Thursday, August 28, 2008

My hot gig

More to the point, my new job. I started work this Tuesday, and I've gotten such a good vibe from my surroundings and the people there that I can't help but feel good. I work as a library technician for two K-5 schools on the other side of the city. Brooklands School and Stevenson-Britannia School each have awesome qualities about them that really make me happy to be working there. The division runs on the 6-day cycle, and I'm working at one school days 1, 3, and 5, while I work at the other days 2, 4, and 6. 50-50, you might say. I got a new car so I could drive out to these days, as it would take 2-3 buses to get to either of the schools.
A few details about each of these schools would be in order. Stevenson's library is on the second floor and man, it's huge! High ceiling makes the library look larger, and it has a lamination machine and a die press machine (which has to be the most amazing and fun doo-dad in the history of the world). I understand the library goes through a lot of lamination plastic, so I should get ordering some more in a few months. The secretary seems nice and the teachers were extremely welcoming. I got my billboard up and it looks all right. I'm no expert on billboards, but some of the teachers and some of the other library techs are, so their advice will be wonderful.
Brooklands is an older school, with part of it having been built in 1911. It's also a much smaller school than Stevenson, with a library just a little larger than our living room. The paint job in the library could be better, but I'm not complaining. The neighbourhood is made up of diverse ethnicities and tons of school spirit. Again, the teachers were really welcoming and offering me whatever help I needed. The principal is new and he wants me to figure out ways to improve the library. First on my recommendation list will be a phone in the library for me. The library computer system has its kinks, and it will be hard to troubleshoot if I'm always running back and forth from the office to the library.
Despite several kinks (I've only been at this for three days, so kinks are expected), I'm excited about the new job and ready to make tons of recommendations and see what happens. I also have to talk to my predecessor and see what she's done. Bye-bye.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Rising and Falling

I've had an eye for financial and economic scandals these days. I finished reading a book called 'Safe as Houses' and am presently reading one of my favourites right now. It's called 'Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds'. It's by Charles Mackay (father of equally talented author Marie Correlli), and this book discusses the deadly speculations like the South Sea Bubble, Tulipomania, the problems of alchemy, and anything else that schemers used to trick the gullible out of their hard-earned money. This book was written long before the likes of Robert Maxwell, Michael Milken, and Ivan Boesky (to say nothing of B-REX), but there are many villains here as well.
I'm not going to condemn these legendary and contemporary villains, as other people have done it much better than I could do. I want to talk a little about money and the economy. I don't know a whole lot about the economy and financial matters (that's what the library is for), but based on what I do know, the Stock Exchange rises to mountainous levels, sinks deeper than the sea, and then smoothes itself out again. At the end of it, some are richer, more are poorer, and the rest of us are no different than before. For those who can ride out these lumps and bumps, things end up no different, I mean. Take 'Tulipomania', for instance. I use this example because it's just so appropriate when discussing things going wildly out of control and then settling down again.
I also love the story about the sailor who sat down to eat an onion with his breakfast, only to find out that his 'onion' was an impossibly expensive tulip bulb. People who are willing to pay thousands of florins for a couple of tulip bulbs, in my opinion, deserve to have their profits literally eaten up like that. After the bubble burst and people found themselves a little poorer, things settled down in Holland again. Today I don't think that people are going to shell out like that for a couple of bulbs. I'm just saying that once the bubble burst and the names of the wealthy changed, the country returned to normal.
Perhaps I'm looking at this whole thing with Semi-Buddhist Eyes again, but once things have wildly gone up, and then just as wildly down, very little has changed. Same people, different names, you might say. It isn't that I don't feel for the regular people who put their trust in guys like Robert Maxwell and Ivan Boesky, for I know they were swindled by junk-bonds and thieving, greedy minds. In the end, Boesky got in trouble and Maxwell took the coward's way out. Karma wins out in the end.
I'm done rambling for now about economy. I need to get reading up on it some more.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

On the Literary Front #1

I can multitask fairly well and have several projects working all at the same time. For now, I have three projects and am trying to juggle them all. My new job starts in about a week and I suspect that without all my leisure time, one of my projects will fall by the wayside. This is not what I wanted to talk about today, however. The impossible dream is to get published writing for yourself. I think the vast majority of published authors know this. I don't call this blog genuine published writing; if it's not physical, it's not real. I'm glad I have the chance to share my thoughts with anyone interested on this blog, but pardon me if I don't consider it the genuine article.
The genuine article will only come when I get a letter from a publishing house telling me that they like my work and want to publish it. That is published material. I've complained about the phrase 'unsolicited manuscript' before, so I won't go down that path again. Actually, I wanted to talk about writing for myself vs. writing for money (which is writing for someone else, I think). In my short career as an unpublished writer, I have never written for anyone but myself. I cannot write for someone else (but I appreciate someone else's opinion of my work) and that's that. The rejection letters I have received in the past say 'My work is not suitable for such-and-such a publishing house' but they wish me luck. I would like something better, but I'm patient.
I would like to write for a paycheck; no matter how crass or empty that sounds, and no matter how hellish the deadlines would be. I have two projects ready for submission, but I'm waiting for a published author's opinion to encourage me. The Winnipeg Public Library has a yearly 'writer-in-residence' post and I'm just waiting for them to choose a new 'writer-in-residence' so I can submit my work for perusal. Wish me luck on that front. Until something gets published, I'll be a library tech and unpublished writer with the sole dream of seeing something I've written on the shelf at 'Chapters'. That is the only goal, although the money would be nice as well.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Semi-Buddhist Kant?

Was Immanuel Kant a Buddhist? As far as I can tell, no way. I came across, in this book, a reference that suggests he was in no way linked to the 'Theosophists', which, unless I'm mistaken, was the term used to describe Buddhists back in Kant's day. (Feel free to correct me on this point, somebody.) I've nearly finished reading a hefty book of Kant's writings, and my Semi-Buddhist eyes zeroed in on a few things. Kant had a way of looking at things that strikes me as Buddhist; especially when he says Space itself, however, as well as time, and with all phenomena, are not things by themselves, but representations, and cannot exist outside our mind. Doesn't that sound at least a little Buddhist?
I interpret this offering as 'nothing exists but our perception of things', which is what Buddhism suggests. My Semi-Buddhist eyes caught onto that right away. The second thing that Kant discusses in this selection of writings that impressed me was his take on the ancient 'What is x?' question. Socrates used the question 'What is virtue?' but one can fill in x with any word of their choosing. Kant went after Beauty, which is another word that has an equally broad definition. Once again, I got to thinking about words and how people interpret said words. Words like virtue and beauty are intangible, and can be defined a myriad of ways. A term like 'tree' or 'house' can be defined a multitude of ways as well, but a tree or a house are tangible things, and are much more limited in their definition.
What one considers beautiful is open to countless interpretations, and this is the conclusion Kant pretty much came to. He tries to find universal qualities that can be used to define beauty but does not really find too many connecting words that all opinions can agree on. Anyway, I'm not done reading this really fascinating book, but I plan to return to it in a year's time and see if I've come to any more conclusions on my own. Word of warning; not an easy book to read through. The first 150 pages are something of a snore, but then it gets better. All depends on your level of patience, really.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Dialectic and Dialogue

I forget who it was that first said that everything is connected. A good friend of mine came to the conclusion when he was younger and he told me about it. I'm coming to believe it myself. I'm sure it's one of those maxims that, sooner or later, everyone ends up discovering if they look hard enough. About a year ago, I read a phenomenal book by Francisco J. Gonzalez called 'Dialectic and Dialogue: Plato's Practice of Philosophical Inquiry', and I promised myself to re-read it in a year's time. Here we are a year later and I finished reading it last night. Reading this book has lead me to believe there are connections between Philosophy and Buddhism. Buddhism is probably one of the more philosophical religions Humanity came up with over the last few millennia, although many Zen masters will tell you that Buddhism cannot be examined like Philosophy can.
Plato had Socrates share his revolutionary points of view and ideas with men he admired and with students looking for a new way of perceiving the world. It's all about perception in Buddhism as well. What a person sees with their senses is not the reality -- it's part of reality, but not the whole thing. For one to know the entire reality, one would have to see the object from countless points of view. Plato's Socrates, on the other hand, accepts with some resignation that since we cannot 'know' an object this way, all we can do is learn facts and details about the object and use that as our basis of 'knowing' an object or an experience.
One word Gonzalez uses constantly is aporia: a difficulty encountered in establishing the theoretical truth of a proposition, created by the presence of evidence both for and against it. Socrates, unable to confirm or completely prove his ideas before the Sophists he seeks to vanquish, ends everything in a draw. Personally, I don't think the Sophists took his ideas seriously, or anything seriously, for that matter. It was safer for them not to take a stand on something they believed -- I personally find it hard to believe that Socrates' critics believed in anything except trying to bring him down by trapping him with words.
Words and labels are all we have to communicate with, and Homo sapiens is too social an animal to keep from communicating with others. Here is where Buddhism and Plato part company, as far as dialectics is concerned. Words and labels serve their purpose of communication, but they also tie a person down with a constant identity, and Buddhism is all about merging the I, thus losing the identity. Labels especially keep the I from merging. Still, there are too many connections between Philosophy and Buddhism to ignore.
Time to gush over the book in a physical sense. Well-written and thought-provoking, I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Plato's work. Apparently, this book presents an alternate view of Philosophy, so be sure to give yourself a few weeks to enjoy this treasure.