Share Your Thoughts Bloghop

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To celebrate the release of her book 18 Thoughts, the conclusion of the My So-Called Afterlife Trilogy, Jamie Ayres is hosting a bloghop where participants share up to 18 beliefs or thoughts by which they’ve lived their lives. You can get more details by clicking on the above button, which links to the explanatory post.

1. “All events are linked together in this best of all possible worlds.” Doctor Pangloss says this over and over again in Voltaire’s classic Candide, and it’s so true. So many little things have to happen in exactly the right way, at the right time, and come together in just the right way, in order for something to happen. It could be a momentous event, like meeting your soulmate or saving a life, or it could just be a little thing, like finding a lost wallet. Everything is beautifully interconnected.

2. “Ein od milvado.” Related to #1, this is a Hebrew phrase meaning “There is no one besides him [Hashem].” Only Hashem can help us, and is in control of the entire Universe. Sure, we should definitely be proactive in our own destiny, and not just passively sit around waiting for Hashem to do everything for us, but this phrase acknowledges Hashem is ultimately the one in charge. Everything is part of a Divine plan beyond our understanding.

3. Many paths to the same Divine. At the height of The Bhagavad Gita, Krishna reveals his true identity as Lord Vishnu to his best friend Arjuna. The vision is so overwhelming, Arjuna begs him to change back into the familiar form. Krishna explains he has many names and faces, but none of them are wrong, so long as the person has a pure, true, sincere, devout heart and soul. And since the Divine has so many names and faces, there are many paths to him/her.

4. “I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.” (Hermann Hesse) Also related to #1 and #2. We have the power to transform the past and the pain into something constructive in the present.

5. The Tao Te Ching. There are way too many lines burnt into my heart and soul to mention them all here! My translation is the classic Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English version from the Seventies, taken with permission from my parents’ shelves when I was sixteen. Lao-Tzu really spoke to the human condition, universal spiritual truths, and the dualities of life. He’s in the Top 5 of people I most want to have a dinner party with in the next life.

6. “Parvardigar,” Meher Baba’s Universal Prayer. As important as it is to have special prayers within your own faith tradition, there’s something just as special about having a universal prayer, with many names for the Divine, and expressing love, wonder, awe, reverence, and respect for such an awesome Divine.

I was spiritual long before I was religious, and that informs much of my personal approach to faith. I feel more comfortable adapting noncontradictory things from other faiths, and finding wisdom and universal truths in other faiths, than probably the majority of my Orthodox and Conservadox friends.

7. Nothing in this life is a mistake, worthless, or a waste if it gets us to where we are now, we learn from it, and we don’t do that again. I often feel like I wasted almost five years with that walking DSM who couldn’t even tell his mommy and daddy about our alleged “engagement” (for which I had to buy my own damn ring), and even wish I hadn’t wasted my antique virginity on someone I didn’t even marry after all that, someone who didn’t even freaking kiss me till two years and seven months into our dysfunctional relationship. But I learnt a lot of important lessons from that, not just how to write sex scenes from personal experience, but also what types of relationships and men to avoid in future.

8. The answer to a prayer isn’t always what we want or expect, just as sometimes the answer is “no” or “not yet.” At my age, and given how men have overwhelmingly only seen me as their buddy, one of the guys, I have serious doubts I’ll ever marry or even have another relationship, but only Hashem can be the final judge of that. I won’t mind having to be a single mom by choice, but I’d also love to snag a beautiful younger man with an actual libido and a healthy mind.

9. Most of all, I believe Samuel will exist in reality someday, not just in recurring dreams. The first part of my Hebrew name, Chana, is in homage to the Prophet Samuel’s mother, even if it also happens to be the Hebrew form of my real forename. I’ve also always wanted to name my firstborn son Samuel, after her own firstborn son. I went through certain spiritual hardships and sacrifices in the past for his future sake, so he wouldn’t have to go through those things.

Top Ten Tuesday—Awesome Classics

Today makes 11 years since I first properly heard All Things Must Pass all the way through! It’s still one of the greatest albums of all time, bar none.

Top 10 Tuesday

Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly feature of The Broke and the Bookish. A full list of instructions and future themes can be found here. This week’s theme is Top Ten Favorite Classic Books (however you define classic) or Top Ten Classics I Want To Read <or spin it some other way…”classics” in a specific genre?>.

1. The Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio. I just can’t give enough love to this book, which was finished somewhere between 1351 and 1353. (You can check out all my Decameron posts here.) It’s held up remarkably well over the centuries, with the vast majority of stories feeling as fresh, modern, and relevant as they did in the 14th century. I even know my two favouritest stories almost by heart.

2. The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri. This is another classic which has stood the test of the centuries. It’s such a timeless story of a man going on an amazing otherworldly journey to get back on track with his faith and life, all inspired by the great unrequited love of his life. (You can peruse my Dante posts here.) The opening stanza is one of the poems I know by heart.

3. La Vita Nuova, by Dante Alighieri. It’s a shame more people don’t know about this lovely, much-shorter autobiography and poetry collection. Dante’s love for Beatrice raises the question about the line between love and obsession, but he never really crosses the line and behaves inappropriately. He’s man enough to conceal his true feelings as best he can. At the end of the book, we see the genesis of his idea for The Divine Comedy, his way of immortalizing this great love for all time.

4. The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu. I haven’t yet read the entirety of this book, but I’m really eager to find a good, full-length translation. It’s widely considered the world’s first novel, by a female author, and set during the Heian era of Japanese history. What’s not to love?

5. The Ramayana. This is one of India’s two great national epics; it’s a shame more Westerners aren’t as familiar with it as they are with Greco-Roman mythology. If I said something like, “I feel like Kaikeyi when her mind is confused by the gods,” I’m sure no one would understand what I were talking about. I’d also love to see a retelling from Sita’s POV.

6. The Mahabharata. This is India’s other great national epic, about ten times the length of The Iliad and The Odyssey combined, almost two million words. I got a condensed version of sorts when I read Devi Vanamali’s wonderful book The Play of God, and would love to find a good, complete translation. The sixth volume includes…

7. The Bhagavad GitaOn the eve of the major war between the five righteous Pandava brothers and their hundred wicked cousins the Kauravas (including their unknown older halfbrother), middle brother Arjuna gets cold feet. He wonders about how moral and ethical it is to have to kill good people, his own blood, all because of a petty feud that spun out of control. His charioteer Krishna, his best friend, delivers a sermon meant to lift his spirits and urge him to fight. At the height of this beautiful sermon, Krishna reveals his true identity as Vishnu, and delivers the famous line about how there are many paths to the same God.

Do NOT get the A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada translation, The Bhagavad Gita As It Is. A better subtitle would be As It Is NOT!  This arrogant fool had the balls to say his was the only correct translation, and that everyone else hadn’t done it properly.

8. The Tao Te Ching, by Lao-Tzu. This book has meant so much to me since I first discovered it in January ’96, at age sixteen. Every time I read it, I come away with something new. I have the awesome Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English translation.

9. The Hemptameron, by Marguerite of Navarre. I haven’t read this yet, but I’m hoping it’s as awesome as The Decameron. This book was posthumously published in 1558, and consists of 72 stories. It was meant to contain 100 stories in 10 days, just as its inspiration The Decameron has, but only got as far as the second story of the eighth day.

10. The Persian Letters, by Montesquieu. This book is so freaking awesome. So many great books came out of the Enlightenment, and the best ones seamlessly combined a good story with promotion of Enlightenment values. I think my favourite part is when it talks about what a great magician Louis XIV is, but that there’s an even greater magician. “This magician is called the Pope.” Montesquieu used the supposed naïveté of the pretended real letter-writers to criticise French society and the Church.

Top Ten Tuesday—Books That Should Be Required Reading

Top 10 Tuesday

Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly feature of The Broke and the Bookish. A full list of instructions and future themes can be found here. This week’s theme is top ten contemporary books you’d pair with a “required reading” or books which should be required reading. Since I’m pretty out of the loop on contemporary books, I’m going with the latter topic.

1. The Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio

Absolute classic of world literature, Italian literature, Medieval literature. The overwhelming majority of the stories feel so fresh and undated, with just as relevant themes and concerns. Most of the women aren’t the chained, repressed little flowers one often thinks of Medieval or Antiquity women as. They know very well how to get what they want, even if they have to be surreptitious about it. Only a few stories are badly-dated (Cimone and Nastagio, I’m looking at you!).

I practically know my two favouritest stories by heart, the 10th story of the third day (the famously most raunchy story) and the second story of the fourth day. They always make me laugh so much.

2. The Tao Te Ching, by Lao-Tzu

I’ve read this book so many times since I discovered it in January ’96, at age 16. It’s meant so much to me over the years. It’s important to have familiarity with Chinese philosophy, since it influenced so much of the ancient world and reverberates even today.

3. Narcissus and Goldmund, by Hermann Hesse

My second-favourite writer wrote so many awesome books, but if I had to choose just one as required reading, I’d pick this one. It’s probably his strongest, best novel. I’ve always remembered the scene where Goldmund sees a woman in childbirth during his travels across Medieval Germany, and is struck by the similarity between agony and ecstasy. The two feelings are conjoined twins.

4. The First Circle, by Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, may his memory be a blessing

It’s also a hard choice to pick something by my favouritest writer (who’s also one of my heroes), but I’d pick this one for required reading. The book typically chosen as required reading in world literature classes, the much-shorter One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, really isn’t his best book or representative of his typical scope. You have to read one of his long novels to get a feel for his voice and style. This book introduced me to GULAG, a subject sadly rarely-taught in U.S. schools. I eventually want my Ph.D. in Russian history, with a specialty in GULAG and the Great Terror.

5. The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, by Franz Werfel

I feel bad that I didn’t finish reading this epic novel, and that the bookmark, made of ransom letter font, screams, “Help! Help! It’s dark in here and I can’t move! Please read more. It gets boring stuck between the same pages.” It tells the real-life story of how a brave group of Armenians defended themselves against the Turks during the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Please be aware that I have zero tolerance for Armenian Genocide denial. I will delete any comments mocking, denying, or seriously downplaying this well-documented historical event. I was horrified enough when I had a professor, whose speciality is Azeri history, who went along with the Turkish and Azeri party line that it never happened.

6. Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, by Margaret Sidney

As many issues as I have with Ms. Sidney’s writing shortcomings, and this series in general, I have to give it respect as one of the first children’s books as written specifically for children. This would be a valuable addition to a children’s lit course, esp. in the historical/origins unit. It could be compared with any contemporary offering as for how far children’s books and society have come.

7. Lost Names, by Richard Kim

This was one of the required books in my awesome Japanese History course I took at university my senior year. I’m so glad I chose that class as my required Asian history credits. It tells the story of a young Korean boy and his family living under Japanese occupation during World War II. I’ve long felt there should be more attention paid to WWII books set outside of Europe and the U.S. Asia and North Africa were involved too!

8. The Ramayana

It’s a shame one of India’s great national epics isn’t better-known in the Western world. History and literature courses in the West are sadly North American and Eurocentric.

9. We, by Yevgeniy Ivanovich Zamyatin

I first read this criminally underrated dystopia in my Modern Russian Literature class my junior year of university. I always tell people whom I recommend it to that it’s also notable as perhaps the most un-Russian Russian novel ever. Not only is is very short, but there are only a few very vague hints as to where it might be set. The characters don’t even have Russian names, and are called by letters with numbers. It’s also quite similar to Brave New World.

10. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez

This classic antiwar novel, which spawned a blockbuster film in 1921, is sadly little-known today. It was written by Spain’s great national novelist, who also wrote several other books which were turned into films. World War I isn’t well-represented in literature and film anymore, and this book is just the perfect choice to inspire interest in the era.

Top Ten Favorite Beginnings/Endings In Books

Top 10 Tuesday

Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly feature of The Broke and the Bookish. A full list of instructions and future themes can be found here. This week’s theme is Top Ten Best Beginnings and Endings. I’ve done half and half, with an honourable mention for each.

Openings

1. The Tao Te Ching, “The Tao that can be told is not the Eternal Tao.” One of the best, most memorable opening lines of all time.

2.  Fragments of Isabella, by the late Isabella Leitner, née Katz. “Yesterday, what happened yesterday?”

3.  Dancing on the Bridge of Avignon, by the late Ida Vos. “Rosa de Jong dreams during the daytime.” Though her books would be classified MG in today’s market, I’ve always loved her writing. It appeals to both adults and people of the intended age bracket, for different reasons. Her books are also among the most unforgettable I’ve ever read, able to recall so many details years later.

4.  Volume II of The GULAG Archipelago, “Rosy-fingered Eos, mentioned so often in Homer and called Aurora by the Romans, caressed, too, with those fingers the first early morning of the Archipelago.”

5.  The Divine Comedy!

Midway life’s journey I was made aware
That I had strayed into a dark forest,
And the right path appeared not anywhere.
Ah, tongue cannot describe how it oppressed,
This wood, so harsh, dismal, and wild, that fear
At thought of it strikes now into my breast.
So bitter it is, death is scarce bitterer.
But, for the good it was my hap to find,
I speak of the other things that I saw there.
I cannot remember well in my mind
How I came thither, so was I immersed
In sleep, when the true way I left behind.

Honorable Mention:

The Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio. “To have compassion for those who suffer is a human quality which everyone should possess, especially those who have required comfort themselves in the past and have managed to find it in others.”

Endings

1.  Steppenwolf, “Pablo would be waiting for me, and Mozart too.” Hermann Hesse was a master at great opening and closing lines, but this one is my favorite. Steppenwolf is the book that most changed my life.

2.  The Painted Bird, by Jerzy Kosinski. Anyone who reads this book will never forget it. I read it over a decade ago, and still vividly remember so much of it in raw detail. I won’t give away the ending, since that would mean giving away the pivotal midway point of the book as well. Unlike a certain other writer, I don’t believe in giving away a book’s ending or pivotal plot points while smirking about it and patting myself on the back for being so clever (coughthebookthiefcough).

3.  Cancer Ward, by my late favorite writer Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn. “Just like that…” Just seeing or hearing that line, in any context, has given me chills and made me think of the book ever since.

4.  Fragments of Isabella again. When Fragments was combined with the sequel Saving the Fragments and had some new material added to create Isabella:  From Auschwitz to Freedom, several very emotional lines and passages were inexplicably left out or altered. The last line of the original first volume was among those on the chopping block. “Mama, I make this vow to you:  I will teach my sons to love life, respect man, and hate only one thing—WAR.”

5.  The Divine Comedy again!

To the high force imagination now failed;
But like to a wheel whose circling nothing jars
Already on my desire and will prevailed
The Love that moves the Sun and the other stars.

Honorable Mention:

November 1916, the second door-stopper in Aleksandr Isayevich’s Red Wheel cycle, four novels showing the unfolding of Russian history during WWI and the Revolution, August 1914-April 1917. This particular book ends with a young lady, Zina, going to Confession during a very dark time. The priest reassures her that there’s nothing wrong with how she loved her bastard son or his father, since:

“….You can rarely decide for another that he or she should not do this or that. How can anyone forbid you to love when Christ said that there is nothing higher than love? And he made no exceptions, for love of any kind whatsoever.”