Sunday, April 26, 2009

Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge

I recently read Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge. It did not capture my attention as grippingly as other books I have liked, but I liked the imaginative writing style and the philosophical conclusions.

It is like a fantasy novel without any swords, magic, or dragons, and with royalty only as secondary characters. I think I like it better that way. I think I like fantasy novels for their characters and ideas, and I see the swords, magic, dragons, and princes and princesses as unnecessary. I liked the Tamora Pierce books about Aly and about Beka, both of whom mostly rely on their brains, better than the ones about Alanna and Kel, who are warriors, or Daine, who is a magician. I do like the books about Sandry, Daja, Briar, and Tris best of all. They do use magic, but it's a naturalistic sort of magic which to me is about finding spirituality in everyday tasks.

You can see Hardinge's imaginative writing style on the first page, where she writes, "Her eyes were pale, soft and moist, like skinned grapes, but at the moment they were stubborn, resolute grapes," and in character names such as Eponymous, Kohlrabi, and Caveat.

It's about shifting alliances, figuring who to trust and which side to be on, figuring out which stories are lies and which are truth. It's about freedom of information and thought. In this story, words have the power to transform a person's destiny.

In the end, Mosca decides that she believes in neither the dominant religion of the Beloved, nor the underground religion of the Heart of Consequences. Clent says, "I foresee frightful things when you are old enough to work your will on the world. Cathedrals torn down, mention of both the Consequence and the Beloved banned from the common speech, and children brought up to believe in an empty, soulless heaven." When she says that is not what she would do, Clent asks, "Not even in the service of truth?" and Mosca replies, "That's not serving truth!....if I told people what to believe, they'd stop thinking. And then they'd be easier to lie to. And...what if I was wrong?" When Clent asks her who should decide what is true, Mosca replies, "Nobody. Everybody....Everybody able to stand up and shout what they think, all at once. An' not just the men of letters, an' the lords in their full-bottomed wigs, but the street sellers, an' the porters, an' the bakers. An' not just the clever men, but the muddle-headed, an' the madmen, an' the criminals, an' the children in their infant gowns, an' the really, really stupid. All of 'em. Even the wicked..."

Clent says that would be chaos, and Mosca thinks, "Words were dangerous when loosed. They were more powerful than cannon and more unpredictable than storms. They could turn men's heads inside out and warp their destinies. They could pick up kingdoms and shake them until they rattled. And this was a good thing, a wonderful thing."

It's a lesson that we need to be reminded of often. Even in a country where freedom of expression is a fundamental value, people often seek to suppress views which they consider dangerous.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


School was a tedious chore, and then I went to college and I was like, "Wow, why didn't anyone ever tell me that school could be interesting?!" So it was when I watched Fierce Creatures and I was like, "Wow, why didn't anyone tell me that comedy could be funny?!" It was suggested at the time that perhaps I preferred British humor and would also like Monty Python, but I think Monty Python is even worse than that stuff that Americans call comedy. There have however been two other things that were funny, one Italian and one American: the first part of Life is Beautiful and Boston Legal. Those were the most significant ones, but there have been snippets of humor elsewhere, such as in High Fidelity and Moonstruck.

Tonight I was changing channels on the TV and thinking I really should go to bed but I'm too tired to get up when I came across The Vicar of Dibley. That gave me the same reaction as Fierce Creatures. I was laughing and delighted, and amazed that comedy was actually funny for a change.

Philip Pullman's Sally Lockhart books

Philip Pullman's first two Sally Lockhart books, The Ruby in the Smoke and The Shadow in the North, were engaging stories, but they did not have substance. They were the kind of books that successfully held my attention, but did not have a lasting impact.

The third book, The Tiger in the Well, had so much more substance. It brought to life some issues of the day, such as poverty and anti-immigrant sentiment. It was good to see history from that perspective, the texture of life for the underclass, rather than just hearing about kings and wars and treaties. Reading about the issues was also important because those issues are still relevant today.

Another big improvement was that in the final confrontation, the good guys (Sally in one scene and Dan in another) showed compassion for their enemies. I don't like books where the bad guys are just evil. I like books that show that we are all just human, and that show why the bad guys do what they do. The scene in which Dan quelled mob violence by understanding the humanity of those who would attack him was to me one of the most important parts of the book.

After reading the fourth book in the series, The Tin Princess, at first I thought that it was another engaging story, and that it lacked both substance and a satisfying ending. But then as I thought about it, I began to see the substance in the ending. Often in stories, including all four Sally Lockhart books, the good guys win when the bad guys meet their demise. Sometimes that demise comes as a result of violent action on the part of the good guys. The problem with this is that when a person uses violence to achieve their goals, it's hard to believe that they are truly good guys. In order to get around this problem, often what happens is there is a confrontation that comes about as a result of the evil of the bad guys, but somehow in the confrontation, the bad guy ends up dying, though not at the hands of the good guy. For example, in attacking the good guy, the bad guy ends up falling off a cliff. This device is over-used, and I think it's kind of dumb. It says violence is the only resolution, but we don't want to sully the good guy's hands. In such cases, the author seems unable to imagine any resolution other than violence. That's why Dan's quelling the mob in The Tiger in the Well was so important, because it was a true nonviolent resolution.

In The Tin Princess, there are some battles which the good guys win through either violence or through the over-used device of accidental demise in confrontation. They win some battles, but they lose the war. The reason they lose the war is because the violence of the bad guys is mightier than the violence of the good guys. That happens sometimes in life. But the point that the book makes is that although that happens sometimes, it's not the end of the world. The book closes with the hope that both the big picture political situation and the lives of the individuals will move forward to a brighter situation. As Sally says, "Life's not static, you see, Becky. Life's dynamic. Everything changes. That's the beauty of it" (p. 286).

We see a metaphor for this in Sally's reaction to learning that the sweater she put so much time into knitting had been unraveled. Jim unraveled it to use it for their survival. "When she'd heard what Jim had done with the jersey she'd knitted, she laughed with pure happiness, as if there were no final dark, as if the whole universe were a joyful play of light" (p. 286). Sometimes violence wins, and destroys the things we were trying to create, but even when the things we were trying to create are unraveled, we can create new things out of what remains. That is the final message of The Tin Princess.

Monday, April 13, 2009

There's a Light

My Nia teacher is nice, but I just feel like a lump around her. I don't interact with her. I mean, if we talk, I'm just going through the motions. I'm not really present. I'm just a zombie moving through life. I was there in Nia class thinking what is it with me, and it occurred to me that I felt like the light was turned out, like there was no life behind my eyes.

The next day, the light turned on. It was being with a particular individual that turned it on. He often tells me that I look radiant, and I believe him, because I feel radiant around him. Being around him is like having a ball of sunshine drop into my lap. The rest of my life is gray and cold. But I don't know what to do with this. It seems there should be a way to put more sunshine into my life. But where do I find it? Sure I know one person who turns on the light, but it's not about that one person. It's not like bringing that person more into my life is is what I need. What I have with this person is beautiful as it is, and is not meant to be more. Instead it's a matter of what are the attributes of our interactions that bring me sunshine, and how can I put into my life more things that have those attributes.

Other people have brought my sunshine in the past. What did all these cases have in common? It was mostly men, though not men who could potentially be compatible romantic partners. I don't think compatible romantic partners for me even exist. Sometimes the incompatibility was a factor in that it allowed for warmth to flow without it being a threat. Because that was another thing these cases had in common -- being around someone who treated me as if they liked me. That should not be such a rare thing. So one part is treating me as if they like me. Another part is not trying to get anything from me, being happy just to bask in who I am. But there has to be something more. We have to have common ground, to be on a similar intellectual level and to share values sufficiently that there is some understanding happening. I need to be able to open myself completely to receiving the warmth. With most people, I am somewhat closed off because there is some part of the other person that I don't want to get near. So, I need to trust in the other person's goodness enough to open myself to receiving the warmth they offer. And if the warmth I get comes from their positive view of me, it has to be a positive view of who I actually am. With many people, my way of thinking is so different from theirs, that though they may say that they like me, it's only their image of me that they like, and it has little to do with who I actually am.

What is this about being closed off to people because there is some part of them I don't want to get near? That's one reason I close off. The other is awkwardness, it's fear of opening a conversation that I won't know how to continue, fear of getting myself stranded in an interaction.

Can I find my inner sunshine? Instead of closing off to people, just shine out who I am even if it won't fit what they want me to be? That's my problem, I'm always trying to figure out what is expected of me and what people want from me, instead of just being myself.

But, here I am being hard on myself, saying I should just be able to shine even with no one to understand me. That's a kind of thinking that I don't like the fall into. The reality is that everyone thrives when they are loved. So I should stop telling mysef, "You can never be loved, but you nonetheless have to force yourself to shine as much as people who have the advantage of being loved." I don't think it that explicitly, but in a way that's the attitude behind what I expect from myself.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Finished Blood Brothers

I have finished Blood Brothers. After Chacour was ordained, he became a priest in a village. He found there was much discord among Christians there. After months of building up relationships with individuals, he told them in church one day, when they all showed up for Palm Sunday, "Sitting in this building does not make you a Christian" (p. 170). On that day, and over time, he gradually brought about reconciliation within the Christian community. And he did not limit himself to Christians. He told the nuns who worked with him, "If Jesus Christ Himself was somewhere out in the streets of Ibillin needing our help, what would you do?...Whatever we do to the least of men, we do for Him. And the person He sends may not be Christian, but Moslem. Jesus does not ask us just to preach to Moslems, but first to show his love....Isn't it more important to demonstrate the spirit of the gospel, rather than battering people with the words?" (p. 174)

He went on to study alongside Jewish scholars at Hebrew University, to organize a peace march in which Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Druze people marched together through Jerusalem, and to build schools, libraries, and community centers in Palestinian villages. The reason for building the schools, libraries, and community centers was expressed by his bishop, Bishop Raya, when he said, "When you build dignity, you begin to destroy prejudice" (p. 196).

Chacour found that there were both Palestinian and Israeli people who shared his desire for reconciliation, as well as both Palestinian and Israeli people who opposed his efforts. He was spied on, harassed, and kidnaped. The schools, libraries, and community centers he tried to build were vandalized. He knew what it was like to feel hate and anger. He was tired, working for decades, and not knowing if his efforts made a difference. Yet despite all these, he continued working for peace. Whenever a new community center opened up, the first thing he would present was a showing of The Diary of Anne Frank, so that the Palestinian people could better understand the Israelis, and so they could see the dangers of violence.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Some of my favorite things include:

  • Activities: hanging out with friends and family, rollerblading, hiking, dancing, boating, sitting on rocks by the ocean, concerts and festivals (especially outdoors)
  • Sights: oceans, lakes, rivers, trees (with leaves on them or evergreens), see also favorite colors and favorite flowers
  • Sounds: the ocean, see also favorite musicians
  • Smells: clean outdoor air, pine, cedar, ocean
  • Feels: sunshine, grass, comfortable clothes
  • Tastes: strawberries, blueberries, flan, pudding, ice cream
  • Colors: rainbow, tie-dye, lavender, jade
  • Flowers: hydrangeas, lilacs, wisteria
  • Names: Emma, Griffin, Hannah, Holly, Jacob, Jade, Jill, Joy, Juniper, Kate, Logan, Sage, Sierra
  • Musicians, female vocalists: Ronnie Gilbert, Jessee Havey, Carol Noonan, Leandra Peak, Linda Thompson, Mary Travers, Carol Young
  • Musicians, male vocalists : Eric Andersen, Dan Berggren, Joe Crookston, Tom Paxton, Elvis Presley, Tom Rhoads, Tao Rodriguez Seeger, Bill Staines
  • Musicians, charismatic and inspiring: Ronnie Gilbert, Tao Rodriguez Seeger, Pete Seeger
  • Musicians, groups: Kim and Reggie Harris, Magpie, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Schooner Fare, Serendipity Singers, Smithfield Fair, , the Weavers, Woods Tea Company
  • Musicians, not folk: Abba, Beatles, Bee Gees, Meat Loaf, Renaissance, Happy Rhodes, Spirit in Flesh
  • Songs:
      The "by" in the list below refers to performer, not necessarily the writer.
    • What you Are by the Greencards
    • Out of the Rain by the Duhks
    • Mountain Air by Dan Berggren
    • Mary Ellen Carter by Stan Rogers
    • Arrow by Cheryl Wheeler
    • This is a Mean World by Sweet Honey in the Rock
    • Give Light by Magpie
    • Poor Me / (may there always be sunshine) by Joe Crookston
    • Rock Me Grandpa by the Limeliters
    • There is a Mountain by Donovan
    • Funeral for a Friend by Elton John
    • Don't Give Up by Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush
    • Wake Up by John McCutcheon
    • Songs I like because of the sound, lively
    • Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond
    • Love is Strange by Mickey and Sylvia
    • Big Blue Sky by Rachel Garlin
    • Cosecha lo que Siembres by Roy Brown, Tito Auger, and Tao Rodriguez Seeger
    • Songs I like because of the sound, mellow
    • Young Westley by Mary McCaslin
    • Wicked Game by Gypsy Soul
    • Acony Bell by Gillian Welch or Annie and the Hedonists
    • The Water is Wide by Mustard's Retreat
    • If I Needed You by Lyle Lovett
    • No Pride at All by Jesse Winchester
    • Defying Gravity by Jesse Winchester
    • So Long Marianne by Leonard Cohen
    • Drop Me Down by Tres Chicas
    • How the Night Time Sings by Brooks Williams
    • Peace Will Come by Tom Paxton
    • She Loved Moses by Amy Fradon
    • Potter's Wheel by Freyda Epstein
    • Evona Darling by Linda Thompson with Teddy Thompson
    • Quite Early Morning by the Mammals
    • Tango to Evorra by Loreena McKennitt
    • Night Ride Across the Caucasus by Loreena McKennitt
    • The Dolphins by Billy Bragg
    • Roseville Fair by Bill Staines
    • I Don't Want Your Millions Mister by Tao Rodriguez Seeger
    • Closer by Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem
    • Songs I like because of the lyrics
    • Sara McCutcheon by Cathy Fink
    • The Golden Glove by John Wesley Harding
    • One Voice by Wailin' Jennies
    • Waltz of the Wallflowers by Small Potatoes
    • Horizontal Hold by Peter Ostroushko
    • Hot Frogs on the Loose by Fred Small
    • Rock Me to Sleep by Faith Petric
    • Songs about peace, simplicity, love and other good values
    • 10,000 Candles, 10,000 Cranes by Small Potatoes
    • From Every Mountain Side by Dan Berggren
    • Peace Begins in my Own Heart by Dan Berggren
    • Satisfied Mind by the Mammals
    • Riverside by Ollabelle
    • The Only Way by Ellis Paul
    • Rich by Neal and Leandra
    • Old Green Sweater by Dan Berggren
    • Coat of Many Colors by Dolly Parton
    • What We Left Behind by Tom Pacheco
    • Alice by Peggy Eyres and Dan Berggren
    • Tannery Pond Reel by Dan Berggren, Chris Shaw, and John Kirk
    • Boys in the Choir by Tom Chapin
    • My Personal Revenge, recorded by Jackson Browne, written by Tomás Borge & Louis Enrique Mejía Godoy; English translation by Jorge Calderón.
    • Poignant songs
    • Ten Dollar Christmas by Christopher Shaw and Bridget Ball
    • Christmas in the Trenches by John McCutcheon
    • Jack and Lucy by Hugh and Katie Moffatt
    • Something in the Rain by Tish Hinojosa
    • Kilkelly, Ireland by Greenfields of America
    • Frankie and Johnny by Garnet Rogers
    • Outside by Kate Blain
    • Songs of long-lasting loves
    • Dance and Sway by Joe Crookston
    • Lies by Stan Rogers
  • Radio stations: WMPG, WMUD, WUMB
  • Authors: Tamora Pierce, Cynthia Voigt, Robin McKinley
  • Fictional characters: Luna Lovegood, Sandrilene fa Toren
  • Actors, female: Drew Barrymore, Kate Jackson, Brittany Murphy
  • Actors, male: Nicholas Cage, John Cusack, Johnny Depp
  • TV: Boston Legal, Pushing Daisies
  • Movies: Adaptation, Fierce Creatures, High Fidelity, Mama Mia, Moonstruck, Secretary, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
  • States: Maine, Vermont
  • Accents: Maine
  • Colleges: College of the Atlantic, Haverford, Marlboro

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Good days and bad days

When I have a bad day (like yesterday), I feel like I'm always sick and I'll never be able to do anything. When I have a good day (like today), I feel like it's good to get stuff done, so I should do things every day. As if just deciding to do things were all it would take. Even though I know the difference is that some days I'm sick and some days I'm not, somehow whichever way I feel, my mind seems to think that is the only way I will ever feel.

The Amber Spyglass

Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series consists of three books. The one I like best is The Amber Spyglass, because it's toward the end of that book that he becomes most philosophical.

In chapter 34, there's a night when Mary can't sleep. She goes outside and watches the clouds, the trees, and the Dust. Dust is a concept that exists throughout the three books. I think that it represents life force, free will, creativity, love, consciousness.

When Mary went outside, "She turned toward the grove where her climbing tree stood. It was twenty minutes' walk away; she could see it clearly, towering high and tossing its great head in a dialogue with the urgent wind. They had things to say, and she couldn't hear them. She hurried toward it, moved by the excitement of the night, and desperate to join in. This was the very thing she'd told Will about when he asked if she missed God: it was the sense that the whole universe was alive, and that everything was connected to everything else by threads of meaning" (p. 449).

To me, this is a description of pantheism: There is no all-powerful being controlling the world, but there is a sense of magic and connectedness in the universe, which people can feel when they are out in nature.

As she continues to watch, Mary realizes that dust is flowing out of the universe, being lost to entropy, and she sees that the wind, clouds, moon, and trees are trying to hold it back. And she found that that was her mission too, to try to increase Dust rather than decrease it.

Then Will and Lyra fall in love, and a thick cloud of Dust is drawn to them. This fits with what I was just writing with regard to Blood Brothers: that the way to serve God (or Dust, as the case may be) is through God's creatures, through treating others with love.

Will recalls what his father told them: "He said we have to build the Republic of Heaven where we are. He said that for us there isn't anywhere else" (p. 488). I remember my grandmother saying that Quakers, Unitarian Universalists, and another group, maybe Jews, get along well because they tend to focus on the present world rather than on how to get into Heaven for the afterlife. That's what I believe too. There is no afterlife. As he said, "we have to build the Republic of Heaven where we are." And we build it by doing things that grow the Dust, we build it by building a world where people treat each other with compassion and integrity.

Lyra was able to read the alethiometer until she and Will fell in love. Then she was no longer a child, so she lost the ability. Xaphania tells her that as a child, she was able to read it through grace, but she'll be able to read it again with a lifetime of study. "Your reading will be even better then, after a lifetime of thought and effort, because it will come from conscious understanding. Grace attained like that is deeper and fuller than grace that comes freely" (p. 491). That is what I think about getting older. Although there is the danger of becoming jaded and bitter, if we open ourselves to learning, life becomes deeper and fuller.

Xaphania tells Will and Lyra, "Dust is not a constant. There's not a fixed quantity that has always been the same. Conscious beings make Dust -- they renew it all the time, by thinking and feeling and reflecting, by gaining wisdom and passing it on. And if you help everyone else in your worlds to do that, by helping them to learn and understand about themselves and each other and the way everything works, and by showing them how to be kind instead of cruel, and patient instead of hasty, and cheerful instead of surly, and above all, how to keep their minds open and free and curious..." (pp. 491-492).

The book ends with Lyra saying, "We would have gone with Will and Kirjava....But then we wouldn't have been able to build it. No one can if they put themselves first. We have to be all those difficult things like cheerful and kind and curious and patient, and we've got to study and think and work hard, all of us, in all our different worlds, and then we'll build....the Republic of Heaven" (p. 518).

Blood Brothers, installment 2

I am not finished reading Blood Brothers yet, but I have read more since my last blog about it, so I have a few more things to comment on.

Elias and Faraj have been like brothers to each other for many years, and they expect to continue to follow the same path. But as they discuss their plans for the future, Elias has a realization. "Not all are called to the same task. Both Faraj and I were to be ordained -- but each to a special calling. He had come to feel very strongly about the wealth and extravagance of the Church amid poor and hungry people. It was for them that he hoped to help reform the Church itself. And I -- I would have to find my own calling on a lonelier path that would lead away from my closest friend....For me, a door seemed to stand wide open -- to what end I was not sure -- and unmistakably I was being beckoned through it" (pp. 128-129).

Realizing that he did not have to follow Faraj's path allowed Elias to look for his own path. Many people experience similar things. They think they have to have a prestigious job, or that they have to earn a certain amount of money, or that they have to meet their parents' expectations, or that a certain path would just be too hard. When they learn to look beyond these constraints, they finally are able to see their true path.

It seems I have not yet been able to see what constraints are blocking my thinking, and as a result, I have not been able to see my true path.

Chacour also writes, "God demanded that they demonstrate His own character to the whole world, and that they show forth the face of God in every action from the way they conducted their government down to the use of fair weights and measures in the marketplace" (p. 139). This is consistent with how I've always looked at things. Quakers say there is that of God in everyone. I believe that the way God wants us to serve him is by speaking to that of God within everyone we encounter. Churches, sermons, prayers, rituals -- all that stuff is not how God wants us to serve him. All that stuff is meant to get us into the right frame of mind so that we are able to speak to that of God in others. The trappings of religion are not an end in themselves. They are a means to an end. We have different religions because there are different things that inspire people to speak to that of God in everyone. Whether it's stained glass windows or candles or sitting by the ocean, I don't care what you do to get you there. All I care is that whatever form your religion or lack thereof takes, the end result is to treat others with love.

It's not that I believe that anything goes, that there is no right and wrong. It's that I believe that right or wrong is found in whether you treat others with compassion and integrity, not in your religious affiliation or lack thereof.