freedom in reading


The most salient characteristic of being a reader is freedom, and this freedom is part of the political nature of the novel. Even when you are twelve years old and required by means of rewards and punishments to read Oliver Twist, you may stop. More than that, you may question and resist. How ridiculous is it that Oliver can’t get a second helping of porridge? You decide. In fact, you must decide. You can decide that Oliver has suffered an injustice, you can decide that Oliver deserves his fate, you can decide that this can’t possibly be true, you can decide that you do not care one way or the other, but whatever decision you are making, you are free to make it – there is no group disapproval, as there might be in a theatre should you boo or get up and leave. The entire time you are reading any novel, you are experiencing freedom and autonomy, and this is a political experience. You are also experiencing either agreement with the author or disagreement, and this is a political experience, too. He or she is luring you with plot-twists, character development, pathos, wit, exotic scenes, but you decide whether to go along or resist. And there are resisters to even the most universally admired novels. A reviewer on Amazon writes of War and Peace, ‘The fact is that WP just isn’t great, and we’ve been sold a bill of goods to make us feel guilty about falling asleep over it.’ After cataloging inconsistencies in the text, he concludes: ‘I agree with Tolstoy – it’s a “monstrosity”.’

— from an excellent essay by Jane Smiley


me fail english?

My dad forwarded me this poem today written by Gerard Nolst Trenité which is aptly called, The Chaos. I will admit that I have a hard time with a few of these words, but if nothing else this really illustrates the (maddening) irregularities of the English language.  I learned English pretty much through osmosis. I was still young enough when I moved to Canada that my brain functioned like a sponge and I learned the language without too much effort.  Just being surrounded by it through school, TV, and every day life was enough.  I can’t really imagine what it is like to learn this language when one is older and the brain is not as willing to learn new things.

From what I understand part of the reason that English is so “weird” is because it has been influenced by, and borrows heavily from, other languages, which is kind of neat when you think about it, but isn’t so “neat” for the many immigrants to Canada for example who struggle to understand, as this poem points out so well, why pronunciations of similar looking words can, in fact, be so different?

Below is just an excerpt of the full poem which you can find here.

Scroll down for a YouTube video of the correct pronunciation.  And just for the hell of it, I highlighted the words that I second guessed as I read.

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now, I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem and toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.
Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation (think of Psyche!)
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, plough, or dough or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!

How did you do?

david foster wallace

The author David Foster Wallace ended his own life on this day in 2008.  I have never read any of his works and although I have heard the title of one of his works – Infinite Jest, I have never really paid too much attention to it.  I happened to see a story about the anniversary of his death, which mentioned a commencement address he gave in 2005 to the graduates of Kenyon College.  Apparently this speech is quite famous so maybe you have already heard this, but if you have not I would really recommend you give it a listen.

Sure made me feel better about “only” getting a Liberal Arts degree (two in fact!)

It also made me interested in reading his works.  I believe I have heard from others, and I think you can tell from his speech, that he is a quite verbose author which is sometimes quite difficult to absorb, but it seems like it is worth a shot.

Part 1

Part 2

It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.

This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.

thanks for the advice kurt v


Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.
 — Kurt Vonnegut
I hope I have a better idea of what I should be doing with my time here by the time I am 40 but this makes me feel better at 31 that’s for sure.

life spent


There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life.

— Annie Dillard

dalai lama is lazy

I am currently reading Essence of Heart Sutra: The Dalai Lama’s Heart of Wisdom Teachings translated and edited by Geshe Thupten Jinpa, in response to my sister’s Buddhist teacher recommending that I recite the Heart Sutra on a daily basis.  No problem.  This is what she sent me.

heart sutraUh-huh.

And also this reference link.


Don’t get me wrong, my sister also offered to really explain it to me the next time we had a Skype date but I sort of forgot all about it.  However, past Xenia had the brilliant idea of ordering the Dalai Lama’s teachings of the Heart Sutra from the library so present Xenia was was more than happy when she saw this little book sitting on Holds shelf at the library waiting for her to read it.  I have yet to reach the point where the text addresses the Heart Sutra directly, as the first part of the book discusses Buddhist philosophy on a general level, but I am quite enjoying this refresher.

However, what stopped me cold in my tracks was reading this in the first few sentences of the first chapter

In my own case, the major portion of my life is already gone.  But, although I am a lazy practitioner of Buddhism, I can see that each year there is some progress in my life.  Above all, I try to be a genuine follower of Buddha Shakyamuni and a good Buddhist monk. [emphasis added]

Ummm?  This is the Dalai Lama calling himself “a lazy practitioner of Buddhism”!  I … I just don’t know what to do with this information.  If he is considered “lazy” what hope do any of us have?  But maybe this is just the super-modesty that comes from being a monk.  Let’s go with that.

I will leave you with a passage out of the book that has stood out so far

As the eighth-century Indian philosopher Chandrakirti points out in this Guide to the Middle Way, we first grasp a sense of self, and then we extend that grasping on to others.  First you have a sense of “I,” then you grasp at things as “mine.”  By looking into our own minds, we can see that the stronger our grasping is, the more forcefully it generates negative and destructive emotions.  There is a very intimate causal connection between our grasping at a sense of self and the arising of destructive emotions within us.  As long as we remain under the dominion of this erroneous belief, we have no room for lasting joy – this is what it means to be imprisoned in the cycle of existence.  Suffering is nothing but existence enslaved to ignorance.


cats + t. s. eliot + edward gorey = <3

In 1939 a book called Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot was published.  Its content based on poems about cats that Eliot wrote for his godchildren.  In 1982 the book was re-published with illustrations from none other than the wonderful Edward Gorey.  Here are some of those illustrations along with one of the poems which I find to be incredibly endearing.



You’ve read of several kinds of Cat,
And my opinion now is that
You should need no interpreter
To understand their character.
You now have learned enough to see
That Cats are much like you and me
And other people whom we find
Possessed of various types of mind.
For some are sane and some are mad
And some are good and some are bad
And some are better, some are worse –
But all may be described in verse.
You’ve seen them both at work and games,
And learnt about their proper names,
Their habits and their habitat:

How would you ad-dress a Cat?

So first, your memory I’ll jog,
And say: A CAT IS NOT A DOG.

Now Dogs pretend they like to fight;
They often bark, more seldom bite;
But yet a Dog is, on the whole,
What you would call a simple soul.
Of course I’m not including Pekes,
And such fantastic canine freaks.
The usual Dog about the Town
Is much inclined to play the clown,
And far from showing too much pride
Is frequently undignified.
He’s very easily taken in –
Just chuck him underneath the chin
Or slap his back or shake his paw,
And he will gambol and guffaw.
He’s such an easy-going lout,
He’ll answer any hail or shout.

Again I must remind you that
A Dog’s a Dog — A CAT’S A CAT.

With Cats, some say, one rule is true:
Don’t speak till you are spoken to.
Myself, I do not hold with that –
I say, you should ad-dress a Cat.
But always keep in mind that he
Resents familiarity.
I bow, and taking off my hat,
Ad-dress him in this form: O CAT!
But if he is the Cat next door,
Whom I have often met before
(He comes to see me in my flat)
I greet him with an OOPSA CAT!
I’ve heard them call him James Buz-James –
But we’ve not got so far as names.
Before a Cat will condescend
To treat you as a trusted friend,
Some little token of esteem
Is needed, like a dish of cream;
And you might now and then supply
Some caviare, or Strassburg Pie,
Some potted grouse, or salmon paste –
He’s sure to have his personal taste.
(I know a Cat, who makes a habit
Of eating nothing else but rabbit,
And when he’s finished, licks his paws
So’s not to waste the onion sauce.)
A Cat’s entitled to expect
These evidences of respect.
And so in time you reach your aim,
And finally call him by his NAME.

So this is this, and that is that:
And there’s how you AD-DRESS A CAT.

beyond that next turning…

source: David Priddis on Flickr

source: David Priddis on Flickr

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you — beyond that next turning of the canyon walls.

– Edward Abbey