Tag Archives: Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day

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“The mature person eventually forgives his parents. Any adult can look back and see childhood wrongs and unfairness. Many of us were disappointed by our parents, even neglected or hurt by them. We certainly didn’t get all we wanted or needed. Yet, upon joining the ranks of adults, we become responsible for ourselves. Every situation has limited choices, and we work with what we’ve got. As adults, we realize this is exactly where our parents were when we were children. They, too, were born into an imperfect world and had to do the best they could.

When we can forgive our parents, we are free to accept them as they are, as we might a friend. We can accept them, enjoy the relationship, and forget about collecting old debts. Making peace with them imparts to us the strengths of previous generations and helps us be more at peace with ourselves.”

Touchstones: A Book of Daily Meditations for Men, Anonymous

I’m not sure why meditations like the one above are for men alone, but it’s poignant nonetheless. If only I could find that dastardly Anonymous! I think he was a Greek philosopher. Or maybe a Roman senator. Come to think of it, wasn’t he the first drummer for Guns n’ Roses?

Whatever the case, good ol’ Anonymous has hit on something important. Like the Sphinx riddle*, there seems to be three stages to how we view our parents in life. In childhood, we love them unconditionally. As a young, immature adult, we blame them for all of our problems and deficiencies. It’s only as a mature adult that we come to realize they are no different than ourselves and that compassion, empathy and understanding are the only way to rebuild bridges between us that were inevitably strained in our darker, weaker moments.

 

* “What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three in the evening?”  (Man – as a baby, an adult, and an elderly person)

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Quote of the Day

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“The inhabitant or soul of the universe…is never seen; its voice alone is heard. All we know is that it has a gentle voice, like a woman, a voice so fine and gentle that even children cannot become afraid. And what it says is: Sila ersinarsinivdluge, ‘Be not afraid of the universe.'”

Joseph Campbell, Myths to Live by (1972)

In my humble opinion, Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) was one of the most important and influential writers of the 20th century. While there are many scholars who specialize in one religion or mythology, Campbell was really the first person to unify them and realized they shared something in common: they were all variations of one great story, the monomyth (a term he borrowed from Joyce’s Finnegans Wake – a story you should not read without a full vial of Advil beside you).

Joseph Campbell was serious about his reading and his research. I mean, we’re talking about a guy who, from 1929-34, as the Great Depression began ravaging the world, moved to the middle of buttf*** nowhere and spent nine hours a day reading. Imagine how many books you could get through in five years reading at that pace. Epic.

In 1939, Campbell would draw on all of his studies and his vast knowledge of the world when he published The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the book that would not only serve as his coming out party, but what is widely regarded today as his magnum opus. To put it in perspective, this book would not only have immediate and significant academic influence, but it would go on to form the impetus behind now-legendary cultural markers such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones and The Matrix. Luke Skywalker, in fact, was a direct archetype of the very hero Campbell wrote about in that book, and George Lucas has repeatedly credited Campbell’s “hero” for creating a movie character now known the world over.

Something else many people will know of but not know where it came from is perhaps Campbell’s most famous quote, “follow your bliss,” a phrase that has become my friend Maria A.’s life mantra. Campbell came up with this after reading the Upanishads (Hinduism’s Sanskrit texts), and as he’d later explain:

I came to this idea of bliss because in Sanskrit, which is the great spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence: Sat-Chit-Ananda. The word “Sat” means being. “Chit” means consciousness. “Ananda” means bliss or rapture. I thought, “I don’t know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I don’t know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me hang on to rapture, and that will bring me both my consciousness and my being.” I think it worked.

Joseph Campbell was prolific in his lifetime, but if you want his genius condensed into one sweet package, go and get The Power of Myth. It’s a book published the year after his death, an audio book series and a television PBS series with Bill Moyers. Watch it, listen to it, read it. You will walk away a better person for having done so. Guaranteed.

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Quote of the Day

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“It is only by not paying one’s bills that one can hope to live in the memory of the commercial classes.”

Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900)

Word.

O-dubs was a smart guy, that one. Although he grew up with not one but two governesses, he was grounded enough to know the role/burden that bills play in our lives. It may not be the sexiest subject, but it’s one of the few things on this planet that connects almost every human being. And while us peons who hang out on the bottom rungs of the financial ladder scoff at it, even millionaires stress out about bills and go broke all the time.

They* say there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. Well, there should be a third: bill collectors. All bills should come with a warning at the beginning – PAY NOW OR WE WILL HUNT YOU DOWN AND, IF NECESSARY, KIDNAP YOUR PETS. HOW DO YOU LIKE ‘DEM APPLES NOW, MR./MS. CUSTOMER!

I was reminded of Wilde’s quote recently when a story surfaced in the newspaper about a hapless guy in T.O. who lived with his two kids and very nearly lost his electricity. Apparently after working out a plan with the hydro company to split the bill into three portions, he was told he was “lucky” his electricity wouldn’t be discontinued because the provincial government has mandated that June 1 still be deemed a “cold month” in Toronto. Therefore, the hydro company is by law not allowed to cut off this guy’s power.

(You mean it actually pays to live in a cold place like Canada?)

Yet if it had been July 1, he claims he would have been up a river, under the waterfalls, his dingy deflating after being punctured by falling rocks, and, of course, without a paddle.

Does that seem remotely fair, just or legal?

Who cares!

So, my dear friends who work as bill collectors or hired goons for loan sharks, I thank you on behalf of that wretched father and his children from the bottom of my heart for your sympathy. Scratch that – your empathy, for you clearly understand the human condition as well as Trump understands the word “truth” and North Korea understands the term “real world.”

 

* You know, “they”! Those two some guys and gals we all know of but have never actually met.

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Quote of the Day

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“I should like to bury something precious in every place where I’ve been happy and then, when I’m old and ugly and miserable, I could come back and dig it up and remember.”

Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

For anyone who has even a little bit of love-on for the England of yore, this book is for you. Evelyn Waugh, most recently mentioned in Sofia Coppola’s Oscar-winning Lost in Translation, was a prolific journalist, biographer, travel writer and critic during his lifetime, but is today probably best remembered for his classic 1945 novel Brideshead Revisited.

There are numerous versions of this book that have been adapted to the silver screen and turned into TV miniseries, but if you find yourself in the mood for an oldie but a literary goodie, you won’t be disappointed  with this book.

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The Inconvenient Indian/Quote of the Day

The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America

“You know what they say. If at first you don’t succeed, try the same thing again. Sometimes the effort is called persistence and is the mark of a strong will. Sometimes it’s called perseveration and is a sign of immaturity. For an individual, one of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again in the same way and expecting different results. For a government, such behavior is called… policy.”  

Thomas King, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America

I can’t think of a better title or a better quote than the above, which comes from Thomas King‘s 2012 prize-winning book. Probably best known for The Inconvenient Indian and Green Grass, Running Water, Mr. King currently teaches at the University of Guelph and has, over the years, become one of our country’s leading writers about Canada’s Native people.

However, the impetus for choosing today’s Quote of the Day comes not as much from the book as it does from an article that the Toronto Star fronted with on March 4, 2017, “Families divided after Ottawa tells thousands they’re not indigenous.”

Why this article and why now?

Because now it’s personal. For reasons that escape me, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada issued a letter on January 31, 2017 to about 83,000 people claiming Mi’kmaq ancestry (of a grand total amounting to about 101,000 people) saying that they were being denied membership on the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation registry based on a point system that some have called flat-out “idiotic.”

For the record, I have seen this letter myself, and the point system to determine someone’s “genuine” band status is nothing short of a cruel joke. More to the point (legally, that is), Canada’s Indian Act does not have a point system to determine how “Indian” someone is; that, yet again for reasons that allude me, is unique only to the Qalipu of Newfoundland.

So, in May 2018, four of my family/extended family members will have their Native status withdrawn from the official Qalipu registry when it’s made public “once and for all.”

Well, isn’t that convenient.

In one fell swoop, the federal government has done away with 83% of an entire band’s membership (saving Ottawa a ton of money in benefits and related costs), which – I might point out – is the only recognized Native band on the island of Newfoundland.

Carolyn Bennett, Canada’s Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, may not have been in charge in 2008 when this debacle began unfolding, but she is now and doesn’t seem to be in any rush to slow this train down as it approaches Trainwreck Central.

Today, filmmaker Michelle Latimer, a senior programmer at Toronto’s ImagineNATIVE Film & Media Arts Festival, is in development on a project through the National Film Board tentatively titled The Inconvenient Indian (based on Thomas King’s book). Plus, one of my old classmates, Jesse Wente (@jessewente), Director of Film Programmes at TIFF Bell Lightbox and columnist for “Metro Morning” on CBC Radio One,  will be serving as one of the project’s producers. Hopefully it, like the book, will help shed more light on a subject that is still far too often dismissed, ignored or – as is the case with the 83,000 former Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation band members – blatantly shunned.

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Quote of the Day

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“It was a time when telling fantasies to oneself as well as others, and believing them, was practiced to an incredible degree…A large part of the population was swept into this confused, crazy world. ‘Self-deception while deceiving others’ (zi-qi-qi-ren) gripped the nation.”

Jung Chang, Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

I know what you’re thinking: How on Buddha’s still-somewhat-green Earth could Jung Chang have presaged all the way back in 1991 through her book Wild Swans what would happen to the U-nited States of America in 2017? The answer, of course, is that she didn’t; she was writing about growing up in China before, during and after one of the most sinister leaders of the 20th century, Mao Zedong.

Kind of ironic (READ: scare the quills off a porcupine’s balls) that you can read the above passage and say to yourself, Wow! That so captures life today under Donnie T., Spicy Spice and the Grim Reaper.

Lest we forget, though, Jung Chang did a mind-blowing job of capturing 20th-century Chinese history from the perspective of three generations of females in a narrative that is at once memoir, social critique and eyewitness account to one of the most tumultuous eras in modern history.

Mao’s Reign of Terror, which was masked by such euphemistic banners as Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward, was in fact on the same sub-human level as the French Revolution’s real la Terreur, Lenin’s Bolshevik Revolution, Pol Pot’s Killing Fields, and Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, to name but a few of the blemishes on civilization’s track record over the last couple of hundred years.

Along with Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s China Wakes: The Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power, Wild Swans should be mandatory reading for anyone trying to get a handle on where China has come from and where it’s heading in the future.

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Quote of the Day

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“As it turns out, the atrocities we suffered were committed by none other than ourselves, and the inner sense of guilt and fear sparked by this incident helped form the roots of the frantic hatred that thrives to this day.”

Hwang Sok-yong, The Guest

I need to start today’s Quote of the Day post by saying that I wish I could write more prolifically on Korean literature, specifically its canon of fiction, but that is made difficult for three reasons: (1) the quality of the English translations tends to be poor to quite poor; (2) the content, in my experience, is not engaging nor is it particularly  groundbreaking in any way; (3) the way in which the majority of Korean authors (I’ve come across) express themselves in narrative and dialogue is not very clear, logical or lyrical much of the time.

I’ll get back to that conversation in a later post, but it’s interesting to note that perhaps the most famous writer to come out of East Asia (in English) in the modern era is the Japanese author Murakami Haruki, who is celebrated and venerated (by foreign readers everywhere) and scorned by some of Japan’s literati (like Nobel Laureate Kenzaburō Ōe) for adopting “fast food American-style writing.”

But I digress. Today’s quote comes from a titan of South Korean letters (to my knowledge there are neither artistic titans nor men/women of letters in North Korea), Hwang Sok-yong, and a book I read years ago called The Guest (2005).

The book is a little like Chang-rae Lee’s A Gesture Life in that we follow an ethnic Korean now settled in the U.S., 40 years on, back to the atrocities of war a lifetime ago. Unlike Lee’s book, however, The Guest revisits one of the many horrific battles that took place during the Korean War (1950-53), the fight between good and evil, Christians and communists, God-fearing and God-loathing people.

The title of the book is a euphemism for smallpox, yet infers unwanted visitors that bring nothing but death and destruction (i.e. foreigners, Bible thumpers, people with big noses, those whose breath smells like milk and cheese, etc.). This is partly aimed at the Americans in the context of the plot – for they were initially blamed for the massacre this novel centres around in the Korean War – and partly at colonialism in general (Korea was an unofficial suzerainty of China for centuries, an official one for about 250 years, a Japanese colony for 35 years, and has since been living under the umbrella of the U.S. 8th Army for the past 72 years).

The quote today, while not terribly memorable for its prose, does capture what is arguably the saddest element of war: a fraternal, incendiary battle that pits brother on brother, parents on children, and families on families. What most people still don’t know today – 64 years on – is that Koreans are one of the most homogenous ethnicities in the world, despite the fact that they are now two countries. From the time Dangun came down from the heavens and founded Korea’s first kingdom, Kochosun (or Gojoseon as it’s now spelled), in 2333 B.C., the Korean peninsula was essentially ruled by one Korean dynasty or another. It was only in 1945 that the Soviets and Americans literally created an imaginary line out of nowhere (today known simply  as the 38th parallel, or the DMZ to tourists) that Korea became two nations, and then, in 1948, two countries.

Two years later, North Korea invaded in the early morning hours of June 25, 1950, and hell on Earth was unleashed. Three years later, 2.5 million civilians were dead on both sides of the border, another 500,000 were killed in battle, and more than a million soldiers and civilians were wounded, “disappeared” or were abducted.

Yet the saddest part to this whole thing is that a formal peace agreement was never signed between South and North Korea. All that fighting, all those deaths, and for what? A stalemate. The most heavily guarded border on our planet. Constant tension in the region. And 25 million people living under the oppressive thumb of a Big Brother figure that even George Orwell couldn’t have imagined in his worst nightmares.

As of 2017, North Korea and South Korea are still technically at war.

On a final – and lighter – note, I happen to know the two translators  who worked on Hwang’s novel, Kyung-Ja Chun (mother) and Maya West (daughter), and can say with confidence they did a great job on the English version. So, if you’re looking to expand your literary horizons to a country few outside of it are familiar with, The Guest is as good a place to start as any.

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Quote of the Day

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“When I saw the car pulling into the driveway and I saw her getting out and walking towards the house, can you imagine Nadezhda, I performed involuntary excretion in my trousers.”  

Marina Lewycka, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

If you’re ever told that it’s too late to start writing – or at least you’re too old to get published – I urge you to consider the case of Marina Lewycka. Ethnically Ukrainian, Ms. Lewycka was born in a German refugee camp after World War II and later emigrated to England, where she now lives in bright, sunny & brightly sun-filled Sheffield.

On the cusp of her 60th birthday, she’d lived a rich, full life. She was highly educated, taught at a local university, had kids, a burgeoning family, and lived in the glorious metropolis of the Hamilton (Canada)/Pittsburgh (USA) of the U.K. Life couldn’t get any better, right? Or could it…

Although she’d long had aspirations to be a writer, like a REAL writer, by her late 50s she finally had time to pen a work of fiction. The only problem was that it had been rejected 36 times by publishers and agents alike. As she later revealed in an interview, she’d all but given up on having her literary baby see the light of day.

But as they say in Ukrainian: %#$@$@@$#$$%$$%$%, which roughly translates to A hungry wolf is stronger than a satisfied dog.

Then, at the tender age of 59, hungry wolf Marina Lewycka finally caught a break. Somebody, somewhere, saw the genius in a manuscript called A Short History of Tractors in Ukranain (2005). It immediately became a bestseller, won two awards, was shortlisted for the prestigious Orange Award and longlisted for the Man Booker Award. Who the what the where?

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian is not so much a laugh-out-loud kind of funny novel; it’s more like an involuntarily excrete-in-your-pants kind of funny. She’d continue with her success as a wry, tongue-lodged-firmly-in-cheek novelist with her second book, Two Caravans (2007, also known as Strawberry Fields). Since then the “Ukrainian Brain Train” has not relented and just last year, a little after turning 70, published her 5th novel.

Marina Lewycka rocks. Her fiction is sumptuous and deliciously devious. So for all you writers (wannabes and professionals) out there who have yet to be published, don’t despair. As Tim Allen reminded us in Galaxy Quest, “Never give up. Never surrender.”

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Quote of the Day

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“Droll thing life is – that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself – that comes too late – a crop of unextinguishable regrets. I have wrestled with death. It’s the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable greyness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamour, without glory, without the great desire for victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid scepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary. If such is the form of ultimate wisdom, then life is a greater riddle than some of us think it to be.”

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Good ol’ “Say It Ain’t So” Joe published Heart of Darkness in 1899, the same year Ernest Hemingway was born (the two authors would share very similar experiences in their youth, similarly influencing their respective literary content, if through different styles). The Scramble for Africa by European imperialists was at its zenith, the world was on the brink of a new century, and mankind was on a dangerous precipice, about to plunge itself into what was soon to be – up until then – the most barbaric war in human history.

Cue the background for a novel that would gain a huge resurgence in popularity after the release of  Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now in 1979. Conrad had been deeply scarred by his experiences in Africa and harnessed these feelings in Marlow’s legendary trip along the Congo River to meet a mysterious man named Mr. Kurtz, the same theme of which would be mirrored in Coppola’s epic Vietnam War film through Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) when he sails upriver towards Cambodia to “terminate with extreme prejudice” Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), whom the U.S. Army has deemed insane.

What I find most impressive about Joseph Conrad is not the canon of literature he bequeathed to posterity, but the fact that he wrote his most notable fiction in neither his first, second or third languages (Polish, Russian and French,  respectively) nor in his fourth or fifth (written) languages (Latin and German) and not even in his frigging sixth or seventh (passable but not perfectly fluent) languages (Spanish and Italian).

No, no, no. If you guessed anywhere from languages one through seven you are clearly a literary hayseed and should therefore burn with shame, languish, and be gone!

In fact, Conrad wrote his most enduring stories and prose in his freaking eighth (one after 7 and one before 9, which as it turned out was Malay) language! Perhaps more incredibly, if that’s possible, is that he he only started learning English in his 20s – and not formally in school or by living in a country like England, but on the high seas while hanging out with fellow shipmates. Hey Zeus!

And people think Leonardo da Vinci was special? That dude ain’t got nuttin’ on Joey C.

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Quote of the Day (Book of the Month)

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“We throw our parties; we abandon our families to live alone in Canada; we struggle to write books that do not change the world, despite our gifts and our unstinting efforts, our most extravagant hopes. We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep. It’s as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out windows, or drown themselves, or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us are slowly devoured by some disease, or, if we’re very fortunate, by time itself. There’s just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we’ve ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) know these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more. Heaven only knows why we love it so…”  

I’m reading Michael Cunningham‘s The Hours right now for my book club and absolutely love this quote. Winner of both the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction (along with a slew of other awards…gulp!), more people will probably be familiar with the movie of the same name, which starred three nobodies (Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman) and a weak-to-quite-weak supporting cast (Ed Harris, John C. Reilly, Stephen Dillane, Jeff Daniels, Miranda Richardson, Allison Janney, Toni Collette and Claire Danes).

What I love about this Quote of the Day is that – aside from being bang-on – it’s depressingly uplifting; it’s both sad and encouraging somehow.  Agents, publishers and editors always stress that less is more, how the simple will always triumph over the convoluted. And guess what? Okay, okay, okay. I’ll give you three guesses, but the first two don’t count.

The answer is that they’re all correct.

While the strength of the passage obviously (obviously!) lies in the fact that Mr. Cunningham recognizes Canada as a superior country to the United States of Donnie T., it’s his simple prose tying so much of our greatest fears and hopes together that makes it sing off the page.

Good on Mikey C., eh? Maybe next time he be go and write good about ‘nother country fulla awesomeness, like that wicked hot place southa’ them there New Great Wall. That’d be somethin’, huh?

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