Famous Letter of Anton Chekhov to His Older Brother – 1886

People only laugh at what’s funny or what they don’t understand. Take your choice.Chekhov_Brothers

The latter of course is more flattering, but—alas!—to me, for one, you’re no riddle. It’s not hard to understand someone with whom you’ve shared the delights of Tatar caps, Voutsina, Latin and, finally, life in Moscow. And besides, your life is psychologically so uncomplicated that even a nonseminarian could understand it. Out of respect for you let me be frank. You’re angry, offended…but it’s not because of my gibes or of that good-natured chatterbox Dolgov. The fact of the matter is that you’re a decent person and you realize that you’re living a lie. And, whenever a person feels guilty, he always looks outside himself for vindication: the drunk blames his troubles, Putyata blames the censors, the man who bolts from Yakimanka Street with lecherous intent blames the cold in the living room or gibes, and so on. If I were to abandon the family to the whims of fate, I would try to find myself an excuse in Mother’s character or my blood spitting or the like. It’s only natural and pardonable. It’s human nature, after all. And you’re quite right to feel you’re living a lie. If you didn’t feel that way, I wouldn’t have called you a decent person. When decency goes, well, that’s another story. You become reconciled to the lie and stop feeling it.

You’re no riddle to me, and it is also true that you can be wildly ridiculous. You’re nothing but an ordinary mortal, and we mortals are enigmatic only when we’re stupid, and we’re ridiculous forty-eight weeks of the year. Isn’t that so?

You often complain to me that people “don’t understand” you. But even Goethe and Newton made no such complaints. Christ did, true, but he was talking about his doctrine, not his ego. People understand you all too well. If you don’t understand yourself, then it’s nobody else’s fault.

As your brother and intimate, I assure you that I understand you and sympathize with you from the bottom of my heart. I know all your good qualities like the back of my hand. I value them highly and have only the greatest respect for them. If you like, I can even prove how I understand you by enumerating them. In my opinion you are kind to the point of fault, magnanimous, unselfish, you’d share your last penny, and you’re sincere. Hate and envy are foreign to you, you are open-hearted, you are compassionate with man and beast, you are not greedy, you do not bear grudges, and you are trusting. You are gifted from above with something others lack: you have talent. This talent places you above millions of people, for there is only one artist for every two million people on earth. It places you in a very special position: you could be a toad or a tarantula and you would still be respected, because talent is its own excuse.

You have only one failing, the cause of the lie you’ve been living, your troubles, and your intestinal catarrh. It’s your extreme lack of culture. Please forgive me, but veritas magis amicitiae. The thing is, life lays down certain conditions. If you want to feel at home among intellectuals, to fit in and not find their presence burdensome, you have to have a certain amount of breeding. Your talent has brought you into their midst. You belong there, but…you seem to yearn escape and feel compelled to waver between the cultured set and your next-door neighbors. It’s the bourgeois side of you coming out, the side raised on birch thrashings beside the wine cellar and handouts, and it’s hard to overcome, terribly hard.

To my mind, civilized people ought to satisfy the following conditions:

1. They respect the individual and are therefore always indulgent, gentle, polite and compliant. They do not throw a tantrum over a hammer or a lost eraser. When they move in with somebody, they do not act as if they were doing him a favor, and when they move out, they do not say, “How can anyone live with you!” They excuse noise and cold and overdone meat and witticisms and the presence of others in their homes.

2. Their compassion extends beyond beggars and cats. They are hurt even by things the naked eye can’t see. If for instance, Pyotr knows that his father and mother are turning gray and losing sleep over seeing their Pyotr so rarely (and seeing him drunk when he does turn up), then he rushes home to them and sends his vodka to the devil. They do not sleep nights the better to help the Polevayevs, help pay their brothers’ tuition, and keep their mother decently dressed.

3. They respect the property of others and therefore pay their debts.

4. They are candid and fear lies like the plague. They do not lie even about the most trivial matters. A lie insults the listener and debases him in the liar’s eyes. They don’t put on airs, they behave in the street as they do at home, and they do not try to dazzle their inferiors. They know how to keep their mouths shut and they do not force uninvited confidences on people. Out of respect for the ears of others they are more often silent than not.

5. They do not belittle themselves merely to arouse sympathy. They do not play on people’s heartstrings to get them to sigh and fuss over them. They do not say, “No one understands me!” or “I’ve squandered my talent on trifles!” because this smacks of a cheap effect and is vulgar, false and out-of-date.

6. They are not preoccupied with vain things. They are not taken in by such false jewels as friendships with celebrities, handshakes with drunken Plevako, ecstasy over the first person they happen to meet at the Salon de Varietes, popularity among the tavern crowd. They laugh when they hear, “I represent the press,” a phrase befitting only Rodzeviches and Levenbergs. When they have done a penny’s worth of work, they don’t try to make a hundred rubles out of it, and they don’t boast over being admitted to places closed to others. True talents always seek obscurity. They try to merge with the crowd and shun all ostentation. Krylov himself said that an empty barrel has more chance of being heard than a full one.

7. If they have talent, they respect it. They sacrifice comfort, women, wine and vanity to it. They are proud of their talent, and so they do not go out carousing with trade-school employees or Skvortsov’s guests, realizing that their calling lies in exerting an uplifting influence on them, not in living with them. What is more, they are fastidious.

8. They cultivate their aesthetic sensibilities. They cannot stand to fall asleep fully dressed, see a slit in the wall teeming with bedbugs, breathe rotten air, walk on a spittle-laden floor or eat off a kerosene stove. They try their best to tame and ennoble their sexual instinct… What they look for in a woman is not a bed partner or horse sweat, […] not the kind of intelligence that expresses itself in the ability to stage a fake pregnancy and tirelessly reel off lies. They—and especially the artists among them—require spontaneity, elegance, compassion, a woman who will be a mother… They don’t guzzle vodka on any old occasion, nor do they go around sniffing cupboards, for they know they are not swine. They drink only when they are free, if the opportunity happens to present itself. For they require a mens sana in corpore sano.

And so on. That’s how civilized people act. If you want to be civilized and not fall below the level of the milieu you belong to, it is not enough to read The Pickwick Papers and memorize a soliloquy from Faust. It is not enough to hail a cab and drive off to Yakimanka Street if all you’re going to do is bolt out again a week later.

You must work at it constantly, day and night. You must never stop reading, studying in depth, exercising your will. Every hour is precious.

Trips back and forth to Yakimanka Street won’t help. You’ve got to drop your old way of life and make a clean break. Come home. Smash your vodka bottle, lie down on the couch and pick up a book. You might even give Turgenev a try. You’ve never read him.

You must swallow your pride. You’re no longer a child. You’ll be thirty soon. It’s high time!

I’m waiting…We’re all waiting…

Yours,
A. Chekhov

Re-posted, see full letter here http://www.lettersofnote.com/2013/07/every-hour-is-precious.html

What does it all mean?

“A few years ago, classmate Joshua Wolf Shenk wrote this great article for The Atlantic. Entitled What Makes Us Happy?, it got deep into the Harvard Grant Study and the question: What makes a good life?

Ali BinazirThe study started in 1937 and has been tracking 268 high-achieving members of the Harvard Class of 1939-1941 since then. That would be 76 years; now in 2013, the surviving members of the cohort are around 94. It’s the longest-running longitudinal study of human well-being. And if you plan on living for another 40 years or so, it has some salient advice for how to live well, Harvard person or not. (Side note: the study is confidential; however, we know that John F. Kennedy, Ben Bradlee and probably John Updike were in the group.)

Dr George Vaillant, the current director of the study and himself twice a Harvard person (A.B. ’56, M.D. ’60), recently wrote Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study, summarizing the study’s findings.  I’ve read it twice so far, and this is what Vaillant found:

1) You can grow. Personality is not a fixed thing. Who you were at 18, or 30 or even 40, does not determine the course of the rest of your life.

2) What went right in your childhood matters much more than what went wrong.

3) Alcoholism (and addiction in general) is the most destructive force you can have in your life. It’s the #1 cause of divorce, premature morbidity and mortality, and just plain not reaching your potential.

4) We have involuntary defense mechanisms for dealing with the world. The more we use the mature defenses (such as altruism, anticipation, humor, sublimation and suppression), the better we live.

5) The strength of your intimate relationships is the prime determinant of your long-term health and happiness. As Vaillant put it, “Happiness is love, full stop.”

You would do well to get yourself a copy of Vaillant’s book. And read it, too.

The Good Old Days

Yep, those days of college were the Good Old Days. Total intellectual freedom. No bills, job, spouse, kids, election or limited partners to worry about. Body and mind at the height of their powers. Unlimited access to some of the most brilliant minds in the world. Potential for novel romantic intrigue. Summers off. You only wish you knew how awesome your life was so you could appreciate it more.

The good news about the Good Old Days: it’s not too late. Because these are the Good Old Days. Bottom line: you’re the youngest you’ll ever be. So go ahead and imagine yourself five decades from now at the Shady Acres House of Nostalgia and Shuffleboard somewhere in Florida, looking back on today and saying, “My god – what I would give to have the mind and body I had in 2013.” Well, you don’t have to give anything right now to have that mind and body except gratitude. It’s a miracle that we’re here, and I’m thrilled for every moment of it.”

Re-posted, read full article “Harvard Commencement and Reunion 2013” by Ali Binazir at http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/abinazir/2013/08/08/harvard-commencement-and-reunion-2013/

Downtown LA Art Walk

artLast month my friend invited me to walk the Art Walk Downtown LA, which is organized every second Thursday.

http://downtownartwalk.org/galleries/

Jenni from Pasadena organized the walk and gave us the maps. There were 48 galleries and a bunch of outside murals, like Claudio Ethos mural.

1. At first we visited MIA, Machine Inspired Art on 530 Main Str. Christopher Liang, Mia’s Art Walk LA 1photographer, showed us downstairs where they create art. There were quite interesting things like wooden pictures embroided at different depth, metal clocks designed as city landscapes, and more.

2. Our second stop was Los Angeles CenteOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAr for Digital Art http://www.lacda.com/ or http://digitalart.la/ It was not my favorite, just not my cup of tea.

3. Next one was The Los Angeles Theater Center, full of exhibitors. It reminded me a bazaar.

The Shallow Lady by Sterling Loiacono really stood out for me.

4. And then we went to The last book store! http://lastbookstorela.com/ What a marvel! There we found book sculptures and labyrinths, book vaults, book shelves organized by color. And all books on the second floor were $1 each. There was a girl sitting by the piano (below) writing poetry on any topic you want. It seemed there were dozens of smaller galleries inside, like Fold Gallery, and Andrea Bogdan art http://andreabogdan.com/contact.html. In Furio Shop we realized wArt Walk LA 5e were standing on the floor of pennies. The owner told us that it tookArt Walk LA 3 them 4 hours and $280 worth of pennies to decorate the floor. And now it is the signature of her shop. http://www.yelp.com/biz/fold-gallery-and-curio-shop-los-angeles-2  We definitely felt out of our century and place … And it was cool!

5. We made it to the Robert Reynolds, at that moment the busiest gallery. It featured Alain Bali photography and Olivia Barratier http://www.oliviabarratier.com/

6. Next was Miguel Osuna Gallery.

7. Finally, we reached LAND (Los Angeles Nomadic Division) that  presented Painting in Place, a group of contemporary painting in the historic Farmers and Merchants Bank in Downtown Los AngeleArt Walk LA 11s (401 South Main Street Los Angeles, CA 90013).

“The exhibition presents a wide array of work from contemporary artists that tackle painting from various perspectives, using both traditional and unconventional technArt Walk LA 9iques and media in their approach to the discipline. Exploring various ways that the definition of painting is continuously evolving, the project seeks to expand the traditional parameters of painting, sculpture, and installation: blurred, deconstructed, and refigured.

Artists include Rita Ackermann, Kevin Appel, Jennifer Boysen, Sarah Cain, N. Dash, Matias Faldbakken, Kim Fisher, Barnaby Furnas, Alexandra Grant, Matt Greene, Mark Hagen, David Hendren, Julian Hoeber, Rashid Johnson, Jacob Kassay, Olga Koumoundouros, Jim Lee, Nate Lowman, Allison Miller, Sam Moyer, Amanda Ross-Ho, Analia Saban, Kate Shepherd, Gary Simmons, Vincent Szarek, Britton Tolliver, Kon Trubkovich, Monique van Genderen, and Bobbi Woods.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farmers_and_Merchants_Bank_of_Los_Angeles. It looked

Art Walk LA 4

like a bank and had some interesting works, like “I like myself don’t you?” I also really liked Alexandra Grant‘s newest neon text work”I See Myself In You” installed at 401 S. Main St. in Los Angeles.Art Walk LA 8

There were paintings with unique light in color by Barnaby Furnas. And artsy sandbags on the floor?

By the time we left LAND, our energy has run out, and we felt exhausted. But something out of ordinary caught our eye. And it was a hair salon! The artist was greeting everyone and welcoming us into the salon to see his work displayed on the walls. It was indeed interesting, kind of cartoonish. And there were real models around with extreme make up, clothing and hairdos. I spoke to the artist – PJ Andrews. He was born in Boston and lived there for many years before he moved to the West Coast.

8. Salon on Main Street, 403 S. Main Street, Hairsalon, http://www.pjandrewsart.com/

9. Besides murals on the walls of buildings, there was street art by Rob! He painted mirrors that looked surreal, he was working as we passed by, and I complemented him on his work.Art Walk LA 7Art Walk LA 10

During the evening I took hundreds of photos. After about 9 galleries we couldn’t walk anymore or enjoy art and stopped by for dinner at Pete’s Cafe and Bar on 400 S Main Str.

We talked about creativity and self expression, as it is the meaning of life for many artists. They create and achieve the unknown only inspired by the muse and beauty of the world around us and their imagination. Check this art walk for yourself! You will see how many talented people in LA! And maybe you will realize out that you are an artist too!

Many companies had their PR people on the streets giving away samples of their products and leaflets about their businesses. One of them was  a festival  Lightning in a Bottle (LIB), it is a celebration of Art, Sustainability, Music, Performance, and Life Itself. Check it out on July 11-15 at Temecula, CA

“LIB strives to be a greater expression each year. We take pride in curating local up and coming music talent and international world reArt Walk LA 10nowned artists. We paved the way for live painting at our events with Lightning in a Paintcan, which is headed up by our very own non-profit The Do Art Foundation, who’s efforts fund initiatives that are far reaching in the art world. We host speakers and Art Walk LA 12workshops on topics of sustainability, spirituality and child-friendly entertainment. Behind everything we do at LIB is a deep commitment to our environment and our sustainability practices which we continually strive to improve every year. LIB was the winner of the Outstanding Greener Festival Award, 3-years in a row!”

And Paris is for Lovers…

10 Tips For a Healthy Life From The World’s Oldest Person

Deep in the heart of Japan’s countryside lived the oldest person in the world.  His name was Jiroemon Kimura and on Wednesday, he died at 116.

I had a chance to meet Kimura on the brink of his 115th birthday in a tucked away seaside village of southern Japan, a half-day journey by train from Kyoto City.

This pristine region called Kyotango, bordered by jade coastlines foaming onto pine-blanketed hills, was home to a startling number of human beings who had stood the test of time. In Kyotango alone, there were 54 centenarians, three times the national average in a country already renowned for longevity.  These old, resilient souls were scurrying down narrow cobbled streets, napping under the heavy weight of futon blankets, even karaoking at the corner bar.oldest person

Since that day, I still hear my conversation with Kimura jostling around in my head, surprised to find myself carrying around its wisdom like a handy pocketbook on life.

In memory of a man who spread happiness from his remote corner in the world, I recount ten things Jiroemon Kimura taught me about living long and living well.

1.     Exercise Every Single Day

Kimura claimed his secret to longevity was exercising everyday.  “It’s important to make daily exercise a discipline, “ he said.  “A habit.

Kimura kept this habit well into 100s.  When his legs grew too weak after 110, he did a hundred bicycle motions each day while lying on his back.  At 114, he still took time each day to wiggle his hands and legs repetitively, always making sure his muscles stayed active.

2.     Eat Small Portions

The Japanese have a saying : hara hachibunme. (eat until you’re 80% full). Kimura lived by this philosophy, preaching his self-made slogan of “eat less and live long.”  Pacing himself with small portions paid off.  At nearly 115, he still enjoyed a good appetite and ate whatever he wanted. He took no medication at all.

3.     Let Adversity Make You Strong

When something unexpected happened and things didn’t go the way he wished them to, Kimura said he reminded himself that the experience, “is good for you, it helps you grow.”

No matter how hard things got, he said he faced difficulties with “endurance and perseverance.” He told people to never let worry or suffering consume them because “after every storm, peace always comes.”

Kimura had a philosophical context that allowed him to accept adversity without feeling as though his world is being threatened, according to John Daishin Buksbazen, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a Psy D. from Southern California Psychoanalytic Institute.  When people see adversity as a challenge that they can work with and eventually overcome, they have better outcomes. With repeated practice, the neural pathways associated with this calm kind of coping can be reinforced and become more intuitive, tending to arise when adversity is encountered again.

4.     Read the News Everyday

Kimura’s favorite part of the day was after breakfast, when he read the newspaper with a magnifying glass for two or three hours.  He also enjoyed following congressional debates on television.  In a 2009 interview with Yomiuri Online Kimura said he believed it is important for a person keep up with the times.

Reading the news and comprehending complex issues not only exercises the brain, according to Buksbazen, but also creates a sense of belonging to the larger world and to the human race, keeping loneliness and boredom at bay.

5.     Eliminate Strong Preferences

It was impossible to get Kimura to name a favorite anything.

Favorite food? “Everything.” he smiled.

Favorite memory? “Many things, whatever came my way.”

What do you love about Kyotango? “Nothing in particular!”

What are you most thankful for? “I would say everything.”

Kimura lived in a world free of likes and dislikes.  Yet rather than being an empty person devoid of interests, Kimura exuded a rare fullness, brimming with the humanity and passion that comes from being open to all things.

In Zen philosophy, which underlies Japanese culture, the Faith-Mind Sutra teaches that “the Great Way is not difficult; it only avoids picking and choosing.  But make even the slightest distinction, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.”

By not choosing favorites, Kimura seemed to have mastered the art of ‘taking his life as it comes.’

6.     Live Without Attachment

Kimura lived to see the span of three centennials and four emperors.  He outlived his wife, two children and a grandson. So what keeps him motivated to live?

Everything,” he said. “But it’s impossible to pinpoint.  If you try to do that, you will lose hope and the world can be a dark place”.

We often search for certain things in life to live for – our child, our partner, our craft, our mission. But having seen the ebb and flow of life, the mutability of our earthly prized possessions, Kimura learned to not attach his life to any one particular thing and instead draw from all things as a whole.

Kimura’s non-attachment kept him from being devastated by grief, a significant factor in differentiating him from a person who ages more rapidly, according to Buksbazen. It is not that he did not mourn for the deceased family members or belongings, but by not being attached to their inevitable mortality, he was able to let go.

In essence, Kimura did not search for a reason to live – for living itself became its own reason.

7.     Stay Close to Nature

Born into a farming family, Kimura and his seven siblings grew up touching the earth.   Kimura worked in a post office for 38 years and returned to farming after retirement until he was 90 years old.  Even in his 100s, he continued to take long daily walks and do some weeding.

Besides providing fresh air and vigorous exercise, farming is all about producing life and seeing the physical results of your work, according to Buksbazen.  This brings forth enormous gratification.  People who work in an office shuffling papers often do not get to see the results of their work.  Farming can also become a type of meditative practice, helping to calm the mind and live for the present.

8.     Have Gratitude

“It’s not me,” Kimura insisted, when people marveled at his age. “I could not make it on my own strength. It is because of strength of everyone around me.”

Kimura embodied Kansha, meaning gratitude, a core value in Japanese culture.  To anyone he came in contact with — his family, the caretaker, a visitor — he clasped his hands in prayer and bowed with sincerity, a touching display of gratitude so rare in today’s age it almost felt like a lost art.

Gratitude, especially when part of a daily practice, is associated with the release in the body of serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine, all of which have significant roles in cardiac and mental health, according to Buksbazen.

9.     Laugh Often

Kimura was a concentrated dose of the human spirit and had a deep-bellied, contagious laugh.  It was impossible not to smile around him.

“I choose to spend my life with as much cheerfulness as possible,” said Kimura, whose stories of adversity were peppered with a hearty sense of humor.

Dr. William Fry of Stanford University has studied the effects of laughter for thirty years and compares it to “inner jogging,” claiming that laughing 100 times a day is as beneficial as ten minutes of rowing.  A good laugh can boost the immune system, relax the muscles, and improve mental functions such as memory and creativity. Which makes it no surprise that frequent laughter is a common personality trait among centenarians, according to a 2012 study at Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University.

10.  Break Life Up Into Small Parts

Kimura said he woke up each morning and wished that it would be a good day, never imagining the days would add up to his title of oldest living man.

In the 2009 interview with Mainichi Shinbun, Kimura said that on his 90th birthday, he set a goal to reach the age of 100.  Once he turned 100, his new goal was to reach 110.  The reporter asked if, now that he was 110, he planned on reaching 120.

Kimura laughed and said, “That might be a stretch.”

One of the things that make people overwhelmed when they are in a challenging situation is that they try to handle it all at once, which releases huge amounts of stress chemicals, according to Bukszaben. Breaking things up into small steps relieves much of this stress and makes them feel more conquerable.  It keeps us in the present.  It helps us achieve great things.

My talk with Kimura came to an end and he thanked us for coming, saying what a waste it must have been for us to travel so far just to see him.  I stood in awe of Kimura’s energy, how it seemed to burst from some infinite inner geyser, too powerful to be held back by the realities of an aging body.  As the nurse led him out, I told him that although he had lived a long life, he still seemed very young.

He turned around and quipped like a confident athlete headed to a race, “This is just the beginning!”

Kimura left behind a trail of laughter in the room and a reminder to us all that life — as I’ve once heard it put — is but “an endless unfolding.”  That we are never too old for new beginnings.

Re-posted from http://northhollywood.patch.com/groups/eminas-blog/p/10-tips-for-a-healthy-life-from-the-worlds-oldest-person

Strength in What Remains

I just finished reading “Strength in What Remains” by Tracy Kidder, the author of “Mountains beyond mountains”. I highly recommend this book as it refers to both African (Burundi) and American (New York City) cultures. The plot:strengthinwhatremains

“The son of a poor Tutsi farmer in Burundi, third-year medical student Deogratias barely escapes the carnage when genocidal conflict between Hutus and Tutsis spreads from neighboring Rwanda in 1993. He flees to the United States with the help of a wealthy friend, but what he finds is a far cry from the American Dream. With only $200 in his pocket and little knowledge of English, Deo takes a menial job delivering groceries on Park Avenue for $15 per day and sleeps in Central Park at night. He is unexpectedly taken in by a generous couple and finishes college and medical school, but, dually haunted and motivated by the violence he left behind, Deo joins Partners in Health and courageously returns to Burundi to establish a free clinic.”

Book Quotes:

It is hard to blame people who were slaughtering each other. Burundi’s kings. Didn’t blame only Tutsi, Rwanda and Burundi. Misled by selfish elites, they were victims of power as to survive. Not to divide into bad and good guys.

I trained my mind to be flexible. Be willing to know that even if you think you know for sure, leave room for uncertainty.

You may not see the ocean, but right now we are in the middle of the ocean, and we have to keep swimming.

I do believe in God. I think God has given so much power to people, and intelligence, and said, ‘Well, you are on your own. Maybe I’m tired, I need a nap. You are mature. Why don’t you look after yourselves?’ And I think He’s been sleeping too much.

So many people, he thought, don’t listen to the content of what you say but only to the noises you make.

He sniffed, and said as others had before him and others no doubt would again, “I have learned never to say, ‘Never again.”

In order to go on with our lives, we are always capable of making the ominous into the merely strange.

The person who agrees with you all the time is no necessarily your friend.

You can always learn something good in the hard time if you survive it…

No math formula to achieve what you want, just trial and error.

The Reading Guide:

The Reading Guide below is supplied by the book’s publisher, and plot points may be revealed. We recommend that read the book before reading the guide.

1. Tracy Kidder gets his title, Strength in What Remains, from a poem by William Wordsworth; the passage is included at the beginning of the book. What did the poem mean to you before reading Strength in What Remains? Did the meaning of the poem change after you read the book? If so, how?

2. While making his escape to the United States, Deo views New York as a land of promise and opportunity. But when he is first in New York, living in Harlem and then Central Park, he feels lonelier than ever before. He thinks, “It was clear that to be a New Yorker could mean so many things that it meant practically nothing at all” (p. 32). What does he mean by this? How does his opinion of New York— and thus the United States— change over the course of the book?

3. Deo realizes that he is in the “bottom to that near- bottom” (p. 22) of the social hierarchy in New York, yet he makes certain that no one observes him entering Central Park at a late hour, as he does not want to be labeled homeless. What do these two facts, along with his initial struggles to adjust to and learn about urban American life, tell you about Deo’s character? Can you imagine yourself feeling as he does or do you think his reaction is simply “Burundian”?

4. Kidder writes, “When Deo first told me about his beginnings in New York, I had a simple thought: ‘I would not have survived’ ” (p. 161). Do you think you could have survived what Deo survived? Why or why not?

5. How do Deo’s experiences on the run in Burundi compare to his experiences in New York City? What are the common themes? How do the dangers differ? How does human compassion figure in these two journeys?

6. From the moment Deo arrives in New York, he finds people who are willing to help him. Discuss the ways in which Muhammad the baggage handler, Sharon, Nancy and Charlie, and James O’Malley helped Deo get on his feet. What do you think it was about Deo that compelled these people to help him? What was it about them? Would he have survived without them?

7. Paul Farmer is another person who has had a large influence on Deo. Describe Deo’s relationship with Farmer and the ways in which they change each other’s lives.

8. While a student at Columbia, Deo recalls that in Burundi, he “had seen people pushed away from hospitals, not only when they had no money, but sometimes just because they were dirty and smelled bad. Now news that a relative was ill would keep him worrying for days, imagining that his mother or a sibling might even now be receiving such treatment” (p. 109). What does this statement tell you about Deo’s thoughts and goals while studying biochemistry at Columbia? Why do you think Deo maintained this perspective? How does this sentiment complement, reflect, or contrast with the views and concerns of Paul Farmer or of Partners in Health?

9. While Deo is working with Farmer and Joia Mukherjee at Partners in Health in Boston, Joia remarks, “Offensive things are so offensive to him. Understandably. It’s just like he has no skin. Everything just penetrates so much” (p. 156). What does Joia mean by this? Do her words ring true?

10. Throughout his life, Deo struggles to trust himself, other people, and even God. As he tours Columbia with Kidder in 2006, he says, “I do believe in God. I think God has given so much power to people, and intelligence, and said, ‘Well, you are on your own. Maybe I’m tired, I need a nap. You are mature. Why don’t you look after yourselves?’ And I think he’s been sleeping too much” (p. 186). Discuss this quote in relation to Deo’s views on faith.

11. The power of memory is a theme that runs throughout the book. In the Introduction, Deo explains that people in the Western world try to remember the tragedies of their pasts, while people in Burundi try to forget them. Trace Deo’s evolution as he journeys from Burundi to Rwanda to the United States and back again, focusing on the changing role memory plays in his life.

12. Joia makes an interesting point about how different people deal with horrible experiences like genocide. Her own father, having survived massacres during the partition of India, refused to talk about what he saw. Instead, he lived a life of hypochondria, always fearing that death was just around the corner. Deo eventually “let it spew out all the time” (p. 157), while an Auschwitz survivor Kidder meets also chose silence until he reached old age. The survivor tells Kidder, “The problem is, once you start talking it’s very difficult to stop. It’s almost impossible to stop” (p. 160). Discuss the values and weaknesses of each coping strategy. Do you think we have control over how we process our memories and guilt?

13. Toward the end of the book, as Kidder reflects on what he has seen and learned through Deo, he thinks about the value of “flush[ing] out and dissect[ing] one’s memories” (as Westerners are prone to do) and wonders whether there is such a thing as “too much remembering, that too much of it could suffocate a person, and indeed a culture” (p. 248). After reading Deo’s story, what do you think? Do you agree that “there was something to be said for a culture with a word like gusimbura” (p. 248)? Why or why not?

14. In Burundi, village elders would say, “When too much is too much or too bad is too bad, we laugh as if it was too good” (p. 36). What does this saying mean? How can it be applied to Deo’s upbringing? How does its meaning affect Deo’s views, particularly toward American life?

15. Deo relates that in Burundi, people’s names tell stories, or serve as social commentary about the circumstances of the person’s birth or social position. These names, he says, are amazina y’ikuzo, “names for growth” (p. 34). Why is this concept so important in Burundian society? Are the names of the Burundian individuals to whom Kidder introduces us accurate?

16. Against his family’s wishes, Deo returns to Burundi often after his initial escape. Why does he go back so many times? Discuss the relationship he has with the people of his country, and why he tells Kidder that no matter how tempting, he cannot “reject all the obli – gations of family, and even of affection, and . . . become a loner in the world, never setting foot in one’s old life” (p. 208).

17. When Deo was first in New York, Kidder writes, “He told himself, ‘No one is in control of his own life’ ” (p. 164). Do you believe no one is in control of his own life? Do you think Deo believes it, at the end of Kidder’s book?

18. Deo accomplishes the seemingly impossible, working with Paul Farmer and Partners in Health to set up his dream clinic in Kigutu in 2008. The clinic has become “a place of reconciliation for everyone, including [Deo].” As he tells a woman who comes to the clinic and apologizes to him for what he assumes is violence against his family during the war: “What happened happened. Let’s work on the clinic. Lets put this tragedy behind us, because remembering is not going to benefit anyone” (p. 259). How does Deo reach this point in his life? What do you think is next for him?

May Update

We all know about TED talks, right? It is Ideas worth spreading.So Fred is mini TED in Santa Monica. It is run by Steve Glenn, the founder and CEO of LivingHomes. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALivingHomes’ mission is “to create homes and communities that inspire people, foster family and community interaction, and make modern life easier, healthier and more comfortable — all in ways that compliment and enhance the municipalities and environments in which we work.  We hope our products will set a standard for the positive impact they have on soil, water, energy and health – and we’re using the Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED®) certification system so we, and you, can measure how we’re doing”.

Once a month Steve invites guests and enlightening speakers at his own LivingHome. Speaking of enlightenment, check out this video.

RSA Annimate Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=AC7ANGMy0yo

Fred talks have themes. May 2013 was Energy. What does a dog who cures cancer, an architect who plays cello and a band names after Edgar Allen have in common? They all presented at May 2013 Fred Talk:

Terence Young, Design director/architect@gensler, father, cellist, artist and athlete. “Parametric permutations on string”. Terence has lately been inspired by advancements in design software and ios music generation. Applications to explore music outside his classical training. Results are often not beautiful but usually it is an interesting collaboration between technology and traditional notions of music.

Dina Zaphiris, “Moving Energy in the Right Direction”. Dog trainer and behaviorist for over 20 years, now publishing research on training dogs to detect cancer easrly in human breath.

Shanna Gilfix, Acoustic Soul Singer/Songwriter “All for the love of music”. I’ve been writing songs and singing them for as long as I can remember. I can think of no better way to express my heart and spread my joy… I have over 600,000 views on my Youtube channel, my songs have been used for short films, I’ve written themes for radio personalities, and I’m currently writing a personalized song for an upcoming wedding. Let there be music!

Amy Lombardo, CEO, True Nature Wellness “Coming back from the Brink: How One Do-Gooder Overcame Serious Burnout and Learned the Secrets of Sustainable Personal Energy”. Amy Lombardo is a recovering workaholic, chronic do-gooder and deeply passionate about exploring the field of human potential. Her approach towards empowerment is at once incredible practical and deeply heartfelt, making her a favorite ally for visionaries seeking guidance on their path. Her latest project, the Confessions of a Warrior Woman Blog, provides a venue for warrior-hearted individuals to explore and reveal the untapped power in their vulnerability.

Band: Edgar Allan Poets, Members: Chris (Vox Guitar), Lop Noor (Drums), Mr W (Piano). Title of the Talk: Waves. We play what we like to call noir rock because for our sound we find inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe’s tales and Hitchcock’s movies. We are growing really well on the social media more than 115,000 likes on FB, we enter the billboard in the next big sound chart (10th).

See all Fred Talkers in the last two years http://fredtalks.net/FRED_Talks/FRED_Talkers.html

These talks are always inspiring, as all speakers are very passionate about doing something good in the world and making our planet beautiful and people on it happy.

HOME Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=GItD10Joaa0

April Update

IVHQRecently I received an invitation by IVHQ to volunteer in Bali. I volunteered with IVHQ in Vietnam three years ago and had a great experience. I taught six female students in a shelter in HCMC how to use OLPC computers and the Internet. the-blue-sweaterEven though Facebook was officially banned in Vietnam at that time, we opened Facebook accounts to keep in touch when I go back to the US. Today they are all on FB, even though they don’t speak English well and I can’t speak Vietnamese at all, I’m glad we are connected. I see their pics and posts and plan to visit them soon. Volunteering was such a profound experience for me that I highly recommend it and advise to volunteer whenever you travel abroad as there are quite a few organizations that will place you where help is needed. By volunteering we do impact others for the better. Lets help people in developing countries, who don’t have the luxury of our quality of life, civil rights and democracy. A great book about interconnectedness is “The Blue Sweater” by Jacqueline Novogratz.

To finance your volunteer traveling try Itravelforgood. I met Carlos, the founder, at Pay It Forward event in LA, and he told me about his great co-op community.

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