Monthly Archives: April 2017

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka


the metamorphosis

I absolutely loved this book: the title, characters, transformation they all go through as a family after Gregor’s illness which transforms him from a useful bread winner to a burden to the family.

I can easily picture the whole flat where this story takes place (I just need to reorganise the furniture a wee bit, that’s all), Mr Samsa’s polished gold buttons, even the swishing sound Mrs Samsa’s skirt makes. Not many authors can paint a vivid picture like this.

Here’s some of my favourite lines from the book:
As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.

I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.

Was he an animal, that music could move him so? He felt as if the way to the unknown nourishment he longed for were coming to light.

He was a tool of the boss, without brains or backbone.

What a fate: to be condemned to work for a firm where the slightest negligence at once gave rise to the gravest suspicion! Were all the employees nothing but a bunch of scoundrels, was there not among them one single loyal devoted man who, had he wasted only an hour or so of the firm’s time in the morning, was so tormented by conscience as to be driven out of his mind and actually incapable of leaving his bed?

But Gregor understood easily that it was not only consideration for him which prevented their moving, for he could easily have been transported in a suitable crate with a few air holes; what mainly prevented the family from moving was their complete hopelessness and the thought that they had been struck by a misfortune as none of their relatives and acquaintances had ever been hit.

The door could not be heard slamming; they had probably left it open, as is the custom in homes where a great misfortune has occurred.

I only fear danger where I want to fear it.

If I didn’t have my parents to think about I’d have given in my notice a long time ago, I’d have gone up to the boss and told him just what I think, tell him everything I would, let him know just what I feel. He’d fall right off his desk! And it’s a funny sort of business to be sitting up there at your desk, talking down at your subordinates from up there, especially when you have to go right up close because the boss is hard of hearing.

His biggest misgiving came from his concern about the loud crash that was bound to occur and would probably create, if not terror, at least anxiety behind all the doors. But that would have to be risked.

However, Gregor had become much calmer. All right, people did not understand his words any more, although they seemed clear enough to him, clearer than previously, perhaps because had gotten used to them”

Then his head sank to the floor of its own accord and from his nostrils came the last faint flicker of his breath.

Gregor’s serious wound, from which he suffered for over a month – the apple remained imbedded in his flesh as a visible souvenir since no one dared to remove it – seemed to have reminded even his father that Gregor was a member of the family, in spite of his present pathetic and repulsive shape, who could not be treated as an enemy; that, on the contrary, it was the commandment of the family duty to swallow their disgust and endure him, endure him and nothing more.

A man might find for a moment that he was unable to work, but that’s exactly the right time to remember his past accomplishments and to consider that later on, when the obstacles has been removed, he’s bound to work all the harder and more efficiently.

The main thing holding the family back from a change in living quarters was far more their complete hopelessness and the idea that they had been struck by a misfortune like no one else in their entire circle of relatives and acquaintances.

The next train left at seven o’clock, and in order to catch it he would have to rush around like mad, and the sample collection was still unpacked and he was not feeling particularly fresh and energetic. And even if he caught the train, a bawling out from the boss was inescapable, because the office messenger had arrived by the five o’clock train and reported his absence long ago; he was the boss’s creature, mindless and spineless.

Sometimes he mulled over the idea that the next time the door opened he would take control of the family affairs as he had done in the past; these musings led him once more after such a long interval to conjure up the figures of the boss, the head clerk, the salesmen, the apprentices, the dullard of an office manager, two or three friends from other firms, a sweet and fleeting memory of a chambermaid in one of the rural hotels, a cashier in a milliner’s shop whom he had wooed earnestly but too slowly- they all appeared mixed up with strangers or nearly forgotten people, but instead of helping him and his family they were each and every one unapproachable, and he was relieved when they evaporated.

“I hope it is nothing serious. On the other hand, I must also say that we business people, luckily or unluckily, however one looks at it, very often simply have to overcome a slight indisposition for business reasons.”

Calm consideration was much better than rushing to desperate conclusions.

And for a little while he lay still, breathing lightly as if he expected total repose would restore everything to its normal and unquestionable state.

The door could not be heard closing; they must have left it open as is usual in houses visited by great misfortune.

For now he must lie low and try, through patience and the greatest consideration, to help his family bear the inconvenience he was bound to cause them in his present condition.


The Feel-Good Hit of the Year by Liam Pieper


the feel good hit of the year

They were bohemian, sure, but it wasn’t a sixties-style commune with everybody jumping in and out each other’s futons.

When they came around Dad had to make himself scarce, lurking in the music room like a pallid, vegetarian phantom.

Drugs were everywhere. The wisdom of the time was that weed was a harmless alternative to alcohol. Joints were passed around like Carlos Castaneda novels.

…he looked like Easy Rider dressed as John Lennon for Halloween.

The citizens of Labassa wanted to explore an alternative lifestyle, and while one baby was a karmic blessing, two looked like selling out.

Ardian used to roam the streets collecting aluminium cans, for which a local recycling centre would pay him one cent apiece. He’d carry them in a huge hessian sack that he dragged behind him like a Dickensian-era Pooh Bear.

Pot smoke was our matzo ball soup.

…vegetarian, karma-neutral foods.

I also picked up bits and pieces from other religions—Buddhist parables from my Malaysian godparents, scraps of Hindu and Jewish wisdom from my parents’ friends—and by the time I started primary school I was a fizzing mess of confused, contradictory hippie bullshit.
These stillborn communiques broke across the faces of people I tried to talk to in waves: confusion, incomprehension, dismissal.

…with lots of pleases and thank-yous, like a tourist trying to order coffee in Paris.

During our lunch ours together, I’d act steamily towards her—not like a Latin romantic, more like a dumpling. I was clammy and pale, a thin white skin covering meat of dubious provenance.

People glanced at me, then quickly looked away. At the time I thought they were just being street smart, but the response was probably closer to confusion and pity at the chubby, ponytailed androgyne twitching down the street like a traumatised chimp who’d escaped from a Krispy Kreme research facility. But I believed I looked dangerous and that’s what mattered.

He was like the Aldi of narcotic wholesale.

After a lifetime of wanting the Australian idyll, he’d ended up in a Tim Winton novel.

There are a lot of writers who try to dress up death in pretty words to make it more palatable, but I can’t do that. Death looks like what it is, and Ardian looked dead. I could see where he’d bled, trickles had dried on the side of his face from his nose and mouth, two rivulets that merged in a fork that ran down his check, black blood on blue skin. His skin was starved of oxygen, a choked-off purple-blue that whitened as it moved down his body. I could see every bit of sparse chest hair, every follicle of his beard, or at least as much of a beard as he could grow. He was twenty-one.

The dead are not static. Long after they are gone, your relationship with them remains, grinding on, as relentless and world-changing as tectonic plates. Every night for months, I would dream about Ardian suddenly walking through the door, or picking me up from school, or calling me on the phone, with some simple explanation for how his death was a mistake, that everyone could stop worrying, that he’d been living on an island in the Philippines, that he was fine. ‘Of course I didn’t die of an heroin overdose,’ he told me in one dream. ‘As if. What a cliché!’

So here’s my metaphor: grief is a long, dark night in a wet sleeping bag at a shitty music festival that everyone seems to be enjoying but you. It’s cold, it’s raining, it’s unpleasant, but you’re not going to wriggle out of your damp cocoon because the alternatives are even worse.

…and ended up spouting Yiddish truisms like some suburban Woody Allen.

Katya was, in a word, Russian. She was diminutive, violent, sexy, vicious, brilliant and alcoholic.

The whole place reeked of decay, despair and abandoned dreams.

Often I would meet someone nice at a bar and invite them home, only to generate from an excitable, eager-to-please lad into a twitchy, sullen Gollum in the space of a taxi ride.

Now, lying shrivelled in the doctor’s palm, my dick looked like an abandoned yum cha dish.

Apart from those who had been foolish enough to move in with me, any real friends were all gone by now, tired of my shit. The times we’d shared and the memories we’d built were left on the cutting-room floor as I edited my life into a version that let me get on with wasting it.

The one thing that being wretched teaches you is that there will always be someone willing to grind you deeper into the dirt.

With no access to coke or any other uppers, I just drank heavily. To borrow from my father’s old Zen books or, indeed, my new home, I was all yin and no yang.

Long-lost regrets crowded in from the back of my mind, fighting for real estate.

I could feel the guilt and anger and sadness that I’s been hanging on to for years turn up to the party, with friends.

Psychiatrics call what happened to me the ‘onset of dysphoric syndrome’, alcoholics call it a ‘moment of clarity’, but it felt to me like the end of the party.

Regrets that I’d deferred thinking through years ago rose up from the dark and found me, and each felt like trying to pass a gallstone of Catholic guilt.

She was beautiful, yes, but in the same way a glacier is beautiful as it inches down the valley to crush your village.

Church runs in my veins. Long after the Catholicism has left a family, the traits run on; the tides of shame and judgement, the secrets they necessitate, they stay in the blood. Deep in each of us, the value of discretion, the clandestine church-pew whisper, the moral cowardice afforded by the Serenity Prayer.

The hippie generation passed me a torch, and I used it to burn the world down.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison


the bluest eye

Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another–physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion.

“Love is never any better than the lover. Wicked people love wickedly, violent people love violently, weak people love weakly, stupid people love stupidly, but the love of a free man is never safe. There is no gift for the beloved. The lover alone possesses his gift of love. The loved one is shorn, neutralized, frozen in the glare of the lover’s inward eye.”

“All of our waste which we dumped on her and which she absorbed. And all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us. All of us–all who knew her–felt so wholesome after we cleaned ourselves on her. We were so beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness. her simplicity decorated us, her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health, her awkwardness made us think we has a sense of humor. Her inarticulateness made us believe we were eloquent. Her poverty kept us generous. Even her waking dreams we used–to silence our own nightmares. And she let us, and thereby deserved our contempt. We honed our egos on her, padded our characters with her frailty, and yawned in the fantasy of our strength.

And fantasy it was, for we were not strong, only aggressive; we were not free, merely licensed; we were not compassionate, we were polite; not good, but well behaved. We courted death in order to call ourselves brave, and hid like thieves from life. We substituted good grammar for intellect; we switched habits to simulate maturity; we rearranged lies and called it truth, seeing in the new pattern of an old idea the Revelation and the Word.”

“Lonely was much better than alone.”

“Anger is better. There is a sense of being in anger. A reality and presence. An awareness of worth. It is a lovely surging.”

“She left me the way people leave a hotel room. A hotel room is a place to be when you are doing something else. Of itself it is of no consequence to one’s major scheme. A hotel room is convenient. But its convenience is limited to the time you need it while you are in that particular town on that particular business; you hope it is comfortable, but prefer, rather, that it be anoymous. It is not, after all, where you live.”

“Beauty was not simply something to behold; it was something one could do.”

“You looked at them and wondered why they were so ugly; you looked closely and could not find the source. Then you realized that it came from conviction, their conviction. It was as though some mysterious all-knowing master had given each one a cloak of ugliness to wear, and they had each accepted it without question.”

“But to find out the truth about how dreams die, one should never take the word of the dreamer.”

“And fantasy it was, for we were not strong, only aggressive; we were not free, merely licensed; we were not compassionate, we were polite; not good, but well behaved. We courted death in order to call ourselves brave, and hid like thieves from life. We substituted good grammar for intellect; we switched habits to simulate maturity; we rearranged lies and called it truth, seeing in the new pattern of an old idea the Revelation and the Word.”

“Sunk in the grass of an empty lot on a spring Saturday, I split the stems of milkweed and thought about ants and peach pits and death and where the world went when I closed my eyes.”

“guileless and without vanity,we were still in love with ourselves then. We felt comfortable in our own skins, enjoyed the news that our senses released to us, admired our dirt, cultivated our scars, and could not comprehend this unworthiness.”

“We mistook violence for passion, indolence for leisure, and thought recklessness was freedom.”

“I had only one desire: to dismember it. To see of what it was made, to discover the dearness, to find the beauty, the desirability that had escaped me, but apparently only me.”

“Jealousy we understood and thought natural… But envy was a strange, new feeling for us. And all the time we knew that Maureen Peal was not the Enemy and not worthy of such intense hatred. The Thing to fear was the Thing that made her beautiful, and not us.”

“Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live”

“Love is never any better than the lover. Wicked people love wickedly, violent people love violently, weak people love weakly, stupid people love stupidly, but the love a free man is never safe.

Oneness with All Life by Eckhart Tolle


oneness with all life

I have the Treasury Edition of this book. It’s hardcover and beautiful. I don’t normally go for hardcover books as they are heavy but this is one of those books that I will keep near my desk and go back to it many times. Oneness with All Life is the concentration of Tolle’s book: A New Earth. Here’s my favourite selections from the book:

The ultimate truth of who you are is not I am this or I am that, but I Am.

You will enjoy any activity in which you are fully present…

The true or primary purpose of your life cannot be found on the outer level. It does not concern what you do but what you are—that is to say, your state of consciousness.

Do I want the present moment to be my friend or my enemy?” ….Become friendly toward it, welcome it no matter in what disguise it comes, and soon you will see the results. Life becomes friendly toward you; people become helpful, circumstances cooperative….But that one decision you have to make again and again and again – until it becomes natural to live in such a way.

If you are not in the state of either acceptance, enjoyment, or enthusiasm, look closely and you will find that you are creating suffering for yourself and others.

Be aware that what you think, to a large extent, creates the emotions that you feel. See the link between your thinking and your emotions. Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.

Most people’s lives are cluttered up with things: material things, things to do, things to think about. Their lives are like the history of humanity, which Winston Churchill defined as “one damn thing after another.” Their minds are filled up with the clutter of thoughts, one thought after another.