Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Chosen

You know how every so often you read a book and you get so excited about it that you want to tell everyone? Well, on Saturday I reread The Chosen, by Chaim Potok, and I just have to talk about it.

The story is about how Reuven Malter befriends Danny Saunders after the latter hits a baseball into his eye during a religious-tension-charged baseball game, and how their friendship develops as they become men. It's about New York during WWII, and the formation of Israel afterward. It's about the boys' relationships with their and each other's fathers, and the variable nature of silence. It's also about pain, loneliness, and choosing your own path.

Why should everyone (yes, that includes you) read this book?

First of all, saying that the characters were "good" will not suffice. The characters are complex and fully alive, fully human.

Second, it's no use saying that you don't read books that deal with religion, because the parts that relate specifically to Jewish culture and learning don't detract or obscure the meaning of the book at all. It's not that they're background, because they're not, they're essential as premise and context. But I'm from a completely non-religious background and I didn't have a problem following the plot.

Third, this book will make you want to learn. No kidding. When Danny is studying Freud and Reuven is struggling with a passage in his Talmud class, you see (or at least I saw) that putting effort into something, studying for depth instead of breadth, is immensely rewarding. I don't know if I can apply myself to anything we're learning in school right now with that kind of dedication, but I'm planning on approaching the study that I actually care about with that same intensity.

When I do, I plan on applying what Danny remarks - some things are meant to be studied, not read. And they have to be studied with a commentary (paraphrased from p. 181).

Fourth, the book will make you want to have a long conversation with someone, more a discussion than a debate. As much as this book is about the silence between Danny and his father, what I got out of it also was the good relationship Reuven has with his father. They talk and they study together and their discussions help shape Reuven's mind and actions. A lot of clarity can come from saying things out loud.

Maybe you'll feel lonely after reading the book, and realize that you don't have a friend like what Danny and Reuven are for each other. Maybe. But at least you'll know what you are looking for.

There's a quote from Danny that's sticking in my head - the third time he visits Reuven at the hospital, when they're just starting to be friends, he tells Reuven about how he's been reading secular books secretly and says, "I've never told this to anyone before...All the time I kept wondering who I would tell it to one day. ... If you'd've ducked that ball [that Danny hit straight at his face, and which landed Reuven in the hospital] then I would still be wondering" (p. 86).

This quote strikes me, perhaps because just a little thing like that, like trying to stop a baseball out of pride (since Danny's team had been pretty insulting before), was such a strong signal to him that Reuven would be a good friend. It's in the brief moments that we reveal ourselves, and that might be strong enough to cut through differences that go deeper than the surface but not all the way to a person's deepest level of character.

And that is this book's power. Yes, its setting is New York during WWII; yes, its premise and characters rise from an orthodox Jewish background; but those things are crust and mantle, and The Chosen penetrates all the way to the core.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thank You

Thank you to the plum tree that, according to legend (or my dad's stories), sheltered the Li family when their home was being attacked.

Thank you to my parents for taking the chances that they did, and crossing the vast Pacific on nothing but hope, guts, and a scholarship.

Thank you to my sister for being, alternately and all at once, a menace, a role model, annoying, infuriating, and wonderful.

Thank you to my friends for making me laugh and realize that I don't have to take everything so seriously.

Thank you to my ex-friends for the memories, and for making me who I am.

Thank you to the boy I liked in fourth grade, for teaching me never again to talk myself into liking someone I don't know.

Thank you to the boy for whom I wrote this, for keeping me up late with desperate pleas for essay help, for making me smile, and for agreeing with me when I say that math makes everything better.

Thank you to the buried authors who have shaped my mind and my writing and my life.

Thank you to my critics, for spurring me with anger.

Thank you to my cat, for ignoring me sometimes so that the times of affection are all the more treasured. Also for choosing me as her favorite.

Thank you to the nights when I go to bed disappointed with myself, for telling me what I need to do and for teaching me that sometimes, you just need patience. (Though that's one lesson I don't know if I'll ever learn.)

Thank you to the sun and the atmosphere and dihydrogen monoxide, for letting me live.

Thank you to you, for listening.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Invisibility

Sit outside under the night sky
Can you see the stars?
Because I can't
And it hurts to pretend that they are not there
When really they are hiding from me
It has long since ceased to be a game
I will fade away for want of them

But I can do without
Closer comforts be:
There is the tree burning gold by streetlight,
The clean pure cold, the shifting trees,
And the night like a beating heart

Surely there are those with need far greater than mine
Surely the old stars have seen hurts a thousand times deeper
Surely they are tired of our thin faint prayers
Surely I am as invisible to them as they are to me

--

Written last month. Thoughts?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Anchor



In a pensive mood.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Indomitable Character

"If it's not right, don't do it: if it's not true, don't say it."
-Marcus Aurelius

-

"Nobility"
by Alice Cary

True worth is in being, not seeming,—
In doing, each day that goes by,
Some little good — not in dreaming
Of great things to do by and by.
For whatever men say in their blindness,
And spite of the fancies of youth,
There's nothing so kingly as kindness,
And nothing so royal as truth.

We get back our mete as we measure—
We cannot do wrong and feel right,
Nor can we give pain and gain pleasure,
For justice avenges each slight.
The air for the wing of the sparrow,
The bush for the robin and wren,
But always the path that is narrow
And straight, for the children of men.

'Tis not in the pages of story
The heart of its ills to beguile,
Though he who makes courtship to glory
Gives all that he hath for her smile.
For when from her heights he has won her,
Alas! it is only to prove
That nothing's so sacred as honor,
And nothing so loyal as love!

We cannot make bargains for blisses,
Nor catch them like fishes in nets;
And sometimes the thing our life misses
Helps more than the thing which it gets.
For good lieth not in pursuing,
Nor gaining of great nor of small,
But just in the doing, and doing
As we would be done by, is all.

Through envy, through malice, through hating,
Against the world, early and late.
No jot of our courage abating
Our part is to work and to wait
And slight is the sting of his trouble
Whose winnings are less than his worth.
For he who is honest is noble
Whatever his fortunes or birth.

-

"Wise men are free from doubts, moral men from anxiety, and brave men from fear."
-Confucius

-

"If"
by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
'Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

-

"Don't seek to gain anything for yourself that forces you to break your word or lose self-respect; to hate, suspect or curse another; or to be insincere or to desire something that needs to remain secret."
-Marcus Aurelius

-

"Invictus"
by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

-

"If any man despises me, that is his problem. My only concern is not doing or saying anything deserving of contempt."
-Marcus Aurelius

--

Reminders.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Gleanings

Long have I searched, and I return from my travels bearing gifts.

An old post from Theodora Goss's website (I suspect I am addicted to her blog. Check it out, I encourage you) led me to the work of Lori Nix. Here is my favorite, but make sure to take a look at Nix's other work. She photographs scenes of her own construction and it is mesmerizing.

Yet another artist Goss' website led me toward is Arnold Böcklin. You all know about my love of Roman stuff, so it should be no surprise that I want to live here:
A Tavern in Ancient Rome - Arnold Böcklin
Anyone want to join me?

While wandering, I also happened upon the murals of Jessica Sansiquet, which convey depth wonderfully. You could just walk into them.

I'm usually not one for jewelry, but this necklace and these earrings are pretty beyond belief. (What am I doing looking at earrings, I don't even have my ears pierced.)

How exactly did I find this one? Probably through a fashion blog (yes, I read those). Here are five tips for staying inspired.

Another Goss post, this one from a while ago: in the third quarter of the post, there are some questions about your wants/goals to ask yourself - the post says whenever you're stalled, but I think it's a good idea to ask those questions of yourself more frequently, just to keep yourself on track.

Here's a couple of sites that I've not explored fully yet but which may be useful for research: Emerson Kent and Connexions.

--

Wow, that's a lot of links. Should I make these kinds of posts more or less frequent?

Make a Wish

Now.


You never know what might happen.

/the elephant gif is not relevant at all. I just thought you should see it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ascending

Sometimes, you get a string of bad days; other times, you get one bad day following a lot of pretty good days. When that happens:

  • Breathe.
  • Do something you love but haven't been putting a lot of effort into lately (hello, Euphie).
  • Do your favorite part of the previous thing ("Carry On Wayward Son").
  • Spend time catching up with the people you care about, and don't think too hard about the friends you've lost.
  • Get your work done, so you don't have to deal with guilt tomorrow.
  • Listen to generic happy k-pop (or equivalent).
  • Think, you've had worse days. If possible, make a comparison. 

Like so:
Loneliness
Breathe

-

Loneliness


You are in a dark room.

You are tired
and heartsick
and lonely

You press the heels of your palm
into your eyes
to see colors blossom
flowers in negative
whose perfume cannot chase away the dark

You are sad
you do not want to cry
your shoulders are as stone
you can say to Atlas
that you understand

It is raining outside.

Susurration like the blood rushing in your ears
like the ocean
that is so far you could cry with the distance

You want to be outside
you want to embrace the night and the rain
you want to convince the stars of your existence
presenting your case as much to yourself
as to them

What is this thing, loneliness?

You relax
let the night enfold you
pretend you are the only living thing left
you close your eyes
choice, not circumstance
shuts you into darkness

Or shuts it within.

You hold the night inside you
filling your eyes and your limbs and your lungs

You swallow your loneliness
you feel it trickle like cold water
down your throat, down your chest
it lodges in your sternum
in your stomach, your liver
most of all
everywhere

You had better get used to it.

(Written 10/11/11)

breathe


turn off the lamp
close your eyes
breathe in
            out
you are breathing in light
             breathing out smoke
stardust travels down your throat
                       through your lungs
                       in your blood
breathe: in
            out
all your veins and arteries
are filled with light

open your eyes

(Written 11/6/11)

--

All shall be well.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Planning for Saturdays and Epiphanies

Shrimp by Qi Baishi
Image source: Cultural China
Let me tell you what I plan for tomorrow.

-

I'm going to sleep in. Ideally, it will still be morning when I wake up, quiet and gray.

After donning my warmest sweater, I will sneak down to the kitchen and make myself breakfast - nutella on French bread, tea. This I will bring back up to my room, and I will enjoy the rare luxury of eating slowly.

I will read, and then I'll go on a long walk throughout my neighborhood.

With me I will bring: books to return, pencils, pens, sketchbook.

-

October was not a good month for drawing, for which I felt guilty until I read this post on creative burnout from Terri Windling's blog (that you should all go follow). In a nutshell, the post says that you are always going to have dry periods in your creative work and they are natural, so chill.

Well, that's let me make peace with the fact that I've been neglecting my art. But I cannot sit back and do nothing about it.

What am I going to do, then?

In late September, I read an essay about painter Qi Baishi in Chinese school (what an unlikely place to get inspired). His early work (meaning before he was 60) was mostly derivative - based on the work of others. Then he decided to raise a bowl of shrimp and studied them and, as he did so, his work became more and more vital. He made stylistic alterations - but they were informed by the real animal.

When I read the essay, I was already a few weeks into my drawing malaise. So I thought, why not draw from life? I've always been aware of a lack of certainty in my art, a lack of substance that infects even my best work and makes my worst all but monstrous. I learned to draw by copying others, and that is no good.

With each step away from the source, the power is diluted. My technique is already weak - I should not handicap myself further by keeping distance from the ultimate source, reality.

It's about time to act.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

20-Mile March

My big idea for the day comes from, of all places, a finance magazine. In a recent issue of Fortune, there was an excerpt from an upcoming book about what separates excellent companies from the rest. What characteristics allow one group, rather than another, to succeed?

Among other things, consistency.

-

To explain this, the excerpt used the analogy of walking across the United States. If you walk twenty miles every day, no less and no more, regardless of weather or other external circumstances, you will achieve your goal a lot faster than if you walk 40 miles some days and not at all on days when you don't feel like it.

The excerpt then analyzed the race between the Amundsen and Scott expeditions to the South Pole through the lens of the "20-Mile March".

Amundsen's group made progress toward the pole every day, no matter how terrible the conditions were. But they also did not overreach themselves. The expedition had both a minimum and maximum amount of ground to cover.

Scott's expedition, by contrast, often did not move at all because conditions were, supposedly, impossible.

Results: Amundsen reached the pole five weeks ahead of Scott, whose entire expedition died on the return trip.

-

The rest of the excerpt, which examined contemporary companies, was not particularly scintillating. But the idea caught me.

Now that this phenomenon has been brought to my attention, how can I use it to inform my creative pursuits?

Write a little, more often. Comma optional.

-

When you are writing, momentum is essential. I am afraid when I don't look at my work for a while - I am afraid that my progress will ground to a halt. It's a valid fear.

Part of the fear comes from how I feel obligated to write a lot whenever I do write. When I do not make my "quota", I feel dissatisfied. That quota being the 1400 that I made in the summer I finished my novel, when I wrote for about three hours each morning.

How does that make sense at all?

I propose for myself a new system. An experiment, let's say, or my version for NaNoWriMo.

  • I will write four times a week.
  • I will write between 400 and 1000 words each time, no more and no less.

Punto.

Increase the frequency, decrease the amplitude.

Who's with me?