thoughtwisps One commit at a time

books for a year of silence

This year, the year when the world teetered on so many brinks and fell and stumbled, and undid the already fraying fabric of things I took as given in our narrative as humans, is, like this sentence, finally wrapping up. In the sugarcoma-quiet lull between gingerbread houses and fireworks, I have the luxury of a bit of space and silence.

I’m spending time away from the BigSmoke and its relentless hunger for things made of money and sex, of clinical glass and concrete and vanity. Distance is the best medicine and the most potent aphrodisiac. The memory of a Jubilee line trip (Canary Wharf to Baker Street) snugly tucked into a sweaty armpit fades away, replaced by memories of a peachblush morning sky stretching over the Thames. At some point, I’m sure, I will be happy to be back, enjoying the all too crowded rush hour Tube.

I got tangled this year. In things that seemed to matter, but in retrospective, mattered little. I spent too much time living in others’ images, too much time collecting microdoses of pleasure from likes and retweets. In the end, the pleasure of being clicked on by strangers (even strangers whose work you respect and admire), is temporary and quickly becomes an end in itself. I noticed that a sense of purpose slowly morphed into a sense of ‘what will get most tweets and likes’, then, once the tweet has been dispatched, collected, catalogued, analysed, and replied to! starts the agony of


a reply

that is witty





into just

280 characters

or if nothing springs to mind, it’s time for that muscle memory to kick in and hit the like. A few things, interactions, thoughts stayed with me, most others, were lost, instantly to be replaced by fresher and fresher content. I became passive and happy, sated with a constant stream of novelties. I became happy to consume these disconnected threads and less happy to think about the content or the meaning or the purpose. I read less. I wrote less code. Two things that are important to me personally, I did less of. And I want to change that next year. I want to try (as hard as it may be), to be without these platforms for a year, to see what can happen when there is silence.

I want to read more next year. There are books on my floor, my night stand, under my bed. Books that I fell in love with while browsing in the bookstore, but that I never finished once they got home. Those books, I want to finally finish. There are books I picked out at the airport this year (My Name is Lucy Barton, Quantum Mechanics - the Theoretical Minimum, The God of Small Things) that I need to enjoy. The books that appeared in critic’s notebooks and ‘best of’ lists. The books that my local Waterstones picks out and recommends. The books that I bought because I wanted to seem smart and well-read (The Underworld by Don DeLillo, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald). The books I loved because of the cover artwork (Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald). The books I bought when I needed solace (How to be a Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci). The books I loved for the beauty of the words within their covers (Madame Zero by Sarah Hall).

There are many.

There are books that speak to me, because their reviews have beautiful words. Like Parul Sehgal’s New York Times review of Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties ,

“But if Machado is strong on pleasure, she’s better on despair, on our rage at our bodies - for their ugliness and unruliness, their excess and inadequacy and, worst of all, their temerity to abandon us altogether.”

It’s like a drug for me, this experience of reading about imperfect bodies, bodies that don’t conform to airbrushed Vogueified norms of beauty, bodies that are tortured by self-induced regimens and subject to casually cruel remarks, by passers-by and well meaning relatives alike.

I don’t think there is a woman I know, who, has not seen herself, at least in passing figments, with this kind of cruel, critical detachment.

And reading of it, about it, around it, seeing it laid bare, in words, on a page, is cathartic.

But no more of that. Probe that wound for too long and the stitches time has sewn to close it will burst open.

Then, of course, there are things of old I’ve rediscovered. The collection of poems by the Finnish-Swedish writer Edith Södegran. Her words live in tiny, carefully crafted worlds that examine new ways of seeing the ordinary.

I have always loved her poem The Stars (don’t be fooled by the banality of the title), below, in translation, by David McDuff.

When night comes

I stand on the stairway and listen,

the stars are swarming in the garden

and I am standing in the dark.

Listen, a star fell with a tinkle!

Do not go out on the grass with bare feet;

my garden is full of splinters.

It is no doubt exciting to always be submerged in novelty, to always ride the wave of the now, be dizzy from the voices and events. I’ve been in the midst of this hivemind now for many years and it’s time for me to step back, away. I want to examine the ordinary, the mundane, the everyday. Find the things that were once looked over, find again the things that were once looked at.