Monday, July 29, 2013

Splash du Jour: Monday

For most of us, the first experience of love, even if it doesn't work out -- perhaps especially when it doesn't work out -- promises that here is the thing that validates, that vindicates life. And though subsequent years might alter this view, until some of us give up on it altogether, when love first strikes, there's nothing like it, is there? Agreed?
-- Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending --

Have a great Monday!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Tape Erases Itself

When you are in your twenties, even if you're confused and uncertain about your aims and purposes, you have a strong sense of what life itself is, and of what you in life are, and might become. Later... later there is more uncertainty, more overlapping, more backtracking, more false memories. Back then, you can remember your short life in its entirety. Later, the memory becomes a thing of shreds and patches. It's a bit like the black box aeroplanes carry to record what happens in a crash. If nothing goes wrong, the tape erases itself. So if you do crash, it's obvious why you did; if you don't, then the log of your journey is much less clear.

Just minutes ago I finished an amazing book, and the above citation is taken from it.  
The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes.
I think it is a work of genius. Of a genius, for sure But also, of genius.
And by that I mean it speaks to anyone who has ever seriously thought of what it means to be afforded just one life to live. Rather than review it -- I want to focus on the above passage, and pretty much every page is laced with similar thought-provoking philosophical musings for the thinking reader out there [which I know you all are!]

When we are young, it's a given that we pretty much already know everything.
But with each passing decade we learn [or should learn] that we really do not know diddly squat. 

I am about to turn fifty, and so let me say that it is only recently that I've begun to fully contemplate the reality of the fact that we only go through this thing [life] once. The assessment of victories and failures is not the only thing that begins to run through the mind and heart, and one thing emerges as the clearest of all -- and that is that memory has taken on a whole new meaning.
Retrospection becomes the key that can potentially unlock whether there will be any sense to our ending. To leave it [life] without too many regrets becomes of increasing importance.
When we are young, there is no time for such thinking because the conception is that everything is not only still possible, but has already happened.
Thing is, it hasn't.
And the reality is that with each passing year [never mind decade] mistakes become ever more irreversible. Yet these struggles, the things we learn along the way, are the very stepping stones to life-maturity -- if we accept the tutelage of it all.

In his analogy of the "black box" Barnes said, "If nothing goes wrong, the tape erases itself" and that is true -- but it is only with age, with time, that one realizes the importance of the tape itself. The thing is, in most lives -- there have been too many times when the data from that black box has not been properly retrieved, or if so -- the information arrives too late in the game. Turned off before we hear it.
A life lived to its fullest is one in which more has been learned from mistakes than from successes. 

Crises are an essential part of life, of living -- and often they are meant to get us to rewind the tape, and listen closely to everything that has taken place. Good mingled with bad. The best ending one in which the headphones are never thrown from the ears. We can choose to not listen, but we will then suffer the consequences of never knowing why what happened, happened.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Splash du Jour: Friday

I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day.
-- Frank Sinatra --

Have a great Friday!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

A vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in.
-- Robert Orben --

Have a great Wednesday!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Vacation Time -- FINALLY!

Hi, Everyone.
Well, tomorrow will kick in a week of much-needed holidays for me. No work.
Am I excited about this?
I'm already in full-swing with it as I am hosting my sister and her husband here at my place. This is something very unusual for me -- having people at MY place.
Even Kennedy [my cat] is a bit confused!
So… I'm being the Tour Guide in my lovely city. Last night we sat in the grass on the front lawn of Parliament Hill and watched the light show display on the buildings. It was FANTASTIC -- really impressive. It's a 40-minute audio-visual display that traces Canada's history -- I can't believe I've lived here this long and have never seen this nightly event myself.
It is so well-done. It made me truly proud to be a Canadian.
Tomorrow we're off to see a Blue Jays game in Toronto and whether they win or lose [against Los Angeles] the most important thing will be this:

Here is a brief clip of the "Mosaika" presentation on The Hill. 

It had the three of us singing Oh Canada by the end of it, in a moment of "true patriot love." 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

The Extra Ones
We are told that he chose five smooth stones.
Young, and ruddy faced, in 1 Samuel  17:40.
I would have imagined jagged ones to cause
greater cranial damage, but who am I?
This sling was not even the type you draw back on.
It was the kind you whirl about your head.
I know, because there was an artist’s rendition
in the book my mother read, as my eyes fell shut.

So an army cowers, as the boy runs forward,
taunting this oaf! This day the Lord will hand you
over to me.
He kicks the dirt and spits, And I’ll
strike you down and cut off your head.
he shouts at a helmet that weighs more than him,
The birds shall eat you, placing a stone in the pouch.
Philistine laughter shakes the very rainclouds
loose over the heads of Israel, as the air sings.

And what I love most is not the part where he cuts
off the head. Nor even the part where Saul asks,
Whose son are you, young man?
I love the fact that David took four extra stones.
Ones he did not know he did not need.
The scene that is not illustrated in any bedtime book,
and the sound, ping-ping-ping-ping, denting helmets
as the Philistines run for the hills.

-- © Ciprianowords, Inc. 2008 --

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Splash du Jour: Monday

Don't I ever do anything else but take soulful walks down the Bayswater Road, I thought, as I walked soulfully down the Bayswater Road.
-- Martin Amis, The Rachel Papers --

Have a great Monday!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Some Thoughts on a Passage

Today I am sitting out on my balcony on the most beautiful day in history, reading a book called The Visible World, by Mark Slouka.
Sometimes when I am zipping along in a book, a certain passage, or maybe even a sentence, will cause me to stop and muse upon what I've just read. Hopefully, all good books will cause all good readers to do this.
It just happened.
Let me set the scene.
In The Visible World, the narrator, a young man -- tries to find out more about his mother's experiences in Prague during the Second World War. He knows that she had an affair with a man while courting another man who would one day become his father. As an adult, after his mother's death, he tries to find out more about this situation that so profoundly would influence her for the rest of her life.
He revisits Prague to search for clues -- but is stymied at every turn. Just as he is on the trail of new information, it seems to evaporate. In the end, [the latter half of the book] he composes what amounts to a largely fictional account of the love affair.
At one point in the story, these two freedom-fighters [Ivana and Tomas] are hiding out from the Wehrmacht in the forest -- surviving on wild raspberries, wild mushrooms, and wild lovemaking -- and Ivana returns to a little village alone to send a telegraph to her parents, and thus [killing two birds with one…. telegram] also inform the other man [the future father of the narrator] that she is OK.
The passage that made me really stop and think, was this:

Walking down that long, straight road, silent except for the wind in the high trees and the tired insects in the hedgerows whenever it died, she noticed with a kind of wonder how strange to herself she had grown. She was the same person, holding the same conversations inside her head -- wondering how much farther it was to the turnoff, or whether she should stay on the road or cut through the pastures -- except that now it was as though she were talking to him as well, as though a third person had entered the room that only she and herself had shared. She wanted to talk  to him, think aloud with him. His entrance had displaced something essential, she knew, then realized with a kind of voluptuous sorrow that she had been waiting for this displacement all of her life, that things would never again be quite the same and that she didn't care and wouldn't miss them.

For one thing, I think this is just marvelous writing.
But secondly, I think that it beautifully encapsulates so many aspects of what should be essential to any true love.
Firstly, I believe that when you are in love, you do indeed become "strange" to yourself. Whatever walls are in place [and we all have them, though the heights and thicknesses may vary] you know those barriers have now been breached. But this time, not by the enemy. You are willing to forego the usual doubts in place of the overall composure you feel in what is so often a fearful predicament.
Secondly, I do believe that you now begin to hold conversations with the other person even when you are not with them. Notice how the author puts it. As she walked, "it was as though a third person had entered the room that only she and herself had shared."
She wanted to talk to him, think aloud with him.
And also, he represented a "third" person -- not merely a second person.
That is significant.
Because you can only have a proper conversation with anyone else, or for that matter listen to them speak to you, when you have had the prerequisite conversations with yourself. To know another, you must first know yourself.
Vis a vis, to love another, you must first love yourself.
Is there anything more wonderful than to "think aloud" with someone you love? When we think to ourselves, we [essentially] hear what we are thinking. But no one else does. How wonderful to let everything within fall through the sieve of what so often stays on the inside… shifting around, and clattering -- trying to get through.
Thirdly, the use of the term "displacement".
Displacement is different from overflow. For displacement to occur, something else has to leave. There is not room enough for everything, or in this case, everyone. The thoughts of the truly beloved not only add to the storehouse, they push out what can no longer be there, simultaneously.
"She had been waiting for this displacement all of her life", the author tells us. 

I think we all do. I think we all have.
Fourthly, "voluptuous".
Let me focus on that adjective a bit, and the use of it here. It denotes something shapely, seductive, full-figured, alluring, sensuous -- in a word, desired. But who desires sorrow?
A lover does.
She realized with a kind of "voluptuous" sorrow that this is what she had longed for.
Lastly, you don't care.
Things aren't going to be the same anymore and you don't care.
I think in this one paragraph, these five points I've illuminated [and there surely exist more that you see, and I don't] Mark Slouka has nailed, in literature, what true love consists of.
I think of the title of the book, The Visible World, and marvel at how he shows us that what matters most about living in it, isn''t.

I might have come close once, in a poem.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Spring Cleaning in July

I inherited a certain element of pack-ratism from my dad! 
For sure. He saved EVERYTHING!
I find it very difficult to throw things away. But every two years or so I go on a purge of apartment cleaning, and find stuff that is so…. useless! Especially old empty boxes from things I have bought in the interim. It's crazy how it all stockpiles! Then, there I am, making trip after trip down to the cardboard recycle bin in the garage of my building.
Today is one of those cleaning days. Purging.
So --- I reached into the nether-regions of my closet and retrieved this huge file box containing every essay I ever wrote in my college days. Some of you may be aware that I [in the late '80's] studied for four years full-time and received, in 1991, a bachelor degree in Theology [of all the incredibly non-practical things one might have studied]! 

I graduated with honours.
I was dang serious about it.
But, I am realizing today that I am never going to consult upon, or really use the information stored in this box. My first clue was the fact that it has sat there in that corner of the closet for 20 years now, without me once ever thinking about it. I would rather have back the space it all occupies! 

So, it's going down to the recycle bin tonight!
As I looked through it all for the past hour, the thing of most interest to me was finding all the notes passed back and forth between myself and Heather, a wonderful girl I flirted with for four years to no real effect. For some reason I kept those notes. She gave up on me and my reticent ways, and ended up marrying a fellow student.
Apparently my procrastination issues apply to more than spring cleaning!


Friday, July 12, 2013

Splash du Jour: Friday

Read myths. They teach you that you can turn inward, and you begin to get the message of the symbols. Read other people's myths, not those of your own religion, because you tend to interpret your own religion in terms of facts - but if you read the other ones, you begin to get the message. Myth helps you to put your mind in touch with this experience of being alive. Myth tells you what the experience is.
-- Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth -- 

Have a great Friday!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

This is always central to old fairy tales, the prince's tendency to forget. But then maybe charm and forgetfulness always go together. Maybe forgetfulness allows you to be charming because people don't register enough to be a burden. And so the Prince Charmings forget their true loves until something reminds them, a shoe that fits, or a ring they recognize, or a wave of water in the face. Certainly in those heady days after his return, Norma Joyce did her best to be unforgettable.
-- Elizabeth Hay, A Student of Weather --

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

[To write superb lyric poetry] First, the writer must have something of a gift: she must be able to make music, command metaphors, compress sense, write melodiously when the situation demands and gratingly when need be.  She must be versed in irony; she must have control of tone.  But there is more -- a second requirement.  There must be some region of her experience that has transfixed her and that she feels compelled to put into words and illuminate.  She must burn to attack some issue, must want to unbind a knot, tighten it, or maybe send a blade directly through its core.
-- From Mark Edmundson's Poetry Slam --

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, July 08, 2013

Splash du Jour: Monday

And then he only had eyes for the pie. Watch any man, he could be ninety years old and drooling spit, but at the sight of homemade pie every last one of his wits will spring to attention.
-- Elizabeth Hay, A Student of Weather --

Have a great Monday!

Friday, July 05, 2013

The Mangan Inheritance

This is the twelfth book I have read by this author.
So, to use one of Hemingway's common words, I'm a bit of an aficionado.
Previously, my favourite was called An Answer From Limbo

And a close second was The Luck of Ginger Coffey.
But The Mangan Inheritance is the new best.
I love Brian Moore's writing. My next comment is so cliche, but "I could not put it down." I read it in a whirlwind of expectancy and anticipation. 

And suspense!
Originally published in 1979, this is the story of James Mangan, struggling and semi-successful poet -- married to a famous Hollywood movie star. She dominates his life. When he walks into a room, people wonder where SHE is! And I won't reveal what happens to their marriage, but suffice it to say that Mangan is rather suddenly afforded the possibility of seeking out his family heritage in Ireland.
He discovers a daguerreotype of what he believes to be a distant relative -- a man who was also a poet, and resembles him in an uncanny manner. The likeness is nothing short of a doppelganger scenario. Mangan travels to Ireland, and this is where the novel really takes off.
[Not since reading Donna Tarrt's The Secret History has a novel so captivated my interest.] 

So…. Mangan in Ireland meets some very interesting [ahem!] relatives. One, the young vivacious Kathleen, he becomes very sexually involved with. [Sorry for ending with a preposition there, but how else does one say it?]
Some of the bodice-ripping in the book may bother some readers, but perhaps to my shame, it did not bother me. Mangan is sincere, at least. He would like to take Kathleen away from the squalor of her rural nothingness steeped in alcoholism and bad memories -- take her back to New York where they can live on his fortune. His "inheritance".
But that very word in the title is the key to the entire book. When Mangan finds out more about his actual family's history he is disillusioned. He reconsiders his initial infatuation [and connection] with the ancient poet, and even with poetry itself.
A more current and pressing need calls him back to his native Montreal -- where he is forced to make some hard decisions that lie just beyond the last page of the book.
This thing is a gem, really. One of those books I call a "sleeper" -- meaning, unless someone recommends it to you, you will probably not ever run across it, in your travels.
So, let me be that person.
The thing was out of print, but New York Review Books Classics has recently re-issued it, HERE

So --- you know what to do!

Splash du Jour: Friday

I don’t want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted just like that, and it didn’t mean anything? What then?
-- Neil Gaiman, Coraline --

Have a great Friday!

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

We have to remember how to invite and receive the words and insights we can’t force to mind.  We have to relearn how to muse, drowse and stare into blankness, adrift, dormant, even bored, especially now when our various screens are always present – firewalls between us and the reality of dreams.
-- Steven Heighton, Workbook: Memos & Dispatches on Writing --

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

But Levin was in love, and so it seemed to him that Kitty was so perfect in every respect that she was a creature far above everything earthly; and that he was a creature so low and so earthly that it could not even be conceived that other people and she herself could regard him as worthy of her.
-- Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina --

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, July 01, 2013

Two Recent Reads...

First of all, Happy Canada Day, to all my Canadian friends. All I can say is, it is so nice to not be at work today!
Just a few words about two books I've recently read, prefaced with a proviso:
I've been criticized from time to time [M, you know who you are!] for "ALWAYS" gushing about how much I loved a book! 

So... let me diverge from such alleged predictability by saying I did not really care that much for Peter Carey's latest novel, The Chemistry of Tears
And I hate to admit that, because I really love Carey as an author. But this one failed to really resonate with me.
It's the story of young Catherine, a museum conservator, who finds out that her boss has died. They were lovers. Understandably, the news is devastating, especially as she cannot fully express her grief since the affair was unknown [or so she assumes] to her co-workers. Her new supervisor, Eric, gives her a special assignment in an attempt to assuage her grief. She is commissioned to basically reconstruct, with the help of an intern, an automaton of a duck. It turns out to actually be a swan. Catherine becomes obsessed with the history of the original story of the duck/swan, as discovered in journals that accompanied the shipment of the unassembled pieces. 
I found the novel to be a bit confusing and unrewarding. Perhaps the fault is in me, but nevertheless, I would say that reading everything else by this author [which I almost have done] will be more fun than reading this one.
Then there is Don DeLillo. Another author I generally revere.
This book, The Angel Esmeralda contains nine short stories written between 1979 and 2011. Most of them are really terrific, but [CAUTION] all of them are a bit depressing. Not uplifting. DeLillo is a master at communicating, through his writings, the difficulties of human relationships. The tension between anonymity and familiarity, and these stories almost without exception deal in one way or another with that struggle. They are the work of a genius. So understated, so spare.
Thing is, as always with Don DeLillo -- put your thinking cap on. If your brain is on auto-pilot you are going to go careening right into the nearest wall.
Now, having said all this, I close with a very short videoclip of Canada's flying team, The Snowbirds -- zooming past my apartment earlier this afternoon. I was on the phone at the time and missed a previous flypast that nearly went right through my actual apartment. It was so awesome. Kennedy is still under the bed somewhere wondering if WW III is over. Poor boy! He still has to deal with the trauma of the fireworks tonight!

                         HAPPY CANADA DAY, CANADA!
                                            Thank you for a much needed day off!