Tag Archives: In the Skin of a Lion

Toronto: The Livable, User-friendly City!

Image result for iconic toronto pictures

(A shot of downtown T.O., just up the street from my pad)

How’s that title for a tourism slogan! Come to Toronto, where you can live as a human being AND use kindly things in a way that will make them seem like they’re a friend.

Writer and translator Manjushree Thapa over at The Millions has penned what is labelled a “quasi-love letter to Toronto,” the city I was born in, grew up in, and now live in (making me as rare a species as the Manhattanite who was born, raised, and still lives on the 59 km2 island), titled “I Don’t Love You, Toronto: On Books and Cities.”

It’s an interesting look at Toronto from the point of view of someone arriving here as an adult. Not only does she look into the city’s Native Canadian roots (something most of us Torontonians, sadly, know little about), but she also links some well-know CanLit (Canadian literature) books to the city.

Although Ms. Thapa is from Nepal, she nailed something soooooo Toronto when talking about housing: “…we’d slip into that most Torontonian of conversations, about buying or renting or moving away entirely.” The only thing missing from that statement is …or put our names down on the provincial 160,000 person waiting list for affordable housing (almost half of that list being in Toronto alone).

For what it’s worth, my favourite novel about Toronto remains Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion, which earned him a Toronto Book Award in 1988.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Honest Liars: The Psychology of Self-Deception

Image result for self-deception

Apropos of yesterday’s Quote of the Day from Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion, you can imagine my surprise when I chanced upon this TED Talk from Cortney Warren (@DrCortneyWarren) this morning titled “Honest Liars: The Psychology of Self-Deception.”

This could very well be the most informative 13 minutes and 47 seconds you experience all week. Maybe all month. Ms. Warren is a gifted orator with a staggering intellect, an eloquent public speaker who takes complex issues of the mind and finds a way to present them as common denominators that anyone can relate to (think Pericles meets Oliver Sacks meets Niki Taylor) – and she has a message for all of us: It’s time to take responsibility for our life story (thank you, Mikey O.) and stop the big little lies (thank you, HBO) that spiral out of control as we get older and lead to nothing but a life of self-deceit, unhappiness and unfulfilled dreams.

Sound cheery and cheerful? Right-o! Well, fortunately Ms. Warren has a panacea of sorts and it’s pretty simple: stop blaming and start accepting; forget what others expect of you and remember what it is you expect of yourself; understand that you play a role, no matter how big or small, in all of the outcomes that dictate the life path you presently find yourself on.

“Each person had their moment when they assumed the skins of wild animals, when they took responsibility for the story.”

That’s what Mr. Ondaatje wrote in his epic novel more than 30 years ago, and it’s what Cortney Warren echoes, not through the prism of art or literature, but from the perspective of psychology. And it would seem she’s anything but a hypocrite in this matter: After a life spent in academia and finally (finally!) achieving tenure, she soon submitted her resignation because she realized that was not what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. She had the strength to face down her own self-deception and begin a new journey down a path where she will aim to be a better, more honest liar – at least to herself.

(Dear Cortney, should you ever happen to stumble upon this post on the great highway called the interweb, please know that I feel your pain/admire your bravery. I, too, left a prestigious job teaching at a university in 2004 to pursue writing as a full-time gig and have never looked back. I may be much poorer in currency than I was all those years ago, but I am rich – err…wrong word – much more satisfied and at peace with the life path I chose to walk down at that critical juncture of my life. God speed as you embark on the next phase of your destiny and you assume the skins of wild animals.)

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Quote of the Day

Image result for in the skin of a lion

“Each person had their moment when they assumed the skins of wild animals, when they took responsibility for the story.”

Michael Ondaatje, In the Skin of a Lion

This is, without a doubt, unequivocally, no question, stick-a-fork-in-me-I’m-done-like-dinner one my favourite quotes in the entire canon of English language literature. If you have not read this book, do not pass Go, do not collect $200, and head directly to jail (or your local library/bookstore); if you have not read anything at all by Ondaatje – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, commentary – and you are over the age of 30, go straight to the hospital, get an MRI, then tell the technician, “Shoot me now, please.”

In the Skin of a Lion is a very loose prequel to Ondaatje’s most famous work internationally, The English Patient, but the novel stands on its own two feet just fine. Aside from winning the prestigious Governor General’s Award, it has stood the test of time since being published 30 years ago and will, in my humble opinion, continue to resonate with readers for many years to come. Like, many years to come.

When writing about this novel in an academic paper, Graciela Moreira Slepoy so rightly pointed out:

“As the title of the novel indicates, to take responsibility for one’s own story and for its narration is a way of legitimising and appropriating one’s life in order to compensate for historical omissions. Alice’s explanation of the meaning of the title emphasises the importance of telling personal stories.”

An immigrant himself, Mr. Ondaatje first uprooted his life in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) and moved to England in 1954. Eight years later, in 1962, he made his final move, to Canada, and now resides in Toronto.

In the same paper as above, Graciela Moreira Slepoy states that “In the Skin of a Lion narrates forgotten stories of those who contributed to the building of…Toronto, particularly immigrants and marginal[ized] individuals.” In the novel, this primarily centres around two pieces of highly relevant Toronto infrastructure, the Bloor Street Viaduct (Prince Edward Viaduct) and the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant, as well as the immigrant workers who built them.

Although a different time period than his own, this was obviously something that Ondaatje could not only sympathize with, but an experience that more than 20 years after first landing in Montreal he still felt passionate about. In 1987, he took this passion and his personal memories as an immigrant, combined them with some intense research carried out at the City of Toronto Archives,  and then brought this all together with a compelling plot and beautiful prose.

The result was the publication of one of the most important and enduring pieces of Canadian fiction – and one of its most enjoyable to read.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Quote of the Day

Image result for the english patient, novel

People have a hard enough time choosing just one novel as their favourite piece of fiction, let alone a single passage from all the books they’ve read as the most beautiful or powerful string of words they’ve ever come across. Not so for me. I knew it the first time I read this passage and have known it all of the hundreds of times I’ve reread it since then. Unless and until I stumble upon something more moving, I’m taking this with me to the grave as the most stunning piece of prose in the modern English literary canon.

It comes from Michael Ondaatje’s 1992 masterpiece, The English Patient, a sort of sequel to In the Skin of a Lion (1987). Winner of the Governor General’s Award (English-language fiction) and Booker Prize, the movie adaptation went on to win 9 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

So, without further ado, I bring you a stirring piece of writing that has been inspiring me creatively for more than 20 years.

“We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves. I wish for all this to be marked on my body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography – to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience. All I desired was to walk upon such an earth that had no maps.

I carried Katherine Clifton into the desert, where there is the communal book of moonlight. We were among the rumour of wells. In the palace of winds.” 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized