Posts Tagged ‘ Philosophy ’

Verity

“Spend your money on the things money can buy. Spend your time on the things money can’t buy.”  ~ Haruki Murakami, “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

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Mentors

In bookstores, I pick up books at random and flip them open to see what phrases move me.  A copy of Damn Good Advice (For People with Talent!):  How To Unleash Your Creative Potential by George Lois recently caught my eye.  Lois bills himself as “America’s Master Communicator”.  I was curious yet skeptical.  However, he had me at bon mot 113.  “Extoll your Mentors.”  This post is dedicated to three of my mentors:  Bob Lank, Sandy Thornton-Trump, and Ron Vermette.

In the past four months, I have:  quit a job; traveled with Scott to Italy, Germany, and France; renewed many friendships; visited Mama Chow in Canada; started a new job; and helped Scott move to Berkeley, where he will be working for the coming year.  A major catalyst for this frenetic cycle of good fortune is my mentor, Bob Lank.  When I lacked the confidence to leave my job for the unknown, Bob advised me to take a leap of faith.  He declared, “Helsa, this year is going to be about betting on yourself.”  I heeded his counsel and traveled to Venice, where Scott was attending a conference; I took this photo of the Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco as Scott and I walked to Harry’s Bar for dinner one evening.  Bob was assigned to be my mentor during my second year of business school.  Over the years, Bob has coached me through several professional and personal transitions.  He has become my confidante and my friend.  He and his wife were guests at our Chinese wedding banquet; Scott and I have been guests at their Sunday dinners.  Now that we live 2,200 miles (3,500 km) apart, it’s difficult for us to meet for dinner but Bob always has a few words of wisdom for me each time I contemplate a job offer or move to a new city.

Sandy Thornton-Trump was a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at my alma mater.  I don’t remember how we met.  I do remember the hours we spent talking in his office as I transcribed his lectures on Automotive Design, typed his correspondence, and tidied his desk.  He was visually impaired, so he needed an extra set of eyes to stay organized at work.  Even though he was blind, he could see that I felt a bit lost at the time.  He was generous with his sympathy.  Before and after I graduated from engineering school, we would meet for lunch at the Faculty Club to gossip and puzzle over the small intrigues of our lives.  We shared sorrow and joy:  he and his wife helped me to cope with my father’s death; I had the pleasure of meeting their little grandson; they vetted and approved of Scott.  The final time I saw Sandy was soon after my honeymoon.  Scott’s parents had hosted a reception on their farm to celebrate our marriage but Sandy and his wife had declined to attend.  I paid Sandy a visit and sadly found him in ill-health.  He passed away three months after our visit.

Ron Vermette was my teacher in Grade 3.  Mr. V made learning fun for me.  More importantly, he proved that it’s possible to do great work and remain true to oneself:  his long hair, Chuck Taylors, Winnipeg Jets jersey, convertible, and proficiency at air guitar were incidental to his talent for opening minds to new ideas.  He shook up my eight-year-old reverence for orthodoxy and for that I remain grateful.  He taught me how to tie-dye fabric, tool copper, and mold plaster of Paris.  I still enjoy getting my hands dirty to learn something new.  He used to print math exercises on top of cartoon characters, so that his students could colour in the cartoons as they learned to add and subtract.  I still have a collection of booklets that I wrote and illustrated in his class – he had taught me how to sew the pages together.  A couple of years ago, I wrote Mr. V and asked him if he had continued to play floor hockey, build reading caves, and make art with his students.  He responded to my note and I was happy to learn that after 33 years of teaching, he was still having fun.  He still plays floor hockey once a week and he still has a reading cave in his classroom.  He still has long hair but has “traded in the hot car for a Jeep“.  Mr. V plans to retire next year.  Before he retires, I will send him another note.

“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” ~ Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

Steve Jobs died today.  Many people will remember Steve Jobs for how he revolutionized the way we create, convey, and consume cultural content.  As much as I admire his professional accomplishments, I will remember him most for his front yard:  I took this snapshot of poppies growing in his front yard when I walked past his house for the first time in June 2009 with my German friend Manuela.  At the time, we didn’t know that the property belonged to him and his family.  All I knew for certain was that a subversive with excellent taste lived there – someone who dared to forgo a manicured lawn in favour of a wildly whimsical field of poppies.  Someone who dared to stay hungry and stay foolish.

Verity

“Love is better than anger.  Hope is better than fear.  Optimism is better than despair.  So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.  And we’ll change the world.” ~ Jack Layton, 1950-2011

The Snail, The Rosebush, and The Mummy on Mother’s Day

I took this picture of a snail nestled inside a rose at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana on Mother’s Day.  Ethan, Zarene, and I had just spent the afternoon at the Museum’s “Secrets of the Silk Road” exhibit, where Caucasian mummies which had been buried in the Tarin Basin of western China for the past 3,800 years were on display.  One of the mummies we saw is valued for her great beauty.  Archaeologists have crowned her “The Beauty of Xiaohe“.         

When I was a little kid, my dad gave me a large hardcover edition of Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales.  In “The Snail and The Rosebush“, a snail and rose challenge each other about their respective roles in the universe.  The snail fancies himself a philosopher:  he criticizes the rose for coasting through life on her looks without contemplation.  The rose claims that her beauty is a gift she did not ask for; her beauty gives pleasure to those around her and that in turn gives her life meaning.  The rose then suggests to the snail that his mind is a greater gift than her beauty and asks how he will share his gift.  The snail expresses his contempt for the world and retreats to his shell, presumably to think deep thoughts.  Eventually, both the snail and the rose die and are replaced with other snails and roses.  The story ends with the question, “Shall we read this story all over again? It will never be different.”  Indeed.  I wonder if “The Beauty of Xiaohe” was revered for her mind or her beauty when she was alive?

False Creek Reflections

I was waiting for my friend Kathryn to meet me in Yaletown for dinner at Provence during my first night in Vancouver when I took this photo of condo balconies as reflected in False Creek.  The cloudy day was fading fast without a sunset to light up the early night.  As The Weakerthans played in my head, I watched people kayaking through the creek, walking their dogs, and running along the water:  “Between the sunset and certified darkness / Dusk comes on and I follow the exhaust from memory up to the end / The civil twilight.”

O Canada!

No photos to post as I’ve just arrived in the Great White North, just a quick anecdote to share:

I was deep in thought as our plane descended to land in Vancouver.  It’s been 18 months since I left Canada and my life is so different in America that I know I’m a different person from who I was when I last lived in this country.  What remains the same is the great affection I have for my homeland, its people, our values (tolerance for complexity, concern for the common good, good manners etc.).  As I cozied up to these warm and fuzzy thoughts an empty water bottle whizzed past me and my neighbour (who was sleeping soundly).  The plastic projectile hit the arm of the woman sitting next to the window.  She was busy filming the earth rushing towards us until she was interrupted by the guy who threw the bottle.  He hissed, “Stop using your electronic device; can’t you see we’re landing?  You’re messing with all of us.  Stop your filming, eh!”  She shut off her camcorder and muttered an apology under her breath.  It was a very odd, yet very Canadian exchange…  it’s so nice to be home!

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