Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The English Patient

PHEWF. You know that feeling when you're nearing the end of a book, and you don't want it to end, but you have to keep going because you have to see how it will end up? That was my adventure last night with The English Patient.

I usually pull whatever book that I'm reading out while I floss (because my flossing takes time, I have a built in retainer...anyhoo). I happened to be nearing the end of The English Patient last night, but I kind of thought I could get another evening out of it. Not so. This novel is so brilliantly written. A review on the front of it calls the writing "dreamlike" and I think I would describe it that way too. You get this strange perspective on the characters, but nevertheless get thoroughly attached and invested. I found Ondaatje's writing to be like poetry and it was a delicious read. And needless to say he dragged me kicking and screaming through the conclusion of the book...I was physically unable to put it down until I had finished it. The ending was...impeccable. I always get worried at the end of books because endings are a very tricky thing to handle, and, most often, are very disappointing and sometimes careless. Although it wasn't happy-ever-after, it was satisfying. And he ended the book with an amazing case of synchronicity. I'm not even kidding (how synchronous is that). I'm not sure if I should even explain, because everybody that reads this blog has to go and read The English Patient. But the very last instance of the book was heartbreakingly romantic and wonderful. It's only three hundred pages, the writing is beautiful and the story is compelling. For me, it was a refreshing take on writing. I have been starting books and putting them down, just feeling like everyone is doing the same thing over and over again. But this completely differently style hooked me and dragged me. I am very sad it's over, but, I am filled with the satisfaction of an author handling me responsibly as a reader.

In other news, I have been having a rough day. My work is becoming a pile threatening to topple. I am beating myself up for thinking I could afford to take a break last Friday. Suddenly, I have not one, but TWO fifty-page Psychology chapters, another long, boring Sociology chapter, lecture notes to go over, and worst of all... a presentation next week. The presentation is what has kicked me in the shins. Suddenly, it's here, and I have to do it next Thursday. I knew it would creep up on me because it's so early in the semester. Basically I have to impersonate Edward R. Murrow, a controversial American news anchor from the fifties. His claim to fame is a hounding of McCarthy. It's interesting, but I'm the kind of person that likes to be prepared and I feel like a week isn't enough. But I have to make the best of it, and that's that.

Wouldn't it be nice if university was just lectures and readings? Those are easy enough to balance throughout the week. There's just enough time in a week to get that basic work done. But throw a presentation or an essay in, and I crumple. I guess that's one of the big things you learn in university: time management. Refiguring of the way you manage your time CONSTANTLY. It drives me nuts.

The other thing that overwhelms me when I have a lot of work to do, is my extra-curricular commitments. They're very minor, and they're enjoyable and always turn out to be a nice break, but nevertheless, it feels like there's no time left in your day if there's an extra-curricular thing you have to do. Tomorrow morning, for an hour, I am volunteering at the fair trade cafe at my college. It's only an hour, and I love the person I work with, and I always come out feeling calm and centered. But every week it's a fight to remind myself how much I like it, and that my morning wouldn't have consisted of anything much more productive than that. In fact, I manage to use the small blocks of time surrounding it to get stuff done. Then, on Fridays, I go to a school in the afternoon after my Philosophy tutorial. I kind of fell into this by accident. I applied because (for some reason) I thought there would be consultation if I were accepted, to see if I still wanted to do it. Counting on that, I signed up for a different school opportunity that I wanted to do much more. Then, one day, I get an email telling me what school I'll be going to and the name of the teacher. YIKES! WAIT! WHAT? But anyway, being raised as a person who follows through on commitments, I went. And it definitely wasn't my cup of tea. I struggled with the teacher at first and the way she did things, and felt awkward and like I had no experience (because I don't). But now, as the weeks have gone by, I have become inevitably attached to and charmed by the kids, and I understand the teacher's relationship with them much better than when I first started out. I also understand the way the teacher functions. It's still not how I like to do things, but I get it and I respect it and I just flit around the world she has created and do what she tells me to do to the best of my ability. And it is good experience.

The other "school thing" I'm doing is called Peace by PEACE and it's a conflict resolution workshop that, with a team, I go in and teach to a grade four class. We talk about how conflict is an inevitable part of everyone's life and can't be avoided. We talk about the escalation of conflict, and recognizing where you are in that escalation so you can use methods to cool down from your anger. Next week, we'll be teaching them about empathy and I-statements (taking ownership of your feelings and not trying to implicate other people in their side of the conflict). Later on, we'll talk about self esteem and inner power and bullying and accepting each other's differences.  It's pretty great. What I like is the fact that we're reaching out to people while they're young and trying to give them skills to grow with. I'd like to develop a similar program of some sort when I'm older, and maybe something I can incorporate into the education system that makes education less competitive and more beneficial, that teaches kids social skills and awareness and acceptance. It's very idealistic, but it's what matters to me. You want the world to be different? You have to reach out and respect the younger generation. Stop filling them with hopelessness and doom and give them power and aspirations. Anyway, Peace by PEACE is a cool program, but it also requires a small amount of preparation, which means more work for me on top of my school work. And an early Tuesday morning *groan.*

I think that's all the time I can sacrifice today, and I think this has been a productive way to procrastinate, rather than browsing the pages of Facebook. Tell me where you think we need to start in order to see changes in the world.

Your friendly neighbourhood Erin.


  1. I am happy that we share the same opinion of The Cat's Table! but if you want the very best of the poetic Ondaatje writing, read In the Skin of the Lion. Enough said!

    1. I am definitely going to start seeking out more of Ondaatje's work!