Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dorothy Parker: The Problem With Perfectionism

Brian Clark, in his recent posting to bloggers, about the crippling power of fear, tells about one aspect of this plague—perfectionism. He says:

“Writer Dorothy Parker couldn’t meet a deadline to save her life, because she said for every five words she wrote, she erased seven.”

“Our fear of mediocrity manifests itself as perfectionism, and perfectionism prevents us from simply putting things out there and resolving to get better over time. With that approach, we fail to achieve anything at all.”

Image: Dorothy Parker

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Battered, Not Pretty but Still Standing

In the book, A Thousand Splendid Suns, by author Khaled Hosseini, Babi, Laila and Tariq are venturing out from Kabul to see some of Afghanistan’s cultural sites:

Babi pointed and said:
“That’s called Shahr-e-Zohak. The Red City. It used to be a fortress. It was built some nine hundred years ago to defend the valley from invaders. Genghis Khan’s grandson attacked it in the thirteenth century, but he was killed. It was Genghis Khan himself who then destroyed it.”

“And that, my young friends, is the story of our country, one invader after another,” the driver said, flicking cigarette ash out the window. “Macedonians, Sassanians, Arabs, Mongols. Now the Soviets.”

“But we’re like those walls up there. Battered, and nothing pretty to look at, but still standing. Isn’t that the truth badar?”

“Indeed, it is,” said Babi.

Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns (Great Britain: Bloomsbury, 2007), 132.

A review of this book can be found at this site:

Reviewing Books and Movies

Further stories from this book posted on this site are:
Time Like a Piano Accordion
Three Cups of Tea in a Thousand Splendid Suns
The Taliban: How Fundamentalism takes the Fun out of Life

Image: Shahr-e-Zohak, The Red City (courtesy of the blog writer with an amazing story and sensational pictures at Kabul Diary).

Monday, November 26, 2007

Iraqi Symphony Orchestra: Music in the Mayhem

Al Jazeera has run today a news item on the making of beautiful music in Iraq, against all the odds.

The Iraq Symphony Orchestra began in the 1930s as a string quartet but quickly grew and became popular in the days of Saddam Hussein, who gave it his protection and blessing.

The Iraqi Symphony Orchestra has survived decades of war, sanctions, death threats, explosions and the deaths of some of its members.

The orchestra is made up of Sunni, Shia and Kurds and their practices and performance sound an example of how all these different groups can get along together.

The orchestra members pride themselves on continuing to be a symbol of Iraq’s indomitable spirit. It is an orchestra that proclaims hope and harmony.

Al Jazeera has not posted this news video on its site yet but keep a look out for it.

Here is a link to a video clip on the Iraq Symphony Orchestra. Or go to YouTube and search for the ‘Iraqi Symphony Orchestra’. The commentary in the clip is in Arabic but the music is international.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Iraqi Symphony Orchestra.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Robert Dessaix on Acting: 'Why Do We Do It?

‘Why do we do it?’

It was one of those last night questions—not even a question….

It had been an exhausting evening—the first run-through of the whole play without a script, a dog’s breakfast of a performance, with everyone getting very snappish. ‘Why we did it’, however, I knew perfectly well. I’d known since I was eleven or twelve.

One summer in the early 1960s, down the side of our house in Largs Bay [Adelaide], under the magnolia-tree by the fence, my father took it into his head to put up a car-port. In those days everyone was doing it: alongside gracious old sandstone bungalows all over Adelaide—those showily prim but faintly sinister houses that bring to mind fine china, vicars and arcane perversions—men starting erecting car-ports often with a little shed out the back. They looked hideous, like gumboots on a debutante, but my brother and I were ecstatic. It meant we were modern.

And having just been to a matinée performance of The Pirates of Penzance, I knew instantly what our car-port’s higher purpose was: a backyard theatre.

It’s all in the curtain. Everything else—writing the play, the raids for props and costumes, the daily betrayals and clashes with puffed-up egos—is tumultuous fun, but it is that final moment, when the neighbours are sitting on cushions and chairs on one side of the curtain and we are poised with cardboard swords and a trunk of pebbles wrapped in silver foil on the other, that is alchemical. This is the moment, as my brother jerks the bed-sheets apart, when the mystery descends, and in the blink of an eye we are both ourselves (our tiny, backyard, childish selves) and not ourselves (miraculously, beautiful, even good). The parting curtain has wrought a miracle, a collision of worlds, and this miracle is witnessed with rapt attention. Everything now matters—every trivial word, every crooked finger, every raised eyebrow—everything….

When my brother yanked the curtain closed on the final scene of mass slaughter that first Saturday afternoon (every child in the street lying stone-dead among the grease-spots), I knew what wonder was. Needless to say, it wasn’t the kind of thing I could ever explain to my father, who in any case had spent the afternoon at the cricket.

‘We do it,’ I said to William now, ‘because it’s our way of making up for the utter ordinariness of our lives.’

Robert Dessaix, Corfu: A Novel (London: Scribner, 2003), 239-241.

Image: “It’s all in the curtain.”

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Newspapers: Stories of Life Flattened in Newsprint

E L Doctorow writes tellingly of the role of newspapers and their importance to us:

“The outside perspective reduces everything to reasonable proportion. The paper is not the world, it is a simulacrum of the life of the world, its wars, famine, business, weather, politics, crime, sports, arts, science categorized and worked into stories flattened on folded newsprint.”

E L Doctorow, City of God (London: Abacus, 2001), 208.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving Stories

Stories for Thanksgiving
See Updated List for Thanksgiving 2008.
With American Thanksgiving being celebrated this Thursday (22 November 2007) and reunions extending over the weekend, I thought I would draw together some of the stories on my web sites that have a theme of thanksgiving and gratitude.

Personal Story
Here is a story from me to kick it off.

When, at the age of five my mother died, our grandparents gave up their retirement and came to live in our house to support my father in the raising of us three kids.

Both my grandparents had been school teachers and their discipline did not let up even in their senior years. They drummed into us the importance of saying ‘Thank you’ every time we were given things or someone did something for us.

The discipline of gratitude became so ingrained in me, that one day, after I had done something wrong and my Grandpa took me out for a thrashing, I turned to him and said, “Thank you!”

Perhaps I was fearful that if I did not express my thanks I would get another stroke of the cane! (By the way, this was in the unenlightened 1950s before smacking, strapping and stroking with a stick was frowned upon). Looking back I also ran the risk that I showed my appreciation so wholeheartedly, my Grandpa would think that I, like Oliver, was asking for more.

Gratitude is a healthy habit, a delightful discipline but it is given and received best (even to God) when we express thanks from our hearts and not by rote.

Stories of Gratitude (in no special order)
On Being a Privileged Spectator of Life
My Thanks to those Who Have Sent Me Emails
Deciding Not to Become Hostage to Hostility
Experiencing Afresh the Joys of Living
Punctuate Your Difficulties With Humor
The BBC’s Formula for Happiness
Ed Ricketts: The Ability to Receive
Mrs. Niebuhr: Giving Recognition Where it is Due
How to Kick the ‘If Only’ Habit
Turning Frustrations into Fortune
“…but now I’m found…”
‘I’m just happy I could help.’
Generous Hospitality
Don’t Let the Past Imprison You in the Present
Changes We Survived
Kneel Where Believers Have Knelt
Giving Thanks
Choosing Gratitude (the story behind the US Thanksgiving celebration)
Blessing Your Coming and Your Going
I Want Real Human Moments
Dig Yourself Some Memory Holes –Story from the Pilgrim Fathers and Mothers
Joyous Generosity
Life is Gift
All Encompassing Gratitude
Thanks for Everyday Blessings
Culinary Cloud of Witnesses
Hooray for Grandmothers!
In the Beginning it was Fun!
Why Didn’t I Notice Her Eyes?

For more stories of gratitude go to this next site and put the word ‘Thanksgiving’ into the search space at the top left of the site:

The Official F W Boreham Blogspot

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: “Gratitude is a healthy habit, a delightful discipline…”

Monday, November 19, 2007

Change, like Coffee Requires Time to Percolate

If you are battling to get a new idea accepted or a program implemented, go to the nearest coffee shop, order yourself a strong brew and ponder the story of coffee.

Coffee or qahwa (قهوة) is a ninth century Arabic discovery, as legend has it that Eritrean or Ethiopian shepherds noticed the way that the eating of certain beans by their goats caused them to dance, so they tried it and got happy themselves.

The beans were popular in Yemen where coffee was initially chewed and then made into an invigorating drink. The Sufis found a century or two later that a cup of swirling coffee kept them awake and on task for their all-night chanting and swaying ceremonies.

Coffee changed from a religious drink into a social beverage served in coffee houses, with most Muslims viewing coffee as a splendid alternative to alcoholic drinks which were off-limits. But some Muslim scholars, recognizing the intoxicating (or addictive) influence of coffee then decreed that it was in the same category as alcohol and promptly took it off the Muslim menu. This was like a fatwa on coffee and whenever coffee was seen it was seized and burned and coffee drinkers were beaten.

Islamic scholars in Cairo later disputed this ruling that coffee was haram and soon the appetizing liquid was back in the shops.

Traders took the beans to Europe through Venice where in the seventeenth century, Pope Clement VIII baptized it as ‘a Christian drink’ even though there were calls for ‘the Muslim drink’ to be banned. With the Pope’s blessing the popularity of coffee was assured and the rest is history.

Remember as you swill your bottomless cup that coffee, like many other good inventions, only gains acceptance after trials, fatwas and threats of fatwas.

Coffee-Wikipedia (and thanks to them for the coffee photo)
Delancey Place (who pour out some wonderful stories into our inbox receptacles each day) and who got their story from Tom Standage, A History of the World in Six Glasses, 2005, pp. 137-140.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Coffee, the dancing drug, chewed by Yemenis, imbibed by whirling dervishes, deemed halal, haram, fatwa(ed), baptized and blessed. Have another cup.

Read how coffee and coffee customs are a big part of life in the UAE in:
‘Imbibing the Emirates’, Experiencing the Emirates.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Discovering Gifts and Passions by Accident

I have posted a story from the life of the comedian, Steve Allen, who found some gifts and whose talent was discovered quite accidentally.

This story is posted on a related site that has stories and resources to do with decision making and discernment.

Steve Allen: Discernment Comes From Doing

Image: Steve Allen

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Warren Bennis: ‘Do You Really Love Your Job?’

Here is a story from my recently launched online book, Making Life Decisions: Journey in Discernment.

If you like the story, there are plenty more like this on the theme of decision making or discernment and you can click on the link below.

In our last reflection we saw how Parker Palmer was spared the discomfort of taking on an ill-fitting job. In a similar story, which again values the scrutiny of others, management guru, Warren Bennis, tells how he accepted an invitation to head up a university but realized later that he had done it for the wrong reasons.

Bennis was delivering a lecture at Harvard University. He was a seasoned speaker and he loved the thrill of working a crowd. At the open time to follow, a question came from the Dean of the School, who was a respected figure in education. Bennis thought his experience at responding to questions was sharpened to a fine point after so many years of teaching and media work. His secret conceit was that there was not one question that he could not respond to in a convincing and winning way.

The question came “like a long, high lob floating lazily over the audience and masking its astuteness in that self-effacing (and deceptive) mid-western drawl of his. “Warren,” he asked, “Do you love being the President of the University of Cincinnati?” Bennis said he did not know how many seconds passed before responding. The room was suddenly so quiet he could hear his heart beating. Finally, he looked up at his questioner and haltingly said, “I don’t know.” Actually, that was the moment he knew the answer but had not yet told himself. The truth is that he did not love it and did not have the passion for it. He wanted to be a University President but he did not want to do university presidency.

A question from an interested observer had made Bennis aware that administration was not for him. It was this epiphany that led to his calling as an adviser and coach to leaders in corporate, government and academic life.[1]

Often by a question or a story (invited or uninvited), another person can help us discern our thoughts and trawl through our motives so that we may admit our mistakes and discover our genuine passions. To welcome and submit to regular, loving scrutiny is a key discipline in the ongoing pursuit of one’s call or vocation.

The link to this Warren Bennis story is here.

To arrive at the Home Page and see how this book can be used by individuals, by couples (even through email if they are on opposite sides of the world) and then by larger groups, churches etc here is the link:

Making Life Decisions: Journey in Discernment

Do mark this web site as a favorite for an easy return to this resource.

Pass on the link to anyone you know that is seeking directions and wrestling with discerning the way forward.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Warren Bennis

[1]Warren Bennis, Managing the Dream: Reflections on Leadership and Change, (Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus, 2000), xxv-xxvii.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

New Book on Decision Making & Discernment

I wanted you to know that I have recently published online a book entitled, Making Life Decisions: Journey in Discernment.

If you are simply interested in discovering stories for your talks and articles, this book has scores of stories from people such as Charles Handy, Joan Chittester, Frederick Buechner, John Claypool and F W Boreham.

This book, Making Life Decisions: Journey in Discernment, as I have said in the introduction, “is a workbook, a tour guide or a travel journal for people wanting to make a forty-day journey in discernment.”

To learn more about how it can be used or simply to find those stories, here is the link:
Making Life Decisions: Journey in Discernment

The last page of this online book has a page of ever increasing resources on decision making and discernment. It points to a related site called:
Discernment Resources

Please let me know of other helpful resources such as books or web sites by adding a comment.

There are regular stories on the theme of decision making and discernment that I will be posting on this site.

If you find these resources helpful, do pass on the links to other people by email or link in your newsletter.

Geoff Pound

Image: On the journey.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Pursuing the Saratoga

The problem was an acute one. It all happened at Parattah Junction in Tasmania. I was traveling on the south-bound express. Having enjoyed a good dinner in the refreshment rooms, I discovered that I still had five minutes before the train resumed its journey.

At that very moment, the north-bound express arrived. How better could I spend my spare five minutes than by strolling along the platform on the chance of meeting somebody I knew? And, surely enough, beside one of the central carriages, I caught sight of a young lady, a minister's daughter, at whose home I had often been a guest.

I saw at a glance that she was in dire distress.
‘Why, Effie!’ I exclaimed. ‘What's wrong?’
‘Oh, I'm in serious trouble,’ she replied. ‘I've lost my Saratoga!’
‘That's dreadful,’ I assented, sympathetically. ‘But look, you take the front part of the train and I'll take the back, and we'll meet again here in a minute or two!’

I hurried along the carriages that I had assigned to myself, looking high and low for the elusive Saratoga. I sincerely hoped that Effie would find it in that portion of the train that I had allotted to her, for I had to confess to myself that I felt seriously handicapped in my own search by the lamentable circumstances that I had no shadow of an idea as to what a Saratoga was!

It sounded as if it might be a special breed of dog, and I poked with my stick among the bags and boxes hoping that, with a frightened yelp, the little beast would dash out at me. But then again, it might be an article of jewelry, and, for that reason, I scrutinized the asphalt of the platform and the floors of the carriages in the frantic hope that I might detect a sudden glitter.

But then, I reminded myself, a Saratoga might conceivably be some mysterious part of a lady's wearing apparel, and it was because of this possibility that, fearing to embarrass her, I had refrained from asking Effie for exact particulars of the missing treasure.

At any rate I searched my half of the train as closely as my limited time would allow, and, on returning to our appointed rendezvous, was delighted to find Effie with her face beaming and the precious Saratoga at her feet. How was I to know that a Saratoga was a species of suitcase? I congratulated her, waved her a hurried goodbye; and caught my own train by the skin of my teeth.

But, to my dying day, I shall never forget the sensation of searching eagerly for a thing without possessing the faintest clue as to what that thing might be.

My experience that day resembles the universal search for happiness. If asked what they were seeking, nine people out of ten—perhaps ninety-nine out of a hundred—would reply that they are seeking happiness. Do they know what they are looking for? Would they recognize it if they saw it? Or is their passionate quest like my own wild pursuit of the Saratoga?

F W Boreham, Dreams at Sunset (London: The Epworth Press, 1954), 22-24.

New Book of Stories
The above story is one of the 250+stories that can be found in the recently published book:

F W Boreham, All the Blessings of Life: The Best Stories of F W Boreham.

My publishing colleague, Michael Dalton has a Thanksgiving Special on at the moment so it can be purchased (with the two other new Boreham books) at the best price.

Instructions are at this link:
F W Boreham Publishing News—Thanksgiving Special

Southern Hemisphere people might like to order from these links:
COC Online Shop
Steve Grosey Site

Image: Found it! This is a Saratoga. It was a large trunk (nineteenth century), so called because it was much used by women traveling to the summer resort of Saratoga, New York.

Another story from this book is posted at:
The Official F W Boreham Blogspot.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Billy Graham Library: The Man and the Message are Inseparable

The New York Times has recently run a story by Edward Rothstein about his visit to the new Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The new exhibition includes Billy’s boyhood home, decked out with a rural touch—a silo and a mechanical cow that moos—then there is a film on the famous evangelist, photographs depicting the Presidents that he prayed for and famous people who sought his counsel, a gallery showcasing the contribution of Ruth Graham, a media hall, a tribute area, and a journey of faith’ which concludes with a walk through an aisle and counsellors available who will chat with you about your eternal destiny. Outside there is a prayer garden where visitors can pause at the grave of Ruth Graham and eventually the grave of Dr Graham.

Rothstein is respectful but he does not give this exhibition a high mark saying:
“Unfortunately, the overall effect is not very illuminating, presuming devotion rather than creating it. Of course museums of many kinds choose to preach to the converted. They design exhibitions not to convince the skeptic or attract the outsider, but to gather those of like minds to share a common vision. But there is probably no place where this is more literally true than here. Unless you enter fully faithful, there is a limit to what can be taken away, aside from a curiosity about Mr. Graham himself.”

The Man and the Message
Rothstein makes an interesting observation when he says:
“But one of the unusual things about both this place and Mr. Graham’s ministry is that it is impossible to think of either without thinking of the man behind them. That may even be their greatest strength, though it also raises other questions.”

“It is impossible to separate the man and the message in this library.”

This thought, which is important for every communicator to ponder, is captured in the title of the article which can be found at this link (with a free log in):

Edward Rothstein, ‘At Billy Graham Library, Man and Message Are One and the Same’, New York Times, 10 November 2007

Image: Entrance to the Billy Graham Library (courtesy of the NY Times)

The Billy Graham Library will undoubtedly contain all the writings of F W Boreham, a speaker and writer who had a profound effect on Dr. Billy and Ruth Graham.

More about the Billy and Ruth Graham connection can be found at this link on the Official F W Boreham Blogspot.

Recent stories are posted on this site include:

The Need to Keep One’s Eyes Wide Open and

The Joy of Making a Great Discovery

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Groucho Marx on Why We Need Comedians to Make Us Laugh

Groucho Marx writes, on the subject of comics:

“I am not sure how I got to be a comedian or a comic. ... I doubt if any comedian can honestly say why he is funny and why his neighbor is not.”

“I believe all comedians arrive by trial and error. This was certainly true in the old days of vaudeville, and I'm sure it's true today. The average team would consist of a straight man and a comic. The straight man would sing, dance or possibly do both. And the comedian would steal a few jokes from the other acts and find a few in the newspapers and comic magazines. They would then proceed to play small-time vaudeville theaters, burlesque shows, night clubs and beer gardens. If the comic was inventive, he would gradually discard the stolen jokes and the ones that died and try out some of his own. In time, if he was any good, he would emerge from the routine character he had started with and evolve into a distinct personality of his own. This has been my experience and also that of my brothers, and I believe this has been true of most of the other comedians.”

“My guess is that there aren't a hundred top-flight professional comedians, male and female, in the whole world. They are a much rarer and far more valuable commodity than all the gold and precious stones in the world. But because we are laughed at, I don't think people understand how essential we are to their sanity. If it weren't for the brief respite we give the world with our foolishness, the world would see mass suicide in numbers that compare favorably with the death rate of lemmings.”

“I'm sure most of you have heard the story of the man who, desperately ill, goes to an analyst and tells the doctor that he has lost his desire to live and that he is seriously considering suicide. The doctor listens to this tale of melancholia and then tells the patient that what he needs is a good belly laugh. He advises the unhappy man to go to the circus that night and spend the evening laughing at Grock, the world's funniest clown. The doctor sums it up, 'After you have seen Grock, I am sure you will be much happier.' The patient rises to his feet, looks sadly at the doctor, turns and ambles to the door. As he starts to leave the doctor says, 'By the way, what is your name?' The man turns and regards the analyst with sorrowful eyes. 'I am Grock.'”

Source: Groucho Marx, Groucho and Me, Da Capo, Copyright 1959 by Groucho Marx, renewed 1987 in the name of Arthur Marx as son, pp. 87-89.

Posted recently at Delancey Place where you can get an excerpt like this each day.

Image: Groucho

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Shirin Ebadi on the Power of a Pivotal Event to Rally the Crowds

In her book, Iran Awakening, Shirin Ebadi relates the growing public dissatisfaction with the Shah and she highlights how certain events, such as the burning of a crowded cinema in 1978 and the death of 377 people, prompted people to protest and overthrow the regime:

“I realize only two decades later the momentous power of such a moment—how an egregious act can electrify a population until then ambivalent, and convince them that a confined dispute between political forces carried implications worthy of drawing them out of their living rooms, into the fray.”

“A month later, at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, one hundred thousand people poured into the streets, the first of the grand marches against the Shah. An ocean of Iranians as far as the eye could see filled the wide boulevards of Tehran and raised their voices against the Shah.”

“I found myself drawn to the opposition that hailed Ayatollah Khomeini as their leader.”

The author also exposes the negative aspects of crowd movements for their hailing of Ayatollah Khomeini quickly turned to howls of protest.

Source: Shirin Ebadi with Azadeh Moaveni, Iran Awakening (London: Rider, 2006), 33.

A review of this illuminating book is posted at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Image: The burned out building of Cinema Rex in which doors were locked so people could not escape their death by fire.

Friday, November 09, 2007

On the Familiar and the Foreign

F W Boreham tells this story about the way that we so often have never awakened to the charms of the beauty spots around us yet we will travel long distances to see other attractions:

In the days of his youth James Russell Lowell spent one memorable summer vacation in the White Mountain district. One day, when enjoying a stroll through the Franconia Notch, he became absorbed in conversation with a man who was in charge of a sawmill. The man chatted on, feeding his mill with logs the while. Presently the poet asked his new acquaintance if he could direct him to a point from which he could obtain a good view of the ‘Old Man of the Mountain.’ ‘Dunno’ replied the man, ‘never seed it!’ Lowell immediately expressed his astonishment that any one living so near such a marvellous spectacle, which people came from long distances to see, should never have taken the pains to gaze upon it.

‘And how far have you come?’ asked the man. With evident pride the poet answered that he had come from Boston. ‘D'you tell?’ exclaimed the countryman. ‘I'd like to see Boston. Why, just to stand for once on Bunker Hill! You've been there often, likely?’ And James Russell Lowell confessed with shame and confusion of face that he never had!

F W Boreham 'Wedge Bay' The Golden Milestone (London: Charles H Kelly, 1915), 112-113.

More on this story and related stories on this theme can be found at this link:
The Official F W Boreham Blogsite

Image: Bunker Hill monument.

For Your Sickness and Pain take up a Pen and Paper

A former teacher and a journalist discovered the help writing can be when she was trying to come to terms with her son’s 27 months deployment as an infantryman in Iraq. This benefit and revelation led Sue Diaz to conducting weekly writing workshops in the US with war veterans.

Diaz says: “The heart of each workshop session involves writing together. I offer a prompt – a word, a phrase, an object – to get pens moving. We all write for 20 minutes, then take turns reading aloud what we've written. That part's always optional, but most make that choice. It's a chance not only to be listened to, but in some instances to at long last be heard.”

Read the article to learn how the practice of writing, especially communal writing, helps to confront pain and work through difficulties.

Then write your way to healing and wholeness.

Sue Diaz, ‘To Help Veterans Confront War: Pen and Paper’, CSM, 9 November 2007.

Image: “For Your Sickness and Pain take up a Pen and Paper.”

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Shirin Ebadi on Faith, Good Works, Justice and Fortitude

In the front page of Shirin Ebadi’s book, Iran Awakening, is this statement from the Koran, that has obviously been a strength to this Nobel Peace prize winner in her work for human rights.

‘I swear by the declining day, that perdition shall be the lot of man. Except for those who have faith and do good works and exhort each other to justice and fortitude.”

Source: The Holy Koran 103.3

Image: Shirin Ebadi and a boy.

A review of Shirin Ebadi’s book, Iran Awakening is posted at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Shirin Ebadi on the Power of the Written Word

The human rights activist, Shirin Ebadi, in her memoirs entitled, Iran Awakening, gives this cameo into the power of words and stories.

“Propped up on my desk in Tehran is a clipping of a political cartoon I like to keep in sight while I work. The sketch is of a woman wearing a space-age battle helmet, bent over a blank page with a pen in her hand. It reminds me of a truth that I have learned in my lifetime, one that is echoed in the history of Iranian women across the ages: that the written word is the most powerful tool we have to protect ourselves, both from the tyrants of the day and from our own traditions. Whether it is the storyteller of legend Scheherazade staving off beheading by spinning a thousand and one tales, feminist poets of the last century who challenged the culture’s perception of women through verse, or lawyers like me, who defend the powerless in courts, Iranian women have for centuries relied on words to transfer a reality.”

She says how her book is subject to censor and adds:

“My work places me in opposition to our system, and I suspect I may never be able to write anything in Iran without taking off my helmet.”

Shirin Ebadi with Azadeh Moaveni, Iran Awakening (London: Rider, 2006), 209-210.

A review of Iran Awakening can be found at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Image: Shirin Ebadi

Monday, November 05, 2007

Doctorow on the Importance of Stories

“A story on the page is like a printed circuit for our lives to flow through, a story told invokes our dim capacity to be alive in bodies not our own.”

E L Doctorow, City of God (London: Abacus, 2001), 204.

Image: “A story on the page is like a printed circuit…”

Friday, November 02, 2007

Chekhov and Making Small Things Greater

Several actors in Robert Dessaix’s novel Corfu, are discussing the style of Anton Chekhov:

What we can hold onto in it [Uncle Vanya by Chekhov], however, is Chekhov’s astonishing ability to make small things greater and big things… not smaller exactly, but big for smaller, more human reasons. Drinking tea, loving a woman, saving the forests, playing the guitar, a botched operation, a thunderstorm, the pointlessness of everything… somehow or other (it’s a mystery to me, I can’t fathom it) all these things make space for each other, allow each other their own particular value, refuse to shout each other down.

In life things may not work out like this, but they do in the play. Life, so to speak, may not be beautiful, but its translation may be.

Robert Dessaix, Corfu (A Novel) (London: Scribner, 2003), 247-248.

Image: “A thunderstorm… it’s a mystery to me…”

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Hillary Clinton: Not Letting the Truth Get in the Way of a Good Story

A story is doing the rounds, circulated by email and judged by people to be fiction. It has been linked with various celebrities—George W Bush, Al Gore and now Hillary Clinton—but it illustrates the way people put ‘spin’ on a negative story to make it sound positive.

This email claims that Hillary Clinton, an amateur genealogical researcher, discovered that her great-great uncle, Remus Rodham, a fellow lacking in character, was hanged for horse stealing and train robbery in Montana in 1889.

The only known photograph of Remus shows him standing on the gallows. On the back of the picture is this inscription: "Remus Rodham; horse thief, sent to Montana Territorial Prison 1885, escaped 1887, robbed the Montana Flyer six times. Caught by Pinkerton detectives, convicted and hanged in 1889."

In Hillary's Family History, her staff of professional image consultants, cropped Remus's picture, scanned it in as an enlarged image, and edited with it image processing software so that all that's seen is a head shot. The accompanying biographical sketch is as follows:

"Remus Rodham was a famous cowboy in the Montana Territory. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Montana railroad. Beginning in 1883, he devoted several years of his life to service at a government facility, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad. In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the renowned Pinkerton Detective Agency. In 1889, Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honor when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed."

Image: Hillary Clinton on the platform.