What I’m reading

November 6, 2012

Thanks to Litlove and Simon (Stuck in a Book) for this great meme. I’ve been wanting to post something for a while so this gives me an easy option.

1. The book I’m reading
is Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. I’m reading it slowly and so it could take a while. I’m interested in what he has to say but I find long eBooks a bit difficult to read. It’s taking ages to move from 6% to 7% and I do like to see that I’m making progress. At the moment he’s talking about the difference between System 1 and System 2 thinking. System 1 is more automatic (including unconscious) thinking while System 2 is the slower, more deliberate effort of thinking that we use in our day-to-day lives. The most effortful thinking, in his research, involves doing an exercise such as ‘Add 3’ where you have to hold a string of numbers in memory and then add 3 to them as you go along. Our dilated pupils as we do this are a sign of intense concentration. And trying to walk at the same time will be too difficult.

2. The last book I read
was Sweet Talk by Stephanie Vaughn. I discovered her writing through The New Yorker Fiction podcasts when I listened to Tea Obreht reading ‘Able Baker Charlie Dog’. I was immediately drawn to Vaughn’s distinctive voice. Sweet Talk is a collection of 10 short stories and five of them are written from the perspective of Gemma, a teenage girl growing up on a military base in America. They are semi-autobiographical and I found them brilliant. Moving, funny, quirky and written in deceptively simple, powerful English. The story ‘Dog Heaven’ is one of the best in the collection and I love the way she blends the various layers of the story – Gemma’s perspective, the dog’s perspective as well as wry descriptions of the teacher and life on the military base.

I’ve been mulling over how to write a review of Sweet Talk even before I finished it. Vaughn is a professor of creative writing at Stanford but she has very little published writing herself. That’s a great pity since some of these stories are the most memorable ones I’ve read in a long while.

3. The book I’ll read next
will probably be a children’s book. I have four other books to finish and also four weeks before the end of the term. I’m looking forward to a good, escapist novel for my end-of-year holiday. There’s no shortage of to-be-read books but I need something special.

4. The last book I bought
was a children’s eBook and it was a complete waste of money. I was sitting in bed reading to Leah and I suddenly thought I could find something entertaining at the Kindle store rather than walking over to her room to read one of the books we’ve read 20 times already. The book was a piece of doggerel about the biggest cupcake in the world.

The last proper book I bought was David Lodge’s biography of H.G. Wells called A Man of Parts. It was on sale at my local bookshop and since I both enjoyed the last Lodge that read and am intrigued by the subject matter of this one, it seemed like a good impulse-buy.

5. The last book I was given
was The Gift of Rain by Tan Kwan Eng. I enjoyed this a lot but it did make me think that I’m probably a difficult person to buy books for. L gave me this for my birthday after a friend raved about it in her bookclub. She said it was one of the best books she’d ever read. Well I didn’t find that but I did find it a good read (after a slow start).


First Lines Meme

December 29, 2009

I can’t resist a good meme and when I saw this over at Dorothy’s, I knew it was an excellent chance to reflect on what has been quite a tumultuous year.

The rules are simple: post the first line (of yours, not a quote) from the first post of each month of the year.

January: What I like about these opening lines from the English version of Griet skryf ‘n sprokie by Marita van der Vyfer is the way they manage to be literary, funny and to hint at depressing possibilities for Griet at the same time.

February: Thanks to Litlove for this tag, which gives me a chance to write a quick post before I get down to studying for the day.

March: In times of uncertainty – or just on a Sunday afternoon when I want to escape – there’s nothing better than a South Africa versus Australia cricket test match.

April: This excellently-illustrated book on Depression arrived in my post-box yesterday.

May: I like that quote by Morrison, not because I’m feeling shame today, but because of the way it evokes the link between fog and the emotion.

June: Bit of craziness here as I wait to see if the Military have booked my plane ticket to fly to Kimberley on Sunday for a week.

July: Feeling a bit out of sorts today.

August: Greetings from Kathu in the remote Northern Cape.

September: Only 13 Mondays before the end of the year.

October: Self-help guru, absent father, cheating husband, excellent writer, self-centred prophet, genuine seeker after truth, a ‘decent person trying sometimes to be better’, a very wounded healer, a “bit of a shit”, a paradox.

November: I went up to Saldanha on Monday to give a presentation on the Psychology of Survival.

December: What do the above three have in common?

These lines make me think that my life this year has been a bit chaotic. I stayed in the military but moved from one base to another. I bought a house and moved in. My relationship went through ups and downs and finally ended. And then my dog died. I also ended therapy with one therapist, took a break and then started therapy with someone who is a much better fit for me. I also edited a book, read a fair bit and made new friends.

Here’s hoping for a much more settled (and happy and productive) 2010!


Forty Things Surprise meme

July 29, 2008

Seen this at quite a few sites (first at Charlotte’s blog) and the surprise is that they left out three (rather odd) questions. Trust me, you won’t miss the three omitted ones.

1. My uncle once: climbed the drainpipe up to his classroom with a sackful of Cokes.
2. Never in my life: have I been to South America.
3. When I was five: I wanted to go to Heaven.
4. High school was: not the best time of my life.
5. I will never forget: the kindness of my granny when I was growing up.
6. Once I met: Kylie Minogue at a bookshop, at least I’m pretty sure it was her.
7. There’s this girl I know: who has got it all together.
8. Once, at a bar: I kissed a complete stranger.
9. By noon, I’m usually: hungry.
10. Last night: I fell asleep with the light on after reading a book.
11. If only I had: lots of time (and money and inspiration) to write to my heart’s content.
12. Next time I go to church: will possibly be at Christmas.
13. What worries me most: is when I will be able to afford my own place again.
14. When I turn my head left I see: government-issue blinds, a government-issue filing cabinet and the light shining off some leaves through the window.
15. When I turn my head right I see: a computer screen that I don’t use, a telephone (fixed again – yay), a creme wall and some more blinds.
16. You know I’m lying when: I look more anxious than usual and talk really fast.
17. What I miss most about the Eighties is: making new friends at university.
18. If I were a character in Shakespeare I’d be: tragic (or possibly comic).
19. By this time next year: I will be free of the army and hopefully still employed.
20. A better name for me would be: I’m OK with this one thanks.
21. I have a hard time understanding: indifference (and enduring hatred).
22. If I ever go back to school, I’ll: do a Ph.D.
23. You know I like you if: I bake you something.
24. If I ever won an award, the first person I would thank would be: my parents most probably.
25. Take my advice, never: ignore your gut, it’s a tried and tested way of assessing how you feel.
26. My ideal breakfast is: coffee, croissants, fruit salad and yoghurt (with the right company and something enticing to read).
27. A song I love but do not have is: anything on Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album.
28. If you visit my hometown, I suggest you: walk on the mountain (but don’t take valuables), drink sundowners at Clifton, eat out at a great restaurant and go to the District Six museum.
29. Why won’t people: take responsibility for their emotions?
30. If you spend a night at my house: you will have a very inquisitive dog who will sniff you, some talkative parents who will quiz you and you will wake up with a lovely view of the mountain.
31. I’d stop my wedding for: I’d rather not think about such an anxiety-inducing scenario!
32. The world could do without: religious intolerance.
33. I’d rather lick the belly of a cockroach than: eat one (gross).
34. My favourite blonde(s) is/are: at the moment that would be Mandy 😉 (with a golden retriever in second place)
35. Paper clips are more useful than: prestik.
36. If I do anything well it’s: procrastinate.
37. And by the way: I found this cartoonist the other day at http://www.mentalhealthhumor.com


Five habits meme

June 25, 2008

Emily tagged me for this so another excuse to talk about myself (as if I needed one). I’m calling it the “Five Habits Meme”, although it actually started out as three habits. Makes me think of “7 habits for highly effective people”, which fits neatly with my interest in the self-help genre. I did my Master’s (mini)thesis on magazine advice columns and would still like to do a deconstruction of Dr Phil!

What was I doing 10 years ago?
I was a guidance counsellor at a high school in Cape Town. It was a really interesting job and I learned a lot in my two and a half years there. It was a bit overwhelming being thrown in the deep-end and having to try and coordinate between teachers, parents, students as well as teaching, presenting and doing sports coaching. One presentation that stands out in my mind was having to do a talk on the “Pros and Cons of pre-marital sex” to the entire Grade 12 year (about 120 students) and their class teachers! I hope the syllabus has moved on since then.

Five snacks I enjoy in a perfect, non weight-gaining world:
For me the non-weight gaining world is a reality – although hardly perfect. I’d like to pick up a few kilos. I generally eat healthily but I do have a fondness for apple cake, date slices, banana bread, mini-Bar Ones and pringle-type chips.

Five snacks I enjoy in the real world:
See above (also nuts, fruit, yoghurt, dried fruit)

Five things I would do if I were a billionaire:
1. Buy property (Emily’s idea of an apartment in Manhattan overlooking the Hudson river sounds perfect – maybe we can be neighbours; and then a house in Cape Town as well.)
2. Travel
3. Sponsor psychology projects in Cape Town
4. Sponsor deserving writers and other artists
5. Spoil my family and friends

Five jobs that I have had: (only five?)
1. Pizza delivery guy
2. Guidance counsellor at a high school
3. Bookshop employee
4. Journalist
5. Researcher for an NGO

Five habits:
1. Running twice a week
2. Drinking many cups of tea a day
3. Radio station hopping when I’m driving (since SA radio DJs can be quite annoying)
4. Watching rugby (and the occasional ballet / theatre)
5. Keeping a journal (for book thoughts, dreams, ideas)

Five places I have lived:
1. Pinelands, Cape Town
2. Stellenbosch
3. Somerset West (still Cape Town)
4. Jane Furse, Limpopo province
5. Westdene, Johannesburg

Five people I want to get to know better:
I’m not sure who’s been tagged here and who hasn’t. I’d be interested to read answers from TJ, Litlove, Dorothy, Charlotte, Qugrainne and Dolce.

Incidentally, the 7 habits (of highly effective people) are: be proactive; begin with the end in mind; put first things first; think win/win; seek to understand then to be understood; synergise; and sharpen the saw.


Oversharing meme

June 4, 2008

Thanks to Litlove and Emily for the opportunity to overshare!

1. Name the singer/band/performer you are most embarrassed to admit you actually paid good money to see in concert.

Ah well, we had the cultural boycott here in SA while I was growing up so I didn’t get to see many bands at all. I was so excited when the Rolling Stones and U2 made it to SA and I loved them. I was a bit disappointed when I saw REM in concert, but that was more about being so far away from the stage rather than the quality of their music.

2. Which reality TV show have you watched more than once (come on, I don’t believe you if you say “none,” unless you don’t own a TV)?

I went through a phase of watching Survivor and then The Amazing Race religiously every week. I also watched a bit of Big Brother when it first came out. I’ll still watch a bit of Idols from time to time (and I saw David Cook on YouTube).

3. Which complete trash novelist have you not only read but enjoyed enough to read more than one book of his/hers?

When I worked part-time at Exclusive Books for about 5 years I used to pass the time by reading trashy crime novels and graphic novels and the occasional teen novel (the ones about being at high school). Recently I did some research on magazine advice columns so I started to read You magazine and Huisgenoot (the Afrikaans sister magazine of You). Can’t remember reading a Jilly Cooper or a Mills and Boon though.

4. What sappy musical could you watch over and over and over again?

I love “Moulin Rouge” (does that qualify as sappy) and Chicago. I would go to sing-a-long screenings of The Sound of Music and The Rocky Horror Picture Show if I got the chance.

5. Who was your first celebrity crush?

I get crushes so easily that trying to work out my first celebrity crush would take a lot of excavating. I remember being totally smitten by the woman who took the lead role in our local Pantomime. She was so beautiful and talented and enthusiastic. When I saw her without her make-up and out of the lights then she was just an actress (and a lot older than I thought). Actually after that I think any leading lady in a movie was the object of a crush. Lois Lane in Superman springs to mind. How embarrassing.

6. Who is the most embarrassing celebrity on whom you have a slight crush today?

Haha, here goes any credibility that I might still have. I have a soft spot for Britney Spears. I wasn’t such a fan before all the drama and the fall from grace but I’m quite intrigued now that she’s been shown up to be pretty dysfunctional. And then the usual male crushes on talented, confident, beautiful singers and actresses. Beyonce would qualify here and I’m a fan of Reese Witherspoon (although that’s normal rather than embarrassing). Maybe Angelina Jolie qualifies as embarrassing. As Saul Bellow says, it’s that quack quack response (if you’ve read Herzog that would make sense).

7. What movie that everyone else and his cousin and even his dog has seen have you never seen?
ET – not sure how I missed this one but I did.

8. What were you drinking the first time you ever got drunk?

Beer. Good old South African Breweries Black Label beer. I had a pretty sheltered adolescence so my first date was my matric dance. Since it was a charity date (from her side) things did not go that well. The problem wasn’t so much that I drank too much (because I didn’t) but rather that I wasn’t used to the combination of alcohol and hard contact lenses. The inside of my eyelids got a bit swollen towards the early hours of the morning and I remember being in excruciating pain when I got home. I had to lie with a cold pack on my eyes for about 8 hours and I swore I would never wear hard contact lenses again (if God would just take away the pain).

9. Which old re-run will you still pause to watch if you’re flicking through the channels and see that it’s on?

Fawlty Towers (I was going to say Blackadder but I don’t think that qualifies as old enough). Basil Fawlty as an anxious, deranged but still rational hypomanic hotel manager is brilliant. I cringe when I watch it but I’ll watch it anyway. Actually Polly, Manuel, Basil and Cybil were all brilliant.

10. What book/movie/t.v. show that only a fifteen-year-old would think is funny makes you laugh?

I used to watch the Cartoon Network (when I was in my twenties) so Tom and Jerry (or Roadrunner or Bugs Bunny) was a favourite. Loony Tunes cartoons have a really basic plotline – one character is trying to catch another character and beat the crap out of them but always seems to fail. It’s timeless and it works. The triumph of the underdog (or in Jerry’s case, the under-mouse). That’s all folks!


Psychology A to Z

May 4, 2008

Anxiety (and Attachment)
Breakdown
Catatonia
Depression
Electroshock therapy
Freud

Good-enough mothering, Group Therapy
Hysteria
Infantile, Introspection and Insight
Jung
Kohut and Klein
Libidinal energy
Mother (and Manic-Depressive)
Nihilism, Narcissism, Neurosis
Oedipal
Prozac, Placebo, Playing (and Penis-envy)
Queer
Rogers
Schadenfreude, Schizophrenia, Sadism and Sex (also Splitting)
Transitional Object
Understanding
Validation
Winnicott
Xenophobia
Yalom
Zeitgeist

There are so many ideas here to blog about that I don’t know where to start. I want to do an Anxiety blog, a few on Depression, Narcissism (and Blogging), Freud vs Jung, Klein’s take on Splitting. There are quite a few negative terms in there (such as Hysteria, Queer, Breakdown, Infantile) which raise the issue of labelling. Despite its good intentions, psychology (like religion) has arguably had as much of a negative impact as it has had a positive one. The history of psychology and homosexuality is an interesting (and perhaps infamous) example of how psychology has oppressed minorities. On this issue I still want to read Edmund White’s account (in My Lives) of how his therapists tried to talk him out of being gay.

I was thinking of doing a negative A to Z and then a positive one – but the negative labels are a lot more fun. Anxiety, Breakdown, Catatonia, Depression etc. has a nice energy about it. The positive A to Z would start: Attachment, Balance, Containment (and then I get stuck).