East of Eden

Can I say I liked it, when on its last hundred pages I wanted it to end so I could go back to reading some cozy sea adventures instead?

I certainly didn’t dislike it, but I do have mixed feelings. If I had to rate it, I’d give it a 7/10.

What were my problems?

  • Characterisation is too much in the service of the idea. It’s a philosophical novel with Biblical themes of good and evil, free will and the story of Cain and Abel, but it is very in your face. I’d have preferred suggestion. One mention of it would have been enough.
  • Too much appears staged.
  • I found the ending to be weak because it sounded like a litarary ending. Like literature, not life. It felt like a Shakespearan scene. What fits on a theatre stage and in a different type of novel, just felt a little dated and off in this one.
  • It’s too male for me. I know I’m making myself vulnerable to being called sexist whether I try to explain myself or not, so I might as well say a little. It did not read to me like a story of universal human experience. It read to me like the story of a specific type of American male experience. The world does not seem that bleak and violent to me. He writes with tenderness, but it’s a brutal world he gives the reader. I also caught misogynist undertones. I found the statement, however it was meant, that a man went through (spent? quoting from memory) three wives in his lifetime, to be very jarring. There were other similar stuff. I read up on it to see if other people had found it to be so, and some did. I also came upon the usual argument that he was writing in his time. Fair enough but I’m not sure that’s a sufficient explantion. Some things can be explained with it, but I wouldn’t explain Steinbeck that way. I’ve always believed much less in time’s influence than most people. Since it is not possible to perform a psychological experiment with people from 1850, 1950 and 2020, I remain skeptical about cultural impact on sexist attitudes being as substantial as it is alleged to be. I rather believe – believe! – that human nature is the single most important factor. Meredith wrote in the 19th century but he gives me zero misogynist vibes – quite the contrary. If a person is thoughtful and sensitive, capable of putting themselves in another’s shoes, and nothing has caused them to malform in any direction, living in the 19th century does not make anyone by default more sexist than the people of today. It is rather that today it’s going to end badly for you if you express it. Culturally it probably runs too deep, so a century does little. People remain people. Mouldable superficially but quite alike through time at their cores. So yes, I cannot relate well to this type of masculinity and its way of looking at the world. And I do believe it is a male thing: stoicism, restrictive emotionality, the only emotion allowed to be fully expressed: anger. There’s a lot of that in East of Eden, a lot of frustrated unexpressed love, too little open tenderness and open kindness. Everything good is repressed, thwarted or restrained. The women in it are either marginal or evil as well, but I don’t think that is an argument for anything. Its “maleness” is in the general portrayal and attitudes.
  • I felt that the idea that there is good and evil both in people wasn’t very well lived out in the novel. None of the good characters seemed to get anywhere with themselves. For the author, being a mix of good and evil, recognising it in yourself, seems to have been the ideal state a human being could be in, whereas being like Aron, more or less fully good, made him unfit for life. I think this is an excessively negative take on humanity. When I look around, there’s people who are truly good, truly bad and mixes. I think perhaps it is important for the ones who want to be good but feel they are bad to realise that many are like them and struggle just as them and they have a choice to do good. It could have been about that. That’d have made sense. Les Miserables makes that point. But the way the ending left me feeling was that everyone is mixed. I don’t believe it. My experience of people is different.
  • I don’t think Adam is as good as the narrative seems to suggest. How could he be so blind otherwise to what he was doing to Cal? How could he refuse his gift so cruelly and not recall his own father and rivalry with Charles? No, a truly good person would be able to put themselves in Cal’s shoes and not crush him. In that scene he is a destructive patriarch just like his father. Samuel and Lee were good. Maybe I confuse wisdom and goodness? Dunno.

Overall, the experience of reading East of Eden wasn’t unlike drinking green tea or eating goji berries. I may know these foods are healthy and wholesome, and like them well enough, but I’d much rather eat apple pie.

I might read Grapes of Wrath at one point later, I always wanted to read that and it seems a bit different, but I don’t think I will read anything else by Steinbeck. He just doesn’t write for the likes of me.

I will add things I liked to balance things out a bit: loved the descriptions, the valley, some narrative techniques were good, quite gripping, there were places where I couldn’t put it down, Lee was very likeable for the most part.

It’s good as a novel. I just cannot connect to its worldview.

Flightiness

I’ve for a long time seen myself as a bit of a fickle person. Someone that can go from adoring to indifference within a short space of time. I’ve learnt not trust any of my infatuations. Being so intense, everything just burns up fast. It’s to be feared and expected.

Obviously, it’s not a trait I enjoyed having, it gives me much grief. When it isn’t books or actors, but real people, it’s a terrible trait to possess. I try my best to behave, hoping no one gets the wrong end of the stick. I have for a long time had a two-month-rule, after which an infatuation might be investigated instead of dismissed outright, but before that, I must just behave myself, goddamit. I’m not very good at this. Sometimes I feel like there’s little I was very good at except bad things.

So the other day I got thinking contrarily. Wait one millisecond here. You say you’re flighty. Right now your favourite actors might be these two, but give you a Charlton Heston movie and it’s not much different even if you’re out of the active adoration phase. Um. Hmm. Yes! I love Charlton Heston just as before. And it seems that most of the actors I once enjoyed watching on screen, I still enjoy: Marcello Mastroianni, Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe. The only ones who have lost that extra something would be Leslie Howard and Lauerence Olivier. I’m not sure why, but it is so.

Music. I never thought I’d be loving Elton John’s music as long as I have. It’s given me so much pleasure and comfort. I remember the times different songs came into my life and the places, seasons or people they now take me back to. Some good, some bad. But always, always, I’ve been afraid it won’t last. I was afraid of it in September and told myself to quit listening to him until spring. I quite failed in this (I needed my top cream cake to get me through school) but it hasn’t changed the adoration. I’ve had some weeks of not listening to any music but these have been short spells. Right now I’m trying to find something else to listen to until spring again, because I really don’t want to lose it. I suppose it explains why I take five years to finish Jean-Christophe too. And other mysterious behaviour normal people don’t understand and would find eccentric.

It’s like my good moods. I’m so afraid of losing them that every day I have more of it, I’m astonished, but I have less control, so I can do nothing to make it stay longer. With books and things, I can a bit.

Coming back to flightiness. I’ve been a fan of a few other musicians besides Elton John, mostly in teens and very early adulthood. Morrissey was my last at the age of 19-22. Most of them I’m always happy to rediscover. It’s fun how one still knows all the lyrics by heart. They don’t quite hold the same power over me as they did in the old days, but some of it is still there. Right now I’m listening to one of my high school favourites, Oasis, and thinking Slide Away is so very good, now replaying it for the 10th time or thereabouts. Gone much?

And with people, it’s also often true. Some of it is usually still there. I have soft spots for most people that meant something to me and did not disillusion or disappoint me to the point of no repair. It isn’t flightiness, but rather having the feeling settle down more to normal human being levels. I can’t really say I grow indifferent, as I thought I did, it is only the extremes that go. Seems such an obvious thing really, but I hadn’t thought of it so before and was feeling quite judgemental about myself.

So it’s not so much what happens after that I should feel guilty about, but rather continue to try and govern my extremes to the best of my pathetic ability.

 

Chatter

What do I write about when complicated topics are off the table?

Maybe the films I’ve recently seen.

1. 84 Charing Cross Road – I liked it, but not very much.  I didn’t understand how and why a connection developed between these two penfriends. I was told and shown it did, but I wasn’t convinced by the words exchanged between them. Their allegedly shared sense of humour surprised me because one never really sees it. I mostly liked it for the sweet concept. It made me want to take up letter-writing again. Not for romance-purposes with a British bookseller, but rather for the charm that can be put into letters and received in return. The delightfulness of the entire process. It’s like slow-cooking on a wood stove compared to instant food. And the beauty of lasting friendship and goodwill are the best things in the world methinks.

2. How to Marry a Millionnaire – that was alright too, but not all that engaging. I only really liked Marilyn’s character’s hatred of wearing glasses because chuckle, I’m the same.

3. LA Confidential – not my usual type of movie, but I don’t pick my films for respectable reasons these days and did enjoy it quite a lot. A little too fast-paced sometimes. Liked the song in it, too (Kay Starr’s Wheel of Fortune). Potentially would rewatch it.

4. 3:10 to Yuma – nice old-style modern Western. Of course I liked it. A lot of people had difficulty with the ending, but to me it felt perfectly natural.

5. State of Play – this is very far from my usual cups of tea, and since I watched it at four o’clock in the morning, I got distracted sometimes and did other things but it was still reasonably engaging and watchable, all things considered.

 

I spent the last days of the old year and the first days of the new overthinking and watching films. The films I saw were these:

Excellent

The Bounty

Howard’s End

Very good

Master and Commander

Good

Treasure Island (1990)

Berkley Square (1933)

No, still not liking it

Lawrence of Arabia

One of the worst films I’ve ever seen

Mysterious Island (1961)

******

I cannot summarise my thoughts so neatly. Generally speaking, I was thinking of my relation to the world and the people in it but obviously also the usual programme of my everyday dilemmas. I felt much more socially insecure, my identity was adrift and I didn’t really know what to take hold of. Sometimes I was unhappy.

How does a person deal with stigma? And what is one to do if the truth about yourself would inevitably lead to stigmatisation, ostracism, and in the best of cases, pity and charity friendships?

I’m by nature a confiding and open person, sometimes even inclined to overshare, so I do suffer a great deal under having to hide a lot of myself away. Sometimes so much that I want to give up people entirely. This mood passes but sometimes with consequences of having actually effected it.

Now that my social anxiety has improved and I feel prepared to slowly re-integrate myself into society, this topic has come to weigh on me somewhat. How do I tell people some of the more unusual facts of my life and myself? Nothing positive is going to come to me for it, only the earlier-mentioned stigmatisation or pity.

The first days of my great think I felt that it was inevitable that I cannot afford myself the luxury of sharing these things until I’m quite close to the person. I was quite shattered by how hard it’s going to be though. It’s a very disintegrating experience when you cannot be fully open and true to yourself.  There’s simply too much I need to keep stumm about too, and it wants to desperately get out.

Unfortunately, I cannot imagine any argument that might convince me it is for the better. People don’t work this way. Society doesn’t. What I wrote will follow is going to follow and will bring much unhappiness to me. I considered seeing a specialist regarding this topic because they might know better how to re-integrate people with unusual and socially unacceptable life stories into society. I wanted very much for there to exist a way.

So much that at one point it stopped mattering. And then and there I decided I will put myself through that. I simply can’t handle the masquarade, not even to protect myself.

I do need advice on how to cope with what is going to follow though. All that eye rolling, rejection, incomprehension, confusion, hurtful remarks caused by any of the mentioned. The detached and scientific side of myself considers it an intriguing social experiment to be able to live through. Sadly, there is little to no hope that my hypersensitivity won’t make it a misery.

But I don’t know. At this stage I still feel optimistic that I can handle it, my Romanticism probably also helps: do your worst but it’ll reflect worse on you than me and I will be the noble outcast. That sort of stupid thinking. I cannot stress enough that my tendency to Romantic excess is really helpful in getting through bad spots :).

New years resolutions

  • Less important: be a little less of an Enneagram Type Four as far as writerly persona/voice goes: I admire people who have a quiet and gentle everyday style of writing, while mine is flourish-this-flourish-that and excesses of eccentricity and whackiness. Be less of a contrarian, too. How could I forget this.
  • Moderately important: be more gentle with self and not pour bucketloads of stress upon myself by thinking I’m well and capable and can handle it.
  • Most important: be more assertive where I’ve previously disastrously (truly!) lacked.

I read somewhere that writing down your plans is bad for people with problems of discipline and procrastination because it gives them a feeling of having already done something towards it. It’s a kind of pressure release that shouldn’t happen too early. The result is that it becomes even less likely that they will actually do it. Since I’m such a person, I won’t write down my other hopes and plans, unless they are such that I could put them off too, like the driving school business.

  • But this seems safe and not so related to discipline and procrastination: I’d really like to experience sea again and go on a longer cruise.

 

Brazen

I was a very good follower of my flawed heroes and figured drink is the suitable remedy for anxiety tonight. I don’t know why I did it, because it was very minor anxiety, my mood was good and I knew it’d pass by morning. I felt violently fed up with it. What business has anxiety to be here? I’m well! Get lost, get away. Such a pest and nuisance. Like a mosquito at night, will so crush you and stamp you out!

I felt quite strong though, even when driving it out with a weak person’s means, I felt strong. And now I feel very pleased with myself. It was quite empowering to destroy it.

On the other hand, the depressant effect later on does not seem so desireable. I already caught myself thinking that I’m too confident and optimistic. What really lies between the better future I envision and being back to square zero? Very little. My own self and good fortune. And I cannot rely on either. Everything’s so fragile.

 

This troublesome thing

I want to write a hate post on my hypersensitivity. Here goes: I’ve been quite happy in December. I’ve recovered very well and fully from my depression of three months. The stress I’ve had is quite vanished too. Not having any stress to deal with or any active unpleasantness, I have felt very confident and capable, a slightly changed person. Sometimes I don’t sleep so well, because I’m too glowing or unwilling to let an hour of the present good state go. I am a little stupid too. I’ve felt full of spring and ready to take on new difficulties. Example: I wanted to start a new school, with the first one not fully finished yet and fresh memories of how I hate school intact: driving school. The thought of being able to drive around in summer and discover beautiful natural spots was quite powerfully alluring. I planned to do it in as little time as I possibly could too, to minimize the misery months. I felt quite restless but I forced myself not to do it just yet and rest until March/April. So far all was excellent and future looked bright ahead.

But today I get an anxiety attack. In a mental health state like this, it felt like a right slap in the face. There is me feeling so capable and confident as I haven’t felt in forever, and then my nervous system acts up! Whatever I do, however good things get, my biology will always betray me. And there’s not a thing I could do about it. How can I live like this?

To live, just to live at all and have some kind of an enjoyable life, I need to have an iron will to pull myself through it, to transcend biology. People have pointed out to me lately that most of my role models are males and my taste in films is “male”. Fiddle dee dee to that of course, but it’s quite simple really. Male heroes are my crutches. Jean Valjean, sea captains, gladiators and Wild West fortune hunters. They help me keep up the will and the fight. And they are suitably imperfect. With fictional females, I always feel that they are far to good for me, I could never be this good, or that they are far too degenerate and low in idealism to admire. But mostly I’ve turned towards what I needed more. I needed to balance my hyperfemininity and to become an even better fighter.

But alas, today. It was a trivial anxiety episode that’s mostly faded. I got it because I was trying to buy a concert ticket to Finland. I’ve never been there and I haven’t been to a big concert in a decade, so there’s some fair enough justifications. On the other hand, I’ve been through these emotions months ago. It was a formality and I was feeling so capable. But then my biology ruins the blissful hope that I could actually recover and live an easier, happier life. No, it’s forever going to be a gigantic battle to have any kind of positive life experience. If I failed now, now in this state of equilibrium, what hope is there in less blissful states?

Hate. Hate. Hate. Hate. Hate.

The hope is that my speedy recovery is illusory. While I may feel very calm and good, months of depression and a preceding month of high stress would have left their mark. While I may feel all good, nervous system underneath it isn’t yet and overreacts. I tend to not be cautious enough either. And it’s not just this phase, there’s years of it. My last little hope really is: what would happen if I got a full year of calm and joyfulness?

Otherwise though, I’m stuck with my hypersensitivity and the various vulnerabilities that come with it. I’m not even convinced daring and bravery makes one stronger. I feel I just get weaker by forcing myself  through things I’m terrified of, but I don’t really see an alternative either if I want to live and do things I want to do. It’s always going to be a feat of will.

Passing time

 

  • Identify a moment in your life that made you feel like you had superpowers. What did you do exceptionally well? How did circumstances change as a result of your actions?

Um. I don’t know. I was totally calm and laughing when locked into a ship museum for the night and took it as a fun adventure. I’m pretty unexpectedly good in many crises when others panic and am always stunned by this.

  • When you’re feeling powerful, what song best motivates you?

I don’t usually feel powerful.

  • What is your spirit animal?

Claudia.

  • How has water impacted your life?

I love water very much and have spent many happy hours in it.

  • What would you like to go back and tell a teacher from your past?

Thank you for thinking I was more capable than I was. It made a difference.

  • Name three things you’d do if you weren’t so afraid.

Go travel to a warm country right now. Go tell absolutely every relevant person I know what I truly think and feel regarding them. Sell my flat and move elsewhere.

  • If time flies, what does dreaming do?

Embrace you.

  • What colors are your thoughts?

Flaming red right now.

  • Outside of your family, who is someone that has made a difference in your life?

Everyone’s that mattered anything to me has had an impact.

  • If people knew the real you, what would they think?

What a poor lost girl, or depending on their empathy levels, what a git.

  • What fantastical creature would you like to have come alive?

Dreams.

  • Are there any political issues that interest you?

Trees and not cutting them down. Animal and plant protection and welfare. Is that political?

  • What is special about the town or towns you grew up in?

Quite a lot of nature and possibilities for solitude.

  • What sounds irritate you?

Chalk on the board, of course. I’m not keen on traffic noise or leaf blowers either.

  • What is your favorite activity to do in the snow?

I’d like to have one of those old-fashioned push sleighs(?) and have some fun with that.

  • When is your most productive time of day?

Morning or late evening.

  • Have you ever been addicted to something?

Food (sweets and crisps)

  • Is life fair?

I doubt that but it might be to some.

  • What goals and aspirations do you hope to fulfill in the next year?

Write something good. Smell flowers in May and experience calm again. Make someone a little happier by my existence.

  • In a natural disaster, what three things would you grab first?

Depends where I was. This question isn’t very good.

  • What role does religion play in your life?

I pray when there’s nothing else one can do, like when someone’s seriously ill. Otherwise I’m not religious.

  • If you could meet any fictional character, who would it be? What would you want to do or discuss with this character?

I’d like to meet Anne Shirley and Dora and be best friends with both of them at the same time. Anne would be the leader, I’d be the middle one and Dora to balance us both out and charm me to bits with her sweetness.

I’d also like to meet Pierre Bezukhov and Andrey Bolkonsky together and discuss life with them, being once again the middle one in outlook between the two. My natural tendency is with the Pierres, but I have a mind like Andrey, so this seems like great fun to be part of their debate.

  • As a child, who is/was your favorite relative?

My grandmother.

  • Describe your first dance.

It must have happened in the kindergarten when we had some event there. I think I was embarrassed and awkward and hated it.

  • When is the first time you felt truly independent or older than your age?

Never?

  • Is it more important to be right or to be honest?

Neither. The two seem incomparable.

  • What old, worn out thing can you simply not part with?

There’s a ton of them. I got a special pencil, for example, that my primary school love used to borrow from me. It was enormously precious to me. He had touched it and this was very meaningful in those days. And then my grandmother took it for herself one day, thinking it’s an old unnecessary shabby thing she could easily borrow and no one would miss. At the time I didn’t know she had taken it. I assumed it had got lost. I only found out later after my grandmother had died, then I saw it in her sewing box.  It’s blue, with yellow flowers on it and it always reminds me of these two people now.

  • What messages do you keep repeating to yourself?

God give me strength.

  • What ethical dilemmas have you faced?

Too complicated for this hour and this survey.

  • Are you proud of your accomplishments?

If put like this, yes.

  • If a photographer were to capture you in your most emotional moment, what would they see?

Depends on the kind of emotional moment. Red nose and tears, or gleeful twirling.

  • How do male and female roles differ in your family?

I don’t understand the question.

  • Have you ever felt like the minority in a group setting?

When haven’t I? The rare times I don’t are experiences to remember with a warm feeling.

  • Have you experienced racism, sexism, or other kinds of discrimination?

Yes, of course, but not as much as there seems to be about.

  • What is the most embarrassing thing you have ever worn?

Difficult choice. I have worn some outrageous things. Baby blue stockings. White stockings with a mini skirt. All white skirt and top with Victorian style boots. Wearing shorts to school seems like an embarrassing choice too in hindsight but at least it looked alright compared to the other tastelessness. I miss that really.

 

Bad times and the hard times

My evening depression’s back! So hello, pet, how’s it been? Haven’t seen you around lately. Take a seat, let’s talk of life and love. Have you got your instruments of torture with you? I see that you do, good. I missed you, you know. Your morning sibling paid me many calls last weeks. Why did you stop? She’s so much worse than you. Let me have you, if I must have one.

*

That’s when I first began to suspect I had depression. It came in the mornings and I didn’t want to wake up. It felt like being under an iron press. Generalized ache in the gut and the chest. Skin stripped away. Staring blankly at the pillow’s corner for an hour. Letting songs play on repeat but not hearing them. People being kind and bringing presents, but not being able to feel. Everything a chore, except breathing:

  • do your work
  • do your home work
  • make a hairdresser appointment
  • buy that Elton ticket already
  • clean the floor
  • clean the kitchen table
  • go and make a sandwich
  • set up your birthday table
  • act normal
  • wash your hair
  • write a response to a person who asked if I felt more hopeless

I didn’t feel more hopeless. To feel hopeless, you need a conception of hope, a source and subject. I was under the press. It was generalized pain. Hope didn’t enter into it.

One night I experienced the first sign of the press lifting. I could peek into the cause a little but it was too painful. I drew back to prefer the generalized ache. Then I got ill. Physically. Some minor viral infection, which turned out to be my unexpected medicine for depression. I had an excuse to lie in bed all day and ask myself off work too.

Now it comes in the evenings again. Fewer things are chores and I manage to do more than stare at pillow corners. I do feel beaten up from the preceding weeks but healing.

I’m not certain if I will make a full recovery or if this is just a brief pause, but I feel optimistic. I was afraid I couldn’t get out of this with my own resources any more. But I did and this is a success.

I’m afraid to disturb this equilibrium though. I try to think little and dream little. Today I came up with some ideas for what work I’d like to do in the future in addition to/instead of what I do now or have already decided to do, but I shut it down a bit. I don’t feel well enough to plan and dream yet.

I’ve done all my homeworks reasonably well though and slept well and ate tolerably. And that’s as much as I’m going to expect of myself until I stop feeling beaten up. Really, a huge pat pat for me for doing all my homeworks so well and tomorrow’s ones today. I’m normally not doing anything a day before the deadline.