Monday, March 31, 2008

WoYoPracMo | My Own April Assignment

Monday is Power class with Teacher M. The focus of this evening is Balance. I growled -- literally -- I growled at the idea of a whole hour of balance poses.

Did I mention how much I detest balance poses?

Teacher M. led us through what she says is the Krishnamacharya Vinyasa -- where we flow from Virabhadrasana I to Virabhadrasana III to Virabhadrasana I to Parsvottanasana -- then back again. We had to do the sequences several times, and Teacher M. recommends increasing the number of sequence in our practice as we grow stronger. First you do it 5 times. Then 12. Then 16. It will increase our strength and flexibility, she assures us. Wonderful. :\

Sometimes I have to remind myself why I love Teacher M's Power classes -- especially when she punishes us with SO MANY Virabhadrasana III!

Honestly? When I look at Teacher M, I see a petite, soft-spoken blonde who also happens to be very strong and very flexible. When she stands in front of the class and speaks, her voice is always soft -- she never raises her voice. Yet her strength is evident, so much so I was surprised one day, to learn that I am actually taller than her. She feels taller, to me at least.

I guess I look to my teachers as the kind of yogini I want to become; I want to be strong yet flexible.

And I need to work on my Virabhadrasana III.

This brings me to the WoYoPracMo assignment for April. From Yogamum:

This month, pick a pose that is either difficult for you or that may bring feelings of aversion, helplessness or despair when you imagine including it in your practice.

As you reflect on the difficulty of this pose, ask yourself, what is the source of this difficulty? What actions are required to do this pose? Are there simpler poses that would allow you to work on theses actions? what poses will help the main pose?

Create a sequence of 6 poses that you believe will help you progress in your pose. Practice this sequence a minimum of 5 times a week.

I could work on my arm balances, but if I am to be honest with myself, my standing balance poses are the asanas that need the most work. Especially Virabhadrasana III.


But I also know that is not to be. At least, not yet. My surgery is slated for this Thursday -- unless something comes along and I have to postpone it. The doctor advises 4-6 weeks of leave from work and vigorous exercise. So, no yoga for 4-6 weeks after the surgery.

I have deferred my membership at the yoga studio for a month -- so for April, I will not be able to practice at the studio. This means I will be missing my usual Ashtanga and Power classes on the 1st and 2nd of April.

The office has found someone to go to Dubai. It should have been me, if not for the surgery; This stings. What is supposed to be a great opportunity -- lost, just like that. A part of me wonders why this affects me so much. I need to think more on this.

Since I can't do the WoYoPracMo assignment, I will set my own yoga assignment for April:

April shall be my month of solitary self-study.

For a start, I intend to re-read the Bhagavad Gita. I have wanted to re-read the text for a very long time, but never found the time. Let's see if I can add some Lama Surya Das along the way. (Jenclair's recent reading of Lama Surya Das reminds me it's time for a re-read) As a reader, my first spiritual teachers came to me through books. I would like to go back to my teachers this April. It's good to remind yourself of where you came from -- and find out if you are still the same confused young woman who first cried reading Thich Nhat Hanh. (Have I told this story? If not, it will be a tale for another day.)

I'm not sure how soon I can sit upright after the surgery -- but April will be an opportunity for more sitting meditation. Maybe I will write a bit more, either on this blog or just in my journal.

Our lives don't always turn out the way we want it to be. The most we can do is to maintain a sense of equanmity and an open mind -- and adapt accordingly.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Victim Treats His Mugger Right

I had to post this:

I just came across this amazing story about a New York social worker, Julio Diaz. He was mugged one night at knife-point. The young man asked for his wallet, he handed it over. But Diaz called him back and offered his coat. The mugger was stunned, and naturally suspicious. Diaz just replied, if the young man was willing to risk jail for a few dollars, he must need the money more than himself.

Diaz offered to buy his young mugger dinner, and they actually ended up having dinner in Diaz's favourite diner. The young man eventually returned Diaz his wallet -- and he surrendered his knife.

Says Diaz:

"I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It's as simple as it gets in this complicated world."

[Full story here]

Diaz's self-possession is what amazes me. If someone was pointing a knife at me, I would be too scared to see that the mugger was cold, and I certainly wasn't about to offer to buy him dinner.

This is true lovingkindness in action.

POETRY | Happiness Is Harder

To read a book of poetry
from back to front,
there is the cure for certain kinds of sadness.

A person has only to choose.
What doesn't matter; just that

This coffee. That dress.
"Here is the time I would like to arrive.
"Today, I will wash the windows."

Happiness is harder.

Consider the masters' description
of awakened existence, how seemingly simple:
Hungry, I eat; sleepy, I sleep.
Is this choosing completely, or not at all?

In either case, everything seems to conspire against it.

~ Jane Hirshfield

Final Three Books of The Chronicles of Prydain

I'm going to write about the final three books of The Prydain Chronicles in a single post, since I ran through all three books in the same weekend. It was a furious weekend, full of reading and sleeplessness.

The Castle of Llyr, Book III of The Chronicles of Prydain, opens with Princess Eilonwy, Daughter of Angharad, Daughter of Regat of the Royal House of Llyr, she of the red-gold hair and the too-sharp tongue, leaving Caer Dallben. Eilonwy is being sent to the Isle of Mona, where the King and Queen will teach her how to be a princess.

If you know what kind of girl of a girl Eilonwy is, you would snicker too.

Coll embraced Eilonwy. "When we see you again," he told her, "I doubt we shall recognize you. You shall be a fine Princess."

"I want to be recognized!" Eilonwy cried. "I want to be me!"

I smiled when I read this. It endears Eilonwy to me, because she wants nothing more than to be recognised for who she is.

Eilonwy is the last living successor to the magic of the House Of Llyr. The magic is available to Eilonwy on her reaching her womanhood. Achren desires the power for herself, and for this purpose, Eilonwy is kidnapped and brought to Caer Colur, the castle where the House of Llyr once stood.

Although her storyline is smaller than Taran, she too has to make a choice – and she chose well, proving she is capable of sacrifice. For one of the great themes of the Chronicles of Prydain is as Dallben said, "For each of us comes a time when we must be more than what we are." Though what this will be is often unknown to us until the time comes.

Taran Wanderer, Book IV continues the journey of Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper (can you tell how much I love saying this?) as he tries to find out more about himself. Specifically, he now knows he wishes to marry Eilonwy, and to do so, he needs to be worthy of a princess. He goes off to answer the question of his parentage – because a princess cannot marry a nobody, much less an Assistant Pig-Keeper.

Taran Wanderer is the dramatisation of something Taran said in The Castle of Llyr, about Prince Rhun: "For a man to be worthy of any rank, he must strive first to be a man." This is the tale of Taran striving to master himself, to learn to be a man.

This is actually my favourite book of the series. My earlier dissatisfaction with the stereotypical plot structure of the series has greatly dimished. Fantasy often works by means of metaphor, and Taran Wanderer works in a systematic structure of a Hero's Quest. Taran has several encounters. From each he learns something valuable. He then undergoes apprenticeship of various trades – from each he learns the wisdom of Life.

From the blacksmith – the life is a forge. "Metal's worthless till it's shaped and tempered!"

From the weaver – that we choose the pattern of our lives. If we do not like the pattern we have woven, we can either continue, or choose to start over. "Either finish a cloak you'll be ill-content to wear, or unravel it and start anew."

From the potter – he learns to put his heart into clay and gives shape to what lies within. "Craftsmanship isn't like water in an earthen pot, to be taken out by the dipperful until it's empty. No, the more drawn out the more remains. The heart renews itself, Wanderer, and skill grows all the better for it."

I appreciate wisdom that is pretty and lyrical – but just because a truth is delivered in a simple but familiar adage doesn't make it any less meaningful. Less glamorous, perhaps – but not necessarily less valuable.

By the end of Taran Wanderer, he returns to Caer Dallben – wiser and changed. He is now a man who can do anything he sets his mind to – and that is the truest mastery of self.

The High King, the final book in The Prydain Chronicles brings the battle against Arawn to the forth. There is betrayal, death, loss, sacrifice, grief – and courage. Finally, there is victory. The secret of Dallebn's Book of Three is also finally revealed, along with the secret of Taran's parentage.

But was the ending satisfying for me? There was closure, and it ended as one might suspect -- the fact is nothing was surprsing about the ending. I have enjoyed the reading of the series, but I know I wouldn't re-read it in any near future.

[The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer and The High King are readings for the Once Upon a Time II Challenge. Visit the Once Upon a Time II Review Site for more fantasy related review.]

"You develop a craft and a practice in order to make a vessel of yourself"

Taken from an interview with Jane Hirshfield:

For me, words were not about pleasing or entertaining others but about creating a place of refuge, where I could find something out about what it means to have and be a self. Scholars say that introspection only became truly possible with the development of writing. Writing allows the self to be set down and looked into, questioned, changed. On those unseen late night pages, I could experiment, I could fail, it didn't matter. There is an immense freedom to writing for oneself alone. This is something I still feel. I wrote most often in the middle of the night, after everybody else was asleep. It was a way to investigate and craft a self, a soul, undisturbed, unjudged.

The desire for Zen practice must have come from the same rootstock. It's not so much that poetry and zen influenced each other in my life. They were both ways to try to do the same thing, to know the world and my own experience, to feel and think more deeply, with greater saturation. You develop a craft and a practice in order to make a vessel of yourself that can take you where you want you want to go.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Changing My Avatar. Yet Again

As much as I adore the quirky Ellen Page, it's time for a change in avatar. So, dear friends, please feast your eyes on Lena Headey in white tank top. It will last as long as my whimsy.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

YOGA | A Little Stunned

Ashtanga tonight, we were supposed to do Marichyasana D. I usually have trouble with Marichyasana C and D, so I wasn't trying very hard to bind. Teacher CS came over. He surprised me when he said my name, and as he helped me bind for Marichyasana D, he told me -- I should try, because I just had a birthday.

I was stunned; he actually knows my name. And that I just had a birthday.

In the past few months that I have been showing up at CS's Ashtanga classes, I never gave him my name. Admittedly, I take the mat at the same place every time (I have my comfort zone), so he probably recognises me. He is definitely aware that I bind better on my right side. He knows I am open at the upper back -- so he can tell when I'm too relaxed in Prasarita Padottanasana C, and that in Parsvottanasana I can actually move my hands higher up my back in Namaste.

When we meet, I smile, or nod my head in greeting -- but I never actually introduced myself; I just prefer the comfort of anonymnity. That's one of my issues -- just one out of a lifetime's subscription.

I guess we don't always get to hide behind anonymnity, do we? I guess it's nice to have a teacher who bothered to learn my name.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Long Easter Weekend

I had a long weekend, with the Good Friday public holiday, and taking Monday off for my birthday. Thank you all for the birthday well-wishes.


Well, I managed to get a lot of reading done over the long weekend. I went on a fantasy binge and finished all 5 books of The Chronicles of Prydain. In fact, last night I was so caught with The High King, I stayed up till 5 am just to finish the book. More on it later -- but I suspect I'll just do a round-up of the final 3 books in one post. If I get around to writing it. It's so much easier to just spend the time reading other books, yes?

Technically, this means I have completed Quest the First for the Once Upon a Time II Challenge. Does it mean I will stop reading? Nope. I had some trouble deciding what to read next for the challenge earlier this afternoon. But I've since picked up The Riddle-Master's Game. This is an omnibus of 3 books, so it will take me a little longer.

Most of all, right before yoga class tonight, I finished reading George Simenon's The Strangers in the House. I liked it, although I wonder how many people who have read the book found it humorous. I still have 3 other Simenon titles check out from the library, so more on him later.

Also reading: Elizabeth Hardwick's Seduction and Betrayal (currently on the Ibsen essay) and Patrick O'Brian's Fortune of War. (I read Desolation Island last year. Trying to recall what happened in the last book.)


Power Yoga tonight was crazy. Teacher M. was in a good mood -- by good, I mean intense and Type-A.

Teacher M: "Shift your weight to your back leg. That's how you find the strength to stay in the pose for two more minutes."
[Scattered chuckles from the class]
Teacher M: "You think I'm joking?"
[Uneasy silence from the class]
Me: (Internally screaming) "But it's my birthday!"

Lots of Utkatasana (chair pose), Warrior I & Warrior II -- all held for loooooong stretches. My legs are quaking from holding the poses so long.

Even the music was funky. I dislike holding Warrior I for 5 minutes to Beyoncé. *GROWL*

Back to work tomorrow. Oh well.

32 Things I Have Learnt

For my 32th birthday, 32 things I have learnt :)

  1. Listen to your intuition, especially when it tells you to go get a second opinion.

  2. Just because you see someone everyday at work, doesn't mean you know a damn thing about them.

  3. If you find yourself surrounded by mean-spirited people, walk away before they change you -- even if this means you have to eat lunch alone.

  4. People who are cruel to animals tend to be unkind to human beings too. Stay away from them.

  5. It's okay to miss yoga practice/meditation once a while. It doesn't make you a bad person. Just make sure you show up the next day. And the day after that. You have your whole life to practice.

  6. Being able to do advance yoga poses doesn't make you a better person. It's your state of mind during the practice that really counts.

  7. People who are unhappy with their weight (and themselves) tend to think you're fat too.

  8. Yoga happens off the mat. It's everyday life.

  9. Pain is one of life's best teachers. Pay attention to where you're hurting.

  10. Life is too short for long, boring books. So it's okay to die without finishing Moby Dick.

  11. The best friends I have are the ones who cut me down to size when I take myself too seriously.

  12. Always ask yourself: What kind of a person do I want to be? Am I making the kind of decision that support this? It's a good way to keep yourself grounded.

  13. Everyone has something to teach you. Even the people you hate and don't respect. Especially the people you hate and don't respect.

  14. Don't lend money you are not prepared to give away.

  15. Sometimes you have to walk away from old friends to be the person you need to be.

  16. Relationships require effort. A great deal of it.

  17. Being vegetarian doesn't mean you have to eat crap.

  18. I am happier when I allow myself to be imperfect -- because then my weaknesses don't bother me as much.

  19. The most significant changes in life are subtle and requires continuous effort.

  20. You will be wrong sometimes.

  21. Discipline is knowing what is important to you, and working towards that.

  22. Life is not a contact sport.

  23. There is a difference between dignity and pride.

  24. No matter how much you love someone, you can't live their lives for them.

  25. Big boobs are overrated. They get in the way for a lot of things. And they hurt when you run without a bra.

  26. Laughter gets you through a lot of meanness in life.

  27. Not everything is an affront.Not every insult/challenge needs to be answered.

  28. A truly humble person cannot be humiliated. It's our pride that shames us.

  29. True compassionate listening is a very powerful thing.

  30. You can't stop other people from behave like assholes -- but you are totally responsible for yourself behaving like an asshole. So -- STOP.

  31. Forgiveness is possible, though forgiving yourself can be one of the hardest thing in the world.

  32. Not everything is about me. In spite of my best effort. :)

POETRY | In Blackwater Woods

By Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Some poems you come back to so very often, because they resonant with the core of your being. I have several Mary Oliver poems that I love, but "In Blackwater Woods" has these lines that I come back to, perhaps as a reminder of how I want to live my life:

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Jeanetter Winterson on the Easter Story

Jeanette Winterson's column in the UK Times -- on reading to feel, on the Easter story, Christianity, to "a time without boundaries":

The decision of Caiaphas to turn Jesus over to the Romans is a logical decision made for the collective good to avoid revolution in Jerusalem. Judas's decision to betray Jesus is similarly pragmatic as he watches the stable order of things being overturned. Peter's denial of Jesus is the confusion of a man afraid of the power of others, and its consequences for himself. Pontius Pilate's refusal of responsibility makes complete sense in a world of facts, and no sense in a world of feeling. Thomas, who doubts that Jesus is risen, demands to put his hand in the gaping wounds, he wants empirical proof of a miraculous event. The Disciples, who don't believe that Jesus has risen, make a judgment, as any of us might, on the available evidence - namely, people don't rise from the dead.

The Easter story does not make villains out of all of the people who one by one fail Jesus. Rather, these people make decisions that we can understand, decisions we would probably make ourselves, and that is why the story is so challenging and so powerful. It asks how we come to the decisions that we do, and why it is so hard for us to stand against the compelling pressure of everyday values, values that make sense in their own limited logical way, and yet which lack richness, compassion and faith in a different kind of power.

Full article here.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

In Anticipation of The Breeder's New Album

During a short period of my punk rock obsessed days, I thought of becoming a bass player like Kim Deal. (Thankfully, those days are over. Can you see me as an angsty bassist in a punk rock band, all in black, with shades and my big silver rings, dead-drunk, self-loathing, just waiting to die? No thanks.)

According to Kurt Cobain: if it wasn't for bands like the Pixies, there wouldn't be a Nirvana. The Pixies was the band that inspired the great bands of the 90s, and Kim Deal was responsible for the sweetest bass-lines on the Pixies albums. On top of that, she was also the back-up vocalist, which complimented Frank Black's wailing cries quite well. But nothing last forever, and the band spilt up (though they did a reunion tour a while back). Kim Deal went on to front The Breeders, which produced their platinum album, Last Splash and they also did a gig on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer soundtrack.

The Breeders has been out of commission for a while, but their new album, Mountain Battles, is scheduled for release this April.

In anticipation, I've pulled out The Breeder's monster hit single, "Cannonball" on Youtube.


Mountain Battles is out April 8, 2008.

The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander

The Black Cauldron, Book II of The Chronicles of Prydain.

Last we left Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper, he is back in Caer Dallben, having brought home Eilonwy, the spirited if somewhat dreamy and sea-princess, and Hen Wen, the oracular pig.

When The Black Cauldron begins, Taran, our beloved and dauntless Assistant Pig-Keeper is on his way to give Hen Wen a bath. He is set upon by an arrogant prince, Ellidyr, who despises Taran just for being a "pig-boy". Ellidyr seems to have a major chip on his shoulder, even as he shows he is capable of courage. From the start one can tell he will be a tragic character, one that falls because of hubris.

Later, Gwydion himself appears in Caer Dallen, with other warriors of renown; a council has been called at Caer Dallben: It seems Arawn the Death Lord has grown bold and has started to build his army of the "Cauldron-Born" -- merciless undead warriors risen by the twisted magic of the Black Cauldron. Where previously Arawn has only robbed barrows and the graves for the Cauldron-Born, there are rumours now that living men are kidnapped and murdered to add to the ranks of the Cauldron-Born. The mission of the council is to go into the heart of Annuvin -- Arawn's stronghold -- and steal the Black Cauldron.

The story now takes a darker turn, and because of the kind of girl that I am, I like it better. There is more at stake now that Arawn is on the move, and Taran and his companions come to learn real loss.

Loss and sacrifice are the theme in The Black Cauldron. Lloyd Alexander himself wrote in the Author's Notes: "Even in a fantasy realm, growing up is accomplished not without cost." Maturity means understanding that with our actions there will be a consequence. Taran and his companions will learn that the quest for The Black Cauldron exacts a heavy toll. Arawn himself paid a heavy price to acquire the Black Cauldron -- though exactly what he paid is left to the imagination.

The book ends on a good note. Taran is coming to his own as a hero-in-the-making -- he has shown he is willing to sacrifice his selfish glories for recovering the Black Cauldron for what needs to be done. As part of growing up, he has also begun to realise that the world of men is "filled with sorrow, with cruelty and treachery, with those who would destroy all around them."

The story reminds us, that what defines a hero and a man, is his choices and what he is willing to sacrifice. And how lucky is Taran, to have friends who would give up all that they have for him.

I like The Black Cauldron, because of what it has to say about sacrifice, about growing up, and about reserving judgement. Onward to Book III of The Chronicles of Prydain, to The Castle of Llyr!

[The Black Cauldron is my second book for the Once Upon a Time II. Visit the Once Upon a Time II Review Site for more fantasy related review.]

Friday, March 21, 2008

Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander

Today is Good Friday, and a public holiday. I've taken advantage of the day off to start on the first book of Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles: The Book of Three.

Lloyd Alexander wrote in his introduction to The Book of Three, that while some of the characters and plot lines may seem similar to Welsh mythology, it is only very loosely inspired by the Welsh tales.

As the story goes, we are introduced to Taran, a boy dubbed the "Assistant Pig-Keeper", who dreams of battles, honour and a life out of his home of Caer Dallben. He lives with Dallben, a three-hundred year old scholar and Coll -- both of whom are more than meets the eyes.

One day the bees and the chickens flown away. Recognising this as an ill omen, Dallen asks Taran to bring Hen Wen, the oracular pig to him. But Hen Wen runs away instead, and Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper, runs after him. Here his adventures begin. Along the way he meets Prince Gwydion, a son of Don and War Leader of High King Math -- a sort of a Strider figure in the story.

As it turns out, Arawn, the Death-Lord of dark magic and darker ambitions, is after Hen Wen also. His champion and War Leader is the Horned King, a terrible warrior who wears a mask of skull and an antlered helmet; the Horned King is assembling an army towards Caer Cadarn.

The premise of the story is familiar -- it is a young hero's quest, with Taran being helped by companions he picked up along the way. He also earns unexpected allies through his random acts of compassion. There is little that seems extraordinary about Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper, but he manages to come up as a hero at the end. As Dallben reminds him later, no great task is ever undertaken alone. The role Taran plays is not to be the sole hero of the mission, but the one who help hold it all together.

When asked what he wishes as his reward, all he asks for, is to be home at Caer Dallben. Yet when he is home, he finds his surroundings different, perhaps a little smaller, though he still loved his home. Dallben tells him then, that in fact, Taran has become larger after his experience.

I have to admit I'm not 100% taken with The Book of Three. I find the plot a little too abrupt -- things move too fast without sufficient build-up to the action. Taran stumbled upon Gwydion a little too conveniently -- even in The Lord of the Rings, there was a dramatic run-in with the Nazgûl before the hobbits are rescued by Strider.

It may be unfair to compare The Book of Three to Fellowship of the Ring -- but I am the kind of reader who would appreciate a richer fantasy world with deeper characters.

Recognising this, I am still going to continue with The Black Cauldron, the second book in The Chronicles of Prydain. Perhaps the tale will pick up as I progress down the series.

[The Book of Three is my first book for the Once Upon a Time II Challenge. Visit the Once Upon a Time II Review Site for more fantasy related review.]

MUSIC | The Kills

Band name: The Kills

Band members: Alison Mosshart/VV & Jamie Hince/Hotel

The Kills -- an alternative post-punk garage band of two -- VV and Hotel. There is a hipster-chic aesthetics to them, with the right touch of anti-social, anti-corporate antipathy -- mingled with pop-cult self-awareness. They abjure the conventional bass and drums for a synthesier drum machine. It lends an insistent syn-electronic loop to their rhythm, complemented by the raw, metallic sounds of Hotel's electric guitar.

They admit to the influence of Velvet Underground and the poetry of the Beats, which may explain why I like them.

A lot of bands say, "It's all about the music." A lot of these bands are also full of shit.

But The Kills are the geniune article.

Below is the title track from their earlier album, No Wow. The insistent gallop of the drum machine catches you on fire:

"U R A Fever", one of the singles from the third album by The Kills:

The video for "Cheap And Cheerful", directed by Sophie Muller, is the second single released from Midnight Bloom. The Andy Warhol garishness is more obvious in the MTV.

Midnight Boom
Release March 18, 2008

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Top 10 Scintillatingly Boring Books!

The Guardian features a list of Lee Rourke's Top 10 Books on Boredom. it's actually quite an interesting list -- with a few titles I had always wanted to check out:

Mercier and Camier by Samuel Beckett

Beckett's boredom was an ugly boredom. Endlessly repeated. And through this ugliness, this grotesque repetition a strange, eerie comedy was born. Anything written by Beckett is wholly spellbinding to read and this lesser read masterpiece perfectly sums up the continuing theme of boredom throughout his oeuvre. Mercier and Camier is a short novel of chance meetings and missings - a theme repeated by Beckett almost mercilessly. The banal that he unearths and reuses in his fictions gives it a sense of post-history, a sense that his voice is appearing from elsewhere, something other.

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa

For me this simply has to be the definitive book on boredom. I sometimes forget I am breathing when I find myself lost in passages from it, so engrossingly beautiful are they to read. Pessoa realised that beauty can be found in the everyday, the non-spaces of work and the naked moments we spend sitting in cafés looking out onto the street at passers-by. Those perfectly empty moments when we find ourselves waiting for absolutely nothing, until it's time to walk back to work or back to our homes for the evening. Pessoa's entire philosophical study of boredom is possibly the greatest poem ever written.

Hunger by Knut Hamsun

Hunger was first published in 1890 yet it could have been written yesterday so fresh and seductive is its voice. It is the story of a haughty, misanthropic writer who spends his days wandering the streets of his city looking for food, avoiding policemen and stalking women, or up in his decrepit room writing by candlelight in the vain hope that what he writes will one day make him rich and famous convinced as he is by his own genius. Contained within the pages of this intense first-person narrative are not only - arguably - the first germinations of Modernism, but some of the most startling passages on boredom I have ever read too.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Pratchett's Speech

Nymeth just gave me the link to Terry Pratchett's speech on Alzheimer's.

You have to read it. It makes you love and admire this man (even more).

Friday, March 14, 2008

MEME | The Five Kind thing Meme

Stefanie tagged me for a meme. It's actually a good question to ask myself -- have I done enough kind things for myself and those around me?

The Five Kind Things meme:

  1. List five kind things you do for yourself.
  2. List five kind things you do for your closest friend, partner or child.
  3. List five kind things you have done for a stranger.
  4. Have fun!
  5. Tag five people.

List five kind things you do for yourself.

  1. Forgive myself for my mistakes. This is one of the most important steps I had to learn to be happy. I am a highly critical person, and my expectation from myself and others is high. Learning to allow myself to make the occasional mistakes helped me gain perspective. What I also learned from this is that someone who is willing to forgive herself will find it easier to forgive others.
  2. Signing up for the membership at my yoga studio. My 2-year contract at the yoga studio is expensive, and there are some things with the administration that could be improved. But it allows me to learn from some very experienced and inspiring teachers. It has also helped me build up a regular practice.
  3. Taking leave from work. When I first started working, I was the kind of employee that did not take leave unless I had to. I brought work home and I would even come back to work on my off-days. In a nutshell -- I had no life. These days I allow myself "Mental Health Breaks" when things feel too stressful. And I travel. I am A LOT happier.
  4. Wear only shoes that I am comfortable in. I'm on my feet a lot, so footwear has to be comfortable. I have seen too many pairs of feet murdered by high heels for the sake of vanity. Why? If those shoes are not sensible, they are not touching my feet. I have Feet of Gold.
  5. Walking away from toxic/abusive relationships. Sometimes I need to remind myself that I deserve to be treated with respect and kindness -- and find the strength to talk away from emotionally draining relationships.

List five kind things you do for your closest friend(s). I'm going to answer for several of my closest friends. No names mentioned though.

  1. Pay attention to she has to say, especially when she is angry. I don't do it enough though. Sometimes my friend seems unreasonable, but somewhere in the "unreasonable" demands is a need or pain that has to be addressed. Often, I have to read between the lines to find out what she is really asking for.
  2. Watch her company's plays. When she was working for a theatre company, she was always asking her friends to come to their productions, and to bring friends. I don't always like the stuff I watch, and I am not trained in drama. But at least I know what she's talking about when she talks about her work -- which she is passionate about. And sometimes, I actually learn a few things.
  3. Telling her she has bad breath. I know this sounds horrible of me – but she needs to know. Usually people finds it embarrassing to say it directly. I try to break it to her as gently as possible, so that she can do something about it.
  4. Change seats during a film. This happened during a film where my friend and I bought tickets separately and we were sitting at different rows. Before the film started, she messaged me out of the blue and asked to change seats. As it turns out, her ex's girlfriend is seated near her, and that girlfriend was staring daggers at her. So we changed seats.
  5. Sticking around even when she is more than 45 minutes late. Actually, I have a few friends who are chronic late-comers, so this applies to more than one person. I am not a patient person, so I guess by making me friends with these late-comers, the universe is trying to teach me patience. The truth is: I will wait because I believe they are worth waiting for.

List five kind things you have done for a stranger.

  1. Help a child find his lost parents. Well, the child knows where he is. It's the parents who are clueless.
  2. Act as an impromptu "translator". Domestically, it's usually for an elderly person who might not know English. When I was in China and Tibet, I had the opportunity to serve as a translator for a number of English-speaking tourists who could not communicate with the locals.
  3. Brought someone to her job interview. I was on my way to meet some friends one day when I overheard a lady asking for directions from a group of young men, who gave her the wrong directions. I decided I couldn't just walk away, so I approached her and ended up bringing her personally to the place. Turns out she was going for a job interview. It would have been bad to be late.
  4. Talked someone into coming back for yoga class. There was a girl who attended a Hot Yoga class for the first time and she threw up. Later I happened to talk to her in the locker room and she told me she wasn't going to come back for yoga anymore, not when she felt so bad. We talked, and I shared with her my own early experiences with yoga, and how maybe she should try other classes to see what suits her better. It's been about a year and I still see her around the studio from time to time.
  5. Help them find a book. Technically, it's not part of my job description. But I feel good when someone manage to find the books they have been looking for. On another note, I don't like it when staff working in bookstores misinform their customers.

Okay, if you're interested, please go ahead.

Profile of Pratchett: A Man of "Blameless and Dull Virtue"

"I always feel aggrieved for him, because in a way his extraordinary popularity rather militates against him being seen as one of our greatest satirists and humorous writers in English today. To me he's right up there with Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh, and I'm slightly puzzled more people don't spot this." ~ Peter Florence, director of the Hay festival.

The Guardian ran a profile of Terry Pratchett. I laughed at this nugget of how Pratchett's autobiography would read:

His agent, Colin Smythe, said his star's autobiography would be stunningly tedious: "Got up, had breakfast, did some writing, had lunch, did some writing, did some gardening - he leads a life of blameless and dull virtue."

"Blameless and dull virtue." Yay.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Photos of Some of My Books

Imani mentioned there was a call for pictures of readers' NYRB books. I thought I just join in the fun.

I desperately need to invest in a proper camera, but until then, here is a preview of the NYRB Classics in my possession:

[Click on picture to enlarge -- but be warned: camera resolution is bad]

I might not have cutesy poppets, but I have Care Bear Babies! Hugs and Tugs! Everybody go "Awwwww....!"

List of NYRB behind Hugs and Tugs (from the top):

  1. A Time To Keep Silence by Patrick Leigh Fermor
  2. Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick
  3. The Pure and the Impure by Colette
  4. Sunflower by Gyula Krúdy
  5. Seduction and Betrayal by Elizabeth Hardwick
  6. Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig
  7. The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy
  8. Ice by Vladimir Sorokin

My personal collection of NYRB Classics is still modest, but trust me -- it will grow. I've simply been restricting the number of books I buy each month.

The forthcoming titles also look interesting. Some of the titles I have my eyes on:

  1. Belchamber by Howard Sturgis
  2. Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage by Tim Robinson
  3. Victorine by Maude Hutchins
  4. My Fantoms by Théophile Gautier
  5. Paperback of Grief Lessons -- 4 Euripides plays translated and with introductory essays by Anne Carson

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Kiwi Fruit

Thank you everyone who messaged me, emailed me, called me, came down 10 floors to speak to me (hi JoJo!) or left comments on this blog wishing me well. I am grateful for all the kindness.

Well, just an update -- the cyst has officially been dubbed: "The Kiwi Fruit".


I'm trying to make arrangement at work for my pending 4 weeks medical leave. When I explained to one of my vendors why I will be away for so long, she just blurted, "Wow. That's the size of a kiwi fruit!"

It fits, so it stuck.

As Missy remarked, "It helps put it in perspective." Can you guess what I will pick up from the supermarket this weekend? :)

Not that I'm not taking it seriously. I am. I can't stop thinking about the things I need to do. I was in Downward Dog this evening and suddenly I thought of the forms I will need for my meeting with the Medical Social Worker this Friday. My concentration is warped.

But one can only take any extreme emotion in drams. Eventually you either work out the negativity, or you end up depressed (and maybe even crazy). Missy asked if I was going to stop practicing yoga from now. Definitely not. Call me stubborn: but I intend to continue with my regular yoga practice, continue to go to work, continue to live my life just like before. I ain't dead -- so why should I stop practicing just because of a surgery? The point is to do what needs to be done to get it out of the way, then move on, move forward. It's not supposed to stop me from living.

Besides, I have tickets to Sondre Lerche and KT Tunstall concerts. I must attend.

I was reading Judith Thurman's Cleopatra Nose (a delicious volume of essays) while I was waiting at the Women's Clinic. In one of her essays, "Reader, I Married Him" (care to guess what was the subject of her essay?) --Thurman quoted this famous and delectable line from Jane Eyre :

"I must keep in good health, and not die."

I laughed and then I laughed somemore. That's a worthy goal to work for, don't you think?

Monday, March 10, 2008

WoYoPracMo | What Am I Supposed to Learn Here?

It's amazing how things can change within a day.

Yesterday, I was happy.

Yesterday, I was making plans to meet up with friends to celebrate my birthday (my birthday is in March). My manager just informed me I would be sent on an overseas business trip (I have been clamouring for more overseas assignments for a very long time. I really wanted this assignment)

Then this morning I had my ultrasound and they found a 7.3 cm (about 2.87 inches) wide dermoid cyst. (I can't get over the figure. Even my doctor was surprised) I suddenly found myself scheduling the surgery to remove the cyst, and looking through applications for government subsidies on my medical bills. The surgery will mean I have to forfeit the business trip.

Most of all, I will be on convalescence leave for at least 4 weeks after the surgery. That means I will not be able to practice yoga for at least a month. The incision will be right below the navel, so to allow the wound to heal, I will not be able to practice pranayama that would activate the belly. No core work, no deep abdomen breathing.

What am I going to do in April for yoga?

I'm trying to stay positive but I'm wondering why this has to happen? They say nothing happens without a reason, but why now? Why do I have to spend my birthday worrying about my surgery in April, and to have the overseas assignment I have been looking forward to snatched away like this. What am I supposed to learn here?

I am trying to keep myself grounded during Hotflow class tonight -- but it was difficult. I keep replaying "ovarian cancer" in my head -- even though it's NOT cancer. (Well, dermoid cysts are RARELY cancerous -- but they don't know for sure until they operate) Somehow the mind just fixates on the negative and it wouldn't stop. My balance poses are totally off tonight, and I feel sapped after the drama this morning at the Women's Clinic.

I know March is the month for "grounding" -- but I wasn't expecting the need for "grounding" to hit home so hard.

And what am I going to do in April when I can't move around after the surgery? This is going to be challenging.

What am I supposed to learn here?

I think I'm going to skip the 108 Sun Salutations for March mornings and work on my sitting meditation instead. I'll need that peace of mind right now.

But I'm still going to meet my friends to celebration my birthday this month. I'm still alive, so I am going to celebrate.

Results on My Check-Up

Right now I am angry -- because when I first started having mild pains in my lower abodmen, I went to my company's doctor. She sent me off without any ultrasound or any follow-up; said it was just -- one of those things that happen. F**K.

I didn't trust her, so I scheduled a check-up with ultrasound today. I have hoped it would be quick -- that I could just dive in and out before lunch and go for an afternoon yoga class. Nope. No such luck.

My paranoia was unfortunately proven correct: the ultrasound revealed a dermoid cyst about 7.3 cm (or about 2.87 inches). I spent several hours trying not to panic and trying to schedule a laparoscopy for the first week of April. What is scary is that there is a lot of unknown factors in the equation. And right now I am filling up the forms for my appointment with the Medical Social Worker for subsidy on my surgery. But as there was no referral from my company doctor, I suspect I might not qualify for the subsidy -- and that means some hefty bills.

What a way to spend my birthday, worrying about surgery.

But in a way, I am so glad I did not trust that company doctor. Otherwise, I would not have known about the cyst.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

FILM | Cédric Klapisch's Paris

Writer-Director Cédric Klapisch came to my attention with his film, The Spanish Apartment, which is a charming look at the lives of a group of international exchange students sharing an apartment in Barcelona. It was an exuberant comedy, one that celebrates youth and all its possibilities -- where everything is forgivable and you have to try everything at least once, because here and now you are young. The film was so successful that he later made a sequel, The Russian Dolls, with the same characters -- now in their thirties and having to deal with adult responsibilites that they are not prepared for. I saw Russian Dolls as part of my 30th birthday celebration, because it sounded so much like the story of my life: at that numerically significant age half-way between unbridled youth (my 20s and everything before that) and retirement (I'm guessing I'll retire around 60).

He is also responsible for discovering actor Romain Duris, the male lead in both Spanish Apartment and Russian Dolls, and who was also last seen in the The Beat That My Heart Skipped. Duris will star in Klapisch's new film, Paris. The picture was recently released in France and Belgium, and it also stars the delectable Juliette Binoche.

All this, while I was googling for Judith Thurman.

The narrative of Paris centers around the ailing Pierre (a gaunt Romain Duris) whose sister Elise (Juliette Binoche) moves to his flat with her kids while her brother waits for an available heart for transplant. It explores the lives of various Parisians, and offers much picturesque shots of the French city. Everything points to a pleasing, heart-warming film that make you wish you are in Paris right now, living the beautiful, romantic lives of these people. This is the power of the French: they are probably just as unhappy as everyone else, but they still manage to make us believe their quality of lives are better than our own.

I found the trailer for Paris, but I need help -- there's no subtitles and I don't understand French.

It looks good, doesn't it?

Rebecca Solnit's Acts of Hope

I was just sorting through the files on my laptop and I found this one article on Rebecca Solnit I had stored away a while back -- for re-reading.

Solnit is a writer-activists who has written several books, among them, Wanderlust: A History of Walking and River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West -- all of them worthy examination of culture and society. In between, Solnit also throws in some beautitful writings.

I am re-reading her essay, Acts of Hope, which was written back in 2003 in response to US bombing of Iraq. She reminds fellow activists not to lose hope -- because activism is a leap into the dark. The essay was later expanded into a book, Hope in the Dark, which took its title from a line written by Virginia Woolf during World War I: "The future is dark, which is on the whole, the best thing the future can be, I think." In Solnit's interpretation, it is the darkness of the womb, not the grave. From the dark comes wild possibilites for change:

Writers understand that action is seldom direct. You write your books. You scatter your seeds. Rats might eat them, or they might just rot. In California, some seeds lie dormant for decades because they only germinate after fire. Sharon Salzberg, in her book Faith, recounts how she put together a book of teachings by the Buddhist monk U Pandita and consigned the project to the "minor-good-deed category." Long afterward, she found out that when Burmese democracy movement's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was kept isolated under house arrest by that country's dictators, the book and its instructions in meditation "became her main source of spiritual support during those intensely difficult years." Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Walter Benjamin and Arthur Rimbaud, like Henry David Thoreau, achieved their greatest impact long after their deaths, long after weeds had grown over the graves of the bestsellers of their times. Gandhi's Thoreau-influenced nonviolence was as important in the American South as it was in India, and what transpired with Martin Luther King's sophisticated version of it has influenced civil disobedience movements around the world. Decades after their assassinations they are still with us.

Amanda Overmyer Performs I Hate Myself For Loving You

Amanda Overmyer is amongst the Top 8 Girl! Yes! And she does Joan Jett? I totally HEART you, Amanda.

Yes, I'm kind of embarrassed at my fan-girl behaviour. ;p

Friday, March 07, 2008

Watchmen Shots

Warner Bros just released some character shots from the film adaptation of the graphic novel, Watchmen. Click on the picture to enlarge.

The Comedian [Jeffrey Dean Morgan]:

Nite Owl [Patrick Wilson]:

Ozymandias [Mathew Goode]:

Rorschah [Jackie Earle Haley]

Silk Sceptre [Carla Gugino]:

Watchmen is scheduled for released March 6th, 2009.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

BtVS | What's Coming Up With the Buffy Comic?

I never thought I would read something like this from The New York Times: Bi-curious Buffy. [You need to log-in to NYT to read the article, I think]

But before fans start blogging frantically, they should know that Mr. Whedon is clear where this is headed. "We’re not going to make her gay, nor are we going to take the next 50 issues explaining that she’s not. She’s young and experimenting, and did I mention open-minded?"

I loved the Willow-Tara relationship even though some of my friends did not share my sentiments. I was also okay with killing off Tara as the plot-device to set off the Dark Willow season finale: The relationship between Willow and Tara has been sufficiently developed to make that credible. On top of that, Willow's unconscious dark side has always been something that has been hinted at (remember Doppelgangland? And that classic Willow line: "That's me as a vampire? I'm so evil. And skanky. And I think I'm kinda gay!" -- it was classic.) but never fully explored. (Plus I really liked the scene where Dark Willow siphoned the magic out of the spellbooks. The words just oozes up her face and her eyes just turns black)

Somebody help me.

But this is just pushing the envelope on using girl-on-girl action to spice up the storyline. Fine, I admit the sexual voltage between Buffy and Faith is enough to light up the whole of California for six months -- but who the heck is Satsu? A character is created out of the blue just to have Buffy trying out another bad relationship. Okay, fine -- Buffy has some dubious taste in romantic partners over the years -- and that sadomasochistic affair with Spike was just bleak.

But c'mon! What is this? Is this relationship going anywhere? It's just a ploy to use hot lesbian action to boost sales!

I need to point out I'm not against Bi-curious Buffy. A lot of straight girls DO experiment. (I'm just saying.) I am just not convinced Buffy would just jump into bed with any random Slayer Potential just because said-girl kissed Buffy. Has our Slayer learned nothing all these years?

Okay. I admit I'm partial to some Buffy/Faith action.


On another Buffy comic note, here's a sneak peek at the cover for #16, art by Jo Chen.

The other girl on the cover is Melaka Fray -- a Slayer in the future, a few centuries after Buffy's time. The comic Fray, was written by Joss Whedon himself and it is kick-ass on plot and characterisation. It even has a little plot revelation that further enrich the Slayer mythology. Go pick it up if you can.

Did I ever tell anyone I photo-copied a Melaka Fray sketch so that I can keep it in my file?

I Can't Help Myself

From The New Yorker

Yes. More farm animal humour.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

WoYoPracMo | Pranayama Workshop

I just came back from a 2 hour pranayama workshop, so I'm a little tired tonight.

The pranayama workshop was fun, even though it is all pretty abstract at the moment.

One a small note: during the kapalabhati breathing we were told to hold mula bandha and feel the prana moving up the spine to the top of the head. I think I actually felt some sensation moving up my head during the practice. Either I was imagining it, or else I have never paid enough attention to these sensations previously.

I will try to show up regularly for the pranayama classes during the weekend mornings. I wonder where will the pranayama practice take me?

So, what happened to my attempts to do 108 Sun Salutations? My glutes and my hamstrings now ache too many Sun Salutations. Tonight's pranayama workshop is a timely excuse to rest the muscles. I'll see: if the muscles still bother me tomorrow I'll work on something more gentle. I'll see how it goes.

I've just confirmed my appointment next Monday for my medical check-up. Ultrasound and a peek at other womanly parts. Maybe it's because I have a birthday looming near the horizon: a reminder that I'm not that young and immortal anymore.

Wish me well on the medical check-up. I'm suddenly a little afraid.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

WoYoPracMo | 108 Sun Salutations Madness

Okay, I'm still trying to figure out how to go about "grounding" my practice for WoYoPracMo: March. Not only am I an Aries sun sign, I also happens to be of a predominantly pitta-vata dosha. Grounding is almost against my nature.

But I'm still going to try: I've just signed up for a Pranayama Meditation workshop for coming Wednesday. It will be good to explore a very neglected aspect of my practice. Asanas without pranayama or meditations feels like just exercise, doesn't it?

But that said, this evening's Hotflow class was awesome! The teacher made us do 27 Sun Salutations and it felt great! Then she said, "Three more sets and we would have done 108 Sun Salutations. That's what you should be doing everyday."

She's joking -- or at least I assume she's joking. But the moment she said it, a lightbulb went off in my head that 108 daily Sun Salutations would be something to aim for. It is so insane it's just worth doing it. Do I really think I can do 108 Sun Salutation every day? Of course not! I have to work. But the point is just to try. So maybe one morning I'll do 27, the next morning I'll do 36, and then maybe only 12 the following morning because I'm late for work -- the point is just to try try try.

March afterall, is MY BIRTH MONTH! Anything is possible!

Hmmm -- This isn't really very "grounding", is it?

Sunday, March 02, 2008

QUIZ | What Punctuation Mark Are You?

You Are a Colon

You are very orderly and fact driven.

You aren't concerned much with theories or dreams... only what's true or untrue.

You are brilliant and incredibly learned. Anything you know is well researched.

You like to make lists and sort through things step by step. You aren't subject to whim or emotions.

Your friends see you as a constant source of knowledge and advice. (But they are a little sick of you being right all of the time!)

You excel in: Leadership positions

You get along best with: The Semi-Colon

Nope. Not totally true.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Marching With My Yogi Cow

Yogamum has just announced that the WoYoPracMo theme for March is "Grounding." I need to think a little bit more on this theme.

I love March. It is when we move from Pisces into Aries. The Aries is a fire sign, one defined by action and intensity. Their lives are often whirlwind of activities. They would benefit from meditation -- the art of action in stillness.

Aries are admirable for their drive and ambition. They are perfectionists -- and they can be impatient with those who do not live up to their high standards. For Aries is the lesson of forgiveness and letting go -- and standing still.

Yes, March is my birthday month (in case you haven't figured that out) Since the dharma and yoga entered my life, I have come to look forward to March with optimism. March is the month where I begin my life, and so it is a useful marker for some spiritual accounting. For the past few years, March is the time that I reflect on how I have lived the past year, and I set an intention for the rest of the year.

For the past few years, when I reflect on my life, I am able to say, "I am happy."

I am glad for being able to finally say that about myself.

I leave you with an image of a cow doing a firefly pose.

This picture, by the way, is currently the wallpaper on my computer at work.

Yes, it's that kind of day. Again.

PS: Anyone notice how this cow has both horns AND udders? Is it a hermaphrodite cow? I thought only bulls have horns. Anyone knows?

HERODOTUS | The River Nile and Snooze

Almasy's copy of Herodotus from the film 'The English Patient'

I would like to regal you with fascinating stories and insights from my recent reading of The Histories. But alas, Herodotus is talking about the Egyptians, and somewhat obsessed about how the Nile floods and other geographical bits. Pretty snooze-filled reading at the moment.

Can someone please start killing somebody NOW??!