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May 15, 2010

I remember dreaming, many a times, when I was a child.

My dreams were always more vivid than the real life that went on around me. They are also what I recall the most. In them, I could fly, be a super spy chasing faceless strangers through windy alleyways, I could even die. Once, I woke up with heart pounding, having tripped while running down the stairs after a relentless chase, and looking up from the colorless ground, saw the gun pointed clearly at me, and then…pop. Nothing.

There was no tunnel, no white light. Just…Nothing.

Even in my dreams, I was faithless.

Faith is a funny thing. Organized faith implies freedom and promises happiness. In return it asks for one’s utter, complete offering of trust in the promises it offers, and in return it asks for the unquestionable adherence to its established way of life, and in return it promises one that one will be happy.

The logic never appealed to me. Or perhaps, that is because I lacked faith?

Blankets“, the celebrated 2003 graphic novel by Craig Thompson, in its beautiful, hauntingly nostalgic way, triggered all those tucked away, naive and bittersweet questions I harbored in my youth. Naturally inquisitive and excessively sensitive, those fundamental queries of the nature of our existence appeared to me at an early age. I thought about them incessantly. Fretted over the purpose of my life in this world, the purpose of my breathing on this earth. I used to hold my breath in front of a mirror, watching the colors in my face change until stars began to cloud my vision. In a way, it was my attempt to measure what it feels like to be alive.

I never did quite figure it all out. The meaning of life.

As I got older, those vague, grand questions fell further and further away, as the features of reality invaded my mind, tangled up in between the lilac-colored dreams.  Obligations. Responsibilities. Purposes. Goals. Accomplishments. Success. Failure. Bills. Income. Career…their hard corners burst the airy bubbles with such flawless ease. My life became an endless list of priorities. One after another they stretched on, as each item became heavier and more permanent than the previous, and the link between them became shorter and fainter. Somewhere along the way, my life was no longer more than the sum of its parts. It was no longer the free flowing link of dreams that I envisioned as a little girl, looking out the window into the starry night. It became a stony path, immovable, inked by the colorless, faceless items that stack so neatly, one after another, just like the faceless strangers that I chased through my dreams, ending in a crumple on the colorless ground.

These two pages, near the end of “Blankets,” particularly stayed with me:

I read the book in two go, having fallen asleep in the midst due to sheer exhaustion. All throughout Billie Holiday permeated the air with her sultry, timeless voice. It was tender, tragic, loving, nostalgic, beautiful, and bittersweet every single second, every single note, every single song. I soaked in my own foaming nostalgia, flipping each page slowly, earnestly, carefully. After the last page has been turned, I smoothed my right palm over the blue and white back cover, warmed with my body heat, it showed young Craig on the midst of a hill, running toward his brother standing at the top, laughing and waving. Then I turned the book over, smoothed my left palm over the front cover, tracing my fingers through each white letter of the title, trailing down through the blue trees and melancholy shadows, coming to a rest on Craig and Raina, boy and girl, huddled at the bottom right corner, their footprints lying behind them in the snow. And I thought, how nice it is to leave our mark in this world…no matter how temporary.


Dreaming when awake.
Nightmares frozen in the dark.
Little white flower meanders through hollow hearts.
Gloomy Sunday. Billie Holiday haunts.

p.s. Here is the playlist of Lady Day that I listened to while reading “Blankets.” For curling up by the window on a rainy day, listening to water drops dance across the rooftop, and watching your breath fog up the glass.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. May 16, 2010 2:03 AM

    A chill just ran up my spine at that last sentence. Good lord, Grace, is there ANYTHING you can’t review and make beautiful? And not just that last sentence; that whole last paragraph is just stunning. Wow.

    Also, ever notice how much happier kids are than adults? Is it because they still live within their fantasy worlds, while we have let ours slip through life’s cracks like swirls of sand through time?

    And yet, every time I open up my Calvin and Hobbes comic books, I remember what it was like to be young.

    Grace: The last sentence is actually inspired by the end of the book, so I can’t take full credit. Thanks.

  2. May 16, 2010 2:37 AM

    I loved Blankets. I also devoured it in a couple of sittings. I had read Thompson’s Carnet de Voyage and liked it very much, but I wasn’t prepared for his openness about the confusions and spiritual longings of growing up, and for the lyrical beauty of much of the illustrations as well as the prose. Thanks for reminding me — I think I’ll go and read it again.

    Grace: I can’t wait for his next book “Habibi” now. Wikipedia says he had about 130 pages left to go in May 2009, so hopefully it’ll be out sooner rather than later!

  3. May 16, 2010 3:13 AM

    “The act of waking is dependent upon remembering.”

    You do the novel such wonderful justice here with your reflections and memories.

    Thank you for reminding me of so very much. You’ve managed to capture exactly what I was feeling when I first finished the novel. I couldn’t put it down, and was so overwhelmed by all my long forgotten childhood and teenage questions that I could only cry for some time.

    Now I wish I was into more Billie Holliday at the time, that would have helped tremendously.

    I’m also tremendously jealous of this perfect mix and wish that I’d thought of it at some point in my multiple visitations to Blankets over the years.

    Thank you again.

    Grace: He tapped into something so universal to all of us – our childhood dreams, and their eventual hardening. I don’t know if I did it justice, I could only describe what I felt. There was something about Billie Holiday’s voice that evoked the feeling of those pages so…sincerely. Don’t know why I didn’t include the playlist I made – it’s now at bottom of the post. Like Roger said, perfect for a rainy day.

  4. S M Rana permalink
    May 16, 2010 4:20 AM

    …and departing leave behind us
    Footprints on the sands of time.


  5. May 16, 2010 8:32 AM

    Thank you for this Grace. You really opened a path down memory lane this morning. Billie Holiday was a dear friend whose art I love and admire. I was introduced to her and her music by a once college roommate of mine who was her pianist for many years. My memories of Billie are bittersweet as a result of the brilliance of her music and the sadness of her life. Still, I consider it a privilege to have heard her so often throughout her career/ Now you have me wanting to read “Blankets.” Thank you very much!

    Grace: Edgar, that is lovely. What a pleasure it must have been to know of such a voice and I wonder, such a soul. Blankets is one of those books that you can read, and then pass it on as a gift to another. I love the weight and the paper.

  6. May 16, 2010 10:38 AM

    For me, Milton’s description of Eden and its creatures will always have the Chemical Brothers’ ‘Surrender’ pulsing behind it. Happy accident, there.

    It’s great that you were willing to mix two artforms to build your own experience. We can get so stressed out reading books we admire, for fear of missing part of their meaning–it takes courage to approach one while refusing to isolate it in its own brilliance. As long as we have respect for the artist’s work, we’re free to let our brains expand the meaning without limit, even by mixing one medium with another in ways that seem inappropriate. In those moments, the art belongs to us.

    Grace: That’s interesting, Eden and Chemical Brothers. I believe artforms and their appreciation should be expansive instead of restrictive.

  7. May 16, 2010 12:30 PM

    I remember when I first read it. I sat in the dark and kept remembering old memories, the little things, like me and my brother giving each other mustaches using toothpaste. We spent a lot of our childhood just fooling around but with age we went into our separate paths.

    I think it’s when we start questioning our beliefs and our place in this universe that things started to change. We still see each other on a daily basis (he lives with me) but we are nowhere as close as we once were. This aspect about the book hit a note with me. I desperately tried to re-tighten our bond after reading “Blankets”.

    There’s a phase in every life when we feel lonely and separated from everyone we cared about. It’s a vital phase when we discover who we truly are. This discovery brings you closer to your self, if that makes any sense, but also makes everyone else so distant.

    As you said Craig uses some universal themes. I think anyone can connect with the different stages of his life. I will re-read it some time next week and listen to your playlist while doing so.

    Today I found out that “Blankets” actually has a soundtrack. I wish I knew before reading it the first time. Still, instead of waiting ages for it to arrive to Egypt, I’ll listen to the playlist. For those of you interested in the “Blankets” soundtrack, follow this link:

    I don’t know if it’s any good though.

    Grace, I’m so glad you liked the book. This really made my day. Whenever I recommend it to certain people they would ignore my advice on the basis that it’s a graphic novel. Not you though, you’re different…I knew you would like it. It has Grace Wang written all over it.

    Don’t you love the art too? The art is fantastic. Some of the beautiful drawings are so expressive, words could never do it any justice (or so I thought). Somehow, you made it all so much more beautiful. The way you describe things still amazes me. You catch the little things, the things that matter, and manage to put them in words.

    If you don’t write your first novel soon, I’ll go Annie Wilkes on you and force it out of you :)

    Grace: The brothers….of course. Sometimes I forget you have a twin brother. That must have hit home so much harder for you. You said it well that in every life there is a phase of separation and independence. The childhood closeness and simplicity is beautiful, but it would be strange to have that glued in place forever, don’t you think? The key is those mustaches you did draw on each other, they never completely go away.

    The art is gorgeous. I love the feel of the paper too. It’s nice to hold a substantial book in your hands, you know? By the end your emotions weight just as much and it feels like holding your heart in your hands.

  8. May 16, 2010 12:34 PM

    Holy shit! That’s one hell of a playlist. I just listened to some of the songs there. I won’t be purchasing the “Blankets” soundtrack afterall. You’re right, it fits the mood of the novel perfectly. Thank you sweety :) MUAH

    Grace: so I just listened to the Amazon soundtrack (didn’t even know there was one) and it’s so…different! Cleaner, airy, a modern simplicity. I can see how it suits the context of the book but for me it is too…clean. There is a heaviness to nostalgia that needs to be evoked through a compassionate human voice. You get it…

  9. May 16, 2010 2:20 PM

    Hi Grace,

    Thanks for this post. I read “Blankets” two years ago and your post encouraged me to unearth my copy from some dusty book pile downstairs. I almost forgot how utterly raw and innocent this book is. It was one of the first works that made me think about being a graphic novelist.

    Have you read his travelogue “Carnet de Voyage”? They’re little vignettes, but Thompson’s art is so vivacious and his writing so intimate it’s really sort of wonderful.

    Also, I love Billie Holiday, but I feel her music taps into an almost collective or national sense of nostalgia from a generation much older than Thompson’s. I would suggest Nick Drake as another soundtrack option. His music really manifests the youthful sort of quiet longing that I think “Blankets” expresses so powerfully:

    Just a thought. Anyway, fantastic post. I’ve been following your Twitter for a while now, but I see your blog posts are where the gems lie! Keep it up!

    – Michael

    Grace: Thanks Michael. I tend to prefer the older generation for nostalgia inducing tunes, but I see what you mean about Nick Drake.

  10. May 16, 2010 5:17 PM

    I know, it would be strange. Still, I miss him sometimes. It’s hard to explain.

    I always had a thing for books, so I know how you feel about the physicality of it all. I’ll die before purchasing an e-book over a hard copy. The same goes for letters.

    One of the reasons “You’ve Got Mail” wasn’t nearly as good and romantic as the original Jimmy Stewart movie “Shop Around the Corner” is because snail mail is so much more beautiful than instant emails.

    Best Regards,
    Wael Khairy

    Grace: You took the words right out of my mouth.

  11. May 16, 2010 7:11 PM

    That’s just beautiful, Gracie. Now, don’t you go gently into that good career, hear me? Rage, rage against the dying of creativity. XOXOXOXOxoxoxoXOXOXOXOX

    Grace: Thanks Tommy. I’m waiting for the day you discover me… ;)

  12. May 16, 2010 10:29 PM

    I just put a hold on a copy at the library, and that with SIFF coming up. Now see what you’ve made me do? :-)

  13. May 25, 2010 5:27 PM

    I found this quote while reading The Book of Success yesterday:

    Taste is only to be educated by contemplation, not of the tolerably good but of the truly
    excellent. I therefore show you only the best works; and when you are grounded in these,
    you will have a standard for the rest, which you will know how to value, without overrating
    them.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    So maybe I need to read more of the truly excellent before I make this next comment, but all that I know is that I got a similar feeling reading the last paragraph of your post as I did reading the last few pages of The Great Gatsby.

    Also, whether or not this is your best post, it is certainly my favorite.

    I’ll let you know what I think of the book. :-)

    Grace: Can I have this spoken outloud on a tape recording? Certainly would be helpful on those bad hair days.

  14. May 28, 2010 5:34 AM

    simply beautiful

  15. June 14, 2010 10:47 PM

    Just finished this book for the second time. The first time, I read it without listening to your playlist (because of a late payment on a late fee, my Internet service was cut off on the day I wished to start reading the book). The second time, your playlist played on a continuous loop in the background while I read.

    I found that reading this book SLOWLY–allowing myself time to savor each illustration–while listening to Lady Day, made for the best reading experience. The melancholy, the emotion, the contemplative nature of certain passages in this illustrated novel resonate much more strongly when a mood is suggested and contemplation is assured.

    Now I can get back to Sylvia and her unending journals. ;-)


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