Recent Encounters with Ireland

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We recently watched the intriguing but utterly inconclusive Series One of “The Fall” on Netflix (apparently Series Two is in production, and one can hope that it will provide the closure that was spectacularly absent in Series One. Not that it ended as a cliffhanger, precisely. But we were still a bit irked that it ended where it did), which is set in Belfast. I’ve also been reading Joyce’s Ulysses these past couple of weeks, when I have the time to do a spot of reading.

The combination got me thinking about Irish works I’ve encountered over the years and enjoyed.

Here are a couple of additional highlights:

Tana French’s books.

faithful placeI read these a few years back and really liked them. My favourite of hers is Faithful Place, followed by The Likeness and In the Woods, both of which I found really compelling, despite flaws. Broken Harbour was a somewhat distant fourth, from a narrative and character perspective (part of the issue was that I didn’t like any of the characters and I found the story arc ultimately unsatisfying), though it was certainly wonderfully atmospheric and creepy, and shifted between a wistful sadness and something far darker, all of which was wrought with a subtle complexity that makes the book worth checking out in itself, in spite of the fact that neither the characters nor the conclusion were much to my liking. A haunting work. Continue reading

Democracy’s Capitol: Ruminations on D.C.

The Jefferson Memorial: the statue of Jefferson, set against the Pantheon-like dome of the memorial structure.

The Jefferson Memorial: a statue of Jefferson, set against the Pantheon-like dome of the memorial pavilion.

“You’ll love D.C. It’s like a celebration of democracy,” Angela,* the woman with whom we shared a taxi into the city, declared with a grin. She was visiting her daughter, who was studying at Georgetown University. “I lived abroad for a number of years, and each time I come back to D.C., I’m reminded of how great it is.”

The taxi driver also joined the conversation, telling us about his experiences as an immigrant in the U.S., as we approached the National Mall at twilight.

“What a beautiful way to see it for the first time,” Angela exclaimed, as we passed the White House on our way to our hotel.

Over the next several days of our whirlwind tour of the city, others would also tell us how D.C. is a “tribute to democracy”, or even “the center of democracy.”

And yet, the portrait of the city that emerged for me was far more intriguing: it is one of the key narratives through which a nation has chosen to represent itself, to its own people, and to visitors from abroad.

D.C. is a place of Roman or Hellenic aspect, resonant with echoes of the Athenian, democratic city state and the Roman republic of old. The National Mall and its surrounding monuments embody elegant austerity on a vast and grandiose scale. But, most fascinatingly of all, the core of the city, with its monuments and sites, manifests and narrates the mythos that a country has created for itself. Against the backdrop of the vision of a secular nation (even if that secularity seems somewhat elusive these days) and the separation of religion from state, I wondered whether this mythos had been created in order to facilitate a bridging between theology and ideology. It was almost as if at some deep level, the nation-building designers of the city had known that new saints and magnificent, heroic mythologies had to be created in order for people to resonate deeply, and align themselves with the patriotism of the growing nation.

As we walked the precincts of the District of Columbia, I couldn’t evade the impression that the monuments were like shrines along a secular pilgrimage (“…and this was where Lincoln sat–we have recreated the box to look as it would have at the time… afterwards they took him across the street to the house across the way–you can visit there next–and that’s where he breathed his last…”): lives of the saints and narratives of martyrdom and sacrifice to the great father nation–the patriotic cause. Continue reading

Speilberg’s Lincoln, Original Sin and Norse Mythology

lincolnOf the different creation myths, and the emergence of something like original sin, I think one of the more powerful narratives comes from the Norse tradition. Aside: I’ve never cared for the Edenic narrative and the fruit from the tree of knowledge, at least the way it was told to me as a child. It seems to promulgate the notion that disobedience, the expression of curiosity and the act of straying into the forbidden were the triggers for Original Sin. To me, the quest for knowledge is a desirable thing–a manifestation of intellectual curiosity. Civil disobedience, if in protest of an unjust edict is an appropriate form of expression, and the eating of the fruit of the tree is heroic, even if it does mean that as a result, one perforce leaves a state of clueless innocence and moves into a wearier, knowing state of mind that reveals the world with all its beauties and its flaws.

But the idea of some kind of original sin, or fall from grace, in the context of the Norse narratives, intrigues me. I love the idea of Odin giving up one eye for the ability to see by other means–a different conception of the sacrifice that is required for knowledge, wisdom, the ability to be able to see past the everyday. But the other thread of the myth–which Wagner drew from and adapted in his Ring of the Nibelungen–presents this tradition’s version of a fall from grace, namely the idea that Valhalla was built on the basis of a promise that Odin (Wotan, in the Wagnerian cycle) never intended to keep. He promised to give one of the young goddesses under his charge to the giants as payment for their work in building the hall that was meant to house and embody the glory of the gods. But it soon turns out that he never intended to pay up. Continue reading

Komorebi and the Shadow Dance

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Komorebi. I took this one during a walk on my lunch break, last fall.

Komorebi. I took this one during a walk on my lunch break, last fall.

Since I was a child, I have always been enchanted by the sunlight filtering through the leaves. I recently learned, in one of those viral “repost” things–this one being about non-English words that encapsulate an experience that we don’t have a single word for in English–that there is a Japanese word for this. Komorebi. It seems appropriate that the language, culture and aesthetic that has a word like “hanami” (the act of viewing cherry blossoms in the spring, as well as a festival associated with the occasion) and another traditional festival associated with the act of viewing autumn colours, would also have a word that describes this phenomenon.

But, much as I love the sight of sunlight filtering through leaves–and I do love that interplay of light, colour, shadow and movement–the thing that I might love even more is the dance of the shadows of leaves, branches, blossoms or buds. I’m not sure why, particularly given that komorebi itself is so bright, and I so love the way that sunlight and shadows interact with colours, transforming them from one moment to the next. I feel a deep, welling joy when I see that interplay. Continue reading

The Age of the Anti-Hero?: Walter White v. Frank Underwood

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house of cardsWe recently (finally) got around to watching Breaking Bad, a program that features one of the most fully-developed, envisioned and enacted tragic falls that we have yet to see in popular culture, as discussed in a previous post.

We are now in the process of watching the American edition of House of Cards, Season 2–no doubt along with a significant proportion of the rest of the netflix-subscribing population.

The two characters–and series–present a fascinating set of contrasts. Both works feature frequent nods to Macbeth. House of Cards even goes so far as to have these wonderful soliloquies and asides that at least for my part, I find as effective as Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences must have found the asides and soliloquies of Shakespeare and other contemporary works. There is something chilling, thrilling, disturbing and peculiarly disarming about being the confidant of the villain, party to those inner thoughts and observations to which no-one else has access. It draws us in, as we watch his intricate machinations with bated horror. There are other wonderful, resonant references as well, which I touched on in the post I wrote last year–the extinguishing of the candle, for instance, and Frank’s relationship with his wife.

Breaking Bad‘s allusions are more muted, but nonetheless detectable. One of the more elegant ones comes when Walter is holed up in his cabin and walks to the gate, then says “Tomorrow…”. All is lost at that stage, and Walter is weary. It is a powerful moment of temporary capitulation.

Macbeth is itself a play that has always fascinated me. For me, the crux of the work, and the crux of how an actor will play the Scottish anti-hero, derives from the question of whether the witches’ prophecy that he will be king, transforms him from being a genuinely honourable man and war hero into an amoral killer who is slowly eaten from the inside out by his ambition, or whether it simply gives him permission to do what he wanted to do all along, but which the bounds of propriety did not allow. As a student, reading the play in English class, I had believed the former–that Macbeth was once good, and turned bad. Now, as an adult, I’m leaning towards the other reading. He was that way all along, and just needed permission to cast aside his morality. Continue reading

Building Foundations

We live in a society that, for the last few decades, has touted instant gratification and overnight success.

We are enchanted by the story: someone who bursts onto the scene and is brilliant at his or her metier and catapults to untold stardom and riches. Wish-fulfillment video games further bolster this perception–you’re suddenly a golf pro, swinging your wii like a club, or a guitar idol, pressing buttons to “play” an instrument. But all this plays into the deeper fantasy. We love the idea of the “found” genius, who can just pick up an instrument, begin typing on a keyboard, start sketching something in a notepad, and create art. Part of why we love it is because that means that there may just be a tiny chance that if we try the right thing, we might all be found geniuses at something. Opera. Polo. Aquatic ballet.

Writing. Continue reading

Breaking Bad: Upping the Ante on Anti-heroes

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My husband and I have been watching  Breaking Bad for the last little while. No doubt about it: the show is well written, well acted, and in many ways extremely compelling.

I first heard about it while I was in law school.  I was talking to a couple of classmates, and they were discussing Breaking Bad. I just remember the way my classmate’s expression lit up when he talked about the show. There was a deep enthusiasm and respect, there. This particular classmate came from a writing and journalism background, so when he said the writing in it was amazing, that carried some weight.

We attempted it at the time, but then left off after about two episodes. Now we’re back. This time, we kept with it. We are about five episodes into the final season, and I am deeply ambivalent. Breaking Bad is like Macbeth over five seasons. It depicts the tragic fall of a once-virtuous man. Continue reading

The Ethical Lawyer, Part II aka living in the grey

Unreliable Narrators

We all live in the grey to a greater or lesser extent. The moral grey, that is. It’s an everyday reality of being part of our society and part of the human race.

Most of us also tell our stories–amusing anecdotes, explanations of our actions, justifications for problematic behaviours or outright mistakes and transgressions–with a subtle or not-so-subtle spin that builds in the ways in which we justify our actions. We preface our narratives with explanations of our reasoning, our paradigms, our perspectives or contexts, such that any unsympathetic, foolish or otherwise questionable behaviour seems more justified in the re-telling than it might have been to others who witnessed our actions in real time.

It’s part of human nature, and part of our process of becoming socialized.

In my day job, it’s all grey. In family law, the law part is generally fairly clear, except around its outlying edges–the marginal, threshold cases. The bulk of the battle in family takes place in the arena of the facts. The “he said, she said”s, and the greys. Some of these distortions are intentional, and some are simply the result of emotions and the ways in which distress, anger, stress, as well as love or affection, distort and haze over the perceiver’s ability to accurately remember what took place. Continue reading

The Ethical Lawyer, Part I

Photo by Ian Britton, under a (cc) attribution, non-commercial, no derivs license

Photo by Ian Britton, under a (cc) attribution, non-commercial, no derivs 3.0 license

True story: a family lawyer in town got a call from his client.

The client said: “I shot the bitch. Right there on the street, like the dog that she was. So anyway, I’m just driving over to your place.”

The client was placed under arrest. That lawyer still practices, though I’ve been told that the wife’s lawyer no longer does. 

As those of you who have been reading my blog a while know, in my day job, I’m a freshly-hatched lawyer (called to the bar in June). Since then, I have been practicing in the area of family law, often to the exclusion of anything else, including blogging and writing fiction. It is a wrenching and exhausting area of law. Clients will often start crying during the course of a meeting while I listen, and feel a deep sadness at all that the client is losing, at so many levels. All our meeting rooms and offices have boxes of tissues.

Family law was near the bottom of my list of practice areas to work in, back when I was in law school (all of a year and a half ago). It ranked just above criminal law, which I still have no desire to work in.

But it turns out I absolutely love family law. This surprises many, including many fellow lawyers. Heck, it surprised me.

But yeah–I really love it, because I feel like what I am doing is making a difference. This week, a client who has not been able to see his kids since this past summer, because his ex and her lawyer were being difficult, finally got to see the kids. This result is a direct consequence of my actions and efforts (with oversight and mentorship from a senior lawyer, of course), and when something like this happens, after months of oft-discouraging effort, it can feel good.

But there’s a potential double edge to it all, and that’s something I’ve been struggling with, though for now that struggle is theoretical, thank goodness.

It’s the issue of conflicting ethics. Continue reading

On Tempests, Teapots and David Gilmour

Over the past week or so, there’s been quite the kerfuffle in the Canadian literary scene over some person named David Gilmour, who has apparently written some books and teaches part time at the University of Toronto.

I read his interview, in which he made some absurd comments about not liking any women authors enough to teach them in his class–with the single exception of Virginia Woolf (the exact quote, “when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women. Except for Virginia Woolf,” has even given rise to an amusing tumblr that yielded me a good few chuckles). Gilmour also hasn’t encountered any Canadian writers he loves enough to teach (I fully expect Margaret Atwood has been crying buckets since she heard the devastating news*).

He evidently teaches books by “serious heterosexual guys”. “Real guy-guys” in fact. All of which sounds amusingly pompous and absurd to me. As in: are we still really taking someone who utters these kinds of throwbacks to some early twentieth century version of literary machismo seriously? Continue reading

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