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.

Thursday, 25 July 2013


Herman Hesse has got to be one of my favorite authors. Lately I've been trying to read more non-fiction, mostly in the area of personal development. Hesse was an exception to the trend. The novel didn't feel so different from the non-fiction, though. Siddhartha's journey follows the Buddha's four noble truths and his eight step path to enlightenment. Hesse's writing is gently instructive, and very evocative. After finishing the novel I felt very open to change, especially in myself, which was a goal of my non-fiction study.

Hesse became a semi-recluse while writing Siddhartha, seeking to find the feeling of enlightenment that the protagonist discovers at the river. Learning this made me wish I could study more Eastern thought. What I'm reading now, Buddha's Brain by Rick Hanson, strengthens that interest. Especially of interest to me is the idea of a deep inner tranquility. Hanson describes the process of cultivating compassion and empathy while still remaining internally unshaken -- almost like an emotional proxy. That makes me wonder about Siddhartha, and about emotional expressiveness in general. Giving voice to emotions must be good. Empathizing the emotions of others is good. Both of these things are nice and it's good to have those experiences close to your heart. I think I would feel further from the people I care about if those experiences were felt through a barrier. But feeling bad emotion is painful, and it often causes damage. Maybe only bad emotions require the proxy. I'm really not sure.

The structure of Siddhartha places most of the novel's message in the last chapter. Until I reached it, I worried that Hesse didn't achieve the same quality with Siddhartha as he did with other works. Of course, Hesse put my suspicion to rest in the final pages.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Hans Brinker

I've really been into the kid's books lately. The happy endings and good morals are a nice contrast to everything else I've been reading. Children's lit and non-fiction are practically incomparable. My goal is to read all of the children's classics my grandparents gave to me when I was a child (about six left).

Hans Brinker reminded me of Little Britches in a lot of ways. Honor was the main theme in both stories. A young boy (Ralph or Hans) befriends someone important who eventually saves the day. Material possessions are constantly sacrificed for the needs of others. I was really pleased to see that, although both were very strong moral stories, Hans Brinker didn't have to turn to religion to find morality.

The narration lends a nice picture of a frozen Holland, right around Christmas time. I enjoyed my day-dream skating through the Hague and Amsterdam. I think I'll pick the book up again around December. It's just too charming.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Character Strengths and Virtues

The Little Lame Prince

I've had this story in my library since I was a girl. Last night, I poured over the tiny volume. It wasn't the story I was expecting. The little illustrations were delights, the characters caught my heart. Maybe it was the time of day, or my state of mind, but I did feel transported when the prince and I climbed aboard his magical travelling cloak. I've never read a better description of what the world might look like to a child who had only learned what he knew through books. And if I had read it as a girl, I would have felt as if I had really seen the things he had for the first time. Obviously, being a children's book, the language was simple. But it was less so (or at least less noticably so) because of the author's elegant prose.

Mulock included a cryptic sort of message at the beginning of one chapter. "If any reader, big or little, should wonder whether there is a meaning in this story, deeper than that of an ordinary fairy tale, I will own that there is. But I have hidden it so carefully that the small people, and many larger folk, will never find it out". I can't help wondering if I've gotten the right message. The story flows very clearly, I think: the prince draws an unfortunate lot, he's helped by his godmother to bear it, and he develops a great sense of empathy because of it. I was so happy to see that not a single mentioning of providence or 'God's will' was made even with the theme being obviously ethical. The prince never tells a single lie, and makes bad people uncomfortable in his presence -- that seems significant -- and his just and fair rule as a king is a result of the empathy he developed riding along on the cloak... I think. But what is the cloak, for regular boys and girls? I'm torn. I feel like the cloak (and especially the golden spectables and the silver ears the prince wears) are indicative of the cloak's ability to make the prince feel like someone else, developing his sensitivities for the feelings of others. He certainly uses the cloak this way later in life, as a king. Does the Little Lame Prince really just amount to an exposition of the golden rule? Even if that's really all there is to the 'meaning' bit, I really liked this piece of writing.

Monday, 10 June 2013

The Not-So-Secret Garden

For the last few days, Colin and I have
been pulling weeds out of this little plot.
We dressed it with soil and turned
over the earth. We moistened the ground
with water from the Seine. The borders
are trimmed with dark red mulch.
Silver wire is strung up by bamboo
stakes around the perimeter.

Inside the little fence are tiny seeds
freshly sowed, maybe even beginning to sprout.
The tiny tomato vine must be like a giant to them.
There's something of the magical inside seedlings.

Isn't it lovely? I'm excited to watch our plants grow.
If the deer haven't already eaten them up, that is.


The third work of Hesse's that I've read. His writing style is especially calculated in Demian. The book demands re-reading; every phrase is polished, every bit of symbolism is perfectly timed. I especially liked how Hesse portrayed Sinclair's dreams. I learned after finishing that the work is semi-autobiographical, dealing with Hesse's experience with Jungian therapy, and his experience as a child in a home like Emil's.

Every mentioning of the 'completeness' theme brought my thoughts back to the inner work I've been trying to do lately. I think this idea of wholeness was clearer to Colin during his reading that it was to me; he's further along that line of thought than I am. Still, I gleaned useful thoughts from that theme and I feel motivated to think about wholeness (I believe Hesse was thinking along the lines of Gnosticism when he wrote Demian, the theme stands without it anyway).

The well-defined 'eras' of Sinclair's life have some meaning for me. "Fate and temperament are two words for the same concept" says he. With each successive phase, S. gets closer to his destiny. His behaviour predicts his future. It does for all of us. The final breaking of the egg must be the death of Demian -- or perhaps it's meeting Eva. I don't really know. Anyway, the paradigm shift which S. constantly experiences is only possible for those who bear the mark of Cain. The mark is common among all of Demians friends, and Sinclair finds it also on Pisorius in a limited way. The feature they all share must be some divine knowledge. Demian gives us the image of evolution to describe the mark, but also that of Cain and Abel. The mark is inexpressible and it torments the bearer. For the sparrow-hawk, the feeling of constantly being born is both a torture and an ecstasy. That's the feeling, it seems, that all the characters who bear the mark have. Sinclair is released from the 'egg' in the final paragraph. After a second reading, the narrative could be that of a baby being born. He's found his destiny at last, and is reborn as Demian.

Thursday, 6 June 2013


Just as gripping and as soul-wrenching as Narsissus and Goldmund. Luckily I was (somehow) able to catch some sleep between readings of this one. Hesse has such a way of reflecting the soul back to the reader. Steppenwolf forced me to look at the ugly underbelly of humanity. He's relentless, too. Hesse's writing attaches an eye speculum which prevented any observable diversion from the theme. I felt trapped and oppressed, free, or emotional at his whim. Mostly, I felt torn, just like Harry. And just like Harry, I was wrapped in a flurry of intention, illusion, action and fantasy.

I particularly liked how humour was defined and introduced through the magic theatre. It paired well with a book I read today -- which was not quite worth its own entry, unfortunately -- Social Anxiety, by Alain de Botton*. Humour provides a release from the perpetual fear of failure. Finding folly in the rediculousness of man and his society protects us from the agony of their rejection. Maybe it's Pablo's sanguine nature which repulses Harry most of all. In the final pages, the Steppenwolf is able to look at his geminist soul and laugh. The novel ends (and Hesse stressed this to his critics) with a hopeful note. Man can raise himself above the level of the wolf, and see joy.

*Darn it. After On Love, I had such high hopes for this new one by Botton. Evidently, he knows more about romantic love than 'love from the world' (his term).

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Madame Bovary

I really felt close to this book. George Orwell put it best when he said “the best books... are those that tell you what you know already”. Emma's seeking, her dreaming, and her romanticism aren't unlike my day dreams. Her fate was a startling warning to me. We cope with adversity the same way.

But what is Emma? Is she ambition, fate, humanity? She's sensitive, Flaubert reminds us by having her faint frequently. And she desires wealth and status. She's only happy with her husband twice in the novel -- after his apparently successful clubfoot surgery, and just before she dies. She's never honest. Very secretive. Strikingly beautiful. Easily influenced. Totally selfish.

She could be rebelling against her fate, lamenting the life of a farmer's daughter and a doctor's wife. If that's the case, the blind old man wandering the roads is certainly an image for Oedipus (I would have missed that if I hadn't just read it!). All Emma wants is to return to the
ball given by the Marquis d'Andervilliers. Life for her is endlessly disappointing when she is acting any role but rich wife (or mistress). Then what of her increasing ambivalence during her affair with Leon? Emma is an addict of the bourgoise. She catches it from romantic novels, nurses it, and finally falls victim to its emotional and fiscal symptoms.

Such an absolutely perfect narrative. Some of the greatest novelists in the world call it the best book ever written! So much is written into the detail -- and I can only imagine what the process of translation left out -- that it would take much longer than the couple days I devoted to find all of the subtleties.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Wuthering Heights

Of all the possible ways that this novel could have ended, the least likely was chosen. I did not see a ghost story coming! Lockwood's dream predicted it, and maybe a second reading would reveal more obvious foreshadowing, but it did come as a shock to me.

It was a rattling story all the way through, actually. A slew of unpredictable (and sometimes savage) characters in a matching landscape. Colin was right, there were strong education themes; Hareton is 'tamed' by Catherine's teaching and any character with sense is educated. Even the maid begins her tale by attributing her good breeding to the study of all of the books in the library. The central themes, jealousy and vengefulness, are carved out unabashed in cruelty. I can't stress the cruelty part enough. The characters were engaged in nothing but abuse towards each other. Heathcliff can only be described as a devil. The feeling of the story is so strange, and so disturbing, I'm at a loss to call Wuthering Heights anything except haunting.

Monday, 27 May 2013

The Taming of the Shrew

After Oedipus, it seemed natural to me to continue either with something Greek, or with something dramatic. I couldn't keep myself from Shakespeare.

Even though I found the comedy hilarious and the characters well-drawn, it's been difficult for me to decipher what Shakespeare's meaning was in The Taming of the Shrew. Even Harold Bloom had nothing to say about it, devoting only three pages of his disquisition on the bard to Kate and Petruchio. He calls them the happiest married couple in all of the plays and insists that the secret of it is in Kate's final speech. The meanings of strength and weakness have been switched, says Bloom, and Kate has preserved her voracious will in a way far more refined than that of her sister and the widow.

Muir mentioned the play last term, and ascribed Bianca's mildness to her study of the classics. By extension I assumed he meant that Kate's taming in the same way was prevented by the smashing of the lute and refusal of the tutor. She refuses the activity of a heightened mind, so must be treated like an animal undergoing domestication.

Bloom and Muir differ greatly in their estimation of Kate's mental capacity, and I'm not sure who to believe. Her acid tongue and quick wit make me lean towards Bloom. I do wonder what education has to do with the meaning, since all of the suitors have obviously studied the classics (Petruchio gives an example in his speech about wealthy but venomous women, mentioning Florentine, Sibyl, and Xanthippe).

And why has no one mentioned Bianca and Lucentio? Bianca plays opposite to Katherine, acting perfectly mild but ending the play disobedient. Bloom reflects on this, calling it social commentary. Women can only be 16th century ideals (silent, obedient, pretty) or shrews.

Lucentio abandons his studies to court Bianca, turning Tranio into himself. If the transformation from servant to Lord is a metaphor, education can certainly be counted as a major theme in TOS. Tranio is allowed to don Lucentio's lordly garb after he promises to attend the University in his place. Or, that's just a joke, and Shakespeare's meaning is that the only difference between servants and their masters are clothes.

The play as a whole is equal parts amusing and puzzling. There are so many threads I can hardly count them all. They do weave together nicely into a happy caricature of young people.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus

Keeping with the Greek theme, I finished two plays by Sophocles last night. What a perfect theme for how I was feeling. I had no idea the plays would affect me so much. A couple of tears were shed shortly after finishing. Oedipus' lamenting guilt was so powerful in Oedipus Rex, I couldn't help but feel moved. He feels most passionately for those related to him, even more than he feels for himself. His immediate empathy was so powerful. I felt inspired to be more like him in his feelings towards those close to him.

Concerning his culpability, which feels like the central theme of both the plays, Oedipus is morally innocent. He avoids Corinth, even though he longs to see Polybius and Merope, because of the prediction of the Oracle (he will kill his father, etc.). It's the irony and the strange fate that make the play the interesting thing that it is. His intentions are always good -- though sometimes falsely suspicious, such as his accusations towards Creon. He leaves willingly when convicted, ending the city's famine and condemning himself to a life of wandering.

Oedipus at Corinth begins near the end of his life as a wanderer. Sophocles writes this sequel in a similar stage of life, he was ninety years old. Blind, and led in his wandering by his poor daughter Antigone, Oedipus stumbles into a garden at Colonus. His stumbling into a kind and beautiful place, after years of misery, is something of a symbol for the whole play: the Oracle places a value on his final resting place, and consequently Oedipus enjoys a momentary restoration of some small amount of respect. I have to disagree with Sophocles' choice of last words for this play. He places too much emphasis on divinity of fate, instead of the randomness of fate that characterises Oedipus Rex.

Oedipus the King:                                                         Oedipus at Colonus:
O you who are mortal, look upon life's end,                 Now cease,
and on your own.                                                           and lift no more your wailing cry,
Count no man happy until without disaster                  for the events
he pass the last boundary of his life.                             which now have been fulfilled
                                                                                      there lives divine authority.

It's useful to compare the final lines, however, because I think it gives us the most clear example of what it was Sophocles needed to add to the Oedipus character to make him complete. The king is exonerated of his guilt and allowed to forget his life of shame, if momentarily, while the fates shine on him. It's this circularity which defines Oedipus' character. He curses his sons for their heartlessness towards him, which reminded me once again of his empathetic reaction to conviction in Thebes. Oedipus' only comfort in his time of death is that his body is more useful to the world than his life. He goes off to die with no witness except the king of Athens. He is swallowed up by the Earth, leaving no mourner but his daughters.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Herodotus, and the First Week of Free Time

It's been a week since spring session began, and I've been enjoying my time outside of school. The decision not to attend classes has proved to be a great one -- thanks Colin. I've gotten lots of reading done in the past week. Today I tore through a tiny volume of Herodotus titled Snakes with Wings & Gold Digging Ants, and found it hugely entertaining. The book is comprised of short selections from his Histories. The 'Father of History' certainly takes some creative liberties. It was worth it for the captivating, if somewhat fictional, account of many civilizations around Egypt, Libya and Persia circa. 400 BCE.

I'm also most of the way through an Oxford very short introduction to Wittgenstein (required reading before I finish Dave's portrait of W.) and Marcus Aurelius. The Meditations rattle me every time I pick them up. Consequently it's hard to put them down. I'll write a short paragraph for both of them once I finally finish. Also on the desk waiting to be read are Aristotle and Wagner. The bookcase keeps such fantastic company. Slightly less strenuous but equally enjoyable books on the table are Hauser (Psychology) and Woodman (inner work).

As far as summer jobs are concerned, though I'm still looking for work with kids for July-August I've found an interesting employer for the time being. I'm modeling for the WPG Artists, my first shift is on Tuesday. I'll write about how it goes.

Monday, 22 April 2013

The Midway Point

Today I wrote the last exam of my second year in university. Phew.

This year went quite a lot faster than the last. I spent much more time in the library. My grades are considerably better. The U of W has become a place I really feel comfortable in and am happy to return to every morning.

I'd have to say that 'On Becoming a Person' was the most satisfying book I read this (academic) year. The idea of unconditional positive regard as a requirement for growth forced me to think quite a lot about self-love, trust and genuineness. All four of Rogers' conditions for growth (Unconditional positive regard, empathy, understanding, care) have stuck with me and return often to my thoughts. Sometimes I imagine myself in a session with a Rogerian therapist. I tend to be too deferential when doing inner work and I feel like it helps to have an imaginary friend listen to me blabber. It doesn't need to be a therapist-patient relationship in order for these qualities to be beneficial: all relationships would be better for it. Rogers calls these 'real' relationships, and says that they tend to be more dynamic than other interactions. I'd like to keep those qualities in mind in all my relationships. The world can always use more empathy.

One of the most important lessons I learned this year was academics related; it feels fantastic to sit and study as hard as you can for as long as you can. It's like any other exercise: the more you do it, the more you want to do it. It's the learning that matters, not the grades, but this lesson has boosted them both. Thanks to Trapnell for the kick in the butt, and to Colin for telling me this last year. It took a while to get through my thick head but I feel much better for it.

I'm registered in a mathematics class for the spring term but that still leaves me with three full weeks until my first day of classes. Talk about luxury. I plan on spending some time at the Cave, and the rest of the time working on my resolutions for the year. One of which was improving my sketching, which I've been neglecting for the past month. To the left is today's exercise, another study of Michelangelo. I sometimes draw things that aren't nude male figures -- really. 

Friday, 8 March 2013

The Righteous Mind

I've just finished my first book by Jonathan Haidt, recommended to me by Dr. P.

At first I felt wary of it, the full title (The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion) contains both words that I try to avoid in my readings: religion and politics. That sounds horrifying short sighted. I guess I'm trying to avoid developing partisan views before I understand the debates surrounding each topic.

Haidt makes three major points in Righteous Mind: We are rational 'riders' on intuitive 'elephants', his Moral Foundations Theory and its six faceted view of morality, and our evolutionary disposition (90% chimp and 10% bee).

Conservatives, according to Haidt, use all six of their foundations when making moral judgements. Liberals only use three. These foundations (Care, Justice, Liberty, Sanctity, Loyalty, Authority) evolved to suit us in the stone-age environments. Haidt may be guilty of the naturalistic falacy here if he means to suggest that all of the domains continue to serve us today. What is good may not be associated with all of the domains equally (what if laws were based on sanctity instead of justice?).

However, I'm not sure Haidt is giving a lesson on ethics. What is intuitively right may not be ethically right. If Haidt's intuitive elephant and rider is the reality of our psyche then we have to train the rider to have more decision power. The unconscious associations test referenced has scary associations for a world run by elephants.

Seeing as how the MFT concerns moral intuitions and not sound arguments, what value can we place on them at all? Our first intuitions, often unjustifiable or incorrect, differ based on political preference. It simply doesn't follow that one intuition is preferable to another. The answer is to move past 'tasting' with any number of moral foundations. We have to avoid the elephant altogether.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013


A Study of Michelangelo

It's been an artful month for me. I've picked up visual art (sketching) and learned a couple of new songs on the guitar. Not that I haven't been reading.

Colin and I are both enjoying Ulysses (though the amount of enjoyment depends on the chapter). I've also picked up The Elements of Style and The Elements of Expression. I've finished most of the books listed in the previous post. I'm not sure if I'll write reviews of each of them.

Currently it's Reading Week and I hardly have any idea of what to do with myself. Today I volunteered with Let's Talk Science. That entailed some bizarre activities, not limited to: eyeball dissection, examination of freeze-dried lungs, and gawking at a human skeleton. The children visiting the University were about thirteen, all of them grade seven students from Stanley Knowles school. I was thoroughly impressed by some homeschoolers who tagged along.

These children were a few years younger, but much better behaved and more interested in the topic at hand. I also found that their attention span was longer and they asked better questions. One of those questions which haunts me was asked by one of the younger boys just before we entered the lab. "What's a nuclear melt-down?" he asked, very innocently. My heart broke a little.

My winter term classes began in January. It's been difficult to get used to them. The most difficult of the classes is chemistry. I feel frustrated that I didn't pay attention to the sciences in high school. If I had, life would be much easier now. Another new class this term is Personality Psychology with Dr. Trapnell. The course material so far has focused on the research methods and popular areas of scientific investigation. Dr. Trapnell and I have had a couple of excellent discussions in his office. I appreciate his willingness to answer my sometimes outlandish questions.

Memorable quotes from earlier today:

"Why do you think these dried lungs are so light?" "Because they're dried."
"Why does Joe have only one boob?" "Jo can be a girl's name too."
"Can I lick those eyeballs? I already licked the hearts."

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Book's I'm Currently Reading/Read

Flatland. A Way of Being. Joan of Arc. Client-Centered Therapy. The Feminine Mystique. On Becoming a Person. Toward A Psychology of Being. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Brideshead Revisited. Sphereland.