Monthly Archives: January 2018

Bluebird Interview

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She was born when Saturn and Uranus were housed in the Aquarius. That says pretty much about her. The Aquarian are known for their independent spirits, compassionate and caring nature, and unquenchable wants of knowledge, all enveloped in mysterious estrangement even among the crowds. Yet, Stephanie, the writer and the editor of her two-year old Web log, “The Stylus,” (formally known as “Offbeat) is generally quite approachable and genial although she is never too loquacious at a first meeting. In fact, you might find her quite interesting to talk to, especially when you strike up a conversation with her about books written by classical writers or about history, dogs, or cultures. And if any of these appertains to one of her writings published on her digital log, “The Stylus,” you will see her soul being elevated to the ether with her eyes sparkling like stars on the Persian night sky. On Monday morning at a cozy cafe in Avonlea, Bluebird had the pleasure sitting down  with a cup of warm hazelnut coffee to talk with her about her blog, from the inception, the purpose, and the future thereof.

BD: Hi, Stephanie. As Oscar Wilde has said that a woman who would reveal her age would tell anything about her, I won’t ask you how old you are because I suspect that you will not anyhow.

Stephanie: I appreciate your judiciousness. (Smile) And yes, you are right in saying that I won’t tell you my age. (Smile) But I am neither teen-aged nor maturely aged, single, like one of those 10 vestals in the ancient Roman Empire. (Smile)

BD: Okay, then let’s start talk about your Web log. What was the idea behind the creation of this log of yours? Did it occur to you all of sudden that you wanted to have yours like everyone else?

Stephanie: Well, I first started thinking about having my writing log about 2 years ago. I had always wanted to write things about what I liked and to convey it in written letters because I think writing revels one’s soul in his/her genuine self without worrying about the physical appearance and how to present the self externally in public. In that regard, writing is non-discriminating of all social and biological differences. And I always thought that in people’s writings I could see the intelligence and nature of the writers because people would tell about their innermost feelings by means of writing rather than by speaking, which I think, sometimes seems a bit pompous and artful.

BD: So, is this why you came to create your blog to write about what you think and feel that cannot be shared by speaking in public?

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Stephanie: Partly so. And partly it’s because writing seems easier to communicate than speaking, which requires of me instantaneous faculty with dialogue that necessitates breaking from shyness. You see, English is not my mother tongue. Being a native Korean, the language differences between the two languages are as wide and deep as the Pacific Ocean: The English belongs to the Indo-European lingual family, while the Korean to the Ural-Altai to which the Japanese, the Turkish, the Finnish, and the Hungarian also belong. The syntax and the grammar are of course very different. So, it will be much different from, say, someone from any Western European country speaking and writing English because Western European languages belong to the same family as the English. Nevertheless, I want to break from such syntactical, grammatical, and literary inhibitions to craft the art of writing, just as Jack Kerouac felt the same about it.

BD: That’s a sublime motivation to create your blog. Then how about the name of your blog? It has recently gone through some changes…

Stephanie: Yes, indeed. But for the good reasons. First, it was started as “Offbeat” because one of the teachers at the language school I currently work at told me that my blog seemed to carry this offbeat vibes, a sort of New York feel, the independence, the avant-garde spirit that knew no boundary of subject matters of writing. So I thought it was a cool name for my blog and kept it until the last week. But suddenly I came to think that it needed name changing just for a change of scenery; you know the kind of moment when you want to reinvent your image with a new haircut.

BD: Okay, Stephanie. By the way, what are your readers like? Do you have many followers?

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Stephanie: To be honest with you, I am more concerned about the qualitative likes I get for what I write from fellow bloggers who also love writing and publish qualitative posts by which I mean the writings, such as musings, creative stories, poems, and/or book reviews. The reason I say this is that recently there has been someone who creates several unsolicited blogs that only contain commercial stuff, copied works of others, or nothing just to get to my blog. And I tell you that I only appreciate the likes from those qualitative bloggers. And I also tell you that I don’t appreciate those of illegitimate ones’ likes. How do I know they are illegitimate? Well, can you like my writing as soon as I publish? That means that person does not bother to read my writing, which I take it as an offense.

BD: Who is that one plaguing your blog with empty likes? Have you done something about it?

Stephanie: First, that one appeared in my spam comment section. He said he liked my blog and asked for some advice of writing. I think I was too naive to even reply to him, thinking that he was going to have his meaningful blog filled with writings, but no… I should have never done that…. This is my character flaw; that I bring trouble and pain on myself through pity and compassion… In that respect, I sympathize with Katherine Cookson, who said the same thing in her memoir Before I go, about which I have also written.

BD: You must be really frustrated with that person… Sorry to hear that.

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Stephanie: I even contacted an engineer at wordpress. about this issue in effort of stopping him from visiting my blog, but was told that because it’s in a public domain, there’s no way I could do that… And you know it’s really disheartening to see it happening in my blog because it is a sheer form of sabotage to my blog because my blog is not an object of popularity… Although my current followers are 52, what I care about is my works being duly appreciated by fellow writers, amateur or professional. Nevertheless, I don’t want to canvass for liking my writings. It’s just not me. But if you like any of my writings in terms of the contents regardless of any grammatical errors, that makes me feel fulfilled. And any comment is always welcome.

Don’t be shy to comment on any of my posts because I am a human being, too! (Smile)

BD: Stephanie, I understand how you care about your blog and your love of writing in this interview. Any word to your readers?

Stephanie: I just want my readers to know that I write because I like to portray what I feel about things in my heart in poetry and what I think about books I read in my mind in belief that taste and reason is universal in all human creatures regarding principles of judgment and of sentiment common to all mankind, as Edmund Burke averred in his essay On Taste. So Many Thanks to You, Dear Readers with My Whole Heart.

BD: Thank you, Stephanie. I hope your writings will have a wide range of loyal noble readership.

Stephanie: Thanks! Have a lovely day!

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Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It by Gary Taubes

Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About ItWhy We Get Fat: And What to Do About It by Gary Taubes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We all have read about books about dieting and exercising. We all have tried most or some of the methods as provided, but the bottom lines are all the same: that eating less, exercising more is the sine qua non of getting thin and staying healthy. Does this res ipsa loquitur (a thing that speaks for itself) model really work wonders to all? Then why doesn’t everyone following this principle get the uniformed result?

Gary Taubes does not believe so. In fact, he subverts all such received ideas of what we have so far known as norms of dieting rules and regulations because they are scientifically fallacious and commercially expedient based upon his years of punctilious research on this subject matter. In this book, Taubes goes back to the primordial question of what makes us fat despite our efforts and offers head-turning advice which “stands the the received ideas of dieting and exercising on its head”.

He criticizes such faulty knowledge on calorie intake/outtake as a result of insufficiently conducted experiments of nutritional science of the 20th century. (He calls it the product of “bad” nutritional science”) This belief of less “calorie take-in” and more “calorie-out” contradicts the science of physiology – i.e., how it works as regards to how our body digests food, where it is stored,  and how it influences our body.

Furthermore, he looks into a role of genetics playing in metabolism. Which one is more influencing in making us thin? Exercising or your genetic composition? Besides, does meat really make us fat? Should we become vegetarians to lose weight and stay gracefully thin? Taubes answers these questions in detail and enlightens us from the mass hypnotic mantras of the calorie intake/outtake that have been permeated in our society for more than a century. If you are on the verge of abandoning your will to lose weight, or tired of listening to the fad dieting, or want to try something new and really effectual just as I did, this book will make a breakthrough guidance book for your healthy life.

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The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Middle Ages by Sherrilyn Kenyon

The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in the Middle Ages: The British Isles From 500-1500The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Middle Ages: The British Isles From 500-1500 by Sherrilyn Kenyon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although the Middle Ages (roughly from the 5th to 15th century) is often dubbed as “The Dark Ages,” the epitaph coined by the thinkers of the Renaissance, this was the period when many important social institutions, such as universities, hospitals, marriage as a sacrament, and use of surnames, which have become norms of our society, were established. In this book, the author Sherrilyn Kenyon succeeds in closing the great divide of time and space between modern readers and the folks living in the medieval time by presenting general aspects of life in the medieval England ranging from food to medicine and so forth which are not so much outlandishly different from what we are familiar with in one way or another. This review of mine intends to provide the facts on the two of the necessities of the human life, which are food and clothing, plus medicine to share the fun of knowing them and of learning about the misty but not too distant past on an evolutionary clock.

Food
The folks in the Middles Ages were not usually voracious eaters; breakfast consisted of a loaf of bread and some wine for the nobility or ale for the peasantry, partaken of after a daily morning mass. Then between 10:00 AM and Noon, a dinner was served, and supper at the time of sunset was prepared. In the castle of a lord, during a supper time, a traveling minstrel (a wandering singer-songwriter) entertained the host of the castle and received food or coins in return. The most perplexing fact about the medieval table etiquette involves attitudes toward the dogs: food scraps were forbidden to be given out to the dog while the diners were at the table. It further prohibited tossing a morsel of food to the dogs even after the meal.

With respect to the kinds of food mostly available to the folks living in the middle ages, the following were some of the common staples of the nobility and the peasantry:

  • Sugar was a very valuable spice and expensive to import. It was during the 12th century sugar became a common ingredient in England, where sugar imported from Alexandria was regarded prime quality because it was flavored with roses and violets. In fact, England in the Middle Ages seemed to be quite actively engaged in commercial activities in comparison to Spain, France, and Italy as follows:
  • England’s exports: Fish, Cheese, and Ale. Its imports: Raisins, figs, dates, olive oil, wine, almonds, and rice.
    Spain’s exports: Sugar, preserved fruits, and syrups
    France’s exports: Wine
    Italy’ exports: Pies
  • The most common vegetables were onions, peas, beans, and cabbages. However, cucumbers and leeks were considered unhealthy. As for the kinds of fruit, most consumed were apples, plums, pears, peaches, and nuts. Citrus ones, such as oranges and lemons were not seen in England until the Crusades.
  • Speaking of the Crusade, it was said that the French crusaders’ garlic breath disgusted the people of Constantinople for the reason that garlic was used as a main spice to conceal the taste of spoiling meat. There are two other ways to preserve meat: (1) Dry salting by burying meat in salt; and (2) Brune curing by soaking it in a salt solution. However, in many times, the meat, which was a main staple of the noble and the wealthy, became perished, causing a variety of skin irritations, scurvy, tooth decay, and different types of infection.

Clothing
Despite the class differences, there was a little difference between the styles of clothing and the types of fabric worn by the nobility and the peasantry at least during the early middle ages due mostly to limited trade caused by poor travel conditions. Merchants and peddlers could not travel far with their carts and wagons as a result of such poor road conditions and a peril of highwaymen. So Nobles made their fashion statements with jewels as accessories for their garments. When the power of kings and nobles grew stronger, they also controlled the roads, decreasing the risk of robbery and violence. Consequently, this new social mobility led to an increase in trade, bringing a greater variety of fabrics and colors. Moreover, the term “Fashion Police” was originated from this period when this deputy of the nobility literally patrolled the streets and checked all to make sure they were wearing clothes appropriate to their social class.

Medicine
I was especially interested in this subject due to my recent urgent medical treatments. What was it like being a patient of painful ailment? Contrary to my previous beliefs of barbarian methods of curing the sick without anesthesia and other superstitious ways of treating common diseases, the medieval doctors were actually quite competent to heal the wounded with surprisingly inventive surgical tools and remedies that can be adopted to tend to the modern day patients. Also, Jewish doctors armed with the knowledge of Arabic and Greek were most highly esteemed and exclusively employed by kings, nobles, or wealthy merchants in their castles or manors. Also, many women were licensed to practice medicine equipped with knowledge of various remedies passed from their elders. Some of these women specialized in eye diseases.

The common types of ailments in the middles ages are as follows:

  • The most common diseases in the middles ages were dysentery, epilepsy, influenza, diphtheria, scurvy, typhoid, St. Vitus’ Dance, St. Anthony’s fire, stroke, heart disease, and leprosy. On the contrary, tuberculosis, cancer, alcoholism, and venereal diseases were rarely recorded despite the author’s thoroughly extensive research.
  • Also, doctors believed in the importance of preventive medicine, advising people to refrain from taking a nap because they followed the Greek belief that the body was made up of four humors that were sanguine, choler, phlegm, and melancholia and three spirits.
  • Interestingly, women gave birth in a sitting stance to allow gravity to streamline the delivery process. Moreover, anesthesia was used in surgeries in the form of a sponge soaked in the juice of opium, ivy, or lettuce and then dried in the sun. It’s re-soaked in water and held to the patient’s nose and mouth whenever it was needed.

Further to the notable medieval medical achievements as listed above, here are some interesting information on how the folks at the time tried to cure their physical weaknesses which I think might benefit us:

  • Acorn: A woman carrying it will have the eternal youth
    Amethyst: the possession of it will prevent you from falling into drunkenness
    Blackberry: If you eat it, it will relieve you of diarrhea
    Camphor: It wards off infections
    Cold: Drinking a warm cup of barley tea will cure you of cold,
    Coughs: A pint of vinegar with a quarter ounce of finely grounded licorice will stop you from coughing.
    Dandelion: A cup of dandelion tea acts as a laxative
    Peppermint: Its tea will relieve you of bloatedness and relieve you of gas.
    Rosemary: If you wash your hair in water full of rosemary, it will make your hair grow.
    Rosewater: Apply it to your inflamed eye for treatment.

To encapsulate, this easy-to-read book is a great guide to the ordinary customs of the middle ages that are compiled by the author’s diligently thorough research on the social/cultural aspects of the medieval England. In fact, as the title of this book presents, it will be also an excellent reference book for writers interested in creating stories set in this time period. Besides, the book shows readers that however arcane or backward the way of life in the medieval time may look to be in our modern standard, the medieval folks lived in what they imagined as “modern” time compared to the ancient Greek and Roman times. Therefore, we should cast away our fallacy of the human ego that makes us look back at the past and think we are better than they were. After all, the medieval was not altogether a grim and gloom dystopia ruled by religious didacticism and scientific ignorance.

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