Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Talky Tuesday: Walden and Bibliotherapy

I moved! And then stopped updating this blog because I was flipping tired. I'm less tired now, theoretically, because instead of freelancing and hauling ass all over creation I have a proper grown-up office job that means I leave work at work instead of bringing it home and also I have weekends and time off and paid vacation days.

Is that what's bringing me out of my dry spell? you may ask. I mean, sure. In part. Mostly, though, it's the shitshow that was last Friday and the Kavanaugh hearings. It was a shitshow for a bunch of reasons, actually, and not all of them related to Kavanaugh. In my rage and frustration, I turned to my books (cheaper than therapy!) and pulled out Walden.

A stone bench by Walden pond on a sunny day.
That time Theophanes and I went to Walden Pond

It's a book I've loved since high school, and there's always something comforting in going back to the books of your formative years. It's like a hug from a loving parent, or your favorite comfort food. But more than that I needed a reminder of what I miss from America, what I'm proud of, to reorient my inner compass.

"Reading" is always my favorite essay in the whole collection. It has precious little to do with anything I was upset about on Friday, but still, it helped. I might even commit the entire essay to memory, so soothing is the act of reading it. For now, two of my favorite quotes:
The oldest Egyptian or Hindoo philosopher raised a corner of the veil from the statue of the divinity; and still the trembling robe remains raised, and I gaze upon as fresh a glory as he did, since it was I in him that was then so bold, and it is he in me that now reviews the vision. No dust has settled on that robe; no time has elapsed since that divinity was revealed.
And this one, which struck me the first time I read it. I copied it on to the notebook cover for my English binder immediately after I read it for AP English in the summer before 11th grade; if I were the artsy type I would cross-stitch it or write it out in calligraphy, frame it, and hang it on the wall alongside my bookshelves.
A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not only be read but actually breathed from all human lips; not be represented on canvas or in marble only, but be carved out of the breath of life itself.
The choicest of relics, indeed.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Friday 5: Opposite Day

A white van parked in front of neighboring rowhomes, one red and one green.
Photo by Abraham Wiebe on Unsplash

What food, normally eaten cooked, do you prefer uncooked?

I don't know if it counts as "cooked," or if I would say "prefer," but I'm comfortable having my bagels untoasted.

What food, normally eaten uncooked, do you prefer cooked?

When I was a kid, all I could think about every time I made (or helped a parent make) cookies or brownies was how when I was an adult, I would make cookies or brownies and then just sit down and eat the whole thing raw.

Now that I'm actually an adult, I have zero desire to do that. Licking the spoon after I'm done scraping out the last of the batter for the cookie sheets or brownie pan is more than enough for me.

What food, normally eaten cold, do you prefer hot?

We only serve beer cold because the temperature dulls the taste of crappy beer. Anything good should probably be served at room temperature.

Also, have you heard the good news about pineapple on pizza?

What food, normally eaten hot, do you prefer cold?

Again, "prefer" is a strong word, but I can live without having my kladdkaka straight out of the oven or warmed up in the microwave. Especially in the summer.

What are your favorite dinner meals to have for breakfast and breakfast meals to have for dinner?

I don't like to have anything dinner-like for breakfast. I generally skip breakfast anyway, since I'm not hungry in the mornings, but anything like a dinner would be too much heavy food too early in the day. The closest I get would be dumplings, maybe, but that's it.

But I'm all about breakfast for dinner, though. Brinner. Pancakes? Omelettes? Waffles? Cereal? Yes. All of it. In my mouth.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

What I Read: Proust and the Squid

I looked back at my Goodreads a couple days ago and realized I hadn't finished anything in June. I don't know what happened—a combination of the worldwide dumpster fire getting worse, reading too many books at once, getting ready to move—but I didn't like it. There's a pretty strong correlation between "not finishing books" and "not feeling well" when it comes to my mood, so it was a relief to finish up Proust and the Squid.

Also it was fucking delightful and a welcome distraction from said dumpster fire. There's a lot to despair of when it comes to humanity, but have you ever realized how incredible it is that we came up with written language and taught ourselves to read?

Image courtesy Icon Books, Limited
Wolf tackles the subject from three perspectives: the history of reading and written languages, what happens in the developing brain when it learns to read, and what goes wrong in some brains that makes reading hard (dyslexia and other reading disorders).

Wolf is a neuroscientist by trade, so Proust and the Squid draws heavily on her research and the research of her peers. However, she's also an engaging writer (perhaps unsurprising for someone who is also an avid reader) and presents the research with clarity, so that the non-neuroscientst layperson can also follow along. (Shout-out to the copyeditor who worked with her; I'm sure they contributed a great deal to this book's engaging readability!) I also appreciate her casually mentioning the titles of other interesting books as they pertained to the subject, because I could add them to my own reading list. (As if it weren't long enough...)

The one downside is that Proust and the Squid was published in 2007, which means it's over ten years old, and a lot of research can happen in that time! I don't know if there's an updated edition but I'd love to read one either way.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Talky Tuesday: 101 in 1001

As I mentioned back in April, I finished my third 101 in 1001 list in March. I spent a few months thinking about my next list and finished it up in time for my birthday. I like to start on/a little after my birthday, just because I never got over a very childish obsession with birthdays.

The new list is after the cut, and also tacked up here.

My last list was noteworthy for being in progress when The Election happened. (And also for being the first one where I lived in the same place for the entire list.) This list will be noteworthy for carrying me through to the end of the current presidential term. Insert all the jokes here about the 2020 election and 20/20 vision and etc.

In a way, that's reassuring. I felt like my first three lists really flew by, so maybe this one will, too.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Friday 5: With A Capital T

The movie poster for The Music Man

What kind of trouble are you getting yourself into?

I've been really bad at time management this summer. I'm on some long-term projects that don't have immediate deadlines, but nonetheless I should be further along than I am. I guess, if I were to be fair to myself, I would point out that I'm using this low period to invest in some professional development (aka reading up on translation theory).

There's an old saw about how work expands or contracts to fit the amount of time you have, and I'm finding that to be the case. I'm only as efficient as my workload is heavy.

What was your most recent car trouble?

Ages ago because Stockholm is a walkable, car-optional city!

What’s a rhyming phrase (such as “work jerk” or “poo shoe”) to describe something causing you problems lately?

Sun fun. As in, I want to have too much of it.

What’s something that needs loosening or unsticking?

I've straight up body checked the automatic doors at Gullmarsplan in between the bus stops and the subway station multiple times because they open so slooooooooooooowly.

What’s your favorite board game involving rolling dice?

I don't know if Munchkin counts, since it's a card game and not a board game. If not, then Settlers of Catan.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

What I Read: Rien où poser sa tête (Nowhere to Lay One's Head)

If you're not subscribed to Asymptote's newsletter or following their blog, you're missing out. Their staff are like magical book sprites who leave little gifts of international literature in your RSS feed or email inbox. Rien où poser sa tête was one of those little gifts.

The cover of Francoise Frenkel's "Nowhere to Lay One's Head"
Image courtesy Gallimard

Of course, Nowhere to Lay One's Head turned up in Asymptote thanks to Brigitte Manion's review of the English translation. But since I have a passing familiarity with French, and really should practice a little now and then to keep it up, I opted to read the French original rather than the English or Swedish translations.

As a student, I had a hard time connecting with the books we read about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. Fortunately I'm not a psychopath and so I can understand, on an intellectual level, why these books are important. I could then, too. I just resented them for not being better, considering the topic matter. (No, I'm not going to name them, because then I'll get a bunch of HOW COULD YOU NOT LIKE XXXXX in the comments. :P) Now that we're apparently willing to give Nazis the benefit of the doubt, I've been wondering lately: what do I think students should read instead of what I read in school?

I'd argue that Rien où poser sa tête is a good candidate. Trying to convey the horror of what happened through the concentration camps can be a bit much to take in. (Not that it should be forgotten, either.) It's so horrible as to be unreal, unfathomable. But because Frenkel's memoirs handle the slow agony of daily life under the Nazi regime, with rations and visa applications and constant upheaval (including children ripped away from their parents, I wonder if that sounds familiar at all?), it becomes easier to understand how these things were able to come to pass, and how they could easily come to pass again and how they already are again holy fucking shit.

Nowhere to Lay One's Head was saved from obscurity thanks to an incredible stroke of luck. I think we need to take advantage of that luck and get this in front of all of the eyeballs we can. Out of all of the books you're going to see reviewed on blogs and YouTube and wherever else this year, please make Nowhere to Lay One's Head the book you actually follow up on. Get it on Amazon, ask your library to order it, whatever. It's my birthday tomorrow; consider it your birthday present to me.

Plus ça change...

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Talky Tuesday: Walking (Running) (Cycling) (Swimming) to Mordor

Around Christmas of 2013, soon after I moved to Sweden, I decided to incentivize working out on our exercise bike by cycling to Mordor. Except I hated that bike so much (the seat was way too hard and absolute murder on my ass) that I started to find excuses to do anything except go on it. Why wreck my ass when I could take a nice walk in the sunshine instead?

And then I made my fourth attempt at running and C25K, because maybe I was grown up enough to like running. And I was. And so I ended up biking, walking, running, and even a little bit of swimming/water jogging (yes, really!) with Sam and Frodo, all the way from the Shire to Mt. Doom. It took them six months; it took me four and a half years.

(I finished right after my 101 in 1001 list ended. I don't remember the exact date, but I remember that much.)

On the plus side, I got to keep all of my fingers!

One of the tasks on my next 101 in 1001 (which I'll be starting soon) will be to run the long trek back to the Shire. First stop, Minas Tirith for Aragorn's coronation!

I was also half expecting to have some Big Feelings about doing this thing, about committing to an exercise plan for hundreds of miles who knows how many hours, but honestly sitting here thinking about it is mostly underwhelming.

I suppose it's been overshadowed by something that feels like a much bigger accomplishment, namely the fact that I ran a 5K. And a 10K, even! My typical run is now around five kilometers, three days a week. Once the pollen subsides and the weather cools down, I'll see if I can push it a little further.

The second week I started running again this year (after taking it easy during the winter), or maybe the third, I felt awesome and ended up running a 10K, just to see if I could. (I could.) I haven't hit that sweet spot again, but the knowledge that I'm capable of it is reassuring.

Both of those things are bigger deals to me than escorting imaginary hobbits across an imaginary landscape, I have to admit. So I haven't been as excited about making it to Mordor as I would otherwise be. But still, I'd like to thank Sam and Frodo and the rest of the Fellowship for inspiring me to get out there and do the thing, back when not much else could inspire me.

U da real MVPs