Yichen Zhou ’19
Observe without judgement. That’s what my meditation trainer says every time I close my eyes, just like right now, at this time being, when I sit in the hall, while Professor Ruth Ozeki has us meditate to explore “supapawa”.
“Observe without judgement” is also what I think of the narrative of Nao, one of the main characters in Ozeki’s novel, “A Tale for the Time Being.” So painful and insecure yet so distant and humorous, it’s as if she’s talking as a third party with so many self-reflections and check-ins which she credits to her observing “Zazen.”
It’s interesting how Nao writes her diary as an observer of her life as she sometimes disconnects herself from her feelings and dives deep into life with self-mockery and introspection, portraying her as a strong woman. She says she was an invisible ghost or a spirit of the dead while walking in the crowded hallway in school. She describes her despair as the fish cradled in her stomach, thrashed one last time, rising up almost into her throat and flopping back down, gasping for air. With powerful details and strong metaphors, Ozeki creates a reading environment where I, also once a teenage girl, can’t help thinking that she’s writing about me. I feel empathy stronger than sympathy.
As the story goes on, I see her grow into a person that can take action and make changes to her life. It is inspiring to read about Nao using Haruki#1’s letter trying to help her father. It is even more intriguing to see Ruth’s dream travels and how she saved our Haruki#2. They change each other’s world, as writers and readers, in the interconnection and separation between time and space among which are the infinite possibilities for us to live in. While reading it, I feel as if I am actually in this story. This is where I started to feel close to Nao, and also to Ruth. They come to be my friends with whom I can communicate, through whom I feel understood. Ruth and Nao communicate, interact with and influence each other from hundreds of timelines and dimensions and so do we.
My inability to tell who Nao is, who Ruth is, who the author is and even who I am jumbles up my obsession about the identities in this book and then rotates them into a whirlpool. Yet, I can clearly see that there are so many parallel that worlds exist inside this novel, including Nao’s, the reader Ruth’s, the character Ruth’s and ours. When their worlds meet, there’s magic. We are never one single time being; instead we are the accumulation of every time being we’ve lived as, therefore we are Nao, Ruths, and they are also us.
When living deep inside a fictional world, “the days got jumbled together, and the entire weeks or months or even years would yield to the ebb and flow of the dream.” In its own time and logic, we get lost within ourselves, yet at the end we are always able to put everything together again. That’s the beauty of writing and reading.
As Proust says, the writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument through which they offer to the reader a chance to discern what, without the book, one would perhaps never have seen in oneself.
I close my eyes, magnesium light burning on my face as the faculae cling on to my eyelids to form the red and warm halos retaining even long after I open my eyes. Thousands of time being flying, I have my “supapawa”.