Handmaid’s Tale, first thoughts

The night after I read The Handmaid’s Tale, I had several nightmares. There’s something that is deeply unsettling about a nightmare, and Atwood’s book tapped into that fear for me. I don’t mean to dismiss the book. Quite the opposite. I stayed up far too long to finish it. It was five in the morning when I could finally put it down. But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t unsettled.

 I’ll save more thoughts for when we’re further along in the book, but I’ll leave this post with  a quote:

“What I need is perspective. The illusion of depth, created by a frame, the arrangement of shapes on a flat surface. Perspective is necessary. Otherwise there are only two dimensions. Otherwise you live with your face squashed up against a wall, everything a huge foreground, of details, close-ups, hairs, the weave of the bedsheet, the molecules of the face. Your own skin like a map, a diagram of futility, crisscrossed with tiny roads that lead nowhere. Otherwise you live in the moment. Which is not where I want to be.” 


Being Kind to Yourself

The idea of being kind to yourself got stuck in my brain today while I wasn’t paying attention, but it came back up as I sat down to write this post. It resonated with me in a very personal way I know but don’t want not write about right now. I do want to say, though, that there are plenty of ways to not do it, and that, while sometimes, there’s a clear line, it can easily be crossed.

I like to believe that intention is important. And it is. But something that we must always keep in mind is whether the action is serving that intent. We are our own worst critics, and it can be hard to break that cycle.

So it is important to be kind to ourselves.

On Movement

One of the methods that my directors have always fallen back upon to teach rhythm to notoriously-rhythmically-challenged vocalists is called eurhythmics. I don’t mean the fun 80s pop kind, but rather the method of linking music to movement. The idea is pretty simple. You move on the beats that you feel in the measure, whether that be the bigger ones or in smaller subdivision. By engaging your whole body, hypothetically you are feeling the music better, and therefore singing better. (Of course, if you’re me, you’re also two seconds away from falling, you lose some of the grace the movement was intended to provide.)

Which is why the following passages about walking meditation in Guarantana struck me:

We walk slowly not only so that we can observe the details of the movements but also so that we can watch what is going on in our minds…

When we are mindful of walking as it actually is, it is also easier to understand that it is not a self or soul that does the walking. All of this activity has not been made possible by some permanent being inside us. It arises interdependently because of causes and conditions, which we can train ourselves to notice.

It’s amazing, the power of the mind-body connection, even in something as simple and straightforward as walking. For me, it truly brings home the idea of the body as an instrument, and the mind as an extension of the body.

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Terms of Service

“I have read and agree to the Terms” is the biggest lie on the web.

Terms of Service; Didn’t Read

Terms of Service; Didn’t Read is a clever little project that reveals a very scary truth. We entrust our content far too quickly to different platforms. Do you know if you can delete a WordPress account, if you wanted? Can they change the ToS on you without notice? If the government asks for your information, will they tell you that? What kind of copyright and licenses do they have on the material that you post?*

I highly recommend it if you’re worried about privacy issues. Just saying.

*You can’t delete an account, and they can change the ToS without telling you. They will tell you if the government asks for info, though, and they only have permission to distribute your information for the purpose of promoting your blog.

King Lear’s Perception

And my poor fool is hang’d! No, no, no life!
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
And thou no breath at all? Thou’lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never!
Pray you, undo this button: thank you, sir.
Do you see this? Look on her, look, her lips,
Look there, look there!

In the last scene of King Lear by Shakespeare, the director and the actor have a choice. Lear is mourning over Cordelia’s body, and, seconds before he dies, he believes he sees her breathe. This is clear from the lines. However, it is the actor’s choice if Lear dies believing what he says, that Cordelia is alive, or if he is saying it with a kind of false hope. Does Lear really think Cordelia is alive? Is it his last moment of madness? Or does the reality kill him? Does Lear finally, after a play’s worth of delusions, see the truth?

I could argue that the emotional impact of this scene is somewhat lost on modern audiences. We come into the play knowing that Cordelia dies, most likely. But for Shakespeare’s sources, Cordelia lived. The original audience might have believed that the attempted rescue of Cordelia was going to work. The scene may have had a sense of urgency that a modern production cannot quite recapture. We lose tragedy, in some sense. We are braced for it in a way that is not perhaps intended. We become dulled to the pain. I think this is the great strength and weakness of theater. No two performances will ever be the same, and that is not entirely the company’s or the author’s fault. A key facet of theater is that no two audiences will ever be the same, and the challenge of the modern director and actor is to make you care anyway.

Today has been one of those days when technology and the Internet have utterly failed me on multiple levels. I couldn’t close my CD drive on my laptop this entire weekend. My external hard drive is refusing to back up my computer. Google+ won’t let me link multiple emails to one account. It seems that the online version of Outlook has joined its desktop counterpart in hating me. And my alarm failed to wake me up from my nap. I was slightly afraid to start typing this post because I was afraid that my laptop would die forever and ever.

Of course, there’s an argument to be made that the operator is the problem here.

There is a fundamental way in which technology is dependent on the humans that interact with it. Garbage In, Garbage Out. I’m not feeling very articulate today, but in a way it reminds me of perception. The computer cannot sense, at least not in the way that we do. Until we can teach a computer to program itself in the way that a human can, a computer will always be a combination of language and math. We must define rules and programs for it to run, and it can only perceive the world through those means.

To put it another way, there is a reason that we use the phrase “social media platform.” Humans build on top of that platform, whether it be blog posts or comics or flame wars.

Which leads me to a very tangential question–Is technology the new sixth sense?

(Comic by Randall Monroe of xkcd)

In Which I Say Nothing of Consequence

Seven Things from Sunday: A Curation

  1. It is not illogical to start writing a post at 11:22 pm, hoping something creative will come out. (via Seminars Contemplative Political Philosophy)
  2. A child’s sense of security is the foundation upon which all other successes are built. (via Upworthy)
  3. White boards are really the most fabulous thing that any human being can own.
  4. “Wisdom and goodness to the vile seem vile:/ Filths savour but themselves.” King Lear
  5. Statistics is, in some ways, a battle against perception.
  6. “Austen’s great insight is that she could write scenes with four or five levels of recursive mind reading that nonetheless allow us to have a second-level embedded response by running a quick and frugal heuristic.” Vermeule, Why Do We Care About Literary Characters?, 101
  7. “The phenomenological world is not the making explicit of a prior being, but rather the founding of being; philosophy is not the reflection of a prior truth, but rather, like art, the actualization of a truth.” Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, lxxxiv