Final Thoughts: St. Urbain’s Horseman by Mordecai Richler

Evening!

As I said yesterday, I finally finished St. Urbain’s Horseman! I can’t tell you how excited I am. Aside from being able to move onto a new destination, I’m excited to be done with the book because it was starting to feel a bit eternal. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, but I think I would’ve enjoyed it more if I’d read it more consistently and in a shorter amount of time. C’est la vie, I suppose!

Joey, the Horseman, became a sort of God figure for Jake, who at one point described him as his conscience and moral compass. It’s interesting because by all accounts, Jake had actually spent very little time with cousin Joey. I thought at some point they’d meet again, but they never do. All Jake has are rumors and stories of who Joey was, even his death came to him via someone else and had an air of theory, rather than fact. It’s interesting because there’s a moment when Jake is writing the date of death on a journal that belonged to Joey and after writing he crossed it out to write ‘presumed dead’. That’s an act of faith if there ever was one.

For most of the characters in the book Joey became this idea or concept, bigger than himself. Each of them saw the version of Joey that benefited them or made them feel good about themselves, something they could sustain only because Joey was never around. Even when he was, he wasn’t there long enough for people to get an undeniable sense of who he was and what he wanted.

Jake asks himself, “What if the Horseman was a distorting mirror and we each took the self-justifying image we required of him?”. It’s an interesting idea because it implies that we’ve hollowed out a person, in order to fill them with our own self projections. It’s a bit like what we do with celebrities, we project onto them the rumors and characters that suit us, that make the person seem like someone we’d want to hang out with. Most importantly, I think we use this projection and mirroring effect to create people who would share our grievances and happiness, someone who would actually like us for ourselves.

In Jake’s case though, the Horseman became not an ideal pal, but a role model who held the answers to being a better, stronger man. Joey gave him an ideal, a possibility of someone he could’ve been. When Joey dies, Jake actually considers taking his place and becoming the Horseman. In his mind, Joey was The Golem, a character in Jewish legends that was created to defend the Jews (someone correct me if I’m wrong, please!) and someone needed to take his place. It’s interesting because, even though he existed, all these different characters recreated Joey, if not in their image, then certainly to fill the voids in it.

These are not characters that will break your heart or pull at your heart strings, they feel like regular people. The kind you tolerate some days and can’t wait to be rid of on others. I think that’s part of the book’s charm, that feeling of reading something completely average. There are points when their obsessions become a bit like bits out of a sitcom, but then I think there are probably people who are equally as obsessed.

This is a book I want to reread after a crash course in a lot of different subjects. It’s flooded with historical references, which means it’s easy to get lost if you’re not familiar with the events they’re referencing. Even when you’re lost though, it’s worth a read.

Well, this is it for Canada, folks! It’s taken me a while, but I finally did it and I couldn’t be happier. Now, on to our next destination….. Utah! Stay tuned, readers. The booktrip continues!

Let’s Play Catch Up

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I’m back! The mini vacation is officially over and I’m back, fully refreshed and ready to get back to writing for you beautiful people. As promised I come with stories and pictures, of varying quality since I took pictures with a bunch of different cameras and phones. That’s dedication, folks. Or laziness. It’s a very fine line, that isn’t a line at all, more like complete opposites. That’s how I roll. *shrugs*

We woke up fairly early on Monday morning, early bird gets the worm and all that. We didn’t get worms, but we did get 12 inch turnovers, pretty crazy right?! The place is called “La Casa de los Pastelillos”, it’s located in Guayama. If any of you are ever in the area, it’s definitely worth a visit, if only to say you ate a 12 in. turnover! They were actually good though, and the place was really cool, it had hammocks strung up everywhere. Also, we had a surprise visit by a duck, which was unexpected to say the least. We didn’t stay too long, because we still had a bit of a drive left to the rental place. Happily, we managed to get there in time to get some pool time in, so heading out quickly after eating proved worth it!

One of the reasons we wanted to take that mini trip was to go to a small island off the South shore called Gilligan’s Island. So, on Tuesday, we got up packed a cooler and went off to find the ferry that would take us there. What we didn’t know, perhaps a bit naïvely, was that you need to be in line for the ferry before 6am when they open, otherwise it’s pretty hard to get a ticket. We got there at around 10am and by then they didn’t have any more tickets. Because the island is so small, they usually try to control the amount of people they bring over at any one time. It’s a shame because, from what I’ve heard the island is a prime spot for snorkeling. Feeling a bit defeated, we spent the afternoon at the pool and capped the day with some home made Mexican food. Not a bad way to get over a disheartening morning, if you ask me!

Wednesday was our last day down there and it did not disappoint. We rented a small boat for a few hours and took it out to all the cays in La Parguera, which is the area where we were staying at. There was a lot swimming and basking in the Sun, but my favorite part is always being able to go snorkeling and seeing the fishes. There were strong currents in between the cays, so we would walk up the canals, then put on our snorkeling masks and let the current take us back to where we started. It was so much fun, not to mention a pretty incredible sight. Floating down we’d be surrounded by schools of tiny silver fish – close enough to touch, but always out of reach. We saw crabs and pelicans and thousands of tiny silver fish, it was great. Wednesday definitely delivered and, although we didn’t get to Gilligan’s island, we had a great time just driving around the boat and swimming around the cays.

You might be happy to know that I finally finished St. Urbain’s Horseman! My trip provided me with ample time to catch up on my reading. I’m looking forward to sharing my final thoughts on the book with you before closing up shop in Canada and moving down to Utah. I know it’s taken me a while, but I finally made it through. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the many detours along the way!

Keep it classy, readers. Until next time!

Netflix and the Passage of Time

Good evening to you all!

Today has been a bit of a blah day. I’ve got a bump on my ear from an old piercing, basically my body doesn’t know when to stop the scarification process. This means that, in certain places, my scars end up as raised bumps rather than being flat. The process to take care of it is fairly simple, they inject steroids on the site where the scarring has occurred. It’s really not a huge deal, but it hurts like a mother. Still stings, so bit of a meh day. I certainly hope you’ve all had a better day than mine!

As I deal with this horrible pain, by which I mean, as I use the situation as an excuse to chill out for the day, I’ve been catching up on old shows via Netflix. Now, I’m going to assume most of you have the service or have used it at some point. Usually, as each show ends I grab the remote and click play on the next episode, not waiting for the 20 seconds it takes for Netflix to play it automatically. At one point (Hello, my name is Leishla and I’m a binge watcher), I decided to let the seconds pass without reaching for the remote and I realized how uncomfortable it made me.

In the grand scheme of things, 20 seconds doesn’t register. However, sitting there watching the time tick by, it felt like an eternity. Of course, there is the obvious fact that being conscious of time makes its passing seem slower, but I think there is something else at play here. We’re used to a certain immediacy with things – when running a google search, when loading an app, when buffering a video. The slightest delay makes the process seem like it’s suddenly become eternal, when in fact it’s only been delayed by a few seconds. This immediacy is not limited to our physical relationship with technology, but it also affects the content we consume through it.

It used to be that articles would be at least a couple of pages long. Now, for us to consume a piece in it’s entirety, it needs to be boiled down to lists and easily digestible blocks of information. I’m not saying there aren’t people who read long articles, I’m just saying that most of the time we want information that allows us to consume it quickly so we can move on to the next piece. Things with more pages get put on a back burner, for when we have more time to spend on them. I do this a lot and I often wonder why I don’t just sit down and read it right then, but there are always other pieces pulling at my attention.

There is a compulsion to consume what’s in front of us, be it a show, an article, a movie, or even a book. For me, this last one is particularly bad. I often feel the need to consume books quickly, but sometimes I think I don’t give them enough time to simmer and really sink in as I read. It’s like rushing through the pages and not stopping to smell the metaphorical roses. We feel entitled to immediate results because we already know they’re possible and anything other than immediacy represent a problem that needs to be fixed in the process. Except, sometimes it’s not a problem, it’s just something that takes a little bit longer. 

With that in mind, I’m kind of happy I’ve taken my time with St. Urbain’s Horseman. It wasn’t on purpose and, at times, it’s seemed like a really terrible way of going about it because I lose connection with the book. However, it’s given me a chance to think it through a little bit more, to stop on certain scenes and sentences and, precisely because I’ve been disconnecting, have an opportunity to think of them outside their own context. If that makes any sense at all.

I don’t particularly like the smell of roses, but I know that when you rush through they become a mass of color that can become boring, even if it starts out being exhilarating. Say what you will (what I will) about the smell, roses are beautiful to look at; good metaphors are meant to be savored; and sometimes those 20 seconds between episodes are the perfect excuse to press pause and pee.

Here’s to touching the roses and taking a pee break! Until next time, readers. 

Pages, pages, on the shelf….

It is often said that literature is a way to enrich our lives, to explore other possibilities and points of view, but what happens when literature constantly mirrors our selves back at us? What happens when the literature we read consistently reaffirms and never challenges?

There’s a scene in St. Urbain’s Horseman, where Jake is considering how it’s not only London or Canada which he found unsatisfying, but also the books, music, and movies he had consumed over the years.

“The novels he devoured so hopefully, conned by overexcited reviews, were sometimes diverting, but told him nothing he had not already known. On the contrary, they only served to reaffirm, albeit on occasion with style, his own feelings. In a word, they were self-regarding.”

I really enjoy that phrase “self-regarding” because often, myself included, we seek out the same kind of literature over and over again. We end up reading books with the same themes, same types of characters, in the same genre, which also share the same values and general point of view. I’m not knocking it, there are people who only enjoy reading one certain genre or who usually stick to a particular subject. I read diversely, but I go through different phases where I focus on one characteristic in particular and I exploit it.

What does that continuous mirroring effect do to the way we perceive the world? I think it’s a bit like having a friend who always tells you what you want to hear, who never argues with you. It’s nice and it feels comfortable, being safe in the certainty that you will always be in the right. However, sometimes you need something that jolts you out of your comfort zone. You need that friend who stops you in your tracks and tells you you’re wrong or simply tells you you’re acting like a dick and need to reevaluate your attitude.

It’s the same with books, in my opinion, it’s great to read books about subjects that are important to you, books that reaffirm your values and points of view, but it’s also necessary to read books that challenge your assumed position. It’s these last ones that make you truly think about who you are and what you’re striving for or defending. It’s the challenge that forces us to go back to basics and either reaffirm ourselves more strongly in what we’re defending or change our perspective to include the new information.

Self-regarding. It’s a certain narcissism, isn’t it? Consuming something that constantly reflects your own  self back at you… Jake is exasperated with these types of book and I think we should be too. There are so many great books offer up a dialogue instead of a shiny surface in which to stare at ourselves. We’ve already turned so many things –phones, windows, computers – into elements that feed our narcissism, let’s not relegate books to the same fate.

What was the last book that truly challenged you? Let me know in the comments below. Until next time, readers!

Greener-grass Ideas

I don’t know about you guys, but I kinda love Home Depot. They have so many cool and practical products that you can use as intended or repurpose them into something else. We went in this morning looking for supplies because, wait for it….we’re starting a garden! I ordered a whole bunch of seeds which arrived a few weeks ago and, now that we’re all on vacation, we’re going to start planting the seeds. It should be an interesting process, especially because I have a tendency to kill plants. Happily, we got everything we need, so expect to see pictures of dirt and seeds soon. You can say they’ll be…dirty pictures….

lol That was a terrible joke, I apologize.

A few days ago I told you guys that I finally bought my tickets to Europe. I land in Scotland and will be traveling around the UK, then moving on to a few different countries. Needless to say, I’m pretty excited about it all. I love this pocket of time before a trip, where you plan and pack, and get everything ready. I’m in this whole process of figuring out what I need to pack for such a long trip, thinking about which countries will be my priorities, wondering which are the books that will win a spot to fight it out in my suitcase. May the odds be ever in their favor.

Throughout it all though, I’ve been reading. Jake Hersh has turned out to be a complex character that I love and hate by moments. There’s a scene where he’s talking about how he romanticized England growing up.

“Slowly, inexorably, he was being forced to pay the price of the colonial come to the capital. In the provinces, he had been able to revere London and its offerings with impunity. Fulminating in Montreal, he could agree with Auden that the dominions were tiefste Provinz. Scornful of all things home-baked, he was at one with Dr. Johnson, finding his country a cold and uninviting region. As his father had blamed the goyim for his own inadequacies, mentally billing them for the sum of his misfortunes, so Jake had foolishly held Canada culpable for all his discontents. Coming to London, finding it considerably less than excellent, he was at once deprived of this security blanket. The more he achieved, feeding the tapeworm of his outer ambitions, the larger his inner hunger. He would have preferred, for instance, that the highly regarded Timothy Nash had been worthy of his reputation and that it was utterly impossible for Jacob Hersh to be as good. He would have been happiest had the capital’s standards not been so readily attainable and that it were still possible for him to have icons.”

I realize how arrogant he sounds thinking that greatness was “readily attainable”, but this is often what happens to us. We romanticize places and people, then are faced with the fact that what seemed like untouchable greatness from afar is actually the product of earthly processes and, actually, quite attainable with the proper dedication.

I’ve been thinking about this scene specifically in terms of my trip. I’ve wanted to visit these countries my entire life, especially England. I’m sure, after an unnameable number of movies, tv shows, books, and articles, I’ve come to romanticize them as well. England with the tea, the pearls, and the tiny biscuits. Where people say cheeky and fanny means something else entirely. I know I have my fantasies, my greener grass on the other side ideas. I think we all do. Looking around at the state of our countries, sometimes it’s hard to keep from blaming them for what Jake calls our “discontents”.

Even knowing the countries I visit will not resemble the countries of my imagination though, I still feel the imperative to travel. There’s something about standing on new ground that makes me feel like life is worth living. It reminds me that, even though sometimes it seems like my problems and my successes are bigger than everything, the world is larger than I will ever be. It’s humbling really; we’re small specks traveling in a world that holds so much more than we could ever conceive.

Jake was so convinced that Canada was what was stifling him that he never thought to see all the things it had to offer. Living in London, he realized that England was a country like any other and his icons were very talented people, but still just people.  Maybe the grass will be greener on the other side of the pond, maybe not. The only way you learn that though, is by crossing over and seeing for yourself. However, I think Dorothy had it right when she clicked her red heels and said…. there is no place like home.

Art, Suffering, & Crafts

IMG_0809Today was meant to be an insanely productive day. Instead, I did nothing. Seriously, I didn’t do any of the things I was supposed to do today. It’s terrible.

On the bright side! I got creative and ended up making necklaces out of old clothes.I’m pretty happy with how they turned out, although I need to work on making them look more polished. Still, for an impromptu activity, I’m fairly pleased. Tickled, even. I have a whole bag full of clothes that I was thinking of selling or giving away, but now I’m thinking of keeping them and making some more necklaces. Who knows, maybe I can sell them and make a bit of money that way.

I’ve been thinking about a scene in St. Urbain’s Horseman. Where Jake, the main character, is wondering about the effects his happy marriage could have on his children…

“Jake feared that a felicitous marriage not only reflected poorly on Nancy and him, stamping them superficial, tin-like, but it was also bad for the kids. Everybody he admired, his most imaginative and resourceful friends, had emerged from afflicted homes. Dad a zero, mum a carnivore. Parents so embittered that they wrote off their own lives and toiled only for the children’s sake. Divorced parents, vying shamelessly for the kids’ affections. Quarreling, lying, but, inadvertently, shaping rebels. Hammering out artists. Whereas in their home there was only symmetry, affection, parents who took pleasure in each other’s company.

What are we spawning here, Jake wondered? Surely from such a well-adjusted and cozy childhood only ciphers could spring. Cocooned and soft-minded dolts, who would grow up totally unprepared for life. Sammy would never shoplift. Molly wouldn’t have hysterics. In a drug culture, they were already tranquillized.”

We always hear about how true Art requires not only talent and dedication, but also a certain amount of suffering. Blood, sweat, and tears have always been touted as essential ingredients in the making of truly great art. It is necessary to to feel intense pain in order to accurately portray it, in order for our art to be relevant. Otherwise, art becomes superficial and meaningless. At least, that’s what people say and it’s Jake’s concern, as well. Will being happy and loved mean that his children will grow up to be adults without dimension, people who lack strength and resilience.

But, is it true? Does a lack of hardship mean a lack of character. Not petty hardships, but true, life-changing ones. The kind that tear your soul, that make you lose your beliefs and hope – death, poverty, hunger, betrayal. All of these demand more than a pound of flesh and it’s thought that it’s this karmic payment that imbues the artist with a greatness that goes beyond merely being talented. When the soul tears in half part of it goes into the artwork or the writing, just like a Horcrux (Harry Potter is relevant everywhere). However, is it impossible to achieve that particular quality without having gone through a similar experience? Can great art be made out of not knowing “real” pain?

Here is another thought. There are a great deal of writers and artists who have been terrible people, far from having suffered, they’ve caused suffering in others. These are people thought of as geniuses and pioneers in their fields, but have also been rapists, mysoginists, even murderers. Not to mention, a lot of artists, musicians, and writers throughout history have just been dicks. People have suffered at the hands of moody, self-righteous, sometimes violent creatives. Does this mean then that art’s relationship with suffering goes both ways? Is it possible suffering is necessary, irregardless of whether one suffers or inflicts it on others? Do we have access to the pain we cause, even if we can’t feel it?

I don’t have have  answers to these questions. I think rather than needing to suffer or feel what people refer to as “real pain”, what we truly need are experiences. Of course, going through difficult and painful situations can definitely breed good art, but I don’t think it’s a guarantee of it. Whether they’re happy and fulfilling or painful and heartbreaking, we need meaningful experiences to shape our lives and, in the process, our art.

Now, having taken this moment to talk very seriously about art, I’m going to leave you with a piece that’s not even a little bit serious.

Sorry, not sorry! Stay golden, readers.

Where Was God?

I’m not a religious person. I was raised Catholic, attending a Catholic school where I was taught about God, the Bible, the 10 commandments, and prayer. After graduating though, I still didn’t feel any closer to God or any more convinced that religion was something I wanted as a part of my life. Having said this, I respect everyone’s beliefs. I don’t think I have the right to tell someone what to believe in, just as I don’t believe anyone has the right to try and force their beliefs on me, religious or otherwise.

I’ve been reading St. Urbain’s Horseman and there’s a very real question present – Where was God? For the characters it becomes an accusation.

“You know, rabbi, he said, you’re right. The Lord is our God, and the Lord is One. But do you know why, rabbi? It is because our Lord has such a tapeworm inside him, such a prodigious appetite, that he can chew up six million Jews in one meal. And if the Lord, our God, were Two. What then? Twelve million. Who had them to spare at the time? So, the Lord our God is One, because Two we couldn’t afford.”

I remember thinking about this when I was in high school, where is God while people are starving, kids are dying from abuse, teenagers are getting murdered because of their skin color?  Who was this God who didn’t care, but was meant to be so kind and forgiving? This is part of the reason why religion and a belief in God never flourished within me: if there is indeed an almighty creator, he’s kind of shitty.

What I do believe is in god as an idea we’ve created and manipulated into fitting what we believe. I don’t think it works the other way around. And so, we’ve created a god who is supposed to be kind and generous and loving, but we’ve warped him with every single human fault. We’ve made him angry and vengeful and used him as an excuse for committing atrocities throughout history. The Holocaust didn’t happen because god allowed it to or because he was punishing his people. People made the Holocaust happen and it was people who allowed it to continue. It is not a question of god, but rather a question of the power one man can have over others.

“If God weren’t dead, it would be necessary to hang him.”

Maybe God exists, but I don’t think he does. I think God has been, and continues to be, a security blanket, a convenient way to explain everything that happens. The universe exists because God created it. People die early as part of God’s plan. Abuse happens as a way to test your resilience and some day God will punish the people responsible. I don’t believe any of that. I believe that people can hide behind a mask of piousness and a calling to God. If there were no belief in God to lean on, who would we have to blame for our destruction but ourselves? As I read this novel, I feel the characters’ needs for answers from a God who won’t give them any because it is not God who has a prodigious appetite for suffering, it’s people who crave the feeling of crushing someone else’s spirit.

I’m sorry if this offends any of you, but this is where the book has taken me today. There are things religion teaches us like humility, kindness, and selflessness, which I believe in as general ideas. However, I don’t believe in giving god credit for things that wouldn’t have happened without hard work and sacrifice, or in blaming him for all the evils in the world.

Food for thought, readers. Until next time.