missroserose: (Kick Back & Read)
[personal profile] missroserose
A sure sign that I've been overdoing it physically is waking up feeling like I've been flattened by an 18 wheeler in my sleep. It's not unusual for this time of year - I'm biking more (including more than an hour to and from Sauganash on Monday), running a lot of errands, doing spring cleaning here and there, plus teaching yoga as well as maintaining my own practice. But man, am I exhausted today. Given that my activity levels aren't likely to decrease anytime soon, I think I'm going to start making a regular practice of SOMA (short for Sit On My Ass) days. And luckily, today is a good candidate. All I have to do is teach a class at 6:00; other than that, I can rest and read and maybe take a nice hot bath with Epsom salts.

And what a perfect sort of day to write up a weekly book meme!

What I've just finished reading

all about love, by bell hooks. While eight months is not the longest time I've taken reading a book, it's on the high end, especially for one this relatively slender. You know the old joke, "Where do you hide a book? --In a library"? Also true of my bedroom and its multiple bookshelves with books stacked multiple layers deep. I set this one down halfway through, it got whisked onto a shelf in a frenzied cleaning bout, and I couldn't find it for months - and then when I found it again, it took me several weeks to get back to it amidst everything else I was reading. I'm glad I finished it when I did, though; having taken up the book meme, it gave me a chance to experience the text on a more interactive level, since I was writing about it on a regular basis rather than just in summary at the end.

I have a bunch of highlighted passages, but the one that I think best summarizes the thrust of the book, from the final chapter: "...the journey towards self-actualization and spiritual growth is an arduous one, full of challenges. Usually it is downright difficult. Many of us believe that our difficulties will end when we find a soul mate. Love does not lead to an end to difficulties; it provides us with the means to cope with our difficulties in ways that enhance our spiritual growth." (Emphasis mine.) I don't have much to add to that, other than simply to say that it aligns with my experience, and I feel it's a distinction that many folks in our culture would benefit from reflecting on.

Interacting with the text (especially at the same time as Meditations from the Mat) also helped me articulate my mixed feelings about philosophy/self-help books. One of the things I really liked about all about love is that it feels, in many ways, like a meta-analysis of its subject - hooks draws from numerous books, studies, interviews, and popular sources for her conclusions, and while she does use personal anecdotes to illustrate points that speak to her experience, she doesn't (usually) attempt to generalize those stories as representative of universal experience. Many, many other philosophy books fall into precisely that trap, which becomes increasingly problematic as you move farther away from the author's nationality/income level/culture/other demographics; it remains my single biggest pet peeve with popular philosophy...probably, as with most pet peeves, because it reflects a similar tendency in myself that I'm not proud of.


What I'm reading now

What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves, by Benjamin K. Bergen. I'm enjoying this lighthearted-yet-thorough examination of an oft-ignored aspect of human culture. According to Bergen, although swear words vary greatly from language to language, nearly every language has profane words used in a reflexive way to express frustration, pain, anger, or annoyance, and they almost always fall into four categories of taboo: blasphemy, sexual acts, bodily functions, or racial slurs. (Or, as Bergen succinctly calls it, the Holy Fucking Shit Nigger Principle.) Interesting exceptions: Japanese, which according to this author, the language doesn't have profanity as we traditionally think of it, but Japanese people often use insults like "idiot" or "fool" in the same way we use curses.  (Given that curse words are generally drawn from social taboos, and given how pro-cooperation and collectivist Japanese culture is, this actually makes perfect sense to me.)  Also, Hebrew; because the language had nearly died out and was resurrected around 1900 (something else I didn't know!), mostly from religious texts, much of its profanity was borrowed from English and Arabic.  This probably jumped out at me especially because I'd just finished The Yiddish Policemen's Union, and had noticed that the author carefully noted whenever a character was speaking "in American" (i.e. English), which was almost always when they were swearing.

It's also been interesting to me, from a self-examination standpoint, which words I react to most viscerally; most profanity doesn't faze me, but wow, do I get the involuntary-recoil reaction from racial slurs, especially "nigger" - it takes an effort even for me to type that out.  At one point I was listening to the audiobook on my phone speaker, heedless of the profanity being spoken aloud - it's all in a clinical context, after all! - but when the author started in on a list of slurs, I found myself looking uneasily at my open window.  Clearly it's important to me to create a welcoming atmosphere for people of all groups - and even more important for me to be perceived as doing so, heh.

Meditations from the Mat
, by Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison. I took a break from this one for a couple of weeks, but have returned to reading an essay or two each evening before bed; it's helped that there's been less anecdotal generalization and more abstract philosophy. I particularly like Gates' definition of tapas, the yogic principle of 'burning zeal', i.e. the discipline required to make positive change in one's life and spiritual practice. He talks about karma as the trajectory we're set on by the circumstances of our birth, gender, social class, family, and experiences; and he defines tapas as "the generation of internal momentum to counteract the momentum of karma". This dovetails nicely with my reflections on the differences between comedy and tragedy, which are in turn reflective of my longtime thoughts on nature and nurture, predestination and self-determination, order and chaos. I'm not sure I have the spoons to articulate it all today, but the interplay between karma and tapas seems a good place to start. It's a complicated universe we live in that often seems immutable, and yet by the very laws of gravity, to quote British quantum physicist Paul Dirac, "Pick a flower on Earth, and you move the farthest star." As in so much of our universe, I suspect the answer is not one or the other, but both - even when that seems to create a paradox.

The Black Count, by Tom Reiss. Dumas has found himself in possibly the biggest nightmare a man of his ambition, talents and determined physical agency could encounter: at the mercy of a hostile foreign power, trapped within a Kafkaesque bureaucracy of diplomatic and military affairs, and now struck with some kind of mysterious ailment that may or may not be an attempt by the aforementioned hostile foreign power to rid themselves of a politically inconvenient 'guest'. I admit that I didn't foresee this particular twist; while his imprisonment was mentioned at the beginning as part of his story, given his constant friction with Napoleon, I had assumed it would come at the latter's behest once the man had consolidated his power. Given that Dumas was nearly as famous and respected, however, as well as far more physically impressive, I find myself speculating whether Napoleon's recasting himself as military dictator would have gone quite so smoothly had Dumas, and his strong belief in the principles of the Revolution, been present to object. The book hasn't (so far) presented the question, and from its presentation of the General's canny political instinct as well as the political structure of the time, it feels unlikely, but so far I have only the one source to go on.


What I plan to read next

I've noticed that I tend to select books the same way I do hair colors - there are general rules that I (usually) follow, but the actual selection depends largely on my gut feeling at the time. So in other words - stay tuned!
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