Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Leonard Cohen


The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again,
I heard them say;
Don't swell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.

The wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again;
the dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.

We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed,
the marriage spent;
the widowhood
of every government -
signs for all to see.

Can't run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they've summoned up
a thundercloud
They're going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.

You can add up the parts
but you won't have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum.
Every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.

- from Stranger Music by Leonard Cohen

Sunday, May 22, 2011

"homage to my hips"

these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don't fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don't like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!

(Lucille Clifton)

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Door

The door swings open,
you look in.
It's dark in there,
most likely spiders:
nothing you want.
You feel scared.
The door swings closed.

The full moon shines,
it's full of delicious juice;
you buy a purse,
the dance is nice.
The door opens
and swings closed so quickly
you don't notice.

The sun comes out,
you have swift breakfasts
with your husband, who is still thin;
you wash the dishes,
you love your children,
you read a book,
you go to the movies.
It rains moderately.

The door swings open,
you look in:
why does this keep happening now?
Is there a secret?
The door swings closed.

The snow falls,
you clear the walk while breathing heavily;
it's not as easy as once.
Your children telephone sometimes.
The roof needs fixing.
You keep yourself busy.
The spring arrives.

The door swings open:
it's dark in there,
with many steps going down.
But what is that shining?
Is it water?
The door swings closed.

The dog has died.
This happened before.
You got another;
not this time though.
Where is your husband?
You gave up the garden.
It became too much.
At night there are blankets;
nontheless you are wakeful.

The door swings open:
O god of hinges,
god of long voyages,
you have kept faith.
It's dark in there.
You confide yourself to the darkness.
You step in.
The door swings closed.

- from "The Door" by Margaret Atwood

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Carnation Pens

Every year for Teacher's Day, I score at least half a dozen pens that have a felt carnation on the top and are wrapped in ribbon. They are sort of annoying to write with, so I've been regifting these things all over the place. It's a good thing I'm thinking this is my last year in Korea because I don't think there's anyone left to send one of these things to.

I also get a lot of socks and candy/chocolate, but those are considerably more useful.

Monday, May 09, 2011

One Day by David Nicholls

"He had mentioned it in passing, but only as a distraction and alibi. It seemed that as he ambled through his late teens his possibilities had slowly begun to narrow. Certain cool-sounding jobs - heart surgeon, architect - were permanently closed to him now and journalism seemed about to go the same way." Derek

"But at the best of times she feels like a character in a Muriel Spark novel - independent, bookish, sharp-minded, secretly romantic." Emma

The part of this book I liked best was that tiny bits of it were set in Edinburgh and I could totally picture Rankeillor Street (I lived just down the road from there) and Arthur's Seat is somewhere I went hiking up both drunk and hungover (and even sober) and I shopped at the grocery store on Nicolson Street that is mentioned for two straight years. I also liked the British slang - good job you, wahey, etc. But, it's not really enough that a book reminds you that your ex used to say wahey a lot or that it amuses you that Em and Dex sounds a lot like Ant and Dec (annoying TV presenters much like Dexter was in the novel). I didn't like Dexter at all as a character, so it was hard to care much about what happened to him. I did like Emma and occasionally identified with her life quite a bit. All in all, it was okay but would have been a much better read on a beach when I wasn't looking for much in the way of depth.

"These days grief seems like walking on a frozen river; most of the time he feels safe enough, but there is always that danger that he will plunge through." Derek

"'Live every day as if ti's your last', that was the conventional advice, but really, who had the energy for that? What if it rained or you felt a bit glandy? It just wasn't practical. Better by far to simply try and be good and courageous and bold and to make a difference. Not change the world exactly, but the bit around you. Go out there with your passion and your electric typewriter and work hard at... something. Change lives through art maybe. Cherish your friends, stay true to your principles, live passionately and fully and well. Experience new things. Love and be loved, if you ever get the chance."

Bright-Sided by Barbara Ehenreich

"What would it mean in practice to eliminate all he 'negative people' from one's life? It might be a good move to separate from a chronically carping spouse, but it's not so easy to abandon the whiny toddler, the colicky infant, or the sullen teenager. And at the workplace, while it's probably advisable to detect and terminate those who show sings of become mass killer,s there are other annoying people who might actually have something useful to say: the financial officer who keeps worrying about the bank's subprime mortgage exposure or the auto executive who questions the company's overinvestment in SUVs and trucks. Purge everyone who "brings you down," and you risk being very lonely or, what is worse, cut off from reality. The challenge of family life, or group life of any kind, is to keep gauging the moods of others, accommodating to their insights, and offering comfort when needed.

But in the world of positive thinking other people are not there to be nurtured or to provide unwelcome reality checks. They are there only to nourish, praise, and affirm. Harsh as this dictum sounds, many ordinary people adopt it as their creed, displaying wall plaques or bumper stickers showing the word "Whining" with a cancel sign through hit. There seems to be a massive empathy deficit, which people respond to by withdrawing their won. No one has the time or patience for anyone else's problems."

I loved the first chapter on positive thinking and cancer, but after that I was less impressed. The parts about business were really just a recap of Bait and Switch and the bits about religion and psychology felt a bit repetitive. Still, the main idea, that the emphasis on positive thinking in today's culture has a negative effect overall was a good one.

"Still, surely it is better to obsess about one's chances of success than about the likelihood of hell and damnation, to search one's inner self for strengths rather than sins. The question is why one should be so inwardly preoccupied at all. Why not reach out to others in love and solidarity or peer into the natural world for some glimmer of understanding? Why retreat into anxious introspection when, as Emerson might have said, there is a vast world outside to explore? Why spend so much time working on oneself when there is so much real work to be done?"

My time at RBS was an introduction into forced positive thinking. All that bullshit about people with negative attitudes but high production being "terrorists" in the workplace always pissed me off. Don't show me some stupid show about people happily singing as they work in the Seattle Fish Market and then think that I'm going to put on a happy smile whether I feel it or not. The rah-rah company events that are run like some sort of religious revival meeting merely pissed me off. I may work for you, but I am not you. And that should be okay as an employee.

"In the hands of employers, positive thinking has been transformed into something its nineteenth-century proponents probably never imagined - not an exhortation to get up and get going but a means of social control in the workplace, a goad to perform at ever-higher levels... With 'motivation' as the whip, positive thinking became the hallmark of the compliant employee, and as the conditions of corporate employment worsened in the age of downsizing that bgan in the 1980s, the hand on the whip grew heavier."

"This is the project of science: to pool the rigorous observations of many people into a tentative accounting of the world, which will of course always be subject to revisions arising from fresh observations... There seems to be an evolutionary paradox at work here: human survival in the face of multiple threats depended on our ability to live in groups, but the imperative of maintaining group cohesion can sometimes override realism and common sense, making us hesitate to challenge the consensus or be the bearer of bad news. So, after checking with others, it remains the responsibility of each individual to sift through the received wisdom, insofar as possible, and decide what's worth holding on to. This can require the courage of a Galileo, the iconoclasm of a Darwin or Freud, the diligence of a homicide detective."

"A vigilant realism does not foreclose the pursuit of happiness; in fact, it makes it possible. How can we expect to improve our situation without addressing the actual circumstances we find ourselves in? Positive thinking seeks to convince us that such external factors are incidental compared with one's internal state or attitude or mood...IT's true that subjective factors like determination are critical to survival and that individuals sometimes triumph over nightmarish levels of adversity. But mind does not automatically prevail over matter, and to ignore the role of difficult circumstances - or worse, attribute the to our own thoughts - is to slide toward the depraved smugness Rhonda Byrne expressed when confronted with the tsunami of 2004. Citing the law of attraction, she stated that disasters like tsunamis can happen only to people who are 'on the same frequency as the event.'"

Canyons by Gary Paulsen

"Brendan Cole lived in El Paso, Texas, and each afternoon after school he ran. He did not run from anything and did not run to anything, did not run for track nor did he run to stay in shape and lose weight. He ran to be with himself."

I liked the bits about running.

Sunday, May 01, 2011