BOOK REVIEW: Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Essays by Ralph Waldo EmersonEssays by Ralph Waldo Emerson by Emerson Ralph Waldo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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There are many collections of Emerson’s essays in publication – some more complete or more recently compiled – but the one under review here was originally published by the Charles E. Merrill Co. in 1907. It contains eleven essays, including selections from both Emerson’s First and Second Series. There are around 700 end-notes that provide points of clarification. The front matter includes a brief biographical statement on Emerson, a discussion of critical opinion of his work, and a list of his writings.

Rather than discuss the essays as a whole, I’ll describe each in turn.

1.) The American Scholar: a major theme in this essay is avoiding pretentiousness and not neglecting to see the virtue in the simple and unrefined.

2.) Compensation: Emerson had an interesting philosophy on this subject, believing that everything that belongs to one or which one ought to have will come to one. There is a Taoist feel to this essay, e.g. “For everything you have missed, you have gained something else: and for everything you gain, you lose something.”

3.) Self-Reliance: This is my favorite essay, hands down. It’s full of pithy, powerful, and quotable statements. e.g. “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.” “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” “If I know your sect, I anticipate your argument.” Even where it’s not so concise and quotable, it delivers important ideas.

4.) Friendship: There is a quote that I think is quite illustrative of Emerson’s thoughts on the subject: “I do then with my friends as I do with my books. I would have them where I can find them, but I seldom use them.”

5.) Heroism: Consistent with the ideas in “Self-Reliance,” Emerson proposes that the route to heroism is in trusting oneself and having inner confidence, rather than in trying to satisfy the dictates of society.

6.) Manners: Emerson was a fan of a polite and genteel nature. This may seem at odds with his general inclination to avoid pretension or elitism, but if one treats all people with polite respect, then these ideals do not conflict.

7.) Gifts: Related to the earlier essay on compensation, this piece decries getting caught up in giving opulent gifts and thinking it a grand virtue, while it doesn’t criticize gift giving all together.

8.) Nature: This is the subject that one likely most associates with Emerson and his friend and protégé, Thoreau. As one expects, Emerson suggests one spend more time in nature. Something interesting I found in this piece was his rebuke of pseudo-science. Not that it should be unexpected, but one must consider that the line between science and the occult wasn’t as fully formed as it is today and Emerson was a mystic. But consider this: “Astronomy to the selfish becomes astrology; psychology, mesmerism (with intent to show where our spoons are gone); and anatomy and physiology become phrenology and palmistry.”

9.) Shakespeare; or, The Poet: While honoring Shakespeare, Emerson points out that our recognition of brilliance isn’t recognition of originality. e.g. “The greatest genius is the most indebted man.”

10.) Prudence: Emerson insists that sagacity in managing oneself and one’s affairs is crucial.

11.) Circles: This essay covers a lot of ground in dealing with topics that are cyclical – though they may seem progressive. In parts it reminds me of the portion of self-reliance that says “society is a wave,” and which goes on to explain how it’s not a matter of society steadily advancing because it recedes on one side as quickly as it gains on the other. This can be seen in a quote such as: “New arts destroy the old.” I think a quote that drives to the heart of not falling into the illusion of believing fashions of the moment are an invariable truth can be seen here: “No facts are to me sacred; none are profane; I simply experiment, an endless seeker with not past at my back.”

I highly recommend this collection of essays. Some have maintained greater relevance than others, but all offer some interesting food for thought.

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BOOK REVIEW: Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon

Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the BorderlandsMaps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands by Michael Chabon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This book consists of 17 essays about reading and writing. As the book’s title–also the title of the second essay–suggests, there’s an analogy drawn between story and a map, but—more importantly– Chabon proposes that the literary domain is a realm with frontiers and hinterlands. The central theme is that there is room for great discoveries if we stray from the center of the map were all is clear and well-defined. Literary fiction is the center. The hinterlands include a range of genres and approaches to story-telling that are often maligned as low-brow—e.g. fan fiction and comic books.

 

The book could be split into two parts, though the aforementioned theme cuts across all essays. The first 11 essays offer insight into maligned genres and their merits, but the next five shift gears into autobiographical telling of Chabon’s transformation into a writer. (The last essay, not present in some editions, could be seen as an epilogue to the entire work.) I’ll list the essays and give a hint about what each is about:

 

-“Trickster in a Suit of Lights”: This essay invites us to reconsider the connection between entertainment and literature, and in particular with respect to the modern short story.

 

-“Maps and Legends”: Here Chabon reflects upon the nature of a map and its analogy to the domain of fiction.

 

-“Fan Fictions: On Sherlock Holmes”: Fan fiction is maligned, and not entirely without reason. Even when it achieves great popularity, it’s often bad (e.g. “Fifty Shades…”) However, Chabon correctly suggests that we consider fan fiction too narrowly, including only that which reinforces our notions. He offers a great example of a character, Sherlock Holmes, who launched a thousand fan fictions, some of which are masterpieces in their own right.

 

-“Ragnarok Boy”: Mythology often seems tired and cliché, but there are reasons such stories survive across ages. Chabon explores what it is in Norse mythology that makes it an ongoing font of inspiration for writers.

 

-“On Daemons & Dust”: For a while, YA was the only genre with rising sales–much to the chagrin of those who felt this might herald the rise of a real world idiocracy. In this essay, Chabon describes what it is about Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series of fantasy books that pulls readers in—including the appeal of dark elements in stories.

 

-“Kids Stuff”: In this essay, Chabon considers the comic book and its evolution from kids’ stuff to a vast domain meant to appeal to a broad readership.

 

-“The Killer Hook”: This essay continues Chabon’s look at comic books, but through a specific example: “American Flagg!” a dystopian sci-fi comic book. Chabon proposes that “American Flagg!” spawned a new approach to comic book art and tone.

 

-“Dark Adventure”: This is about Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.” Some topics are revisited, such as the appeal of dark and dystopian content. [For those unfamiliar, “The Road” is the story of a father and son wandering through a post-apocalyptic wasteland in search of some sort of stable community. McCarthy is the master of sparse prose, eschewing dialogue tags and maintaining a minimalist approach to his craft.

 

-“The Other James”: Here Chabon discusses the ghost story, using M.R. James’ story “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” as an exemplar.

 

-“The Landsman of the Lost”: Chabon discusses the comic strip work of Ben Katchor.

 

-“Thoughts on the Death of Will Eisner”: Eisner was a popular cartoonist, associated with such comic books as, “The Spirit.”

 

-“My Back Pages”: Here the book ventures into autobiographical territory as Chabon talks about his first dalliances with writing a novel.

 

-“Diving into the Wreck”: This continues Chabon’s telling of how he came to be a writer, and his early troubles in structuring a novel.

 

-“The Recipe for Life”: Here Chabon tells us about his introduction to Golems, a concept that would play an important role in one of his most influential works—an in the rest of the book. You’ll note the connection between fantastical devices and the telling of story that carries over from the first part.

 

-“Imaginary Homelands”: Chabon describes the role that is played by culture in forming a writer’s experience—both the culture one is living in and the cultural heritage that we each carry with us wherever we may roam.

 

-“Golems I Have Known”: This is one of the longer pieces and it presents the climax of Chabon’s tale of his transformation into a novelist. Golems as fictitious creatures built to facilitate certain truths are a central feature around which Chabon’s story is told.

 

-“Secret Skin”: [Note: This essay didn’t appear in the initial version of the book, and so your edition might not have it.] This essay invites the reader to reconsider the role that costumes and secret identities play for superheroes and how that need resonates with readers. In the process, this last essay sums up the reason why fantastical elements are so powerful in fiction.

 

There are only few graphics in the book, i.e. comic panels. Other than that there’s not much by way of ancillary matter, though there are recommended readings (oddly) interspersed within the index—rather than being a separate section.

 

I’d recommend this book for readers and writers. The essays are well-crafted and thought-provoking.

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BOOK REVIEW: The View From the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected NonfictionThe View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Not every writer—not even many literary greats—could pull off a book like this. It’s a collection of random speeches, front matter from books (not his own), liner notes, and the occasional eulogy for individuals living and dead. While the book is organized into sections on topics like other authors, comic books, films, and music, it seems that organization derives organically from the topics on which Neil Gaiman is asked to comment–rather than a desire to tighten the book’s theme.

If you’re a Neil Gaiman fanboy/girl, you’ll need no excuse to read anything that he puts out (even though–if that is the case–you’ll probably have read much of this before in separate outings.) So the question is why the rest of us—who may enjoy Gaiman’s writing tremendously but who don’t qualify as fanboys / fangirls—should read this. The reason that it’s worth reading is that Neil Gaiman is funny, has a way of framing ideas that makes them thought-provoking and interesting, and frequently writes quotable bits of text that are essentially brain candy.

The book’s title comes from an essay on Gaiman’s experience attending the Oscars from the upper balcony. As mentioned, the book is divided into thematic sections–ten of them to be precise. The book starts with “Some Things I Believe,” which presents speeches on the virtue of reading, libraries, books, and bookstores. The next section discusses people he has known and worked with—largely writers and graphic artists. Then Gaiman offers thoughts on the nature of science fiction, again mostly through book forwards on seminal works from the genre. There is a section on films and Gaiman’s experience with them—several of his works have been made into films and many others have been considered. The next part is on comic books and the works and artists that influenced Gaiman. The next section bears the title “Introductions and Contradictions” and it offers introductions for various books (not Gaiman’s but those written for other writers.) There’s a musical section about a few recording artists including They Might be Giants, Lou Reed, and—of course—Gaiman’s wife Amanda Palmer. Next, Gaiman presents some introductions and forwards for works of fantasy. One section includes only a solitary entry–a commencement speech entitled “Make Good Art.” The final section is sort of a catchall of essays that includes the title piece and one on events in Syria.

I’d recommend this book for those who enjoy reading (or writing) in the genres for which Gaiman is known. His comments offer interesting insight, and you may learn about some books and authors that you’d never heard of before.

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What RYT300 Taught Me About Fear

IMG_2752

I recently completed the RYT300 course at Amrutha Bindu Yoga to obtain my RYT500 yoga teacher certification. (i.e. The 200 hour course–which I completed a couple years ago–plus the 300 hour course are the primary requirements for the 500 hour certification.) The essay below is about one of the key lessons I learned in this phase of training.

 

I walked through the streets of Bengaluru barefoot and with not so much as a 5 rupee coin in my pocket. [If your response to that is “big whoop,” you probably live somewhere like Singapore, Helsinki, Kobe, or Calgary where the streets are immaculate and the rats aren’t so bold. If you’re familiar with what goes on in and near the streets in India, you may be wondering what the hell is wrong with me.]  It was an unconventional teaching tactic to be sure, but it ranks among the most valuable lessons of the training—surpassing no small revelations about postural alignment, pranayama methods, bandha technique, physiology, and yogic philosophy. It was even up there with the experience of advanced shatkarma (cleansing practices) that were completely new to me.

 

What’s the lesson?  If you’re going to teach yoga–particularly at the intermediate / advanced level that RYT500 is intended to prepare you for–you need to work on not being ruled by fear. That isn’t to say one must be fearless. We imagine fearlessness to equate to courageousness, but courage is action under fear. Neuroscience tells us what a fearless person is like. We know from individuals who’ve had the parts of their brains damaged that are responsible for the emotion—they are paralyzed by indecision. Our emotions provide a basis for choosing–at least as a tie-breaker when no clearly superior path exists. We need our fear, just like our other emotions, but if you can’t move forward because of it you may have a hard time keeping learning.

 

Not being ruled by fear isn’t just—or primarily—about being able to keep practicing advanced techniques until you can get a grasp on them.  Yes, mastering a handstand requires a fair amount of falling down (hopefully, in a controlled fashion), and that’s a lot of potential for anxiety, but there’s more at stake.  What precisely? One might start, as many do, with what Patanjali has to say on the subject, and one can start from square one. “Chitta Vrtta Nirodhah.” (Quieting the fluctuations of the mind.) Many of the fluctuations of the mind result from anxieties and our obsession with solving them. Our brains are wired to try to anticipate worst case scenarios so we can develop ready-made solutions for them. This can result in excessive pessimism, extended stress, and all the problems that go along with that stress.

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There’s a popular saying that goes, “money is the root of all evil.” But, I think it’s wrong. Fear is at the heart of all evil—not to mention a fair amount of run-of-the-mill pettiness.

 

So what is the path to anxiety management? Start small, and dispassionately observe your discomfort. Don’t try to squelch the emotion, just watch it while trying to avoid putting good or bad labels on it. Of course, sources of anxiety are personal. As far as prescriptive yoga practices, that depends upon one’s personal anxieties. For some inversions might do the trick, for others extreme back bends, for some external breath retention, for others it may be balancing. Then, of course, there are the advanced shatkarma practices I mentioned earlier–such as vaman dhauti (cleansing by vomiting) or poorna shankhaprakshalana (i.e. clearing out one’s digestive tract via massive ingestion of salt water.)

 

I recently finished teaching a Kid’s Camp (a post about that to come.) At the beginning of the camp, I was telling someone that the kids were fearless, but what I came to discover was that kids just allow their enthusiasm to swamp their anxieties. I had seven-year-olds doing pinchamayurasana (forearm stand) and vrschikasana (scorpion) within the first few days. That would be a hard sell for adults. [I don’t think I’ve ever taught those postures to adults.]  It’s not just that kids are bendy, they’re also ready to get up after they fall down. (And since they’re not stressed about the possibility of falling they don’t tense up and get badly injured.) Someone posted a great meme on Facebook recently. It said, “A child who falls down 50 times learning to walk, doesn’t go, ‘I don’t think this is for me.’”

BOOK REVIEW: Life from Elsewhere from Pushkin Press

Life from Elsewhere: Journeys Through World LiteratureLife from Elsewhere: Journeys Through World Literature by Amit Chaudhuri

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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“Life from Elsewhere” is a collection of essays written by writers from around the world on culture, multiculturalism, and the struggles of life (and writing) in a culture-infused world. The book consists of an introduction and ten essays by authors from India, Congo, Argentina / Spain, China, Israel, Syria, Palestine, Iran, Poland, Russia, and Turkey. It’s being put out to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of a program that seeks to translate more global literature into English (English PEN’s Writers in Translation.)

This was a hard work to rate, and so you may want to take the number of stars with a grain of salt. If you’re part of the niche audience of contemporary world literature devotees, you may love this book from beginning to end. For a more general reader—such as myself–there are golden nuggets scattered among a field of shiny gravel. I found the essays by Asmaa al-Ghul (i.e. “When Ideas Fall in Line”) and Andrey Kurkov (i.e. “Sea of Voices”) to be fascinating, even for the general reader. The former tells the story of a journalist who reaped a firestorm by posting a Facebook picture sans veil, but it offers insight into life under blockade in Gaza. The latter offers a Russian author’s experience of traveling in the Middle East, and the incidences of clash of cultures it offers was thought-provoking.

The countries represented by authors in this book are well chosen. Authors were chosen from locales that would have once been underrepresented in such a work. However, one might question the fact that half of the essays are from countries of the Middle East. While this may seem odd, one must admit that a writer or artist in most of the Middle East faces challenges that a writer from Osaka, Sao Paulo, or Prague would not. This isn’t only addressed in the al-Ghul essay mentioned above, but also in pieces such as those by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (i.e. “Literature: Forbidden, Defied,”) and Elif Shafak (i.e. “A Rallying Cry for Cosmopolitan Europe.”)

I’d recommend this book for ardent devotees of contemporary global literature. Other readers will gain insight into what it’s like to be an artist in a world defined by culture–and particularly fascinating insight into cultures which are threatened by modern literature—and should make up their mind about how fascinating they find said topic. (Otherwise, one may find the book a bit dry.)

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Blinders (Literal and Figurative) in the Martial Arts

IMG_2553Many years ago I was training at a dōjō that had a practitioner who was a teacher for the blind. He requested that we put together a self-defense workshop for his students.  (If you’re wondering what kind of evil jackass would attack a blind person, rest assured that—sadly–such a level of jackassitude exists in the world.) The request presented an intriguing challenge. How does one adapt techniques that are premised on being able to see what the opponent is doing? Or maybe one shouldn’t adapt existing techniques but rather start from square one?

 

In preparation for working up a lesson plan, the person that asked for the workshop briefed the black belts. We learned that very few of the blind students lived in complete darkness. Instead, they displayed a wide range of different visual impairments. He even brought a large bag of goggles that simulated various impairments so that we could train in them to better understand what would or wouldn’t work with different types of impairment.

 

There were goggles that had funnels over the eyes such that one could see two little circles clearly while the rest of the world was black. There were others that had a complete field of view, but had translucent tape over the lenses so that everything was reduced to fuzzy blobs—as if one were looking through Vaseline. There were lenses that had a crackle effect such that one could only see veins of area clearly. There were goggles with no peripheral vision, and ones with only peripheral vision. He also had some goggles that blacked out the world entirely. Completely blind individuals may not be as common as one would think, but they certainly exist. Putting on any of the goggles was disorienting at first. A couple of the black belts even got vertigo or nausea when they moved around too quickly.

 

Now imagine what it would be like if one had always had the goggles on, that it was the only worldview one had ever known. Furthermore, imagine that everyone you interacted with on a daily basis all wore the same variety of goggles. You wouldn’t see it as an affliction or a limitation. To you, your view of the world would be full and complete. You would engage in behaviors that might seem odd to an outsider with unobstructed vision (e.g. sweeping your hands around in big arcs, turning your head at unusual angles, or calling out into the “darkness”), but these behaviors wouldn’t seem odd to you because you’d know it as natural behavior for someone who experienced the world as you did.  Because everyone you dealt with would see the world in the same way, it wouldn’t occur to you to think about whether there was another way to behave.

 

The preceding paragraph serves as an analogy for culture. One’s own culture is often invisible, especially if you don’t get outside of it much. All the people around you confirm your belief that you’re seeing the world as it is and behaving in the only natural and normal way imaginable. Sure, you may notice other people’s cultures—their skewed worldviews and the anomalous behaviors that result– but that’s because they do “strange things.” Still, some individuals will maintain that their culture doesn’t display any of the “odd” ways of behaving that more “exotic” cultures do.

 

But it does. Every culture is a mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly of how a people goes about living in the world given their cultural blind spots and skews. It includes collective coping mechanism for dealing with fears of uncertainty, and those are often the ugly side of culture. They encourage ingroup / outgroup separation, as well as primitive and superstitious approaches to dealing with those events, people, and behaviors that are out of the ordinary.

 

It’s easy to display double standards when one is blind to culture. I will give an example from my own life. It’s only been since I’ve been living in India (and traveling in Asia) that I’ve become aware of how many people are upset by Westerner’s secularization of Eastern religious / spiritual symbols and imagery. That’s a mouthful; so let me explain what I mean by “secularization of Eastern symbols and imagery.” I’m talking about “OM” T-shirts / pendants, bronze Buddhas, Tibetan thanka paintings, mandalas  (on T-shirts or posters), miniature shrines, or tattoos that are purchased because they are trendy, aesthetically pleasing, or vaguely conceptually pleasing without any real understanding of the tradition from which they came or intention of honoring it.

 

Granted it’s easy to miss the above issue if you’re a tourist because: a.) Many of said Eastern traditions practice a live-and-let-live lifestyle that make their practitioners unlikely to be confrontational about such things (in contrast to  practitioners of Abrahamic traditions (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.)) b.) There are merchants in every country who are willing to sell anything to anybody for a buck, and so there are vast markets for tourists that offer up these symbols and images in droves.

 

It still intrigues me that it once caught me off guard that there were Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, etc. who were dismayed by the secularization of their traditions. I’m agnostic, but I was raised in a Christian household. Therefore, I can imagine the animosity aroused by the following conversation.

 

A: [Wearing a simple crucifix [or Star of David or crescent & star] pendant on a chain.]

B: Hey, A, I didn’t know you were Christian [or Jewish or Muslim]?

A: Because I’m not.

B: But you’re wearing a crucifix [or other Abrahamic symbol] pendant?

A: Oh, yeah, that. That doesn’t mean anything. It just looks cool. It’s kind of like the Nike swoosh.

B: [Jaw slackens.]

 

Now replace the crucifix with an “OM” shirt, and an inquiry about whether “A” is Hindu. Does it feel the same? If it doesn’t, why shouldn’t it?

 

Every martial art represents a subculture embedded in the culture of the place from which it came.  [Sometimes this becomes a mélange, as when a Japanese martial art is practiced in America. In such cases the dōjō usually reflects elements of Japanese culture (e.g. ritualized and formal practice), elements of American culture (e.g. 40+ belt ranks so that students can get a new rank at least once a year so they don’t quit), and elements of the martial art’s culture (e.g. harder or softer approaches to engaging the opponent.)]

 

The way that culture plays into a country’s martial arts may not become clear until one has practiced the martial arts of different countries—particularly in their nation of origin. While my own experience is limited, I have practiced Japanese kobudō in America (and extremely briefly in Japan), Muaythai in Thailand, and Kalaripayattu in India. I’ll leave Muaythai out of the discussion for the time being because I can most easily make my point by contrasting Japanese and Indian martial arts.  The Japanese and Indian martial arts I’ve practiced each reflects the nature of its respective culture, and they couldn’t be more different.

 

IMG_4525What are the differences between the Japanese and Indian martial arts I’ve studied? I’ve been known to answer that by saying that the Japanese martial art rarely uses kicks above waist level, while in Kalaripayattu if you’re only kicking at the height of your opponent’s head you’ll be urged to get your kick up a couple of feet higher.  What does that mean? The Japanese are expert at stripping out the needless and they work by paring away excess rather than building difficulty. The impulse of the Japanese is to avoid being showy. KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) appeals to the Japanese mind. (Except for the “Stupid” part, which would be considered needlessly confrontational and gratuitously mean-spirited.) There’s a reason why Japanese martial arts don’t feature prominently in global martial arts cinema. They don’t wow with their physicality; efficiency is at the fore.

 

IMG_2246On the other hand, Indians are a vastly more flamboyant bunch, and Kalaripayattu is extremely impressive to watch and in terms of the physicality required to perform the techniques.  The Indian art isn’t about simplifying or cutting away the unnecessary. One has to get in progressively better shape as one advances to be able to perform techniques that require one leap higher, move faster, and be stronger. The Indian art isn’t about paring away excess, it’s about making such an impressive physical display that the opponent wonders whether one is just a man, or whether one might not be part bird or lion.

 

It might sound like I’m saying that the Japanese martial art is more realistic than the Indian one. Not really. Each of them is unrealistic in its own way. It’s often pointed out that the Japanese trained left-handedness out of their swordsmen, but that’s only one way in which Japanese martial arts counter individuation.  Given what we see in terms of how “southpaws” are often more successful in boxing, MMA, and street fighting, eliminating left-handedness seems like an unsound tactic at the individual level. There are undoubtedly many practitioners of traditional Japanese martial arts who can dominate most opponents who fight in an orthodox manner, but who would be thrown into complete disarray by an attacker who used chaotic heathen tactics. Consider that the only thing that kept the Japanese from being routed (and ruled) by the Mongolians was two fortuitous monsoons. The samurai were tremendously skilled as individual combatants, but the Mongolians could—literally—ride circles around them in warfare between armies. Perhaps, a more relevant question is whether Miyamoto Musashi would have defeated Sasaki Kojirō if the former had followed all the formal protocols of Japanese dueling instead of showing up late, carving his bokken from a boat oar, and generally presenting a f*@# you attitude. Who knows? But as the story is generally told, Musashi’s disrespectful and unorthodox behavior threw Sasaki off his game, and it was by no means a given that Musashi would win. Some believed Sasaki to be the more technically proficient swordsman.

 

All martial arts are models of combative activity apropos to the needs of a particular time, place, culture, and use.  And—as I used to frequently hear in academia—all models are wrong, though many are useful. (Sometimes, it’s written: “All models are lies, but many are useful.”)

 

[FYI: to the readers who say, “The martial art I practice is completely realistic.” My reply: “You must go through a lot of body-bags. Good for you? I guess?”]

How to Kill a “Cereal Killer” and Restore Halloween

cereal killerI know what you’re going to say. Why would I want to murder a cereal killer, a taco belle, a holy cow, a pig in a blanket, a deviled egg, or any of the other bearers of bad Halloween punnery? First, you want to kill someone.  You don’t have to admit it to me and I’d advise against admitting it to the District Attorney, but at least admit it to yourself. Second, if you kill the person you really want to kill (e.g. your boss, the tax man, your personal trainer, or your hairdresser—sorry, low blow) you’ll be the lead suspect. Therefore, you need to find a way to vent your homicidal rage into productive outlets, and I’d argue that the killing of punsters is community service. You shouldn’t even think of it as murder. It’s more like culling the Halloween herd. Forest fires kill, but the next year the forest is more lush and beautiful than ever before.

 

Now let’s get down to the real reason to conduct your own Halloween killing spree. Because it’s the perfect time for the perfect crime. Think about it.

  • Anonymity: Except for the lazy people who wear a T-shirt with “Halloween Costume” printed in unimaginative block letters, everybody is in makeup or has their head stuffed in some stinking mask that five people have thrown up in within the last three years. This makes it almost impossible to identify suspects. The lazy bastards would be eliminated immediately anyway because it takes commitment to be a homicidal maniac.
  • Relative Inconspicuousness: You won’t be the only one who’s apparently blood spattered. Besides Marti Gras and full moons, what other nights can one say that. There will be large numbers of people wielding weapons and looking creepy. What better time to blend in?
  • Distraction: If I might be granted a brief diatribe. Halloween used to be the holiday of terror, but no more. Valentine’s Day may be the holiday of romance (or florists), but Halloween is the holiday of sex. However, you can use this trend to your advantage. There’s a great deal of distraction to be garnered from the proliferation of sexy nurses, sexy waitresses, and sexy actuarials. When the girl whose costume is painted on rather than worn walks through the room to get a single potato chip, that’s a good time to jab the hypodermic into the neck of the nearest drunk pun and get the hell out of dodge.

 

So how will you choose your target? First, as indicated, it’s best to pick someone who’s inebriated because no one will realize they’re dead–and not just passed out–until they begin to stink. Don’t worry, finding a drunk won’t be hard. At a given Halloween party there will be four designated drivers for the 150 people in attendance—so 148 people will be completely hammered. [No, my math is not that bad. Two of those designated drivers are cheating bastards. If you kill a pun who’s a cheating designated driver you’ve hit the trifecta—OK, maybe my math is that bad. At any rate, you get bonus points. ]

 

Next comes the question of determining whether the costume is a pun or not. This can be harder than it seems. Sure there are the easy ones I mentioned above (and others like Kevin “Bacon” [Kevin nametag on a meat vest], “Bat” Man [w/ Louisville Slugger], Down for the Count [Dracula with a blowup doll orally affixed to his crotch region], Spice Girl, Dust Bunny, Formal Apology [tuxedo-clad man with “sorry” written on his tie], etc.) that will be immediately obvious.

 

However, what if one sees a guy in a Grim Reaper costume with a bag of pot. Perhaps this is just someone who likes to imbibe. However, if the pot is dayglow green, then you may have a “the grass is greener on the other side” who desperately needs killing. The key is that one must pay attention to the details. Sometimes the costume will be poorly done. Imagine a fine “Tom the Cat” costume with three misshaped spheres feebly stapled to the crotch region. This is a “horny as a three-balled tom cat” who must die.

 

On the other hand, you should avoid reading too much into costumes. Say you see a girl who looks like a stripper. You shouldn’t engage in some Rube Goldberg-esque thought process in which you conclude that she is saying, “All that glitters is not gold–because sometimes it’s a stripper.” Said woman may merely be costumed as a stripper, or might be a stripper who just got off stage and didn’t have time to go out looking for a costume.

 

When in doubt, if the costume doesn’t seem to make a lick of sense, it’s probably someone’s sense of clever gone awry and you shouldn’t feel bad about friendly fire against a non-pun.

 

Finally, some general rules of thumb (BTW: feel free to kill anyone dressed in a giant mitten with a page of the tax code taped to the thumb):

  • Only kill one pun per party. Being a killer of puns is like being a Marine Sniper—except that it’s completely illegal and involves no honor whatsoever—my point is that if you loiter in place you’ll get pinned down by the Vietcong. It doesn’t matter whether the party in question has the best pigs in a blanket (i.e. the hors doeuvres, not the cutesy couple costume), the best DJ, or the sluttiest witches, maids, librarians, or geologists in town. Don’t get greedy. Get in and get out—well, you can grab a handful of those delectable pigs in a blanket on the way out, but then get out of the house!
  • Never wear the same costume to more than one party. The police call that a clue. You have to be like Kathrine Heigl in that 27 Dresses  movie—which I never saw. Do the quick change like Clark Kent between parties. That brings me to an alternative killing scheme whereby you can kill anyone who’s dressed as a character from a romantic comedy.
  • Don’t consume a lot of legumes, high fiber foods, beer, or Taco Bell before your outing. Just because no one will see your face inside that barf-splotched mask doesn’t mean they won’t be able to smell you. Plus the zippers in costumes are unreliable, and you don’t want a case of Taco Trots to hamper your evening’s fun.
  • Don’t wear a costume that’s too menacing. You want to be able to point to someone who is nearby, completely innocent, and who looks like a killer and say, “she did it.” Also, don’t wear the “Identity Thief” costume in which one has name tags all over one’s outfit with different names. First, it plants the seed of criminality in the mind of those around you. Second, it’s a bad pun and may result in your being stabbed. Which brings me to the ultimate rule:
  • Don’t wear a pun costume yourself, it may result in your being stabbed. I’m not saying that I once stabbed a prostitute with a Seeing Eye dog who turned out to be just another good-hearted Halloween killer because “love is blind,” but…

 

I hope this guide to perpetrating a Halloween massacre has been helpful. I think we’d all like to bring the fear back to Halloween like all the Saints who partied down on All Saints’ Day Eve intended. So, whether you’re a first time killer or you’ve been around the block (another potential costume cliché to kill), a few simple steps will keep you out of the hands of the slutty cops—or regular cops.

30 Thin Books Every American Should Read

Amazon recently put out a list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime. I appreciate the mega-bookseller taking a less doctrinaire approach than, say, The Guardian’s 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read. Also, props to Amazon for including a number of contemporary works—though I guess that is self-serving of them (i.e. $10 versus $0 sales price)—so never mind.

Whenever I see one of these lists—and there are so many of them—I always feel a bit inadequate. I suspect I’m not alone, given a recent generic list posted by The Millions, entitled 28 Books You Should Read If You Want To. That author’s approach is laudable. She doesn’t hand out exact titles as if we all need the same books, but rather suggests the kind of books one should consider reading (but only if you want to.)

I read like a fiend. While I usually don’t read rapidly (I can; I learned how in grad school, but I prefer savoring to injecting words), I’m constantly reading. So it’s a little disappointing to see how I stack up in the grand scheme of list-makers.

At present I have read:

– 15 of Amazon’s 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime (15%)

– 12 of Esquire’s 80 Books Every Man Should Read (15%)

– 12 of The Telegraph‘s 100 Novels Everyone Should Read (12%)

– 3 of the Huffington Post’s 30 Books to Read Before You’re 30 (10%, and—sadly—yes, I’m over 30.)

– 45 of The Guardian’s 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read (4.5%)

So this brings me to the point of this post, which is to boost my self-esteem by building a list of books, all of which, I’ve read. As I considered the books I’ve read that I would be so bold as to recommend “everyone” read, I saw trends. First, I read a lot of thin books, or, perhaps, they stick with me more. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read some monsters Moby Dick (on everybody’s list—I don’t know why), Atlas Shrugged (on the Libertarian Book-of-the-Month Club list, and not much else), and 1Q84 (given a few years, it’ll be on all the lists.) However, it’s the thin books that have stuck with me, and they often get kicked aside by the [other] pretentious list makers. Also, shorter forms (e.g. essays, short stories, poems, and novellas) often don’t get properly recognized because everyone wants to talk about novels and tomes.

Second, while I like to consider myself an international reader (e.g. I’ve read a fair number of translated Japanese and Chinese classics), the fact of the matter is that I’ve had a skewed reading history. I’m an American, and have disproportionately read books that are either by Americans or that speak to the American worldview / mindset (my list will be both.) This isn’t so much an issue for most of the list makers as they simply propose that every Nigerian, Thai, and Peruvian should read a canon devoid of any Nigerian, Thai, and Peruvian authors (but instead that is 50% British, 30% American, and 20% all others.) While the list may be targeted toward U.S. audience, these books are good for everybody, and everybody should read outside the familiar.

Without further ado, my list, 30 Thin Books That Every [Attention-Challenged] American Should Read:


1.) 101 Great American Poems

Because poetry is good for the soul. Yes, this anthology is skewed toward dead poets, but it’s not only thin, it’s cheap. It’s got Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, Sandburg, and Hughes.


Animal Farm

2.) Animal Farm, Orwell

Because, screw totalitarianism, that’s why. This is like 1984, but without the villainy clubbing one over the skull. Therefore, you can introduce the kids to commie-hating early and without giving them nightmares—well not bad ones. Plus, it’s thinner than 1984.



3.) Apology, Crito, and Phaedo, Plato

Because virtue is good for the soul. This is Plato’s account of Socrates’ defense at his own trial and his subsequent explanation of why he was going to drink the hemlock. Yes, it’s technically three books, but they are often bundled together as one book. Even with all three, it’s pretty thin.



4.) Brave New World, Huxley

Because Orwellian dystopia isn’t the only dystopia. In Huxley’s book, tyranny wasn’t a matter of force, but manipulation. This book shows how dystopia can be disguised as utopia by keeping the population adequately drugged and well-sexed.



Candide

5.) Candide, Voltaire

Because satire is good for the soul. No sacred cows escape roasting in this thin volume. A naïve young man travels out into the world to find that evil is ubiquitous.



6.) Catch-22, Heller

Because how often does a book coin a common phrase. (FYI- “A Clockwork Orange” was a phrase Burgess borrowed for the book that was common in some parts, but Heller invented the term “Catch-22.”) The story revolves around the notion that one can’t get out of the war by reason of insanity, because if one is trying to get out of the war one is sane by definition, and if you are insane, you don’t try to get out.



7.) Civil Disobedience, Thoreau

Because if you’re going to break the law, you should know how to do it do it virtuously and not like a dirtbag. (Hint: It’s more painful than you think.) This essay tells of Thoreau’s imprisonment because he refused to pay taxes that would fund the war with Mexico. It’s usually bundled with other essays.



8.) Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury

Because books are good. The title comes from the temperature at which books burn, and it’s set in a dystopian future in which the protagonist, “Fireman” Guy Montag, goes around collecting and burning books.



GreenEggs&Ham

9.) Green Eggs and Ham, Seuss

Because you should know how to turn someone down (e.g. I would not eat them on a boat, I would not eat them with a goat.) Or, because learning to be playful with words may serve one well. Or, because you should try new things. In the story, an unnamed narrator is subjected endlessly to green eggs and ham, which he steadfastly, refuses until the end.



10.) Hamlet, Shakespeare

Because you think you’ve got a weird family. Hamlet exacts revenge when he finds out that his uncle killed his father to marry his mother and usurp the throne.



IntoTheWild

11.) Into the Wild, Krakauer

Because you don’t want to underestimate Mother Nature when you strike out to build your indomitable American spirit. This is the true story of a college graduate who gives away his bank account, burns his pocket-money, cuts ties with his upper-middle class family, and sets off to become self-made. Ultimately, he ends up in Alaska, and it does not end well.



12.) It’s Getting Better All the Time, Moore & Simon

Because, stop being such a gloomy-Gus. Admittedly, this is an unconventional choice– both because it’s not particularly skillfully written and a few of its conclusions may not be as true as they once were. However, it does inject a dose of reality for those who view the world through shit-colored glasses. As the title suggests, the authors argue that life in America is getting better year after year. We are getting healthier and richer. Being economists, they present much of their findings as graphic representations of statistical data.



13.) Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl

Because sometimes the world actually looks better through shit-colored glasses, Seriously, because you need to know how to get on with it when life is at its toughest. Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor who writes about what kept people going at places like Auschwitz.



14.) Meditations, Aurelius

Because, just get on with it. This was actually a kind of “Notes to Self,” written by the Roman Emperor to remind himself to be virtuous, to live, and to not fear death.



OnTheRoad

15.) On the Road, Kerouac

Because you don’t get enough of the word “rickety” these days. But seriously, you get to “see” a lot of America through Kerouac’s poetic language. It follows the road trips of a beat generation protagonist through America.



16.) Sanctuary, Faulkner

Because Faulkner’s language rocks, and this is a gripping and gritty tale. It’s the story of an upper class co-ed who’s dragged down into the underworld and some desperate times by a couple bad decisions, not the least of which was going for a ride with a stupid drunk.



17.) Self-reliance and Other Essays, Emerson

Because you need a pep talk to think for yourself. Emerson proposed that one stand as an individual and stop letting political parties, religions, or other organizations decide what one believes. Emerson and Twain both saw a sad trend brewing in which people were starting define their beliefs by identifying with a party and then letting that party’s opinion leaders tell them what to think. Sadly, this trend only grew since there day to the point that many people have extremely strong beliefs that they can’t begin explain in a logically and factually consistent way.



18.) Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu

Because one day China is going to collect on our debts, and well need some grasp of their culture. Seriously, you should read outside your culture. In the process, you’ll find that the Taoist stream of thought isn’t all that far off our own—“f#@k authority and pretentiousness and all the bureaucratic formalities.”



19.) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain

Because, screw Melville, this is the great American novel. Yes, I realize that it’s not particularly thin, but compared to Moby Dick it is—and it reads more quickly because there aren’t long drawn out sections on the minutiae of whale pineal glands and what not. This book follows the adventures of that rapscallion, Huck, as he flees a drunk father and a lady who wants to make him civilized, and takes to rafting on the Mississippi with an escaped slave. Yes, it has the n-word like a billion times, but if you read all the words (and not just that one) you’ll see there’s a positive message about the development of mutual friendship and respect between Huck and Jim.



20.) The Call of the Wild, London

Because you need to get outside more. It’s the story of a dog who is taken from the good life as a pet in California to the wilds of Alaska, and what said dog must do to survive.



21.) The Elements of Style, Strunk & White

Because you need to be concise AND coherent. In the age of Twitter, people are mastering the former while losing the latter. This is a thin books that tells you most of what you need to know to write intelligibly in English.



FallofUsher

22.) The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Tales, Poe

Because America has a dark side, and nobody writes it better than Poe. Any of the many collections of Poe’s short stories (some including poems and/or long-form works) will do. One definitely wants “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “Tell-tale Heart,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “A Descent into the Maelstrom,” and, of course, the title poem.



23.) The Golden Sayings of Epictetus, Epictetus

Because we need an injection of Stoicism to counteract the prevailing trend toward whining and moaning. Epictetus was a slave who became one of the most famous Greek sages. His sayings are mostly about not crying over spilt milk, but to be careful not to be the one who spills the milk. In other words, don’t whine about what the world gives you, devote your energies to being virtuous and conscientious.



livesOfACell

24.) The Lives of a Cell, Thomas

Because you should understand your place in the ecosystem, and Lewis Thomas describes it artfully and concisely. This is a series of essays that covers a lot of ground with respect to the subjects of biology and physiology.



25.) The Prince, Machiavelli

Because you may just want to take over the word someday. This is advice about how to rule. It may not make one popular as a middle manager, but there are bits of wisdom throughout.



26.) The Road, McCarthy

Because someday it’s all going to come to an end, and it will probably end badly. This is the story of a father and son wandering through a post-apocalyptic wasteland. I realize I’ve put a lot of dystopianism on this short list, but I’m going to say that’s part of the American condition. America has had it good for long enough to realize that all things come to an end.



27.) The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories, Hemingway

Because we should not give the short story short shrift, and Hemingway—like Poe—did them well. Besides the title story, this collection includes “The Killers”, “The Gambler, The Nun, and the Radio”, and “A Clean, Well-lighted Place.”



28.) The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway

Because you need to get out of the country and experience some of the rest of the world. This is about the travels from Paris to Pamplona of a group of men who’ve all fallen for the same woman with that woman—of course—along for the ride.



29.) Walking, Thoreau

Because you need to get out of the house, away from your cubicle, and out into nature. This is an essay extolling the virtues of putting one foot in front of the other like you mean it.



30.) Where the Wild Things Are, Sendak

This is the story of a little boy’s dreamtime journey to a world inhabited by “monsters” and his interaction with them. Like Green Eggs and Ham, you should have read this as a kid. If you didn’t, I’m sorry about your defective parents, but get over it. Since you probably don’t want to read this as an adult on the Metro going to work, you can get Christopher Walken to read it for you on YouTube.







So that is it. That is my list of 30 Thin Books that Every [Attention-Challenged] American Should Read.

BOOK CHAT: Walking by H.D. Thoreau

WalkingWalking by Henry David Thoreau

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page

Thoreau paints a portrait of walking in such grandiose terms that one will cease to think of putting one foot in front of the other as one of life’s mundane tasks. He’s not talking about just any walking, however. He’s not talking about the mall walkers who briskly exercise in temples of consumerism. He’s not talking about those who walk through the park with top 40 hits blaring from their iPod ear buds.

Thoreau is talking about those individuals he calls saunterers. To saunter, as to stroll, is to walk in a leisurely and aimless fashion. Thoreau’s walking is that which:
-takes place in nature.
-leaves worldly worries behind.
-is not a trivial time commitment.
-is more an exercise of the mind and spirit than of the body.

To the mall walker, Thoreau would point out the error of a missed opportunity to get away from mankind’s chaos and enjoy nature. As he puts it, “The most alive is the wildest.” and “…all good things are wild and free.” He’s also clear in that walking for exercise misses the point by injecting hurriedness into a time that should be about slowing down.

On those with iPods, cellphones, or other contrivances that distract one from the environs, Thoreau is equally clear, “What business have I in the woods if I am thinking of something outside the woods?”

Thoreau’s essay broadens as it progresses. From a commentary on the virtues of sauntering, the essay turns to the glories of nature, the character of America, and the state of thought in his contemporary society. These may seem like unrelated concepts, but there is a string of logic that connects them.

The connection to nature and the virtue of wildness should be clear. It’s nature that is the optimal backdrop of sauntering. It’s in nature that one can be set free from the troubles of the world of man and obtain a glimpse of god. It’s in nature where creativity breeds with chaos turned down and native brilliance turned up.

Thoreau’s discussion of America is tied to the theme of walking in a couple of ways. The first is as a land made for walkers. For example, he points out that a man could pitch a tent almost anywhere in North America without great risk of becoming a meal. The same couldn’t be said of India or Africa or Siberia, where man isn’t the sole predatory creature. The second is America as a place with room to venture out into uncharted territory. Thoreau points out that we may look to the East for the lessons of our predecessors, but a person should look West for opportunities to grow in one’s own right. Of course, Thoreau’s America was different from today’s America.

The end of the essay broadens out even further. Thoreau comments upon mankind and the state of ideas and thought. He echoes Socrates when he talks about that age-old question of whether it’s better to be ignorant (to know one knows little) or deluded (to think one knows a lot, but be drowning in false knowledge.) A reader may suggest that this is a false dichotomy. Why can’t one know most everything and not have a one’s body of knowledge rife with false knowledge? I can’t say, but all of the evidence suggests that if such a state exists, it’s the domain of God or gods (if such entities exist.)

Thoreau also bemoans what he sees as the decline of thinking man. What does this have to do with walking? I think Thoreau answers in the following quote:
“So it would seem few and fewer thoughts visit each growing man from year to year, for the grove in our minds is laid waste—sold to feed unnecessary fires of ambition, or sent to mill—and there is scarcely a twig left for them to perch on.”

I think that everyone should read this thin book–really an essay and not a full-scale book. The problems Thoreau notes have only gotten worse in our modern age. Far too few take the time to walk, and to acquire the benefits of sauntering.

View all my reviews

9 Nights at an Ashram

Taken October 20, 2013 at Fireflies Ashram.

Taken October 20, 2013 at Fireflies Ashram.

Indian cities don’t whisper. They are often lovely, always lively, but offer little relief from bombardment of the senses. Horns are relentless. Bus and truck air-horns can make a person jump from one’s skin. The smells may be pleasing or putrid, but they’re never faint. There is sign pollution, wherein it’s often impossible to find what one is looking for in the sea of signage–even when it lies right in front of one’s face. Colors pop and glow, not smooth pastels, but oranges and purples that you can practically taste.

It shouldn’t have surprised me when I got to the southern edge of the city to find one of the major land uses was Ashrams. Ashrams in all shapes and sizes, from the small but authentic Narayana Gurukula (mentioned a few DAILY PHOTO installments back) to the massive Art of Living International Center–headed by Bangalore’s most famous guru, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Out Kanakapura Road, where monkeys sling through trees and fields of corn remind me of my own Hoosier upbringing, lies a diverse collection of houses of spirituality and reflection. They offer a much-needed island of tranquility amid a sea of chaos.

I stayed for nine nights at one of the most singular of these ashrams, Fireflies. One way in which it’s unique is that it’s a “guruless” ashram. That may seem oxymoronic. The terms “guru” and “ashram” seem to go hand in hand. Guru means teacher. My dictionary defines ashram as, “the home of a small community of Hindus.” [I think this definition could be challenged both on the necessity of “smallness” and “Hindu-ness.” As indicated, there are some pretty massive ashrams and there are ones that are associated with non-aligned spiritual groups.] It’s true that the typical ashram has a spiritual leader or yogi as its head. At Fireflies the gurus come and go with the groups that visit. While I was there, besides our group of Thai Yoga Bodywork practitioners, there was a group of psychotherapists and an organization of past life regressionists. Rather than housing a single unified set of beliefs, at this ashram a diverse and sometimes conflicting set of beliefs are harmoniously housed.

As I have little experience with ashrams, I can’t speak authoritatively about other differences. However, it’s my understanding that one other difference between Fireflies and many–more typical–ashrams is that the latter often have limited or non-existent staff. This means that the visitors may do much, if not the bulk, of the work. Fireflies has a staff that does the cooking and takes care of many needs of the visitors. This isn’t to suggest that it’s like a hotel stay. There’s somewhat of an expectation that visitors will take care of the things that they can do for themselves, and the accommodations are basic.

I found the experience of my stay to be beneficial, if not always stress-free. The main source of my stress had little to do with the Ashram. I received my phone sim card right before I left. After a couple of days I got my phone working for a day or two only to have the phone company turn it off because no one was home when they randomly dropped by to verify my address. [Showing up unannounced in the middle of the day and then treating you as non-existent if no one is home is one of the annoying little hallmarks of Indian institutions (corporate and government) that I’ve experienced on more than one occasion.] I will admit that it is a mark of both society’s and my own wussification that we can’t go a few days without being in contact with home and news of the world. Twenty years ago no one would have expected to have such constant verification that all was well in the world. People could go days back then without worrying that the sky was falling. While it wasn’t pleasant to be cut off, it was an eye-opening experience. [I will note that the Ashram property is on a slope and at the low end I got no reception at all, but on the high end I’d get a bar or two–enough to do the job if the phone company wasn’t screwing me over.]

It was also useful to go without brain candy for a while–that is without television and related entertainment. Part of what I hoped to learn from my stay was whether I was prepared to take the 10-day Vipassana meditation course in the spring. The Vipassana course is considerably more spartan level of existence than that of Fireflies.

On some levels, I proved ready, and on others I have yet to do so. I did just fine eating two vegetarian meals and a snack for dinner each day. (I could have had three full meals per day, but I wanted to make sure I was ready to cut my intake adequately. Therefore, I stuck with a snack in the evening and ate reasonable portions for breakfast and lunch.) I found the meals at Fireflies to be quite good, and I had no complaints in that regard. It should be noted that the ashram is not an easy walk to any restaurants or substantial stores (there are a couple small shops up on the corner, but they’re geared toward locals and don’t necessarily have what a traveler needs) so it’s not easy to go out for something–though I did see one auto-rickshaw around the premises at times.

The true test of preparation for the Vipassana course is that there are no books or notebooks allowed. This will be my greatest challenge. I finished two novels and two nonfiction books on Kindle during my stay, plus probably another 100 pages of other books, and I filled 2/3rds of a journal–mostly with notes from the TYB workshop.

Also, at the Vipassana meditation course one is not allowed to speak to anyone but the instructor at a specific time when they take questions about the course. I wasn’t nearly so cut off from humanity at Fireflies. The workshop participants and teachers were around all day and I had occasional conversations in the evening with others at the ashram. Furthermore, I’m a fairly solitary creature.

It was interesting that during the weekends there were so many people around, but during the middle of the week there were few. For a while I thought I was the only non-staff member person at the ashram—though I later found that to be incorrect.

So my time at the ashram was Spartan, but that’s part of the beauty of it.

I should point out that there are some impressive stone carvings located throughout the property. The artists are international in scope. Each of these carvings or sculptures offers its own story. I’ll attach a few pics for your edification.

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