Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Chiyo was the youngest daughter of a fisherman and had lived carefree and simply until her life is wrenched apart; when her mother grew ill she met a man that would change her life forever. He kidnapped her and took her away from the family she knew and loved, and she found herself in an okiya home with a stern "Mother" and "Granny" who beat her and make her work as a servant, All of this in hopes that one day she will become a Geisha. She starts going to school, learning how to pour tea properly, how to dance, how to play instruments and sing. A Geisha is an entertainer, an artisan, a mistress, a princess. Throughout her childhood she is overshadowed by the successful but cruel Hotsumomo, the current Geisha in her home. Hotsumomo puts one obstacle after another in front of Chiyo's feat until she feels certain to fail. Only with the help of Hostumom's worst enemy, Mameha, does Chiyo learn how to stand on her own.

Golden paints a beautiful depiction of Japanese life in the 1930's; his book is vibrant in its description, from the elegant and complicated komotos the Geisha wore to the complexity of his characters. As Chiyo becomes a Geisha her name changes to Sayuri, and over time we see the character transform with her name. As a child she still had the rough edges of a fisherman's daughter and the longing to return home to her old life, even at one point trying to run away to find her sister and return home. Over the years, as she is constantly bullied and destroyed by Hotrumomo, she develops the will to fight for becoming a Geisha, and she becomes one: elegant, graceful, and beautiful.

The romance between herself and the Chairman develops slowly and plays a key role in the story, as his kindness towards her led to her desire to become a Geisha. But his business partner, Nabu, shows an interest in her immediately and in Japanese culture two friends cannot have the same Geisha at any point. Although she silently feels for the Chairman, she is resigned to have Mameha and Mother matchmaker her to whomever they will.

Not all of the romance is pleasant; the book shows some heartbreaking truth about Geisha life. While her sister was kidnapped and turned into a prostitute, Sayuri had the chance to become an elegant Geisha, but as one she could not marry. At sixteen her virginity was sold at a high price, and many times she was forced to give into a man's demands against her will. They have arranged dannas, or husbands, who pay for a good deal of their expenses and clothes in exchange for a romance. Then the Geisha can be free of her enormous debt, can have her own clothes and not rely on the resources of the Okiya, and can have relative freedom.

Golden's characters are believable and each plays an important role in Sayuri's life. The story is driven by the daily human interaction, conflict and romance in Kyoto, as each character is motivated by greed or lust or revenge. As this book leads us through Sayrui's life and we sympathize with her sorrows and success, we discover what drives her to become a Geisha as she discovers what being a Geisha means to her.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Pope Francis's Easter Message

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Happy Easter!
Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God’s mercy, out of love for us, died on the cross, and out of love he rose again from the dead.  That is why we proclaim today: Jesus is Lord!
His resurrection fulfils the prophecy of the Psalm: God’s mercy endures for ever; it never dies.  We can trust him completely, and we thank him because for our sake he descended into the depths of the abyss.
Before the spiritual and moral abysses of mankind, before the chasms that open up in hearts and provoke hatred and death, only an infinite mercy can bring us salvation.  Only God can fill those chasms with his love, prevent us from falling into them and help us to continue our journey together towards the land of freedom and life.
The glorious Easter message, that Jesus, who was crucified is not here but risen (cf. Mt 28:5-6), offers us the comforting assurance that the abyss of death has been bridged and, with it, all mourning, lamentation and pain (cf.Rev 21:4).  The Lord, who suffered abandonment by his disciples, the burden of an unjust condemnation and shame of an ignominious death, now makes us sharers of his immortal life and enables us to see with his eyes of love and compassion those who hunger and thirst, strangers and prisoners, the marginalized and the outcast, the victims of oppression and violence.  Our world is full of persons suffering in body and spirit, even as the daily news is full of stories of brutal crimes which often take place within homes, and large-scale armed conflicts which cause indescribable suffering to entire peoples.
The risen Christ points out paths of hope to beloved Syria, a country torn by a lengthy conflict, with its sad wake of destruction, death, contempt for humanitarian law and the breakdown of civil concord.  To the power of the risen Lord we entrust the talks now in course, that good will and the cooperation of all will bear fruit in peace and initiate the building of a fraternal society respectful of the dignity and rights of each citizen.  May the message of life, proclaimed by the Angel beside the overturned stone of the tomb, overcome hardened hearts and promote a fruitful encounter of peoples and cultures in other areas of the Mediterranean and the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, Yemen and Libya.  May the image of the new man, shining on the face of Christ, favour concord between Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land, as well as patience, openness and daily commitment to laying the foundations of a just and lasting peace through direct and sincere negotiations.  May the Lord of life also accompany efforts to attain a definitive solution to the war in Ukraine, inspiring and sustaining initiatives of humanitarian aid, including the liberation of those who are detained.
The Lord Jesus, our peace (Eph 2:14), by his resurrection triumphed over evil and sin. May he draw us closer on this Easter feast to the victims of terrorism, that blind and brutal form of violence which continues to shed blood in different parts of the world, as in the recent attacks in Belgium, Turkey, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Côte d’Ivoire.  May he water the seeds of hope and prospects for peace in Africa; I think in particular of Burundi, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, marked by political and social tensions.
With the weapons of love, God has defeated selfishness and death.  His son Jesus is the door of mercy wide open to all.  May his Easter message be felt ever more powerfully by the beloved people of Venezuela in the difficult conditions which they are experiencing, and by those responsible for the country’s future, that everyone may work for the common good, seeking spaces of dialogue and cooperation with all.  May efforts be made everywhere to promote the culture of counter, justice and reciprocal respect, which alone can guarantee the spiritual and material welfare of all people.
The Easter message of the risen Christ, a message of life for all humanity, echoes down the ages and invites us not to forget those men and women seeking a better future, an ever more numerous throng of migrants and refugees – including many children – fleeing from war, hunger, poverty and social injustice.  All too often, these brothers and sisters of ours meet along the way with death or, in any event, rejection by those who could offer them welcome and assistance.  May the forthcoming World Humanitarian Summit not fail to be centred on the human person and his or her dignity, and to come up with policies capable of assisting and protecting the victims of conflicts and other emergencies, especially those who are most vulnerable and all those persecuted for ethnic and religious reasons.
On this glorious day, “let the earth rejoice, in shining splendour” (cf. Easter Proclamation), even though it is so often mistreated and greedily exploited, resulting in an alteration of natural equilibria.  I think especially of those areas affected by climate change, which not infrequently causes drought or violent flooding, which then lead to food crises in different parts of the world.
Along with our brothers and sisters persecuted for their faith and their fidelity to the name of Christ, and before the evil that seems to have the upper hand in the life of so many people, let us hear once again the comforting words of the Lord: “Take courage; I have conquered the world! (Jn 16:33).  Today is the radiant day of this victory, for Christ has trampled death and destruction underfoot.  By his resurrection he has brought life and immortality to light (cf.2 Tim 1:10).  “He has made us pass from enslavement to freedom, from sadness to joy, from mourning to jubilation, from darkness to light, from slavery to redemption.  Therefore let us acclaim in his presence: Alleluia!”(Melito of Sardis, Easter Homily).
To those in our society who have lost all hope and joy in life, to the elderly who struggle alone and feel their strength waning, to young people who seem to have no future, to all I once more address the words of the Risen One: “See, I am making all things new… To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life” (Rev 21:5-6).  May this comforting message of Jesus help each of us to set out anew with greater courage to blaze trails of reconciliation with God and with all our brothers and sisters.

Sunday Song #13: Whisper in the Night by Electric Light Orchestra

Whisper in the night
Over silent evening air.
Angel's gown shines white,
All at once you're glad she's there.
Daughter of your dream shine a guiding light for me
For I'll be here till light,
Whisper in the night
Till she has forgiven me.

Night turns into gold
So the tide may turn today;
Though God gave the world
It's not mine to throw away.
Daughter of your dream shine a guiding light for me
For I'll be here till light,
Whisper in the night
Till she has forgiven me.
La da da - da
Whisper in the night
Till she has forgiven me.

Help to face what the day may bring.
Angels sing
You were sent to make the night be kind
What will I find?

Snowflake bird she came
Taking grey clouds from your door;
Face the midnight sun
You have something to live for.
Daughter of your dream shine a guiding light for me,
For I'll be here till light,
Whisper in the night
Till she has forgiven me.
La da da - da
Whisper in the night
Till she has forgiven me.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

Abdullah and his sister Pari had no family besides each other. Their Mother had died from an infection after Pari's birth; their father was remote because of his work and he new wife was a stranger to these children. Although she tried to show kindness Abdullah knew her favorites were her own children, and the care of little Pari lay on Abdullah's shoulders. 
But, as is the story with many Afghan farmers even today, their father did not have enough to provide for all of his children. One day he is forced to travel to Kabul with his only daughter and let her be adopted by the rich Wahdatis, where she will have wealth and education and a family, on the condition that she can never see her brother again.
Hosseini follows the story of these two siblings, and the lives of those around them, as through their lives they drift farther and farther apart. It starts with them at infancy and ends with them grey haired with grown children. He explores all sorts of lives in Afghanistan, from a poverty-stricken, starving in the cold family in Shadbagh to the rich and well traveled. We see the country change over the passage of time, as houses are destroyed and as Shadbagh is leveled to the ground. We explore the lives of Afghanis around the world, loosely or greatly affecting the lives of these siblings. Every point in the story related to the plot in the end. He clearly paints a picture of what Afghani culture is like, but he is not afraid of exposing both the painfully dark and the warmhearted love in Afghanistan.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sunday Song #12: "The Parting Glass", by Ed Sheeran

Of all the money that e'er I had,
I've spent it in good company.
And all the harm that e'er I've done,
Alas it was to none but me.
And all I've done for want of wit
To memory now I can't recall;
So fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all!

Of all the comrades that e'er I had,
They are sorry for my going away,
And all the sweethearts that e'er I had
They would wish me one more day to stay.
But since it falls unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I'll gently rise and I'll softly call,
Good night and joy be with you all!

A man may drink and not be drunk;
A man may fight and not be slain;
A man may court a pretty girl,
And perhaps be welcomed back again.
But since it has so ought to be,
By a time to rise and a time to fall
Come fill to me the parting glass,
Good night and joy be with you all!
Good night and joy be with you all!

Thursday, March 17, 2016


When I was a kid my mom used to have to tell me to go put my book away. I would bring a book everywhere I went so I could hide away in it when I started to feel isolated from the people I was around. Interestingly enough, now that I'm all grown up people are doing what I did when I was a kid. We constantly have our faces glued to a screen. After a meal everyone whips out their phone and starts taking selfies, and snap-chats, and checking Instagram, looking at memes or Facebook or texts. We've started paying at stores with our phones. On them we can instantly communicate with anyone in the world. I've started bringing my books with me to social situations again, since its better for my mind than a phone is.
I have deliberately stayed away from the iphones. Already I am addicted to technology when I am at home, where my computer serves as a T.V., and outlet for writing and an endless resource of knowledge. I know that if I had a little square thing in my pocket that gave me all the info in the world, I would stop paying attention to what is right in front of me. It is the curse and the blessing of my generation.
A co-worker is meeting up with her friends on the internet; they just made a group, saying they were all cool with each other, and now they're close enough to meet and feel comfortable. Two of my very good friends I met on online school and I plan to start online college too.
Did you know you could get any song you want to listen to on the internet?
Do you know you can shop online, and they will ship it straight to your door?
Have you played online games?
I always feel the most alone when I am surrounded by people. I don't understand what anyone is saying; it's like there's some filter in my ears that alters what people say, where I hear a word and I don't recognize it. Someone will say one thing and I will understand another. In crowded places I feel overwhelmed, like the colors and the voices and smells are pressing in around me, surrounding me, drowning me out.
I have a mask of kindness I use when I am uncomfortable, where I resort to a million smiles and "thank you" and empty phrases. I figure most people won't dislike me if I stay completely civil. Never under any circumstances will I show my true colors, because almost immediately I will get slewed with "you're weird," or "you little baby," or "you're such a hippie." I know these things are true about me, and I know the people who say them mean no harm by it. But I don't hear those words when they are said to me; I hear, "I don't understand you, and therefore I'm not going to try to."
Meanwhile we talk. "How are your classes going?" "How was your trip?" "Look at this video on my phone." "My dog tore up my room." "I ate at this restaurant, you should try it,"
"Can you believe what she just said?"
"That kid needs to get his life together."
"If that baby screams one more time, so help me..."
Meanwhile my brain is spiraling at a million miles a second, whirling around and around the question. You ask how my trip was, and I think about how sullen and selfish America seems now that I've returned. I think of people who live with piles of trash and swarms of flies, yet who live thankful and peaceful lives with their families. I think about how your dinner last night could have fed four people. I think about how my heart longs to get out, go see Ethiopia and Ukraine and Morocco and Japan and Russia and Mongolia and South Africa and Peru, and how my life is slowly burning away while I stand still. But I tell you about the camels and the ruins we visited, because you won't understand.
What is normal? Is this empty talk normal, these pointless phrases that get us nowhere, this need to talk without meaning anything? Is normal high-heels and make up, to lie about how tall we are and lie about what we look like? To dress to hide our fat and point out our curves? To talk about football and movies and work, but not about our fights with our spouses or the depression in our mind?
Perhaps normal is an assembly line of society; they put make-up on your face, they dye your hair and put ideas into your head that you're supposed to believe. Go get a job, go get a spouse, go get a home and stay out of trouble. We are the generation of constant bombardment of ads on T.V., while we drive, on the web. We see them so often we forget they are nothing but a pack of lies. Women are not meant to look like that. Drinking a coke will not make you infinitely happy and those very believable attractive people are actors who were paid for their opinion. We are constantly buying and selling and dressing and thinking on a pack of lies. That is normal.
Maybe normal is what everyone wants to be but what no one truly is. When I was in middle-school my friend called me weird, and I said, "I know." I was exhausted trying to behave in a way I simply didn't know how to, and I wanted a friend who didn't expect me to. I have too many flaws to pretend they don't exist, and I have too many odd thoughts for some of them not to escape me. Why should I pretend to be normal, once I realize that everyone is pretending?

Born Again: Doctor Who Special

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Somewhere In America


The yellow has come in a faint film stretched across the gravel road, glistening on the hoods of cars and faintly powdering the grass, dusting the stair rails and door handles. By the end of spring my shoes will be stained yellow from days and night of kicking pollen out of the earth; only after the autumn rain will the glow wash away.
People think the yellow comes from the dogwood, mostly because it's the only the only tree most people notice. The truth is, although the dogwoods are everywhere, the yellow comes from the pine trees; if you find one of its pine cones on the ground you'll find it caked in the yellow, packed thick in the nicks and groves.The pines in South Carolina are unnoticeable, straight and frail in the background of our lives, yet they are numerous enough to shroud our lives in this faint glow.
The Dogwoods force their presence this time of year. All winter long they have been nothing but gnarled black branches, and now suddenly overnight the entire state has been transformed into white. Tiny pale flowers form clouds around every house, in rows along highways, between roads and scattered around shops and parks. They reek; they smell faintly pungent and yet sickly sweet and the smell is thick in the air.
Red trees are blossoming right now, but I don't know what kind of trees they are. In the grass I see dozens of minuscule flowers, dots of colors scattered everywhere. On my walks I gather them and press them in my notebooks trying somehow to grab snippets of this beauty and keep it. Of course there's no point in that. All of this beauty will flourish and burn for another two months before it recedes into green, and then later to brown, and these pressed flowers will lay forgotten in a closed journal somewhere out of mind.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sunday Songs #11: "The Wheel in the Sky" by Journey

Winter is here again oh Lord,
Haven't been home in a year or more.
I hope she holds on a little longer;
Sent a letter on a long summer day,
Made of silver, not of clay.
I've been runnin' down this dusty road.
Wheel in the sky keeps on turnin';
I don't know where I'll be tomorrow.
Wheel in the sky keeps on turnin';
I've been trying to make it home.

Got to make it before too long,
I can't take this very much longer.
I'm stranded in the sleet and rain;
Don't think I'm ever gonna make it home again.
The mornin' sun is risin',
It's kissing the day.
Wheel in the sky keeps on turnin'
I don't know where I'll be tomorrow
Wheel in the sky keeps on turnin'

Saturday, March 12, 2016


There is an old man who lives by the river, between the two largest trees in the forest that stand like green pillars to his home. He will sing soft and low, but few can hear him and even fewer can find him. His voice sounds like the vibrating of the crickets in the underbrush, the throb of the cicadas, the soft shrill voices of the birds overhead, but it is not quite their voices; it is a chorus, and he leads them.  He sings a glorious song that our ears are to filthy for and he cannot be found by those who do not know him for who he truly is. To understand is one thing; to truly know is much harder and this old man is difficult to understand.
When the sun has risen he will rise too and walk with the flying birds as they flee to the sky. He carries a basket at his hip and a staff in the other, and on his hat a mouse sits and sleeps. He will reach the river and he will listen deeply to it for hours to find out what it has seen in its wandering path; he will listen to the soft splash on the shore, the trailing branches and the deep water, but only he can understand them. Then he will drink from it, long and deeply. He will climb into the tallest tree into the forest; he will listen to the wind and hear what it has to teach from ages hence in its wandering. He will watch the billowing clouds drift slowly overhead, he will watch the trees dance in the wind, but only he understand what they say. He will gather the wind in his basket and swallow it. In the evening he will gather the wounded in the woods, the sick animals and plants, and heal them one by one. He will teach them with kinds words and speak dreams in their ears as they drift to sleep--the birds in their nests, the dear nuzzled in a field, the silence to stay still. When the sun sets he will make his bed in the moss and thorns and sleep.
In August he will build a fire, step into it and vanish in the sparks and smoke. And in March he steps out of the first flower that opens, a spring in his step and laughter in his eyes.
I found myself between those two pillars with a dear friend one day. We lit the fire and sat very close, listening to the rustling of the trees in the wind and staring up into the sky. I thought I saw two eyes, looking down at me from the shady branches, but when I blinked I realized it was just two stars in Orion's belt, blinking and twinkling down at me. Beth asked me to listen, because she thought she heard someone walking around in the woods and I thought I heard it too. When we listened however it was just a squirrel hopping in the leaves, looking for acorns, or the late fall leaves falling into the underbrush. I could hear the wind rushing along the river, faintly blowing my hair and stirring the flames. Beth and I sat close with our knees touching. The fire glowed warmly in our cheeks and our blankets wrapped tightly around us, and in the stillness Beth read to me the poetry that she loved. Her voice so gentle and still in the night, we sat close and in peace.
Perhaps one day I will know this old man. Maybe, after tonight, I already do.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Sunday Song #10: "We Built this City" By Starship

We built this city,
We built this city on rock and roll, built this city
We built this city on rock and roll, oh!

Say you don't know me, or recognize my face;
Say you don't care who goes to that kind of place.
Knee-deep in the hoopla, sinking in your fight.
We got too many runaways eating up the night!

Marconi plays the mamba, listen to the radio, don't you remember?
We built this city, we built this city on rock and roll.

We built this city
We built this city on rock and roll, built this city
We built this city on rock and roll

Someone's always playing corporation games;
Who cares, they're always changing corporation names.
We just want to dance here, someone stole the stage.
They call us irresponsible, write us off the page.

Marconi plays the mamba, listen to the radio, don't you remember?
We built this city, we built this city on rock an' roll

We built this city,
We built this city on rock and roll, built this city
We built this city on rock and roll, built this city
We built this city on rock and roll, built this city
We built this city on rock and roll!

It's just another Sunday in a tired old street,
Well, if you got the taco, oh, then we just lost the beat.
Who counts the money underneath the bar?
And who writes the wrecking ball in two wild guitars?
Don't tell us you need us, 'cause we're just simple fools,
Looking for America, coming through your schools.

Marconi plays the mamba, listen to the radio, don't you remember?
We built this city, we built this city on rock an' roll
We built this city
We built this city on rock and roll, built this city
We built this city on rock and roll, built this city
We built this city on rock and roll, built this city
We built this city on rock and roll, oh!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Black Lives Matter

I believe that all lives matter. I believe the lives of the Syrian refugees out at sea right now, looking for someone to take them in, matter. I believe the life of an unborn baby of a single mom thrown out and struggling to get by, matters. I believe that the crack addict on the street, completely alone in the world, I believe he matters.
And I believe that black lives matter. 1 in 15 African American men are in jail, even though they take up less than 20 percent of our population. African men and women feel their jail sentences are unjust, that they are disproportionate to their race and to the crime. Several times this year there have been cases of police violence, even to the point of murder; we have videos of police men ganging together and beating black men, of policemen shooting black men who try to flee or who resist arrest. We had a case of a police officer to intimidated black women into rape, and we had another officer drag a black student across the floor.
And if people are gathering in the streets in protest of this behavior, if they are holding up signs saying, "remember that we matter," if there have been looting in the streets, if police officers have been indicted by this behavior, and if people are dying and crying out because of injustice...
Explain to them why you turn and say, "All lives matter."
If you believe this, than it should not be an issue. Just say it.
Black lives matter.
If all lives matter, than your life matters. And I'm sorry you feel you're being treated otherwise.
We'll give you a better chance to succeed in our country, we'll make sure your sentences are proportionate to your crime, we will make sure every police officer who thinks it's okay to use the death sentence against a civilian is properly punished. We will stop racially profiling you, assuming the worst about you, looking down on you before getting to know you.
Because no amount of racism in this country is acceptable. And we're going to keep fighting for your equal rights until you are treated like equals.
Because all lives matter.
Because black lives matter.