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The Magic I Conjure.

For a very short time when I was about six or seven, I used to think that the 4th of July fireworks celebrating our country’s independence was all just due to everyone in my graffiti-adorned neighborhood in Queens, NY, preparing for my birthday. (No, I did not have incurable delusions of grandeur. That sort of came later in life. Sort of…)

So why would I think this, you ask? Well, my birthday follows only ten short days after, and we all were fresh into the summer break from that prison we knew as “school.” Of course I was lightheaded from the high all this created. That and I was – as I mentioned – about six or seven and if I didn’t think the entire world was connected to me – and sometimes even for me – that would probably have posed a bigger problem.

Years then moved quickly – sometimes too quickly in places that I wanted to savor for all eternity, and others quite the opposite. One thing that has always stood clear and constant in my life: the kinds of magical moments that I found at such a young age never ceased happening; I just learned not to tell anyone about it. While I had a dear grandmother who fed my imagination along with these whims, my parents were not as big of fans as she. (Don’t believe me? Read any one of the chapters from my memoirs, Son Of A Greek.)


So it kind of makes sense that I didn’t make a big deal last weekend when I finished Murakami’s 1Q84. It was Sunday when the book drew to a rapid close, (which often happens when I see a thin stack of pages between my fingertips). But the day went on as usual; no parades were held and no one certainly made any announcements or gathered crowds with deafening applause for the closing of this book, even though when I started it five months ago I anticipated it would take me through August to finish. (That merits some applause, no? Especially while I launched an arts/music zine in the midst of it all… Insert shameless velocitylab plug here.)

Later that night I heard a booming noise creating a stir outside. I stood on my balcony in a kind of shock as I found fireworks were lighting the sky, thundering across the distant horizon. Indeed, it was as if everyone in my neighborhood got together for this occasion. At least the six-year-old in me was consumed by the magic I found and believed it to be true. I stood back and in a strange way, felt a small embrace cover me though no one was out there. Maybe it was that dear grandmother of mine or even six-year-old Johnny affirming the magic in that supernatural situation. Moments later, it hit me: Miami was celebrating the end of WMC week; the fireworks kicked off the closing parties. Either way I was easily convinced of the magic I conjured in my own way. It was a nice moment there, in the dark, steeped in deep meaning.

As I close the book on 1Q84, I am opening a new one – lots of others, as a matter of fact, and I can almost guarantee that for a while none of which will be a thousand pages – but specifically the one I am writing each day without words but with small strokes of quiet magic.

This Tsokos project.

Old Ghosts.

Something prompted me to write this piece today – it was because of a nightmare I had last night that seemed to continue on into the day. It was as if old ghosts worked their way back in through my closed eyelids and I could do nothing to stop them. It seems one can escape the grip of someone’s hold today but escaping the memory of the past is another thing.

Murakami’s male protagonist, Tengo, dives into his own past many times throughout the story so far and has me relating to that much at least. At one point in the flashbacks of his childhood, Tengo recollects not having a good relationship with his father, feeling as if he was certain his real father must be someone else. As Murakami puts it, Tengo “found it inconceivable that half of the genes that made his existence possible could emerge from this narrow, uneducated man.”

And I suppose that is where my ghosts cross paths with that of Tengo’s. The way that this character’s father treated him, had Tengo believing his own father was envious of the person he was or the life he was leading. As Tengo grew up, he felt that was actual hatred. Without exposing many of my own ghosts or pouting into my own past, I will say that Murakami had me feeling a sort of kinship with the character he created. And if the inspiration for that passage came from his own past, then we have one more thing in common.

In some ways, Murakami’s 1Q84 has some passages that I seem to read at the perfect timing; I might even say more so than other books I have read which influence in every other way and are differently moving. This alone has me avoiding a lot of the pitfalls that Murakami’s writing has set up, like the odd pacing and some of its dragging, (for lack of a better word).

Well, here’s to making peace with some old ghosts today; if not that then working at not becoming one myself.


The Speed Reader.

Recently, I have had enough time with 1Q84 to discover a few things about my reading likes and dislikes, as well as something I could never quite grasp but now am starting to slip into almost naturally: speed reading.

It started with my inability to stay focused on some of Murakami’s passages and soon turned into something I did in order to keep an eye on my time, as it were. You see, at the pace I am going, I will be with this book through the summer – likely lasting sometime into in August 2012. Chalk it up to my style of reading to absorb every word, every intention that is told between the words – the breaths and the moments that are created intentionally by its creator. However, I am not entirely certain that Murakami paid as much attention to the ebb and flow of such details. Unless he did and this is the result. Either way it’s fine but also not necessarily my place to dive into this book review process, instead it is for me to work on a way to get through this without taking in every single word and breath in between in for too long or too sluggishly. Basically, how am I going to get through this lethargic behemoth before August? (All without putting myself to some new task, of course.)

Enter the Tsokos, the Speed Reader.


I heard it could be done; I just never tried it myself. I knew of people who were able to skim through pages while I dug through mere paragraphs. If I’m not mistaken, it had to do with reading the first and last word of each line and letting your eye “fill in” the words between as you roll through them. Something like that I think.

So there I was with the book propped up before me as I rested on my elbows, getting ready to speed read. I felt kind of foolish, to be honest. I may have even chuckled at my attempt, knowing full well that this went against how I normally do things.

There was no better time and not a more appropriate book to attempt my version of speed reading. And it worked. I got through twice as many pages as I normally would have. Imagine that – Tsokos, the Speed Reader.

It’s okay to laugh, as I am, at the idea of me as a Speed Reader. It’s the only way to do this, I think.


One Thing Is For Certain.

It was unfair; irreversible. I knew it the moment I woke up and there was nothing I could do to change it. My world—when it wasn’t spinning—was a playground for random, disjointed thoughts, violently repeating songs, and a horrifyingly unreal sense of guilt kicking the swollen grey matter inside my head. Indeed I was hungover.

Before you misjudge me by imagining me as someone with an insatiable desire to drink in excess—or worse, as someone who is an amateur who can’t hold his liquor!—you have to know this was very definitely out of the ordinary for me. (You’ll have to decide which of the above categories I belong to, if any, for yourself.)

I recovered quick enough to make a mutant healing factor weep at its own inefficiencies and was eager to get on with the day. The plan was for us to spend the afternoon at the beach, so we did. Inclusive in my part of the plan was to take 1Q84 with me for some catch-up reading. And so I did.

The first words of this particular chapter struck me like that cold water did to my face only hours before: harsh and unyielding and real. It was as if they were written for me. I was so immediately affected by them that I was momentarily unable to continue. It might have also been an affliction of my own hangover. Here they were, jumping right off the page:

When she woke, she realized what a serious hangover she was going to have. Aomame never had hangovers. No matter how much she drank, the next morning her head would be clear and she could go straight into her next activity. This was a point of pride for her. But today was different.

Same here, Aomame. Same here.

Murakami does not really indulge us in experiencing Aomame’s hangover as well as I would have liked, (or would do so myself,) nor does he describe his character’s own sex scenes intimately enough. And even though one of the more touching moments in that chapter flashed within three lines of a paragraph, that opening passage spoke volumes. Plus, it might lend you to better form an opinion as to what kind of drinker I am—or not!

One thing is for certain: I may very well be spending the better part of 2012 with 1Q84. In that case, I may start drinking more while I do so. Just maybe.


Not Having Said Good-Bye.

So it is no secret that Murakami’s novel 1Q84 is taking longer than expected to get through; those who have read it advised similarly. Nevertheless, I took on this project as a commitment to completing this massive book (and I do mean massive, not “epic”). I am seeing it in a way as the equivalent of running a marathon: alternating between being daunting and encouraging, yet at times equally difficult and rewarding. I just hope I don’t see anyone collapsing after it’s over.

Well, here’s to my marathon.

This latest chapter has Murakami’s male protagonist, Tengo, meeting with Fuki-Era and her professor. The content within these pages are solid, even though the core of them is spread out thinly across what I consider an excessive amount of pages, with rolling descriptions that almost miss your attention. There were times that I was fading in and out of passages, not even realizing I had been reading (and possibly re-reading) several paragraphs.

Have you ever done that: read almost an entire page whilst drifting off, your mind almost separated? I do that sometimes. Not too often; usually when the inspiration carries me away from the physical. Not too often indeed, but it happened to me here. I regained focus on what my eyes were doing, only to find that they were the only thing working at this book, almost an entire page away from my realization. Now I would have to go back. Way back.

What, you may be wondering, was my mind drifting off to this time? Quite simply: someone from my own life whom Fuki-Era’s professor reminded me of. Someone I knew over two decades ago. His real name was Pasquale, but everyone—everyone—called him Pat. Not me. I called him Pasquale. (I believe I just revealed a little bit more about myself right here.)

There was every reason that he and I should have had nothing to talk about. With approximately sixty years separating us in age—and the deciding factor in that equation was that I was seventeen at the time—one would think commonalities would be difficult to find. Yet they were not. Ever. In some way, we were simultaneously each others’ teacher and student. And yes, we would naturally take turns learning just as we did reciprocating stories meant to enlighten. After a number of years of great friendship, our time together did not end abruptly, though one day I would turn and find communication just stopped. I cannot be sure if it was I or he who wrote the last letter or told the last story; which one of us asked the last good-bye is beyond me. But undeniably, like everything else, it ended.

Without getting into the mathematics of adding approximately sixty to my current age, I can only imagine Pasquale is likely reading this blog from another place. I would like to think that perhaps neither of us said good-bye. I have that problem, you know, never having the chance to say good-bye.

I am reminded of part of my (otherwise humorous) memoir, Son Of A Greek, where I dedicated a paragraph at the end as to where this good-bye thing stemmed from:

No, my Grandmother never drove. But it felt as if she flew every time she was called to come over, which in those days, was often. Eventually she would wish she had learned to drive, when my father moved us out of the city, right around the time she got Sick. We would have to take long trips in the car to visit her, both at her home and during her stay at New York Hospital uptown, despite my father’s reluctance to fight traffic each way. But there weren’t that many rides, because her Sickness worked faster than the medicine. No one told me she was so ill; that I would not see her again; that she wasn’t getting better. If I had known, I could have said “good-bye,” even though she preferred the lesser severity of “so long,” and perhaps I would never have let go. The Sickness would understand it was taking away the wrong one. I could have held her a little tighter, a little longer.

After several of my now-famous mental “drifts,” I finished the chapter and at the end I wondered what both my Grandmother and Pasquale would think of THE 1Q84 PROJECT and my commitment to something as daunting as running a marathon (myself a non-runner). Something tells me they would back me on it fully, glad to know I am respecting the past and every meaningful tradition, while living in the frighteningly modernized future that is happening right now.

Sometimes it is perfectly fine to drift off when the moment isn’t grabbing you. As long as that which you are trading your time for inspires you to do more; to do something… better.

And yet sometimes we realize it serves best us not to say good-bye completely…



The Bottle and The Lid.

By now it seems like a good time to note that the language in Murakami’s 1Q84 is simple, uncomplicated. Whether you have the book, read a review about it, or skimmed thorough a few pages before you make the thousand-page plunge, you might already know this. In that case, let me confirm it for you.

In a way, I believe this style of writing—the use of plain language, particularly–lends itself to the complex storytelling that the novel necessitates. I have to give myself up to the story and believe in the reasons of Murakami’s choice of words, almost putting myself at his desk as he draws each character, conveying each detail no matter how plain or uneventful. Yet it is at perhaps this moment—right now—that I am seeing our writing styles actually clash a bit: I do not let things drag out, while he takes a painstakingly long time (I almost said unnecessarily,) to absorb us into a character’s movements. (In this case, it is Aomame in her apartment as she listens to Janacek’s “Sinfonietta.” And it’s not the elements of the story—the wine, the LP or the song, (which are so romantic in and of themselves)—it’s the slow drive behind the words that becomes unconvincing. At the crucial point when Aomame realizes the parallel world she now inhabits, I find myself urging her on stronger than her creator allows.

Though I am not “reviewing” the book but examining my reactions and relaying my experiences here as I read 1Q84, I cannot help but pass you a little thought in that regard here and there.

A moment later, Murakami saves me from falling into the abyss of momentary uncaring. (I said a while ago that I am committing to this book as a project in itself, so: No I am not putting it down.) It would be terrible if I trudged through it just because. Anyway, as I was saying, Murakami saves me with this next passage:

“Either I’m funny or the the world’s funny, I don’t know which. The bottle and lid don’t fit. It could be the bottle’s fault or the lid’s fault. In either case, there’s no denying that the fit is bad.”

As I mentioned a moment ago, the words he chose to convey his messages are simple, (though I am not sure how much of it would get lost in translation—likely not much,) but in this case the meaning quite does it for me. Perhaps it’s that I know the feeling of the bottle and lid not fitting and simultaneously not knowing which was to blame. From where I am standing, it might very well be that it is not the bottle’s fault nor the lid’s, but the one who is trying to force the two together incorrectly.

But that’s just my take on it. Then again, this is why you’re here and I hope you can see the bottle and the lid for exactly what they are: simply items in our hands. And perhaps you might even see my point about being the one who is holding both. Not that you have experienced this kind of “bad fit” in your life, just in case you see someone struggling with simple enough items that resemble a bottle and a lid, keep in mind that person might very well be me.