Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl, by David Ebershoff, was Annika's pick for the BPYC book club, and we had such a large turn out, we separated the larger group into two for discussion.

A provocative and timely choice! The novel was first published in 2000 but is being released as a movie this weekend.

Although Einar/Lili is cast as the 'Danish girl' of the story, for me the Danish girl is the wife, Greta Wegener. Given American nationality in the novel, she was Danish in fact. Greta supported her husband throughout the transformation, even though it meant losing him. When Einar became Lili, he was provided a death certificate and Greta became a widow.

David Evershoff admits to having made so many assumptions that his story is now historical fiction, but it rings true.

Greta Wegener was an  illustrator and painter who dabbled in erotica.  Her husband, Einar Magnus Andreas Wegener was a successful landscape artist under that name, but became far better known as one of the first recipients of sex reassignment surgery in 1931.

Annika brought along a copy of Wegener's diary, Man Into Woman, which she had to order online from London because it is not yet available here. In that book, the photos of Einar/Lili show a very masculine looking person in feminine posture, whether dressed as a male or female. Definitely not the alluring female portrayed in the film.

At our table, we talked about the nature of the love between Einar and Gerda, how they both supported and exploited each other, and how the story from almost a century ago is enacting itself today. Not just in the movie, but in reality shows with Caitlin/Bruce Jenner and quiet neighbourhoods across the country.

Truth is stranger than fiction, and fiction often true.


A Polynesian foodie night, at High in the Sky, inspired in part by Dick and Maureen's cruise.

Hadn't seen Caroline since August in Waupoos, and Jim even longer than that - was it really last spring?

Maureen and Caroline greeted Rob and I playing their ukuleles, and soon afterward I was handed a Pina Colada that banished any thoughts of a dark November evening.

Hours before I had been in the grocery store asking a question I would not have imagined I would be asking a couple of weeks earlier:  "Where's the Spam?" But after I'd googled Hawaain side dishes, Spam turned up a lot in the list of ingredients, so I thought I'd try it. Other firsts were using toasted ramen noodles in a salad  (a great crunch), and making a popular but simple luau dessert with coconut milk.

Maureen and Caroline were also trying out new recipes with Polynesian flavours. I could almost hear the ocean waves.

Culinary adventures!

  • Appetizers: Oysters & Chevrette √† la vanille et coco (Tahitian Shrimp in Coconut-Vanilla Sauce) & Hawai'an Red Runa Poke (pronouned pokey)
  • Main: Polynesian Chicken, Spam Zucchini Patties and Crunchy Polynesian Salad
  • Dessert:  Haupia with grated lime, coco, and roasted coconut flakes

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Seeing What Others Don't

When I read Seeing What Others Don't, by Gary Klein I was hoping for a formula that could be used to help me consistently gain brilliant insights. Wouldn't that be nice?

Klein analyzed a few hundred instances where insights were gained, and along the way we were treated to the case studies:  ground-breaking discoveries in medicine, astronomy, and criminal investigations that started with an insight.

This was Nicolette's book club pick, which I began reading well ahead of the meeting. I started by sampling slowly and then sped-read through to the later chapters. A fascinating premise but unfortunately no reliable method I could use to become consistently brilliant.

Klein concedes there is no one path to gaining insights and models a Triple Path with a common trigger. A new anchor. "Coincidences and curiosities aren't insights in themselves; they start us on the path to identifying a new anchor that we connect to the other beliefs we hold... this shift isn't a minor adjustment... in all paths the anchors in the story after we make an insight are different from the ones we started with." (p. 106)

Napoleon dropped the assumption at Toulon that the French needed to overpower the British - they could threaten resupply lines and cause a retreat. Another example is Aron Ralston, who when trapped by a boulder gave up on saving his right arm and instead used leverage from the boulder to snap the bones and cut off his own arm to save his life. 


"Helping organizations gain more insights means breaking the tyranny of the down arrow in the performance equation. It means dialing back the War on Error. We'll need to restore a better balance between the errors, between trying to reduce errors and deviations on the one hand, and increasing insights on the other (see diagram)... If we think of the down arrow as the brake pedal, organizations need to stop pressing so hard." (p.207)  

"Organizations demonstrate willpower when they act on insights, particularly insights about their primary goals. An insight about a goal isn't abour being flexible and adapting plans in order to reach the original goal. It's about changing the goal itself." (p.217)

One of my favourite quotes comes early on, but Klein uses it as an example of an earlier, simplistic approach that appeals to "magical thinking." I like it anyway:

"happy ideas come unexpectedly without effort, like an inspiration. So far as I am concerned, they have never come to me when my mind was fatigued... they came readily during the slow ascent of wooded hills on a sunny day." 
- German physicist Hermann von Helmjholtz

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Full Frosty Moon - November

The Freedom of the Moon

Robert Frost

I've tried the new moon tilted in the air
Above a hazy tree-and-farmhouse cluster
As you might try a jewel in your hair.
I've tried it fine with little breadth of luster,
Alone, or in one ornament combining
With one first-water start almost shining.

I put it shining anywhere I please.
By walking slowly on some evening later,
I've pulled it from a crate of crooked trees,
And brought it over glossy water, greater,
And dropped it in, and seen the image wallow,
The color run, all sorts of wonder follow.

Thoughts in Night Quiet
Before my bed a pool of light –
Can it be hoar-frost on the ground?
Looking up, I find the moon bright;
Bowing, in homesickness I am drowned.
Li Bai (Li Po) 

(Tr. Xu Yuanchong, 1988 and 2001,
from "300 Gems of Classical Chinese Poetry") 

The moon is full November 25, 5:44 P.M.

Monday, November 23, 2015

McCall Smith, Auden, and generally good advice

Over the years like everybody else I’ve had advice from others on all sorts of topics – on how to live my life, on how to avoid food poisoning while travelling, on where to buy socks, and so on. I was once told by a friend that it is generally best in this life to be kind. “Just be kind,” he said. That sounds like very simple advice, but it is absolutely spot-on. And that friend, by the way, was – and is – very kind. So he practised what he preached. In the writing context, I remember being told by a friend of what he had learned at the feet of his ancient English teacher, one Mr. Robinson. “Never use two words where one will do,” Mr Robinson said. That is very sound advice – or, shall I say, sound advice. Alexander McCall Smith

McCall Smith also mentioned Auden's Collected Shorter Poems, and how he liked to listen to a recording of the poet reading In Memory of Sigmund Freud, his voice so wise and humane. So of course I had to hear for myself, and found myself in agreement. Here is  WH Auden reciting As I Walked Out One Evening.

The ending is beautiful:
‘O look, look in the mirror,
   O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
   Although you cannot bless.

‘O stand, stand at the window
   As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
   With your crooked heart.'

It was late, late in the evening,
   The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
   And the deep river ran on.