September 5, 2015

Book report from more than an organizer

Guys, it’s like when I had to say aloud: I am more than an English teacher.

Now: I am more than an organizer.

I read and think and don’t just send reminder emails about upcoming events.

Finally today I'm carving out the time to share passages from recent books read. Admittedly, are somewhat topical in terms of environmental campaigning, burnout, politicians, and elections.

My Year Without Matches
An Australian forest campaigner, burnt-out from the work, lives in the bush for a year seeking connection and inner stability.
Everything changed once I was on the payroll. Gone were the spirited bush missions, the tribe, the magic. This was city campaigning by computer, sensible and sedate. The goals grew hairier as the ground crew grew thinner. Until it was just me. I tried to bring the magic back, upping the pace, working longer hours, telling myself what a privilege it was to have this job. I owed it to the members paying my meagre wage. I owed it to my parents, to the forests, to Daniel. To myself. 
But the truth was I didn’t feel passionate anymore. I just felt employed.
I’m not that bad (yet)! And it sounds like Claire Dunn, the author, hadn’t had enough grounding training in organizing to remember the importance of relationships. But, still… a touch hauntingly recognizable.

Gnarr! How I became the mayor of a large city in Iceland and changed the world
Jón Gnarr reflects on his punk past, the joke campaign, and how his life changed when he actually won.

When Gnarr has to negotiate a coalition with a leftist party to form government:
“Sjón and Óttarr had a conversation wth Dagur earlier today,” Heida announced. 
“Has he seen The Wire?” I asked. 
“We did briefly mention it,” Óttarr said. “No, he’s never seen it. And he wanted to know if we would make that a precondition for cooperation.” 
“He must watch The Wire,” I insisted. “What am I supposed to talk to him about otherwise–socialism?”
Gnarr is the first politician to make me want to go into politics. At the same time, the psychic resilience he must practice (using training from Judo) and the deep tiredness that he endures do make one think twice.

Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays
Zadie Smith applies her mega-intellect to books, family, politics, race, and the whole bit.

I re-read the essay “Speaking in Tongues” in which she points out that Obama is the first multidialectal American president. This time I noticed her praise for other politicians with far-ranging minds and linguistic capacity, in particular to a man named Halifax, who mediated between Parliament and the Crown in London.
His intellect was fertile, subtle, and capacious.
Don’t you wish we talked about current political candidates that way? 

The Tutor of History
An election in Nepal affects almost everyone in the village of Khaireni Tar.
And off the workers would go to spread word of the People’s Party in a haphazard way. 
It worried Om. True, the nature of electioneering work was like this: constant, strenuous and completely disorganized.

Unrelated, but a great passage:
How surprising to be cut free. Rishi felt a peculiar strength amassing inside him. He felt capable of moving in any direction and doing anything. He felt light. Things that hurt him earlier now slid past him with hardly any impact… And there were options he saw.

May 22, 2015

Wiki Friday: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Or, Why I spent the morning watching UFC videos on YouTube

Yesterday a friend showed me some Jiu-Jitsu moves on the grass at Douglas Park. She told me about the history of Japanese Judo masters passing knowledge on to Brazilians,  the Gracie family in particular, who then adapted the practice to focus more on the a defensive ground game.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu emphasizes getting an opponent to the ground in order to use ground fighting techniques and submission holds involving joint-locks and chokeholds.
Apparently competitions often ban certain joint-locks­, namely the ones that can permanently damage knees and spines.

And about those chokeholds:
In BJJ, the chokes that are used put pressure on the carotid arteries, and may also apply pressure to the nerve baroreceptors in the neck. This kind of choke is very fast acting (if done properly) with victims typically losing consciousness in around 3–5 seconds. In contrast, an air choke (involving constriction of the windpipe) can take up to two minutes, depending on how long the person can hold their breath, and may cause serious damage to the throat.
There is definitely something about understanding a sport that makes it more enjoyable to watch. I would never expect to be enthralled by a 13-minute YouTube video about the role of Jiu-Jitsu inthe first Ultimate Fighting Championship, November 12, 1993 in Denver Colorado. But I was.

Ken Shamrock, who fights in an amazing red Speedo, describes his first fight in the ring with an undefeated bare-knuckle boxer:

“I crank his heel. I break his leg. He taps out.”

“They [the audience] were mad. No one understood what submission was.”

But Shamrock’s submission moves failed to match those of Royce Gracie, the smallest of the famous family, who beat Shamrock in the final round of that first UFC.

“There’s the tap. There’s the tap.”

Seeing Shamrock tap the mat, with pretty intense urgency, is meaningful when I know that he may well be 3 seconds away from unconsciousness, because of these crazy chokeholds.

“I’m sitting there on the ground, wondering ‘How in the world did he do that?’”


April 7, 2015

An Age Like This: Orwell and Klein

I recently read An Age Like This, a compilation of Orwell's essays and letters from 1920 to 1940.

I sat down to share some quotations, including one about a "broken-down old wreck" of a goat "worn out by about 20 years of fucking his own sisters, daughters...", but instead I want to draw a line between him and me (him being Orwell, not the goat).

George Orwell, or Eric Blair if we want to use his real name, had no early aspirations to write the anti-authoritarian heavyweight 1984. He liked gardening, raising animals, and carpentry. In an ideal world, he would have lived in his cottage in the country and slowly accumulated a classic oeuvre, at a pace of a book a year.

Instead, the Spanish Civil War made such a lifestyle financially and philosophically impossible. Even after his life-changing experience of joining the war in Spain and writing Homage to Catalonia, he expressed some distaste for writing overtly about politics:

I hate writing that kind of stuff and am much more interested in my own experiences, but unfortunately in this bloody period we are living in one’s only experiences are being mixed up in controversies, intrigues, etc.

"One's only experiences are being mixed up in controversies"–this made me think of this age, and a passage from Naomi Klein's most recent book on climate change vs. the economy, This Changes Everything. She writes:

dropping out and planting vegetables is not an option for this generation. 

the fossil fuels runaway train is coming for us one way or another. 

In an ideal world, maybe I would devote myself to researching Turkic languages. But I do see the runaway train coming.

January 16, 2015

"constraints aping marriage develop"

The first breath of adultery is the freest; after it, constraints aping marriage develop.

I had never read anything by John Updike, so I didn’t know what all the hype was about until I began Couples. The hype is due. He is one hell of a writer.

So repulsive, Freddy assumed the easy intrusiveness of a very attractive man.

Magnolia buds swollen by heat

I went down to swim–delicious, like being inside a diamond

Rather, Updike is one hell of a thinker, because you have to think of these countless metaphors, insights, and poignant images, in order to write them down. The linguistic fruits flourish so lushly on each page that you have to stop trying to acknowledge each one, lest you never finish the book. He’s funny, too, obviously. I don’t even mind the self-indulgent wanderings and bold generalizations.

Every marriage is a hedged bet. Foxy entered hers expecting that, whatever fate held for them, there were certain kinds of abuse it would never occur to her husband to inflict. He was beyond them, as most American men are beyond eye-gouging and evisceration. She had been right. He had proved not so much gentle as too fastidious to be cruel.

Every marriage tends to consist of an aristocrat and a peasant. Of a teacher and a learner.

With these I stopped and thought, “Is this true? Have I felt that way?” and recruited experiences to weight the balance.

The novel is about marriages and everyone cheating on each other, in a Waspy little town in the American northeast. I imagine the book was more shocking when it was published in 1968 than it is now, almost 50 years later.

“I can think of no other novel, even in these years of our sexual freedom, as sexually explicit in its language… as direct in its sexual reporting, as abundant in its sexual activities,” wrote Diana Trilling for The Atlantic Monthly. [This is on the back cover, like an advertisement.]

Game of Thrones is more abundant in sexual activities, I can tell you, after binge-watching the first two seasons this Christmas. So what struck me more than the sex–although I did have a huge laugh when one character refers to a blow job as ‘sodomy’–were the descriptions of people and their perceptions: so precise and novel, yet potentially recognizable.

When Foxy prods her husband and realizes he would never cheat on her:

“Well, they say a man gets his first mistress when his wife becomes pregnant.”

He looked over at her too surprised to speak, and she realized that he was incapable of betraying her, and marveled at her own disappointment

 How two cheating partners feel about their spouses:

They talked [...] about Harold and Janet, who, as they obligingly continued to be deceived, were ever more tenderly considered, so that they became almost sacred in their ignorance, wonderful in their fallibility, so richly forgiven for their frigidity, demandingness, obtuseness, and vanity that the liaison between their spouses seemed a conspiracy to praise the absent.

"General courtesy" becoming the force behind two couples swapping partners:

…obligingness had become a part of it; they had reached, the Applesmiths, the boundary of a condition wherein their needs were merged, and a general courtesy replaced individual desire. The women would sleep with the men out of pity, and each would permit the other her man out of an attenuated and hopeless graciousness. Already a ramifying tact and crossweave of concern were giving their homes an unhealthy hospital air.

And, fine, some sexy stuff:

…until, he biting her, she clawed his back and came. Could break his neck. Forgotten him entirely. All raw self. Machine that makes salt at the bottom of the sea.

Mouths, it came to Piet, are noble. They move in the brain’s court. We set our genitals mating down below like peasants, but when the mouth condescends, mind and body marry. To eat another is sacred.

[Foxy writing to Piet] ...the softness of the air, stepping from the plane in San Juan, like a kiss after fucking–oh lover, forgive me, I am sleepy.

After weeks of chastity I remember lovemaking as an exploration of a sadness so deep people must go in pairs, one cannot go alone.