Filling in the blank spaces – Coehlo’s “The Witch of Portobello”

To be honest, Coehlo’s “The witch of Portobello” was a disastrous let-down after how much I had enjoyed “the Alchemist”.

Coehlo said he was trying to understand his spiritual side in this book and truthfully, that might have just been its problem. It had too much “sermons” and straight theoretic talk on spirituality and religion, and within the context of such novel about love and finding yourself, many other things would have been of more interest.

On the other hand, it offered ideas which I liked. It was a long story, whose details I would not like to get into, perhaps another time. But the protagonist talked about one particular thing, and that was the idea of ‘blank spaces’, and that we all have them.

People who are missing something in life have many blank spaces, these are the moments between the words that we utter, these are the moments when your thoughts are for a second outside of your mind, these are moments of ‘out of it”s when you’re in the middle of doing something, but you suddenly feel like you’re at a lost…and you don’t know why or maybe you do…but these are the “blank spaces”.

I try to fill these blank spaces with constant things to do and that is because blankness brings in thoughts that I would more often like to block out of my head. And it’s funny because, the protagonist says that the only way to effectively fill the blank spaces is to confront those thoughts, or whatever it was that created that hole, and gap in the first place. But if I were to do so, I wouldn’t even be writing these lines.

And so I continue to work, I continue to read, I continue to write because it helps me to not think about the things that make me feel sad, and alone in the world….and because it helps those blank spaces to go through me more quickly.

My favorite quote in that book because I think it’s true for me and all of us,

“- Q:’Are you happy’

– A:’Yes’

– Q: ‘Do you want more?’

– A:’Yes’

-Q: ‘Then you’re really not happy..?”

And this is exactly where the blank space is –  at our hesitation to answer this last question.

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[Inspiration] The curious incident of the dog in the night-time

I finished the last few pages of “The curious incident of the dog in the night-time” last night or this morning, I should say, at 4 am.

I have this tendency to do what my mother says is ‘ a case of extremism’. I just think it’s memory loss, I’m afraid that if I don’t read it all at once (it was not too long or hard to read of a book) then I might lose the pace, the special flow of the story if you will. Or you could just say, I had a morning off today so I decided to push my limits. Anyhoo, the memory loss thing is no lie, I read things, and soon enough it just slips off my brain cells like a dog’s feet first time touching ice. I’ll find myself in situations where I try to describe something I had definitely read before, and with much interest, but then I just stop on brain-freeze, because I’ll only remember part of what was actually important. So I’ve decided to write things down, things I can go back on, drawings I can refer to should I forget this quite brilliant story that I just put down. Maybe you’d find it interesting too and have a look at it, it’s quite a short read.

‘The curious incident of the dog in the night-time” is a light, handy, orange, paper-back novel with an up-side down poodle on the middle of the front cover. I had found it in a quite dusty corner of Bookworm on Nguyen Thai Hoc street on Tuesday, and remember clearly that upon my removing it from the shelf, the owner had said “now that’s my kinda pre-sleep read right there, because then I won’t have to sleep”. Being there the first time ever, I wasn’t really sure if he truly liked the book or if he was just trying to get me to buy it. But my gullible nature surpassed any suspicions, and the preview in the back was quite catchy, so I gave in and the British (I presume) owner was quite pleased, and even gave me a free communist-themed bookmark.

The read was a new one to me, it’s written in a very simple manner,  but very, sometimes too logical and detailed that you get weary. But that’s just the point, the protagonist also narrator is a 15-year-5-month-n-2-day-old (at the beginning of the book) autistic boy. He doesn’t like talking to strangers because he believes in stranger danger lessons at his special needs school and also, being autistic, he just doesn’t like interacting with new people in general. Yet, he thinks in the most logical and concise manner that you could ever imagine. And he talks in this way: His favorite color is red, his most loathed color is yellow, and for that reason he thinks seeing 4 red cars in a row signal a super good day, while 4 yellow cars in a row mean a black day. And he knows all the prime numbers up to 376547898 and all the countries in the world, with their respective capitals and their respective populations. When he’s scared of being claustrophobic, he does math problems like multiplying 2 by itself until he gets to the hundreds of thousands, his record so far is 2 to the 52nd.

He thinks everything should follow patterns or some kind of rule…and he doesn’t believe in generalities. If I were to see a field of several cows, I would say it was a field with several cows. But he’d be able to say the exact date, and time at which he saw this field of cows, what hue of brown and green the grass was, what hue of blue or grey the sky was, how many cows there were, the patterns of black and white on the cow’s body …etc. And after a while, you get tired of his continuing on like this as you probably have with mine. And then something happens, the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime, of course…the poodle living across the street from Christopher, the boy, was killed with a garden fork.

Christopher jumps into this detective mission of his own, using all his logical alerts and know-hows…Father prevents him from “poking his nose into other people’s business” but he said that’s not clear at all – “people’s business”. He meets with other people and join in their “business” all the time, and it’d be impossible not to poke his nose into other people’s business. Slowly the story progresses, and the curious incident of the dog takes Christopher in stories of his father and thought-to-be-dead mother that his logical mind cannot quite comprehend. If I tell you all this part, then it really takes away the crux of the story…but it unravels beautifully in what would seem very touching for us but very disordered and unstructured for Christopher. As he finds his mother in his journey to London and goes out of his hometown of special foods, red, and yellow cars and known spaces, you understand the internal workings of how the autistic boy reacts to all these changes, to the parts of life completely unexposed to him, and how he surmounts his restrictions in social interaction abilities.

Again parts of the story are very detailed, with even drawings, and mathematical graphs and figures to demonstrate, you sometimes would stop on a page for nearly half an hour just to work out the math problem Christopher was talking about it. After reading this book, you’d think about how precise and meticulous his mind was, and for at least a day afterwards, you’d start to look at your surroundings this way, and you have the tendency to carry on your sentences until no detail was left untouched and untold. And that’s why I like the book so much, not just because you see into the workings of an autistic-savant* mind, you start to cherish too, the importance of intricacy in your surroundings.

* Now upon starting to read this book, I had no understanding of what autism was and what it meant to be an autistic-savant. Looked it up afterwards, and here’s the scoop on that: autism is a case of disorder in neural development, where the person has an inborn restricted ability to socially interact. About 10% of autism cases have savant abilities, which means they have extraordinary talents and knowledge such as Christopher: the ability to do mathematical problems up to endless numbers within seconds, the ability to memorize exact dates, time, years, cities..everything possible. The percentage of people who have these abilities in the normal population is only about 1%. These people used to be called “idiot savant” which in french, meant “unlearned skills”, but there, I’m guessing, later for the easily misunderstood terming, it was changed to autistic savant. Apparently there’s a movie called Rainman also about an autistic-savant and I’m curious to see it..but it is said that after seeing the movie, many people  presume that all autistic people are savants, which is not the case (only roughly 10% are, as said)

Apologize for the wordy description, I’m normally redundant in words but that has become more true after reading this book. Hope you’ll check it out!