the unbearable lightness of being

“The heaviest of burdens is simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become.

Conversely, the absolute absence of a burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into the heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.

What then shall we choose?

Weight or lightness?

– Milan Kundera, Czech-born, French-nationalized writer (1984)


Encore une fois, en français

Le plus lourd fardeau nous écrase, nous fait ployer sous lui, nous presse contre le sol. Le plus lourd fardeau est donc en meme temps l’image du plus intense accomplissement vital. Plus lourd est le fardeau, plus notre vie est proche de la terre, et plus elle est réelle et vraie.

En revanche, l’absence totale de fardeau fait que l’être humains devient plus léger que l’air, qu’il s’envole, qu’il s’éloigne sa la terre, de terrestre, qu’il n’est plus qu’à demi réel et que ses mouvements sont aussi libres qu’insignifiants.

Alors, que choisir? La pesanteur ou la légèreté?

– Milan Kundera, écrivain né tchèque, nationalisé français (1984)img_0907img_1110img_1047img_1063img_0941img_1103img_1106img_0951img_0956img_0927img_0931
Location: Prague & Terezín (aka Theresienstadt), Czech Republic 

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the conquest of happiness

“The man who acquires easily things for which he feels only a very moderate desire concludes that the attainment of desire does not bring happiness. If he is of a philosophic disposition, he concludes that human life is essentially wretched, since the man who has all he wants is still unhappy. He forgets that to be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.”

– Bertrand Russell (1930)

Some of the wisdom in this book is really dated, but much of it is really true, nearly 100 years later. Does human nature really evolve? Or are we reacting to so-called ‘disruptive technology’ in similar patterns to how our ancestors responded to basic stimuli related to success and internal drive? I think we can all relate to achieving benchmarks we thought would make us happy only to find further restlessness. One thing I think Russell got wrong though, is that you can be of a philosophic disposition and still conclude that the attainment of happiness is a continuous practice that has no end point. Contentedness and growth are not mutually exclusive, indeed both require daily practice.


“A man who has once perceived, however temporarily and however briefly, what makes greatness of soul, can no longer by happy if he allows himself to be petty, self-seeking, troubled by trivial misfortunes, dreading what fate may have in store for him. The man capable of greatness of soul will open wide the windows of his mind, letting the winds blow freely upon it from the world as truly as our human limitation will permit; realizing the brevity and minuteness of human life, he will realize also that in individual minds is concentrated whatever of value the known universe contains. And he will see that the man whose mind mirrors the world becomes in a sense as great as the world.”

xo your friend alice

a little life

“The axiom of equality states that always equals x: it assumes that if you have a conceptual thing named x, that it must always be equivalent to itself, that it has a uniqueness about it, that it is in possession of something so irreducible that we must assume it is absolutely, unchangeably equivalent to itself for all time, that its very elementalness can never be altered. But it is impossible to prove. Always, absolutes, nevers: these are the words, as much as numbers, that make up the world of mathematics…he had always appreciated how elusive it was, how the beauty of the equation itself would always be frustrated by the attempts to prove it. It was the kind of axiom that could drive you mad, that could consume you, that could easily become an entire life.”

– Hanya Yanagihara (2015)

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when they come alive

Try to preserve them, poet,
your visions of love,
however few may stay for you.
Cast them, half hidden, into your verse.
Try to hold on to them, poet,
when they come alive in your mind
at night or in the brightness of noon.

– C.P. Cavafy* in Remember, Body…
a collection of poetry (1897-1933)

*shout out to my former roomie Dimitri for gifting it to me!

 

we live for such miracles

Who can say if the thoughts you have in your mind as you read these words are the same thoughts I had in my mind as I typed them? We are different, you and I, and the qualia of our consciousness are as divergent as two stars at the ends of the universe.

And yet, whatever has been lost in translation in the long journey of my thoughts through the maze of civilization to your mind, I think you do understand me, and you think you do understand me. Our minds managed to touch, if but briefly and imperfectly.

Does the thought not make the universe seem just a bit kinder, a bit brighter, a bit warmer and more human?

We live for such miracles.

– Ken Liu, Preface to The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories (2016)


I just flipped the last page of this lovely (and at times disturbing) collection of magical realism/science fiction short stories featuring Chinese, Taiwanese, and Japanese narratives. The writing has a beautiful ability to make you feel comforting familiarity, revulsion, sadness, or intense curiosity–sometimes all at the same time. My friend Fernando gifted it to me for my birthday and told me he read the title story at a hike’s cliff-side resting point. He finished reading, burst into tears, and called his mother. Knowing this, I sat alone enjoying a bowl of Okinawan soba (white wheat noodles garnished with pork belly and pickled ginger) at Onna Soba waiting out the pounding rain and for my bus to take me back to Naha when I cracked open The Paper Menagerie. Between mouthfuls of soba I felt tears welling and then streaming down my face, my fellow diners furtively casting confused looks my way whilst I put down my book and dabbed my face with an already damp oshibori. I also called my mother later that night.

I love to read and it’s been a long time since a book has made me feel so much. Touching upon perspectives I grew up with or have come to know well: an independent woman, a Chinese immigrant, a person in love, a child of an incredible mother, or a contributing citizen to Japanese society, I felt a deep affinity with Liu’s words and his considerations of good, evil, and mystical are both poignant and incisive. Reading these stories simultaneously took me outside myself and urged me to consider my own experience as an Asian American. This book review describes the feeling very well.

Ken Liu is also a living interpretation of a version of my own dream. He is amazingly expressive in two languages, professionally trained as a lawyer, and simultaneously pursuing a path as a dreamer/writer. I have come away from this book with a new source of inspiration and I am so grateful.

You can read The Paper Menagerie short story here. Please tell me what you think.

xo your friend alice

Location: Tokyo, Japan

west and the rest

“The Western scientific heritage is founded upon an epistemological system that prizes the objective over the subjective, the logical over the intuitive, and the empirically verifiable over the mystical. The methods of social-scientific examinations of cultures are thus already value laden; the choice to examine and understand other cultures by these methods involves a commitment to certain values such as objectivity. Scientific discourse has a privileged place in Western cultures, but the discourses of myth, tradition, religion, and mystical insight are often the dominant forms of thought and language of non-Western cultures. To insist on trying to understand nonscientific cultures by the methods of Western science is not only distorting, but is also an expression of an attempt to maintain a Eurocentric cultural chauvinism: the chauvinism of science. According to this objection, it is only by adopting the (often nonscientific) perspectives and methods of the cultures studied that real understanding can be achieved.”

Against the Multicultural Agenda: A Critical Thinking Alternative, Yehudi Webster (1997)

brought to you by the LSAT study grind…some of this material is actually really interesting

xo your friend alice

Location: Tokyo, Japan