Monday, December 17, 2007

In Winnipeg at Christmas

In Winnipeg at Christmas
there's lots and lots of snow,
Very clean, and crisp and hard
And glittering like a Christmas card
Everywhere you go;
Snow upon the housetops,
snow along the street,
And Queen Victoria in her chair
Has snow upon her snowy hair
And snow upon her feet.

In Winnipeg at Christmas
they line the streets with trees-
Christmas trees lit up at night
With little balls of coloured light
As pretty as you please.
The people hurry past you
in furry boots and wraps;
The sleighs are like a picture book,
And all the policemen look
Like Teddy Bears in caps.

And oh! The smiling ladies
and jolly girls and boys;
And oh! The parties and the fun
With lovely things for everyone-
Books and sweets and toys.
So, if someday at Christmas
you don't know where to go,
Just pack your bags I beg,
And start at once for Winnipeg;
You'll like it there I know.

Rose Fyleman

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Reading journal for A Complicated Kindness

I’m not sure I can write about A Complicated Kindness (or Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, for that matter) without straying and making personal references. And I’m not at all sure I want to or even should make those references (one reason simply that it can be incredibly difficult to write sensibly about something close to one’s heart). Suffice it to say that shunnings do not just happen in small rural communities and they are not a solely Mennonite phenomena. Seven years ago, my sister, like Tash, 1 came home with science books from the public library and set in motion a series of events that culminated in our being shunned by our family and community. The people we left behind would never pick up a book like A Complicated Kindness and so they will never see themselves reflected in it. Everything they read (or watch, or listen to) is strictly dictated by a biblical code. If you – an outsider – were to challenge their tradition of shunning, perhaps calling it cruel (or ‘destructive, sad, ridiculous, hateful’ as Toews has done), they would explain that though having to enforce the practice deeply saddened them it was absolutely necessary in order to keep their community (“God’s people”) free of impurities and apostate influences.2 They would have no trouble justifying the practice biblically or telling you that it was what God wanted them to do. They believe that what they are doing is fitting and right. (And after all, as an outsider, an unbeliever, who is hardly living what they would consider to be a “godly life” why should your opinion really matter to them?)

Miriam Toews has written about a fairly obscure religious practice and the story has been welcomed and praised – by a mostly secular audience but also by some more liberal Mennonites. But among all those who have read and praised A Complicated Kindness, there are certain basic things that must be held in common to be able to read and appreciate such a book; the most essential of them perhaps being the willingness to admit doubt, to question, criticize, challenge. How does one reach people who refuse to do those things? The people we call “fundamentalists” who will accept no lesser authority than God, who accept the Bible as infallible truth, who believe that the men (for it is almost always men) who lead their church are divinely appointed and thus who’s judgments are beyond question.

Perhaps I’ve made it sound too black and white. Perhaps the urge that follows is to dismiss the people who believe this way as being radical, intolerant fundamentalists, lacking in rational thought. But the beauty of A Complicated Kindness lies in the way that Nomi – Toews – refuses to do that: “…there is a kindness here, a complicated kindness. You can see it sometimes in the eyes of people when they look at you and don’t know what to say.” (P. 46) Nomi “sees all this, names all this, yet recognizes in the same moment that there is in East Village a kind of goodness, a complicated kindness; recognizes that while this excuses nothing, it is not, at least, a place of uncluttered cruelty.”3 The people who choose to live a religious type of life – one that can seem medieval and foreign to us, are incredibly complex, complicated beings, more than just the sum of their parts (or their prejudices). Behind Toews story is a real community with real people in it – flawed, yes, but not lacking in human kindness and who shunned, not necessarily out of malice, but out of misguided love. And if we resort to a reductionist way of looking at them, of distancing ourselves from them, we are falling into a similar fundamentalist trap.4

1 “Why did my sister require more than that? What the heck was she doing with that library card of hers? She’d gone too far, I knew that much.” (P. 120)
2 “And everybody was sad, I’d say. Right? Yes, everybody was sad. It was a very difficult position to be in not only for the person who was shunned but for the people who loved them. God especially, I’d say. Right? Yes, God especially. I loved that hook. Even though he was the ultimate punisher, he got no satisfaction from it. It hurt him, but it had to be done. I thought that was damn heroic.” (P. 44)
3 Richardson, Bill. “A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews.” The Globe and Mail. May 1, 2004.
4 “Fundamentalism offers a really simplistic, easy version of things to believe in. All those difficult, unanswerable questions that real life asks, are answered.” (Toews, as quoted in “A Complicated kind of author,” Herizons, Vol. 19, No. 1, P. 20)

[Sorry, this is totally not a real entry, I'm too busy with school work right now to write a real one. I'm just posting this due to a request. For the record, my prof responded to the "black and white" query with the comment of, "No, not really." And to the final sentence, with: "Perhaps, but it's arguable..." I'd also attached a print-off of the Wikipedia entry for "Jehovah's Witnesses and congregational discipline" (a.k.a. shunning) to my RJ so my prof would understand my allusion.]

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Excuses, excuses

I have to re-read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and write a Reading Journal on it by Tuesday. Its not that the reading journals are such difficult assignments... in theory. But I always go a bit over and above the call of duty and feel like I have to *cough* research them as thoroughly as possible. Which in the case of A Complicated Kindness, for instance, meant finding everything possible on Miriam Toews (which admittedly wasn't that much) and reading it. Did I incorporate everything I'd read into my RJ? Of course not. Instead I mostly rambled in a likely ambiguous and unintelligible way about my fundamentalist Christian upbringing (read ACK and you'll see the connection). But I had to do that research before I could start writing. Same with Oranges (one of my favorite books by the way, and also closely connected in subject matter with ACK) - right now I'm typing this up in Firefox and I have five other tabs open in JSTOR with various scholarly articles to do with Jeannette Winterson open.

Its very weird. In some ways I am such a lazy, procrastinatorious (C) person and in other ways I can be oddly industrious and dedicated. We have to write RJs for each of the novels we're studying in this class; six of the twelve I've already read so you'd think that would make my life easier right? Because technically I've read them already so all I have to do is write the RJs. No, no, no! I can't do that. I have to read them cover to cover all over again in case something completely obscure comes up in class and I don't get the reference.


I also have at least two chapters to catch up on in my ridiculously badly-written philosophy textbook, Remains of the Day to re-read, a scholarly article on Remains to re-read, a class presentation (which I'd thought wasn't until the end of November but it turns out is next week) to create, two History of Art chapters to read, and a topic and bibliography/references list to hand in in three weeks.

This is the first time I've ever tried to take three classes at once and I thought I was handling things pretty well and I still am not that worried but... I just wish I'd remembered my class presentation date a little sooner...

I guess if I were also willing to sacrifice more doing-nothing (i.e. online Scrabble, random website browsing, watching tv with Colin until 3 a.m.) and socializing time I'd be more than caught up. But that's where the whole "lazy and procrastinatorious" part comes in.

Tomorrow I'm going to be out all evening wearing a long black, red velvet lined cloak.

Before you get any funny ideas (which are perfectly alright with me, don't get me wrong), let me clarify that by saying I'll be at the Zoo.

What? That clarification didn't help?

Okay, okay - at the Zoo volunteering for UNICEF. Normally at this time of year I'd be at the Zoo every night for four to five hours, fundraising and supervising fellow high school volunteer fundraisers, but due to some changes in the Zoo's priorities we're no longer welcome there every night - we've been allocated just this one, in fact.

Which, as part of this totally unfocused post, leads me to Elliot's comment:
One of the activities I listed, helping with UNICEF's Halloween fundraiser at the Zoo, is organized by Anactoria, who puts tons more work into it than I do. So she was a little sad to hear that she missed out on this scholarship. She's got a point. But all I can say is NEXT TIME APPLY FOR IT, WOMAN!
Part of being procrastinatorious and forgetful (I forgot to mention the forgetfulness earlier) means forgetting to apply for such things as scholarships. I'll be lucky if I remember (please remind me everyone) to apply for the Faculty of Education in time for the February 2008 deadline!

Plus, Elliot has a much better GPA than me (and may quite possibly just be naturally brilliant) so he's pretty much a shoe-in for the scholarships. I could make the excuse that my GPA suffers because I'm so busy being self-sacrificing and giving back to my community and the world, but you can probably guess the truth - its just because I'm lazy.


Friday, October 12, 2007

Luriana Lurilee

Come out and climb the Garden path
Luriana, Lurilee.
The China rose is all abloom
And buzzing with the yellow bee.
We'll swing you on the cedar bough,
Luriana, Lurilee.

I wonder if it seems to you,
Luriana, Lurilee,
That all the lives we ever lived
And all the lives to be,
are full of trees and changing leaves,
Luriana, Lurilee.

How long it seems since you and I,
Luriana, Lurilee,
Roamed in the forest where our kind
Had just begun to be,
And laughed and chattered in the flowers,
Luriana, Lurilee.

How long since you and I went out,
To see the Kings go riding by
Over lawn and daisy lea,
With their palm leaves and cedar sheaves,
Luriana, Lurilee.

Swing, swing, swing on a bough,
Luriana, Lurilee,
Till you sleep in a humble heap
Or under a gloomy churchyard tree,
And then fly back to swing on a bough,
Luriana, Lurilee.

by Charles Elton

Its my birthday today.
I'm 26.
Time goes by so fast.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Three things

1 - Yesterday I wore red (well, dark burgundy) as part of the Red Shirt for Burma event. I'm not sure whether the event existed outside of the Facebook community (I did a quick Google search and the first things to come up were links to the Facebook group, I couldn't find anything more organized than that) but in any case, I'm a huge fan of using tools like Facebook to push involvement in movements (can we call it that?) like this. I mean, going by the date on the first post the group was only created two days ago and in that time they had amassed almost 80,000 members! 80,000 in two days with no "man power"! I think that's pretty amazing.

2 - Thin Air International Writers festival is on right now. Last night, a friend and I went to one of the Mainstage events to see William Gibson speak and read an excerpt from his new novel, Spook Country. Actually, there were a number of authors presenting new works but the one we were specifically going for was Gibson. It turned out to be a more painful experience than one might have expected. The first three authors to read excerpts from their latest books were all... horrible. Horrible!! For almost an hour my friend sat next to me with his head in his hands (we were sitting in the back, don't worry - we didn't psyche out any of the authors, that would have just been mean); I have to say I actually admired his restraint in not moaning or groaning. As I sat there - part of me listening unwillingly, part of me trying not to fall asleep - I tried to figure out how I would elaborate on my strong feelings of dislike besides just saying, "I didn't think they were very good." What specifically about their writing made me dislike it so much? I came up with a few ideas and I plan on getting into this more when I do my reading journal for A Complicated Kindness. I figure there must be some reviewers out there who hated ACK as much as I do (so far - I haven't actually finished it, so maybe I'll have a change of heart and end up eating my words; unlikely) and thus my strategy will be to seek them out and see what they've said about it. That should help me get a better idea of how to criticize intelligently without just saying something is "stupid" but being unable to pinpoint what precisely. Okay, moving along...

3 - Actually, the third thing I was going to post about I've decided to hold off on. I'll just say it involves a jerk in an SUV and a Tim Horton's drive-thru. (And me possibly reacting like a raging maniac. Although I prefer to see myself as a vigilante for justice. You know, like in V for Vendetta... Without any killing, of course. Or physical violence of any kind, don't worry.) So anyways, as a stand-in for number three, I'll write about... Sincerity and honesty. Although, on second thought that might be too big a topic to cover at the moment. Well, I'll make a brief attempt. You see, I'm reading Northanger Abbey and I'm really enjoying it. I started reading it because it ties in closely to Ian McEwan's Atonement (also a fantastic book) - its a novel about novels and the people who read novels and how it affects them. One of the things that becomes apparent by reading much Jane Austen is how she greatly values personal honesty and sincerity. She dislikes people who say one thing but mean another or who talk a lot of silliness without ever saying anything of sense or consequence (e.g. Mrs. Allen and her muslin) or who are inconstant in their loyalties and opinions and emotions (e.g. Isabella). I find that while reading Austen, I start to analyze my own reactions to people and peoples' reactions to other people more carefully.

Yesterday someone told me a story about a person they had recently met and who they had decided they didn't like because they had a bad attitude. In the course of the story, it came to light that what this person had actually done to my acquaintance was to simply decline the offer of friendship that had been made to them - they were nice to my acquaintance when they first met, but upon subsequent attempts to hang out the person avoided them, essentially snubbing them. For that reason my friend had decided that the person was not a good person and wasn't worth their time or friendship after all.

It seems like this is something many of us tend to do - tell ourselves that someone isn't a good person because they don't reciprocate our attentions, because they don't like us (or they're just ambivalent about us). Why do we do it? To save face, to protect our self-esteem, so that we don't have to address the reality and admit to ourselves that not everyone in the world finds us charming. That can be a really hard thing for some people to accept, I think. I like to think that as I "grow-up" I become more resigned to certain facts of life - one of those being that not everyone is going to like me (even people who's favor I really would like) and that's okay. But sometimes it can definitely be hard, like when you like someone romantically who doesn't reciprocate (been there). But I think that even when its tough to do so, its really important to be honest with oneself instead of searching for any justification to dismiss the other person in turn. Everyone is entitled to their likes and dislikes, aren't they? If someone simply chooses not to befriend us without giving any reasons why (which I think is the proper thing to do), accept it - don't just start badmouthing them for it. And yes, absolutely, being "rejected" can really suck, but can't we at least face up to it with honesty? If we can't even be honest with ourselves...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

What a piece of work is man...

"What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!"
~ from Hamlet, by William Shakespeare

"I have examined Man's wonderful inventions. And I tell you that in the arts of life man invents nothing; but in the arts of death he outdoes Nature herself, and produces by chemistry and machinery all the slaughter of plague, pestilence, and famine. The peasant I tempt today eats and drinks what was eaten and drunk by the peasants of ten thousand years ago; and the house he lives in has not altered as much in a thousand centuries as the fashion of a lady's bonnet in a score of weeks. But when he goes out to slay, he carries a marvel of mechanism that lets loose at the touch of his finger all the hidden molecular energies, and leaves the javelin, the arrow, the blowpipe of his fathers far behind. In the arts of peace Man is a bungler. I have seen his cotton factories and the like, with machinery that a greedy dog could have invented if it had wanted money instead of food. I know his clumsy typewriters and bungling locomotives and tedious bicycles: they are toys compared to the Maxim gun, the submarine torpedo boat. There is nothing in Man's industrial machinery but his greed and sloth: his heart is in his weapons."
~ The Devil speaking in Don Juan in Hell, Act III of Man and Superman, by George Bernard Shaw, 1902

"This basic force of the universe cannot be fitted into the outmoded concept of narrow nationalisms. For there is no secret and there is no defense; there is no possibility of control except through the aroused understanding and insistence of the peoples of the world. We scientists recognise our inescapable responsibility to carry to our fellow citizens an understanding of atomic energy and its implication for society. In this lies our only security and our only hope - we believe that an informed citizenry will act for life and not for death."
~ Albert Einstein, Jan 22, 1947

"The drama of our time is the coming of all men into one fate."
~ Robert Duncan

"Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent."
~ Salvor Hardin, from the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov

"Time is the wisest because it discovers everything.”
~ Thales of Miletos

The threat of violence at the University of Winnipeg did not come to pass on Wednesday.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


I'm sitting here sniffling. I just finished watching an episode of Ally McBeal. The two things are not related; I just have a cold. I blame some contagious friends for the cold. The Ally McBeal I'm not going to excuse - its just an indulgence; if I was watching it alone maybe it would feel more "shameful" but its a way to hang out with a friend; and, please, some people fill their nights watching Wrestlemania or reality TV - compared to which Ally is almost.... intellectual?

Anyhow, these past few days have been a little unusual. Last week I went to check my email and found a security bulletin my school had just sent out; it was to be the first of six (so far, anyhow). It seems a threat was found graffitied on one of the men's bathroom walls and the university has decided to take it seriously. You can read about it here and here, if you want to.

I've been trying to figure out what I think about all of this. Its hard to do with a cold; I really do feel like the cold muddles my thinking abilities (or at least my ability to write coherently) - all that stuffiness, ugh. Anyhow, I'm sure my reactions have been pretty much the same as everyone else's - angry at the person who wrote the threat, angry at the little we can do about it, afraid that something terrible will happen, horribly sad that some people want so badly to destroy. I think above all I hate feeling like, when it all comes down to it, in so many cases we're completely helpless, unable to prevent terrible things from occurring. Sure, in this case we have been given warning (if you can call it that). And we can boost security for a while - the police will certainly be on site all day tomorrow. But what about next week? And the week after? We can't always be on "red alert." Even if nothing happens tomorrow, it feels like the possibility is suddenly so much more real now that something could. (Even though the possibility hasn't really changed; its always been the same, hasn't it?)

I don't want to be afraid to go to my own school. I want to trust my neighbours, my fellow students. I want to be able to stop when someone's standing on the street asking for help (or even a ride!). I want to give people the benefit of the doubt, to assume they're good until something proves me wrong. I don't want to have to hesitate, to be afraid to intervene. I don't want fear to keep me from reacting the way I know I should, to keep me from stepping out the door. (Of course, all that's easier said than done, and this has really only brought to light one fear out of many.)

I hadn't come to a decision on whether to go to class tomorrow night. And as it turns out, I don't have to since my class - among many others - has been canceled by the prof.

I don't think I want to write anything else until after tomorrow. I feel like anything I can write (have written already) is totally inadequate and the stupidly superstitious part of me is telling me to just... stop.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Thoughts on 'To the Lighthouse'

Don't you just love re-reading something you've written for school and cringing in dismay at all of the things you wish you could change in hindsight but can't because you've already handed it in?

For every novel we read in my English class - The Novel, I have to write a corresponding "reading journal" - about 250 words (1 double-spaced page). At first glance this assignment seems very easy - just respond to the novel, write a record of your thoughts, your reactions, your "wow"or "what the heck?" moments, or some of your observations or interpretations. But I always find these reading journal type assignments surprisingly hard. I think its because I think of a journal as being a private thing (yes, even though I post in a public blog) and so when I sit down to write one that I know my prof will be reading I get really self-conscious.

Anyways, yesterday over a span of about two hours I wrote my journal entry for the first novel we're taking up - To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. Our apartment was freezing! Its only plus 5 and the heat's still not on, so I sat on the couch in the living room with my laptop on a little side table and the electric fireplace turned on. (I pretended I was writing in a cold, dark garret by candlelight with a lace shawl wrapped around my shoulders.... No, I didn't, I'm just kidding. But I did forget to turn the fireplace off again and only remembered six hours later. Fortunately one of my roommates had come home by that point and shut it off.) I ended up having to write my prof two times as I wrote - the first time to ask just how formal he wanted the piece to be (not formal at all, he responded) and the second time to find out if I was allowed to exceed the 250 word limit (I was but by no more than a page).

As I prepared to write I decided I was going to try to not edit myself as much as usual. Now as I read over what I ended up with I'm not sure that was such a good idea. There was so much I wanted to say - I had so many "wow" moments as I read it (well, I'm actually still reading - my journal entry is only based on Book I - The Window, which makes up a good two-thirds of the book as a whole) that I think I ended up feeling overwhelmed at being asked to sum up my thoughts in just a few short paragraphs. I'm starting to see now how some academics are able to spend their whole lives writing and analyzing the works of just one author; I think I could very contentedly spend a great deal of time reading, talking, and writing about Woolf.

Wow. That was a long intro just to get to the point of this post. The point being that I'm going to post my reading journal here in my blog and I'm opening it up to discussion/dissection/feedback/whatever. I'm not so much concerned with what you think of the style I wrote the entry in, because like I've already said I know its very rough and I'm definitely not satisfied with it. I'm more interested in hearing thoughts on the points I made from anyone who has read To the Lighthouse. (Also, if you're interested in reading it or comparing passages, there is an online version here.)

* * *

Reading Journal #1

What is To the Lighthouse about? It has characters and a plot (though perhaps a less conventional one) and a setting – but describing those things won’t give a person who hasn’t read the book a true sense of what it’s about. I watched a documentary on Virginia Woolf the other night and in it Nigel Nicolson, the son of Vita Sackville-West, says about her: “She was really attempting to describe people’s relationships. Not in the way that they talked to each other or behaved to each other, but what they didn’t say to each other.” I think that’s so true of TTL – it is all about what goes unsaid – what the characters are afraid to say, or what they think they shouldn’t say (because it wouldn’t be polite or because they’re being protective), or what they wish they could say but can’t because they can’t find a way to put into words that will convey the entirety of what they are thinking and feeling.1

It is also a collection of comments on art – Woolf addresses the difficulty of the creation process is, why it is that we want to create art in the first place, and offers some suggestions of what truly great art is. Lily is constantly frustrated by her inability to paint to her satisfaction (p. 27 “it was when she took her brush to her hand that the whole thing changed”). Mr. Ramsay is constantly brooding about his failure in measuring up to great men, to have left more meaningful creation behind (p. 43 “How many men… reach Z after all?”). Perhaps it could be said that Mrs. Ramsay’s “art” is her life – she wholly invests herself in the role of the perfect wife, mother, and social hostess; she believes her children are her legacy and her living art will go on in them.2 This all goes back to the reason we want to create in the first place – some do so because they simply cannot help it, they are naturally driven to create (e.g. Lily?); others create very consciously (e.g. Mr. Ramsay?) with the motive of being remembered, out of fear of being forgotten. Mrs. Ramsay’s art might be of a more transitory (or what some might even call trivial) kind and yet it gives her pleasure and happiness in the present – she has the satisfaction of knowing that she is needed and loved.3

In the private thoughts of its characters, TTL shows us a reflection of the inside of our own minds – our vanities, our frustrations, our fears, our insincerities. Woolf writes in a way that seems so simple and obvious (the simplicity of truth); she captures the feelings of utter aloneness we all have and then reminds us that yes, we are individuals, trapped in our own minds, cut off from each other, but yet still we are somehow connected: “All of them bending themselves to listen thought, ‘Pray heaven that the inside of my mind may not be exposed,’ for each thought, ‘The others are feeling this…’” (P. 104)4 As I read TTL, a quote from the title page of Howard’s End (E.M. Forster) keep coming to mind: “Only connect.” I think that this is where the meaning of great art comes in. During dinner at the Ramsay’s a poem is recited: “And all the lives we ever lived and all the lives to be, Are full of trees and changing leaves.” (P. 121) The poem moves Mrs. Ramsay greatly: “She did not know what they meant, but, like music, the words seemed to be spoken by her own voice, outside her self, saying quite easily and naturally what had been in her own mind the whole evening while she said different things. She knew, without looking around, that everyone at the table was listening… with the same sort of relief and pleasure that she had, as if this were, at last, the natural thing to say, this were their own voice speaking.” (P. 121, 122) The poem has drawn these individuals together, it has connected them; when we hear the truth echoing in art we recognize it, it resonates with us like a memory, like a thought we’ve always had but never knew how to articulate. Great art puts into words what we’ve always wanted to say (or to ask) but could never find the words for.

1 “They both felt uncomfortable, as if they did not know whether to go on or go back… No, they could not share that; they could not say that.” (P. 77)

“Look at that, she said to Rose, hoping that Rose would see it more clearly than she could. For one’s children so often gave one’s own perceptions a little thrust forward.” (P. 90) “It flattered her… to think how, wound about in their hearts, however long they lived she would be woven” (P. 124)

“And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.” Raymond Carver

And she is constantly asking what it all means: “How then did it work out, all this? How did one judge people, think of them? How did one add up this and that and conclude that it was liking one felt or disliking? And to those words, what meaning attached, after all?” (P. 33)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A liberal education, indeed

Yesterday was my first Philosophy of Education class (okay, so it turns out that the class is actually called A History of Educational Ideas and therefore you'd suppose it would be considered a History class, right? Nope, its a Philosophy class. The real Philosophy of Education class doesn't count as credit towards an Education degree. Go figure. Just one more of the wonderful incongruities of academia); it promises to be the easiest class I'll have ever taken. The prof will never win any awards for his public speaking abilities - instead of saying more with less, he says less with more. Much more. He's hung up on using philosophical turns of phrase instead sacrificing those for nicer things like clarity and conciseness. However, he does seem like a genuinely kind and nice prof who is really interested in being helpful and in making things easy for his students.

Almost too easy, in fact.

We have no essays or research papers or book reviews to write for this class. In fact, from what I can tell, no research of any kind will be needed whatsoever. All we'll have to do is read the assigned texts and come to class (but there's no mark for attendance or class participation). The grades will be determined based on a couple of take home tests and a final exam. The test questions - including those for the final exam - will be given to us weeks in advance so that we can muse them over and formulate answers ahead of time so that we are full prepared (a.k.a. ask our friends/Google?).

Wow. Now, keep in mind that I'm someone who will drop a class if I think the work load is too much for me to handle or if I feel like the prof has gone on a bit of a power trip and that the class doesn't warrant so many assignments. (For example, I dropped the class that Elliot and I had signed up for over the summer because I felt like for a 3 credit, 2nd year class that would only span about a 6 week period the work load was ridiculously heavy; on the other hand, the not-as-lazy-and-complainy-Elliot continued with the class and loved it and had a lot of fun with the assignments.) Anyways, the point being that I won't usually complain about having less work. However, this is a second year Philosophy class and I guess I was just expecting it to be... well, harder.

Oh, and I was also expecting my fellow classmates to grow in sophistication and maturity as I proceeded further into the university curriculum. I'm being disappointed in that respect as well. Last night I arrived a couple of minutes late and ended up sitting wedged between two other people at the back of a large theatre-style classroom. The prof was standing way up at the front talking us through the syllabus. As I've mentioned, his speaking style could be improved upon and it seems that the guy sitting directly behind me agreed with upon this rather strongly. Over the next hour and half we got to listen to him mutter in varying volumes his opinions on the prof, the syllabus, and the class itself: "What a f---ing waste of time this is!" or "Oh geez, shut the f--- up your moron, won't you!" etc, etc. interspersed with loud clattering noises as he "dropped" his pen on the table for the trillionth time.

After a while of this I was getting pretty annoyed and started going through my options. I could turn around and punch the guy in the noise? Nah, violence seemed a little extreme given the situation. I could turn around and hiss "Shut up!" - but that might have provoked an outburst from the guy and I didn't want to disturb the class or be rude in turn. I could go with ultra civilized option and say "Excuse me, but could you please stop talking?" Or I could turn around and say, "If you don't like the class, why don't you leave?"

I decided this last option was the best one. But then I never used it. I ended up wasting too much time trying to figure out whether it would be hypocritical to blast someone for complaining about something that I was actually mostly in agreement with them about. On the other hand, I did strongly disagree with his disturbing myself and others in such a juvenile way and in being disrespectful towards a professor (who couldn't hear the insults and so couldn't even defend himself). Mix that in with the fact that I'd just come from work and was really tired and not feeling particularly bold. It was a quandary. I thought I'd left lumpheads like him behind and that I'd never have to deal with that kind of thing in university.

Now you might think that this kind of thinking is naive on my part, but I've been in university for over 4 years now (taking classes on and off part-time) and before this I'd never encountered a rude student. Yes, I'm serious. Not one. (There have been varying degrees of arrogant students but that's another thing entirely.) Most of my random interactions or forced, group-work interactions with classmates have actually really impressed me.

But above all, what started to really disturb me as I sat there was the thought: "What if lots of the students in the faculty of Education are like this?" After all, where do we get the snarky science teachers? The mean math teachers? The nasty, grumpy gym teachers who won't let you sit out even when you tell them your stomach hurts (okay, so I faked that a lot of the time, but still)? Those awful teachers had to come from somewhere... And isn't there a kind of stigma or stereotype about the kind of people who go into Education? About how they just want an easy job that pays well and where they'll have the summers off (okay, again, in my case that does happen to be true but I also genuinely LOVE the prospect of always being in a school environment and being paid to teach to talk about novels and history)?

All of a sudden I had the sinking feeling that I was going to end up in classes with a lot of idiots. And that feeling hasn't quite gone away.

P.S. Maybe I'm being too hard on my prof and his speaking style will be more enjoyable the next time when I'm not so tired. Let us hope for the best!

Monday, September 10, 2007

What sort of diary should I like mine to be?

"I might in the course of time learn what it is that one can make of this loose, drifting material of life. . . . What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through. I should like to come back, after a year or two, and find that the collection had sorted itself and refined itself and coalesced, as such deposits so mysteriously do, into a mould, transparent enough to reflect the light of our life, and yet steady, tranquil compounds with the aloofness of a work of art."

Virginia Woolf,
from A Writer's Diary

(As quoted in "Some Deep Old Desk or Capacious Hold-All": Form and Women's
Autobiography, Suzanne Juhasz, College English, Vol. 39, No. 6. (Feb., 1978), pp. 663-669.)

Sunday, September 09, 2007

"Of course I'm Meg"

“Why does anybody tell a story?” Ms. L’Engle once asked, even though she knew the answer.

“It does indeed have something to do with faith,” she said, “faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.”

* * *

"...Christians build up little gods, little temples of Baal. We begin to worship them. And we must tear them down, destroy them. The gods we erect are easier to worship than the Creator of the universe. They're more comprehensible. The God I believe in is not comprehensible in finite, mortal terms. God is infinite, immortal, all-knowing."

Madeleine L'Engle has died.

(Links by way of the Claw.)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

By the pear tree

"How then did it work out, all this? How did one judge people, think of them? How did one add up this and that and conclude that it was liking one felt or disliking? And to those words, what meaning attached, after all? Standing now, apparently transfixed, by the pear tree, impressions
poured in upon her of those two men, and to follow her thought was like following a voice which speaks too quickly to be taken down by one's pencil, and the voice was her own voice saying without prompting undeniable, everlasting, contradictory things, so that even the fissures and humps on the bark of the pear tree were irrevocably fixed there for eternity."

from To the Lighthouse
by Virginia Woolf
p. 33

After all the fuss I made about writing in my blog, here I am signed up for two English classes in which I'll be made to write constantly. Kinda funny, that.

My first class - The Novel (and by "novel" the prof really meant "the modern novel") - was last night. Despite my best efforts to be extra-early, I arrived just at 6 pm to an extremely crowded classroom. I ended up sitting next to a guy in the very back of the room in a corner off to one side (if the fire alarm had gone off, I'd have been a dead woman). It was actually a lucky pick - that seat, because as high school teachers and - so it seems - university profs are want to do, we started the class off with one of those annoying "introduce yourself to the person next to you" task. This one wasn't too bad because we got to find out what our classmates' favorite novels were (one of Anactoria's ideal questions). And the guy sitting next to me was - blessedly - intelligent and friendly and nice so it was fun. He also seemed tolerant of the fact that I'd just had 3 cups of coffee and thus was in a rather hyper, over-talkative mood (*sigh*). And he patiently waited while I changed my favorite novel choice multiple times in a 3 minute period - finally settling on A Canticle for Leibowitz and making him write down the title, author and my reason for liking it... only to change my mind at the last second and go with Middlemarch instead. Ha.

It was pretty interesting to hear the favorite novel picks of 37 other students. There was a surprising amount of overlap - Oryx & Crake (Atwood) was mentioned three times, A Complicated Kindness (which we will be reading for this class, gag-me-with-a-spoon) was listed two times, and Stephen King - that literary whiz - three times. The classics were almost completely overlooked - there was one mention of The Great Gatsby but nothing earlier than that. I think two people mentioned Gabriel Garcia Marquez - one named Love in the Time of Cholera and the other One Hundred Years of Solitude. One girl named Interview With the Vampire as her all time favorite. Need I even say "Yuck"? I'm surprised she had the nerve. Another named off the Betty & Veronica comics - what??? And one guy couldn't narrow it down to more than three, including a graphic novel (The Watchmen) - totally understandable, of course.

By next Tuesday I have to have To the Lighthouse (Woolf) read and a one page "reading journal" entry ready to hand in. Its weird, I used to have no problem rattling off comments (a.k.a. b.s.?) but now those reading journal type assignments really get me! I make myself so self-conscious that nothing will come out! Hopefully I'll fare better this year since we have to write twelve of them.

Also, I think my state of mind was best-revealed at the end of the class. One of the assignments is an individual class presentation given once each term on one of the novels we'll be reading. Our prof had forgotten the sign-up sheet at home and so just ended up scribbling off a new one in a hurry and then calling out our names randomly. I was called third - a great pick, right? Right!

We had two options when it came to presenting - we could either present on the novel itself (e.g. the themes of the novel, the setting, etc) or we could present "criticism" of the novel - and I'm still not at all sure what our prof means by criticism. Does he mean we have to look for flaws in the novel or just present some outside material? Regardless the criticism option appealed to me so I knew I wanted to pick that. However, in the mad dash to the sign-up sheet (I was cut by 5 people before I got to it) I was in such a frazzle that I ended up signing up to give criticism on The Remains of the Day!

In hindsight the problem with that only came to me as I lay in my bed last night, about to fall asleep. I loved The Remains of the Day! I don't want to have to criticize it! I thought it was pretty much flawless!

Why oh why didn't I sign up to criticize A Complicated Kindness - I'm still only on page 9 but I already loathe it as much as I did Kerouac!


P.S. I finally responded to the comments made in response to my August 22 post. Sorry it took me so long! Thanks for all of the feedback!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Elizabeth: The Golden Age
"the heart and stomach of a man"

"My loving people,

We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit our selves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear. I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust.

I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.

I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you in the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the mean time, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over those enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.

Following the speech, news came that the Armada had been driven from the Channel. The Queen left her bodyguard before the fort at Tilbury and went among her subjects with an escort of six men. Lord Ormonde walked ahead with the Sword of State; he was followed by a page leading the Queen's charger and another bearing her silver helmet on a cushion; then came the Queen herself, in white with a silver cuirass and mounted on a grey gelding. She was flanked on horseback by Lord Leicester on the right, and on the left by Lord Essex. Sir John Norreys brought up the rear."

The above quotes are from Wiki, but there's also a great essay on Elizabeth here.

I wonder if they'll have her give the full speech above or a trimmed version in the movie. Based on the trailer (which gives me tingles) and the super-interesting (that's an academic term, of course) events that I know took place during this part of Elizabeth's reign, I'm very excited about seeing it! And it comes out on my birthday so that's a good omen, right?

However, I do really hope the moviemakers will attempt to be more historically accurate than they were with the first movie.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Me + Blog = ?

Sometimes I wonder whether my blog reflects my true potential. I like to think I can "write" (write what?) but when it comes down to it, it takes an awful lot to get me started (well, if a school deadline can be considered 'an awful lot'). Often times I'll come up with blogging ideas that never come to fruition - they just stay in my head, partially formed, half-ideas really. Sometimes (read - lately) I'll avoid my blog altogether for days on end because I feel guilty for *not* writing in it. I like to tell myself that its because I'm too busy living Real Life to write in my "stupid blog" but the real reason might just be plain old laziness (it certainly wouldn't be the first instance).

And sometimes I realize the limits of this particular blog - sometimes I want to write things that are really personal, but I don't want to do it in a forum where people who know me will read it. Which makes me think I should have multiple blogs... but when I can barely keep this one going, is there any point? I used to "blog" (I would have called it journaling though) at least a few times a week about what was going on in my life. I still have five years worth of those posts. I rarely read them, but I like to know that they're still there, that they exist, that my memories are in a tangible format and I can go back and check the details of things I've started to forget.

But back to the idea of whether one's blog reflects one's true potential. Some of the people I know are prolific bloggers (does this reflect their innate genius, their better work-ethic, or their admirable supply of post ideas?) and others can barely post once a month. If a blog is a way of putting one's opinion out there for the world to see, I'm not really doing a great job of it. At the same time, I like to think that this blog is mostly for me - just a little pretty website for me to record my random thoughts (or rants, as it mostly happens). I'm not in competition with anyone and no one is grading this blog (judging maybe, but that's doubtful, and if so, do I really care?). Whether I write in it or not - will it matter in the grand scheme of things? And if the "scheme" of things is essentially just life - my life - then maybe if I want to write, I should be writing something more thought out, like an essay, or a journal with a specific theme, or a story, or even a book. In the long run, I might end up with more to show for it then just a blog full of scattered thoughts.

(And while I'm at it, have you ever noticed how many bloggers end up blogging about not blogging?)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Song of Wandering Aengus

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

-- William Butler Yeats

Friday, August 10, 2007

Goodbye, Harry Potter

From the Salon review by Laura Miller (there are definitely spoilers in it, so consider yourself warned):

"But Rowling is most definitely a novelist; she writes about people and stuff, not about elemental forces and unconscious urges. Like all true novelists, she is the champion of the specific and the domestic, the often unsung pleasures and perils of a good lunch, a crush, a ball game with friends and a little gossip about machinations at the ministry -- which is why the doings at Hogwarts and in the Weasley household were always the best parts of the series. Her books, for all their spells and incantations and magical creatures, have never been the stuff that dreams are made of. Instead, they're the stuff that life is made of.

That's why Harry's great reward isn't something otherworldly, like Frodo Baggins sailing into immortality with the elves in the Uttermost West. He gets married, settles down with a good woman and has a few kids. His fate is to make many return visits to platform nine and three-quarters, even if he never again boards the Hogwarts Express. He gets to feel that twinge, that "little bereavement" that every parent feels on his child's first day of school; time passing, life going on. It's a very ordinary, unheroic sort of feeling, and that, more even than the assurance of the book's final sentence, tells us that all really is well. "

I also like her response to A.S. Byatt's criticism of HP. She doesn't dispute it, but she does justify why HP lacks the sublime quality that other (higher?) fantasy achieves:

"Some critics have objected to an Op-Ed the British novelist A.S. Byatt wrote for the New York Times in 2003, in which she complained that Rowling's books lack the "shiver of awe" she expects from superior fantasy. But you don't have to dismiss Harry Potter the way Byatt does to recognize that she has a point. The sublime is missing from Rowling's series, but then you won't find it in "Barchester Towers" or "A Confederacy of Dunces," either, which doesn't make them anything less than masterly novels. The sublime and the comic don't mix well, and to try to squeeze both into a children's book is the kind of experiment even a master potion-concocter like Severus Snape would wisely avoid."

And lastly - to this, of course, I would answer YES!

"Much as we may love Harry, Hermione, Ron, Hagrid and Dumbledore, don't we all love Hogwarts just a little bit more?"

You can read the whole review here.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space

"To summarize briefly: A white rabbit is pulled out of a top hat. Because it is an extremely large rabbit, the trick takes many billions of years. All mortals are born at the very tip of the rabbit's fine hairs, where they are in a position to wonder a the impossibility of the trick. But as they grow older they work themselves even deeper into the fur. And there they stay. They become so comfortable they never risk crawling back up the fragile hairs again. Only philosophers embark on this perilous expedition to the outermost reaches of language and existence. Some of them fall off, but others cling on desperately and yell at the people nestling deep in the snug softness, stuffing themselves with delicious food and drink.

'Ladies and gentlemen,' they yell, 'we are floating in space!' But none of the people down there care.

'What a bunch of troublemakers!' they say. And they keep on chatting: Would you pass the butter, please? How much have our stocks risen today? What is the price of tomatoes? Have you heard that Princess Di is expecting again?"

from Sophie's World
by Jostein Gaarder
p. 20

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Deathly Hallows: Predictions

Last night was a complete fiasco. I would have thought that the park was more than ample room for an event such as this, but no - it was insane. As packed as it is for the Teddy Bears' Picnic (which is a big deal in Winnipeg). There were security and police everywhere directing traffic. We ended up parking on the road down by the Zoo and trekking back to the Conservatory area. Not a bad walk since it was a beautiful night out.

But anyways, I'm not going to go over the night in detail - the main thing is that it was a pretty amazing thing to be out there with all of those people who were feeling the same excitement that I was and, more importantly, I did end up with a book. It was in my possession for approximately 30 minutes before I passed it along to someone more deserving. All I had read was the introductory page.

When I got home at 3 a.m. I tried to continue reading The Half-Blood Prince where I'd left off but it was no good. I couldn't concentrate, couldn't keep reading it now that the final book was out. I ended up sitting in bed sleepless (unable to even solace myself with the Gilmore Girls since Stephan had fallen asleep on the couch), berating myself for giving up my book (even if it was to a good cause/person).

Today we're having a bbq party at our place and so there was a lot to do this afternoon to get ready. But first things being first, I picked up my own copy of the book at McNally and then proceeded with errand duties. I'm going to start reading it in just a few minutes. Well, unless I get distracted again by party tasks and cooking...

To reiterate - all I've read so far has been the intro page. With that in mind, I'm going to make some very last minute predictions. Maybe reading the first page means I'm disqualified from doing so, but I can't resist.

First, here's what's prompted me to do so. These are the quotations on the preface page of the book:

Oh, the torment bred in the race,
the grinding scream of death
and the stroke that hits the vein,
the haemorrhage none can staunch, the grief,
the curse no man can bear.

But there is a cure in the house
and not outside it, no,
not from others but from them,
their bloody strife. We sing to you,
dark gods beneath the earth.

Now hear, you blissful powers underground --
answer the call, send help,
Bless the children, give them triumph now.

Aeschylus, The Libation Bearers

Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still. For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent. In this divine glass they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure. This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.

William Penn, More Fruits of Solitude

After reading these quotes - these extremely moving, powerful quotes, my predictions are as follows:

1 - Snape is going to die saving Harry
2 - Dumbledore had a master plan all along
3 - Regardless, Harry is going to die
4 - Voldemort is going to die
5 - Ron, Hermione, and Ginny will live
6 - I'll be crying by the end of the book

Friday, July 20, 2007

Harry Potter's significance

So, this is it. In five and a half hours all will be revealed.

Actually, that's rather an exaggeration since the book is over 500 pages and I'm not necessarily extreme enough to stay up all night reading until the end. (Although perhaps that would be a nice way of paying homage. So maybe I will stay up, we'll see.) But still, for those who flip to the last chapter - all will be revealed very shortly.

I don't think I'm the biggest HP fan out there. Not even close. I do love the books. I think the movies are mediocre but I still go to see them either opening night or week. I've gone to a book release party - the 2005 one at McNally for The Half-Blood Prince. I've dressed up as a Gryffindor student for Halloween. I've got an HP poster on my bedroom wall.

But this is all unusual for me. I don't usually dive into fandom like this (seriously). And not all of my HP memories are nice, happy ones.

In fact, my first memory of HP goes back to before I'd ever picked up the first book. Dip into the pensieve and you'll see my mom sitting at our old kitchen table, reading the Winnipeg Free Press. The third book has just been released and the article describes the frenzy of fans rushing to Chapters to get their copies. My mom is exclaiming in a dismayed voice about how troubling it is to see so many people are interested in a book filled so blatantly with witchcraft. She sees it as another sign that we're living in the Last Days.

I don't know if this was the moment I became intrigued by Harry Potter. I honestly can't remember when that was or what went through my head when I decided I wanted to read the books. But I know it was sometime around then that I bought the first book from our local Chapters. This was probably around 2000.

This wasn't the first contraband book I'd ever read (or even the first that I'd read and kept in the house). My reading of literature that went against the JW grain started in Grade 4 when my class read The Witches by Roald Dahl. I wasn't allowed to read it, of course. So while my class would gather on the floor around my teacher while she read, I was sent to play Winnie the Pooh on the computer.... all the way on the other side of the room. Noteworthy is the fact that the other side of a room is rarely out of hearing distance. It certainly wasn't in this case. As I played I couldn't help but hear the story being read aloud and finally I didn't even bother trying not to listen. To this day, The Witches is one of my favorite "kids books." (If you've never read it, read it - its fantastic!)

The next "turning point" (although at the time I'd never have called or recognized this as such) was reading the Chronicles of Narnia. My teacher had the entire set in our classroom reading section and she recommended them to me (she remains one of my favorite teachers to this day... unfortunately I can't remember her name).

I picked up The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and couldn't put it down. I was so into that book! I had never, ever read a book as good before and I was in heaven. I went through the whole series as fast as I could. I brought them home from school with me - getting them past my parents somehow. In fact, I remember reading them on the couch just before our family study began and being reprimanded by my dad - not because of the book but because I was reading when I should have been getting my Bible. They didn't even notice the title (that time).

And so it went - through our entire time at home, my sister and I read books that deep down we knew our parents and our congregation (church) wouldn't have approved of us reading. But that didn't stop us.

Why? Were we just willfully disobedient and rebellious? Well, partially yes - we were pretty stubborn kids and I feel sorry for my parents somewhat, in hindsight, and hope that my kids aren't as stubborn and bratty as we were at times. But at the same time, I've always thought of our stubbornness - when it came to challenging authority - as rather special and something to be proud of. It meant that we always questioned things - even things we were told we shouldn't question and that we were being taught as "gospel truth." This didn't mean that we didn't believe - at least, I know I did - but we never saw a problem with debating our beliefs in order to understand them more fully or to see if there was another way of doing something or interpreting something. (For me, this was particularly when it came to the JW interpretation of womens' role in the church - it began when I was 12.) I don't think it was until much later that we realized that there would never be another way and that challenging would never do any good because this was very definitely not a democratic or egalitarian religion. And I never would have thought that asking questions would ever get us into so much trouble.

Of course, we weren't reading books because we wanted to get into Satanism or the occult or even because we were purposely trying to piss off our parents'. We were reading because we couldn't help being drawn to good books and that was that. Coincidentally, the good books were often the ones with the timeless stories of good verses evil. Just because the books featured magic didn't mean we weren't going to dismiss them. We refused to believe that magic in itself was an evil thing (or, in my case, that it even existed in real life and not just in a story as something fictional and intangible). In all of the stories we read, there were always two sides and the good side always won - the right side, the god-approved side, or even, in my interpretation of things, the "JW side."

Plus, our friends were bending the rules, too - only in slightly different ways. They'd listen to music with explicit lyrics (I still remember the first time I listened to Shawn's Redman CD and my horrified reaction) or get drunk at parties or go to dance at "worldly" clubs or "school date" worldly boys (oh, man, I can't believe we had a term for that), and they had no problem with watch the Lord of the Rings movies when they came out. What we were doing seemed pretty tame in comparison.

Of course, ultimately it ended up being the reason for everything.

So back to Harry Potter. One of my other not-so-sweet memories is of my dad finding one of my HP books and ripping it into pieces in front of my sister and I. Another not-so-sweet one is of my dad going through the books that my sister had been given by the Claw and taking all of the ones he thought looked questionable, putting them in the car, and tossing them into random dumpsters. For two girls who loved books as much as we did (do), this was a travesty and there were tears and rage.

Its weird to remember all of this right now, actually. But as I think back on it, I notice that we were always on the side of the books. Always. Knowledge - no matter what the cost?

When we were called in for "questioning" before our church elders, I defended the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter even then and chimed in when Karina defended herself for having taken out "questionable" books on evolution out from the public library. (I remember using the good verses evil argument, but comparing Frodo to Jesus - not explicitly, but I guess it was pretty much implied - didn't really go over very well.) In hindsight, this was of course incredibly stupid of me and I should have realized how it would have been taken as a sign of deviance and rebellion.

But then, I've never been very good at keeping my mouth shut when I think that someone or something is wrong. Something wells up inside of me and I have to speak out (Jeremiah 20:9). And, even though it ultimately ended up with our leaving them, I still credit the JWs with giving us all this boldness. I still see it in each of us and I think that its one of the more admirable parts of our characters.

Back to Harry Potter again. I've lost a lot in the way of family and friends, but I've gained the freedom to read whatever I choose. I think my indulgence in HP fandom is the way I exercise this right.

And now, with that abrupt conclusion, I'm off to the release party in the park. Its going to be a historical night.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A conflict of interest

Emma Bull and Will Shetterly are going to be at the Grant Park McNally Robinson next Wednesday at 7:30pm. Going to see them would be so deliciously ultra-geeky. I don't think I've ever met an author I've loved in person before. The closest I've ever come was talking to Carol Matas on the phone (by total fluke). That in itself was a pretty neat experience. (I think I even gushed a little bit.)

However, Wednesday night is also my final Religious Studies class... and we're going to be reviewing for our final exam.


Oh, what to do...

Sunday, July 15, 2007


"This morning I took the train to work as usual. The U-Bahn carried me gently west from Kleistpark to Berliner Strasse and then, after a switch, northward toward Zoologischer Garten. Stations of the former West Berlin passed one after another. Most were last remodeled in the seventies and have the colors of suburban kitchens from my childhood: avocado, cinnamon, sunflower yellow. At Spichernstrasse the train halted to conduct an exchange of bodies. Out on the platform a street musician played a teary Slavic melody on an accordion. Wing tips gleaming, my hair still damp, I was flipping through the Frankfurter Allgemeine when she rolled her unthinkable bicycle in.

You used to be able to tell a person's nationality by the face. Immigration ended that. Next you discerned nationality via the footwear. Globalization ended that. Those Finnish seal puppies, those German flounders -- you don't see them much anymore. Only Nikes, on Basque, on Dutch, on Siberian feet.

The bicyclist was Asian, at least genetically. Her black hair was cut in a shag. She was wearing a short olive green windbreaker, flared black ski pants, and a pair of maroon Campers resembling bowling shoes. The basket of her bike contained a camera bag.

I had a hunch she was American. It was the retro bike. Chrome and turquoise, it had fenders as wide as a Chevrolet's, tires as thick as a wheelbarrow's, and appeared to weigh at least a hundred pounds. An expatriate's whim, that bike. I was about to use it as a pretext for starting a conversation when the train stopped again. The bicyclist looked up. Her hair fell away from her beautiful, hooded face and, for a moment, our eyes met. The placidity of her countenance along with the smoothness of her skin made her face appear like a mask, with living, human eyes behind it. These eyes now darted away from mine as she grasped the handlebars of her bike and pushed her great two-wheeler off the train and toward the elevators. The U-Bahn resumed, but I was no longer reading. I sat in my seat, in a state of voluptuous agitation, of agitated voluptuousness, until my stop. Then I staggered out."

by Jeffrey Eugenides
p. 41

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Abduction

Some things I do not profess
to understand, perhaps
not wanting to, including
whatever it was they did
with you or you with them
that timeless summer day
when you stumbled out of the wood,
distracted, with your white blouse torn
and a bloodstain on your skirt.
"Do you believe?" you asked.
Between us, through the years,
we pieced enough together
to make the story real:
how you encountered on the path
a pack of sleek, grey hounds,
trailed by a dumbshow retinue
in leather shrouds; and how
you were led, through leafy ways,
into the presence of a royal stag,
flaming in his chestnut coat,
who kneeled on a swale of moss
before you; and how you were borne
aloft in triumph through the green,
stretched on his rack of budding horn,
till suddenly you found yourself alone
in a trampled clearing.

That was a long time ago,
almost another age, but even now,
when I hold you in my arms,
I wonder where you are.
Sometimes I wake to hear
the engines of the night thrumming
outside the east bay window
on the lawn spreading to the rose garden.
You lie beside me in elegant repose,
a hint of transport hovering on your lips,
indifferent to the harsh green flares
that swivel through the room,
searchlights controlled by unseen hands.
Out there is a childhood country,
bleached faces peering in
with coals for eyes.
Our lives are spinning out
from world to world;
the shapes of things
are shifting in the wind.
What do we know
beyond the rapture and the dread?

by Stanley Kunitz

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Eggs Benedict or Jesus?

WaiterRant has started doing some "Ask the Waiter" style blog entries. His latest is from a guy who writes:

"Dear Waiter,
Over the past year, my girlfriend and I have forsaken going to church in favor of the other American Sunday morning ritual—brunch..."

AHA! A Sunday morning ritual: brunch in lieu of church. Interesting...

Not that I go to church much anymore but when I did as a JW, it was quite an ordeal to get my sister and I out of bed. I'd much rather go in the evenings then in the mornings. So yes, brunch over church on Sunday mornings any day!

Nowadays, brunch on Sundays is probably one of the few "rituals" I have with my friends. (Although since one of the key players often doesn't get home until 5 am and another has a predilection for sleeping until 1 pm, the brunching usually doesn't happen in the mornings; so I guess its more like... lunner? dunch? Hmm.) We'll generally go to Stella's, but sometimes we mix it up with Baked Ex or Cora's or The Nook or The Pancake House. I've noticed that Winnipeg suffers from a deficit of quality all-day breakfast spots. I mean, Stella's has great atmosphere and their French toast and cinnamon buns are awesome but their omelettes aren't the greatest and their hash browns are awful (just ask Colin).

But anyways, go and read the Waiter's response to the letter - its pretty hilarious.
Small Things

A few little things that I'm happy about right now...

- the free tickets I got from work for a Fringe play & the fact that Fringe Fest is coming up soon and I should have the money to see a bunch of plays

- getting to talk about the Bible and debate the gospels this week in class (I might even bring my JW Bible in tomorrow)

- Elliot's post about his awesome Folk Fest experiences (I wasn't there myself but its nice to share happiness)

- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix comes out today (in which Helena Bonham Carter plays Bellatrix Lestrange)

- I've started watching the Godfather movies for the first time ever and so far they're amazing

- I have an overabundance of good books to read (The Man Who Was Thursday; Tender is the Night; The Other Boleyn Girl; I, Claudius)

- tomorrow is my registration day at the UofW and I might sign up for an English class called Fairytales and Culture and possibly another called Art & Ideas

- the"High A" I received on the season-myth/story/research paper that I wrote for my Religious Studies class

I think that last one is the most satisfying for me. For the assignment, we had to write our own myth story on how the seasons came to be. We had to show a "why" for the seasons and we had to back-up our mythology with scholarly, researched footnotes. I didn't have that much trouble coming up with the story but after I'd written it I started to wonder whether I'd really followed the assignment well enough or if I'd gone off on a different track. Plus, I stupidly left the writing of my footnotes until the last minute and then ran out of time to add in all of the great stuff that I'd wanted to say/reference.

Then to make things worse, our prof prefaced the passing out of the papers with this long spiel about how they had found three papers that had been plagiarized and would the people with special notes on their papers please come up and see him after class.

Of course, I hadn't plagiarized anything. But one of my paranoid fears when I write something fictitious is that I'm unintentionally going to rip off something that's been thought of or written already. So when he said that, I started to panic and mentally ran through all of the stuff in my story trying to think of whether I might have subconsciously grabbed ideas from a real myth or from something I'd read. (Gene Wolfe's The Knight was probably my main inspiration in that I went with a medieval-esque setting, but I don't think anyone would ever think my writing was anything like his.)

Anyhow, finally my name was called and I went up and looked at my paper and saw the High A (a.k.a. A+ - I don't know why, but in this class they call the grades 'low' or 'high'). I think I probably had an appalled expression on my face that was actually just shock/disbelief/relief.

Another bonus to this grade is now that now I'm not going to bother doing the make-up assignment (I missed two of the "pop quizzes") - my grade is so high right now that if I do well on the final exam I should pass with at least a B+/A-. Yay!

P.S. Sometimes when I contemplate the idea of me teaching junior or high school I find myself wondering whether someone like me will ever be able to relate to kids who don't care what kind of marks they get... *sigh*

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Two more good ones...

"Moe is every jerk I've ever known. He's big, dumb, ugly, and cruel. I remember school being full of idiots like Moe. I think they spawn on damp locker room floors."

"I've never understood people who remember childhood as an idyllic time."

Bill Watterson
from The Calvin & Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book
Bill Watterson on licensing...

"The world of a comic strip ought to be a special place with its own logic and life. I don't want some animation studio giving Hobbes an actor's voice, and I don't want some greeting card company using Calvin to wish people a happy anniversary, and I don't want the issue of Hobbes' reality settled by a doll manufacturer. When everything fun and magical is turned into something for sale, the strip's world is diminished. Calvin and Hobbes was designed to be a comic strip and that's all I want it to be. It's the one place where everything works the way I intend it to...

My strip is about private realities, the magic of imagination, and the specialness of certain friendships. Who would believe in the innocence of a little kid and his tiger if they cashed in on their popularity to sell overpriced knickknacks that nobody needs? Who would trust the honesty of the strip's observations when the characters are hired out as advertising hucksters? If I were to undermine my own characters like this, I would have taken the rare privilege of being paid to express my own ideas and given it up to be an ordinary salesman and a hired illustrator. I would have sold out my own creation. I have no use for that kind of cartooning."

p. 10-11
from The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book

And here's an interesting fan website detailing the history of legally produced Calvin & Hobbes merchandise

Thursday, June 28, 2007

for Elliot on his birthday


The second half of my life will be black
to the white rind of the old and fading moon.
The second half of my life will be water
over the cracked floor of these desert years.
I will land on my feet this time,
knowing at least two languages and who
my friends are. I will dress for the
occasion, and my hair shall be
whatever color I please.
Everyone will go on celebrating the old
birthday, counting the years as usual,
but I will count myself new from this
inception, this imprint of my own desire.

The second half of my life will be swift,
past leaning fenceposts, a gravel shoulder,
asphalt tickets, the beckon of open road.
The second half of my life will be wide-eyed,
fingers shifting through fine sands,
arms loose at my sides, wandering feet.
There will be new dreams every night,
and the drapes will never be closed.
I will toss my string of keys into a deep
well and old letters into the grate.

The second half of my life will be ice
breaking up on the river, rain
soaking the fields, a hand
held out, a fire,
and smoke going
upward, always up.

by Joyce Sutphen

Thursday, June 21, 2007

For I am persuaded

"Buried with my own hands five of my children in a single grave... No bells. No tears. This is the end of the world." - Agniola Di Tura, Siena 1347

I just finished Connie Willis' Doomsday Book and despite a few quibbles I ended up liking it very much. I'm not going to write a regurgitated synopsis of the book - if you want to know what its about you can read the Amazon or Wiki synopses. Instead I'm going to cheat and mostly just take snippets from the email conversation Elliot and I had about it earlier today. Oh, and there will be spoilers.

First, a couple of things I found frustrating about the book:

-1 - The illogic of dropping a female historian in a forest in the Middle Ages and expecting her not to be taken too far away from the drop location and for her to be able to find it again in 2 weeks with little trouble; when Dunworthy and Colin go back to find Kivrin they have a *locator device* with them - so what, they can break the rules when its an emergency but not to prevent one? In my mind the fact that the entire plot centered around a drop that went wrong, but didn't have to have gone wrong in quite that way detracted from the realism of the book. (I mean, I know academics are supposed to be a little off, but c'mon!) And I know that Kivrin's being taken away from and not being able to relocate the drop was integral to the plot, but I feel like Willis could have achieved the same effect but set things up so that we didn't question the characters' intelligence as much.

- 2 - The sparsity of character development. You never learn anything about who Kivrin is - her family, her likes, her dislikes, her more private feelings (like for Roche). And the family she's with - Eliwys and Agnes and Rosumund and Imeyne and Gawyn - sometimes they feel like carricatures. Eliwys in particular - you never find out what she's thinking about anything and her dialogue makes her seem so dense. Its too bad because you suspect that she's really a fascinating character and has a story to tell but we're never allowed to hear it. (Actually one could easily make the same argument with Roche.)

And time and again when Kivrin was with Rosamund or Eliwys or Imeyne, I was so frustrated that she didn't ask them more things - like about Eliwys' sons and husband and why exactly they were in Bath (you never find out!) and how old the sons were and whether Eliwys' marriage was a happy one and etc etc - or even show more outright sympathy, rather then just implied sympathy. I mean, Rosamund is a 12 year old child bride who is clearly going through emotional hell and Kivrin recognizes that but does a baffling job of being encouraging. She pushes her towards doing her duty and rarely shares her own opinion of things. Maybe this is Willis trying to have Kivrin be an impartial historical observer, but one wonders who would really be capable of being such under the circumstances!

However, the second half of the book became so intense that I gave up objecting and just fell into it. Despite all I just said about the character development (and my objection stands!), you still manage to start loving the people as Kivrin does (Imeyne and Mrs. Gaddson excluded - I never did stop wanting to slap some sense into them).

Especially Father Roche - I think I developed a small crush on him - well, who wouldn't love a "cutthroat"? This led to Elliot (Claw of the Conciliator) and I having a mini-debate over whether things between Roche and Kivrin should have been *ahem* consummated (hmm... this lends a whole new meaning to "'tis a consummation devoutly to be wished"...). They never are. In fact, in most of what passes between them you have to read between the lines and guess at what they truly feel for each other.

Elliot says: "...chaste love can be very classy. And really, the 'priest-breaking-his-vows-for-love' trope has gotten kind of hackneyed. That idea comes up in The Child Goddess, an sf novel I just read, except in this case it's a futuristic female (Catholic) priest, who's broken her vows in the past and now is struggling against breaking them again with the married man she loves."

I say: "Unconsummated love is sometimes better. I kept thinking of how it would have worked if they had done anything and it might have wrecked things. Or it might have been totally awesome like the scene in The Name of the Rose..."

The Doomsday book is steeped in religion (for some reason I wanted to say "dunked," like a donut, but I stopped myself just in...). This is a pretty obvious statement when you think about just how Christianized Britain and Europe had become by the Middle Ages, but this didn't have to be the case for the parts Willis set in "present day" (actually the future - around 2200 AD). She chose to set the entire story - both Middle Age and present day - at Christmas time and include as much religious paraphernalia as she could cram in - complete with numerous visits to church(es), Latin chants, bell ringers and all. She tries to diversify a bit in her present day story by name-dropping a few non-Christian religions that exist, but you can tell her imagined world is at heart a very Christian one (well, at least, Britain specifically is). Though this is a bit annoying, she does manage to do a very good job of showing a broad spectrum of Christian faith - from the absolutely galling, jeremiad-spewing Mrs. Gaddson to the gentle, quiet, subtler faith of Father Roche - and many more in between.

And then there's Kivrin - who, despite my complaints above, is still a fantastic heroine and who goes through what can only be called hell-on-earth. She's swept up in the wake of the Black Death - the most horrific disease imaginable (though one contender has put forth the Ebola virus as a possible second), which historians - as Willis reminds us through Kivrin - believe wiped out up to seventy-five percent of Europe.

says: "I thought Doomsday had a really interesting and sophisticated ending. She rages against God, against the meaningless of it all, which is completely the right and understandable thing to do. I mean, it's the freakin' Black Plague. But then Willis weaves in these hints that Kirvin's presence was actually a blessing, that people who saw her as an angel weren't entirely wrong. The message I got was 'it's not *that* you die, but *how* you die that matters.'"

The questioning of faith and the questioning of time - in the world that Willis has created, a world in which the past is mind-blowingly accessible, Willis questions time's significance: when Kivrin is trapped in the Middle Ages and time is a barrier keeping her from home, friends, and family, there are moments where a feeling that all times are one time comes over her - that the past, present and future are all happening at once - Rosamund and Agnes and Mr. Dunworthy and Badri and Montoya and the Black Plague and Baliol - everything. At her most despairing, with death all around her, Kivrin speaks into her recorder: "Is God there, too, I wonder, but shut off from us by something worse then time, unable to get through, unable to find us?"

I don't think I'll ever be able to get certain lines of Shakespeare or the Bible out of my head, and when I'd finished the book, one came to mind: "For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God."

P.S. Elliot says that in Willis' next book, which continues in the same world as the Doomsday Book, Kivrin is mentioned briefly and offhandedly as a church-goer.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Social utility... or social crutch?

The lack of posts are a direct result of my recent Facebook addiction.

I said I'd never join because they "steal your soul" (i.e. steal your personal information and hoard it) and I find that scary - but then I discovered a work around (i.e. lie about my real information) and signed up.

I'll return to my regularly irregular posting just as soon as the novelty of it all wears off.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

After Harry...

"Vancouver’s Raincoast Books keeps its offices over a 44,000-square-foot warehouse on the banks of the Fraser River. As the Canadian publisher and distributor of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the company’s headquarters has become a kind of paean to Potter paraphernalia. When you walk in, pennants and a huge pair of handmade quilts — depicting cover art for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — frame the entranceway. Four conference rooms (Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin) are named after the houses at Harry’s fictional alma mater, the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And there’s a prominent spot for Rowling, too: her only visit to the complex, seven years ago, is captured in a large photograph hanging near the front desk."

An interesting article on what the last Harry Potter book will mean for Vancouver's Raincoast Books

(But really, I think the more important question should be: What will the last Harry Potter book mean for me!? )