The best ever courtship scene

“she pictures Mom in a gym suit. The gym suit is shiny and blue, and Mom’s feet move swiftly; she’s the star of the team. She can do a kick split and spin like a top. She’s so stunning that Dad can’t take his eyes of her. No way he’d ever get enough of watching a girl like that. Dad takes a running start, he takes a running start and streaks through the gym, his big hands stretching out before him. He wants to get over to where Mom is and he does. He comes within reach of the girl in the shining outfit. She looks like a kingfisher, he thinks, and kingfishers are rare. They screech as they fly through the air like arrow shafts, and Mom screeches too when Dad’s red hands grasp her about the waist. Then she sinks down; he is gravity itself. “You’ve got strong arms,” she tells him.”From Dorte Nors wonderful novel, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal


There’s a good review of it (and more about Dorte Nors) here

The best ever courtship scene

Victor Hugo and Daemons

I’ve just come across this from Victor Hugo:
‘It is our conviction that if souls were visible to the naked eye, we would clearly see the strange phenomenon whereby every individual member of the human race corresponds to one of the species of the animal kingdom … Animals are nothing more than the forms our virtues and our vices take, trotting around before our very eyes, the visible phantoms of our souls.’

Was this starting point for Philip Pullman’s daemons?

Victor Hugo and Daemons

Late one melancholy February night

I get softer as I get older. The oddest things bring a lump to my throat: a family story on the Antiques Roadshow, or watching some inspired teenager playing their heart out on the BBC Young Musician of the Year.

Poems? Much less often, I find. However powerful they are, the effect is usually too complex for such a direct response, however terrible the subject.

This poem is the exception. I came across it in the fabulous new Bloodaxe Anthology celebrating 50 years of Modern Poetry in Translation – Centres of Cataclysm. I hadn’t read far into the volume before finding this from Olga Berggolts.

Late One Melancholy February Night (for Galina)

Late one melancholy February night
a friend knocked at my door:
‘Olga, I’ve just buried my son!
I cannot cry out, cannot even sigh.
Tell me, don’t hide anything –
you yourself have lost children –
will the tears come soon,
will this terrible darkness lighten?
All night I spoke with my friend,
Soothing her, comforting her.
So my grief was turned to good use,
my inconsolable grief.

Translated from the Russian by Daniel Weissbort

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Late one melancholy February night

Stories for empathy

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I’ve been reading Rebecca Solnit over Christmas.

I shan’t attempt to describe the book, except to say that it is in part an exploration of empathy.

In one chapter she considers the young Che Guevara’s journeys across South America with his friend Alberto Granado. At the time Che – Ernesto – was a medical student and Alberto a doctor. They travelled from leprosy hospital to leprosy hospital, learning about the disease and treating the patients with an ease and openness that the patients they met never forgot.

They discovered that even when the disease was cured limbs and extremities were at risk because the sufferer could no longer feel them – and what was not felt was not looked after.

One Doctor worked on this, encouraging patients to feel, to empathise with, the limbs they no longer identified with, protecting and looking out for them. Solnit writes:

“Empathy is the capacity to feel what you do not literally feel, and Brand taught his young patients a kind of empathy for the extremities that no longer seemed a part of themselves. ’I feel for you’, people say. If pain defines the boundaries of the body, you participate in the social body with those you empathise with, whose pain pains you – and whose joy is also contagious.

Some empathy must be learned and then imagined, by perceiving the suffering of others and translating it into one’s own experience of suffering and thereby suffering a little with them. Empathy can be a story you tell yourself about what it must be like to be that other person; but its lack can also arise from narrative, about why the sufferer deserved it, or why that person or those people have nothing to do with you. Whole societies can be taught to deaden feeling, to disassociate from their marginal and minority members, just as people can and do erase the humanity of those close to them.”

I think we have, as a society, been caught up in a narrative determined to deaden our capacity for empathy. It’s one of the reasons some of us responded so warmly to Jeremy Corbyn in the Summer. Here at last was someone not willing to be bound by that narrative, to start to spell out a different story.

Stories for empathy