I don’t like running with music.
Maybe that statement will need some picking apart, it is not fully true:
I get frustrated when I run to music and songs come on that I don’t like as much at that particular moment. I also cannot be bothered making a playlist that takes that into consideration. I would love for someone to make me weekly playlists of amazing music, I would listen to it and sink into it and enjoy it thoroughly. I am sure that there is already an app out there that does this, but I don’t have the patience to make my own play lists, so often just don’t listen to music at all, preferring silence and my own dancing thoughts, to the jarring distraction of an unloved track.
However, when it is cold outside, I sometimes like a little distraction while I crunch along the sidewalks and footpaths of my newly adopted home. So the other day I thought I would try running to podcasts. Podcasts from the Hay Festival. Authors talking about whatever they feel like talking about. This could serve a dual purpose (I thought), and get me excited about the upcoming adventures and experiences to be had once the days were longer, the nights warmer, and the people friendlier (obviously with warmer days, the people of London will also thaw, and will become welcoming to all the foolish new arrivals who forgot about the seasons, or who were forced to arrive out of sync due to happenstance).
William Hague will be for another day, also Dave Eggers (I am a massive fan, and truely hope that he will be at this years edition). Today I ran to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She mentioned that while she has no ‘one favourite book’, -and really, how can you choose just one? – that the one author who has most shaped her, was Chinua Achebe. A quote that she gave, and which I remembered completely out of context, was a proverb that a character in Arrow of God recites: “An animal rubs its itching flank against a tree, but a man asks his kinsman to scratch him.” I initially turned to a sarcastic thought; that in London, there would be some kind of app. You would go on the app and request a scratch, and then the person who could provide that service for the least amount, and in the shortest time, would arrive at your location and scratch you. Payment would be linked to PayPal, or your Uber account.
In truth, that probably already exists and noone will see anything wrong with it. *frowns in quiet despair*
My next thought (at least, following on at some point from that, or maybe in complete synchronicity, before, during, and after), was that I really really enjoyed Adicie’s talk.
I don’t feel exactly the same way that she does about everything. She mentioned that she was not gripped by stories of fantasy or non-reality when she was a child, and I have endless memories of magical moments, lost in the swamps of despair, flying above Perelandra, or exploring the ethics of Asimov’s three laws. But these sat happily (perhaps not the right word) alongside the Zion Covenant, I am David, Tarca, Childhood, Boyhood, Youth (that my mum was loathe to let me read, having easily passed along those books which questioned the very depths of human capacity for pain and destruction of one another, little knowing that it would be ‘I am David’ which would easily cause me to pause and suffer silently more than 25 years after first reading it, and not some awkward story of sexuality that would lead me to experiment too early, or perhaps too late). I moved on to Hemingway, Allende, Garcia Marquez, Borges, Fitzgerald, Eggers, Chabon, Terzani, Dostoyevsky, Solzhenitsyn, Houellebecq…but I digress.
I devoured this ‘realistic literature’, and today, more than ever, I lean towards realism in the books that I enjoy. I am fascinated by the capacity of other human beings to reach past limits that define what can be done, or dreamed, or lived. But I think that at times this is possibly a false distinction. As a child, I too was in awe of the world, what was ‘out there’, what was possible. I had my own versions of ‘a bagel’, an exoticly imagined item, read about in a book, and turned into some fantastically anticipated experience that awaited me in another context/city/country/world. The only difference (that I can see, and obviously ignoring all the obvious ones of talent and upbringing and life), between Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and I, is that I read about Luck Dragons and ladies in waiting, and gulags, and elven queens, and pesach, and salt cod ackee, with the same wonderment and suspended disbelief. I have now eaten ackee; we are sending space craft to Mars; I have sat and listened to a man who has lived in space and felt the southern lights swirl about him as he floated above Australia, and another who survived the death camps; lessons have not been learned from previous conflicts; I named my son after Bastian Balthazar Bux (as did a colleague in Colombia); and the upper classes appear to me as foreign as any elven civilisation conjured into being by Tolkien or others.
The lines blur. As she said, we can sometimes have all the facts, but not see the truth. A story can bring that truth to us, to help us understand something that is too big or painful or distant to otherwise be grasped.
It can also simply bring us pleasure. Books can be art, entertainment, education, decoration for our homes and workspaces, or company during our daily journey through life.