August 13th, 2011

Maria

Thoughts on playing tennis.

I think I would get a lot more out of Saturday morning tennis sessions if it weren't so blistering hot. It would be nice to play under some sort of roof or some shade; but the courts at NUS are neither shaded or covered.

Then again, I definitely prefer playing outdoors in the day rather than at night (I've never played indoors before but I can't imagine that would be any fun). I have ball visibility issues at night; sometimes I can't see the ball as clearly when I'm looking up and staring at the floodlights at the same time; other times, I just can't see the ball as clearly, period, because of the darkness at night.

But it's just so energy-draining to play under the hot sun. The ideal time to play is probably 8 a.m. but there's just no way I can get up that early and still make it to the courts in one piece.

Anyway, I played pretty well today, as opposed to last week which was a total disaster. I was not as tired, I was more awake, more alert, moved better, set up better for the shots. More importantly, my backhand was not completely AWOL today, unlike last week when 80% of my backhand went into the net.

Honestly, the most tiring thing about tennis isn't the physical assertion; it isn't the running or the swinging of the racquet. No, the most tiring thing about tennis is the mental focus that's required to sustain a certain level of play for a period of time that's longer than, say, ten minutes. I find that the minute I start thinking about how hot it is and how tired I am in my head, that's also the precise minute at which I start playing like shit. Simultaneously, I also find that it's extremely difficult to concentrate on hitting balls and to stay focused when I'm really, really honest-to-god melting under the sun, when I can feel the rays of the sun burning into my skin (it's 6 hours later and I can still feel it on my calves). I know that this is true, because I can make myself do pretty much anything when my mind is focused on the task. For instance, even though I was on the verge of collapse, I made myself chase down a wicked cross-court forehand that NUS Wall Guy hit with some degree of pace; immediately after that, my mind gave up and I had to take a break.

Maybe I should try imagining that I'm playing by the sea or whatever, where it's cooling and pretty, instead of the industrial town that is NUS.

Also, I way prefer receiving hard balls as opposed to soft loopy balls that give me too much time to prepare and/or think. If the ball comes hard and fast at me, I'm forced to react instantly and quickly; more crucially, I can absorb the pace of the ball and re-directed it to wherever I want. But if the ball is soft, slow, and bounces high, I find myself at a loss of what to do for about a split second - and it's a split second too long, for when I'm finally mentally present again, I end up hitting the ball late and too close to the side, instead of out in front. I also have issues with generating my own pace, i.e. it's quite difficult to do that. I'm more comfortable matching my partner's speed, rather than creating my own and seeing where that takes me.

Actually, I really want a new racquet. I've been using this one for about a year and a half already, and I'm itching to use something a bit heavier, so that I can feel the ball more when I hit it for better control, hopefully.

Also, I still haven't figured out how to hit a forehand down the line. I do cross-court well, but if I can't even do that, then I should just stop playing. I was quite pleased with a cross-court forehand winner that I smacked off a sitter mid-court; so pleased, in fact, that I felt my fingers clench into a fist and I heard myself say, "Yes!" I stopped myself, though, when I realised what I was doing. I mean, this wasn't a match, you know?

***

It's a very fucking hot afternoon. It rained an hour ago and I'm sitting in front of my fan, feeling heat emanating from my body. It's always so hot; I can't wash my clothes without sweating, I can't brew coffee without sweating, I can't even sit in my room and type this with my fan blowing directly at me without sweating. It's too expensive to turn on the air-conditioning, so I just put up with it as best as I can.

Ugh.

I'm going out to the living room to read Julian Barnes.
Maria clap

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

I finished Julian Barnes' new novel in 1 day. I can't remember the last time I read a book this fast. Of course, my speed was definitely aided by the novel's length - more a novella, really, at 150 pages.

This book is unsettling. The themes that Mr Barnes explores are heavy and somewhat depressing: ageing, the loss of memory as a natural process of ageing, the adolescent expectation of what life would be like and how life eventually disappoints. I haven't finished it, but The Sense of an Ending reminded me of the themes that he dealt with in Nothing to be Frightened of.

In a narrower sense, in terms of the story, it's testament to Mr Barnes' brilliant writing and story-telling that, as the big secret is finally revealed in the last few pages, as the reader puts the pieces of the puzzle together alongside Tony Webster, the narrator, the sense of horror that Tony feels when he finally "gets it" is similarly felt by the reader. Mr Barnes drops clues throughout the novel, and we're hit repeatedly over the head by how the narrator is dense and self-absorbed; and when the pieces finally come together, the Eureka moment is chilling and horrifying.

I may be talking it up a bit, but honestly, this book doesn't play up the plot in the same manner that Ian McEwan, for example, did in An Enduring Love which I kind of hated. But it's precisely because Mr Barnes infused so much philosophy and ruminations on life and death and ageing and mortality and memory into his story that the plot almost becomes secondary to what the writer is intending to convey. This is honestly such a fantastic, brilliant work of literature; even the narrator's own perspective of life, and his reflection of his opinions held as a teenager, resonate with me. Reading a Julian Barnes novel is actually an intensely personal experience for me; for some reason, even though my experiences so far have absolutely nothing in common with his (I didn't go to Oxford, for one), I identify the most with the things that he writes about amongst all the books that I've read. This is perhaps why he's my favourite, favourite writer of all-time, bar none; and of course, I would sell my soul to the devil to be able to write half as well as he does, which I've said before a few years ago. His prose is elegant, sharp, pensive, profound, intelligent without being obscure. His natural (English?) wit comes through too, sometimes in the dialogue, sometimes in the narration itself. I would definitely admit that John Banville writes more poetic prose; but Banville's poetic prose is also slow and sometimes clunky. Julian Barnes is never clunky. He grabs your attention and never lets go of it. He expresses an opinion, but he's never didactic about it. And his characters are so well-realised and well-formed that they are always three-dimensional human beings, easily someone you know.

The Sense of an Ending has been longlisted for the 2011 Man Booker prize. He's been shortlisted 3 times prior but has never won. In 1989, his Flaubert's Parrot (another fucking amazing and amazingly and creatively constructed novel with a sad narrator at the heart of it) lost to Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day. In 1998, his England, England (first Barnes novel ever read - it was taught in JC. Whoever decided to include this in the curriculum, oh my god, thank you so much) lost to Ian McEwan's Amsterdam. In 2005, his Arthur & George (brilliant piece of historical fiction) lost to John Banville's The Sea.

As a hardcore Barnes fangirl, I sought out all of the aforementioned books and read them, just to see what was so great about these books that they beat out the works by my favourite writer. I do not object to Ishiguro winning in 1989 as I thought that The Remains of the Day is quite honestly a brilliant piece of restrained writing that spoke volumes in the characters' silence.

However, although I was enthralled by Banville's writing in The Sea, I didn't think it was worthy of the Booker over Arthur & George because Banville's beautiful, lyrical, poetic prose was also slow and plodding and at times overwrought. Even worse, reading McEwan's Amsterdam royally pissed the living shit out of me, especially since it beat out what was my favourite Barnes novel (if only for the simple reason that the character of Martha Cochrane resonated deeply within me) at the time. I just didn't get the point of Amsterdam, and in typical McEwan style, there was so much fucking build-up, but the pay-off was shitty. I mean, I get the criticisms levied against England, England; but how about the flaws inherent in Amsterdam?

All this is a long way of me saying that I really, really hope that justice is finally served and Julian Barnes finally wins the fucking Booker. It's ridiculous that a writer of his stature, reputation and sheer genius talent hasn't won it yet. Surely it has to be his year, with this book? It's about as short as Amsterdam so hopefully that's a good sign?

I know, I know - it's just a silly award. But I still want the deserving writer to win it.