Reading Seneca this morning, I had the feeling of being with a shrewd friend who was laughing at me! And I had to laugh along, because there was a lot of truth in what he said.
“We commonly give the impression that the reasons for our having gone into political retirement are our disgust with public life and our dissatisfaction with some uncongenial and unrewarding post. Yet every now and then ambition rears its head again in the retreat into which we were really driven by our apprehensions and our waning interest; for our ambition did not cease because it had been rooted out, but merely because it had tired–or become piqued, perhaps, at its lack of success.” Letter LVI, p. 111-112, in Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, ed. Robin Campbell (Penguin ed., 1969.
HA! just see all those books on my bibliography about Buddhism, alternative economies, compassion, and “letting go” etc., as contrasted with the exuberant posting when I made a sale on Etsy! We are all the same.
For West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 8/28/22, with answers below
A. Connections to European Literature
1. On Names. Like many English novelists, Sōseki Natsume chose funny and sometimes allegorical names for his fiction. Which one of the following is not a character in I Am a Cat?
a. Mr. Sneaze
c. Daft Bamboo
d. Utter Aimlessness
e. Opula Goldfield
f. Lancelot Yore
2. Social Commentary. Similar to Jonathan Swift and other satirists, Sōseki’s feline narrator casts a sardonic eye on his world. Which one of the following is not a target?
d. academics (grad students and professors)
e. the queen
f. Zen Buddhists
g. baseball players
3. Genre and structure. Sōseki’s knowledge of the early English novel allowed him a wealth of options for form, even if his work does not correspond to what is now the dominant paradigm (i.e. nineteenth-century works by Dickens, Tolstoy or Balzac). Which one of the following literary devices is not adopted in I Am a Cat?
a. a tight, chronological sequence of events from birth to adulthood
b. a loose, meandering sequence of observations on topical issues
c. an ironic first-person narrator who recounts dialogues overheard, apparently verbatim
d. a voyeuristic narrator who sees (and tells) things that others overlook or ignore
e. All of the above are used in I Am a Cat.
4. Maxims. As in many other works we’ve read, I Am a Cat is peppered with pithy quotes on life. Which one of the following is not from Sōseki’s novel?
a. “By the infinite flexibility of interpretation one can get away with anything.”
b. “The sad fact is that long-continued, pleasant normality becomes a bore.”
c. “A child needs an English nurse more than a mother.”
d. “One tends only to discover at the very last moment hidden defects in unexpected places.”
B. Japanese Particulars in I Am a Cat
5. Architecture and space. One of the most interesting insights for Western readers is how the traditional Japanese home would have been like to live in. Which one of the following does not characterize the master’s home in I Am a Cat?
a. thin, even translucent rice-paper walls
b. close proximity to neighboring homes
c. elaborate carving in the stone masonry
d. sliding doors
e. includes a little garden
6. Lost in Translation? Some of the humor of I Am a Cat is due to the feline narrator’s mastery of language, but some bits may strike us as odd! Which one of the following is not in I Am a Cat?
a. hecklers insult a person by calling him a “terra cotta badger”
b. a teacher is ridiculed for calling a beverage “Savage Tea”
c. a man is criticized for being “as light and flossy as goldfish food floating around on a pond”
d. an author is praised because he “also wrote importantly upon the seasoning of turnips”
e. All of the above are in I Am a Cat.
7. Food. Which one of the following products or dishes is not mentioned as a delicious treat?
a. snake rice
b. dried bonito
d. vermicelli noodles
C. The Feline Perspective
8. What does purring really mean, according to I Am a Cat?
a. the cat is laughing
b. the cat is anxious
c. the cat is seeking warmth
9. Wisdom to ponder. That cat espouses a Zen attitude which feels refreshing, all the while dishing out acerbic criticisms of men. Which one of these two quotes is spoken by the cat?
a. “Just as cowards grow aggressive under the spur of grog, so may students emboldened by mere numbers into stirring up a riot be regarded as having lost their senses by becoming intoxicated with people.”
b. “Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally, but women feel just as men feel.”
10. What is the cat’s name?
d. He has no name.
1. d. (In the Buddhist tale of the big stone Jizō, pp. 505—510 in the Tuttle edition, the fool named Daft Bamboo walks with “utter aimlessness”—a manner, not a person!)
3. a. or e.
4. c. (That quote is from Karolina Pavlova, A Double Life.)
7. c. (Goulash is described as a culinary favorite in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.)
8. a. When he’s purring, the cat is laughing (possibly at us).
9. a. (That quote, dear reader, is from Jane Eyre.)
Come back next month for our quiz on The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989).
Reading Julio Cortázar’s essay, “Only a Real Idiot” yesterday, I felt such a joyfully liberating surge of life energy, for he captured how I feel, on seeing a hummingbird scratch his neck with his tiny foot like a dog, or a cornflower in glorious blue abandon alongside gritty Rainier Avenue, or José González in concert. Or my classmates doing Aikido at sunset, a Chinese busker twanging strange melodies at Hing Hay Park, or Toots and the Maytalls when they were here, so long ago in the pre-pandemic past…
“I am entertained, deeply moved; the dialogues or the dancers’ motions seem like supernatural visions to me. I applaud wildly, and sometimes the tears well up in my eyes or I laugh until I have to pee; in any event, I am glad to be alive and to have had this opportunity to go to the theater or to the movies or to an exhibition, anywhere extraordinary people make or show things never before imagined, where they invent a place of revelation or communication, something that washes away the moments when nothing is happening, nothing but what always happens.” (“Only a Real Idiot” in Around the Day in Eighty Worlds, p. 62)
It’s all about enthusiasm.
My latest creation–to be unveiled next week at West Seattle’s Summerfest!–is the Luxury Troll Boudoir. (If ever there were a folly, this is it!)
— Set in a picturesque cigar box, each features a troll doll with its own quilt, snuggled into a little bed made of vintage satin — Comes with a booklet, Beautiful Thoughts for the Boudoir, with quotes and portraits by five inspiring French and American women writers — Suitable for children or nostalgia lovers of any age
For West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 6/26/22
With answers below
A. The Complicated Unfolding: Characters and Relationships.
1. Secrets revealed. People’s secrets come to light in many ways—gradual and abrupt—in the pages of Père Goriot. Which of the following is not a secret revealed?
a. Anastasie, Comtesse de Restaud, is actually Goriot’s eldest daughter.
b. Delphine, Baronne de Nucingen, is actually Goriot’s second daughter.
c. Monsieur Vautrin is actually a famous criminal nicknamed Trompe-la-mort or Death Dodger.
d. Mme Vauquer’s generosity actually does help the people of Borrioboola-Gha.
2. Mysteries remain. Despite the many dénouements in the second half, significant doubts nag at the reader. Which of the following enigmas is resolved?
a. Will Eugène de Rastignac remain loyal to his lady-love, Delphine de Nucingen?
b. Will Mme Vauquer find new boarders for her rooming house?
c. Will Vautrin escape from prison with the help of his confederates?
d. Will the Vicomtesse de Beauséant ever be seen in Paris again?
e. All of the above remain tinged by mystery, in one way or another.
B. Irony, heavy at times. The Balzacian narrator, and the novel’s characters, do not hesitate to pass judgment on people, often with funny/cringe-inducing results. Match the comment to the person being described. The characters: a. Père Goriot; b. Eugène de Rastignac ; c. Mme Vauquer ; d. Mlle Victorine Taillefer
3. “As happens with great souls, he wanted nothing he had not deserved.”
4. “Like all narrow-minded people, X habitually looked no farther than the sequence taken by events, without analyzing their causes. She liked to blame others for her own mistakes.”
5. “X blended in with the general atmosphere of wretchedness… She resembled a shrub whose leaves have yellowed from being freshly planted in the wrong sort of soil.”
6. “There was no more room for doubt. X was an old rake … the disgusting color of his hair was the result of his excesses and the drugs he took in order to continue them.”
C. 7. Education.Père Goriot, like David Copperfield, is considered a Bildungsroman or novel of education. Which one of the following precepts does the hero Eugène not learn in the course of his time in Paris?
a. “Believe me, young man, practice shooting. … It’s no good being honest.”
b. “Strike without pity and people will fear you.”
c. “Take care how you cut yourself. It is more dangerous than you think in this country.”
d. “If you want to succeed, start by not showing your feelings so plainly.”
e. “There are only two options open: dumb obedience or revolt.”
8. Which one of the following attributes is not mentioned to explain Eugène’s popularity among ladies?
a. his expressions of undying loyalty
b. his studiousness and work ethic
c. his southern impetuosity
d. his good looks
9. Marriage in Paris: a special kind of hell. Circle the quote that is not by Balzac.
a. “Poor old thing, I suppose she likes him, but, I must say, if he was one’s dog one would have him put down.”
b. “Young men from the provinces know nothing of the pleasures of a triangular relationship.”
c. “Our marriages have become a mere farce.”
d. “Chains of gold are the heaviest to bear.”
10. Money worries. There is one place in Père Goriot where several people go in secret, to solve worries about money. What place is called “that depressing and discreet friend of the young”?
a. a gambling den
b. a pawn shop
c. a brothel
11. Although Père Goriot seems to act in mysterious ways to his fellow boarders, Vautrin is the ultimate mystery in their midst. Which of the following does not designate his character?
a. “Let me tell you a secret: he doesn’t like women.”
b. “The very fact of his conviction brought him the most enormous honor among his own sort.”
c. “He has been fortunate enough to escape with his life from all the extremely risky exploits he has carried out.”
d. “that great lump of an Alsatian? / He is quite capable of absconding with all the capital and leaving us behind, the scoundrel!”
c. (That quote is from Bram Stoker, Dracula.)
a. (That quote is from The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford.)
d. (That quote describes the Baron de Nucingen, Delphine’s husband.)
Fantastic movie poster; love the symbols of greed and sorrow, rage and lust. That about sums up this cynical masterpiece… which can evoke tears or great merriment, depending on your mood when you read it.
P.S. For our next meeting, July 31, we’re going to read Jane Eyre!
One good thing about this pandemic is the creativity released around the world, when people have had time to do… well, whatever. People I know have been baking and planting gardens. Others have been making music. I’ve been sewing. But the best creation I’ve seen yet came to light today thanks to the New York Times article about the giant laughing kookaburra created in Brisbane, Australia by Dr. Farvardin Daliri.
I love Dr. Daliri’s thoughts on creativity: “My way of art is to worship what’s in front of me and appreciate with gratitude.” Noticing how people were growing depressed and anxious as the pandemic took hold, he says, “I think this is a time we need to reach out to each other. We may not meet all the requirements of people’s material happiness, but spiritually we can make them happy.” The article ends by noting that the kookaburra’s laugh is so infectious that it encourages real birds to join in. Check out the video; you will laugh too!
I’m smiling still… Thank you, Dr. Farvardin Daliri. You are making the world a better place, one smile at a time.
Today I went out into the “world” for the first time in eleven weeks, and it was strange. People seem tentative, spooked. “Convalescent” was the word that kept dogging my steps, even though I feel fine and just got a sterling bill of health. Everybody seems to be limping around, being super careful as if we’re emerging from a catastrophe or long illness, even if we’re perfectly healthy. Of course, some of them may actually be convalescing from an illness or COVID-19. But I think it’s deeper than that: our whole society is in mourning for what we’ve lost, and it will take some time for us to get our spring back.
Walking around on the breezy streets of the West Seattle Junction, which is usually jam-packed on such a beautiful day, most of the people wore masks. (My Honey Girl limited edition puppy logo mask was so comfortable!) It was weird at first to see those blank faces. Suddenly you cannot “read” people, and you realize how many psychological clues you miss, when a person’s mouth, lips, and nose are hidden from view. Seeing people with half-faces makes them look blank, or sad, or indifferent.
So here’s an idea for “the new normal”: smile. Just for the hell of it, smile. Make your eyes twinkle.
Smiles show, just from the eyes. I tested it with some people today and they said, “Yes, smiles show, even from under masks.” So smile! It shows! (and you don’t have to worry about the spinach between your teeth)
Rainy day, gloomy outlook, horrifically alarming news… on a day like today it is hard to find the energy for… well, anything. Luckily, we have Dorothy Parker to the rescue!
Here’s a droll little poem about why life is better than the alternative. Poet Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) ironically called it “Résumé”—which could mean two things: 1) a noun: a “résumé” is a summary of knowledge or experience, or 2) a verb in the past tense, “resumed” means kept going, recommenced, restarted (what we hope our “normal” pre-Covid 19 lives will do some day).
Whatever it means, let’s hope this poem gives you a smile too.
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
— Dorothy Parker, “Résumé” (1925) in The Best of Dorothy Parker. Illus. Helen Smithson. London: Folio Society, 1995.
I realized I was dazed when I looked at the paper this morning and saw a photo of actor Peter Gerety. My first thought was not, “Oh that’s interesting, he is in a new movie called Working Man.” No! My instinct was relief! I thought: “Oh good, I’m glad Grandpa is ok!”
[We’ve been watching Sneaky Pete these evenings, and last night’s episode captured Peter Gerety’s character, “Grandpa,” in the midst of a murder attempt gone bad. Made a zillion times funnier/sadder by the fact that he took out a hit on … himself.]
What does that tell you about the line between fiction and reality in our pandemic?! It’s fuzzy…like a lot of other stuff these days (our bathtub for one).
Dazzled, because the world where I live is so pretty! The mountains are out today, for sure—what you’re looking at are the Cascades, to the North behind the Space Needle and to the East above the stadium and Port of Seattle terminals. Enjoy the views! (and sorry about the terrible weather you are getting in the Midwest and East! ☹ )
Well, back to work now. Those masks are not going to sew themselves!
Hello, here I am again. After listening by chance to Kraftwerk’s song about the pocket calculator yesterday (on KEXP, naturally), I have been thinking about how we love numbers. LOVED THAT SONG! Loved how it mocks our imagined control over life, “I’m the Operator of my Pocket Calculator” (as if the numbers did not control us). And loved that the DJ played it on the request of a 5-year-old girl.
On April 6, I wrote to a friend: “I’ve now got 22 face mask orders which will keep me busy for weeks. I have been making all kinds of lists and counting things, to control life, I now realize, it’s sort of funny. I started going for long solitary morning walks a while back too, and have been doing that consistently: today will be Day Nine. Not to mention that we are soon to enter Week 4 of Shelter-in-Place, and I’m on Day 18 of my blog chronicle of the crisis. hahaha what funny creatures we are. Makes me think of a children’s book: Magnus Maximus, A Marvelous Measurer. Pretty cute book.”
On Numbers. PART TWO:
Today, May 7: Today’s list is up to order no. 82 and I’m working on no. 52. I’ve made 270 face masks since April 2. It is Day 40 of my walks. I no longer follow a plan, rather I’ve come to prefer Short, Steep, and Solitary. (and Sunny, if possible). Easy to find out here, since our house is on the tip of a small mountain range. We are in Week 8 of Shelter-in Place, and I’m on Day 49 of this blog chronicle of the COVID-19 crisis.
Blah blah blah, numbers can only do so much for the spirit. Maybe that’s why Kraftwerk made their funny pocket calculator song. Very cheerful, wryly funny and catchy! Those high-pitched beeps work like an anti-depressant.
I’m off down the hill now, to blow all those numbers out of my head. Freed of that burden, the empty head will listen instead of striving to achieve some distant goal; listen to all the sounds my world has to offer—doubtless some mechanized pounding of pile drivers or tooting boat horns coming across Elliott Bay, but also the sea lions’ barks, sea gull cries, and other “little melodies.”
Thank you Kraftwerk, for opening up the fabulous world of electronic music, and RIP Florian Schneider. Wish I’d known you earlier…but I’ll never forget your music.
If today’s newspaper were a living creature, it would come wrapped in a terrifying miasma of toxic effects. “Hot Zones Shift, Leaving No Hope for a Speedy End,” moans one headline, “Mystery Illness Linked to Virus Sickens Young,” screams another, and rounding out page one is an in-depth bleeding wound: “Trials of a Pennsylvania Street as Contagion and Fear Sped In.” Yet deep inside the guts of the paper, on page C5, is a heart beating wildly, “spellbound by desire and imagination.” Brought to us from an American poet named Wayne Koestenbaum, who I immediately imagined being friends with–he would be a prickly, intense, hilarious kind of friend, I think.
I seized upon the review of Wayne Koestenbaum’s new book, Figure It Out, the way a shipwreck victim might pull herself into a lifeboat, with relief and delight to be on familiar ground again, among the living. I love the whole article, and send out thanks to Parul Sehgal for such a fine interpretation of what must be a hard book to read. But it is the first paragraph that really got me:
“Here’s Something Strange: as babies learn to speak, they don’t merely imitate adult speech. They often produce phonemes—units of sound—not found in any known language: complex vowels, consonants and clicks. The linguist Roman Jakobson called this stage of language acquisition ‘tongue delirium’.”
TONGUE DELIRIUM! WHAT A DELIGHTFUL THOUGHT!
He goes on to discuss what that means when an adult tries to recapture it in writing, because that is Wayne Koestenbaum’s gift, noting Lewis Carroll among others.
“AHA,” I thought, thinking of my Alice in Wonderland quilts, and the happy moments spent with that book. There’s where we go next. So many choices!
There is the delightful song of the Mock Turtle, for example, which begins, “’Will you walk a little faster?’ said a whiting to a snail, / There’s a porpoise close behind us, and he’s treading on my tail. / See how eagerly the lobsters and the turtles all advance! / They are waiting on the shingle—will you come and join the dance? / Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?’”*
Or there is the impotent rage of the Red Queen, when Alice replies that she does not know the identity of the cards on the ground: “’How should I know?’ said Alice, surprised at her own courage. ‘It’s no business of mine.’ The Queen turned crimson with fury, and, after glaring at her for a moment like a wild beast, began screaming, ‘Off with her head! Off with—’ ‘Nonsense!’ said Alice, very loudly and decidedly, and the Queen was silent.”
The Mad Hatter’s song is very pleasant, sing it with me now: “’Twinkle, twinkle, little bat! / How I wonder what you’re at!’”
Let us all ponder deeply the Cheshire Cat. As Alice says, “I’ve often seen a cat without a grin, but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!’”
Of course, no foray into frivolous thoughts is complete without a few lines, at least from “Jabberwocky,” (from Through the Looking-Glass): “‘Twas brillig and the slithy toves / Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: / All mimsy were the borogroves, / And the mome raths outgrabe./ Beware the Jabberwocky, my son! / The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! / Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun / The frumious Bandersnatch!”
And lastly, “The Walrus and the Carpenter” must be read aloud RIGHT NOW!, so it can stick in your head all day long:
The Walrus and the Carpenter / Walked on a mile or so, / And when they rested on a rock / Conveniently low: / And all the little Oysters stood / And waited in a row. / “The time has come,” the Walrus said, / “To talk of many things: / Of shoes–and ships–and sealing wax–/ Of cabbages–and kings–/ And why the sea is boiling hot–/ And whether pigs have wings…”
(this right before he and the Carpenter ate them all with bread and butter. LOL)
I don’t know about you, but I feel refreshed! Those funny words created the effect of a “bain de mots” (word-bath, just as mingling with a group is known as prendre un bain de foule). A departure from grim headlines takes us back to a part of our brain that also needs companionship… the universe of unknown, imaginary, frivolous thoughts. Why not go there today?
(P.s. you just did).
Fyi, yesterday’s face masks:
*Lewis Carroll, song of the Mock Turtle, p. 102; the Queen’s rage, p. 82; the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, p. 73; the Cheshire Cat, p. 67; “Jabberwocky,” p. 148; “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” p. 185. From The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, ed. Martin Gardner, illus. John Tenniel (New York: W.W. Norton, 2000).