Daily Prompt: Grit 


By understanding the enemy and yourself, you can engage in a hundred battles without ever being in danger.”   Sun Zi 孙子

This is good advice not only for those who have enemies but also those who battle challenges, temptations. Some of us don’t have enemies, but on a daily basis we are confronted with situations that test the firmness of our character, our grit.

As important as knowing what we are up against is knowing what we are and what we are not capable of doing. We need an honest assessment of ourselves and work from there. If we truly understand who or what we are up against, and we truly understand our strengths and weaknesses, we can be confident of not being defeated.

You can play with fire with the confidence that you won’t get burned. 😁
T.
(I’ve been rereading Sun Zi’s Art of War. It’s always an interesting read.)

“Too much love will kill you” 

The title of this post is in quotation marks because it’s a reference to Queen’s song of the same title.  I was reminded of this song after I finished reading Balzac’s Father Goriot, which is such a tragic novel about a man who had spoiled his beautiful daughters, sacrificed himself for them but whom he didn’t get to even see before he died.

M. Goriot’s mistake was loving his daughters too much that he forgot to teach them what they needed to learn to be able to live independently. Perhaps his spoiling them was his way of making himself feel needed by his children for the rest of his life. And that he surely got from them — they needed and got his money until he was left with nothing except for the rags he was wearing.

One of his daughter’s, Anastasie, also made the same mistake in loving a man (not her husband) who made her happy but who was only using her to support his gambling. She gave up everything — husband, children, father, her reputation for this lover who only loved her for her money.

In a lecture by the neuroscientist, Vilayanur Ramachandran, he talks about a hypothetical situation where he, in his capacity as a neuroscientist, shows a woman the brain scan of a man who is supposed to be in love with her and which parts of the brain are activated. The woman says, “My God! Is that all? It’s all a bunch of chemicals?” Ramanchadran advises the young man to say, “My dear, this proves it’s all real. I really am in love with you. I’m not faking it….” 

Now that we know that “love” is all a bunch of chemicals, we ought to be more careful about how it controls us.

If we are aware of how our bodies are reacting to the presence of another person, and we think it is “love,” we ought to ask ourselves if this “love” is right or wrong for us and the person we “love.” If it’s only “good” for our bodies, I don’t think it’s wise to simply give in. (My friend would say, “Jeez, just don’t think!” But I say, YOU HAVE TO THINK!) 

Be it romantic love or fraternal love or paternal love, our actions should be guided by reason not just by what our bodies tell us. I know sometimes it’s easier said than done, but at least we can try.

Don’t let love kill you.😇
T. 💕

Unhappy? 


Happiness may be momentary, but then so is unhappiness. One can’t be happy every second. It’s just not possible. I’m sure even the happiest person in this world has had his/her share of heartaches.  And one can’t possibly be unhappy every second. Even the most depressed person can find something to smile about, no matter how fleeting that moment may be.

I’ve been reading Balzac’s Father Goriot, and in this novel the titular character, M. Goriot devotes his life to making his two beautiful daughters happy even if they do not really care about him. His young neighbor, Eugene, asks him why he does everything for his daughters and even live so poorly when his daughters live such extravagant lives in their luxurious homes. M. Goriot replies, “Some day you will find out that there is far more happiness in another’s happiness than in your own.”

When we truly love someone — our spouses, children, siblings, parents, friends — it makes us happy to see them happy especially if we are responsible for that happiness. It does not even matter if they consciously do something to make us happy or not, just seeing the happiness reflected in their eyes is enough.

And this is proven to me every time my son laughs or smiles at something I say or do. That look on his face and the sound of his laughter give me joy that last as long as I can recall them.

It is easy to be happy: make someone happy. 💕

Have a lovely week!

T.

Thoughts on Passions, Boredom, and Kindness from Gogol’s “Dead Souls” 


It took me a while to finish reading Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls. I have to be honest and say, I did not enjoy reading it as much as I did Dostoevsky’s novels. This is bias on my part, perhaps, because I am a Dostoevsky fan. It was an almost an effort reading this novel to the end.

Still I am glad I finished reading it even though the novel itself ends in mid-sentence.

Here I would like to share some of the lines that I highlighted and why they struck me.

“For human passions are as numberless as is the sand of the seashore, and go on to become his most insistent of masters. Happy, therefore, the man who may choose from among the gamut of human passions one which is noble!” 

The mistake of Paul Ivanovitch Chichikov, the main character, is choosing the ignoble passion of greed, of wanting much more than what he has, and doing everything he can, even if it is wrong, just to get ahead.

Yes, it is human nature to desire, but not everything we desire can be ours. This is the reason it is most often not a good idea to just  do “whatever makes you happy.” If every single one of us just does whatever makes us happy, will we all be happy? Someone is bound to cry.

This is not to say that one cannot be happy without consequently hurting other people. Rather, there are many things that can make one happy that won’t hurt others at all, but there are a few things that will surely hurt the others that one cares about if one selfishly follows the desires of one’s heart. I think every human being has been through this kind of dilemma.

“Weariness of everything is a modern invention. Once upon a time one never heard of it.”

Platon Mikhalitch is a young and rich landowner who is weary of life. He finds life and work boring. He visits his neighbor, Peter Petrovich Pietukh, whom he finds annoying because the latter is always cheerful thinking of what to eat next, while he, Platon, is always gloomy.

I can understand weariness of life, and if I have a choice between a long or short life, I’d choose the latter (just until my son can live on his own). However as I still have life and the ability to move, I can think of so many things to do. The problem is not having enough time to do all the things I want to do. So I do not understand boredom when I am doing something.

Maybe it’s because people are made to think that their work has to be fun or exciting or interesting that has caused them to get bored with their jobs. WORK is work. In the past, people worked the land to put food on the table. I don’t think they considered whether it was fun to do or not. They just did it.

Now people don’t have to work so hard to put food on the table, and they get bored. Easily.

So I agree with the author: Weariness of everything is a modern invention. 

“Therefore, if it really be that you have no genuine love for doing good, do good by FORCING yourself to do so. Thus you will benefit yourself even more than you will benefit him for whose sake the act is performed.” 

Murazov spoke these words to Chichikov after the latter confessed to his lack of real love for what is good and only wants acquisition of property.

Murazov is a wise man. He knows how habits are formed. Even doing good deeds can be made into a habit. In the same way, forcing ourselves to be kind to people we don’t particularly like will benefit us even more than it will benefit them. How?

Eventually we will forget why we didn’t like them in the first place. And if we do not dislike anyone, then our minds are more at peace. Nobody’s living rent-free in our heads. (The irony is the more we dislike someone, the more often we think about them. And nothing is more annoying!)

*****

Published in 1842, Dead Souls is supposedly “widely regarded as an exemplar of 19th-century Russian literature.” But for some reason, I do not find it as interesting, as thought-provoking or as moving as The Brothers Karamazov or The Idiot or Crime and Punishment. Dostoevsky’s novels, their characters and their stories are somehow more memorable. But as I’ve spent time on it, I made sure I learned something.

Have a peaceful week! 💕

 

T.

Thoughts after Reading Gogol’s The Overcoat 

I’m not entirely sure if it’s mere coincidence that last night I read Nikolai Gogol’s The Overcoat , and this afternoon, I watched the second episode of The Young Pope where Jude Law’s Pope Pius XIII spoke to the faithful for the first time, and he said something like we have to be closer to God than to each other, that he will never be closer to the people than he is to God because we are all alone before God. 

Akakievitch’s death was truly tragic, just as tragic as his life. Tragic to the reader, anyway. If he existed in our times, he would probably be diagnosed as being on the spectrum and would get some help. But in the story, in his adult life, no one cared about him. 

The quote I pasted on the photo reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend a few years back. I told him how the sight of so many people who came to my father’s funeral made me think there would be very few people who would come to my own funeral because as I grow older I’ve become less sociable, less friendly. Especially now that I’ve been away from home for 14 years, and most of my friends and former students have left the city or the country, and I don’t visit friends or relatives whenever I go home; I don’t attend family (clan) reunions….

At my mother’s funeral last year, I was moved by the number of people who came to condole  with us. A lot of them I’ve never even seen before — my sisters’ co-workers and friends, my mother’s former co-workers and students, my father’s former co-workers. It was comforting to see so many people cared about my family enough to come to my mother’s  funeral. My parents were luckier than Akakievitch. 

Now and then I would remind my husband not to die ahead of me, or I would never forgive him. We often laugh when I start talking about this, but we both know I am serious. No way he’s dying before me. Good thing is we agree this is a good idea. 

Having said that, I’ve decided to try to be a little more sociable again. Not because I want people to remember me, but because I want my husband and my son to find comfort in the thought that they’re not alone, that there are people who care enough to come to my funeral. 

In today’s society where fake online friendships are common, will people care if one day you just disappear? Or will you be like Akakiy Akakievitch whose death mattered to no one? 

On Kafka’s The Trial

Franz Kafka became one of my favorite authors after I read The Metamorphosis. The two stories In the Penal Colony and The Hunger Artist” were just as interesting to me. More than a couple of times in the past years I tried to read The Trial, but I couldn’t finish reading it. Until two days ago, that is. 

After reading the last few sentences of this novel, (even though I hate to admit that this came out of my mouth,  but it really did) I went, “WTF?” And to me, that’s what I am supposed to take away from the novel — that it was simply absurd. That life is absurd. 

The only way I can explain what this novel seemed to me like is: Imagine you are dreaming, and in your dream you are the same YOU in your waking life; and even though everything and everyone else around you is acting strange, you react in the same way you would in your reality. 

The whole time I was reading, I kept asking the questions, “What was his crime? What did he do? Why weren’t they telling him? Why didn’t he insist on being clearly told what his crime was?” 

Reading this novel gave me the same kind of feeling (though not literally) that the main character, Josef K., had when he went to the court offices for the first time: “It was as if he was suffering sea-sickness.” The novel just kept getting stranger and stranger as I read. It was not like this with The Metamorphosis where I was prepared for the strangeness because right at the beginning, I knew it would be strange because — who wakes up and finds himself transformed into a giant insect? 

This novel might not have made me question and ponder on things like Dostoevsky’s novels have, but  it’s left me with a very strong feeling that life can truly seem absurd, surreal, that if we look closely into our day-to-day life, we would find a lot of absurdities. 

 ————- 

My weekend starts on a Thursday evening, so…I hope you have a not-so-absurd weekend. 🙂 

T. 

On Ideal/Real Men as Heroes 

      Two incidents brought this blog topic to mind. The first was my friend laughing at me for always, in our conversations, referencing Jack Bauer of “24” (portrayed by Kieffer Sutherland, who I still ADORE after all these years. He will always be Jack Bauer to me. Lol.) The second was reading the narrator’s description of Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch (good luck remembering the spelling!) in Dostoevsky’s The Possessed (The Devils). 
So why do I like Jack Bauer so much, even when he cold-bloodedly killed, assassinated, mutilated his enemies? Of course he is the “good guy” in the series. I know Jack Bauer is not a unique action “hero”; most action heroes are just like him: tough, cool, gentle with women and children, and merciless with bad people. (So I guess I like Jack Bauer because he’s Kieffer Sutherland!) 
Today I found the answer in Dostoevsky’s description of Nikolay:
 “Stavrogin would have shot his opponent in a duel, and would have faced a bear if necessary, and would have defended himself from a brigand in the forest as successfully and as fearlessly as L—n, but it would be without the slightest thrill of enjoyment, languidly, listlessly, even with ennui and entirely from unpleasant necessity. “
     “Without the slightest thrill of enjoyment…and entirely from unpleasant necessity. “
To me this is what distinguishes a real man from a child or a bully. When a real man defeats his enemy in a REAL fight, as in battle, (not in sports nor any game,) he does not gloat. He does not laugh. He does not feel proud at having killed another human being. Rather to him, it’s an “unpleasant necessity.”
There are bad people. “Bad” as society have judged them — the likes of former dictators who died a brutal death in the hands of their own people. The people’s anger is justified, but I find very disturbing that one can laugh about the very violent and public death of these people. If you find joy in killing a murderer or in watching his violent death, what makes you different from him?
Jack Bauer never smiled nor laughed after killing his enemies. You can say he’s a fictitious character. True. So is Nikolay. But why are these characters created? With fiction being based on reality, is it because there are REAL men like Jack Bauer and Nikolay? Or is it because these are what we hope our heroes should be?
Only a child or a bully (an adult with the mentality of a child) or a sick person, can smile or laugh at the death of his enemy.
Real men/women, tough men/women would not find the “slightest thrill of enjoyment” in defeating them.