Author Archives: Stephanie Suh

About Stephanie Suh

I write stuff of my interest that does not interest anyone in my blog. No grammarians, no copy editors, no marketers, no cynics are welcomed.

two fellows – short story

So there he was. You could always find him there at the same time, at the same place regardless of a change of four seasons, like it was his duty to do. Looking over the fence smartly seated on a rock on one balmy afternoon, Toto was calm and steady. His big brown eyes full of yearnings and visions glanced at the dancing leaves on the quince tree outside the fence where there were only a few fruits left because Grandma, being of generous and affable nature, had given the well ripe ones to the neighbors. However, such intermittently displayed quinces surrounded by the abundant leaves appealed to Toto’s inquisitive eyes: the way the leaves swayed to the tune of the breeze was a part of the nature’s orchestra that stimulated all of his senses, which ultimately led him to the outburst of his exhilaration in long howling like a wolf pup in the wild.

Toto was a Jindo mix, aged 9 weeks or so. Toto came to Joe’s home on a cold winter afternoon a year ago with Pa who brought him in his jacket. He was a white puppy looking healthy but a bit apprehensive about the new surrounding. But mind you that there was no sign of fear in his eyes but intelligence. Joe named him Toto after a legendary dog that returned to his owner, an old woman who had given the dog to her nephew in a city miles away from her home in Jindo. So he wanted to have a dog whose faithfulness and loyalty would be equivalent of those of the legendary namesake. Joe wanted to keep his new puppy till the end of the world because he had lost Lana, a Samoyed mix puppy of 9 weeks old, to distemper 2 years ago. This time, Joe thought, would be the last time to let such thing happen to him and the dog. It was his new bound duty, a duty that suddenly appeared sacred and fateful to his destiny. Boy as he was, Joe was resolute in his new pledge to the life and protection of Toto as his guardian. Looking at Toto who was napping beside him on the rock by the quince tree, Joe could hear the whisper of the breeze that blessed his guardianship and fellowship of the human and the canine. What a nice afternoon it was to both the boy and the dog.

“Joe, can you come here quickly?” It was Joe’s sister Judy. She was 16 years old, 2 years senior to him. Judy also loved Toto and dogs, although her favorite breeds were Labs, Border Collies, Shiba Inus, and Bichon Frises. She had been secretly entertained having a Bichon Frise until Pa brought Toto home. She had a soft spot for this particular breed since she had read about a homeless elderly man who sailed through the tribulations with his Bichon Frise dog named Willow; the image of the small, curly haired dog with large soulful eyes in the arms of the man still lingered in her mind. But it’s not that she did not their Toto. Toto was their another sibling, the youngest brother whom Ma had lost by miscarriage 6 years ago. Judy’s love of Toto was not to be confused with anthropomorphism because she loved Toto the way he was, the way Toto was the closest natural wonder. He was Judy and Joe’s guide to the natural world like Virgil to Dante in his journey to Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. Through Toto, Judy and Joe could see the wonder of Nature in which all creatures existed and made the human existence all the more conspicuous by appreciating the pristine beauty which were to be beheld in the eyes of the innocent.

They say Providence; he says Chance

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That which they called Providence,
A divine scheme of God’s purposes,
Was the handiwork of Fair Fortune,
The ancient idea of lucky chances
Of adventures and misadventures,
Knocking the door of a poor man’s hut
With a pouch of lucky stars regardless
Of what the world saw for his worth,
Pacifying his ills of grief and grievances.

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The doctrine of providence that a man’s life was an intricate handiwork of God’s mysterious purposes was a tenet of Protestantism which, as a counter-cultural way of resisting medieval Catholicism, advocated zealous work ethics in an effort to combine a practical faith with an active self-reliance and independence. That riches and authority came of men’s industry and diligence, of their labor and travails, not of miracles as a result of mechanical recitations of prayers and devotions to saints was the canonical principle of the reformed church. However, the folks who were not well-off, not-too-rich, poor, and very poor never subscribed to the doctrine of providence. They still clang to the concept of luck because it accounted for any misfortune befalling them regardless of merits and efforts when others wayward seemed to prosper. By believing in luck or chance that reformists condemned, he who in travails did not have to jeopardize his self-esteem as something of a mental analgesic against the strains of his contemporary life, lest he should fall by the wayside, and thus could reconcile himself to the environment he lived. Hence this belief in luck survived the seismic protestant reformation and still thrives on in our time. 

A reader lives a thousand lives

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Seraphina Rabbite, the habitual reader, believes in the power of reading. It generates pleasure peculiar to the literary medium of communication, the magical realm of make-believe reality, the alchemy of imaginativeness and sensuousness, all in the artistry of the literary cunning folk called writers, casting spells on the readers to pass over to the minds of the creators and of the characters. She believes that writer and reader engage in a magical ritual of connectedness through vicarious experience in the moments of empathy, the epiphany of the Eureka moments when the third-dimensional wall between the writer and the reader tumbles down. That is why Sally thinks that all writers, professional and amateur, are in one way or another possessed of certain supernatural feats of spurring their restless spirits on writing.

That said, Sally has scribed the effects of reading in a form of her self-professed credo as follows:

  1. Reading is both entertainment and stimulation of mind.
  2. It is in their appeal and in their power to bestow pleasure, self-satisfaction and the joy of mental growth to readers.
  3. It takes readers from the humdrum existence, the rut of life, to stimulate the minds to fresh endeavor, to give them a new viewpoint upon existential problems, to enable them to get a fresh hold upon themselves.
  4. It intends to show the progress of the human race within the historical times as depicted in books.
  5. It is an active force toward the sound mental equipment of reading people.
  6. It takes readers out of the rut of life in the town they live and makes them citizens of the world.
  7. Readers understand the minds of the writers by passing over to the inner world of the writers.

Shakespeare said of reading thus: “This is true; there’s magic in the web of it.” If writing is akin to a literary witchcraft, reading is a voluntary intoxication of the witchery elixir in expectation of crossing over to the liminal zones, the in-between zones of our reality and imaginary world. The best summation on books and its effects comes from our contemporary Stephen King: “Books are a uniquely portable magic. You experience magic every time you read without knowing its influence on you. Go for it.

‘Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling’ by Ross King – review

Michelangelo and the Pope's CeilingMichelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After Pope Julius II saw the Pieta installed for the tomb of a French cardinal, he wanted the same awe-inspiring adornment for his tomb. Hence, Michelangelo Buonarroti from Florence was summoned for the work. That’s how Michelangelo at age thirty-three reluctantly embarked on his Herculean task of frescoing the vault of the Sistine Chapel. This book by Ross King recounts such background stories of the making of the Sistine Chapel frescoes and descriptions of the personal traits of Michelangelo.

Michelangelo’s work on the frescoes resulted from part Divine Providence of endowing the humanity with an awe-inspiring masterpiece of art to delight the senses of mankind throughout the ages, and part secular ambitions to mark the names of both the commissioner and the artist themselves. Pope Julius II also wanted to renovate the Sistine Chapel that had been used as a living quarter for the guards, a fortress against papal enemies, and a jail. As no one pours new wine into old wineskins as said in the bible, the pope’s plan to revert the chapel to its original place of worship, which made him drop his tomb project, was met by his idea of frescoing the vault in its entirety. Michelangelo, who was a breadwinner of his family, accepted the commission with good amount of salary and commenced four-year of labor of woes and dramas on the vault of the chapel.

There are revealing truths that should be known concerning the process of frescoing the Sistine Chapel as follows: Contrary to popular belief that Michelangelo did the work while lying prone on his back, he worked with his upper body bent backward like a bow. Also, it wasn’t done by Michelangelo alone but by a team of his assistants chosen by Francesco Granacci, a close friend of Michelangelo, even though he was innately a solitary worker who had a strong distrust of others who worked with him.

Michelangelo was said to be a man of  homely appearance without sociability in comparison with his contemporary and rival Raphael Santi whose beautiful look, even-tempered, and sweet character topped with artistic ingeniousness endeared him to the many. Also, Michelangelo’s direct altercation with Leonardo da Vinci as described in this book was amusing to discover. Both of the masters of the arts did not like each other publicly, but it was on the part of da Vinci who instigated such heated feud. He disregarded sculptors, including Michelangelo, as mechanics in the appearance of unkempt bakers.

It is also interesting to pay special notes on the figures Michelangelo used for the frescoes, which shows his ingenuity of selecting unique subject matters distinguished from his contemporaries. To illustrate, he used 7 prophets from the Old Testament and 5 sibyls from pagan myth to decorate the Sistine vaults. He was fascinated with prophetic knowledge of the sibyls who had dwelt in sacred shrines and predicted the future in fits of inspired madness. This offered a riveting link between the sacred and the profane, the church and the esoteric pagan culture by reconciling pagan mythology with orthodox Christian teachings.

Readers will find that the position of a painter/sculptor was not esteemed highly; he was more of a skilled laborer, a craftsman given exact orders how to produce his work by his commissioner or patron. In fact, he image of a solitary genius who would wield his brush and pallets to portray his world of imagination from the fathoms of his soul was a romantic fable. In Michelangelo’s time, an artist’s creativity was fettered by the demands of marketplace or his patron. Nevertheless, Michelangelo often disagreed to the pope’s own artistic direction and even had a temerity of broaching the shipping charges incurred in transporting the marbles from Carrara for the aborted tomb project at a dinner table with the pope .

All in all, this book has its magical way of transporting readers to Italy in the early 16th century and invites readers to meet with Michelangelo as he was without sprucing up his personal character. Upon reading this book, I avert that Michelangelo is an artist bizarre fantastico whose magnum opuses on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel have both the beauty and the sublime that produce in the spectator a kind of astonished wonder so formidable and so fantastic transcendent of time and place.

Ancient and Modern on Amore Fati

Hope is not all sweet-minded and sweet-eyed as imagined by armchair intellectuals and best-selling writers when we stumble into moments of existential vertigo in real life situations. Shakespeare knew a thing about the nature of hope as an analgesic to numb the strains of daily life thus: “The miserable have no other medicine but only hope.” So much so that his martyred predecessor Sir Thomas More, the patron saint of lawyers and statesmen, had already said, “A drowning man will clutch at a straw.” Even before these two benefactors of humanity, the humble ancient Greek farmer/poet Hesiod affirmed hope as a psychosomatic pain relief in the story of Pandora’s Box in which only hope was left to console crestfallen Pandora deprived of all special gifts from gods.

The didactic gist of this famed myth in his ‘Works and Days’ is that a belief in predetermination that we have no control over our life without hope is a delusion, a corollary of fatalism. It is a biological determinism, which must be vanquished, because according to his practical wisdom as a farmer, “Hope could come to fruition, since life pairs good with ill.” This wisdom is viable, since Hesiod as a farmer was a witness to resilient human spirit against unremitting soul. In this regard, Hesiod’s view on hope as an antidote to a malady of heart, giving a flickering force of life its meaning and a sense of purpose that will rekindle reason to continue living in the dark night of the soul relates to Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl’s Logotheraphy, based on an existential analysis focusing on will to meaning, meaning of life, with freedom of will. Frankl’s aphorism of “what is to give light must endure burning” must have struck the chords of Hesiod and even Thucydides, the Athenian political and military historian.

Thucydides saw hope as an illusory idea of vanity and flattery that weakened man’s will to combat the existential reality. He highlighted the way delusional aspects of hope that generate a kind of hubris with catastrophic aftercome. He saw desire and hope hunting together that led man to choose a divisory lot rather than a realistic approach to life in travail to right the ship in distress. To Thucydides, hope was nothing more than awareness of odds in our favor. That is, you don’t have to think about it,but can fight with every hope of winning. It’s a case of the less you think about, the more you achieve, which was also addressed by Frankl. We are destined to live purposefully and meaningfully as a result of responding genuinely to life’s challenges. And hope is a handmaid to a sense of purpose in life.

The ancient and modern are all united in Theory of Hope because it helps us look at our fate not at its face value but at its meaning. Hence the Latin phrase “Amore fati” chips in. We are challenged to change ourselves to continue living by choosing a right attitude toward life. Nietzsche sums it up brilliantly as thus: “Those who have a why to live can bear with almost any how.” And let us not forget what President Theodore Roosevelt advised us: “When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.”