Do what you love

I realize the things I love and have been a constant in my life are things that I do without pressure. There’s no pressure for me to read. My parent’s discouraged reading anything but text books when I was young. They thought novels were no better for me than tv. The way they would say the word “novel” in chinese made it sound like a dirty word.

“Stop reading those novels of yours, and go study.” Reading was not a productive thing in their eyes. And because of it, there was never any pressure to read. So I read. My reading habits ebb and flow. I have years where I’ve finished more than a hundred books, and I’ve had years where I couldn’t even finish one. But what  makes me come back to reading is is the lack of pressure or expectation. No doing it well vs. doing it poorly judgements. If I’m not in a mood to read, I don’t read. There is no guilt associated with it.

I hope to take my experience with reading to other parts of my life. There are many things that I do that often don’t hold joy for me because I’m so judgemental of my performance. What I need to remember is that, it doesn’t matter how I do. If I love it, I will do it, and if I don’t, I should stop. It doesn’t matter if I’m a fast learner, or I can’t get something right, or I’m learning better or worse than someone else. All that matters is that I enjoy what I’m doing. Enjoy the moment without evaluation. I hope this is the lesson I can take this weekend as I prepare to snowboard.


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Galatea 2.2: Grasping for things lost in memory and first lines

Galatea 2.2 is a retelling of the greek myth of Pygamalion.

Pygmalion was a great sculptor. In order to prove his skill, Pygmalion decides to carve a statue so life-like that it would rival the beauty of any real woman. When he is finished, his work is so spectacular, so beautiful, that he promptly falls in love. It is a tragedy to fall in love with your own creation.

George Bernard Shaw wrote a play based on this myth. In the play, two linguist make a bet to turn a flower woman into an elegant duchess. You probably recognize the plot since it was made into a movie called My Fair Lady.

Galatea 2.2 retells this story in the modern age. A group of scientists and an author make a wager to create a machine that can interpret great works of literature in such a way as to fool everyone into thinking it was human.

The story centers around the protagonist, Richard Powers.  In the story, Powers, adrift in a mid-life crisis, believes he is at the end of his writing career. He knows only the first sentence of his next novel.

“Picture a train heading south.”

But this sentence leads him nowhere. He wonders if he has read it before somewhere. He searches in the catacombs of his memory for it’s genesis.

It reminds me of plots that still haunt me; books that I must’ve read as a child but can no remember the titles of no matter how long I search.  Even as I try to access that memory of those books, they slip further into the recesses of my memory, until I’m not sure how much of the plot I’m making up.

One book from my childhood haunts me particularly. It’s ghost-like in quality. I remember yellow paper, some odd drawings. It was about magic…some sort of transformation took place…something haunting or terrible happened…I think. When I try to access memories of this particular plot, I end up pulling in other storylines, plot points, objects from other books I read as a kid. I will have to be resigned to this unsolved mystery.

But Galatea 2.2 has given me an idea, it would be nice to document the first lines of every book I read when I start them. It’d be an interesting exercise.

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The problem of too many choices

One of the things I hate about my iPod is that despite the fact that it contains thousands of songs, I only end up listening to a handful. Given too much choice, we are overwhelmed.  This has always been a problem for me. At the store, the more choice I’m given, the more miserable I am. I agonize painfully over which pillow to get, what cereal to eat, what shampoo or skirt to buy.  If I chose the wrong one, I imagine myself being gypped out of some imagined advantage that another item would have provided me.

In the day of the iPod, the e-book, the internet, I notice these problems are exacerbated. When I was young, I read with abandon. I would go to the library, pick up a book with an interesting cover, and read it. I read almost the entire paperback children’s section of my library that way.

Now time is more precious, I chose books carefully, sometimes I research them painstakingly before making a selection. Still, I’ve managed to accumulate hundreds of unread books during the last 5 years. Which creates a problem.  If I were stuck in a room with one book and no internet. I’d read the book. I’d finish it. But now, everytime I read, I take down 5 different books.

Because I have so many options, I find it hard to really read or concentrate on any. I keep on switching, starting a line here, reading a line there. The addition of my computer further complicates the issue.

I find myself seriously considering whether I have ADD because my attention is so fractured between things. Time to simplify. Maybe instead of reading several books, for a little bit I can focus on one at a time. Just pick one book up and stick to it without further consideration. Let’s see how it goes.

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Growing Up

Sometimes when I revisit a book, I find it’s nothing like what I remembered. Often it’s because I’ve moved on…I have different interests, different taste. Sometimes its a mood thing. For an entire year and a half, I read nothing but short stories.  Sometimes it’s because I’m in a different place in my life…I used to love super-violent, Quentin Tarantino-esque movies.  Now I find them tiring and upsetting.

Generally it means that I’m in a different place, different mood.  When one of my favorite books doesn’t stand up to a test of time…it can be a little upsetting. Because these books stand as markers in my life, its difficult to know that you’ve moved so far away from any point in your life, that the books you once cherished now seem slightly silly.

It’s with great relief that I can read The Beggar Maid and Magic For Beginners without feeling such things. Though the books have changed for me…everything seems slightly shifted 90 degrees in my perception and interpretation of the stories, I still love them for what they are at the core—smart, perceptive, but more importantly sly and odd stories about what it is to be human.

They are different though. There is sometimes a wistful sadness or bitterness to the stories that I missed when I was younger. I hadn’t learned yet that life can be disappointing, misleading, not at all what you expect. I don’t think I had properly internalized the notion that life can disappoint you. Not that I have a strong grasp of that notion yet. Life has been kind to me…dangerously so. But the twist and turns these past years have shown me at least that I have no idea where I’m going or what life has yet in store for me. It makes me understand the people in these stories better.

On a complete different note, I happened upon this while surfing the internet. It’s from Cselaw Mioz’s, A Captive Mind:

“It is sometimes better to stammer from an excess of emotion than to speak in well-turned phrases. The inner voice that stops us when we might say too much is wise.”


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Act One of This American Life’s episode, Slow to React is heart breaking.  This story and the last story of RadioLab’s new episode Lost and Found really gave me pause this weekend. It made me re-evaluate my own life…it reminds me never to take the things for granted.

The best things about human beings is that we are adaptable to our situation. We can chose to fixate or we can chose to let go. We have choice. As cognitive therapy teaches us, we may not  have control of what happens to us, sometimes, but we can always control how these events affect us. Success to overcome anything that life throws at us comes from inner strength. Not inner strength in the way that I have always imagined it—never breaking, never showing vulnerability, never giving up….but instead, the strength to move past difficult things, to let go of things, to forgive.

I’m not sure if I would have the courage to move on if I were in the horrific situations faced by the people of the stories mentioned above. But it makes me reflect. I understand the things that I struggle to let go of are so inconsequntial in the grander scheme of things. In the end, it’s all about choice. It’s about learning not to ask why me? But to ask how can I deal with this situation? How can I move on? How can this experience help me to grow?

These are always the right questions. If you focus on them, nothing in life can hurt you. I hope in my darkest days, when I require more strength, I will remember this.

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Writing v. Blogging

When I write for myself…the writing comes easy. It’s not always good, but it flows; I don’t second-guess myself.

When I write knowing that my writing will be read, I second guess everything, I loose my voice. It’s hard to enjoy the writing that comes. With practice, the self-doubt goes away. But it always takes time. I have remember to write for myself and not for others.

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The Hortlak

I’m back and newly refreshed from time with family. I’ve almost forgotten how nice it is to have someone bring you food whenever you’re hungry and spend an entire day watching junk tv and hanging out with friends. I’ve also managed to haul back some of my beloved books. I don’t think I got enough of them still, books are so bulky and I was a bit timid with weight constraints on airplanes and what not, but I’m so happy to have what I have.

I haven’t made much more progress in Galatia 2.2. I think the tone is bit dry and the perspective too male (there has got to be a better descriptor than that, but it eludes me right now). I am however rereading Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners, probably my favorite of her three short story collections, although all three are superb.

Right now I’m reading “The Hortlak”, a story about a 24-hour convenience store right at the edge of a chasm where the known world ends. The chasm seems to be the home of zombies who crawl out to visit the convenience store but what they need or want eludes the characters in the story. It’s odd that I only remember one scene from the story from my previous reading…the hydrocephalic cartoon cats carrying children in their mouth that are featured on Batu’s pajamas. I remember looking up the word hydrocephalic….it’s a condition where the brain accumulates fluid and becomes bloated….I remember wondering about these big-headed cats and their intentions. “The Hortlak” is dream-like in quality….the convenience-store may be an allegory for the dream-world or purgatory sandwiched between the living and the dead or in this case the chasm and it’s enigmatic zombies. Eric the clerk is stuck between these worlds. Maybe the entire story is about the languidness and terror of being young. Of having the entire world before you  and all the different paths waiting for you….it is terrible to pick…you could make the wrong choice…you have no idea what you are doing.

I don’t try too hard to decipher Link’s stories…I find over-anlyzation destroys the meaning. I like the ambiguity of them. Today they mean one thing to me…years later they’ll seem different…such is the way of the best writing…it changes with you.

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