Our Summer Reading List & Reviews

Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi

Fra Keeler

Dorothy, A Publishing Project, 2012.

Review originally Published in Bombay Gin Literary Journal

by Denise Angelle Kinsley

Fra Keeler

Fra Keeler, by Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi, makes me think of my past and of my future. I think of death and how my closest neighbor is dying next door. I think of my future death beyond my neighbor’s (or perhaps before). I have so many thoughts—almost as many as the novel’s nameless narrator. Fra Keeler summons thinking that traces back through my own memories and propels me forward to dreams of future events. It is an extended, manic episode through an unnamed character’s exploration of what’s real and what’s true. The narrative suggests that this type of examination should be a person’s raison d’être. While reading, I keep reasoning, “These thoughts are not me, nor do they belong to the narrator, nor the author. These thoughts are not what make up reality.”

The narrator in Oloomi’s book sets himself up for an exploration through his own thoughts on life and death when he intentionally buys the home of a deceased man, Fra Keeler, in order to investigate his death. Upon moving in, the narrator becomes preoccupied with the circumstances and details of Fra Keeler’s death as he wallows in a stream of constant mind babble—both conscious and unconscious. He philosophizes the meaning of life events by honing in on when things happen, how time passes, and why other characters appear when they do. The narrator in Fra Keeler struggles with an infiltration of illusion. At first, he experiences an onset of hallucinations when the mailman delivers a package from anscestry.com. These hallucinations soon move into a perpetual delirium every time the phone rings or someone knocks on the door. The events the narrator creates stem from his mind as both he and the reader move through the story’s landscape. The surroundings become a stage for the narrator to act out his imagination and to investigate the meaning of life and death. He explains how the present doesn’t exist; only the events of past and future are real.

In Fra Keeler, Oloomi lends regard to objective correlation and expresses the narrator’s emotions through thoughts and objects. Her writing captures feelings through object obsession. The skylight in the house is the most prominent object of contemplation. If the skylight reveals the idea of nothingness, it also becomes the guiding light that breaks through all the chatter of the narrator’s mind as he considers the limitations of chronological time:

So, what a lie it is, the present, because it doesn’t even exist. There is only the moving forward of events and the moving backward of one’s understanding over those events. To say there is a present, I thought, is to say there is a platform where events accumulate and then stop happening so one can evaluate their effect. It is what people do, I thought, feed themselves lies . . . the present is always cycling into the past, or transforming into a future moment.

The examination of the skylight makes him (and the reader) contemplate the existence of self beyond the physical realm:

There are certain surfaces from which nothing gets removed, nothing more accumulates. A steady humdrum of nothingness. . . But then thoughts get passed around from brain to brain, so that our thoughts are only ever a repetition of someone else’s thoughts. A thought that came before us and planted itself in our brain as though it belonged to us, inextricable from our being. And that is exactly what the skylight is, I thought: inextricable.

The twinkling of self-awareness within the narrator is just the beginning of a long journey toward self-realization. The narrator and I become inseparable. I cannot distance myself from him. Readers have no choice but to surrender to the constant flow from the narrator’s mind and become witness. There is no escaping it. I emotionally attach to the obsessive mind of the narrator.

As the book progresses, the incidences of the past are overtaken by the narrator’s investigation into the future. At this point, I still believe in time and space, but I become more aware of the distinctions, how they are either cataloged by real-time memory or by distant memory encoded in DNA.

Fra Keeler is an exploration and a performance of human consciousness. It reveals how the mind constructs illusion—such as momentary blindness—by attaching to dreams and memories. Oloomi subtly describes how lies about living in the present moment are only ideas about how to prolong death and eliminate time and space. The narrative extracts memory, conjuring words I once heard from a Zen teacher: “Caught in the self-centered dream, only suffering. Holding to self-centered thoughts, exactly the dream. Each moment, life as it is—the only teacher…” Fra Keeler brings attention to the present moment as being a subjective reality rather than an idealistic time warp. Oloomi draws attention to the observer of self and others by showing that it is impossible to disentangle the observer from the one being observed. Fra Keeler = Zen Teacher


Writing in the Present

ae9016eab77aae74082dc516ae85b8a4 Writing is another form of mindful meditation. Mindful or contemplative writing is an action of the mind captured on the page. When the writer engages with her writing tools—pen & paper and/or fingers & keys—she has to enter into that action. Her mind repeats that action and travels again through the action. It is a movement of the self through an activity of mindful thinking, so by the time she gets to the end, she is different than she was at the beginning. Mindful writing is a practice as well as an act.

Contemplative writing practice is a way to get things flowing—from thoughts, to breath, to words, to language, and finally to the page. The writing may be linear, fragmented, circular, and repetitive in both body and mind. The practice allows the writer to maintain awareness of thoughts and feelings as the physical action of writing takes place. Mindful practices cultivate a critical, first-person focus, sometimes with direct experience, while at other times concentrating on complex ideas or situations. Incorporated into daily life, they act as a reminder to connect to what we find most meaningful.

Mindful writing occurs when I become aware of the patterns and the process of creating. It is here that I shift to become the observer in order to keep the one being observed contained within the act of writing—in the present moment—free from the past and future. The writing then becomes free from internal and external distractions. It becomes more somatic. In this solitary action (the transcription of a dialogue between self and soul—if you will), transformation can surface and take shape.

Contemplative practices are practical, radical, and transformative, developing capacities for deep concentration and quieting the mind in the midst of the action and distraction that fills everyday life. Mindful practices can help develop greater empathy and communication skills, improve focus and attention, reduce stress and enhance creativity, supporting a loving and compassionate approach to life.

Life as It is. . .

I want to acknowledge my summer writing woes. I feel a little bummed about the fact that I haven’t worked on my novel in over a month. But I am having so much fun! There are so many things going on this summer that it is not easy for me to set aside time to write. The external distractions just keep piling up. I can find at least 10 ways to procrastinate everyday. At this point, the best thing for me to do is to accept the fact that I’m not going to do much writing this summer. Fall and winter are my most productive writing times anyway. So be it!

Even though I haven’t been writing these past few months, I still find myself thinking about language. Where would we be without language? Lately, I have been contemplating the the word SYMBIOSIS (it deserves all caps) /simbēˈōsis-bī-/ noun BIOLOGY  1. an interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both. 2. a mutually beneficial relationship between different people or groups/species.

I recently found this awesome quote by Peter Warshall, “We have to understand that since the planet is taking care of us, our job is to protect ourselves from ourselves. And once that change is made, that we are protecting ourselves from ourselves inside a symbiosis, then we can go on and create a politics that is different from the politics we have now…”

It got me thinking . . . How exactly are we supposed to return to a language of perfect unity? How do we name or label “things” without breaking or disrupting them? I am interested in the way we address language as a means to regain consciousness in the aftermath of a life of discord and rupture–as it appears to exist–on the inside and outside of myself and others. I am interested in how to reawaken, emerge, and grow from a rhizome within an autonomous zone in order to evolve as a species and protect other species.

Genius is the activity which repairs the decay of things. – Ralph Waldo Emerson