A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki – Quotes

The reason I decided to write about her in À la recherche du temps perdu is because she is the only person I know who really understands time. Old Jiko is supercareful with her time. She does everything really really slowly, even when she’s just sitting on the veranda, looking out at the dragonflies spinning lazily around the garden pond. She says that she does everything really really slowly in order to spread time out so that she’ll have more of it and live longer, and then she laughs so you know she is telling you a joke.

It made me sad when I caught myself pretending that everybody out there in cyberspace cared about what I thought, when really nobody gives a shit. And when I multiplied that sad feeling by all the millions of people in their lonely little rooms, furiously writing and posting to their lonely little pages that nobody has time to read because they’re all so busy writing and posting, it kind of broke my heart.

As a person of Japanese ancestry, she said, she had the right, and it was important not to let New Age correctness erase the history of the island. “Fine for you,” Oliver said. His family had emigrated from Germany. “Not so fine if I use it. It’s hardly fair.” “Exactly,” Ruth said. “It wasn’t fair. My mom’s family were interned, too. Maybe I could lodge a land claim on behalf of my people. That property was stolen from them. I could just go there and sit in their driveway and refuse to leave. Repossess the land and kick out the Germans.” “What do you have against my people?” Oliver asked. Their marriage was like this, an axial alliance—her people interned, his firebombed in Stuttgart—a small accidental consequence of a war fought before either of them was born. “We’re by-products of the mid-twentieth century,” Oliver said. “Who isn’t?”

There was no high-yield blah blah account. There was no empathic productivity software. There was no start-up at all. There was only the five-million-yen fine from the transit company that they make you pay for causing a “human incident,” which is a nice way of saying when you try to use one of their trains to kill yourself.

Anyway, it was on account of Haruki #1 getting killed in the war that first his sister, Ema, and then my dad got to carry on the Yasutani family name, which is why I’m Nao Yasutani today. And I just want to say that I get kind of freaked out, looking at the family tree, because you can see it’s all up to ME. And since I don’t intend to get married or have any kids, that’s kind of it. Kaput. Finito. Sayonara, Yasutani.

Sugako wrote a diary called Reflections on the Way to the Gallows, which I’m supposed to read, too. It’s a great title, but why did these anarchist women have to write so much?

I already thought my father was insane, because this was at a time when I still believed that only insane people try to kill themselves, but at the back of my mind, I guess I was hoping that my mom was normal and okay again, now that she had stopped watching jellyfish and had found a job. But at that moment I knew she was as crazy and unreliable as my father, and her question only proved it, which meant there was nobody left in my life I could count on to keep me safe. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as naked or alone.

I didn’t pray to Lord Buddha because back then I used to think he was like God, and I don’t believe in God, which isn’t surprising given the patheticness of the male authority figures in my life.

As you can probably guess, The Great Minds of Western Philosophy wasn’t such a hot seller, so she brought home a remaindered set for Dad, thinking it might help him find the meaning of life, and besides, she got them for free. He started with Socrates and did approximately a philosopher per week. I don’t think it was helping him find the meaning of life, but at least it gave him a concrete goal, which counts for something. I believe it doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you can find something concrete to keep you busy while you are living your meaningless life. And whatever you think you know about origami, you can forget about it, because the stuff Dad was folding wasn’t your typical cranes and boats and party hats and candy dishes. The stuff he folded was origami on steroids, totally wack and beautiful. Actually, he liked to fold the pages from The Great Minds of Western Philosophy, and after he finished reading them he would cut them out of the book with a box cutter and a steel-edged ruler. As you probably know, there are a lot of great minds in Western philosophy, and the books were printed on superthin paper so they could cram more minds into the series. Dad says thin paper is easier to fold, especially if you’re making something complicated like a Trypoxylus dichotomus, which is a Japanese rhinoceros beetle, or a Mantis religiosa, which is a praying mantis. He only used the minds he didn’t like for folding, so we ended up with lots of insects made from Nietzsche and Hobbes.

Japan isn’t a great place to be a free anything, because free just means all alone and out of it.

 “No,” Ruth said, ruefully. She’d meant to, but she was finding it harder and harder to pick up the phone these days. She didn’t like talking to people in real time anymore.

The past is weird. I mean, does it really exist? It feels like it exists, but where is it? And if it did exist but doesn’t now, then where did it go?

If you’ve ever tried to keep a diary, then you’ll know that the problem of trying to write about the past really starts in the present: No matter how fast you write, you’re always stuck in the then and you can never catch up to what’s happening now, which means that now is pretty much doomed to extinction. It’s hopeless, really. Not that now is ever all that interesting.

Stuff like this can drive you crazy. This is the kind of thing my dad thinks about all the time, reading his Great Minds of Western Philosophy, and after watching him I understand that you have to take care of your mind, even if it’s not a great one, because if you don’t, you can wind up with your head on the tracks. 

So Dad was doing really well for a suicidal person, and I was doing okay, too, for a torture victim.

of all the ways you can commit suicide, smoking has to be the stupidest and also the most expensive.

How had she become a woman who worried about wolves and cougars eating her husband? She had no answer. Her mind just hung there, in a strange kind of limbo.

 “Maybe you’re trying too hard,” Oliver suggested. “Maybe you should take a break.” He was standing in the doorway to her office, watching her adjust the cushion on the floor. “I can’t take a break,” she said, sitting back down and crossing her legs. “My whole life is a break. I really need to do this.”

“Have you ever bullied a wave?” Jiko asked me at the beach.

He was sitting at his desk, wearing his noise-canceling headphones and whistling a tuneless tune as he surfed the Internet. Next to him, the cat was asleep in the old swiveling office chair they’d gotten for him from the dump. They called it his co-pilot chair, and it was where he most liked to be. They’d gotten the cat from the dump, too.

Finally I achieved my goal and resolved my childhood obsession with now because that’s what a drum does. When you beat a drum, you create NOW, when silence becomes a sound so enormous and alive it feels like you’re breathing in the clouds and the sky, and your heart is the rain and the thunder. Jiko says that this is an example of the time being. Sound and no-sound. Thunder and silence. 

Do not think that time simply flies away. Do not understand “flying” as the only function of time. If time simply flew away, a separation would exist between you and time. So if you understand time as only passing, then you do not understand the time being.

September 11 is one of those crazy moments in time that everybody who happened to be alive in the world remembers. You remember it exactly. September 11 is like a sharp knife slicing through time. It changed everything.

He sat perfectly still, studying his hands in his lap. “I know it is a stupid idea to design a weapon that will refuse to kill,” he said. “But maybe I could make the killing not so much fun.”

At one point in my life, I learned how to think. I used to know how to feel. In war, these are lessons best forgotten.

If there’s a dead-cat world and an alive-cat world, this has implications for the observer, too, because the observer exists within the quantum system. You can’t stand apart, so you split, like an amoeba. So now there’s a you who is observing the dead cat, and another you who is observing the alive cat. The cat was singular, and now they are plural. The observer was singular, and now you are plural. You can’t interact and talk to your other yous, or even know about your other existences in other worlds, because you can’t remember . . .”

I’d much rather know, but then again, not-knowing keeps all the possibilities open. It keeps all the worlds alive.

The many-worlds interpretation, proposed by the American physicist Hugh Everett in 1957, challenges this theory of wave function collapse, positing instead that the superposed quantum system persists and branches. At every juncture—in every Zen moment when possibilities arise—a schism occurs, worlds branch, and multiplicity ensues. Every instance of either/or is replaced by an and. And an and, and an and, and an and, and another and . . . adding up to an infinitely all-inclusive, and yet mutually unknowable, web of many worlds.

My review of A Tale for the Time Being

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska @vkphotospace.com 

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