Friday, 19 June 2015

The Half-Born

I once read of a saint who walked excruciatingly slowly, with his head downwards, to avoid trodding on the lives of innocent ants.

This sort of sondering self-reflection is all I can think of the past few days. The focus has been people, rather than ants. I want to feel more empathy for every person I see. Why do I get mad in traffic? Why have I ever given a beggar a contemptuous look? I can't answer these questions without a great degree of shame. I have no right to think of myself as above anyone else. It's so easy to, given that I'm stuck in the body of this person -- that is, me -- and yet I know that I'm really just one among billions.

That's not quite what I've been feeling, either. It's more of a profound expression of wanting to help. As a girl, I used to dream about being a nurse to wounded soldiers. My teenage idea of a volunteer trip was joining the Red Cross and heading to war zones. Now, I'm just confused. I say I'd like to be a neurosurgeon, because it aligns with my studies and, well, sounds pretty impressive. I read a great article in the New Yorker about a sensitive, meek, and quiet neurosurgeon practicing in the U.S.. He writes about the profound joys of physically removing a malignant tumour -- saving a person's life with your own hands -- and the crippling sorrows of making mistakes and destroying the livelihood of your patient... I can't write anything here to support the weight that the previous sentence carries; a neurosurgeon can be a saviour, or the angel of death. That's a God-like responsibility.

Whatever I decide to do after my schooling, I hope that it advances the good in the world. With careers, there are two options. You can do good to one person at a time, with practices like medicine or therapy. Or, you can make change  and influence the lives of many -- but with a less clear result. This is the way it is with politics and business.

All these thoughts are above what I have been thinking day-to-day lately. A German film, 'On the Wings of Desire', has me thinking about how to explain complex, introspective, and very heavy topics to children. Humans of New York has me wishing I had more people in my life I could speak honestly with. Summer weather causes me to explode outwards into the world, leaving a long list of to-tries. I just flew a plane. It felt like I really touched the sky.

I feel outside this world, I feel outside of humankind, I feel outside my own body. I want to breathe deeply and live and cry. I want to feel everything intensely and truly. I have a deep yearning for the grittiest and most real of the fruits of life. I want to taste them just to know that I exist here, and not in some netherworld. I want to feel profoundly for humanity to convince myself that I am part of humanity.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

A Teacher

Sometime in my school years, I was blessed with an excellent teacher. From this person, whom I admire very much, I learned things which I never could have comprehended otherwise. I can say with confidence now that no one in my life up to this point had ever made me feel so understood as this teacher. Being understood is an emotional thing for me, and when I see an interaction between two people who really understand one another, I always feel deeply moved. It's difficult for me to suppress tears in the situations where one of these persons is myself.

I admire this person for many reasons, and many of the qualities so plentiful in in her are lacking in myself. Despite this, I've never felt envious of this person. I often lament my inability to focus -- especially during study of more quantitative measures. My teacher is an expert mathematician. I feel embarrassed at my lack of ability to read body language and assert myself in front of others. My teacher was as sensitive and as emphatic as she needed to be -- never more nor less.

Something which touches me especially was her calculated silence when I expressed bad ideas. I know that there were lots of them. And yet, this teacher of mine was silent, and let me figure my own mistakes out as I made them. I was never made to feel silly or dull, unless I did it to myself. Which I did... often. As a teen I was pugnacious, vulgar and crass. I was upset. I was confused. Teenage-hood is a difficult time for all of us.

There's a specific scene in the Magic Flute where Tamino enters a door and comes upon a tutor with two students. The tutor explains that Tamino's journey will be near impossible, but the reward awaiting him is worth the struggle. It is exactly this sentiment which was expressed it me, and I'm holding it close to my heart lately. At the end of our last year together, my teacher gave me a letter with the most heartwarming sentiments which have ever been written to me. In it, she recognized that I was different, and would be different for the remainder of my life. She cautioned me that I would be lonely. This she did in the most tactful and gentle manner, probably because she was well-aware of the hypersensitivity of adolescent girls. And yet, she also included a ray of light, a crack through which the light gets in. There would be others like me, not often, but there would be. And that I had a life ahead which is full of thoughts, and ideas, and emotion. To my young self, these three things composed my entire inner life. The notion that my time would be filled with these was overwhelming and joyous. She was the first in a line of few with whom I felt understood.

While my communication with this person now is infrequent and brief, we do recognize one another as kindred spirits. It is always a pleasure for me to discover that we have been reading the same book, or enjoying the same music. I hope that we will continue to reflect back towards one another as time goes on and I begin to grow into myself.

Thursday, 3 April 2014


It is nearing the end of my third year of university. When I think back on the things that I used to think, and the ideas that I held, and all of my sacred cows from my first year and backward, I feel a bit embarrassed. There's also a small sense of pride knowing that I've come this far and am nearing the finish line. I've got a grad school lined up for in a few years, as I plan to travel in the midterm before moving on to bigger and more specific things.

I've picked up a new, and quite beautiful hobby. Butterfly collecting. Someday when I have children I'll bring them all sorts of intricate, delicate things that come out of nature. I can imagine them admiring the tiny things and finding all that is special about them. There will be feather collections, seashell collections, and stone collections. Colourful leaves and soft-textured fur. Flowers of every shape and scent and hue.

I feel as though this collection is a grown-up version. It's good for me, I think, because moving the wings into position is an exercise in extreme caution and saint-like patience. In fact, all of my butterflies so far have been sub-par... I keep accidentally rubbing the scales off. Hopefully more practice will give way to increased patience, and the lepidoptera will benefit by looking more and more beautiful.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014


We are now nearly one month into the new year. I feel as though the world has left me in October. I'm only partially here, really. It's been an emotional month, certainly, and that's overwhelming for me. I want to be unshakably strong. Lately I feel like I'm trembling.

I spend my days conscious of the mundane routine I'm trying (badly) to fall into. Whenever I have an idle moment I stuff it with course work or internet. Even just now, I opened my email to avoid rereading the last sentence. I'm afraid of hurting, of feeling. I just won't be able to pull myself out of the hole that I know feeling these feelings will put me in.

So, instead of feeling deeply, I've been skating on the thin surface of existing. I feel as alive as a rock.

Brainpickings has beautiful excerpts from the lives of writers. Sometimes I read them to escape from myself for a little while. Their writing is smooth, and always 'cool'. My writing is clunky and banal. I use too many words, and I always pick the ugly ones. If only I could be Virginia Woolf, or Susan Sontag. Then the emotions would just gush out. I imagine that's what it's like to be a real artist. You feel the idea incubating in you, and then it bursts out unrestrained. Why do I insist on compartmentalizing? Why don't I feel safe? Is there anyone who wouldn't think less of me if they knew all of me?

Sometimes I think about love, and the demons all disappear for a moment. Love keeps me up at night. It distracts me through dull classes. It's the emotional morphine I'm self-prescribing. I don't mean to say he's just a distraction -- he's certainly not. I know that if I was brave enough, I could open up about how I'm feeling. He would be patient with me, I just know it, and I'd end up feeling better. But there's something in the way of developing an emotional relationship on that level, sub-affection. He keeps secrets from me. In fact, he's actually open about having them. How can I possibly feel safe?

I secretly believe that fate led me to him. He has the same vices and the same quiet habits as I do. It's like looking into a (gentle) mirror. Because he is so much like me, I can't help loving him. But he contains all the dark, sticky, musty parts of myself that I wish I didn't have. I know he avoids that deep emotional part, just like I do. It's not that he can't speak on it. He knows that it feels liberating (so liberating!) when it happens. It's a question of feeling safe. Will you still love me when you know my heart completely?  

But love can't always blind me. I'm left alone with my thoughts. It feels like standing in a room full of sharp things. So I sit on the floor of that room, and I play idly with my hair and I check my reflection: a tiny Narcissus blooming in the dark. I'm scared of my most intimate self. I'm scared that there's something in me, buried deeply, that will make me cruel and uncaring. I'm scared that I have the capacity be cold. Most of all, I'm scared that the piece that makes the high emotional points of life so... indescribable -- is broken.
It's terrifying to know the self, it really is.

I want to be unshakably strong. I feel like I'm trembling.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Lots of Books, Some Thoughts, and a Sketch

It has been a long time since I've felt a desire to write. Something about today moved me to it.

Over the past year I've been feeling an increasing desire to mature. Mature in every sense of the word -- to outgrow my vices, forgive, grow happy, and cultivate virtues (virtues sounds a little bit grandiose here but I can't think of anything better to call it.) Someone lovely once told me that the game of life is to mature as much as possible in as little time as possible. At the time I hardly believed him, but he's right isn't he? The more I think on it, the more sure I am. My immediate thought was that the elderly always lament the loss of their youth, and so youth must be the most pleasurable period of life. Plato saw through this; I can't remember which dialogue it was exactly, but he points out that not all the elderly are so senile. The pessimism I always associated with old age is undeniably voluntary, if somewhat widespread. So perhaps old age isn't the worst thing possible, but what is it that's gained with maturation which is so intrinsically valuable as to seek it even before the bud has bloomed?

I catch glimpses of it sometimes -- in women like Frau Eva, Charlotte, and the coffee-shop woman who impressed me so much. It's manifested differently in them, and in others like them. When I say I'm seeking to cultivate tact, it's what I'm really seeking. There's a mannerism common to the mature that enriches experience. It's a calm, happy, peaceful feeling that just flows from them. I can feel it when I'm with them, and I believe that everyone has some idea of the energy I'm describing. It feels to me as if mature people are fundamentally okay with however reality unfolds. It's not a jaded sort of attitude that they hold, nor is it cynical. They simply accept how the world has revealed itself. That's almost Eastern, isn't it? Perhaps, and then the meditation and the yoga that I've been doing seem extra important.

Anyway, that's been on my mind -- and certainly occupying the largest spot of real estate there. I've been busy with midterms and school, etc. So far I'm a bit disappointed with my marks. Mostly As, but I did make A+ a goal this year, and I know it's attainable if I stop being so lazy. And hard on myself. Gosh.

It's been a while since I've written a reflection on something I've read. To keep things curt, I'll list my recent reads.
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khyyam
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Poetry by Irving Layton
NurtureShock by Bronson & Merryman
The Alchemist
Pardon My French
A Wrinkle in Time
(others which I can`t recall at this moment)

I picked up Carl Rogers again to facilitate a real internal growth experience for myself. Alongside him are Covey, Carnegie, Hansen, and Savage. I plan on taking detailed notes through each of their works and emerging with a significant gain in self knowledge and empathy. I'm ready to grow up. I want to do it in the best possible way.

I`d like to leave you with my most recent artistic venture. I've picked up the guitar again and I play everyday -- always classical music these days, which is sometimes challenging but always beautiful. I still feel that some of my most pleasurable experiences with creating art are done through drawing. I've nearly completed one of my new year's resolutions this year -- that is, to work my way through a book of Michelangelo's (mostly male) figures. I absolutely love to draw figures now and I plan on dedicating a resolution next year to drawing faces.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Family Fun Night

A cute little book full of ideas for interesting nights at home with children. It's nice to daydream about family life sometimes. Especially interesting for me was the section on last minute activities. Some of the games outlined would be fun to play at work with the kids, especially during camp when the kids are tired.

This is the first book I've finished from a big stack of parenting/child psychology books I borrowed from the library on a whim. The other book I have on play (Playful Learning, Breuhl) is geared more towards games played independently by children. Both types of play are obviously important. I feel like independent play should be a large part of a child's day. More involved play has the potential to really grow the relationship. There are certain games that children can't come up with on their own. Besides, they love to play with adults. Most of the FFN activities were without a learning component. That's good some of the time, though there's a lot of lost potential. Why can't learning always be part of playing? Still, I thought the ideas presented were great bonding activities.

Buddha's Brain

One of the most helpful books I've ever read. A perfect combination of practical advice, buddhist philosophy and neuroscience. I feel like reading this book improved my life.

I'd like to postpone writing a full blog post about the book until I get to read it again.