which ends with a meteor shower. I instantly came up with this, and I wrote it down, without much thought or revision.


“I’m bored”, said Lindsay.

“Me too”, John agreed. “What could we do?”

“I’m a bit hungry. Let’s go eat something.”

“I’m not going to the same diner again. It’s draining the life out of me!”

“But they have the best food”, John shrugged, and Lindsay stayed quiet.

They were sitting in the park. The grass underneath their feet was green and soft, but they decided to sit on the bench. The swing set before them was empty. It was too late for children to play but it was just the right moment for the moon to paint it light blue. Moonlight hugged the park softly, caressing the leaves in the trees and the grass on the ground.

“We can go somewhere else”, said John.

“Where?” Lindsay sounded irritated.

“I don’t know, it’s you who was complaining”, he was becoming irritated, too.

A sparrow flew by, looking for some food – children always leave traces of their snacks all around the park. Another sparrow landed next to it. They looked at each other for a second, grabbed a crumble, a flew away together.

“There’s that new place, I’m not sure what it’s called…”

“You mean Hannah’s? It’s not that new. And not that good anyway.”

“Well it’s all I can think of.”

The park was dark, so if Lindsay and John looked at the sky they would be able to see thousands of stars. The more you look, the more stars you see, and they look back at you, making you shine from the inside, just as they flicker on the outside.

“Ok. Let’s go there”, they agreed.

It was the night of a magical meteor shower and it seemed as if the stars were now falling, ready to fulfil every wish a human mind could think of. More beautiful that any firework, they burned through the night sky. Lindsay and John didn’t raise their heads. They walked away from the park. If they’d noticed the falling stars, what would they have wished for?

Hamlet’s Perspective and a Sea of Doppelgӓngers*

In the last short story I published, Claudius, King of Denmark, I tried to look at Hamlet from a different perspective. For most events, we just have to take Hamlet’s word. But is Hamlet reliable? Another thing I wanted to point out is the similarity between Hamlet and Claudius, and so I put Hamlet’s words in Claudius’ mouth. I wrote once in college about how Hamlet is written from the perspective of the main character and that all the events are subordinated to his point of view, and I decided to blog about some of these ideas.

One of the things that makes the spectators, or readers, believe Hamlet is his strong personality. We believe him because he’s a thinker, and therefore trustworthy.  Hamlet is the thinker, but also in a way the spectator – and that is why the audience aligns with his perspective, and he dominates their experience of the play (Cartwright 93). He distances himself from the other characters and their actions, and states that everything they do is fake, while only his emotions are real and cannot be expressed by visible things.

‘Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,/ Nor customary suits of solemn black,/ Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,/ No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,/ Nor the dejected ‘havior of the visage,/ Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,/ That can denote me truly. These indeed “seem,”/ For they are actions that a man might play./ But I have that within which passeth show,/ These but the trappings and the suits of woe’ (1.2.77-86).

Hamlet sees the behaviour of others as some kind of a play, and presents himself as the only one who is real – at the same time the audience is aware of its own reality in opposition to the characters on stage. Dark clothes, deep breathing, tears, sad facial expressions – all these things can be used to perform a certain emotion, without really feeling it. As Hamlet states, those are the “actions that a man might play”, and the word “play” may also allude to acting, performing a play. This may serve as another form of audience’s identification with Hamlet. They are aware of the artificiality of what takes place before their eyes, and in a certain way, so is he.

If the entire play is presented through Hamlet’s eyes, it is very likely that all of the characters are also based on his own impressions. Just as the spectators see themselves in Hamlet, Hamlet sees himself in other characters. Even more so, the characters apparently reflect Hamlet’s personality and characteristics. This is presented by constant doubling. Most noticeable is the connection with Laertes, another son who lost his father and seeks revenge. Leartes’ characteristics construct Hamlet’s identity “through a play of similarity and difference“ (Faurholt). Hamlet even mimics Laertes’ behaviour, and it seems that he wants to be better than him. After Leartes leaps into Ophelia’s grave, Hamlet does the same, and afterwards says:

I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers/ Could not, with all their quantity of love/ Make up my sum. (5.1.256-258).

Hamlet does not see Laertes as an individual – he sees his actions in relation to himself. Laertes acts, and that is what Hamlet wants to do, but cannot, which causes him frustration.

Obviously, Hamlet lacks some characteristics that he wishes to possess. He becomes insecure, and that is why he does not compare himself to his father:

…my uncle,/ My father’s brother, but no more like my father/ Than I to Hercules“ (1.2.152-153).

According to this, if the father is like Hercules, that obviously Hamlet is like Claudius. Hamlet is obviously divided between his real self, and his ideal self. As Greenblatt notes, the play raises “the possibility of a difference between oneself and oneself” on various occasions (211). For example, Ophelia is described as “[d]ivided from herself” (4.5.83). Hamlet also speaks of his own division from himself before the duel with Laertes:

Was’t Hamlet wronged Laertes? Never Hamlet./ If Hamlet from himself be ta’en away,/ and when he’s not himself does wrong Laertes,/ Then Hamlet does it not, Hamlet denies it./ Who does it then? His madness. If’t be so,/ Hamlet is of the faction that is wronged./ His madness is poor Hamlet’s enemy (5.2.179-185).

Even if the madness is used as an excuse, or as a way of carrying on with the revenge scheme, the fractioning of character is mentioned too often to be taken for granted. That is why Greenblatt concludes that “Hamlet is a play of contagious, almost universal selfestrangement” (212). And the self-estrangement causes Hamlet to see reflection of his ideal self in Laertes, but even more so in the ghost of his father.

When speaking of the ghost, Hamlet has problems with his own identity after the death of his father. Hamlet projects all of the virtues he appreciates in people onto his father and it seems that he takes pleasure in being the only one who still appreciates him. The father becomes the ideal he aspires to, and his memory transforms into an idealized image. Therefore, the father becomes a part of Hamlet, the man Hamlet wants to be. Hamlet’s ideal self, represented by the ghost, may be awakened by the urge to keep everything in place, but it also awakens Halmet’s doubts about himself.

It is also interesting that, though he is not the only one who sees the ghost, Hamlet is the only one who hears him speak – and what the ghost says and wants Hamlet to do is what Hamlet wants to hear. This is obvious in the scene when the ghost appears while Hamlet is speaking to his mother.

Before he went to see her, Hamlet decided: “O heart, lose not thy nature, let not ever/ The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom./ Let me be cruel, not unnatural. I will speak daggers to her but use none” (3.2.382-384).

He does not want to spare his mother, but he does not want to be too cruel. However, he loses his temper, and his words start to hurt her. Gertrude begs him: “O, speak to me no more!/ These words like daggers enter in mine ears” (3.4.84-85). She even uses the same word – dagger – to express her feelings, and this shows that Hamlet went too far and hurt her more than he intended to. However, he does not stop speaking, led by his rage. At that moment, the ghost appears, and it seems that the purpose of this visit is to calm Hamlet down and prevent him from hurting his mother even more:

…This visitation/ Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose./ But look, amazement on thy mother sits./ O, step between her and her fighting soul./ Conceit in weakest bodies strongest works./ Speak to her, Hamlet (3.4.100-105)

The ghost has even before warned Hamlet that the revenge should not include his mother:

But howsoever thou pursuest this act,/ Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive/ Against thy mother aught. Leave her to heaven/ And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge/ To prick and sting her… (1.5.84-88).

Hamlet feels strongly attached to his mother, even though her marriage disturbed the ideal image he had of her, and it made him uneasy. He still does not want to hurt her, and the ghost – a man he wants to be – prevents him from doing so.

The ghost also gives Hamlet a reason to hate Claudius. Hamlet takes the marriage celebration as an insult towards his father, therefore he already harbours rage against his uncle when the ghost appears and confirms that his anger is justified. Even though Hamlet really has a reason to be sad, and even angry, his “buffoonery of emotion” (Eliot 146) really exceeds the events that took place, but after the truth is revealed Hamlet’s reaction is more understandable. The ghosts speaks of Claudius with hate:

…that incestuous, that adulterate beast./ With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts/ O wicked wit and gifts… (1.5.42-44).

Therefore, he speaks what Hamlet also feels, and what he wants to hear. He also openly asks Hamlet to “[r]evenge his foul and unnatural murder” (1.5.25).

To conclude, Hamlet can be seen as a play based on the main character and the entire surrounding stresses his inner struggles. Hamlet, and accordingly the audience as well, sees his own traits, ideals, and weaknesses in the people that surround him. The characters in the play are not presented objectively, their characteristics are presented in a way that they correspond Hamlet and his stream of thought. Therefore, the characters serve as the projections of Hamlet’s personality and emotions. Does this mean Hamlet’s truly mad? Well, it’s up to you to decide, but it’s certainly interesting to think about it. So many things are left unsaid in the play it’s left to our imagination to fill the gaps. That’s what makes the play interesting.


* I use the term in a broader sense – a doppelgӓnger can represent embodiment of a part of somebody’s character


Bibliography:

Cartwright, Kent. “Remembering Hamlet.” Shakespearean Tragedy and Its Double: The Rhythms of Audience Response. Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991.

Eliot, T.S. “Hamlet” T.S. Eliot: Sellected Essays. London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1932: 141-146.

Faurholt, Guy. “Self as Other: The Dopplegӓnger.” Double Dialogues Issue 10 (2009): n. pag. Web. 9 July 2013.

Greenblatt, Stephen. Hamlet in Purgatory. Princeton NJ: Princeton UP, 2005.

Magnus, Laury. Laertes, Hamlet’s Foil and Fratricidal Brother. Hamlet Works, n. d. Web. 9 July 2013.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. The Complete Pelican Shakespeare. London: Penguin Books, 1977: 930-976.

Claudius, King of Denmark

“The Play Scene in Hamlet” by Daniel Maclise (1806-1870) Picture from: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N00422

Do I really have to get the boy killed, Claudius asked himself. He was learning to live with his demons, the voices in his head which reminded him of his foul and most unnatural crime. He did not want to be cruel again, but if needed, he would give the orders without blinking an eye. He fought cruelty by being cruel, he had to be cruel to be kind.

He remembered how it was back then. Gertrude was crying. And so was Denmark.

What if we didn’t need war? What if we could have peace instead? But it was the king who decided on the future of the country and all of its inhabitants. Old king, old rules. The great warlord, magnificent ruler of the exhausted people. He never intended to stop. He was too proud. And he was the reason they could never make peace with Norway.

And what follows is the boy. The boy who was too much like his father. He speaks of dignity and honour and Claudius was wise enough to realize that those were sometimes just synonyms for war. There was cruelty in that boy, Claudius could feel it. And sweet, frail Ophelia could feel it, too. Both he and the boy used her when it was convenient, both of them played with her young heart. Claudius was ashamed of it, using the girl for exposing the vicious boy. But he had his own love to protect.

“He’s my husband. He loves me”, Gertrude said. “I would never betray him.”

“You are not happy”, Claudius responded.

“I don’t understand you. He is your brother. Why are you saying such things? What am I supposed to do?”

“I don’t know”, he said. But he knew exactly what he was supposed supposed to do. It would be his burden, not hers. She would never know, and he would suffer all his life, in silence. Break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.

After that, Gertrude was silent. There was strength in her, but there was also frailty. Each time he questioned his decision, he remembered her troubled face. It was the troubled face of all women who waited for their husbands to return home, unsure if that is ever going to happen; women who hoped for a change, but didn’t know how to pursue it; women who had no hope.

Gertrude was a woman who deserved more than what she had. It was true that her husband loved her, but Claudius was certain he could love her more. His brother was a warrior, and he was a lover.

“My dear Gertrude”, he said, by his brother’s grave, “do not weep. We shall rule together, we shall make everything even better than it was. And your son will rule after us.”

Why did Hamlet have to do such a thing? Why did he look at him with hate in his eyes, eyes which were so like the eyes of his late brother? Was it possible that Hamlet knew the truth? Those whose mind is lost often see what is invisible to the eyes of the sane. But there was method to Hamlet’s madness, and he was to blame for the horrible play. Or was it only Claudius’ guilt which made him see what wasn’t there? Conscience does make cowards of us all.

For a moment, Claudius felt ready to confess, but he knew he wasn’t entirely sorry for what he did. His brother didn’t deserve mercy, and Claudius did, or a least that was what he felt. He wanted to do good. It was him or old Hamlet, him or young Hamlet. Life or death. To be or not to be. Claudius knew prayers wouldn’t help him.

“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below

Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”