July 6, 2015

A weekend of enjoyment

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:09 pm by zakira

There is something to be said for the advances in mindfulness education for children.  My daughter brought home her “FRIENDS for life” workbook, which teaches concrete skills for reducing anxiety in all areas of life. This, combined with a couple detailed reads of Captain Paul Watson’s “Dealing with the Killer Called Stress”, happens to have coincided with two experiences that I found very enjoyable indeed.  The co-incidence of the reading and the enjoyment makes me wonder if the latter wasn’t influenced by the former.

This is to say that both texts speak to the Feeling-Thought-Action relationship, and seek to change the power that Feelings have over us. It is a supremely rationalist approach, suggesting that the key to a happy life is moderation of one’s emotions. And I think they may be on to something.

While normally going out for drinks with colleagues from work would fill me with an unsettling mixture of anticipatory mortification and dread, my reaction to these feelings was to decide on action to take, that would result in a better experience than (a) not going, or (b) going and being withdrawn.  Of course I wonder if I overprojected my me-ness, but in hazy retrospect I think it went well.  I very truly enjoyed myself.  My strategy was to find someone to speak with, and then encourage them to speak until I felt better. My thought going in was “I’m happy to be here with you” – and it worked! By that time, the “party” atmosphere had increased and, well, hilarity ensued. There was napkin origami of roasted chickens. And I went dancing for the first time in AGES. The music was terrible, but I was SO glad to move my body that I didn’t even care.  It reminded me of when I was in my teens and went to a rave, stone-cold sober, and danced for hours without a care in the world. It felt good to be back in that place. Hurray.

The second was my husband’s family reunion. Where I would know very few people and have most of my personality sucked dry by the fireball in the sky!  Oh such anxiety. BUT…. instead of (a) not going, or (b) going and being cranky and withdrawn, I decided my thought would be “I am curious and helpful” – and where I could, I helped out, took pictures and was a part of things.  I believe that one of the missing links has been “what to do” with emotions. And it turns out that there is not a lot to do with feelings. But there IS a lot to do with people.

And I so enjoyed the window into this branch of the family by taking the time to contribute, instead of being caught up in my own fears.  Another Hurray.

So progress is being made. What a great weekend.


February 12, 2013

Anna Karenina

Posted in Uncategorized tagged at 2:46 pm by zakira

It has taken some weeks to complete reading Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy.  It’s a good thing these posts are not to be essays nor to be in-depth analysis !!! Had I intended thus, I would have had to take notes, compose my thoughts in a logical manner, and, in one of those great steps that destroys all delight, read a bunch of coles notes about the ‘meaning’ of this book.

I prefer this tabula rasa approach to reading: I know very little about Russian society in the lat 19th century save the usual serfs/communists/festering nobility, and know nothing at all about Tolstoy.  As an innocent in the background and context of the novel – not even having watched the movie – I arrive fresh in Petersburg with only Count Tolstoy as my guide.

What have I learned? That Petersburg is a lively town, with gentleman’s clubs and theatres and people who vie for position and power.  Almost everyone lives beyond their means, most married men have mistresses, and nobles pay rent to live in town.   I’ve learned that the Russian bureaucracy is made of of nobles – this is how they gain a salary, since most of their lands appear to be operated at a loss.  So public servants are noble (those were the days!), serfdom has been abolished and replaced with indentured peasantry, and a whole society is built on debt and deception.  Peasants deceive their land Lords by avoiding work, merchants deceive Lords by capitalizing on their need for quick income and make cut-rate offers, suitors deceive young girls by pretending towards an offer, husbands deceive wives by pretending honour.

Tolstoy has unending sympathy for women.  Some of the most marvellous moments in the novel are when he describes their inner lives: Kitty’s transformation as help-mate to Levin at Nikolay’s deathbed, The Birth of Kitty’s baby (such an amazing pair of chapters I recommend everyone read), Dolly’s meditation on the burden of motherhood, and, well… Anna.  She is the glue that initially ties the story together, but we learn that life goes on without her.

I’ve also learned that this book is best read as if it were one of those sensitive ensemble-cast movies about intertwining families where each individual superstar actor has his/her own personal struggle and the stories eventually overlap. Every couple chapters the focus shifts to another family, then eventually you get back to the people you like again.  There are also moments reminiscent of old Law&Order in which the characters sit around and have a discussion about a major legal or political concept that happens to be relevant *right*now*, then get back to the story.  So these discussions can be found in AK: the Native Tribes of Russia, Value of Educating Peasants, Women’s Suffrage, Land Management (Commune vs Capital vs Feudal Manor), Applicability of Religious Values to Modern Life.

There are also beautiful, heartrending moments so true to life it could be today or yesterday: Birth, death, love, revelation, meditation, the trance of physical labour.    The characters are not crudely drawn but the shadows and highlights have been sketched in such a way one has the sense of having met people like them before.  They are types, representatives that smack of reality such that I imagine Tolstoy had specific individuals in mind when describing them.

There is so MUCH in this book that I just don’t think it can be boiled down to, as my friend asked me the other day, “an indictment of Russian culture”… to me this seemed to be a story about daily life on the cusp of modernity: as the last of Russia’s nobility struggle to define their transforming social  and economic roles in a global world with telegrams and railways.

(next up: The Arabian Nights.)

January 24, 2013

Aesop is NOT for Kobo

Posted in Uncategorized tagged at 6:22 pm by zakira

According to my Kobo E-Reader (original), I am 30% through Aesop.  Unfortunately, a firmware upgrade of the device has resulted in a SERIOUS slowdown of loading of chapters.  Equally unfortunate is that each fable is its own chapters.  It takes longer to load the fable than it does to read it, and I have given it up on this device.  As a result I find myself obligated to read aesop from the comfort of my computer, direct from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/21/21-h/21-h.htm.    The other impediment to finishing my Aesop is the sheer misery of reading it.  Thus far, I have read a great many cautionary tales.  Very few of the animals come out on top, there are even fewer happy endings.  In fact, most of the time Aesop’s fables are chronicles of regret: regret at not being nicer to powerful people, regret at reaching beyond one’s caste/type, regret at abusing the love and trust of others, etc etc.  The other fables, if I may be so bold as to assume without having read the entire collection yet, feature abuses of power, a recurring lesson about judging people by how they treat others,  the exploitation of the gullible, and the inescapable condition that one has been born into.   

Where there is triumph in Aesop, it is at the expense of others.    Oh, what a miserable world  was ancient Greece – and, judging by how applicable the fables are today, what a miserable world we are now in!

I may not write a full retrospective about these fables as I am really only skimming them due to the depression they induce.  YET, since reading just over 80 fables, when I myself in minor situations analogous to those in the Aesop, I recall the tale and remember the morals.   This has given me a sense of the value in teaching stories especially for learning process, ethics, problem solving, and procedure.  Situational learning makes a lot of sense.  

In addition, there is a definite Brechtian Alienation Effect with the fables: they aren’t about PEOPLE, and I can’t judge or forgive the characters as if they were people (poor, rich, liberal, conservative, bad upbringing, whatever).  They are just animals, and it is remarkably easier to apply the lesson of the story when it is so fantastical.  Perhaps there is something to this notion, that the farther-off the story seems, the easier it is to realize it is a metaphor for your contemporary existence. 

Has Aesop made me more careful? I would say so.  I find I pay more attention to what people do, what their motives might be, why they say things the way they do.  Has it made me more willing to accept those aspects of my life that are unfulfilled? No… I understand why there are young poets who reject the principles of the Eagle and The Tortoise, that one must not try to fly when one can barely walk.  Leap, and bear the consequences? hmm… the tortoise’s shell broke on the rocks.  The tortoise cannot change her lot in life – but we are modern people, not ancient Greek slaves: we can. 

January 19, 2013

Huckleberry Finn

Posted in Uncategorized tagged at 2:01 pm by zakira

Oh, Huck Finn!! What an unexpected story. You read Tom Sawyer and the mythology of St. Petersburg, sunlit childhood and adventures that always turn out for the best, and you think “huckleberry finn, that will be lovely too”. Then you’d be wrong. From the outset this is a different story. Tom Sawyer is the Star Trek to Huck Finn’s Battlestar Galactica. This is gritty. This is abuse, neglect, trauma. This is so many ugly things along the Mississippi River. These are the great-grandparents of those rednecks in Deliverance. To catalogue the horrors:
1. His father’s physical and emotional abuse, kidnapping and psychotic break such that to get away, Huck has to Fake His Own Death.
2. The Blood Feud that Huck can barely speak of, that leave him crying with nightmares after teenagers like himself are murdered before his eyes.
3. The charlatans, who are tarred (hot) and feathered and run out of town.
4. The communities so willing to believe everything as advertised, to never have a critical bone in their body, so quick to lynch. Both whites and slaves consumed by superstition, GULLIBLE to the last cell in their bodies.
5. The multiple emotional and physical tricks played on Jim.
6. The death-obsessed young woman who composes poetry to eulogize recently deceased, who gave up her life.
7. The townsfolk amused by torturing dogs.
8. The Moral Conundrum Huck faces as to whether or not to help a runaway slave escape.
9. Jim’s anguish at never seeing his wife and children, sold to another family, ever again.
10. Huck’s ability to trick and fool, to lie for his own gain. His sense of being a lost cause, doomed to being bad and going to hell. And it is THIS SENSE that enables him to justify helping Jim escape.
11. Tom Sawyer. Who after all that Huck has been through, after all the real, serious, awful adventures huck has experienced, completely derails the story in an effort to create a Tom-like adventure out of a very serious thing that could lead to a hanging. The betrayal I as a reader had when I learned that Tom likely would never have helped Jim escape had he not already been free. To him, it was a play-act at the expense of Huck and Jim. And neither party seemed to notice or care.

Unbelievable. I found this adventure deeply upsetting and confusing – despite the note at the beginning warning me not to seek a plot nor a moral, I sense there is one in this revolutionary novel that attacks so many types of people. I hope to make the time in the coming weeks to learn more about this book and the contemporary responses to it, and the current interpretations as well, because it seems so very MODERN. Again, like not much has changed. Except that in today’s story, Huck would be an at-risk youth administrated to death, sent to therapy for his nightmares, and maybe on drugs instead of tobacco.

I would love to investigate Huck’s statements about conscience being applied in untenable situations – pragmatism conflicts with the law too often in this book to ignore. And Pragmatism is in Direct Conflict with Tom’s fantastical prison break.

I am glad to report I am out of the ADs and into AE: Aesop is next, a long slog of tiny tales. Perhaps it will show to be the opposite of Huck: an excess of morality.

January 14, 2013

Tom Sawyer

Posted in Uncategorized tagged at 1:23 pm by zakira

After the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. What a charming book – a chronicle of childhood games and exploits, folk wisdom and children’s mythology.  They race through forests, barefoot all summer, costumed for piracy and robbery.  Their games are a montage of adventures read in books.  Their interactions with adults are characterized by love and corporal punishment.  The story shimmers with innocent summertime.

The children’s economy has two main components: Prestige (obtained by storytelling, embellishment, and experience), and Marbles (obtained by skill or trades).   The children use whatever they have – dead rat on a string, kitten with one eye, broken objects cast off by adults – or whatever they know – how to swear oaths and make incantations, how to avoid witches – to gain prestige or marbles.  It’s a marvellous, sun-kissed world. 

Yet for all the nostalgia of this childhood universe in Tom Sawyer, the children’s emotional worlds, their desires and ambitions, are treated on a par with that of the adults.  Perhaps both adults and juveniles are equally petty, equally motivated to gain from power and reputation, equally quick to act and to regret.  While our omniscient narrator can subtly laugh at the ridiculous predictability of the writing of young women and the naivete of the health-fad obsessed populace (neither of which appears not to have changed much in almost 140 years), the fear Tom and Huck feel after witnessing a murder is real and not to be laughed at.   I was surprised at how the tone of the books could shift from play to drama.  When Tom has gone pirating, the first time he goes missing in the book, this event tricks readers into thinking he and Becky must have mischievously disappeared when they don’t come back to the picnic.  Their adventure in the caves begins beautifully like the other chapters do, but Clemens (Twain) turns the tables in a masterful manner and by the end of the chapter one is afraid they may not survive this adventure.   

All is well.  This light reading is also a study of marginalized individuals.  Huck Finn has mythological status to the children of St. Petersburg, as a forbidden free spirit, a resourceful child of nature.  We are all the children of St. Petersburg, knowing Huck in those first moments as a barefoot boy clothed in the loose rags of a man’s clothes, with a hole in his hat and a dead cat in his hand, ready for adventure (as long as it costs nothing).   But he is desperately poor and his beatings are irrational, the result of his father’s drunkenness instead of the well-meaning hand of a teacher or mother.  This is important.  Corporal punishment is a key feature of these childrens’ lives, and they either run away from or take their licks as deserved and keep on with their lives largely unharmed (except poor Joe Harper, punished unfairly, who runs off to be a pirate).   But Huck’s life of violence and uncertainty is Different.  There is no gloss of rationality. He is free, but unloved. 

Then there is Injun Joe, marginalized and villainized until there is no option for him but a bad end.  He is on the vendetta path: against the elder Robinson for a vagrancy charge by killing the younger Dr. Robinson, against Judge Douglas for having him whipped by planning to mutilate the Widow Douglas.  His behaviour is reprehensible – but I think that he would have been as effective a villain had he not been a half-breed, because he has a propensity for violence and low impulse control.   So then why is he Indian? Could it be that for the story to have weight, Tom must come in contact with characters of legendary status? Firstly, Judge Thatcher has this status, but Tom is humiliated when he fails to recall the apostles.  Then we meet Huck, but Huck is a helper legend, a guide to an underworld which Tom must enter and persevere in.  So Huck brings Tom to the graveyard, where they witness the murder.  Then bonded by oath, Tom and Huck (and Joe) experiment with independence, flirt with the notion of dying. Things start to be Tom’s idea: obtain treasure, leading them to the next encounter with Injun Joe. Huck having done Something Good for once in his life (leading to acceptance by society and especially the widow) is immediately disempowered, bed ridden and inexplicably unwell. This is at the same time Tom enters a real (not imaginary as in all previous adventures) leadership role in the cave when he must not only lead Becky to safety, but also avoid Injun Joe.   So Tom has to assert himself against the underworld, while Huck struggles to find himself in society. 

What I found so lovely, though, was at the end of the story Huck has run away, but Tom brings him back with promises of the same child-like games they played.  No innocence was lost by way of these adventures.  While there may be some question as to the fluidity of reality in the world of Tom and his friends, they are still just kids who play pretend.  

January 12, 2013

Sherlock Holmes

Posted in Uncategorized tagged at 11:03 pm by zakira

I’ve always had a bit of a Holmes obsession. I remember Jeremy Brett’s rendition the most fondly. I used to read the Adventures along with the episodes: word for word accuracy. Beautiful. Since then, the other Holmes’ have attracted my attention, pulled my mind into a swirl of detail, mystery, and violin.

It’s Benedict Cumberbatch that’s sparked my interest in Holmes again. The way he plays the great detective excites me, brightens my mood, gives me a spring to my step. This year’s revelation: I find Holmes’ frenetic restlessness calming. I find his attention to detail soothing. I find his abrasive social behaviour comforting. Something about Holmes makes me feel normal. And bless him for it.

So in my Project to read 100 works on my Kobo, I began with the Adventures. This is because had I gone in strict alphabetical order I would have had to read the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn before those of Tom Sawyer, and that just would not do at all. And Sherlock’s impatient, obsessive character called me from the screen. So I (re)read the Adventures. Having realized that I may forget everything I have read, I wish to note my impressions of this text.

FIrstly, that Doyle created an ideal character in Holmes: someone who is an actor, a musician, a chemist, a science writer, a psychologist before there were such things. It falls flat at first – this a cop out, a character without weakness or flaw. And Watson appears to live only to highlight his friend’s marvellous abilities. If there is an obscure topic, Holmes has published an article about it.

Secondly, Holmes sets up an ‘us and them’ sort of world – for him, there are observant people, and then there are the rest of us who sail through life without a thought. And many times Holmes’ observances result in a resolved mystery (not all of which are crimes, btw). But I can’t help but think that MOST of the time, poor Holmes is counting steps and noting trouser length for no benefit whatsoever. What a way to live.

I also noticed that either Watson is a terrible doctor with a dismal reputation, or his medical practice is simply of the most convenient type for one who enjoys running off at a moments’ notice, for his patients are either non-existent or passing away.

Finally, I enjoyed the way Holmes bursts every one of Watson’s bubbles. If the latter expounds a belief held commonly by the general readership, the latter inevitably makes a counter-statement calculated to crush the belief into smithereens. And these are true today, over a century later – that the countryside make look beautiful but may harbour more sin than the city, that crime is common and logic is rare, etc. The world has not changed much: what appears simple may not be what it seems.

January 9, 2013

In the simulacrum

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:31 pm by zakira

Here I write. More accurately, I type. Reading remains the same but writing has transformed – it is not penmanship but typing.

I have borrowed my deceased friend’s journals and we will be embarking on a project to transcribe, edit and publish them sometime in 2013. These lead me to the question of Blogs. Private journals are for one’s own reading, perhaps for posthumous review and publishing. They are at once a release of emotion and an effort to contribute something of ones’ self to posterity. What a remarkable act, to write and keep a journal until one has passed away, knowing full well that when you are no longer there to blush or explain others will read, laugh in unexpected places, roll their eyes and wipe away tears all because of something you wrote with an imaginary, unknown audience in mind. This is a familiar notion, but will these private journals have gone the way of the dodo, now that blogs air our thoughts so publicly? A journal needs no password, but a blog does. Things to consider.

In other news, I was lucky enough to win a KOBO original reader, which comes loaded with 100 free classics. A book is a form and these are neither on paper nor bound – rather they are works – novels, short story collections, but I shan’t call them books. These classics, mostly Gutenberg transcriptions, are the reanimated dead of the culture, still lurching about seeking brains to consume. I have decided to read all of them, in alphabetical order, beginning with the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. I will write about that another day.

Anyways, the unexpected aspect to reading on the KOBO is that it is just like reading. This is obvious, but was totally unpredictable. I had expected that reading on a device that is Not A Book would be different from Reading A Book, with the text bent over curving pages that darken as they get to the spine, the rustle and accidental tear of the page as it turns, the pressure of the cover into my cramping hand. Well, all that is missing, but the experience is The Same. It has no light, so I am aware of the room I am in, tilting my device towards the nearest glow. The pages take a moment to render, but I whip through them and have ceased to mind, able to hold the thought of the previous page in my mind as I did before when I turned paper pages. And I Lose Myself in the story – an experience that has not happened in other attempts to E-read. And so, I declare that the simulacrum of the book is as good as the book (for getting through a story).

In addition, I purchased a pair of running shoes. New Balance Minimus – which feel exactly like bare feet. So, I can wear shoes that are like NOT wearing shoes, and I can read novels that are NOT in book form. And I write in a journal which is only private due to a fortuitous combination of infrequent contributions and a limited readership.

August 27, 2012

The Deathbed Vigil

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:42 pm by zakira

I’ve been blessed to be able to attend three deaths of my elders, sitting in the quiet deathbed spaces and waiting, loving, speaking. Remembering a life past, work that has been done, the finishing of a long life.   Waiting on the vigil, reading magazines while all the business of daily life is put aside as irrelevant in the face of this greatest of transitions.  Roll out the red carpet, an elder is passing.  And when they passed, the light sparkled and the world felt poorer and richer all at once. 

I think of the the automated breathing of the dying person, the bellows of life pressing air in and out, in and out while the consciousness does the same, as setting the rhythm and time of the vigil.  The ticking of the second hand is drowned out. Day and night, hours and minutes, all are turned on their sides while we wait and love, read poetry, sing songs, talk in hushed voices about After, and prepare ourselves for time to rush in as the spirit soars away. 

Inspiration, Respiration and Spirit come from the same latin root:: Spiritus, Spirare.  To breathe and to enspirit are the same thing.  Breathing in brings the spirit with it.  Breathing out and the opposite occurs.  With every breath.  At the vigil every breath in is a moment of luck and gratefulness.  Here for another second.  And every breath out a moment of grace. Perhaps now.  Then another breath, and so on.

A friend of mine breathes like this, eyes half-closed, mouth and nose open.  He listens and looks from deep behind his eyes, and prepares to travel to the other side.  It’s always too soon to die, even you have lived a century.  But he hasn’t made it that far, not even halfway, and the smallest part of me wants to rail against the unfairness of it all.  But the rest of me has grown to accept that my friend is joining the esteemed ranks those who have crossed over.  

Today I spoke to him. A new use for skype.  He is on the other side of the country and I cannot fly to see him, not now.  I’ve felt he could hear me anyways.  Lucky enough that his wife offered a skype session, and I could see him and hear him as if I was right there, as if I could reach out and hug my lanky skinny friend and whisper the best of wishes.  One never has to say “I didn’t get a chance to say good bye” – what a blessing. I told him the best wishes I could think of, I stared into his eyes and felt warm and loving and said so too.  I reminisced with him. I talked about music.  I opened my heart and told him how I adore him and feel so lucky to have had him as my friend and wished him the best and oh, so many heart breaking things.  

And then, I said good bye, leaving him to the loving arms of people who really are right there in the quiet rhythm of respiration, their gentle sweet hands, avatar-like, pressed on his arms as I would have done. They comfort him. They love him. They can hear his thoughts though his face barely moves.  Time has stopped for them, replaced by spirare.  

Roll out the red carpet.  A young man is passing. 


June 21, 2012

Such a long Time

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:44 pm by zakira

Since March 2009… my goodness! And my password still works! I have nothing but cliches about the flow of time.  It’s the summer solstice today – 9pm and it feels like 430, not even dusk.  So it’s been three years? Really? oh my, what to say to my inattentive public (haha!).

I have not completed my MA. It is so close I could taste it but it has been on the tip of my tongue for over a year and it feels a little dishonest to say that it is almost done, because there is this huge something stopping it from becoming.

My professional life, if you can call it that, has transformed in these years, and work takes more of my time and energy than ever before. 

As a parent, as the girls grow older it becomes a more complex job, a meeting of minds, the practice of civility on a daily basis.

There’s a lot of growing that takes place in your late thirties. A lot of change. More on that, if I have time to tell you.





March 20, 2009

Life Outside

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:04 pm by zakira

There are a few issues that concern me that are Outside The Scope of the essay I am writing. They are:

The loss of children’s geographies – where are children’s spaces now that they are “container” children, spending more time than ever in boxes of various sizes (cars, classrooms, carseats, strollers)? Where are their secret lairs, where are their alone-spots? What is the world made of when we have no liminal spaces? They don’t even walk to school anymore. They are never alone, unsupervised, in free child culture? What is happening to children’s society when it is totally mediated – by adults and by screens?

also, how can we live outdoors? How can we move our lives outside to bring the awareness of nature and life into our experience?

and, the man-machine and the nature-machine.

now, back to work.

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