Friday, September 5, 2008

War and Peace, changes, and self-help books

It's been awhile since I've had the mental wherewithal to put a coherent posting, mostly because I've been trying to adjust to some major changes in my life as I just moved cities and switched jobs. Granted, I moved back to the city where I grew up and switched jobs back into an industry where I worked for a number of years...but still, there's all the usual adjustments of learning new commuting times, returning to a four-season climate (including the most hideous of humid summers), and just thinking about every new new thing.

As part of such changes, I just bought...2 self-help books. I can't help but feel somewhat addled and fluffy as a human being just admitting that I bought those self-help books, let alone saying that I am in absolute earnest about reading these books. However, as I recently admitted to a friend, I've learned many things about life from more shallow sources, particularly Agatha Christie's mysteries and Korean soap operas.

So, what have I learned from Agatha Christie's mysteries? As someone who started reading Agatha Christie as an adult (rather than all my middle school friends who were reading them when they were eleven), I loved her psychological portrayal of human beings. Granted, they aren't the deepest psychological portrayals, but I always felt they struck at the essence of certain personality quirks. And sometimes, having a quick thumbnail sketch of human psychology, rather than a long and involved book, is useful as a way of easily understanding certain traits.

In regards to Korean soap opera...I would say that the lesson is, contradictorily enough, the exact opposite: that certain situations and circumstances do not call for deep rumination on human motivations but rather behaving in a way to make the best of a situation. In that regard, Korean soap operas address the deeply pragmatic vein of Korean culture while still turning on all the tears for the melodrama. The other thing I love about Korean soap operas is how the best ones are detail-oriented and based on mores. In many ways, there is a similarity to earlier British novels such as Jane Austen's novels (many Korean soap operas are still about marriages) or something like Anna Karenina (the sprawling multiple family soap operas with large casts, differences in classes and various personality types, the one tragic figure, etc).

So, given that so much of what I know about life does not come from profound sources but Agatha Christie and Korean soap operas...I should be perfectly fine in saying that I just bought Pema Chodron's Comfortable with Uncertainity and Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit. Pema Chodron's book are brief essays (very brief, roughly a couple of paragraphs each) that takes a Buddhist approach towards life and how to accept different vicissitudes of living. While I am not Buddhist, I find certain aspects of the religion (in its ideal, not institutional, form) jiving with my own hopeful aspirations for myself such as getting rid of one's ego, cultivating gentleness, acknowledging one's flaws, compassionate living, etc.

Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit is about creativity as Tharp has thought about it in relation to her practices as a dancer and composer of dance pieces. Yet, I think that much of how one approaches life, and work as well, is improved in keeping creativity alive and part of everyday living. Certainly, trying to see, whether I am walking the same blocks everyday or on vacation, has improved the enjoyment of my life vastly. Some days, I think there's really nothing more wonderful than seeing a beautiful building; yet, I feel the same when I see a flower blooming during the rare hikes (I am all urban girl). In many ways, creativity is engaging the world with all of one's senses and then interpreting it through one's mind and sensibility. To learn to utilize the senses, sensibility, and the mind is a tremendous resource.

Lastly, I have wanted to buy Richard Pevear and Larissa volokhonsky's translation of War and Peace since it first came out; I loved their translation of Anna Karenina. And I saw a hardcover still available and displayed at a bookstore, so I snagged it. Although the hardcover is pricey, I think it's worth it. Could I have bought it on Amazon for cheaper? Yes...but when I buy a hardcover for $37, it has to be perfect in appearance. And occasionally Amazon delivers books that are not in its best shape, particularly for one so obsessed about making sure the cover is smirch-free, untorn, and pristine.

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