As Bon Jovi once said “OHHHHHHHH WE’RE HALF WAY THERE OH-OHH”. I admit I wasn’t around when Jon said it, but I have this feeling deep inside somewhere that he was talking about hitting page 541. Just a hunch.
“Better stand tall when they’re calling you out”, Emperor Alexander wrote, with slight rephrasing of my own, in his message to the Russian people. “Don’t bend, don’t break, baby, don’t back down”, they all shouted back. It’s 1812. Time for war. Except this time everyone seems to have switched places.
This week I read eighteen pages. Eighteen. Slightly less than my 140-page-per-week plan. I had a tough week in terms of my general mood. Spending six weeks at home seems fun at first, but eventually it gets old. Old and tiring. Old and tiring is not a good mood for some intensive reading.
So I’ve hit reader’s block and I have nothing to discuss. Instead, I spent the day wondering how I get out of it. I’ve made it this far, and so some self reflection seems like a worthy investment.
- Don’t give up. It takes me twenty minutes to walk half a kilometer on crutches. My dad always takes the wheelchair with us just in case. In my high school gym “finals” we had to run two kilometers. Not a complicated task for people who run. Needless to say, I don’t. I set myself one rule. Don’t stop running. Even if you find yourself running at a pace that’s slightly slower than walking, run. And I did. So I walk alongside him as he wheels the empty chair home. Eighteen pages is less than one hundred and forty, but it is definitely more than zero.
- Change your goals. I can’t walk one hundred meters without stopping. I actually need to rest about once every fifty meters. Otherwise my palms burn, and then I’m stuck, because my hands have turned into another leg for the time being. One hundred pages a week is just as good. So it’ll take longer to get to the finish line. Who cares? It’s not a race. It’s just me. The gold medal will be waiting for me when I get there.
- Find new ways. At first I had a cast on my left arm. I’m left handed. A person can’t just not shower for a week. So I did. Somehow. Maybe reading this type of thing doesn’t work for me past sunset. Maybe I should try hanging out with the Rostovs and the Bolkonskis at lunch instead.
- Forgive yourself. Who knew you could break a bone just accidently slipping? And now you can’t play soccer for months. Your greatest skill is pointing your toes, flexing them, and then back again. Don’t look for the goal, the goalie, the net. Focus on the next move. Not every week is going to be a fancy analysis or a pat on the back. Go back to the small things. The joy of reading. The story.
- Just relax. That goes for everything. Just a generally good rule.
Maybe I’ll start a workout blog once all of this is over.
previous entry here
* translation: Louise and Alymer Maude (for page # references)
So this week, instead of war and peace between countries, we had some war and peace between hearts. Lots of proposals, engagements, disapproving parents. In a world with issues of class, hierarchy, and not much gender equality love can become a very unpleasant game. But let’s start at the beginning.
* translation: Louise and Alymer Maude (for page # references)
Well, hello everyone. We’ve officially finished Volume One. Good job folks. Only two more to go!
We’ve tackled tips, we’ve discussed philosphy, and now it’s time for the little humans roaming around Europe. When thinking of War & Peace one tends to imagine thousands of pages describing terrible battles, people in medieval style clothing (because anything before World War 1 is basically the Middle Ages) and lots of descriptions of noble men on horses in indecipherable English. In reality, Tolstoy actually puts a serious emphasis on the humanness of his characters – their relationships with others, their own personal thoughts, humor, sarcasm, joy and sadness. It’s still a bit weird for me. I never expected to find myself laughing. Wanting to hug these people. Or just give ’em a high-five.
“The universal experience of ages, showing that children do grow imperceptibly from the cradle to manhood, did not exist for the countess. Her son’s growth towards manhood at each of its stages had seemed as extraordinary to her as if there had never existed the millions of human beings who grew up in the same way.” (pg. 181), Tolstoy says of Nicholas Rostov and his mother. Something in the way this was phrased made me grin from ear to ear, and Rostov, a 19th century way-too-patriotic-for-my-taste soldier, who seemed so far from anything I could ever understand, became just a kid. A twenty year old kid who comes home to his worried mother.
He’s also just a kid who takes the car on the weekend, and sometimes gambles away all the money his parents gave him. “And suddenly, in the most casual tone, which made him feel ashamed of himself, he said, as if merely asking his father to let him have the carriage to drive to town: […] ‘I need some money.’ ‘Dear me!’ said his father […]” (pg. 267). 43,000 rubles of it. He then tells himself he’ll start saving up 80% of his salary every year to pay it back. Yeah right, man. Let’s be real.
On one evening, Rostov finds himself relaying his battle story to other men he seeks to impress. “He began his story meaning to tell everything just as it happened, but imperceptibly, involuntarily, and inevitably he lapsed into falsehood. […] He could not tell them simply that everyone went at a trot, and that he fell off his horse and sprained his arm and then ran as hard as he could from a Frenchman into the wood. Besides, to tell everything as it really happened it would have been necessary to make an effort of will to tell only what happened. It is very difficult to tell the truth, and young people are rarely capable of it.” (pg. 186). Without even noticing I find myself there, in that room with him, feeling his almost childish desire to be a hero, embellishing reality. During the beginning of his service Nicholas’s bubble is burst, as he discovers that war is not at all what he expected. It’s bloody and messy and painful, and sometimes when you finally find yourself facing the enemy you accidentally fall. It’s not always marvelous or magnificent, and Lieutenant Count Rostov is just a kid who wants his friends to think he’s cool. And all of a sudden we’re not in 1805, Olmutz, Moravia (now Olomouc, Czech Republic), visiting friends from the Ismaylovsky Regiment, discussing the war. We’re in 20th century high school or middle school or elementary school, telling everyone about the crazy, incredible things we did on summer vacation, hoping we’ll finally become the popular kid this year.
And now for a question. As I write, I wonder what brings you guys back (since I’ve noticed it’s the same few every time – thanks, by the way). Are you reading the book as well? Have you already read it? Are you planning to? Should I be avoiding spoilers? (Character-wise of course, because history, well… it’s already sort of spoiled itself.) Feel free to say hello, share your own experiences, questions, thoughts. I’m always here. (Not much you can do with a broken ankle.)
previous entry here
Another week! I think I’m going to stick to this sort-of-Tuesday-technically-Wednesday routine. It’s consistent, yet still allows me to cover enough ground to provide some interesting content here for you all. Let me know what you think. More frequently? Less? Random, short little musings in between?
Well, we’ve finally hit some battle. I remember being very confused during my previous attempt at what the heck was going on in these kinds of scenes. The positioning was hard to understand and the military terms were waaaay beyond my league. I decided to take my own advice and not gloss over this time. Needless to say, my phone Chrome tabs are all open on various definitions of military terms and weapons and I’m sure my Internet history makes me out to be either an extreme history geek or just sort of crazy. It definitely slowed me down, but gosh, it’s so much nicer to actually understand what I’m reading!
So, a bit of information before I touch on my main point for this week. My copy includes a two-part introduction: 1) Historical Background to W&P and 2) The Genesis and Composition of W&P, both written by Henry Claridge (University of Kent at Canterbury). (The introduction also comes with an introduction recommending reading the background first and leaving the critical point of view till after finishing the book. Unlike my usual self, I decided to ignore the instructions and read everything beforehand.) Most of it was confusing and just freaked me out about this whole project even more (and should probably be re-read now that I feel on stable ground), but one piece stuck:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I couldn’t stop right there
And be one traveler long I stood
And looked at the ground
Praying it would swallow me whole
Then closed my eyes and spun around and opened my eyes and walked straight ahead and got lost.
Has that made all the difference?
We’ll all begin by introducing ourselves, says the brown-haired-average-height-has-at-least-two kids-and-a-real-estate-agent-of-a-husband-both-of-them-nearing -midlife-crisis group counselor.
Dr. John Smith, Cardiac Surgeon, states the blue eyed blond haired man to her left, followed by redheaded Professor Mary Thompson, Historian who is sitting on crew cut Sergeant Bill Miller, Ex-Marine’s right who has his chair slightly turned to his skinny-as-a-stick wife Madame Angelique Dupont-Miller, World-Famous Baker who just smiled at dressed for a funeral Judge Claire Gessler, New York Supreme Court.
Jess, citizen of Planet Earth.
How about each one of us tells the rest of the group something about themselves, the counselor continues.
Been married for thirty years, with two lovely children. I’m currently just in the middle of a new research project, which has unfortunately coincided with the new house my wife and I are planning for construction in the summer, says the blonde, slipping his hand through his over gelled hair before quickly trying to smooth it down again. Just began writing my third book about my travels in Africa along with a team of archeologists. It’ll be published alongside a documentary film that follows my month long trip, the Professor announces, her red curls bouncing up and down as she speaks. I’ve finished my active duty and we’ve just adopted three year old twins from Japan. Hopefully, the big contract we’re trying to sign on the bakery will be finalized in June, sending us all on our way to London for a three year stay, the couple describes, cutting into one another’s words and finishing each other’s sentences. After finishing law school I went on to work as a criminal lawyer, starting with minors and young offenders. Promotions led me away from that area to more high profile cases and today I work with the leading court in the state of New York. I have three kids, all high school graduates, two in the army and one studying abroad, says the daunting judge, sounding more like she’s giving a speech to a courtroom than talking to a support group.
I have five cats and one dog. I spend most of my time writing spoken word poetry and trying to remember to get milk so that I can make my morning chocolate milk and survive the rest of the day. I own 543 CDs, a type-writer and all 46 Dr. Seuss Special Collector’s Edition books with a personal dedication and autograph. My favorite food is pizza.
Who would like to begin with sharing some of our main goals in life, asks Ms. Counselor, and then of course points to Dr. Blondie, as if he wasn’t first already.
I hope to be promoted to head of my department and hopefully receive a grant for my research, he shares, and then turns to the Prof who continues with her answer. My main goal for this year is to finish my basic plan for the book and to start meeting up with the movie producers and working on the layout of the film. We’re obviously aiming for the contract and our move to London along with our children, Crew Cut and his skeletal wife declare, yet again speaking in plural and at the same time, as if they were one person with two bodies. I’m hoping I finally get the vacation I’ve been waiting for and my husband and I can go visit our daughter in Venice. Of course I also have work goals which include completing and publishing a paper that I’ve been working on for the past two years, Colorless Claire says.
I once had a bucket list but I lost it while sky-diving, which was ironically enough the first thing on the list.
Now that we all know a bit about each other, how about we all tell the group why we’re here, the counselor says, taking on her reserved-for-important-subjects tone.
Well, the combination of research and intensive work in the hospital is very stressful and I haven’t been sleeping well lately so my wife advised I should go see a doctor, funnily enough, and he recommended I come here, Doc reveals. I, too, lead a very stressful life and my sister goes to one of these and told me I should try it out myself. The trip to Africa was very refreshing and spiritual, yet very demanding and tiring, Mary explains. Adopting two toddlers at once is the hardest job on the planet, and trust me – I was in the army, jokes the former soldier. My wife’s sister said I should try group therapy. She spent a couple of years in India and since then she’s all about healing the soul. Yes, the kids and the contract with the possible move have been making my nights a living hell. Bill’s sister recommended this sort of treatment to me. Our sisters became very close since the day they first met and I guess Amelie – Angelique’s sister, Bill intrudes to clear things up – and her incessant nagging about spirituality and India finally cracked through someone’s skull, the French toothpick says. I’m pretty sure most members of the judicial system have been to at least one of these sorts of meeting before, the Judge says, the corner of her mouth hinting at a smile but not quite reaching it, as if it’s forgotten how to. Life in court is very… tough on one’s soul, she says, embracing a quieter, more thoughtful tone – so unlike her previous short and sharp speech.
I was skateboarding down the path of life when I suddenly slammed into a tree and found myself at a dead end. I then proceeded to enter the first building I came across, which just so happened to be this one. No, wait, this was the second building. I first went to the cupcake shop just down the street.
The counselor glances at the clock hung on the wall behind her. Well, guys, I’m sorry but our time is out, she tells us, putting on an obviously rehearsed sad face, once she probably flashes at every single client, hoping to convince them she really is sorry to see him go and to make them forget how many houses they had to mortgage in order to afford the meeting in the first place.
Dr. John Smith pulls out his Smartphone and glances at the brightly lit screen. I have an appointment starting in less than an hour, he remarks. Pleasure meeting you all! The end of the sentence is left echoing down the hall is he dashes to his car downstairs. I have to go prepare my class for tomorrow, Professor Mary Thompson comments, pulling out her iPhone. She departs with a cheery farewell. Sergeant Bill Miller rolls up his sleeve to reveal a shiny silver watch fastened tightly ’round his thick wrist. He shows it to his wife who says, the girls should be returning from my mother’s soon. The two go around shaking hands with everyone who hasn’t left yet, before following in the footsteps of the Doctor and the Professor. My husband’s flight from DC should be landing soon, Judge Claire Gessler says after glancing at the face of a round gold pocket watch she pulls out on a long golden chain from her front suit pocket. She gives a short wave, one that looks just as unnatural on her as the attempted smile earlier on in the meeting. The tap of her heels lingers long past her departure.
So, the counselor says when just the two of us are left. Where are you going?