Category Archives: pondering

Normal People

Normal People (Sally Rooney)

“One night the library started closing just as he reached the passage in ‘Emma’ when it seems like Mr Knightley is going to marry Harriet, and he had to close the book and walk home in a state of strange emotional agitation. He’s amused at himself, getting wrapped up in the drama of novels like that. It feels intellectually unserious to concern himself with fictional people marrying one another. But there it is: literature moves him.”

I’m home right now, listening to my wannabe DJ neighbour blast his godawful techno music – not gonna lie, I am NOT going to miss that particular soundtrack after I move. I made my new landlord CONFIRM OFFICIALLY that my new neighbours will be quiet!! N. tells me that one of Natsume Soseki’s symptoms of madness and depression after he moved to England was paranoia and inability to tolerate noise – sure hope I am not going down that road…

Anyway, I’m happy that I was finally able to get around to reading my copy of Sally Rooney’s new novel, Normal People. FULL DISCLOSURE: I’ve met the author because we’re both published by the same publisher, were once nominated for the same award, and share a mutual friend. This… is the funny thing about maintaining one’s 10-year-old book reviewing blog. Who reads blogs anymore anyway, right? My minimum expectation at this point is to not be stalked and harassed like I was in fall of 2015, lol. And in 2008 I was definitely not, like, contemplating the “ethical” quandaries of discussing a book by someone I “know” (however tangentially). But isn’t the purpose of this blog (other than to amuse and entertain me – or, in Kurt Vonnegut’s words, to “fart around”) that of keeping track of books that made an impression on me? And that’s exactly what this book did! It made an impression on me! There it is: it moved me.

I’ve been looking forward to reading this for AGES. It’s actually really touching how many people I know who’ve said that they’ve been dying to read this! Is this… what being a Star Wars/Harry Potter fan like? In terms of enthusiastic anticipation? And yet what I found most interesting about this novel were the passages discussing the ‘purpose’ and ‘function’ of art, in a very Savage Detectives-esque vein:

“Everything about the event was staid and formulaic, sapped of energy. He didn’t know why he had come. He had read the writer’s collection and found it uneven, but sensitive in places, perceptive. Now, he thought, even that effect was spoiled by seeing the writer in this environment, hemmed off from anything spontaneous, reciting aloud from his own book to an audience who’d already read it. The stiffness of this performance made the observations in the book seem false, separating the writer from the people he wrote about, as if he’d observed them only for the benefit of talking about them to Trinity students. Connell couldn’t think of any reason why these literary events took place, what they contributed to, what they meant. They were attended only be people who wanted to be the kind of people who attended them.”

“Connell’s initial assessment of the reading was not disproven. It was culture as class performance, literature fetishised for its ability to take educated people on false emotional journeys, so that they might afterward feel superior to the uneducated people whose emotional journeys they liked to read about. Even if the writer himself was a good person, and even if his book was really insightful, all books were ultimately marketed as status symbols, and all writers participated to some degree in this marketing. Presumably this was how the industry made money. Literature, in the way it appeared at these readings, had no potential as a form of resistance to anything. Still, Connell went home that night and read over some notes he had been making for a new story, and he felt the old beat of pleasure inside his body, like watching a perfect goal… Life offers up these moments of joy despite everything.”

I found these passages very bad-ass – especially in terms of thinking of literature as valuable because, like football, it doesn’t serve a “utilitarian” purpose in society (assuming you cut out all the related commercial functions… or the consideration of football as a ritualistic outlet for aggression – ok, maybe this wasn’t the best comparison, but whatever, I never claimed to be a great essayist!). But yeah, literature as valuable precisely BECAUSE it is so useless. Useless in the sense that it can be made and given away, by you just writing in your notebook, for no one but yourself. Now that’s a stance I can really get behind. (This piece also very much supports my philosophy, in terms of how The Work Is All There Is. And this piece supports my philosophy about how Art Encourages Uncertainty and Openness, as Opposed to Capitalism)

What I probably found most touching (thematically) in this book was its emphasis on the importance of depending on others. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot – because in so many ways, the novel is a very ‘I’-obsessed form. If you think of the novel as a creation of a voice, a personality, a presence… that’s a very pro-U.S.A. mentality, in a way. To focus on the individual, rather than the group or the community. IDK. These articles (by Viet Thanh Nguyen and a New Yorker piece about Julio Cortázar) provided a lot of food for thought, back in the day when I read them.

Overall, I found this book incredibly thought-provoking, and it’s not often a book makes me feel that way.

“Marianne wanted her life to mean something then, she wanted to stop all violence committed by the strong against the weak, and she remembered a time several years ago when she had felt so intelligent and young and powerful that she almost could have achieved such a thing, and now she knew she wasn’t at all powerful, and she would live and die in a world of extreme violence against the innocent, and at most she could only help a few people. It was so much harder to reconcile herself to the idea of helping a few, like she would rather help no one than do something so small and feeble.”

“No one can be independent of other people completely, so why not give up the attempt, she thought, go running in the other direction, depend on other people for everything, allow them to depend on you, why not.”

Leave a comment

Filed under books, contemporary, fiction, pondering

Obama’s Wars

The last Bob Woodward book I read was “State of Denial” four years ago, also one of the first books I reviewed on this blog (four years ago–my God!! I was just a little BABY in swaddling clouts!). 2008 was a U.S. election year. Since 2012 is obviously another one (as evidenced by my father’s rants at the dinner table), it felt like an appropriate time for another dose of Woodward, despite the fact that I really don’t follow U.S. politics that closely–I guess don’t want to get sucked into the vortex i.e. the black abyss of pain, frustration and despair.

I’m glad I read this book. It made me feel super smart. The book is a VERY detailed (as in memo by memo, meeting by meeting) account of Obama’s decision to send 30,000 more troops in Afghanistan, a piece of news I greeted with wearied numbed indifference when it was first flashing across the headlines, back in the day. I think my reaction at the time was along the lines of “oh wow, more death-pain-and-murder in the world, big surprise.

The main thing this book made me think about is that politics and international relations (much like shrimping in Forrest Gump) is TUFF. I would not want to do it. Ever. Not even if you paid me a bajillion dollars. I do not see myself reading 66 page reports every night and then trying to decide to send off a bunch of young people for either death or PTSD in the Middle East.

Another important thing this book made me think about is (to put it bluntly) how much I hate war. From the way Woodward presents it, he makes it seem like the U.S. military was basically totally OK with have an increased military presence in Afghanistan, with NO specific objective about what they’re trying to achieve or a timetable for withdrawal. Like, are you kidding me? Are you seriously–effin’–kidding me. See, now I’m getting all upset; I knew it was a mistake for me to try to review this book. But can somebody honestly tell me what would be the point of hanging out in Afghanistan FOREVER with no GOAL?? That would be like me taking the kids out to recess and just being like oh yeah, we have no plan, no objective and no timetable. I’ll tell you what would happen if I did that consistently–I WOULD BE FIRED.

God, now I’m getting all worked up. Now I’m remembering that story on NPR I heard when I was driving back from Seattle at like 3am, after the Tori Amos concert. The story was basically “Iraq War: THE REVIEW!” The conclusion was basically that Iraqis are unsafer, unhappier and hate the U.S. more than they did under the rule of Sadam Hussein, and the U.S. has spent billions–BILLIONS!!!—of dollars in order to achieve. It makes me sick, it really does.

The last thing I have to say is that for what it’s worth I am glad that Obama is in office. Can you imagine if we’d had some pushover president in office who was like “oh sure military, let’s just do whatever you say!  I won’t question, contest you or challenge you at all! Sign me up!” Boy, it would be horrible to have a president in office be like that!! ….. oh wait, I just remembered eight years of my life.

I know progressives criticize Obama a lot and that people are, like, unhappy with him for being kind of a wimp for imagining that he could actually get along with the insanity that is the Republican party. But man oh man, this book really made it seem like he was in just this IMPOSSIBLE situation. Trying to deal with Afghanistan sounds to me like trying to clean up a carpet where somebody vomited, took a dump, set themselves on fire and then blew themselves up, with no soap and a really crappy sponge. And that is basically the situation that Obama is in, cleaning up Bush’s party. To his credit, he is quoted by Woodward as saying “I can’t let this be a war without end.” So thank you for that. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Forget this, now I’m all agitated. Now do you see why I can’t follow politics too closely?! My last comments about this book are the following:

– Woodward’s gossipy observations about the president of Afghanistan is basically manic depressive made me both LOL and feel intensely depressed.

– Biden honestly comes off as the most sensible person in this book. His constant insistence to focus on Pakistan was the smartest thing that anybody says. Biden, run for president! Bring your motorcycles and hot babes with you! (Go read an article about Biden on the Onion if you don’t believe me…)

Leave a comment

Filed under books, non-fiction, politics, pondering, review

Soulcraft

At some point in your life, you begin to wonder if perhaps there is more to life than another round of success (or failure) at the Standard Game of Security Building—the pursuit of your personal selection of career, material possessions, physical safety, comfort, social and sexual relations, and economic position. (47)

This book (Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche by Bill Plotkin) was an interesting one to read at the end of the year. My sister got it for Christmas and I have been skimming through it myself these past few days. I’m really going to have to get his other book, Nature and the Human Soul, the one Cary Tennis recommended. These are some of the things that I found interesting about this book:

– I liked the book’s emphasis on myth-making (particularly of the Joseph Campbell kind), storytelling and archetypes. I loved it when he used a scene from Star Wars to illustrate an example of Jung’s Shadow (hint: it’s the scene in The Empire Strikes Back). It made me want to re-read Jung: A Brief Introduction and actually take notes this time so that way I can actually remember concrete information about his theories. I liked Plotkin’s definition of archetypes as a representation of “the patterns and possibilities of being human,” and how we will all embody each archetype (some more than others) at each point in our lives. As I’ve said before, this idea of fragmentation and many, separate selves that are somehow all cohesive really appeals to me. Case in point: Tori’s American Doll Posse album, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles. I also liked how Plotkin argued for the ego to be reassigned “as an active, adult agent for soul, as opposed to its former role as an adolescent agent for itself.” (36) My ego DEFINITELY feels like an adolescent most of the time.

– My favorite part of the book was Plotkin’s discussion of specific archtypes, such as the Wanderer (seeker of adventure), the Wild Child (sensual creativity), the Nurturing Parent (does exactly what it sounds like!) or the Lone Solider. The latter particularly freaked me out because I wrote quite a few short stories this year that were about soldiers doing exactly what Plotkin says is the archtype’s purpose: an ally who protects you during childhood, but who needs to be told that the war is over, the battle is over and they can leave, they can go home. This archetype reminds me of another great mantra from Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life, in which you picture walking away from your pain, sadness, anxiety, depression etc. like a soldier laying down his arms and walking away from the battlefield. Just listen to this:

Common Loyal Soldier survival strategies include harsh self-criticism (to make us—the ego—feel unworthy and thus ineligible for Wild Child actions that might bring further punishment, abandonment or criticism); placing our personal agenda last, other codependent behaviors (e.g. caretaking, rescuing, enabling) to stave off abandonment; pleasing but immature and inauthentic personas; partial or complete social withdrawal (to minimize social contacts); adopting an unpleasant or downtrodden appearance (to protect us from criticism); restricting our range of feeling by encouraging us to always be in charge, busy, angry, ruthless, withdrawn, and/or numb; and suppressing our intelligence, talent, enthusiasm, sensuality and wildness by locking up these qualities in an inaccessible corner of our psyches. (92-93)

That’s a long passage but I wanted to type it all up so that I could remember it, because it was definitely the section of the book that impacted me the most in terms of its “whoa… I learned a lot from just reading that” factor.

– I also found the book’s emphasis on the theme of descent (as in the mythological hero’s descent into the underworld, a la Innana) very interesting. I agree with Plotkin’s POV that we live in a culture that “protects us from the hardships and dangers of the descent.” One of the main reasons that I liked his discussion of descent is because I’ve been thinking a lot lately (as I’ve said before) about depression and addiction (thanks again, Infinite Jest and Shame the movie!). I read this transcript online about a depression-themed radio episode that was really fascinating and that I highly recommend, especially its discussion of depression not as something as an excess of feeling (i.e. sadness) but more like something that’s the ABSENCE of feeling. The idea of needing to stumble through the darkness in order to get to the light appeals to me. It makes me feel like it has a purpose, and that you can emerge triumphant at the end.

– I really related to the book’s criticism of contemporary culture. Not to sound like a crotchety old fart George Orwell type… but it really gave voice to a lot of things I’ve been rolling around in my mind, on and off, for the past three-four years. Such as how we live in a culture and world in which “everything is more or less predictable and where most people emulate getting the greatest socioeconomic rewards,” as opposed to meaning and mystery. He quotes a lot from a book with the pretty incredible title of My Name is Chellis, and I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization. Check out these gems:

“The Western worldview says, in essence, that technological progress is the highest value and that we were born to consume… The most highly prized freedom is the right to shop… Competition, taking, and hoarding are higher values than cooperation, sharing and gifting…. Western lifestyles that revolve around a constant barge of anemic distractions may be, in part, ways of self-numbing so as to minimize the pain of that loss… This way of life becomes an addiction. The more we live this way, the more alienated we become from something deeper and more meaningful, and the more we need this way of life to keep us from experiencing that alienation.” (91)

I really dug how he brought up addictions (AGAIN!) here, specifically in Plotkin’s point that we seek “distractions” to hide the feeling that something essential is missing.

–       I liked the book’s emphasis on the role of nature in healing the soul. I don’t think I’m going to undertake a “wilderness setting” anytime soon (i.e. hiking out all by myself to get lost on purpose and fast for four days…), but it was definitely good to read this around New Year’s, as I can now be more fully committed to my intention to go hiking more often. I have a car and six-seven months (?) left in Portland—it’s truly now or never! Plotkin also relates nature to adventure, another core value of mine and something I love having in my life. Case in point: I’m so excited to be heading off to L.A. tomorrow to spend New Year’s with my beloveds!

–       I liked how the book’s main message that the best way you can help yourself (and thus in turn help the world) is to find out what it is you have to offer it: “It’s not possible to save the world by trying to save it. You need to find what is genuinely yours to offer the world before you can make it a better place. Discovering your unique gift to bring to your community is your greatest opportunity and challenge. The offering of that gift—your true self—is the most you can do to love and serve the world. And it is all the world needs.” (13) Or as another anonymous quote puts it, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy, I awoke and saw that life was service, I acted and behold, service was joy.” (40) It made me feel like YES… my passion CAN be my work, eventually. They don’t have to be separate! As long as I trust my “vision with a task” I am good to go-go.

Crossing that threshold into your uncharted future is an act of great courage and self-compassion, and it changes your relationship to life in a fundamental way. It embodies your willingness to employ a new form of risk-taking, to consciously choose growth-stimulating, soul-nourishing conflicts, to live through the accompanying anxiety, and to accept your life as open-ended and unpredictable. Passing through that door commits you to living in the present in a way you never before have. (60)

– I also thought it was a nice touch in the book to have all the quotations from Rilke poems scattered throughout. God, what an intense guy. This was the best of the lot:

You are not surprised at the force of the storm—
you have seen it growing.
The trees flee. Their flight
sets the boulevards streaming. And you know:
he whom they flee is the one
you move toward. All your senses
sing him, as you stand at the window.

The weeks stood still in summer.
The trees’ blood rose. Now you feel
it wants to sink back
into the source of everything. You thought
you could trust that power
when you plucked the fruit;
now it becomes a riddle again,
and you again a stranger.

Summer was like your house: you knew
where each thing stood.
Now you must go out into your heart
as onto a vast plain. Now
the immense loneliness begins.

The days go numb, the wind
sucks the world from your senses like withered
leaves.

Through the empty branches the sky remains.
It is what you have.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground lying under that sky.
Be modest now, like a thing
ripened until it is real,
so that he who began it all
can feel you when he reaches for you.

As long as we’re posting poetry I wanted to go ahead and share the poem that I’ll most likely be transcribing in all of my friend’s Christmas cards this year. This is called “In a Tree House” by Hafiz:

Light
Will someday split you open
Even if your life is now a cage,

For a divine seed, the crown of destiny,
Is hidden and sown on an ancient fertile plain
You hold the title to.

Love will surely bust you wide open
Into an unfettered, blooming new galaxy

Even if your mind is now
A spoiled mule.

A life giving radiance will come,
The Friend’s gratuity will come –

O look again within yourself,
For I know you were once the elegant host
To all the marvels in creation.

From a sacred crevice in your body
A bow rises each night
And shoots your soul into God.

Behold the Beautiful Drunk Singing One
From the lunar vantage point of love.

He is conducting the affairs
Of the whole universe

While throwing wild parties
In a tree house – on a limb
In your heart.

Here are some reading and writing related intentions for 2012 (assuming the apocalypse is survived, of course!)

Reading – I thought about making a specific list, as in Books I Want To Read, but attempting to do so just made me feel unhappy and frenzied. I like reading in my life to be spontaneous and uncontrolled. I like reading what I want when I want to, not because I feel like I HAVE to. Nevertheless here are some intentions:

  • Read some of the science fiction books and maybe even some of the fantasy ones from this list, er I mean flow chart.
  • Read some of the Bolaño recommended books. Read more Latin American ones in general.
  • Read some more big, classic books: The Pale King, the new Murukami, Moby Dick, Ulysses, Gravity’s Rainbow. Maybe even Philip Roth. Hell, I read Rabbit Run, why not?
  • I might even be able to finish reading all of Philip K. Dick’s novels… can I do it? Is it possible?! Time will tell!
  • Read some contemporary writers, the kind who are published in Tin House and do interviews on NPR and OPB.

Writing:

  • My main intention for 2012 is to work on cultivating a more spiritual-like devotion to the practice of writing.
  • Continue finishing pieces, submitting them, applying for residencies and grants, etc. I did this at least once a month for every month in 2011 except for November, I think (I still have three days to go in December… haha!). Go me! Mm… maybe I can bump this up to TWICE a month in 2012, minimum?
  • Go to grad school! (!!!)
  • I would also like to write more here in this space! It is really very useful! Case in point: ALL of the Philip K. Dick books I read but didn’t review; it would be a shame to have them all just fade into a blur in my mind. I’m going to try to aim for once a week, with the understanding that sometimes this means the entries won’t be super well written or coherent, but oh well, in this case it’s the intention that counts. It’s my blog and I can do what I want with it…. 8D

Goodbye 2011... otherwise known as "The Year of the Chewable Ambien Tab."

3 Comments

Filed under advice, depression, nature, non-fiction, poetry, pondering

Jurassic Park Reflections

Jurassic Park is the first adult novel I can remember reading. I mean REALLY reading, as in from cover to cover.

The first novel I can remember flipping through was Little House on the Prairie. I was young enough (three? Four?) that I didn’t understand all the words yet, so I made up the story as I went along, looking at the pictures. I remember one picture, in the first chapter, of Laura running through the woods while Ma looks into a hole in a tree, both of them surrounded by grey grainy dots. I think they were smoking a pig, but back then for me it became a scene of them being attacked by killer murderous bees (I’d confused the smoke for bees in the picture, obviously).

There are two other Big People novels I can remember looking through. One was Pride and Prejudice, pulled from its dusty, musty-smelling place out of my mother’s bookshelf, where it stood proudly with its creased spine alongside all her D.H. Lawrence and Dickens opuses. I didn’t understand a word of what was going on, but I remember being fascinated by the orange Penguin Classic cover, and just the words, pages and pages of words in their tiny grey font! What were they saying? So different from my beloved Roald Dahl novels or The Adventures of Tintin! The other novel I remember looking through was The Color Purple. Its opening first sentences, referring to fathers and rape (a word that I didn’t fully understand, but nevertheless still sensed to be “bad”), scared me so bad I went out into the garden shed at our house in England and hid it there. Years later I went back in to check to see if it was still there, and it was, dusty and cobwebby and the pages stuck together as though they’d been glued.

I must have been something like five or six years old when I read Jurassic Park, since the book jacket claims its publishing date as 1990. I pulled it out of the bookshelves at the Baptist expat church we used to attend (I remember the long car rides to get there, up the hills into the bumpy Northern part of Cali, always made me horribly carsick. It didn’t help that we always went to Dunkin Doughnuts as soon as church service was over). The book’s cover, with its stark black bony dinosaur, looked exciting and promising enough to make my heart thump in eager anticipation. Apart from introducing me to DNA, this was also the novel that taught me to swear (it’s pretty surprising, retrospectively, that it doesn’t contain a single F-bomb). I remember my sister getting in trouble for asking my little brother What the hell are you talking about? And me teaching our friends at recess how to use Jesus Christ! as a profanity—I have the Ed Regis awaiting the T-Rex in the car scene to thank for that.

For these beloved memories as well as others, Jurassic Park will always hold a sentimental place in my heart. I re-watched the movie last night with some friends and was pumping my fist in the air and shouting out “YES!” after countless scenes. Best of all is the part when the T-Rex is roaring with a dead velociraptor and the fossil bones of its long-dead ancestors at its feet, while a sign flutters down from a ceiling that says WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH. What else can one say in response to such a gem of a scene except “Yes”!!!

One of the things I really liked about Jurassic Park (and still like!) is the way it blends fascinating informational passages about science with exciting genre-fiction type action and suspense. My favorite passages in the book as a youngster were the rockstar mathematician’s long rants while high on morphine and explanations of chaos theory—he truly is the best character, no wonder Crichton brought him back from the dead for the sequel. I really love books that make me feel like I’m drowning in knowledge or like my head is spinning with information: Umberto Eco’s The Island of the Day Before is another good example of this kind of knowledge-immersive novel (on the flip side, his Foucault’s Pendullum is SO information packed it’s like a sandwich that’s crammed with too many ingredients; I’ve never been able to finish it). For a while I thought I wanted to be a biologist, and I wonder now if books like Jurassic Park had something to do with that, as crazy as it sounds. It was fiction that made science interesting to me. I found this magic in brief flashes in my biology textbooks, but it was unfortunately never attainable during the long and tedious lab sessions (which is probably for the best; I would be SO unhappy right now if I were stuck working in labs all day!). My biology love lives on though; I would really love to write a historical fiction novel one day about medieval scientists in the 16th and 17th centuries, but only if I could do it in a vaguely modern style (a la Amadeus, with all my monk scientists talking like stoned, sassy hippies).

Jurassic Park is also sentimental to me because it’s like a talisman that carries through time. Haha, that makes it sound like one of the Horucruxes from the Harry Potter series, but whatever. JP reminds me that I’ve always been a reader and I always will be one. It’s a comforting though to hold on to, that no matter what happens in life, I have this to depend on: I am a reader, a writer, a book lover. I love socializing, activity, talking with people and adventuring, but at my heart’s core what I really want to do at the end of the day is hide away from the crowds and stick my nose into Philip K. Dick’s Dr. Bloodmoney.

I recognize other readers I run into like kindred spirits. It’s like a Gaydar. For example, during homework help hour at my job, I always like to check in with J. and his daily progress through Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games series. “I’ve finished the first one!” he told me last week, and I pressed my hands over my ears pleadingly. “Don’t spoil it for me!” I really need to pay my library fines so that I can place them on hold, read them and then have a conversation with him about it… God knows if there’s anybody else in his life who is willing to talk to him about books, you know? Hopefully there is…

I also love working with P., so eccentric and tormented by his math homework from his accelerated program at school. “Gah!” he scowls, reading the word problems. “That’s RETARDED.” He always gives me little sideways hugs with his skinny little arms, and it’s always surprising for me to see him in the gym, running and sweaty and shouting and throwing squishy white foam balls at other kids’ heads: it just seems like such a dissonant, contrasting environment, for a kid that I know to be so wicked smart and nerdy. Good for him, I guess, getting both the jock and the book thang down.

So yeah, I recognize myself in these kids as my peers, my descendants. A similar act of recognition happened to me yesterday, at our service project community field trip. At one point, R. (one particularly feisty little girl) disappeared along with J.D. (a kid who’s of our biggest characters). I found them lurking among the trees by the blue plastic portapotties, frowning intensely into the underbrush. “Come on guys,” I said. “Thirty minutes left. Let’s give it all we’ve got. Tear that mean ol’ blackberry off those pear trees.”

“I saw,” R. whispered huskily, “something black. Darting among the trees over there.”

I said something lame about werewolves not coming out among the daylight. “But look at those crosses,” R. said. “Look.” She pointed at one, two, three: I looked and saw some random planks of wood propped up against each other among the trees; remnants of some long ago abandoned gardening project, probably. To me they looked like unfinished chicken coops.

I was sort of at a loss of words of how to reply to her. The last thing I wanted to tell her was Oh, that’s nothing, don’t be silly. That’s not REALLY a graveyard. The last thing I want to do is look a child in the eye and tell them, It’s not what you think it is. It’s just this other mundane, boring, wordly thing. Don’t let your imagination carry you away. It was, like, a kid using her imagination! Right in front of me! Who was I to tell her not to use it? I kind of wanted to cry a little, actually (Wow, I really AM getting horribly mushy and soft in the middle! Like all those tomatoes rotting on our front porch banister!).

Anyway, I somehow managed to usher both her and the silent wide-eyed J.D. back to our worksite. But it stuck with me. I love that idea, that you can look at a bunch of crappy moldy planks of wood in a forest and see a graveyard. I did the same thing when I was her age. I do the same thing, still. I look at R. and her werewolf and graveyard visions, and J. hunched over his copy of The Hunger Games, and P. frowning and yelling over his math problems, and I think, These are my people. These kids may not recognize me yet, but I definitely recognize them. We are one and the same. Thinkers, dreamers, inventors of stuff that isn’t really there, head constantly in the clouds and too smart for our own damn good.

I don’t really know how to end this entry now. In my yoga class the other day the teacher talked a little bit about this quote from Joseph Campbell:

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That’s what it’s all finally about.

“An experience of being alive.” I like that. I don’t really know how to connect that to anything that’s been said before, but I still like it.

Leave a comment

Filed under comfort food, experience, kids, meaning, pondering, silly

On flexibility

In yoga class today I tried to really focus and concentrate on not letting my elbows hyperextend. I’m double-jointed, which means that when playing basketball in high school, my knee would often pop in and out of its socket and I would freeze mid-dribble and ignore my teammates yells as I let the ball roll out of bounds, staring down at jutting-out boneof my suddenly extremely fragile-feeling and wonky-looking knee in equal parts horror and fascination. A girl with similar joint structure on the soccer team was nicknamed “Rubber Lady” by her teammates, and I always silently thought that it would be a highly appropriate nickname for me as well (as opposed to my official team name Mona, or Blondie, which is not very accurate–man, anyone whose hair isn’t jet black in Colombia is basically considered a mona!).

Anyway, doing yoga has definitely raised some interesting ideas and/or points of reflection for me. The idea that you have this sacred time and space (your mat) where you can just be with your body: learn about it, reflect upon it. I like the idea of making the muscles around my joints stronger, of trying to gently but firmly correct bodily behaviors that have been entrenched in me for years.

Flexibility in general has been a new concept for me to learn. I’ve always had incredibly tight hamstrings, for whatever reason (epic bike riding?). I was always one of the girls who dreaded the gymnastics portion of P.E. class. I have yet to ever turn a somersault. And yet, after years of never, ever being able to touch my toes, I can finally do so. I’m even reaching the point where I may be able to lay my hands flat on the floor without bending my knees. Sure, it isn’t much, and I’m sure it’s yoga candy for most folks, but for me, it’s pretty exciting! Trying to learn to think of my body as flexible and bendy, as opposed to tight and wound-up. A suitable metaphor for emotional and mental states as well.

It’s a good lesson for life in general–learning to be flexible. It’s hard for me sometimes to not get jealous of friends or acquaintances of mine who are just packing up and leaving at this point, embarking on jet-setting adventures about the globe. Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Nepal… countries that sound exciting and different and strange. This is the longest period of time I’ve lived in the U.S., ever…! During the school year, there was always that ticket home to Colombia during Christmas. Not anymore. My parents are moving to Portland on June 1st. And that will essentially be that. If I ever want to return (home) to Colombia, or travel to a different continent, it’ll have to be of my own volition and planning (as well as Corey’s, goes without saying). It’s so hard for me not to daydream and get itchy feet sometimes, to fantasize about just packing up and going, getting out, buying a ticket and then leaving the very next days. I have responsibilies here, though. There will be time for traveling. “There will be time to make decisions and indecisions, to murder and create, for visions and revisions, all before the taking of toast and tea.”

I’ve been in a “really-deep-thoughts” mood, as Tori Amos sings. I guess the New Year is a good holiday for really deep thoughts. A stranger randomly asked me the other day “who or what motivates you?” I was slightly taken aback and couldn’t come up with an appropriate answer. I stammered something out how the formation of communities motivate me (thesis, again… not to mention sweetly reminiscent of one the 5 Components of my summer job two years ago). I asked Corey the same question later that evening and he answered immediately, “curiosity.” A good response. I’ve thought about that question over the past two days, and I guess I still don’t really know. It’s a big question, no? “Who or what motivates you?” Some of the things that motivate me, just in my day-to-day existence, are the little things: a scheduled yoga class, a planned outing with a friend, a good chapter in a book to finish. That’s what I would say helps me get up in the morning, the eagerness for Demera sugar in my English Breakfast and my silly spinach-raspberry-yoghurt breakfast smoothies. (Hopefully that doesn’t make me sound completely empty and pathetic!) But then you need the big things too, you know? Curiosity. Community. Simplicity. Wanting to be a good person, to do good things, to be good to others. Sometimes those things can be harder to do. That’s why while doing those little, day-to-day things, you still need to be aware of the big picture.

I try to learn something new in little ways every day, I guess. That’s where I find the real appeal in traveling: when you’re somewhere different, somewhere you’ve never been before, every experience feels huge and incredibly significant because it’s all so new and unfamiliar. You go to bed at the end of each day completely exhausted because all the overwhelming informations and sights and smells and sounds you’ve had to absorb. Time itself feels stretched out, like a stringy piece of bubblegum, and days feel like a week, weeks like month. It’s a feeling I miss. But it’s definitely one I’ll have again someday. I just have to be patient, to appreciate and enjoy my time here now. Work starts on Monday, which also means new experiences and new people.

To end on a somewhat tangential note (I can’t figure out how to connect it to any of the other ponderings in this entry), another interesting thing our teacher mentioned in class today is that since it’s the full moon, that can sometimes lead to a lot of erratic energy in people. “Finally,” I said to my friend over the phone later that evening, “I’ve found something else I can pin my ‘erratic’ energy on! PMS, caffeine withdrawal, the moon’s waxing and waning…” So that’s my excuse for the erratic nature of this post (and hence blog), just your regular old waxings and wanings.

2 Comments

Filed under pondering, yoga

some ponderings regarding "a portrait"

– “It seemed strange to him at times that wisdom and understanding and knowledge were so distinct in their nature that each should be prayed for apart from the others.” (Joyce, James. “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” Time Inc: New York, 1964. 163) Man, I wish I’d read this sentence in time with my thesis… I was wondering about the distinction myself. Thank you, Joyce, for proposing a similar dilemma.

– “His destiny was to be elusive of social and religious orders. The wisdom of the priest’s appeal did not touch him to the quick. He was destined to learn his own wisdom apart from others or to learn the wisdom of others himself wandering among the snares of the world.” (Joyce 178) The idea of “his own wisdom”… very interesting concept, that for all of us, there is a personalized wisdom to seek out there (or in here *knocks skull*)

– “Words. Was it their colors? He allowed them to glow and fade, hue after hue… No, it was not their colors: it was the poise and balance of the period itself. Did he then love the rhythmic rise and fall of words better than their associations of legend and color? Or was it that, being as weak of sight as he was shy of mind, he drew less pleasure from the reflection of the glowing sensible world through the prism of a language manycolored and richly storied than from the contemplation of an inner world of individual emotions mirrored perfectly in a lucid supple periodic prose?” (183)

I love this sentence! especially from “he drew” onwards.

– “Now, as never before, his name seemed to him a prophecy… he seemed to hear the noise of dim waves and to see a winged form flying above the waves and slowly climbing the air. What did it mean? … a prophecy of the end he had been born to serve and had been following through the mists of childhood and boyhood, a symbol of the artist forging anew in his workshop out of the sluggish matter of the earth a new soaring impalpable imperishable being?” (186) Joyce sure knows how to write those epiphany moments.

This evening I was thinking about how difficult it is to keep the big picture in mind. So much of our daily lives–going to the can, eating oatmeal, running to get to the bus stop on time to get to where we’re going, fumbling a cellphone in order not to miss a phone call from a family member or friend, staying up too late because you’re trying to read and understand and gain knowledge about the current events and workings of the world–if you had the *big picture* in mind all the time, it would be incredibly difficult to do these things. At least, for me. When I proposed this to Corey, he told me that when I ask him what he’s thinking (as girlfriends tend to do to boyfriends, after long periods of silence in bed together), when he says “nothing,” he really means “everything,” or the universe (i.e. the workings of it). I told him that I found this hard to believe, “or maybe I’m just too wordly.” I dunno. Maybe I am.

It’s all about balance, I guess. I’m such an incredibly emotional roller-coaster person anyway… so much about my day-to-day life, hour-to-hour even, is about me trying (sometimes struggling) to master my emotional energies; to maintain (as my counselor at Reed once put it) a middle ground, as opposed to crazy highs and lows. Maybe that’s what I need to focus on, the “worldly” concerns of my own emotional-mental life. The rest of it just seems so big… thinking about this feels like a balloon inside my skull that is getting blown up and starts pushing up against the side of my cranium, threatening to pop.

I really like something Jess said to me once, though. She said that in all her traveling and all her experience (ha! that word, again), she felt that her own personal “self” was the greatest and most important project to work on. We can’t save the world or even sometimes solve the current problem we’re grappling with, but as human beings, we are all always works in progress, you know? I like this idea because it takes away the fear of being too self-absorbed… instead, maybe micro over macro?

anyway. I’m mailing my ballot tomorrow, and then, as my sister oh so sagely put it, “the fate of the world is in other people’s hands.” The fate of my own emotional and mental state, however… !

“Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.” (281)

“reality of experience!” Whatever *that* means……. another plane ticket bought to go here, to go there? Let me know if you find out, Stephen……

Leave a comment

Filed under books, experience, future, pondering, thesis