Bookish Asia review: All Flowers Bloom

http://bookish.asia/all-flowers-bloom-%e2%80%a2-kawika-guillermo/

All Flowers Bloom, written by Kawika Guillermo and published by Westphalia Press, is a book that is difficult to define, let alone review. It is ostensibly a novel, classified as queer speculative fiction, but there is not exactly a plot to follow. At least, there is not just one plot but at least 26 smaller stories within. The protagonist is not only one character, but a multitude of characters linked by a resurrected soul repeating through time in chapters labeled from A to Z. Gender and nationality and circumstances change again and again, leaving the reader with strong impressions but hard to remember details… Not unlike a dream that way.

The main character, if a name can be given at all, is called 871. (The only other character, just S.) The only consistent setting to keep track of is the strange surreal limbo known as the Ilium, the afterlife waystation described irreverently as some kind of gaudy cruise ship, a lonely sort of paradise. There, this soul finds him or herself occasionally between lives, reflecting on what has come before.

That reflection is often about love, for this is above all a love story. The most epic love story imaginable, consisting of endless lifetimes as two souls find each again and again in new circumstances. Guillermo shows much range in writing about so many times and places.

When the journey begins, far back in Biblical times, the prose is already eminently powerful in describing the obsessive struggle to go on. “The day didn’t come by itself. We had to push the sun up, lift it with our arms to keep time from standing still.”

The whole setup of this world is not explained in so many words initially, leaving the reader to interpret. Eventually, some questions are answered, such as in a certain lifetime when the two intertwined souls find themselves in warring tribes and a shaman explains, “You were in love before you were born.”

However, another theme other than love that keeps coming up is the concept of death. There are the suicides, the lives failed. One lifetime ends with the execution of a Roman slave, a tragedy finalized by the beautiful line, “The debris of time stripped away until I collided with your corpse.”

All over time and place, the book keeps going. The Kanem Empire. Colonized India. Every land from history that can be imagined. In imperial China, the soulmates are prostitute-courtesans unable to admit they are lovers. Sadly, in many of these timelines love is a sin. In so many cultures, their love is a blasphemy. They are infidels.

Soon, the chapters begin to catch up to the 20th century, featuring American servicemen, World War II from the perspective of a German POV, and the nearly-modern 1970s. Meanwhile, in the afterlife ‘Pleasure Cruise’, he/she laments on all these past lives while hibernating eternity away. Yet if this sounds too serious, there’s also plenty there to lighten the mood “Heaven has alcohol,” they say. “That’s what makes it Heaven.”

This sort of book can be a challenge, admittedly. The questions asked and unanswered repeat themselves at times, the fanciful wordsmithing is something the reader can appreciate and also something that can be exhausting. “The stream was a consciousness,” the text explains, a metaphor most literal.

In Book Two, the poetry continues but suddenly an even more ambitious genre begins. As the present time comes and goes, we enter the science fictional era. So begins tales of the corporate wars to come, of digitally uploaded sentience, of post-humanism. This makes for some truly surreal futuristic sex scenes.

Foremost, this is still a spiritual tome. From the Islamicist references early on, to a bourgeoning Buddhist enlightenment as the novel progresses, religion keeps coming up. One question that is repeatedly asked and never answered to satisfaction, is that of who and what is a god.

“Do gods exist?” (s)he asks.
“We’re the only gods I know of,” is answered. “We are the only true gods.”
“We’re souls, not gods.”
“We. Are. Gods.”

And back and forth it goes into infinity, never truly explained.

Millennia later, it turns out that this story may be more cynical than all that love talk previously implied. Not that there wasn’t foreshadowing. “Love is a false desire when directed at one rather than many,” warned the Buddha. A good reviewer shouldn’t give too much away, but perhaps there’s a lesson in there about how when we get what we want it doesn’t always make us happy. Even if it takes four thousand years.

If all is erased, then was it just meaningless? That is up to the reader to decide. In the grand scheme across epochs, there were three phases: Generation, Optimization, and Destruction. Interpret that as you will.

As for the title, early in the book we are told that not all flowers bloom. Yet later, after so much philosophizing, another conclusion is reached. All Flowers Bloom!

So there is reason to hold out for hope after all. Don’t ever forget it.

2013: My epic clusterfuck drama year

Previous: 2011 to 2012: Turning thirty, weddings, and the end of the world

Read all at Webtoons.com

2013 – My epic clusterfuck drama year: It should have been nice, I joined a writing group ad even got a newspaper job. But endless relationship drama kinda’ ruined everything, such as when I got a stalker and also some of that all-encompassing despair of heartache…

DATING IN CHINA

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DATING IN CHINA


(Table of Contents)

Firstly, from 2008 on:

Prologue: How I came to China

Part 1: Burning Man
I go to a big trippy festival

Part 2: Doing LSD at Burning Man
I expand my mind and receive an invite abroad

Introductions

Intro to Dating in China
First things first, let me explain how this thing will work

I arrive in China
The story officially begins, I get here

Girls

Mona
My first China-based girlfriend, and how that didn’t work out

Julia
The next level… Sigh, was it love?

Mary
A summer romance, a brief flight, all too innocent

Annie – Sky – Lulu – more
Singlehood, bachelor life, the learning process, playing the field…

Zoey

The Beginning
Long-term relationship begins, a defining point in my life

An American intermission
You can’t go ‘home’, and I try and I fail and I drift

The End
Finally, and sadly, nothing lasts forever

 

GUANGZHOU YEAR
In the city… the city of Canton…

And now, 2011 to early 2012:

My Guangzhou Year 1
An intro to the new status quo, as I pack up move to the ancient land of Canton/
the modern megacity of Guangzhou

Dating GZ Edition – Kendra
First story, I meet a crazed American abroad and adventured therein
Public nudity and disrespect, among other themes

China to Thailand to Cambodia
I travel, I bring a certain Cynthia, I make mistakes
But hey, that’s life and at least I got to see a new place

Dating – visitors and friends, others
Some characters from previous entries reappear, old friends reunite, a funny story happened one day
This time it’s not just about me

Rejected in Guangzhou
The stories everyone seems to want to know. Rejected!
Featuring Josephine, Seline, and more

The End – my humble successes
On a final positive note, sometimes life works out rather fine
It was a good year, I experienced a lot
I really shouldn’t complain

 

2012

Back to Shenzhen
In which I return to this town that somehow suits me

Emma
I begin the online game~

Jeanie
I have a girlfriend! I really did!

Yuki
I must admit, things got a tad gross.
Hope this wasn’t the beginning of a certain pattern…

 

2013: Epic Clusterfuck Year

Not Dating in America (and Hong Kong, and Canada)
2012 comes and goes and the world doesn’t end,
Meanwhile a bad start as I embark upon a year of drama bullshit

The Stalker
In which I make a foul choice which ends up following me around all year.
Dark times. No fun.

Carmen
I meet someone cool and travel to the Philippines
A brief positive note, albeit all too brief

Sonia – Jing – Amelia
POF, a site, met some peoples from differing lands, times are had,
and then I quit online dating forever more

The Very End
And I do mean it, the very very end.
I reflect and I consider and now it is time to move forward–

Dating in China – The Very End.

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A picture of me I took yesterday

2013, as I keep saying, was my Epic Clusterfuck Year.

Online dating, star-crossed romance, stalking, embarrassments abroad. I had it all.

Meanwhile, my so-called ‘career’ began to slowly take off. I published many an article, worked as a copy-editor, got a certain book deal. I moved, I moved again. All the while searching for that perfect match, and when the search availed I started again, with more baggage piling up and more losses to show for it.

It used to be that I did my thing, make the ol’ money and moderately exercise and read books and study, and I was more or less productive. I was prolific, and nobody in the world knew. Then this year came, it all escalated, I had no more time to myself, and I know my craft suffered for it.

In the end, I had very little to show. Very little to brag of indeed.

And yet, it got even worse. The story was far from over.

And yet, I will not continue this story.

 

I thank all you readers for being interested in my petty life, and for letting me share and purge. It’s been very therapeutic. I do hope it’s been a good read.

Unfortunately, we are now catching up to the present, and it is still too soon. It is getting a bit too real.

It’s awkward enough when I’ve written these things and someone out in real life tells me they remember that time. I shan’t do that anymore. I’m not out to expose secrets here; I’m obviously not completely into anonymity either, but I do have limits.

So that is that.

 

Allow me merely be reflective upon a memoir’s epilogue not yet written.

Wait a year or two or ten, and I may get back to you in more detail.

It’s a shame, it would have made for some great writing… Woulda’ been ten blogs worth at least…

 

Sigh: One. Her. Pejorative Nickname. I had a whole internal dialogue about what pseudonym or pronoun to use and what level of respect is accorded, and I will not share the conversation with you! Sorry.

 

Nevermind that.

Look. I know I’m not particularly innocent. I know I’m not.

But there was one day I lost the very last shreds of my innocence, and I can never ever get it back.

I heard things I never heard before, I was told things no one else has ever since told me.

That lasts.

I am, however, so over it.

 

I’m slightly better at relationships since that time. A little bit. A teensy, tiny, very little bit. But slightly better nonetheless.

A better class of person has graced my own personage, and know that it is appreciated.

I learned about all I could learn from the scenario. Okay? Okay?!! Okay.

At this point in my life I’d prefer to play it cool. Grow somewhat, take things seriously, and simultaneously be cool.

To get over myself, as it were.

Enough already with the self-indulgence.

 

It is 2014. In fact, 2014 is almost over. It is an even-numbered year, and I tend to do better in even-numbered years. It has been a year of much reflection and evolution, it truly has.

I hope I can keep it up.

Soon it will be another odd-numbered year, and it will be hard on me and I’ll need all the help I can get.

There are new challenges to consider, new stages in life and amazing things yet to occur. There will be novelty. There will be grace. There will be magic and fire and art and power.

Time to seize this living thing.

 

The dealing-with-my-issues stage is over. It is now time to go go go–

 

 

Wish me luck.

 

 

 

Thanks again for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

–Ray

DATING IN CHINA – MEGAPOST 1

And now for your reading enjoyment. In case you missed it before. Allow me to lay it all out.

Megapost of my personal dating memoirs, covering the time span of August, 2008 to February, 2011

Links, from the beginning:

Prologue: How I came to China

Part 1: Burning Man
I go to a big trippy festival

Part 2: Doing LSD at Burning Man
I expand my mind and receive an invite abroad

Introductions

Intro to Dating in China
First things first, let me explain how this thing will work

I arrive in China
The story officially begins, I get here

Girls

Mona
My first China-based girlfriend, and how that didn’t work out

Julia
The next level… Sigh, was it love?

Mary
A summer romance, a brief flight, all too innocent

Annie – Sky – Lulu – more
Singlehood, bachelor life, the learning process, playing the field…

Zoey

The Beginning
Long-term relationship begins, a defining point in my life

An American intermission
You can’t go ‘home’, and I try and I fail and I drift

The End
Finally, and sadly, nothing lasts forever

 

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Zoey – the end

Dating in China or anywhere else in the world, breakups usually don’t just happen in one swift moment. It’s not like one second you’re in a relationship, and the next second you are officially single and you can use a stopwatch to catch the exact nanosecond. No, it’s a fuzzy math sorta thing. It softly fades, it backtracks and starts again. There is no specific point, it’s not digital it’ is analog. It’s a fractal.

Autumn, 2010. I had come back from America, while concurrently trying to convince a girl from my hometown to come follow me to Shenzhen, ready for a new apartment and a slightly new life. This time I had a smaller more city-ish apartment off Shennan Road (the central artery of the city), near a park and it suited me well. The fancy high-rises aren’t me.

Just one roommate, an American fellow with his own business. He was a bad drunk but a very good roommate. He had his own thing going on, and we’d hang out on occasion and leave each other alone when necessary. No roomie pressure. I worked more, made money. Started writing again, researched for a certain story, that ol’ dream postponed since coming here was starting up again and things were looking good.

Meanwhile, I needed to settle things with Zoey. I simply said we were in a rut. Then, after pressed for more, I was completely honest about the other girl in America. Oh, that vague situation that turned out to have no real meaning. She cried, my own heart was stretched thin, and feeling like shit and hating myself I then concluded that I was a bad person.

With Zoey, it wasn’t even the first time we’d broken up. Yet it was the most serious reason so far. Was it final yet? No. Numbed, we talked about it too much and acted on it too little, just ended up continuing the same things. We kept in touch, fell into bed a few times. I wasn’t sure what I wanted.

She wrote me a letter that tore me apart, and she told me “I’m not ready.” I thought and I thought, and some on-again-off-agains from time time, and I gave in. I decided we belonged together and it was time for me to do the right thing and stay with her. And stay with her I did.

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Dating in China – Julia

This one is gonna get sappy…

Dating in China would imply Chinese girls, wouldn’t it? Not necessarily. Behold, expat girls too, lost love, bittersweet memories~

I remember the first time I met Julia. I was at the usual pub with my pals, where we often frequented on the weekends. It was her birthday. I learned right away she was older than me. Up to four years.

She was so beautiful. And she still is. Tall, long legs, my height exactly. Bright blonde hair, dyed. She dressed casual, wore a white T-shirt and tight jeans. A very cute, very feminine face (sometimes tall women have more rugged squared-off faces, but not her). Perfect body, slim but not too much like that anorexic style of bar models.

Always elegant. She spoke English with a sexy Eastern European accent, a softer version of Russian. I have Slavic family and I know the general tone, but it turned out she was from an EU country. I wasn’t wrong in guessing that she studied in Moscow. She lived in Shenzhen as a classically-trained music teacher, and even performed at major concert halls on occasion.

I didn’t think I had a chance with her at all. Anyway, I was with Mona at the time.

I recall asking her how she felt turning that milestone age, and she said she didn’t feel different.

I probably didn’t make much of an impression the first time. I was just another white guy in the crowd. I tried to be funny, tried to be nice, but when you’re an expat you meet new faces constantly. Only a few stand out and prove to worth remembering. I wasn’t that special, not yet.

Well, we were in the same social and professional circles, and often crossed paths. From bar to bar, and even within the same garden, we’d bump into each other and say hello. I started seeing more of her. I started being more memorable. We’d hang out and text each other and generally be friends.

One day, I was dancing on a clean E pill and I flirted with her and made her laugh. That’s all, and it was a great night I remember it fondly.

The night things finally escalated. Me and another guy were at her apartment late. Perhaps we both had something on our minds, some subtextual competition. My American friend eventually got tired and left, while I stayed into the early hours of the morning. We sat together on her sofa and somehow I found the courage to kiss her.

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