Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The power of literature

I'm currently reading the book "Reading Lolita in Tehran" by Azar Nafisi, which basically is about teaching English literature in Iran during and after the Islamic Revolution. It is also about the power of literature.

Yesterday on the subway I read a section in which the head of the department of English literature at the University of Tehran took an unprecedented and highly dangerous step of testifying at a former student’s trial at the Revolutionary Court. (The former student, then a prison guard, was alleged to have beaten and tortured political prisoners.) The professor informed the court of his former student’s kindness and compassion towards those less fortunate. “I believe it is my duty as a human being,” he said, “to acquaint you with this aspect of the accused’s personality.” Later, another student paid tribute to the professor for this act, and what she wrote is very interesting:

Such an act can only be accomplished by someone who is engrossed in literature, has learned that every individual has different dimensions to his personality … Those who judge must take all aspects of an individual’s personality into account. It is only through literature that one can put oneself in someone else’s shoes and understand the other’s different and contradictory sides and refrain from becoming too ruthless. Outside the sphere of literature only one aspect of individuals is revealed. But if you understand their different dimensions you cannot easily murder them … If we had learned this one lesson from [him] our society would have been in a much better shape today.

Lyrics from "The Last Resort"

Because it's poetry:

She came from Providence, the one in Rhode Island
where the old world shadows hang heavy in the air.
She packed her hopes and dreams like a refugee,
just as her father came across the sea.


Some rich man came and raped the land, nobody caught 'em,
put up a bunch of ugly boxes and, Jesus, people bought 'em.
And they called it paradise, the place to be,
they watched the hazy sun sinking in the sea.

You can leave it all behind and sail to Lahaina
just like the missionaries did so many years ago.
They even brought a neon sign 'Jesus is Coming',
brought the white man's burden down, brought the white man's reign.

Who will provide the grand design, what is yours and what is mine?
'Cause there is no more new frontier, we have got to make it here.
We satisfy our endless needs and justify our bloody deeds
in the name of destiny and in the name of God.

And you can see them there on Sunday morning
stand up and sing about what it's like up there.
They called it paradise, I don't know why.
You call some place paradise - kiss it goodbye.

Monday, March 28, 2005

I LOVE painting!!!!!!!!

I moved into my current apartment last July. Until this past weekend, I tolerated the floor-to-ceiling beige grossness of every room because I was afraid to paint. There. I’ve said it. Never having painted before, and having some balance/coordination issues because of a neuromuscular condition, I never thought that I would be able to paint without injuring myself horribly or spilling an entire can of paint on the floor. Those fears could still come true, of course, but this weekend I took a chance and decided to at least try. I painted for two days (unless you count several trips to two different hardware stores and a couple of hours doing something for work), and I am thrilled with the results!!!

I started off in my spare bedroom, which was a really wise move because I made lots of mistakes, but I won’t have to see them very often. One of the best tricks I learned was since I tend to be a bit wild with a brush when I’m edging a wall, for the ceiling in particular it’s best if I put two strips of wide paint tape to ensure that I don’t dot the ceiling with the wall colour (because I really don’t want to paint the ceiling). I tried two-toning the room, but it didn’t work out. The Stratton Blue was a sentimental choice because I have an aunt whose married name is Stratton, but the colour was too dark, so I ended up with a single colour throughout the room (excepting trim and *most* of the ceiling) – Wythe Blue, a blue with hints of grey and green, from Benjamin Moore’s historical colour collection.

Then I had a good start yesterday on my living room and hallway. There the colour is Beacon Hill Damask, a very fresh and vibrant greenish-yellow. It too is from Benjamin Moore’s historical colour collection. The colour is gorgeous!!!

I have to admit I’m on pain meds this morning to cope with the sore muscles and knees, but I really enjoyed this past weekend. I loved making something beautiful, but I also enjoyed the physicality of the activity (it’s a great all-body workout!) and it made me realize how much I miss being physically active. At the same time, it was also somewhat meditative. I didn’t play the radio or any music – I just enjoyed the quiet and the solitude.

So the plans for next weekend are to finish the living room and to paint my bedroom. I can’t wait!!!

Sunday, March 20, 2005

My birthday wishes

Yes, it's my birthday again tomorrow, and I'm not ashamed to say that I'll be 35 years old! (I really don't get the whole youth-worship of our culture; my adolescence and early twenties were tortured, and every year gets better and I become more and more a person I like and respect. I would never go back!!!)

There are, however, things I still would like to do better, and these are my wishes for this birthday and the upcoming year:

  • that I would be able to balance my responsible, sensible side with the determination to grab life with both hands and to make the most of every day
  • that I would find joy and beauty even in everyday things
  • that I would have the strength and resources to pursue my lifelong dreams (fluency in other languages, travel, helping others, writing)
There are lots of other things that I'm sure I could wish for, but these are what are on my heart tonight.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Of role models and book recommendations

I don't know about any of you, but I am often hungry for role models –
people (especially women) I can look to and want to emulate. Don't
get me wrong – I don't think there's a shortage of highly accomplished
people with tremendous talent out there – it's just hard to know about
them sometimes.

I've been lucky enough to find a couple of books lately that have
contributed to filling the gap. The first one is "French Women Don't
Get Fat" by Mireille Guiliano. Essentially the book is a description
of a lifestyle in which moderate eating and exercise is balanced by
pleasure and enjoyment. But more than that, Guiliano is the CEO of
the American subsidiary of Veuve Clicquot (the maker of the classic
French champagne), and therefore a successful businesswoman and a
model of elegance, discretion, joie de vivre, and wisdom. I enjoyed
every page of this book.

The current book I'm reading is "Leap of Faith" by Queen Noor. Born
Lisa Halaby in Washington, D.C. in 1951 (I think), she graduated from
the first co-ed class at Princeton with a degree in architecture and
urban planning (a dummy this woman is NOT … LOL). She worked in
various countries overseas, and in Jordan happened to be introduced to
its widowed King Hussein. They ended up falling in love despite the
16-year age difference (she was 26, he was 42) and the pressures of
the king's responsibilities. She took on the Arabic name "Noor" and
came to play an important supporting role to her husband in trying to
improve the quality of life of Jordanian citizens. The book also
details Hussein's tireless efforts to bring peace to the Middle East:

"It is as difficult to comprehend now as it was then the almost
unbelievable disappointment and betrayal Hussein had suffered. But he
never let go of his fundamental optimism, his faith in people, and his
belief that by giving the best of himself he could bring out the best
in anyone or any situation. He always assumed he was negotiating with
men of goodwill and that somehow, if he worked at it hard enough, he
would be able to achieve peace and reconciliation. In this quest he
was often beset by adversaries on every side. But he never, ever
stopped trying."

Is that inspiring or what???

The king is portrayed as a warm, noble, exciting person to be around,
and although the author doesn't brag about her own role in Jordan and
the world, she does describe the incredible and varied work she shared
with other talented and service-minded individuals, such as
encouraging traditional Jordanian handicrafts as a source of income
for the poor, pushing for better health care for the children of
Jordan, working to protect the environment, making policy speeches
around the world to speak for Jordan on the issues of the Middle East,
and establishing a highly successful annual arts festival in Jordan to
attract artists and tourists from around the world. Oh yes, and I
think she had six children, besides raising her husbands' three
children by his late wife! Yes, she had help (e.g., maids, nannies,
assistants, etc.), but it's still amazing.

I highly recommend both books to be the source of anyone's
inspiration. :)

Monday, March 14, 2005

Stuck in Paint Chip Purgatory!!!

Well, I've been meaning to paint my apartment since December. I still haven't - I keep looking at paint chips, thinking "That isn't quite right," then going to look at fabrics to see if that would make things easier (it didn't - I have expensive tastes in fabric, apparently), then yesterday got more paint chips ...

I had thought that I would like my living room to be a deep but passionate red colour. I have a lot of birch/pine furniture that I thought would be a nice contrast. Also, I wanted the focal point of the room to be a copy of the vintage "L'Instant Taittinger" poster - a very glamourous advertisement in which a tall glass of champagne is superimposed over an image of Grace Kelly in a black strapless tulip dress. I wanted it to be energizing and inspiring. But yesterday I began to think the red walls would be really annoying if I were stressed. So back to the drawing board ... Maybe I'll actually have to get one of those "colour consultants" in ... LOL

Can anyone out there relate? :)