A FROZEN ÍSLAND

So I did it! I went to Iceland for New Year’s.

Marilena got me into it — back in summer, she went on and got us tickets for Sigur Ros and one of their concerts in Harpa, Reykjavik’s fancy concert hall. How could I (and why would I want to) ever refuse?

Until the last minute, I was subconsciously trying to forget this was happening: part of me feared that thinking too hard about it would jinx the whole thing, as if being excited about something was enough to make the Universe consider whether it had thrown a few easy balls at me and if maybe it was time to throw me a trick one just to mix things up a bit.

The Universe spared me. We spent a couple of days in Stockholm, including Christmas and Christmas Eve,  (not really recommended in the holiday season) and stayed in Iceland for a whole week!

Here are some things that stood out for me from this dream trip.

The Northern Lights

I must have started dreaming of going to Iceland the minute I found out it was possible to see the Northern Lights from there. It’s quite possibly the wish that’s ended up in the most bucket lists in my life.

I knew one day I would take a picture of them.

And I did.

Heh. I wish! This is what I actually took:

I didn’t really see it properly; the terrestrial weather in Reykjavik was a crisp and clear -8 to -3 degress every day, but unfortunately, space weather was not favorable. The above picture was kind of a fluke, but we did catch a good 30-minute spell of auroras on the plane from Stockholm to Reykjavik. Watching it put me in a right trance…

What made the biggest impression on me about the Lights was how dlm they actually were. In photos they appear much brighter and vivid than how they actually manifest up in the sky (or it could be that they were just not very bright that night). This low brightness made them almost invisble through city lights, and much more ethereal and mystical — it was almost as if I was imagining them, at least until the next wave of purple blooming  out of the green bubbled up. Their movement reminded me of steam forming on the surface of black filter coffee, only more “linear” and abrupt.

It’s interesting to note that cameras are better suited to capture the colour spectrum of auroras than the human eye, thus it’s not very difficult to get an impressive picture of them if you’re properly prepared (and lucky enough).

Picture taken in the Aurora Centre at the Aurora Photography Simulation stand. It was a box inside of which there was this picture of the aurora that was lit very dimly and which required the same camera settings as the real aurora to take a good picture of: 20s (I used bulb) // f3.5 (minimum) // ISO 800 (my film was at 400)

I didn’t see them as much as I’d like to (can anyone ever have enough of them, I wonder?) and I’d be delighted if I could ever set my eyes upon them again!

Marilena at the Aurora Centre

Running 10K on New Year’s Eve

Every New Year’s Eve, Icelanders have a nice tradition of running 3 and 10k races where it’s popular to run in fancy dress! Although I didn’t have any especially weird costume to run in apart from my ordinary slightly mismatched winter apparel, that didn’t stop me from joining, no sir!

I did spot a wild Pikachu running (fleeing?), a bunch of Santa Clauses (of course), a guy wearing dwarf-shaped leggings that made him look as if he was being carried around rather than running himself (so clever), vikings, etc. I wonder if we have such a thing here in Greece. Wouldn’t surprise me if we didn’t — we like our sports, like so many things, rather dry and humourless.

My time was decent. I was determined to overtake the “ghost” runner with the blue balloon that marked the constant speed I needed to go at to finish at 55:00. I focused with what fatigue made feel like heroic concentration and, finally catching up the pace at the final 2km, managed to do so.

My official time was 55:15, but my ‘real’ time from start to finish, if you account for the laggy start, was around ~54:27. I got a medal, too: all participants could buy their memento/bragging rights at registration for 600ISK (5 euros) .

The beer cost more than the medal
Complete results

It was one of the hardest runs I’d ever done and/but I really enjoyed it! Sadly, I don’t know where I can go from here, if I’ll ever run a half-marathon or go beyond: unfortunately, my knee cartilages tend to complain a lot after I put them under such an unusually high amount of stress, and I’m wondering whether I might be focusing on something that will come back to bite me in the ass.

Still, looking at all the Icelanders with their costumes, kids and all the commotion and running with them somehow made me really content and was a happy way to close 2017. Not to mention: the pint of Gull after the run was especially tasty.

Tourists, Prices, Low-Budget Tips

 7 things Icelanders hate about tourism in Iceland

Iceland’s population is around 300,000. Last year, they got an estimated 2.3 million arrivals — that’s more than 7 times their population. By comparison, Greece only has an estimated 30 million each year — roughly just 3 times our population.

Reykjavik felt like a bit of an Iceland-themed Disneyland. I’m well-aware that I actually contributed to this by going there and eating some of their cod and lobsters (coughflexitariancough), but at least I feel as if I would never do any of the things pointed out in this list of stupid things tourists do — I want to think that counts for at least something as far respecting my hosts goes.

“So pure, wow”. Soft ‘n smelly Icelandic water is actually free to drink everywhere — unless you get it in an overpriced bottle…

This insane growth has brought prices up to mind-numbing heights. If travelling and spending time in Scandinavia (or Stockholm) was roughly twice as expensive as living in Athens, Reykjavik must have been up to three times as expensive or even more.

Beer roughly cost €9 / 1000kr. per 330ml glass in most places, and it was impossible to get lunch or dinner for less than 8€/900kr. (but that was a tasty vegetarian ramen soup at Noodle Station).

The cheapest, spiciest meal in Reykjavik was not even Icelandic. If you’re looking for something traditional, Sægreifann and its amazing lobster soup would do nicely.

Another example: Blue Lagoon is definitely one of Iceland’s most famous (and overpriced, but that’s a given by now) sights. It was almost dusk when we entered the warm water. The fog was so thick, we could see nothing but light blue everywhere around us. Truly magical. Still, what made the biggest impression on me was the high number of (mostly, though not by any means exclusively, Chinese) fellow tourists bringing their smartphone into the water to take selfies of themselves in the blue expanse to send to their friends back home.

I bet the pictures must have looked cool, but swimming around using just one arm because the other one was too busy filming their ego, was the very opposite, at least if you ask me.

To put it simply: now is not the time to visit Iceland (sorry, Marilena). Wait for the hype to die down a bit. Yes, the bubble will have burst by then and the centre of Reykjavik will be full of high-rise hotels, but at least it hopefully won’t be as ridiculously overpriced and crowded as it was in New Year’s ’18. I would still recommend making some granola bars to take with you like we did — it’s unlikely you’ll be able to find cheap, nutritious, vegan-friendly food in the country in the near future.

Super-easy, cheap, nutritious…. home-made cereal/tahini bars: the perfect travel snack! I apologise for the rather unappealing picture.

At any rate, I’d definitely recommend visiting Bike Cave — probably the only Spotted by Locals-worthy place we visited during the whole trip.

And here are some pictures and a short collection of clips I threw together:

The concert was amazing, by the way.

Giannis and Vanessa were our travel partners for most of the trip

MY SOUNDTRACK OF 2017

This is not necessarily limited to music that came out last year, far from it; it’s some of the songs that stuck with me the most during 2017.

“The best pop song ever written?”
It’s certainly up there.

Specifically, “Limpid” (around 13:20). Chinese shoegaze — its genre and country of origin are far from the only things this one’s got going for it.

“This is the song that played when the Universe began.”

The ‘things are getting seriously clever’ theme.

Hate the lyrics, didn’t like the movie after getting floored by Whiplash, but this song is just so damn catchy!

The song that got me super-excited about To The Bone.

They were better than Royksopp at Release Festival, and this track (and Bad Kingdom) were a big part of it for me.

That’s not to say that the Norwegian duo didn’t make a spectacular appearance.

One of my most persistent earworms ever. Only watch the video before travelling by plane if you’ve got the balls/ovaries for it.

2017: the year I listened to In Rainbows for the first time. Hey, 10 years later is better than never, right?

First thing I heard when I randomly popped the first LP I grabbed from the top of a stack from my mother’s rather vast collection. Probably the only song by ELO I really like.

This cover touches something really tender inside of me. It’s somehow childishly erotic, it brings back to me the kind of feelings I would keep for my kindergarden crushes (yes that’s plural).

I don’t know what this kind of music counts as (new electro dark folk?) but please sir, can I have some more?

Desertfest 2017, man. What a band, what an absolutely jawdroppin’ smooth ‘n crunchy song!

I saw Devin live in 2017, but my top 2017 Devin SOTY wasn’t part of the show at Fuzz…

What, you thought I’d only have a single Steven Wilson song on here? Quaint. An A-side, no less?

Was tied between this and the Stable theme for the most evocative Breath of the Wild musical moment.

Let it grow, let it grow… let it blossom, let it flow… This song is my mental talisman and reminder of everything I learned about myself and others as a co-trainer for Event Wise in Olde Vechte. It goes straight to the heart — or the emotional centre, if you’re one of those types that are being too literal with the concept of the heart (like me sometimes).

Marilena and I were there (not the same concert but the same set of concerts == we were there two days before this one, on the 28th). Around 23:30 is where the tears started free-flowing. There are very few bands, if any, that have such a ready access to my waterworks.

BOOK JLMOP // UNDERSTANDING THE ENNEAGRAM: THE PRACTICAL GUIDE TO PERSONALITY TYPES

Understanding the Enneagram: The Practical Guide to Personality Types

Understanding the Enneagram: The Practical Guide to Personality Types by Don Richard Riso
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Found this one last year in this shop when I was in Dublin. Having highlighted about half of it with that light blue colored pencil of mine, it took me about a year to “finish”… Reference book or no, I was really attracted to the way it expanded on some of the concepts first laid out in Personality Types.  I recommend reading that one first (or maybe even The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge by Beatrice Chestnut for a different school of thought) if you want to get into the Enneagram, and read this one for more models and, uh, experimental ways to use this tool for personal growth and helping others out.

The Enneagram is a valuable piece of social technology — it’s a tool that can help us understand others and ourselves that works. We need to spread the word!

View all my reviews

JLMOP // LEARN ANY LANGUAGE

Learn ANY Language: A Practical Guide to Learn Any Language to Any Level of Fluency

Learn ANY Language: A Practical Guide to Learn Any Language to Any Level of Fluency by Janina Klimas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

25/01/2018 EDIT: I’m adding in the summary of the book’s action steps in the words of the author:

The first step, is to review all of the action steps. They are compiled here for easy reference:

1. Throw away everything you ever thought you knew about learning languages. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to spend half your life trying to study a language. You don’t have to be Doctor/Professor/ Genius insert-your-last-name. You don’t have to have a million dollars, pounds, euros, yuan, yen or whatever, to attain these skills.

2. You don’t have to speak perfectly. You can make lots of mistakes and still be understood. You do have to have a willingness to understand how to learn languages and how to apply it, in order to meet your goals in your language.

3. On the matter of language learning in schools, please contact school districts and write your political leaders. In many school language programs, the traditional paradigm sets up students and teachers for failure. Unless people have the correct knowledge and materials to set up a program that assesses students all the way through, from beginning to advanced, and provides a long enough time sequence to be able to do so, languages in school are going to continue to not be a great experience for most people.

4. Be informed as you approach materials for the independent study of languages. I know I called out a few language programs but the truth is, I think any exposure you get is great. I also think a lot of the programs – particularly audiobook-type programs – are fantastic to learn useful words and phrases. You can listen if you’re going for a walk, cleaning the house or in the car. While they can be a useful way to pick up words and phrases, you need to be realistic. You need to be informed about how much input you will actually get, in order for them to be effective.

5. Decide what your idea of fluency is. What’s going to work for you? What’s going to work in your life? How much time do you have to dedicate to this endeavor? Do you want to go on a trip to Italy? In that case, maybe you can stay toward the upper bubbles. Do you want to move to China and fit in with the locals? Then you need to be way more advanced.

6. You need to decide where you want to be. After you’ve made those decisions, you need to learn about the amount of time it’s going to take to get to your goal, in your specific language. You also need to figure out how you’re going to get there with the time you have.

I was sent this book in digital format in exchange for an honest review. It took me more than a year to actually get down to it and finishing it. Sorry about that, JK.

What I enjoyed about this book was that it got me really motivated to actually communicate in different languages. The criticism on the different kinds of school systems sounded familiar, and the realisation that I’m not even communicating in my supposed mother tongues perfectly, let alone that I wasn’t born a native speaker in them and that I had to go through the long process of becoming one, did strike home. I loved how far she went to get across that no-one expects us to be perfect when we’re learning a foreign language, and that errors should be taken advantage of, not feared. “There is no failure, only feedback” truly is the golden rule here, as with anything.

I don’t believe this book is just for absolute beginners or people who haven’t ever learned foreign languages–I was able to get something out of it even with plenty of experience in languages. I see Learn ANY Language as more of a collection of resources and unique methods that can greatly expand your concept of what learning a language actually has to entail. I’ve been getting creative with learning or improving my working languages (mainly English, Spanish, German and to a lesser extent Bulgarian and Danish) for some time now by using podcasts, conversation exchange/tandem meetings, movies, video games, Memrise, Language Transfer incl. others, but Mrs. Klimas broadened my already airy horizons even more, and I’m thankful for it.

I also enjoyed learning about language skill assessment, the learning process and the practicalities of which parts of the traditional learning systems really work and which don’t, which is always a topic that fascinates me—just imagine how different things could really be…

Admittedly, I didn’t like some of the assumptions she made, e.g. that as a reader of the book I must be an L1 English speaker, for example, or that learners should spend some years working with specific structures before getting into more advanced ones, e.g. spending 1-2 years without being properly taught the past tenses or other ways to formulate the past in the given language. Judging by how much time people tend to devote to talking about the past, that sounds a bit counter-intuitive and an arbitrary limitation.

I also thought there were plenty of grammar errors and repetitions of advice and sentences throughout the book that cheapened the look and feel of the endeavour, especially on a topic such as language. But these are relatively small issues compared to the value that can be got out of this book, if one is only willing and motivated. If you are, this book will give you ideas and specific advice. If you’re not, it might help you get there.

Recommended for anyone interested in being a polyglot.

View all my reviews

ΞΥΠΝΗΣΤΕ ΡΕ!

Φίλε, ταλαιπωρούμαι από αϋπνία, μη μου λες να ξυπνήσω κι έχουμε άλλα…

Τι κοινό έχει ένας Ιεχωβάς, ένας αναρχικός, ένας φασίστας και ένας υποστηρικτής της «θεωρίας» της επίπεδης Γης;

Και οι τέσσερις καλούν τον κόσμο να ξυπνήσει. «Ξυπνήστε!», φωνάζουν, γράφουν και πληκτρολογούν.

Ποτέ δεν κατάλαβα αυτό το “wake up“. Wake up from what?

Τι κοινό έχει ένας Ιεχωβάς, ένας αναρχικός, ένας φασίστας και ένας υποστηρικτής της «θεωρίας» της επίπεδης Γης; Δεν μπορούν να συνυπάρξουν με έναν κόσμο που διαφωνεί μαζί τους. Καλούν όλους τους άλλους σε αφύπνιση, γιατί κάτι βαθιά μέσα τους τους λέει πως από τη στιγμή που δεν πιστεύουν όλοι το ίδιο, υπάρχει η πιθανότητα η ιδεολογία τους να μην είναι και τόσο αλάνθαστη.

Οι Ιεχωβάδες μας λένε να ξυπνήσουμε και να δούμε τι πραγματικά έχει σημασία στη ζωή – αρκεί κάπου στην πορεία να σταματήσουμε τις μεταγγίσεις αίματος και τις γιορτές γενεθλίων. Οι δισκογήινοι (δικός μου νεολογισμός γιατί πιστεύουν ότι η Γη είναι δίσκος) λένε ότι μας έχουν υπνωτίσει οι τηλεοράσεις και οι κυβερνήσεις και ότι η επιστήμη και όλος ο κόσμος βασικά κρύβει την αλήθεια. Οι φασίστες πιστεύουν κάτι αντίστοιχο, μόνο που αυτή η αλήθεια στη δική τους περίπτωση είναι ότι η δική τους χώρα και τα δικά τους γονίδια είναι τα καλυτερότερα που υπήρξαν ποτέ στην ιστορία του Σύμπαντος.

Οι αναρχικοί κι αυτοί πιστεύουν τα ίδια για κυβερνήσεις και τηλεοράσεις, αλλά μιλάνε και για την εκμετάλλευση του ανθρώπου από τον καπιταλισμό και τα αφεντικά (κάτι που κάνουν και οι πιο «ενημερωμένοι από τους φασίστες, αλλά ας μην περιπλέξουμε τα πράγματα περισσότερο). Σχετικά με τον αναρχισμό συγκεκριμένα: αν και σαν ιδεολογία τη συμπαθώ πολύ περισσότερο γιατί πιστεύω στις ίσες ευκαιρίες, στην αυτοδιαχείριση και στο ότι ένας άλλος κόσμος είναι όντως εφικτός, ξενερώνω όταν οι αναρχικοί καλούν σε επανάσταση. «Ξυπνήστε! Ξεσηκωθείτε!», έχουν φωνάξει πολλοί, αλλά ξεχνάνε κάτι πολύ σημαντικό: δεν θα ξυπνήσεις ποτέ κάποιον που κάνει ότι κοιμάται.

Ο αναρχικός νομίζει ότι ο κόσμος κοιμάται, ότι δεν έχει καταλάβει τι συμβαίνει, και ότι όλοι τον περίμεναν να τους πει να ξεσηκωθούν για να το κάνουν. Ο καπιταλισμός δεν θα υπήρχε χωρίς τους σκλάβους του, σαφώς, αλλά οι άνθρωποι που αυθεντικά ονειρεύονται έναν κόσμο στον οποίο όχι το τι αγοράζουν, αλλά το πώς φέρονται στους γύρω τους, θα καθορίζει την αξία τους στην κοινωνία, είναι στ’ αλήθεια μετρημένοι στα δάχτυλα του ενός… σε μια χούφτα δάχτυλα τέλος πάντων.

Σίγουρα, η πιθανότητα ότι ο κόσμος εκεί έξω που υποτίθεται κοιμάται, στην πραγματικότητα δεν είναι υπνωτισμένος αλλά επιτρέπει στο σύστημα να τον χρησιμοποιεί για να το χρησιμοποιεί κι εκείνος ως αντάλλαγμα και με απόλυτη συνείδηση ψηφίζει Trump ή Νέα Δημοκρατία ή ΣΥΡΙΖΑ ή δεν ψηφίζει ή κάνει οτιδήποτε άλλο κάνουν συνήθως οι άλλοι άνθρωποι, τα πρόβατα, είναι μια σκέψη δύσκολη και σίγουρα λιγότερο ελπιδοφόροα για όσους περιμένουν την επανάσταση… αλλά ίσως είναι και μια πιο ακριβής εικόνα του πώς σκέπτονται και δρουν τα ανθρώπινα όντα: απρόβλεπτα, ακατανόητα και με βάση πολύ, μα πάρα πολύ διαφορετικές έννοιες του κοινού συμφέροντος.

Εν πάσει περιπτώσει. Οι τέσσερεις κατηγορίες ανθρώπων που αναφέρω παραπάνω έχουν ένα κοινό στο πώς βλέπουν τον κόσμο. Τον βλέπουν χωρισμένο στα εξής δύο στρατόπεδα: εμείς οι ξύπνιοι κι εσείς που είστε τα πρόβατα ταγμένα με το σύστημα.

Δεν είναι φοβερό που για σχεδόν όλους εκεί έξω, με τον έναν ή με τον άλλον τρόπο, εμείς — εγώ κι εσύ — είμαστε με το σύστημα, ακόμα κι αν εμείς τοποθετούμαστε, ως είθισται, ενάντια στο σύστημα; Δεν έχει σημασία το τι κάνουμε, σημασία έχει ότι δεν είμαστε εκείνοι. Είναι άραγε τυχαίο μάλιστα ότι όσο πιο κοντά προσπαθούμε να φτάσουμε στην ιδεολογική καθαρότητα, βλέπε κινήματα όπως ο φεμινισμός ή ο βεγκανισμός, τόσο πιο ακραίες θέσεις είμαστε διατεθιμένοι να υποστηρίξουμε, και τόσο πιο εχθρικοί μπορούμε να γίνουμε σε ομόρροες αλλά λιγότερο αφυπνισμένες, κατ’ εμάς,  πεποιθήσεις; Αυτή η αντίσταση στην κοινή πορεία μου δείχνει ότι όσοι ζητούν τον αφυπνισμό των άλλων πολύ συχνά δεν θέλουν όντως παρέα για να αλλάξουν τον κόσμο, αλλά θέλουν να διαχωρίσουν τη θέση τους για να δει ο κόσμος πόσο ξεχωριστοί είναι.

Κάθε φορά που ακούω ή βλέπω κάποιον να μου λέει να ξυπνήσω, το μόνο που βλέπω είναι έναν άνθρωπο που αδυνατεί να χωρέσει στην αντίληψη την ύπαρξη άλλων κοσμοθεωριών. Οποιαδήποτε και να είναι η θέση του, με έχει χάσει με το καλημέρα. Ιδιαίτερα αν, για να δουλέψει η ιδεολογία του, θα πρέπει να ακολουθήσει τις επιταγές του «αν όλοι κάνανε αυτό ή ήταν έτσι, τότε μόνο θα λειτουργούσε ο κόσμος σωστα», αλλιώς: «αν όλοι ήταν σαν εμένα και είχαν τις ίδιες ανάγκες και όνειρα, ο κόσμος θα ήταν τέλειος!». Γιατί για καμιά ιδεολογία δεν ισχύει αυτό, και αν μάθαμε κάτι από τον Δαρβίνο, κι ας μη συμφωνώ με όλα όσα του αποδίδονται, αυτό είναι ότι η ποικιλομορφία είναι η ίδια η ζωή.

Έχω κάτι άλλο να προτείνω, επειδή σε όλους μας αρέσει να λέμε ο ένας στον άλλον να ξυπνήσουμε: όταν ακούμε «ξυπνα!» ή κάτι παρόμοιο, θα παριστάνουμε απλά ότι όλοι προσπαθούν να μας θυμήσουν ότι είμαστε ζωντανοί, είμαστε εδώ σε αυτόν τον μονάκριβο πλανήτη, και ότι δεν έχουμε έρθει να πείσουμε κανέναν ότι εμείς είμαστε γαμάτοι κι ότι εκείνοι κοιμούνται. Ότι σημασία έχει το τώρα, όχι το αύριο και το χτες. Ότι η ζωή είναι μικρή, και όλοι μας θα πεθάνουμε μια μέρα, οπότε το μόνο που έχουμε να κάνουμε είναι να ζήσουμε αυθεντικά και να διακρίνουμε τι θέλουμε από τη ζωή για να ζήσουμε γεμάτα. Αγκαλιάζοντας τους φόβους μας, αποδέχοντας τον αναπόφευκτο πόνο (αλλά την μη-αναπόφευκτη οδύνη), αγκαλιάζοντας το πόσο λίγα ξέρουμε και πόσα λίγα θα έχουμε μάθει μέχρι να μας πάρει ο άνεμος, εκτιμώντας τις σχέσεις μας για αυτό που είναι: πολύτιμες και εύθραυστες.

Αλλά αυτό δεν είναι παρά μια πρόσκληση. Εσείς μόνο ξέρετε ποιο είναι το όνειρο στο οποίο προσπαθείτε να ξαναμπείτε κάνοντας ότι κοιμάστε, και σίγουρα, ο ύπνος είναι υγεία. Η ζωή, πάντως, σας περιμένει–το ίδιο και ο θάνατος.

Καλά ξυπνητούρια!


Πριν λίγες μέρες διάβασα αυτό στο Reddit το οποίο με γέμισε έμπνευση. Είναι κάπως σχετικό και ίσως σας αφήσει με παρόμοιες συνειδητοποιήσεις. Διαβάζοντας το έμεινα με μπόλικα αποθέματα πίστης στο καλό που βρίσκεται μέσα σε όλους μας. Πάντα χρειάζομαι λίγο σπρώξιμο για να φέρομαι στους άλλους σαν αυτά τα αποθέματα να είναι όντως εκεί. To θέμα ήταν What’s the story about the person you once met in a day and you never saw again, but marked you for the rest of your life?

One time I was working at a liquor store in a college town. This middle aged guy comes in, and he’s already in the middle of a soliloquy about how insane and messed up the world is. He seems sober to me, oddly enough, but he’s talking aloud to himself, or kinda to me, it was hard to be sure. I saw a lot of loonies when I worked at that store, and this guy wasn’t like that. Seemed like a totally normal guy to me, not crazy, not on drugs, just going through something, I guess. So he goes and grabs a six pack, brings it up to the register, and he’s still going on this rant about how people are starving in third world countries, and corporations control our lives, and our politicians are corrupt, and we’re all stupid and ignorant, and then he pauses, and just looks at me and says, “And yet, what IS there to do, but become an advocate?”

That was the end of the speech. I’ve never been totally sure what he meant, or how he intended me to take his words, but here’s how I’ve chosen to interpret them: the world is fucked up. Literally every about it is wrong. But what are you gonna do? NOT live in it? There’s no use in complaining about all the shit that goes down. None of it is new. Things have always been this way, and they likely always will be. The specifics will change, but the big picture won’t. And maybe THIS is as good as it gets. So what IS there to do, except endorse the whole rotten mess, and try to do whatever good you can? We’re humans, this is us, and as bad as we are, we’re not so bad after all.

I’m sure most of you won’t agree, but this thought has kept me sane and calm through the last 15 years of history. I used to have more of that activist spirit, but through all my protesting and so-called “direct action” I only made one lasting change: I was angry all the time. Sure, there were little victories along the way: that homeless guy got a good meal, this tree stood for an extra day before they cut it down. But the only big picture change was in me. Eventually, I realized what Edward Norton’s character in American History X realized: nothing I did had made life better for me or anyone I cared about. So I shifted my focus. I try to do good for the people in my life. I try to be the best husband and dad I can be, and live according to my principles. And when the opportunity arises to do more, I do it. But I let the rest of it roll off my back, because even if I spent every minute of every day living for some cause or other, I’d mostly just be missing out on my own life.

JLMOP // A GAME OF THRONES

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A review for A Game of Thrones. Boy oh boy.

The world of fantasy feels so different now from what it must have looked like back in 1996, before even Lord of the Rings, the film that launched high fantasy of this variety into the wider public consciousness, had entered pre-production. Compare who gets to read this now with this book’s conceivable target audience back in the day. It’s a completely different world.

20 years later, fantasy of all sorts is mainstream, especially Game of Thrones the series. But has the game-changing success of the HBO blockbuster altered the way we should look at the original book’s standalone value?

I’ve got to be honest with you: I only read the book because of the show. Season 7 got me all hyped again come July, and after I was a couple of episodes in and I’d started itching to learn more about the characters I’ve been following for so many years again, I decided to take the plunge and make the commitment.

For make no mistake, this one’s long. Taking my sweet, sweet time, it took me 3+ months to go through its 780 pages of tinyish print. Assuming that each page took me about 1.5–2 minutes to read (including going through passages more than once to make sure I understood, or to reread for pleasure, which I’m happy to say happened quite a lot), that would make us… 20–25 hours at least? Shit — I just realised that I’m now counting hours with books, too; I thought I reserved this stressful habit for games and series only.

I’ll be honest with you again: I’m glad this book was made into a series and I got to watch it before reading the book. Mr Martin’s style is rich and flowery, but while reading it I sometimes thought, especially with some of his detailed descriptions of places (using obscure medieval masonry lingo) that he could have used a more eager editor. Just like with Lord of the Rings, it seems to me that it takes a certain kind of focused, detail-oriented person, the same kind who reads his/her favourite books again and again instead of looking for new books to discover, to truly enjoy these long-winding epics on the first go.

Thus, it definitely helped that I was already familiar with the characters before jumping in; I enjoyed reading more details about their backstories and fleshing out the space Westeros inhabits in my head, but the stories on their own I don’t think would be sufficiently interesting to capture my imagination had I gone in a complete ASoIaF virgin. I can clearly picture myself picking this book up blind, attempting to penetrate its world, and failing miserably.

That would have been a shame indeed because one of the series strongest points is its characters. They have clear, believable motives which are never easy to pinpoint as ‘bad’ or ‘good’. Reading about them in much greater detail made me feel as if those people and their families had actually existed a long time ago, in a feudal society far far away.

On the other hand, I did find some of the differences between the book and the show jarring, e.g. how much younger everyone was (Ned & Catelyn in their mid-30s, Robb 14, Sansa 11, Arya 9—children really did mature quickly back in the day!), or how different some characters looked compared to their counterparts on the show: e.g. Arya and her “horseface”, the bald, ugly Jorah or the bald, whiskered Tywin.

I also found that some of Martin’s descriptions of clothes, appearance, hairdos etc. were random and a bit all over the place and not as
majestic and authentic-looking as they were in the show (even though Martin says it was a conscious decision and I can see where he’s coming from and now I feel a little bad for badmouthing him for it!)

One thing I liked in the book a lot that would have been pretty difficult to successfully transfer from it to the show (I mean, if they could do it, I’d be totally for it) was the structure. The storytelling went from one character’s perspective to another (e.g. from Arya’s to Jon’s etc), with always some ‘off-screen’ time passing from one chapter to the next. This often allowed for the undisclosed resolution of one chapter’s cliffhanger to be the unspoken backdrop of the next, something which made reading much more engaging and suspenseful.

That said, one of the reasons I’m happy GoT was made into a show and not a movie series is that in the HBO show they managed to follow the original plot and scene progression so well, though I would have still liked to see Tyrion climbing the Eyrie, or Clegane walk Sansa to her chambers after the tournament banquet (this scene was apparently used to cast Rory McCann for his role as Sandor Clegane, pity it didn’t make it into the show’s script intact and Sansa hears about the Hound’s backstory from Littlefinger).

All in all, I quite enjoyed A Game of Thrones. Yet, I can’t give it five stars, and this is the elephant in the room of a question that’s been bothering me: is there a point after which a book of fiction or a fantasy series just ends up being too long? Do we all have some kind of personal threshold? I know A Song of Ice and Fire isn’t even the worst case of an XL series of XXL books (something-something-Wheel of Time—I’m too scared to touch them, honestly), but seriously: the prospect of reading another huge book like that, and then another, and another, and another, and another, and then yet another, especially since I already know what’s going to happen, feels two parts exciting and five parts “hey don’t mind me, I’m just gonna be picking up that Murakami, Bill Bryson and Graham Hancock at some point, k?”

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that with the show and the series and all those infinite other TV and fantasy series out there, in a world that’s so darn interesting by itself and with so many exciting or actionable things happening around us, we just might be spending a bit too much of our life watching, reading, discussing and worrying about imaginary kingdoms, imaginary dragons, fictional incest and fascinating ultraviolence. It all feels like a giant distraction, a never-ending circus.

I’m not saying that you or anyone else shouldn’t be reading fantasy or fiction, not at all—evidently, I’m not impartial to it either. What I’m saying is that I’m not sure I should be spending my limited book-reading time with books like it. I’d compare it with the hip burgers at restaurants like Hot Hot or Μπαρ Μπεε Κιου (Bar Baaah Cue) in Athens and others like them in almost every wealthy city around the world: they are expertly made, hip, trendy, absolutely huge, do well on Instagram and are tasty as hell. But they’re still made of brutally grown meat, and, at the very end of the day, against all appearances… they’re still junk food.

Burgers and Game of Thrones – the 21st-century panem et circenses?

Just for argument’s sake, another comparison: Book 1, 1996 and Season 7, 2017. Taking both of them into account and the apparent incapability of this series’ writer to give it a proper ending (what has led us to where we are now), would you be able to say what this white hot mess is ultimately all about?

I’m fully aware that stories and (adult) fairytales are some of the cornerstones of our humanity. But what about the content of these stories? What role does it play, if any? Are all distractions, entertainment and/or myths created equal?

My reluctant answer would have to be no.

PS: If you’re interested in some worthwhile, engaging, slightly pretentious criticism of A Game of Thrones, check out this top Goodreads review and the related discussion that caught my attention, written before the HBO series was a thing. The reviewer’s list of books that in his opinion ‘are really radical and surprising, unlike aGoT which was entirely predictable despite claims’, might also be worth a couple of looks into.

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Ο ΚΛΑΡΙΝΟΒΙΟΣ ΤΑΞΙΤΖΗΣ

Πριν λίγες εβδομάδες, ήμουν με το ποδήλατο μου, κάνοντας τη συνηθισμένη μου διαδρομή Καλλιθέα – Νέα Σμύρνη.

Ήμουν στο σημείο που είναι το φανάρι για να στρίψεις είτε δεξιά για Συγγρού, να πας ευθεία κάτω από τη Συγγρού ή να πας αριστερά προς το αστυνομικό τμήμα. Ξεκαβαλίκεψα το ποδήλατο δίπλα στο άγαλμα του Χρυσόστομου Σμύρνης, εκεί που τώρα είναι συντριβάνια που σχεδίασε κάποιος που βάζω στοίχημα ότι ήταν φαν του μπουγελώματος μικρός.

Εκεί πιο δίπλα ήταν σταματημένο ένα ταξί. Δεν είχε αλάρμ. Ο ταξιτζής είχε ανεβασμένο το παράθυρο του οδηγού. Δεν θυμάμαι την εμφάνιση του, μόνο ότι τα μαλλιά του γκριζάριζαν, ότι μπορεί να είχε μουστάκι, ότι στο στόμα του είχε ένα κλαρινέτο και ότι τα δάχτυλα του έπαιζαν μια μελωδία η οποία πνιγόταν από τον ήχο των συντριβανιών, της κίνησης και του ανεβασμένου παραθύρου.

Καθώς είχα ξεκαβαλικέψει, πρόλαβε να δει τη ματιά μου και το βάδισμα μου που σιγοστάθηκαν πάνω του. Με κοίταξε όσο χρειαζόταν για να επιβεβαιώσει ότι ήταν ο στόχος μιας φιλοπερίεργης ματιάς και κατέβασε το κλαρινέτο από το στόμα του. Μου χαμογέλασε μόνο με τα μάγουλα του, χωρίς τα μάτια του. Αμήχανα. Ένοχα.

Κοίταξα μπροστά μου κι έφυγα γρήγορα, θέλοντας κι εγώ να ξεφύγω από αυτή τη μικροσκοπική, στιγμιαία δίνη ντροπής που είχε δημιουργηθεί γύρω μας.

Αν μπορούσα να γυρίσω τον χρόνο πίσω, κι αν υποθέσω ότι η ισχυρή δύναμη της χρονοκαπηλείας θα μου έδινε και την ακόμα ισχυρότερη υπερδύναμη να μπορώ να είμαι ο ιδανικός αυθεντικός μου εαυτός σε κάθε περίσταση, θα σταμάταγα, θα ανταπέδιδα το χαμόγελο και θα του έκανα νεύμα να συνεχίσει.

Αν μπορούσα να είμαι κάποιος διαφορετικός αυθεντικός εαυτός με άλλα χρώματα, θα του χτύπαγα το παράθυρο και θα του έλεγα:

«Γιατί σταματήσατε; Παίξτε! Γιατί σταματήσατε; Γιατί ντρέπεστε; Αυτή τη στιγμή κάνετε κάτι ιερό: ζείτε το τώρα. Αφήνετε την αυθεντική σας δημιουργική πλευρά να εκφραστεί. Αφήνετε το αποτύπωμα σας στην πραγματικότητα. Εκπέμπετε χαρά, δεν κλείνετε το διακόπτη στη ζωή, δεν σκοτώνετε τον εαυτό σας για να χώρεσετε όπως-όπως στο καλωπισμένο και φτιαγμένο με καλογυαλισμένο πανάκριβο ξύλο φέρετρο της οργανωμένης κοινωνίας και της συλλογικής συνείδησης. Μην σταματάτε για εμένα – ποιος είμαι εγώ; Αν ενοχληθώ, μπορώ αισίως να πάω να γαμηθώ. Γιατί να σας ενδιαφέρει η γνώμη κάποιου που βρίσκει ενοχλητική τη θέα ενός ταξιτζή που παίζει κλαρινέτο μυστικά;

«Εντάξει, το ξέρω, έχω κι εγώ πράγματα για τα οποία ντρέπομαι, κάποιες πτυχές του εαυτού μου υπό διαφορετικές συνθήκες θα έλεγα ότι κρύβω επιμελώς, αλλά στην πραγματικότητα είναι τέτοια η ντροπή που το κρύψιμο είναι σχεδόν τελείως ασυνείδητο: σαν ένα μόνιμο ρούφηγμα κοιλιάς.

«Μακάρι όμως να ήμουν αρκετά σοφός ώστε να μπορώ να δω ότι τα πιο πολλά πράγματα για τα οποία ντρέπομαι είναι αυτά τα οποία που μου δίνουν την περισσότερη χαρά. Και αυτά τα κομμάτια του εαυτού μου που μοιράζονται αυτή τη χαρά με τον κόσμο; Ε, αυτά είναι και αυτά για τα οποία ντρέπομαι περισσότερο. Σαν να επιμένω να ρουφάω την κοιλιά μου ακόμα και όταν είμαι ομιλητής στο Διεθνές Συνέδριο Απελευθέρωσης του Σώματος, και στο ακροατήριο όλοι περιμένουν να τους δώσω το έναυσμα, την έμπνευση για να σταματήσουν να ρουφάνε την κοιλιά τους και να νιώσουν την χαλάρωση που κλέβουν από τον εαυτό τους. Δεν είναι θλιβερό;

«Γι’ αυτό, σας παρακαλώ, συνεχίστε. Γιατί ένας κόσμος με έναν κλαρινόβιο ταξιτζή είναι ομορφότερος από έναν χωρίς τον κλαρινόβιο ταξιτζή.»

JLMOP // ΤΟ ΧΑΜΕΝΟ ΝΗΣΙ

Το χαμένο νησί

Το χαμένο νησί by M. Karagatsis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ευχαριστώ τη Μαριλένα που μου δάνεισε Το χαμένο νησί. Ήταν η πρώτη μου επαφή με τον Καραγάτση.

Περισσότερο απόλαυσα τις πιο πεζές αφηγηματικές στιγμές του βιβλίου, οι οποίες από μόνες τους είχαν κάτι το αλλόκοτο, και λιγότερο τις μερικές φορές ντελιριακές (αν και ενδιαφέρουσες λογοτεχνικά) εσωτερικές αναζητήσεις του πρωταγωνιστή. Κι αυτό γιατί, παρ’ ότι βρήκα τον αντι-ηρωικό του ρόλο και το ότι εξέφραζε την εσωτερική Σκιά που λίγοι μας δείχνουμε αρκετά ελκυστικό, περισσότερο με μάγεψε το πόσο παράξενη και γλυκιά κόλαση ήταν η Τήλος και οι κάτοικοι της. Οι σκέψεις, τα κίνητρα και τα συναισθήματα του Γερόλυμου ήταν δευτερεύουσας σημασίας και μερικές φορές μου αποσπούσαν την προσοχή από αυτό για το οποίο ήθελα να μάθω κατιτίς παραπάνω.

Έχοντας ακούσει ότι αυτό είναι το πιο φανταστικοστραφές και φευγαλέο βιβλίο του Καραγάτση, έχω περιέργεια να διαβάσω κάποια στιγμή και άλλα του, ξεκινώντας από τη Μεγάλη Χίμαιρα ή Το 10.

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JLMOP // THE GIFTS OF IMPERFECTION

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First approach: Once again, my review could just be delicious quotes taken straight from this little gem — it’d be easy, straightforward, powerful and much better than anything I could write myself, probably. I just might come back at some point and add some of them.

I’m not giving it 5 stars because I thought the layout and ‘guideposts’ idea was kind of messy and didn’t lend itself to a single, strong point, to the extent I’m not sure what the book was about. I felt the title was misleading in this respect (it’s not exactly about imperfection), and was a bit all over the place. But I’m the kind of person who can live and enjoy going all over the place. Let’s just say it wasn’t as memorable as it could have been?

I’ll check my Kindle notes and come back.

25/01/2018 EDIT: I can’t believe it. I stuck to my word. Go me!

My emphasis.

“Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help.

“One of the biggest surprises in this research was learning that fitting in and belonging are not the same thing, and, in fact, fitting in gets in the way of belonging. Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.

“Shame Resilience 101 Here are the first three things that you need to know about shame: We all have it. Shame is universal and one of the most primitive human emotions that we experience. The only people who don’t experience shame lack the capacity for empathy and human connection. We’re all afraid to talk about shame. The less we talk about shame, the more control it has over our lives. Shame is basically the fear of being unlovable—it’s the total opposite of owning our story and feeling worthy. In fact, the definition of shame that I developed from my research is: Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.1″

It’s not so much the act of authenticity that challenges the status quo—I think of it as the audacity of authenticity. Most of us have shame triggers around being perceived as self-indulgent or self-focused. We don’t want our authenticity to be perceived as selfish or narcissistic. When I first started mindfully practicing authenticity and worthiness, I felt like every day was a walk through a gauntlet of gremlins. Their voices can be loud and unrelenting.”

“’Who do you think you are to put your thoughts/art/ideas/ beliefs/writing out in the world?’”

“Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal. Additionally, perfectionism is more about perception—we want to be perceived as perfect.

“Get Deliberate: A good friend of mine heard this wonderful intention-setting reminder during a Twelve Step meeting. I love it! It’s called the vowel check: AEIOUY. A = Have I been Abstinent today? (However you define that—I find it a little more challenging when it comes to things like food, work, and the computer.) E = Have I Exercised today? I = What have I done for myself today? O = What have I done for Others today? U = Am I holding on to Unexpressed emotions today? Y = Yeah! What is something good that’s happened today?”

“Without exception, every person I interviewed who described living a joyful life or who described themselves as joyful, actively practiced gratitude and attributed their joyfulness to their gratitude practice. Both joy and gratitude were described as spiritual practices that were bound to a belief in human interconnectedness and a power greater than us. People were quick to point out the differences between happiness and joy as the difference between a human emotion that’s connected to circumstances and a spiritual way of engaging with the world that’s connected to practicing gratitude.”

“When I’m really scared or unsure, I need something right away to calm my cravings for certainty. For me, the Serenity Prayer does the trick. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen!

“The Hopi Indians have a saying, ‘To watch us dance is to hear our hearts speak.’ I know how much courage it takes to let people hear our hearts speak, but life is way too precious to spend it pretending like we’re super-cool and totally in control when we could be laughing, singing, and dancing.

“Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It’s about cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.

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JLMOP // THE PRESENT

The Present

The Present by Michael Smith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Divine love = attention + compassion.

This little e-book is supposed to be telling the ‘truth’, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It kept hammering on that what I was holding in my hands (or listening to an artificial voice narrating through my earbuds) was humanity’s quintessential distilled wisdom and what we would need to take our 600 million (sic) years of evolution to the next level. Only this way were we to leave the animal mind behind and become spiritual beings!

What I think I got from The Present:

-when we die we re-incarnate as the closest member of our bloodline.
-if we’ve been given the truth in our lifetime and we squander it by not paying attention, be go back to being cyanobacteria in the Marianna Trench eating sulfates from underwater geysers thousands of meters below the surface of the ocean and then we have to evolve all over again from the beginning.
-everything is balanced. If you’re rich, beautiful and lucky in this life, you’re going to be unattractive, poor and and born a cripple in the next. Why? Because… physics and the law of action and reaction! It only makes sense that whatever’s true for particles, celestial bodies and energy should hold for immaterial spirits that re-incarnate and defy every single law of physics as we know them today. Apart from quantum mechanics of course! 😉
-the Beatles were prophets and if you listen to their music with an open heart you can also learn the truth from there.
-heaven is just a techno-utopia.
-40,000 years ago, Homo Sapiens didn’t know how to light a fire. Wait, what?! This is so wrong, I don’t know where to start. As if this wasn’t a hot mess already!

OK, enough cherry-picking. For a book that tries to drive the point that it holds the ultimate truth, it sure mixes up its science, its rational thinking and its talking out of its behind. The writer couldn’t decide if he was going to be a prophet and just be a channeler to the divine or if he was just going to be looking at the facts. No, don’t you go all rational high and mighty on me and then in the next sentence start talking about re-incarnation as if it’s self-evident.

Sigh… it had some good points, some honestly well-put concepts, and the message that the present is all we have, as well as the first sentence I’ve quoted at the top of the review, is a spiritual takeaway as great as any. But I can’t take any book that in all honesty tells you that you should only read it and no others for the rest of your life seriously.

This is like Conversations with God gone wrong. Check it out if you want to see some good material squandered by pompous and misguided writing.

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