Today I Learn… I make a point of learning something new everyday. This is what I learn each day

1, Jan 26, 2016

Job Hunting needs tons of courage and Persistence

Filed under: Career — admin @ 10:55 pm

I keep telling my daughter how she goes about looking for interns and jobs. Meanwhile I try to prepare her for the challenges ahead.

For one thing, not getting the job you have applied means rejection, which can mean many other things. Like they don’t trust you have the ability to hold the position you apply, they don’t believe in you, like they don’t see your value, your potential, like they might even have prejudices, like all sorts of negative thoughts that surge up in your brain, and that’s enough to ruin your day and your mood.

You need to amass a large chunk of energy and will power to repel these negative thoughts. You need to keep in mind that the only person that is being hurt by negative thought is nobody but you. So, regardless what happens, stay upbeat. And that takes great efforts.

You also need to keep in mind that hopelessness means when you give up trying, that there is hope as long as you keep trying. Don’t give up. Don’t despair.

Of course, I cannot tell my daughter that you are only 20 years old, that you still have time, etc. She would not buy that. She knows too well time and tide wait for no one.

1, Jan 25, 2016

Reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, Theo Decker cheats on Hobie

Filed under: Book — admin @ 9:22 pm

“… as far as I [Theo] knew, the thought of selling the changelings [“cannibalized and heavily altered pieces”] for originals or indeed of selling them at all had never crossed Hobie’s mind; and his complete lack of interest in goings-on in the store gave me considerable freedom to set about the business of raising cash and taking care of bills. … I did not for one instant doubt Hobie’s astonishment if he learned I was selling his changelings for real.” p. 453, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

You can’t help feel sympathetic toward Theo Decker, the protagonist of The Goldfinch. Death of his mother at age of 13, left with a father who is better dead than alive, becoming an orphan at age of 15, how unfortunate can one become?

You would expect Theo to be grateful when he appeared at Hobie’s door like a homeless boy and was accepted totally unconditionally by such a kind fatherly figure. You would expect him to be totally honest to such a man, at least not to cheat him by selling changelings for originals. Theo does it even though he knows it is wrong.

Why does he do it? I have tried to find excuses for his actions. None holds water, except the fact that he inherits this trait from his father who tries to swindle money from his own son.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Isn’t this what the author implies?

1, Jan 24, 2016

One of the unforgettable characters in All the Light We Cannot See

Filed under: Book — admin @ 1:45 pm

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer was the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The 544 page story is set against World War II, from 1934 to the end of the war. It tells the tale of a 6-year-old blind French girl named Marie-Laure LeBlanc and an exceptionally smart 8-year-old German orphan called Werner Pfennig.

This book immediately brought to mind The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, due to their similar historical backgrounds. Both are war memoirs. Both books end with the deaths of good people–Isabelle and her father in The Nightingale, Werner and Marie-Laure’s father in this book.

Between the two, I would have to say Kristin Hannah is the more skilled storyteller. All the Light We Cannot See is most markedly different from The Nightingale in its inclusion of the Sea of Flames, an intriguing myth.

Doer’s novel shifts back and forth from Marie-Laure to Werner, which disrupts the continuity in the separate story arcs.

There are many deeply touching events throughout the book. The one of the most unforgettable characters is Marie-Laure’s father.

Marie-Laure’s mother died at the childbirth. She lost her eyesight at age of 6. To make up for her loss of vision and help her gain independence, her father builds a model of the town, a miniature of the city, with properly scaled replicas of the hundreds of houses, shops and hotels, etc. He also builds a model of Saint-Malo after they moved there, with “the irregular polygon of the island framed by ramparts, each of its eight hundred and sixty-five buildings in place.” The tremendous amount of love and labor poured into this model is unbelievable.

The father took the 6-year-old Marie-Laure to his office everyday. One day, he said,

“Here, ma chérie, is the path we take every morning. Through the cedars up ahead is the Grand Gallery.”
“I know, Papa.”
He picks her up and spins her around three times. “Now,” he says, “you’re going to take us home.”
Her mouth drops open.
“I want you to think of the model [of the town], Marie.”
“But I can’t possibly!”
“I’m one step behind you. I won’t let anything happen. You have your cane. You know where you are.”
“I do not!”
“You do.”

Marie-Laure drops her cane; she begins to cry. Her father lifts her, holds her to his narrow chest.
“It’s so big,” she whispers.
“You can do this, Marie.”
She cannot.

But the father never gives up, insisting that she learn to navigate the town by touch and by memory. “…in the winter of her eighth year, to Marie-Laure’s surprise, she begins to get it right.” By studying the model of the city, she has found that everything “in the model has its counterpart in the real world.”

With the ceaseless support from her father, Marie-Laure, despite her disability, grows up to be an independent and highly accomplished scientist, with great courage and intelligence. I thought of many contemporary parents who spoil their healthy children by being lax in dispensing discipline, and realized what a gift her father gave her.

Another heartwarming passage is when Marie-Laure’s father departs for Paris, leaving her alone for the first time in her life. He promises to come back in 10 days, and “On the twentieth morning without any word from her father, Marie-Laure does not get out of bed… She becomes unreachable, sullen. She does not bathe, does not warm herself by the kitchen fire, ceases to ask if she can go outdoors. She hardly eats.” I found it difficult to hold back tears, understanding how bleak yet wanly hopeful she must have felt during those days without substantive news.

He says she is his “émerveillement”, and that he will never leave her, “not in a million years.” His father’s words come back to her. Yet, he does not come back from that separation, and has most probably died at a German concentration camp.

I would have expected Marie-Laure’s father to survive the war, but it would not be quite realistic because war means death, and death is indifferent to good and bad souls and the wishes of a little blind girl.

1, Jan 19, 2016

Reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Filed under: Book — admin @ 3:14 pm

“The absurd does not liberate; it binds.” –Albert Camus. Indeed, it binds humans like fate dictates the trajectory of Theo Decker’s life. This is how Donna Tartt starts her novel The Goldfinch.

“…the line of beauty is the line of beauty. It doesn’t matter if it’s been through the Xerox machine a hundred times.” — Hobie

“…dreams and signs, past and future, luck and fate. There wasn’t a single meaning. There were many meanings. It was a riddle expanding out and out and out.”

“Bad artists copy, good artists steal.” – Hobie quotes Picasso’s word.

“I suppose it’s ignoble to spend your life caring so much for objects—. Caring too much for objects can destroy you… isn’t the whole point of things—beautiful things–that they connect you to some larger beauty?” — Hobie

I was tempted to call the novel a memoir of a mother or how a teenage boy grows up without his mother or “the nail where your fate is liable to catch and snag.” Isn’t it true that his mother, dead 14 years ago, comes alive through his memory? On the other hand, with plenty of serious talks from Boris and Hobie on art and life, doesn’t the author try to tell us that it is much more than a memoir or a coming-of-age story, a Bildungsroman?

The novel starts with Theo Decker, protagonist, trapped in an Amsterdam hotel, after killing two persons. It then quickly flashed back to the death of his mother 14 years ago, the milestone in his life. The Goldfinch, the 1654 Carel Fabritius’ masterpiece, is his possession now after he took it from the museum. For 14 years, he was burdened with the fear over The Goldfinch, fearing that he might get caught and be punished for keeping it.

Just as Theo was settling down at his friend Andy Barbour’s house and trying to recover from the trauma of losing his mother, his father suddenly shows up and takes him away from New York City to Las Vegas, with the intention of swindling him of the money his mother left for him. This triggers a real downward spiral in his life.

With the death of his father in two years, the 15-year-old Theo left Boris, his Vegas friend, went back to New York City, and started a new chapter in his life. At some point, while he is in the antique business with Hobie, Theo’s smartness got Hobie, a father-like figure in his life, “in a jam” when he sells sham antiques as real ones.

When Boris showed up in his life again 12 years later, Theo learned that the painting he has been keeping all these year is a mere copy.

Looking at the events that occurs to him and the people in his life, I am wondering about fate and random chance, wondering how Theo’s life would be if his mother had not died when he was 13 or if his alcoholic father had not snatched him away from Andy Barbour’s house or if his father had not died in two years or if he had not met Boris in Vegas or met Welty or Hobie in New York or if he had known the fact about The Goldfinch.

I can’t help marvel at the interplay of fate, chance, nature and nurture in a person’s life. His mother, Hobie, Boris, his father, Mrs. Barbour, Welty, The Goldfinch, each one of them has played an indispensable role in his life, making him what he is now.

Indeed, there is always something in life that we cannot choose, like our parents and people who cross our path. But there is something within our control, like taking drugs or becoming alcoholic or sell sham antiques, etc.

Goldfinch is a good book in the sense it lingers on in readers’ minds, posing questions, and making them think and wonder, like how much autonomy can we claim in becoming who we are, independent of influences from our parents, events happened to us and people in our lives, etc.?

On the other hand, it is better not to focus on the uncontrollable factors, critical though they are, in order to prevent oneself from falling into a mire of fatalistic thinking.

Main characters in the novel:
Theodore “Theo” Decker, 13-year-old
Welton “Welty” Blackwell, who gave Theo a ring at the museum
Andy Barbour, his school friend, Platt, Kitsey, and Toddy Barbour
James “Hobie” Hobart, Welty’s partner, Theo became Hobie’s antiques store partner
Pippa, a girl Theo is in love with
Larry Decker, Theo’s father
Xandra, Larry Decker’s girl friend
Boris, a cosmopolitan son of a Ukrainian émigré
Popper, Xandra’s neglected Maltese puppy
Lucius Reeve, one of the buyers at Hobie’s store
Tom Cable, Kitsey’s boy friend

1, Jan 12, 2016

My daughter left for Boston early this morning

Filed under: Daughter — admin @ 10:28 pm

My daughter came back after last spring semester on 5/12/2015 and left today, 1/12/2016, exactly 8 months staying home with us while working remotely on her projects. It has been such a blessing, a privilege, a luxury having her for 8 precious months. I dare not expect it to happen again in the near future. I was spoiled and got so used to having her around that I felt lost after I got home from office today.

The house seems empty and joyless without her. I felt so sad that I couldn’t help sobbing out loud. I have to try hard telling myself, “Behave yourself. Keep in mind what your children want you to do. They want you to be happy and healthy. They want you to exercise more, read and write more, enjoy yourself more, etc. And they still look up to you as a good role model.” I have promised to do something to make them proud of me.

Now is the moment to start new and put out an action plan to get something done for this year, so that when they fly back, I will have something noteworthy to share with them.

Of course, the most important task of all is to keep fit and prepare a warm nest for them to fly back… Remember this!

1, Jan 2, 2016

New Year Resolution 2016

Filed under: Self-improvement — admin @ 12:23 am

This is what I said to my children, “A New Year Resolution shows you want to improve and you want a better tomorrow. Don’t become cynical or discouraged when you have not followed through your previous ones. What we need is follow-up to our resolutions to make sure we keep our promise.”

This is my New Year Resolution 2016
(1) For physical health:
–brisk walk for over 30 minutes per day
–jump-rope over 100 times per day

(2) For brain health:
–learn a new language this year, 30 minutes per day, by the end of the year I shall be able to read spiegel.de
–learn a new craft, be it garden skill or something else

(3) Career development:
–publish two articles on professional journals this year
–keep options open

(4) Personal improvement/time management:
–de-cluster the house at least once a week;
–spend at most 30 minutes on social media per day in the evening

(5) Resolution
–to make sure, unlike previous years, real change will take place this year, do a follow-up at least once a month.

1, Jan 1, 2016

Happy New Year, 2016! New Year, new you really.

Filed under: Holiday — admin @ 12:40 am

No, I have not forgotten this occasion and the New Year Resolution that we are all supposed to think about.

My son came back on 12/18 and left for NYC on 12/29. As always I had a wonderful time at home spending time with him. We drove to New Orleans on 12/20 and back on 12/24, 5 days and 4 nights. We spent most of the time on the way driving there. Back to Kansas, we took a detour visiting Houston to meet my sister’s son. From there, we drove north, stopped at Dallas.

When my son was home, I mentioned New Year Resolution. Both of my children were a bit skeptical about it, saying we made it and broke it every year. There was really no point of doing it again. I said break resolution does not mean resolution-making itself is a bad thing to do. It only means we have not dutifully followed up with the implement of our resolution. Once again, I believe having a resolution is always better than without.

My New Year Resolution consists of the following sections:
(1) For physical health
(2) For mental health
(3) For career advance
(4) For personal improvement

So, it is time to look back and look forward for a better tomorrow.

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