essays

Student Writing Sample: Goals for the New School Year

What are your goals for the new school year? Think of two large, general goals and three small, specific goals. Tell me what those goals are improtant to you and what you will do to achieve them.

“Fighting!” is a common expression of encouragement in Korea.


Blatant Pimping: The Worst Motorcycle in Laos

We usually don’t demean the fair cyber pages of this blog by something as base as promotion, but screw it, I’ll shed my secret identity and let the cat out of the bag: I, Chris Tharp, aka “Mr. Motgol,” got a new book out YOU should stop what you’re doing right now, click on the link below, and buy it. Hey, it can’t be that bad. After all, these guys had some nice things to say about it:

“In The Worst Motorcycle in Laos, Tharp takes us on a wild ride from the neon streets of Tokyo to the dirt tracks of Indochina. The essays are insightful, humorous and unflinching. A great read for the active and armchair traveler alike.”

- Michael Breen, author of The Koreans


Exercitus

I’ve been doing the New York Times’ Scientific Seven Minute Workout for a few months now, and I’m noticing more results than I ever did just by running for an hour every two or three days, but with a few caveats—I work out for at least an hour, not for seven minutes; I record the time I spend doing these exercises, adding fifteen seconds to each whenever I do them; I eat whatever the hell I want (like a singularity, I can consume an entire pizza in less than a second); I walk or bike everywhere I go, and only get inside cars on weekends. I started this workout with a lot more dedication than usual because of its simplicity: I don’t have to waste my time or money going to a gym, I don’t have to embarrass myself in front of everyone sweating like a pig, flushed like a pig, outside, and all I need is a floor and a chair.


Who Is The Best Stylist?

Shakespeare writes as if the English language itself is writing: His tears run down his beard like winter’s drops from eaves of reeds. Tolstoy writes with the voice of the earth. I was first really hooked by the beginning of Sevastopol Stories, actually. Borges, in Spanish or English, is like bathing in a sunset.

Bruma de oro, el Occidente alumbra
la ventana. El asiduo manuscrito
aguarda, ya cargado de infinito.
Alguien construye a Dios en la penumbra.

And when Flaubert describes the color of Emma Bovary’s eyes, I don’t just see them, I am them. Madame Bovary c’est moi! Borges said that Joyce had written lines that were not unworthy of Shakespeare—


The Ecstasy of Reading (Flaubert)

Pieter_Bruegel_(Temptation_of_St_Antony)

If you have ever felt, upon reading some comment or review that complains about too much description in a given book, or too many difficult words, a feeling of disgust—if you have ever suppressed an urge to roll your eyes when someone you know wonders about the point of fiction, or dismisses entire genres out of hand—then you must stop reading this blog post right now and go devour The Temptation of St. Anthony.


Superficiality (The Photo With The Résumé)

I remember a passage in Plato’s Symposium, which I don’t have with me and which I don’t really have the patience to find, and it was a typically Platonic, gnostic sort of passage regarding levels of intelligence and wisdom: the lover of souls and minds is superior to the lover of bodies, probably because the soul is immortal, godlike, and perfect, while the body is made of temporary stuff, a Protean Ship of Theseus, constantly changing, impossible to define, and soon reduced to dirt “stopping up a bunghole.” One of my more sensuous friends complained about Plato’s disdain of the physical world and his seemingly Buddha-like adoration of the mystical and the unseen, but at least in the case of Socrates we can tell rather easily why it’s important to focus more on the mind than the body:


Faith In Archy

Thought-sparking piece about anarchy in The New Yorker today: the anarchists involved didn’t convince me, or the author, however, that anarchism is any different from Savonarolism: take everything and burn it just because a few things don’t work. But it did get me to consider anarchy for an instant. I thought of the case of certain religious types, probably predominantly American, who believe that faith in god (and a corresponding fear of hell) is the only thing that keeps everyone from murdering each other, and there would seem to be a parallel among archists like myself: the government is the only thing that keeps murderers from breaking down my door.


When You Say Simple, You Probably Mean Plain

Allegorical tales that involve animal characters have notable appeal for adults as well. Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” for example, is a masterpiece of political commentary that is arresting in its simplicity.

From the comments section of A Child’s Wild Kingdom. As soon as I read it I thought—simple? Orwell is simple? I don’t know, doesn’t Orwell seem, actually, to be kind of brilliantly complex? And doesn’t he just mask that complexicity in an attractively plain style?

And then from the chorus of dead people I’ve tucked into my brain, Nabokov—the master of concealing difficult and complex thoughts within a difficult and complex style—lashed out from his excellent Lectures on Russian Literature:


Nothing Stops A God

It looks like the people who wrote this movie are fully aware of the trouble with Superman: nothing can stop a god, since a god is, obviously, immortal, perfect, and, yeah, unstoppable. That’s the Platonic view which probably got Socrates in trouble with the Athenians—who executed him on a cross of hemlock!—dying for a love of knowledge rather than our sins!—but to go even further, and to look at God from the perspective of Islam, and Ali Farka Toure, God Is Unique; there is nothing like God, nothing can be compared to It; It cannot have arms, legs, thoughts, feelings, or any recognizable features. This philosophical view naturally eliminates any possibility of drama, since if God Is Unique, and everywhere and everywhen and nowhere and nowhen, then It’s also doing everything and nothing, and there’s no plot, no tension, no payoff.


posted under r/agnosticism

There are people who take fright. But I am of the opinion, Lachmann, that one should know no fear in this world . . . Love, it is said, is strong as death. But you may confidently reverse the saying: Death is as gentle as love, Lachmann. I tell you that death has been maligned. That is the worst imposture in the world. –Death is the mildest form of life: the masterpiece of the Eternal Love…[His eye falls upon the death-mask of Beethoven. He takes it down and, contemplating it, continues:] Where shall we land? Whither are we driven? Why do we cry our cries of joy into the immense incertitude — we mites abandoned in the infinite? As though we knew whither we are tending! Thus you cried too! And did you know — even you? There is nothing in it of mortal feasts! Nor is it the heaven of the parsons! It is not this and it is not that. What…[he stretches out his hands to heaven]…what will it be in the end?


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