I am moving*

Dear friends

thank you for reading my ramblings and musings right here.

The time has come for me to migrate in line with my unfolding sense of purpose, which is to build a community that wants to say YES to Life and No to life’s grinding demands.

The vision To Really Live remains, but it will be a lot more focused with resources that revolve around it.

I am so excited about it, because I believe we are all sick and tired of the treadmill.

I will come back here with updates on it so that you can join me when it launches.

In the meantime, I continue to write over at these two spaces and would love for you to join me :

www.jennihh.blogspot.sg

https://jennihohuan.medium.com/

Thank you so much. Stay well and strong. You matter. Take Care.

jenni

* Borders are closed. But online, we are free to move I guess?

What’s The Point, of Parenting?

We probably don’t ask this Q enough: what’s the point?

Yet, it’s a question that can save us so much grief and detours, isn’t it? Interestingly, it’s what we ask when we are tempted to give in to despair, those times when we slump and then wearily ask, “what’s the point?”.

But the same three words, said with curiosity, determination and gumption can lead us towards some really surprising and rewarding outcomes — even if we may still have to go through some similar valleys, as it tends to happen in life (if you found the perfect, trouble-free life, you’d be richer than Gates, Musk, Bezos and Zuckerberg combined!).

The more important, far-reaching, involving and demanding a role or experience or commitment then, the more important it is to ask:

What.Is.The.Point

which is to seek a sense of Purpose.

Psychologists tell us that it is having a sense of purpose that helps us endure, persist and invent.

And if anything requires more endurance, persistence and invention, it has to be Parenting.

So I am so glad to find this book chock-ful of solid counsel from psychologist and family therapist:

book image from Google

Notice the subtitle: that irrefutable, almost irrational loyalty and love children have for their parents.

I tremble at how many parents trample on this delicate flower of a gift!

Children love their parents unquestioningly, which is why –

they run to you with their lil drawings and light up at your approval

they ares sheepish and afraid for spilling milk

they blame themselves when you fight

Parenting is a team-effort not just between the mom and and the dad or the main caregivers, it is a team-effort with your child.

“Children themselves can notice the distinct difference the presence of a parent makes” xxii

“…social epigenetic research demonstrate that clusters of genes are activated by parents’ behaviour early on to dtermine how well children fare later in life.” 2

“… a young child will cling to his parents’ limbs despite the threat of punishment to demonstrate a desperate need for his acceptance.” 4

The purpose of parenting is not dreamily thought up by ambitious parents to suit their personalities or expectations. Rather, like how we discover the purpose of a hammer when we confront a nail, the needs of a child and the realities of life combine to reveal what parenting should focus on.

Eliza helps us eminently to uncover this with two major sections dealing with:

  • What You Need To Know About Children
  • What Children Really Need

These two foundational understandings prepare us to answer the question of purpose.

When we see how many children are hurting today, the rise of mental health concerns and the growing numbers of teen suicide, perhaps we really have to ask if we not only failed to ask the question of purpose, we may have determined the purpose without the necessary background knowledge!

It does seem laughable how we would invest time to figure out everything from software to pet care, but we operate our parenting mostly on cruise or reaction mode.

We have to do far better, for lives are at stake.

The book lands on three major areas a purposeful parent must do well:

a. nurture a secure base

“daily caring acts {which feel mundane} provide the means for us to develop intimacy with our young ones” 141

“We have a small window of opportunity to make a lasting impact on our children, after which our children will seek alternate sources of affirmation.” 143

b.understand the effects of media use on attachment and development

“..excessive screen use for gaming contributes to addictions, reduced social skill development, shortened attention span and a distorted sense of reality in children.” 156

c. connecting well

“Studies have clearly documented that the developmental malleability of a child’s brain is most significant in the first three years of a child’s life. Yet most dual-income couples continue to automatically outsource the care of their infants to others” 165

The book also comes with thoughtful reflection questions for the sections.

It’s time to regain Purpose. Let’s do it before more is broken.

this painful war of words

Artist Makoto Fujimura writes that we need to commit to move beyond poisoned language and the “imperious disregard” for the life of those unlike ourselves…. and that constructive cultural work begins not in opposition but in sharing — of ideals generously argued, of visions for future generations, of opportunities to meet and dialogue with the other. (Culture Care p41)


Poisoned Language
George Floyd’s suffering and death triggered a fresh round of BlackLivesMatter#. When a friend shared on her Fb that AllLivesMatter#, she was immediately chastised for being insensitive. In the face of a monstrous injury and affront to an entire people group, language it seems must be weaponised to tilt the scales. It isn’t enough to make a point, when people persistently refuse to get it. One must silent all dissenting voices, even ones that merely skirt the fringe, or even suggest a larger truth. The moment demands an uncompromising dribble of vitriol.
This slugfest of words has now become vernacular.

I feel so worn, like I have aged a whole decade, simply because one cannot read a post, tweet or article without coming across acerbic content that makes a soul feel berated, scorned, stung, scorched, dismissed and derided.

This isn’t the intelligent and witty altercations we used to witnessed in houses of debates.

It’s a clear descent into plain old exaggeration, posturing, swagger, the cousins of broadly-speaking that cloud issues but fans fires.

Imperious Disregard
So my entire nation has suddenly woken up to the fact that we have nearly half a million migrant workers among us, and that their living conditions make them extremely susceptible to catching Covid-19, which in dense Singapore makes it highly likely that we could all catch it.

So in the last month, there has been a mad, relentless, arduous and multi-pronged effort to contain them.

Along the way, several realities emerged: their living conditions can be appalling, their wages are meagre, their lack of power to bargain for themselves, workplace injury may not lead to compensation and so forth.

Once again, words flowed quickly as the media and the people fight to have a say. New words became parlance: NIMBy — the ones who contributed to this because they had earlier said: “Not In My Backyard” which led to the construction of massive dormitories far from regular residential areas — the isolation creating other issues for these workers, and keeping them hidden from view, and remaining disregarded as actual, living members of a society.

Cultural Work
Every narrative has many threads. From tweet to opinion pieces to feedback to videos, the words continued to proliferate and multiply.

This has created a deeper crisis:

So many words, and no time to really feel them.
So many words, and no space to understand them.
So many words, and no soul to live them.

I signed up for a webinar about envisioning the future. It was very informative and precious insights were gleaned. I enjoyed the learning, but strangely also found myself feeling a weariness.

Yet more words.

Old words picked apart skillfully and new ones ladled on and a delectable dish presented. But like someone already with surfeit, it was hard to relish the taste.

I guess the reality of the earlier piece I wrote about Silence lingers on. To really hear, we have to be quiet enough. To really speak, we have to first hear.

But it is hard to hear.
For it is hard to be silent.

In our eagerness to speak, an inalienable right these days.
In our eagerness to speak, for fear that we won’t be heard.
In our eagerness to speak, perhaps hoping it will make a difference.

Our hearts are cluttered and our words are jumbled.

Future Generations
And in my mind I see our words parallel our throwaway consumption habits — we are creating mountains of wastes that will putrefy and pollute the air we need to breathe healthy and well.

The social air we share.

My fourteen year old wistfully said that he hopes everything will end soon.

He’s fourteen.

The air is suffocating him.

Please, let’s clear the air.

(I wrote this first over at Medium. It is the third piece in my sense-making through this Pandemic. You can find it here 🙂
opening quote from: Culture Care, 2017

image by Paul Lee, Singapore

The Choice

We are all well aware that we have the ability to choose. It may not feel like it, but if we pause, we realise in fact, that it is the singular most true thing about each of us who can exercise our mind and will: choice is our greatest power.

I have believed and taught this, but as I read Edith Eger’s book, The Choice, it strikes me how easy it is for us to relinquish and fail to mobilise this singular power of ours – well and wisely.

the choice

 

2019 was winding down, the world is reeling from Hongkong, Greta Thumberg, China-US trade war… and things got impossibly hot with the raging fires in Australia. I needed a pick-me-up, and reached for this book.

Before it gets light, the veil of darkness must descend. This is true for sunrise as for strength that surprises.

Eger’s story drives us away from saying these truisms easily though. The words, images, gut-wrenching, heart-stopping, soul-shattering realities of her life are both so impossible and relatable.

“What happened can never be forgotten and can never be changed….But..I’m here, this is now, I have learned to tell myself, over and over, until the panicky feeling begins to ease.” (p7)

It may seem that all the best we can do it cope. That isn’t such a bad thing. It certainly isn’t a moral failure. Tough, dark, wicked things happen to us. “Suffering is universal. But victimhood is optional”. Edith writes honestly about how this became true in her life, slowly, painfully, miraculously.

As the youngest of three girls, Edith was sympathetic towards her parents’ joyless marriage. She carries the burdens and the wounds, as well as the joys and the possibilities of life. Who knows the trajectory of her life as she envied her sisters, one clearly charismatic while the other a musical prodigy.

Read simplistically, as a child is wont to, her sisters are better off than her. But is that the case? Can we simply compare lives this way?

As she turns sixteen, Edith, the one her mother laments as being the plain Jane, attracts the attention of a schoolmate. They develop a romantic relationship, which is abruptly interrupted and terminally severed by — Auschwitz.

“All your ecstasy in life is going to come from the inside” was the sage advice her ballet teacher gave her. This wisdom, her mother’s, her father’s affection, and the romance formed a bulwark for her as she underwent hell on earth.

“We were able to discover an inner strength we could draw on – a way to talk to ourselves that helped us feel free inside, that kept us grounded in our own morality, that gave us foundation and assurance even when the external forces sought to control and obliterate us.” (p57)

Her story confirms for me that life is equal parts of dark and light, capable of being wasted by misery and won by miracles.

Her nearly year-long ordeal which landed her with a broken back and a lifetime of battling trauma and stress had points of light, like a rope of salvation she could hold on to. At times it held her. The gift of bread from the man who started the pogrom, the farmer, the soldier, the other captives, her sisters, her mentor Viktor Frankl and her husband Bela.

Her story reveals how even when choices are made for us, we can choose our responses. It shows up how we can make poor choices because our frame of understanding is hijacked by our fears, and how redemption can be around the corner. It calls us to refuse to give up our right to live, and to choose, by being unafraid to confront all that holds us prisoner and hostage.

A huge part of living in a world that is broken is learning to forgive:

“To forgive is to grieve – for what happened, for what didn’t happen – and to give up the need for a different past.” (p280)

Edith eventually became a psychologist, and her message is reinforced as she shares bravely about how she operated as a wounded healer with her clients. Her truthfulness and vulnerability formed a compassion that most modern practitioners don’t possess. She hands over her phone number. She hugs and weeps with her clients. She believes fervently in the hope of their healing.

“When we heal, we embrace our real and possible selves.” (p295)

Her story bears this out as she heals, layer by layer… until she eventually even returns to the site of her worst horrors, and finally strip any hold they have on her.

“Our painful experiences aren’t a liability – they’re a gift.” – isn’t something one can glibly say.

Yet, that may well be the point we need to reach. It reminds me of a portion in the Bible which bristles most of us:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1v2-4)

We react and refuse pain, and there is reason for that. Yet in truth, we can neither escape nor avoid it. In the pain, we need faith, that our lives have meaning.

“Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life…. THis meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him along; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning.” – Viktor Frankl

Edith would add:

“When we abdicate taking responsibility for ourselves, we are giving up our ability to create and discover meaning. In other words, we give up on life.” (p330)

For too long, we offer untenable notions when we ask people to grin and bear it. That works for physical discomforts and inconveniences for sure, but that not what meaning-seeking, perseverance and faith are on about.

Persevering is drawing on inner and God-given resources to endure. It is staying on the journey of looking inward and back into the past to understand our reactions and heal from trauma and wounds. It is being patient with others and self as we and they heal.

Two things work against this perseverance. We think that sense making is answering ‘Why’. But Auschwitz has not ‘Why’.

Secondly, one of our favourite mechanisms in life is to assign blame. This fault-finding is in the end rather futile. Adults get in endless fights with this rhetoric, “If only you didn’t…”. At times, we take the blame upon ourselves, “If only I…”. Little children, often unable to stand up to point a finger, often blame themselves. Hence the abject misery children undergo when their parents mess up or adults abuse them.

Thus Edith reminds us that the work of forgiveness must include forgiving ourselves and letting go of the blame. To do this, there must be rage, the red hot anger at the travesty.

The question is, will we create that safe space to allow ourselves to grieve, to rage and forgive, to so to be able to choose?

Edith’s journey to freedom took her decades. The Choice published in 2019, she is ninety years old! Like her book, she is a classic.

 

Here is another story:

“The day I forgave the Nazis, I also privately forgave my parents, whom I had hated all my life for not having saved me from Auschwitz. Children expect their parents to protect them; mine couldn’t. And then I forgave myself for hating my parents.”

The Day I Forgave Dr Mengele:

 

Wonderings:

  1. In the news now, Poland is apparently trying to abdicate her part in the Holocaust.
  2. Was Germany’s willingness to face her horror and make reparations a reason for her success today as a nation?

 

Podcast year 1

Between a dream come true, a wild hope and a lot of frantic work — which had bereft this site of taps on the keyboard… (the last post was in June) — has been The Cathedral Podcast: the first Christian podcast in Singapore.

 

podcast_cr

It’s also interestingly a year of podcast explosion. But that’s not why we are on board.

We began recording unrehearsed conversations about matters on life-and-faith, simply because it needed to be done.

Life is going so fast, in a crowded, busy city – that it’s easy to run on auto-pilot, to be carried by the strong cultural winds, to be lost in the crowd.

A Christian is by nature a thoughtful being. But thoughts need to form, filter, and to foster action.

Singapore has many thinkers and shakers. I don’t care to react to history and cry ‘imperialist’ at every influence from the West, but we have a specific and unique context that requires our own cruciform stories and expressions.

It’s time we hear our own, celebrate the gifts that are scattered liberally and full of surprise, by a God of wonder, forever intent on redeeming us.

podcast roll

I will admit. I missed being here sharing my reading discoveries and letting my soul spill a little. Both were disciplines that kept me feeling green and fertile.

The podcast journey, with a team of incredible beings (human), isn’t without its challenges. But for what we were able to pull off, what we faced down, and how hard and often we laughed together — I can safely say God has chosen once again to widen my experience of His Generosity. Not to mention His Kindness.

So I guess, I will leave you words for this year-end season: spoken ones.

Have a listen won’t you, and share it if you think it’s good. (Yes, as with all things these days, you can click ‘subscribe’. It’s on Spotify and iTunes too.

 

Here’s the team (minus the Vicar and DN who was on vacation, coz he likes to take photos, not be in them!)

podcast team 2019

 

Featured on Salt and Light

 

 

It’s all about A Marriage

It’s explosive.

 

And popular culture wants us to think it happens between the sheets.

PJAK 2018

In two days, I would have been married for twenty-three years. Since time remains a mystery and a blur to me most days, I simply cannot wrap my head around it.

I feel  deeply gratified that the difficult business of finding someone to call your own happened for me without the use of Tinder. But as I have written both  here and here and in an entire book called When God Shapes A W.i.f.e., the daily experience of being wedded to another soul takes one’s breath away – by which I mean the breathlessness that arises from exhaustion with trying to fit two unevenly shaped pieces together. Or two really bad dancers. Or two architects who brought their own blueprints and cannot agree on which bits to add and alter.

The theatre of my mind plays a thousand scenes on me, having a grand ball of a time pulling up the negative memories especially and I find that wisdom learned still needs the power of choice to become wisdom lived.

My journals bulge with words, questions, doubts and frantic prayers.

I struggle, fight, wear out, and get up again. There is a strange hopeful, dreamy DNA at work.

Last month, I think I found what this mystical power is.

My union is a signpost of Another union. This means that the true power of my marriage is what it conveys, not what I feel.

A few weeks ago, in a darkened mood, I sat waiting for the morning light, my way of surrendering to God. As I looked out my window, a strange purply-orange hue filtered the sky and the words came: “subtle beauty”. I knew God was describing my marriage because that was the question I posed.

We don’t typically look dreamily into each others’ eyes. We don’t extol each others’ virtues and rush to defend each other in public. We seldom hang tight like a unit with others around. We often fail to read other right. It’s not what I would like, and it certainly doesn’t seem romantic at all by today’s standards!

But I have a fierce commitment to God as does he. We made a vow before God and He witnessed and ratified it.

We may have married too soon or even married the ‘wrong person’. We most certainly could have been far more humble and teachable.

But the vulnerability, the exchange, the coupling and the cold distance are cradled by a Union that also is rocky and yet moves forward to a sure and certain end.

Hear the way Greg Enas from Biola puts it:

” … we his Bride will walk down that aisle to meet our Redeemer face to face where the greatest love story ever told will be consummated.”

That will be explosive!

And in the meantime, our tested faith must take us to another conversation, another sacrifice, another day. For this is the will of God.

God planned the marriage and some of us get to experience a this-worldly version of it. The this-worldly marriages of ours point to and mirror a deeper and more astounding reality that we can imagine. If we buckle and lose our way, our grief will be great when the Great Bridal March plays. But as I lean into this mystery, yes mystery (!), my own marriage feels lighter, as if carried by a more solid one that won’t ever fail.

 

other and earlier thoughts:

A Valentine’s Day Special

To Marry Or Not

Love, Sex and Marriage

Be The Mystery You Are

I know the power of gratitude. I just don’t agree that it’s some secret key.
The heart has too many chambers for one single key to fit them all. A master key you say? Yes, I am familiar with that notion, what the Housekeeping people in a ‘well-appointed hotel’ uses to enter your room. Perhaps even something a locksmith worth his mettle whips out to rescue you from the sorry state of being outside your own home, instead of in it.
But it isn’t just the chambers. The heart is flushed by constant movements – all that whoosing – which a Russian physician named Korotkoff described in five phases, which are actually the collapsing and reopening of our vessels, as the heart does it lubbing and dubbing. The drama intensifies. Quite a good number of things can interfere, interrupt and disrupt the regularity and frequency of the heart’s function. Each of these has its own fancy name.
Perhaps like me, your heart doesn’t do a straightforward lub-dub accompanied by the gentle taps of Korotkoff. Yours feel more like it’s flubbing.
I have known for years that I get palpitations. Twelve years ago I found out that my arrythmia is probably due to a tiny hole in the atrial region. Just last week, they found that my right valves actually don’t close properly. More fancy names, which means the blood flows aren’t as streamlined as they should be, and my heart is under stress. More tests are required to detail how the heart is really doing.
This knowledge parallels another ongoing investigation of my heart –
The things I care about.
Why tears suddenly come.
The empty spaces from loss of loved ones, death of dreams, loneliness.
Why I hope one moment and despair the next.

When I even so much as gingerly mention any of the above to a living soul, I am often handed some platitude mixed with varying degrees of genuine concern. I am both grateful and grate. The former because people are trying to be helpful. The latter because they haven’t taken the time to consider the problem properly, if indeed there is one.
Just as my physical condition tends to let rip a list of good doctors I should consult or investigations I should endure, my emotional and spiritual state must have a label, a history, a prescription.

But I am a mystery.

This is not due to some overblown ambition or misguided transcendentalism. It is in fact a reasonable conclusion.

11305661_1600x1200

 

For one, neuroscientists tell us that our minds are beyond definition, much less laboratory-like control. Our memories for one, are reliable up to a point. We have an immense ability to adjust our stories, playing the victim or the victor as we choose (the former seems more popular). This means our recall won’t be a hundred percent accurate. Dwelling on the past, running over old events to find ‘answers’ are therefore rather useless, because we would have fudged the facts in our favour, exaggerated aspects of the events, failed to comprehend the entire picture due to our biases and blind spots.
Johari’s window reminds us that there are four window panes and one which we will miss, so our picture is at best 75% accurate.
But we can’t help it. We want to know, often to assign blame. We need to know. Sense-making is unique and vital to us, as the beats of our hearts.
As long as we remember the limits of our knowing, and allow that just like our hearts’ beating, it’s really a mystery.

And hence faith is necessary – to really live.

Trailblazing, Writing and Tears

It came with an email, one of those you get from subscriptions. The link led to a site about a competition for six-word memoirs, which had a link to this short video. This morning, many days later, I picked up the video and followed the simple instructions with some seriousness.

Spiral bound notebook and pen in hand, I began to follow the instructions to begin free-writing a list of words, whittle it down to three, and then free write about three of them in two minutes each.

This is how I got the following:

Trailblazing

What do you do when there’s no path? You make one. It isn’t so much that actual paths didn’t exist, but with no one to point them out to you, to slide up and perhaps whisper, “O look!”, neither my mind not my heart knew the wide possibilities before me. Still surprisingly, I believe they did. Unlike today’s children who are guided by well-educated and heeled parents through the maze of school and extracurricular options, mine was more a willy-nilly, vague hunch that there’s something out there. I just needed to put one foot in front of the other, and find out.

 

Write

For the longest time, I would not call myself a writer. Why should I? Writers have names like Somerset, Olivia, Finnegan or Shakespeare! I do like words, and my all-time favourite game is a brisker version of forming words, doing away with the board, called Snatch-Scrabble. I love puns, aphorisms, idioms and proverbs. I even enjoy some form of poetry. Most of all, writing saved me. The first real piece of prose I wrote was a runaway note. Perhaps as a sign of sorts, I now teach Journaling, where putting on paper the thoughts and turmoil within is critical to sanity, and ensuring one stays home!

 

Tears

I think it’s the shedding that this at all makes sense. I remember as a young child, quite startled once, when after a good cry, I wondered how it is those small eyes of mine, right there on my face could produce water I had thought then briefly only, as children do, where it had all come from. I now know where the water comes from, but the tears remain quite a mystery still. Recently in fact I wrote a small piece called The Inconvenience of Tears.

 

Each of these then I distiled into a sentence, here in reverse order:

Our eyes can water because our hearts need to cry

Writing is more than putting marks on paper or imputing data, it is sorting through life.

Something within us tells us there’s a way forward that we desire.

 

Maybe you’d like to try it too. The other piece on tears is here.

 

affirmation

this note from the editor who accepted my first magazine article

Inktober: Poison

Mothers feed us milk they say

what’s this in my veins

I must numb with stuff that kills

 

A haiku in response to local news about the adult daughter of one of Singapore’s richest couple, arrested for substance abuse and drunk driving. In her defense, she shares how her parents’ divorce, then hers and the subsequent rejection by her elder daughter stressed and impaired her.

I know it seems unfair that I chose to indict the mother, for I am sure both her father and her spouse have contributed to her pain. But there is something primal here that I want to get at.

My heart goes out to her and I lift a prayer for the family.

All the privilege in the world cannot protect you from the poison that leaks from hearts broken by broken promises. It is a swirl that quickly gathers momentum and creates a slush that feels so hard to clean up, it is better to part ways. But alas, the swirl does not stop easily, if ever.

 

[Inktober is a month of daily prompts. I am ten days late and land on ‘poison’! The trail led me to this incisive artwork by Melanie Franz, and the haiku was the result]

Non-required Reading

Are you reading something because you have to read it?

A manual, an email, a textbook, a facebook feed or post, a news article, or a religious book?

It struck me that reading is often a means to an end: I have to read the terms. I need to read through the material. I better have read the instructions…. I have emails to clear!

 

Reading as a joy seems pretty lost to us these days, safe the few lucky children who still get to luxuriate in it without being rushed off to some class or other.

Perhaps we could borrow the lyrical lilt of the old rhyme, “Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?”, replacing it with “how does your reading go?” I stumbled upon NON-REQUIRED READING while reading something on Medium or was it an online arts journal. See, I cannot remember (we have way too much information and no time to organise them in our inundated brains!). The title just felt like I had to reach for it, plus the author had a real air of mystery what with a name I could not pronounce: Wistawa Szymborska.

So I did. I reserved it at the library, picked it up a few days later, and it now sits at my bedstand for me to nibble on before I hit lala land. The original appeal came through the author’s credentials. But as I read the book, a translation from Polish, the point of the title began to sink further in.

This book serves no real purpose if you don’t count the rediscovery of the joy of reading as a pursuit! As I turn the pages, I am literally taken from town to city, homes to alleys, habits to habitats, as she skilfully summarises all types of non-fiction books, with much wry wit.

Here are some fun bits from it. Try to see if you can guess the non-fiction subject she is writing about.

1.

“A strict personal politics prevails in the world of opera. Family relationships are prescribed by codes as inviolable as those governing primitive tribes. A soprano must be a bass’s daughter, a baritone’s wife, and a tenor’s lover. A tenor may neither generate an alto not copulate with a contralto. A baritone lover is a rarity, and it’s best if he just settles for a mezzo. And mezzo-sopranos, in turn, should watch out for tenors – fate casts them often as ‘the other woman’ or in the even sorrier role of the soprano’s best friend… . Apart from father, basses ordinarily play cardinals, the powers of darkness, prison functionaries, and, in one case, the director of an insane asylum… . I admire opera, which is not real life, and I admire life, which is at times a true opera.” (Musical Chairs)

2.

“A little bird sits in the tree / And wonders at humanity, / Even the wisest man around / Can’t tell where happiness is found./ 

Still you’re better off not knowing like a human than knowing like a bird. Birds are lunatics with no clues as to their own lunacy. Instinct, which orders them to fly off every fall and resettle somewhere else that may be tens of thousands of miles away, only appears to be kindly and concerned with their well-being. If all that mattered were better food supplies in a more temperate climate, more than species would end its protracted flight sooner. But these demented creatures fly on, over mountains, where expected storms may smash them into cliffs, over seas, in which they may drown. Nature’s goal is not even ruthless selection: there are circumstances that destroy both strong and weak alike… . Nature plays an even more diabolic trick on the lemming, a gentle creature dwelling in burrows. Every so often these burrows get overcrowded, so the lemmings abandon their long-time homes en masse. To start another colony nearby? Not a chance – they start walking, just walking, for such is their hormonal destiny. They keep walking until they reach the sea, in which they drown. This species continues only thanks to those few individuals who remain t home in the old burrows.” (Compulsory Happiness)

3.

“Children like being frightened by fairy tales. They have an inborn need to experience powerful emotions. Andersen scared children, but I’m certain none of them held it against him, not even after they grew up… . He speaks to them not only about life’s joyous adventures, but about its woes, its miseries, its often undeserved defeats. His fairy tales, peopled with fantastic creatures, are more realistic than whole tons of today’s stories for children, which fret about verisimilitude and avoid wonders like the plague. Andersen had the courage to write stories with unhappy endings. He didn’t believe that you should try to be good because it pays (as today’s moral tales insistently advertise, though it doesn’t necessarily turn out that way in real life), but because evil stems from intellectual and emotional stuntedness and is the one form of poverty that should be shunned. And it’s funny, lain funny!” (The Importance of Being Scared)

4.

“Others may seek out junk shops only when pressed by dire necessity.; they drop in for inspiration and rummage among the chisels for an hour, purring with pleasure. You have to be born a handyman, you can’t suddenly become one in midlife… . The handyman has a flamboyant boyhood; he has learned how to balance on death’s edge amid corrosive liquids, broken glass, short circuits, and experimental detonations… . This book is thus intended for those credulous clods whose hearts it floods with the false hope that the first hook pounded into a wall as per its direction will be a hook well-pounded. This foray into home improvement will inevitably end with a call to a repairman, who will dolefully drag out his arrival for two weeks. And here I see the single reason for reading this book. You can chat with this repairman with the same finely feigned air of mastery that the poet Julian Tuwim once used on his locksmith. And what good is life without conversation?” (Home Improvement)

5.

“The authors stray far beyond their titular topic int heir ardor for instruction. Apart from mishaps at home, they cover accidents in the yard, the forest, and the river. And they close their useful booklet with a chapter on ‘Procedures in the Event of Mass Injuries (Natural Disasters, Atom Bombs). The reader’s astonishment is complete, since nothing in the book, whose dust jacket depicts a colourful house standing on a bandaged leg, had even hinted at such a conclusion… . There’s not way to be sure that the next book off the presses won’t be a handybook on the care and feeding of infants that culminates with the apocalypse.” (Nowhere to Hide)

 

The answers:

  1. The Opera Handbook
  2. The Enigmatic Lemming
  3. Hans Christian Andersens’ Fairy Tales
  4. Repairing and Redecorating Your Apartment
  5. Accidents in the Home

 

I conclude that this reading is far from required indeed, though on nights when I have enough wakefulness left in me, I look forward to reading this Nobel Prize collection of prose!

NRR