Life’s Essentials: Upstream by Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver is one of those writers that have successfully transformed me, in a way good writers do. Her literature takes me to a world far  from the grey-urban world I’m used to and into the wildness that is nature. Her influence was subtle. With continuous exposure to her work, I found myself wondering about the movement of birds and their songs. Walking then became more than just an exercise for solitude and thinking, but a journey of noticing the smallness in the world. So many poems later, I found myself fascinated and taken aback by the natural world.

Upstream, while not a collection of poems but rather Oliver’s prose, succeeds once again in transporting me to the smallness and ironically big-ness of the world we live in. I rarely read essays, if I do, most of them following a narrative line or a philosophical thread in this case I felt I was journeying through a wilderness of mind and nature.  Oliver’s writing didn’t read like an academic essay nor was it self-reflective, it felt more like field notes written prosaically while succeeding to be poetic.

Not everything, however was about nature, a section was dedicated on writers, another on building a house and another on Provincetown. Yet, the ramble and tumble of words–carefully placed and yet seemingly stream of consciousness—begs the reader to stop, observe and take stock. There is a keen-ness required in reading Oliver. I find, each time, she forces me to look, to truly stare at the words and discover their meaning.  There is nothing much more I could say about Upstream, except maybe share a few quotes and my thoughts on them.

“I read my books with diligence, and mounting skill, and gathering certainty. I read the way a person might swim to save his or her life. I wrote the same way too.”

I couldn’t help but pick this up and sort of put it in my pocket. It reminds me the desperation I felt in my own reading and writing—as if the urgency was there. If not urgency as sense of knowing that this was what it meant to live.

” They fight over food, and the strongest eats more and more often than the weakest. They have neither mercy nor pity. They have one responsibility–to stay alive, if they can, and be foxes.”

Oliver’s observation of nature reminds me of how different we are to animals. There is no malicious intent here, merely being. The focus is to survive and live as much as they could as they were built to do.

” And  you must not, ever give anyone else responsibility for your life.”

This resonated with me the day I read it. While I do not deliberately give the responsibility for my life to anybody, I do allow them to affect me—to shape my life to a point that I can’t recognize it anymore as mine.

There are more that I have noted down, but as I write this post, they all seem unnecessary. If anything, Mary Oliver’s Upstream left me with an understanding of  myself and the life I am in search of. More and more I feel the shackle of possession, of owning things and of being part of this urbanity. Maybe its age, maybe it’s something else, but my desire to be one with nature grows. My desire to see life, accept it for what it is and not be troubled by the fleetingness of it grows uncomfortable within my soul.

(This books was read also for Modern Mrs. Darcy 2017 Reading Challenge. 1/14)


Too Much Love can Kill You: Shen Fu’s The Old Man of the Moon


Marital vows state:
“…to have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to love and cherish, till death do us part….”

Between couples this is the promise, the expectation and the ideal. Our society celebrates couples who love each other through it all. We love it when we hear stories of couples who stood beside each other through the years and living up to the vows spoken on their wedding day. We think of this as the measure of marital bliss. In Shen Fu’s The Old Man of the Moon, however, he warns against this. Continue reading →

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, A Lesson in Living


Murakami has been a favorite author of mine since I first encountered him at 17 years old. The first book I read, which remains my favorite, is Dance Dance Dance. Over the years, I have read most of his books and have written two major college papers (despite being a psychology major) on his work. While the author himself dislikes interpretation of his work as more than what it is, one cannot help, as a reader, to see the common threads in his writing. It is these recurring themes—death, cats, subconscious, paranormal, emptiness, and mediocrity (or ordinariness)—that made him dear to me.

Dance Dance Dance left me with a sense of wonder and peculiarity. It was the first time I had encountered an author who made me completely believe in his world and yet tug my heart despite being cold in writing style. Since Dance Dance Dance, Murakami has written a lot of books, some less paranormal (aka Norwegian Wood) and some very weird (Hardboiled Wonderland). His writing has taken a few detours from usual route as of late. He had written a non-fiction. He had written a book focusing on a female character. He had written a book so big, and so huge it has taken me several months to read. While a fan, I felt there was something missing in his recent works, that something was a sense of closeness to his reader while remaining strange and cold.

I did not buy Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage as soon as it hit the shelves, unlike 1Q84. I waited and eventually a friend gave it to me for my birthday. It sat on my shelf for two months before I eventually read it. I do not normally read reviews of books I’m really interested in reading. However, once done reading I would look into the reviews and comments of critics and fellow readers.

Colorless Tsukuru has been part of a lot of the 2014 books to read. Some Murakami fans loved it others say its the same old thing. In reading, Colorless Tsukuru is not any different from Murakami’s recurring theme, particularly the thought of a person coming to terms with his/her childhood and growing up. Even the motifs of dreaming, sex, and loss are repeated in this book, however in closer reading one can see both the familiar (which we loved about Murakami’s novels) and the maturity in the resolution.

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To Lean Into Uncertainty: An attempt to review LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness


What does a review do to a book that has been critically acclaimed far and wide? Probably nothing. As I take notes and put together my thoughts on this novel, I find myself debating whether or not to put it out there. Then it occurred to me that prior to the Science Fiction theme my other blog held a couple of months ago I wouldn’t have heard of this. And in search of a good book to introduce me to a genre, I decided on The Left Hand of Darkness as I have read some of LeGuin’s work and a friend told me “you can never go wrong withe LeGuin”, I had trouble finding this book.Only one of the local bookstores carried it, and my copy was the last copy in stock. So, I’m hoping that this review in this little corner in the blog world would introduce LeGuin and Her beautiful science fiction novel to more people, specifically to non-readers of science fiction like I was. Continue reading →

Unconditional Love and the True Self


If a person is able, during the long process, to experience the reality that he was never loved as a child for what he was but for his achievement,success, and good qualities…he will be very deeply shaken, but one day he will feel the desire to end these efforts. He will discover in himself a need to live according to his true self and no longer be forced to earn “love” that always leaves him empty handed…

-The Drama of the Gifted Child
By Alice Miller

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