February 28, 2013

Helen Keller's Quote on Eugenics

"It is the possibility of happiness, intelligence and power that give life its sanctity, and they are absent in the case of a poor, misshapen, paralyzed, unthinking creature."


February 26, 2013

Croak Sonata

wood frogs croaks
wood frogs croaks (Photo credit: prefers salt marsh)
Yesterday I went to Tobacco Trail for a walk. Though more and more I dislike driving, I still purposely drove a little farther to a location that was more secluded. I was glad I did, because when I got there, I found the place extremely pleasant.

The trail lied low, at the bottom of the tree roots, so the trees looked immensely tall, made me felt like curling up inside womb of Mother nature, embraced by the mighty security. Occasionally I saw some fancy houses sitting inside woods, wondered how it felt living inside. It must be hauntingly interesting. I thought of some Gothic literature I read, wondered which one fit these houses the most. Woods were deep. Most of them are deciduous so their naked trunks and branches tangled in all the directions, made very rich layers of gray. There were also some evergreens broke the gray tone, but their color saturation was low, seemed to me that they intended to blend themselves into this humble subtleness of winter.

There were some people walking, jogging and biking, but it was quiet overall, very quiet, except some croaking voice from woods. Interestingly, I did not notice croak when I first walked into trail, it was when I walked back, at pinnacle moment of absorbing myself in quietness, I heard it. It was loud, but in an undulate rhythm, from different direction, here and there, revolved me in 360 degree like stereo music.

My discovering croak was both surprising and ecstatic. I am familiar with croak, yes, totally, but it was decades ago when I was a child, living in countryside of China, and at night, when I heard it. So for me it was the characteristics of the NIGHT. But yesterday afternoon, at the time when the Sun - even though it was hidden behind cloud - was far from retiring, I was surrounded by its voice. It was an unusual excitement to me.

Being chronically ill, I have been overly sensitive with noise, or sound, even music sometime brought me headache. However the Nature always surprises me, such as yesterday, this croaking voice, some was loud, but gentle, yet playful, not only it did not give me headache, but massaged my brain with an even deeper serenity.

It was such a good time. I drove back with a full load of joy.

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February 24, 2013

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan - My Fascination Goes On

English: Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan in 189...
English: Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan in 1898. On the left Helen Keller and on the right Anne Sullivan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Mark Twaine said "The two greatest characters of the nineteenth century are Helen Keller and Napoleon Bonaparte". I would modify this quote as such: "The two greatest characters of the nineteenth & twentyth century are Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan".

I have been fascinated by these two women since ever I heard their names. However, my own "fascinating" life experience seemed to keep me busy for more than a decade and I had not been able to get into many subjects of my interest until very recent years. These days I had leisure to be totally drowned into the story of Helen Keller and Sullivan, especially the latter. After I read a short autobiography of Helen Keller, I went on read a biography of her teacher - "Beyond Miracle Worker: the Remarkable Life of Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary relationship with Helen Keller". It was a joy read, though the content is quite "heavy".

Contrary to what I learned superficially before, both Helen and her teacher lived very difficult lives. First by reading Helen's autobiography I learned about Helen's controversial trial of her story "Frost King", when she was only 11 year-old, which tormented her heart and shadowed all her life (How could those "educated" people from Perkins Institute treated a 11 year-old blind-deaf girl so harshly with alleged plagiarism was beyond my understanding). Then I read about her going on Vaudeville circuit during her middle age for almost 10 years, together with her teacher of course. She had to do that simply for making living. However, based on books I read she seemed enjoyed it, which made me relieved a little.

Anne Sullivan, who later became Anne Sullivan Macy, was an even more complicated character than Helen Keller. Her life process was extreme undulate and her personality was contradictory. Born in an Irish immigrant family, Sullivan's childhood was spent in the darkness of poverty, death, ignorance and violence. She lost her mother when she was only eight, and when she was ten, she was abandoned by her father and was sent to almshouse together with her brother by her relatives. After 4 years living in almshouse, during which her brother died, Annie somehow got a chance to go to Perkins Institute. Her life turned! In Perkins, she appeared to be an extremely intelligent but also belligerent student. Six years later, she graduated  as a valedictorian. Soon after she graduated, when she seemed to face an unknown future, she got a job to be governess of Keller's family. Hence the legend started.

"Beyond Miracle Worker" is an excellent biography with some tediously chronicled details, but these boring details was tolerable to me, simple because of the extremely interesting characters. The book focuses on Sullivan's complicated psychological state, creates an impression about her that cannot be summarized in a few words. Sullivan came from the bottom of society, strove to a place "beyond her dream", yet to a cultural circle that did not suit her past. She seemed to have extremely ambivalent emotion toward her past - she tried so hard to forget, but the ghost of darkness in the past never left her alone, it tangled all her life through every bit of depression and perplexed  her profound view about the value of her own existence.

Another "fact" this book reveals to me, is that Sullivan Macy started from Helen's teacher, assistant, a role that Helen depended on by all means, gradually transformed into a person who had to depended on Helen. She refused several chances to work for others, and relied on Helen's fame to make continuing success, though it was herself initially turned on Helen's intelligence. Sullivan also had eye disease since her childhood, carried this disease all the way to the end of her live, when she became completely blind. The constant pain of her eyes, tortured her since beginning, also tormented her mental state. When her eye condition worsened, she became more irritated, capricious and depressed, and relied on totally on Helen, who seemed to forever embraced her as her own savior.

Sullivan's achievement was underrated by society and she had always been furious about it. She hated to be thought as a teacher who enlightened Helen simply by adopting the teaching technique that was "invented" by the founder of Perkins, but she was always viewed by public as so. The fact was that she was very creative when she started to teach Helen. However, in her late years, when she was recognized for her individual achievement as a renovated educator, she rejected some honors that were bestowed on her. She was too sick, too weak, too confused and depressed for herself, that she simply did not care what society did to her anymore.

The two women's lives were not easy. Both of them were disabled (though Sullivan was pictured in public as "normal"), but they did not have any stable financial support, except intermittent helps from philanthropists. I thought Helen's family was rich, but the fact was her parents' (mostly her father's) financial situation soon declined after Sullivan came to them. As matter of fact, Helen's family started to depend (partially, I suppose) on Helen soon after she became famous. In her middle age Sullivan married to John Macy, but she made herself financial connection lawfully only to Helen Keller. Also, though 3 of them lived together, Sullivan's husband was never be able to be a source of their family financial provider. It was always Helen, who seemed most unable, was willingly to be the "breadwinner" of the "family".

Another "bewitching" factor is their relationship. Sullivan married to John Macy, but they soon separated (though their legal marriage stayed until John Macy died), it is Helen with whom Sullivan lived most of her life. Helen Keller was proposed by a man named Peter Fagan, but she concerned about her teacher's reaction, eventually yield to her mother's objection and gave up marriage. Why did Helen give up her own happiness? Was she completely happy with her teacher? Did she stay with her teacher by her own willingness or by obligation? Was their relationship more than "teacher and student"?

Nonetheless, I found the lives of these two extremely intelligent women intriguing. I personally believe their staying together was destined and their attraction to each other was both mental and physical. In whatever way, it is beautiful in my eyes. Their lives, their struggle, their success and conquest of darkness, disability and adversity of life, truly embodied the greatest strength of human intelligence, passion, love and willpower. Simply put, I just cannot imagine anything more extraordinary than the real "story" of these two women. Comparing with them, Napoleon fell into mediocrity.

February 16, 2013

Love Ourselves vs Love Others

No Tolerance (134/365)
No Tolerance (134/365) (Photo credit: Icky Pic)
During my art teaching, I found that those who treat themselves harshly, also treat others in the same way.

For example, sometime during classes I like to hold up someone's work to let everybody give comments. There are always some students could not help to point out the shortcomings first. They seem to suppose that when we give comments, we should always find out what is NOT good first (I have no doubt that's how their parents treat them). Or, sometime, some other students made mistakes, these type of students could not help to make fun of them. Another day I was in major upset by the reaction of one of my students, who is 12 year-old girl - after she saw my neighbor, who is obese coming out from his apartment, she could not help to make an expression of big surprise with half hidden scorn.

Ironically, it is precisely this type of students who are always extremely unforgivable toward themselves. They usually could not face their failure, some of them cried when they could not understand instructions, or feeling extreme depressed when they could not finish their projects in a desirable way. A few of them would just wait for my instruction for every step, which made my teaching quite difficult.

This fact tells me, that we humans essentially use the same attitude treat ourselves and others. The reason that these students, or this type of people look down on others' faults is exactly because they would look down on themselves in the same situation. Or the causality can be reversed. And the reason some people can treat others with ease, only because that's how they treat themselves. This is enough to prove one of life philosophy I learned before: those who don't know how to love themselves, do not know how to love others.

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February 15, 2013


Against Equality of Opportunity

Equalitarianism, for me, is not an idea (or ideology) that eliminates differences among people, such as races, sexes, physical or mental quality, or each individual differences, but an idea (or idealism) that respects (or even protect, from some perspectives) such differences.

February 13, 2013

The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency - My African Dream

Cover of "The No.1 Ladies Detective Agenc...
Cover of The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency
The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series (by Alexander McCall Smith) have everything I care: ladies, detective, exotic lifestyle, and after all, Africa!

It is a story about an "unusual" life experience of a young lady Mma Precious Ramotswe. When Mma Ramotswe's father dies, he leaves his daughter a large number of cattle. Mma Ramotswe sells cattle and uses money as the capital investment of her individual business "No.1 Ladies' Detective Agence" - the only detective business in Botswana, Africa (without license! I wish I could do that here in America). Through her business' up and down, McCal Smith displays a grand Africa "landscape", with all vivid characters, and "usual" yet usual events.

Different from most mystery fictions, McCall Smith's books do not focus only on case solving, but also life itself. The books tell you the life of the protagonist - a brave and kind African woman who stands up for herself and helps others, life of her family, her friends, even her beloved country - Botswana. I could not strictly share the patriotism of Mma Ramotswe, but I understand her view, and her compassion toward human nature through her passion of her country.

McCall Smith's writing style is plain, however the story itself is colorful - it's fun, witty and full of humanity. The story goes so naturally that I could almost smell African air, or touch the bright African Sun. It makes me want to live in Botswana!

I read the first 3 books about a year ago, now I just finished book #4. I also discovered that there is a HBO TV series based on the book series. I got a sneak peek from youtube, it fascinates me just as the books, except it has one more thing that books could not offer: my favorite African music!

Thanks the author for such a unique creation of literature. I love everything about this book series, beside what I mentioned in the beginning, I also love the length of the books (short!), and the design of book cover - so exotic and elegend! I cannot find anything more suitable for my adventurous spirit!
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