Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Week in Seven Words #355

We leave the TV on in the other room and play boardgames to the background noise of dismal news.

Part of his job is to quell people's dread. Even when he's solemn, there's a gleam in his eye, reflecting a bright shore that he assures people he can see.

They ignore anything that reflects poorly on the politicians they support, while magnifying every pore and blemish in their opponents.

Sometimes a hot, unreasoning anger seizes them, and they look like they're about to rip each other apart. Then a switch flips, and they cheerfully subside and watch TV.

She considers the best color for her bedroom walls and skims through a book of soothing pinks - coral, rose, crepe, salmon.

The best colors emerge in the afternoon. Gold light on leaves and dusky red bricks. The soft blue of the sky calls to mind feathers and eggshells.

They're fooled by an excerpt that's taken out of context and given sinister meaning. It's something they saw in passing on the internet and absorbed without questioning.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Of Human Bondage: Explorations of Growth, Maturity, and Self-Destruction

Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham follows Philip Carey from when he becomes an orphan in childhood and begins to live with his aunt and uncle, who is a vicar.

Set in England (and sometimes France and Germany) in the late 19th century, the novel shows Carey attempting to make sense of the world by adopting different ideologies. First comes the religion of the boarding school he's sent to. Once he sheds most of those doctrines, he tries to become an artist in Paris and subscribe to various theories of art and life. It's only later, when he works to become a doctor (and backslides into near-fatal poverty along the way), that he begins to accept the mess of human life - the behaviors that are baffling and contradictory, the great muddle of people who are all just trying to live, and who can't all be captured in abstract theories. He does this with some humor and greater compassion.

I like how, even as he sheds different creeds or ideologies, he sometimes keeps their more beneficial lessons. How does he determine what's beneficial and what isn't? It isn't always conscious. He discovers answers through difficult experiences - like his poverty, and his self-destructive love for (or obsession with) a woman who repeatedly hurts and abandons him, and just seeing the cases he comes across in his medical studies and as a doctor. He also has a clubfoot and learns early on how people use it as an excuse to be cruel to him. (His clubfoot, however, isn't his major impediment; he has a tendency towards self-destruction that battles with his thirst for life.) Pushing through the great mess of the world, Carey sometimes finds people and activities that help give his life meaning. Some signs of his increased maturity are his capacity to live with uncertainty, to take pleasure in more straightforward and wholesome joys, and to accept human frailty and the fact that no, he'll never fully understand everything and that he'll keep making mistakes, though hopefully not the same kind of mistakes (with the same magnitude) as those of his younger years.

Does he give up some of his dreams at the end, or does he find other dreams and sources of happiness that are just as good, if not better? He finds a place in the world where he can do some good. Throughout the novel, Carey tried to find a place for himself in ideas or in people who share his ideas, but never really was at home anywhere. By the end of the book, he can make a home somewhere. He may always feel different from other people (as each individual differs from any other), but he can live among people with greater peace and a sense of having a shared lot in life.

Carey's struggles in the book, his attempts to make sense of life and his tendencies towards self-destruction, moved me.

(I read this novel for the Classics Club Challenge.)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Week in Seven Words #354

He's bored reading about U.S. labor laws from the early 20th century. Then he comes across a YouTube video about the labor conditions for smartphone manufacturing. He starts to pay more attention, make connections.

The fountain has three statues of women spinning in dance, hand-in-hand. It's ringed by flowers, and as the flowers draw bees, the fountain draws people to take photos, and to kneel by its side and run their fingers through the dark water.

The storm whips up dirt and litter. In the stinging rain, discarded cups whirl around. With clothes soaked, I wait under an awning with several others. The wind steers the rain to us.

A handful of hours made for a walk on wooded paths along pools and streams.

The park is a handful of benches and a bit of greenery in an alley. The bricks catch at the sunlight, and flies swarm in the moist shade.

A woman relaxes on a blanket with a dog tucked against the curve of her waist.

An insect bite crackling with pain.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Week in Seven Words #353

She wears a shapeless black dress. A shawl patterned with pomegranates covers her head and trails down her sides. She is standing still. For a few moments, I can't tell where she's facing.

Books they can't yet read are open on their laps, as they imitate the adults around them.

I reach a tipping point where the room gets too crowded. People are starting to edge into the aisle and block the exit. I slip by them and out to the sunlight and cool air.

A phone call that fills an hour and more, and makes me feel like I'm soaring.

Leaves suspended in late afternoon light, against windows that have a copper shine.

Where does your responsibility end and another person's responsibility begin? What are the best ways to map these boundaries fraught with guilt and anger?

The red chrysanthemums are the essence of red. They're strawberries and blood and fire engines.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Hannah Arendt Exploring Thinking and Moral Behavior

In her essay, “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” Hannah Arendt writes:
Clich├ęs, stock phrases, adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct have the socially recognized function of protecting us against reality, that is, against the claim on our thinking attention which all events and facts arouse by virtue of their existence.
She writes that while it’s not possible to always be “responsive to this claim,” there are some people who seem unaware of it.

Arendt’s focus is on people in authoritarian states who acquiesce to evil and participate in it willingly. She doesn’t focus on deliberate wickedness, like how a sociopath or hardened criminal would act. She examines ordinary people who - in better times, under better governments - would strike you as moral in their day-to-day conduct.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Week in Seven Words #352

For the first time in a while, I give her a kiss on the cheek. I try to pay more attention to her anecdotes.

Bags of clothing mushroom out of the donation bin.

Sunset spattering peach and gold on the river.

She builds a zip line for her dolls, just because. This is one of the pleasures of childhood, the project launched on a whim after you've finished your homework.

He's almost one. He's got a healthy baby face. As such, he needs to keep ducking away from people who screech Those cheeks! and dive in with their pincers.

She dozes off at the table and starts humming "Frosty the Snowman." When she wakes up, she asks where the music came from. A radio? No, it's not the right season for carols. Was it us, singing?

In a voice that bears a full freight of disappointment, he lists what he thinks is wrong with the world. The words are like stones thrown into my stomach.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Week in Seven Words #351

Heading outdoors at night, to cars making slow, uncertain turns and buses sighing against the curb. I'm at peace with the world for the moment.

The dish of eggplant parmigiana is about the size of a tire, and I'm too deep in good conversation to eat much of it.

A heavy meal mid-afternoon - soup, salad, potatoes, meat, as sunlight seeps onto the table like honey.

She doesn't hold a grudge, but welcomes everyone and gives hugs and kisses freely. Something in her remains relaxed in the face of how disappointing people can be.

In the upstairs room, most of the books are gone. In their place are pamphlets.

Some of the kids score goals or make clean passes that show they've been training. Other kids aren't as skilled, but at least seem to like playing. One boy has a hard time of it. He's kicked in the chest by an angry player from the other team (who gets booted out). Later in the game, the ball slams into his face. It's just not his day, but he stays in the game as long as he can.

A sunlit path, shrubs on one side, water on the other, and bicycles humming like wasps.