I think I may have turned anhedonic. Ive complained to more than a few people about the lack of pleasure I derive from the cuisine here, whether it be the food in the cafeteria or the shawarma shop or the faux-Chinese food, how the tastes are starting to blend into each other in an amorphous mass of sameness. Oh how I yearn for ginisang munggo. The kind with the thick slabs of those Ilocano chicharon or leftover crispy pata in it. And alugbati. I love those slimy leaves. The fact that I can yearn for munggo clearly shows that Im not anhedonic about food, no sir. The anhedonia Im talking about is an anhedonia about something I normally derive pleasure from, and that's reading. (And here I say a prayer of thanks for the fella who owns Booksale.)
Ive always enjoyed reading ever since I can remember and my mother tells me Ive always enjoyed reading ever since before I can remember. And growing up I never lacked for a supply of stuff to read. My aunt was a librarian in a school in Mendiola and she'd come to our house with stacks of books discarded from the library and give them all to me. And there's always the school library. Even during my street punk days, I never stopped reading, so much so that I earned the nickname Genius from the rest of the gang. (The other nickname was Bonifacio, because, the guy who gave it to me, one of the more senior ones in the old gang, said I was 'sugod ng sugod'. But I wasnt sugod ng sugod. They were always ahead of me when we 'attacked'. I guess he gave me that name because he thought someone who read as much as I did shouldnt even be hanging with them.)
I bought two books over the weekend: Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown and David Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Shalimar I bought because, well, it's Rushdie, man. I have always been in awe of this guy, whose works are NEVER in Booksale and therefore require considerable monetary commitment, ever since I bought my first Rushdie book, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, which led me to his other works. In fact I credit Salman Rushdie with killing all illusions I have of ever becoming a writer of fiction. (Dan Brown later saved those illusions. The trick, Ive learned, is never to go for greatness when mediocrity would suffice.) A.H.W.S.G. I bought because of the sheer audacity of the title. Ive heard of this book before and ignored it because I normally dont go for memoirs. What makes these people think their lives are any more interesting than those of the rest of us that they would foist it upon the world at large? Besides, memoirs are almost always depressing. But I gave this one a shot.
I started with A.H.W.S.G., and right off the bat it didnt seem right. As I flipped through the pages, I noticed overly long and elaborate Preface and Acknowledgement sections, the length of which screamed Manic-Depressive, plus a section on how to enjoy the book which said the Preface and Acknowledgement sections werent necessary for the enjoyment of the book. Ok, I'll take your word for it, Dave.
It read well enough at first. By the time I got to the cancer, my heart sank. Another depressing memoir. But I read on because Eggers does write well. But when he began describing what he and his mother were watching on TV (while he was holding her bleeding nose), I went, Come on. Do you have to describe what's happening in that episode of Gladiators? It must be a metaphor for something--something I dont get because Im stupid so I read on. But he went on to describe another TV show. I closed the book. See you later, Dave.
I picked up Shalimar the Clown. And it was everything I expected: Rushdie at the top of his game. His words flow like liquid poetry. The narrative just takes you along paths of Rushdie's choosing. He's erudite, he's funny. Usually, I just go along for the ride, but this time something was amiss. The rhythm was growng repetitive. It wasnt a Bollywood musical number anymore. It was a drone. I was drowning in a sea of metaphors. It was an explosion of figures of speech. Im fine with figures of speech. In fact I used a couple in this very paragraph. But to be deluged in it, to be overwhelmed with poetic narrative gone berserk... I went, For the love of God, Salman. Will you just get on with telling me what happened? I closed the book, defeated.
I understand my reaction to the Eggers book, but to the Rushdie book? Have I lost the ability to enjoy myself? Maybe it's the weather: it's cold and it's wet. Perhaps it has something to do with being alone in a foreign land where at this time of year, the sun rises past seven in the morning and it's already dark at five pm. Because this isnt normal to a tropical islander like me. I lack energy. Im gaining weight, and the weight isnt evenly distributed. It seems to be massing in my tummy, my butt, and my jaw. I have fat jaws.
Maybe I miss the family. I find considerable pleasure reading the back of a box of Sunny Boy instant milk powder when I can hear the kids playing. Im not anhedonic at all. I just need to be enjoying myself to enjoy myself. I turn the TV on and fall asleep to CNN.