Why Contentment is Worrisome

I’ve always had a deep-seeded hatred for content people. As a child, I could never be certain why this was. However, as I’ve grown, I’ve discovered some valid reasons that contentment irks me to my core.

Reason 1: This is by far the most important reason in my opinion. Contentment and growth can’t happen simultaneously. If one is content, one cannot grow. Growth occurs when one is displeased with something and decides to change it. This can be anything from a personal trait to a political regime. Within oneself, if you accept your flaws as inevitable, then nothing will ever change. On a larger scale for example, if you decide not to care about politics because your country is better than the worst, then your country will never get better. Basically, contentment leaves no room or desire for improvement, and I believe that one always must keep improving. Stagnation is humanity’s greatest enemy.

Reason 2: An extension of the first idea, contentment causes ignorance. Content people can often be heard proclaiming “Live and let live.” While I agree with this statement in its base meaning, the recent adaptations of the phrase are frightening. Over the past decade, this phrase has come to mean that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and opinions. While, yes, everyone is entitled to it, that doesn’t mean we have to listen; some ideas are simply stupid and not accepting that is dangerous. If you hear someone making an anti-intellectual argument, you should be compelled to correct them. I have spent the past several years surrounding myself with highly intelligent — dare I say brilliant — people. Whenever I get caught making an anti-intellectual argument with them, they argue with me, showing me how I’m wrong. This has made me a better and smarter person, and I could not thank them enough for it. So it is worrisome to me when people are so ingrained in their “Live and let live” mentality that they refuse to enter into intellectual discussions or debates. It keeps them set in their ways, which might not always be right.

Yet, I find the most important question to be why has contentment stunted human progress? Well, I think the answer is fairly simple. In our modern era of catch-phrases and self-help books, easy slogans have dominated our speech. Phrases akin to “Live and let live,” “Acceptance is happiness,” or “Love yourself,” are everywhere: on posters, in brochures, in schools, in workplaces, in our everyday speech. The sayings are not in and of themselves bad, but we’ve failed to appreciate their meanings. We say those phrases now without regard for where they came from and the deeper truths they speak. We’re told to love ourselves, but that does not mean to ignore ourselves. Over the past decades, loving oneself has become the equivalent of forgiving oneself of all mistakes. That’s not what the phrase originally meant; it meant to accept yourself and your mistakes for what they are, but also to continue fixing your flaws to become the person you want to be. The latter half of the principle seems to have been forgotten as we now often say the phrase to justify our rude, inappropriate, or evil behaviors to ourselves.

Contentment as a notion is not worrisome. What’s worrisome is the way we have decided to content ourselves in recent years. We have taught ourselves to gloss over mistakes, regrets, and poor personal qualities so that we may find an immediate contentment. What needs to happen is to find long-term contentment. I believe long-term contentment can be found through working out one’s flaws, accepting responsibility for our past faux-pas, and focusing on living as much as possible in the present to make the best possible world we can live in.

But now I must ask an open question to my readers. Do you think the meaning of contentment had changed over time? If so, do you agree with my assessment? And how do you all think we can find long-term contentment?

Edward Snowden and the Media

Every night on the news you’ll hear a reporter say “Snowden says,” or “Snowden claims,” or any variation of those phrases. Next you’ll hear them go on to discuss memos and documents written by the NSA or other government programs. This is a very subtle, but clearly undermining tactic used by the press. It makes all the lies, secrets, and constitutional violations executed by the US government appear to be the musings and conspiracy theories of a mad man. However, this perception is evidently untrue.

Everything that Snowden leaked was written by our government. None of it was of his own design or opinion. It’s all factual proof of the true ongoings a of the government. So, it’s not what “Snowden says.” It’s what our government says. The public at large does not understand or appreciate this difference, and it’s fundamental to understanding the issue.

In last night’s NBC interview with Snowden, he called himself “a patriot.” This is true to the utmost degree. A patriot is someone who believes fully in the principles of our country, namely that our rights not be violated. A patriot is someone not afraid of raising a voice in dissent to protect the fundamentals of a nation. Snowden witnessed the unravelling of our rights and did something about it. He is a patriot and should be championed as one.

Moreover, to all those American citizens who don’t care about these issues: You Need To. If you believe that this news doesn’t affect you because you’re not a terrorist and you haven’t done anything wrong, well you’re wrong. It does affect you. The programs unveiled by Snowden affect you directly and indirectly. The government collects all of our phone calls regardless of who you are, which infringes on your right to privacy. Welcome to the 1984 dystopia, we are being watched constantly by Big Brother; we live in a police state. Indirectly, this affects you because the government has lied to and cheated you. If we allow them to get away with things like this, what more are they going to take away from us? It’s a slippery slope, so you can’t just turn a blind eye.

My Maine Space | May 23, 2014

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Thank you Global Warming; I’m beginning to forget I live in Maine because everyday it’s starting to look more like Ireland. It’s rained for three straight weeks here with the occasional pop of sunlight dancing over the sky. Today is the first day it’s actually been sunny all day, but that’s not supposed to last for long. And for goodness sake, it’s almost June!

This is a photo of the rain last Friday from inside my car. It’s just about the only image I see these days and certainly not one I want to last long.

Anna Karenina, Part 2 | Impressions

It took a tad longer than expected, two weeks to be precise, but last night I finished Part 2 of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Much has changed in the storyline since my original post, but my opinions on the characters have not changed too drastically.

Stiva and Dolly are hardly even mentioned in this section of the novel. Stiva is in one, brief scene towards the beginning, where he visits Levin’s estate in the country. While this portrayal of Stiva did not change my original impressions, it did make his character slightly more appealing because he was obviously concerned with Levin’s unhappiness. Now, this concern may have grown from a selfish desire to keep his visit pleasant, but a mediator is always likeable for their ability to stay calm and their inclination to keep everyone in a situation happy (regardless of their motives for doing so). However, Stiva’s stubborn and emotional thought process was again made evident by his inability to listen to Levin’s advice about the business deal he was making. He wants to do what feels good in the moment, not always thinking of the long-term consequences.

I was certainly right about Levin, at least so far. Nothing has changed my opinion of him in the slightest throughout the 116 pages of Part 2. I love him for his virtues, I love him for his flaws. This is most likely because my kindred soul understands him on a higher level than I do the other characters. I understand his every motivation and can justify his mistakes because of this. While with the other characters I can also find justification for their faults, the justification never seems to be enough for me to stop criticizing their behavior because its not a mode of operation that I understand on an emotional level. I only understand their characters on an intellectual level.

My opinion of Vronsky, like most of the characters, also remains unchanged. In my last post, I said that “I don’t have much of an opinion on Vronsky yet,” and that is the one thing that has certainly changed throughout this section. My suspicions of Vronsky’s character were confirmed; he is impulsive and oblivious to societal obligations. This is apparent in his pursuit of Anna in which he disregards any illusion of propriety. However, what I’ve come to decide is that I like Vronsky for this. In my last post, I was unsure whether these traits would prove to be positive or negative, but I believe they are ultimately for the best. While I’m aware many would disagree with me, I believe that society is the biggest farce of all. Vronsky, although not quite understanding this, agrees. Unlike Levin, Vronsky does not consciously reject society from an intellectual standpoint. However, his actions and his belief that love and happiness are the most important thing drive him to reject society. He is in love with Anna, and for this he will run away into the wilderness with her and live his life removed from all the societal righteousness. Being who I am, I have to respect this; it’s what I would want if I were him. So, although I cannot love him because of his stupidity, I can quite admire his decision to run away from it all.

Anna is one of the few characters for whom my opinion has changed. I believed after Part 1 that she was going to be “master of the difference” between impulsiveness and following one’s heart. She could still play out this way in the end, but, after Part 2, I have my doubts. Although she tries harder than many would have, she yields to Vronsky’s advances. She cannot stop herself, which is what I believed she would have done. I believed, at the end of Part 1,  that Anna was going to have an affair with Vronsky. But, I also believed that she would make this choice rationally with her head and heart simultaneously because she was “master of the difference.” However, after the revelation that she is going to have Vronsky’s child, she does not want to leave her life with her husband. This is mostly due to the presence of her son, which I empathize with completely. My question is why she cannot take her son if she were to run away. Is this because she wants to give him the best chance? Or because she does not think Vronsky is fit to be a father? Either way, it is unmistakable that her ideal would be to continue this affair with Vronsky while remaining in the home and marriage created with her husband, which indicates to me that she does not know what her heart wants and is merely following her emotional impulses. So, I like Anna’s character far less than I did previously. Additionally, Tolstoy seems to water her character down in the section. She becomes obsessed with obligations, her husband, and her family. While she would obviously be preoccupied with such things in her situation, Tolstoy gives her little of the substance which any woman would have in this situation. It’s a lot more complicated for the woman than Tolstoy, so far, has made it out to be.

I had no opinion whatsoever on Alexei Karenin before, but that has changed remarkably. In fact, I loathe his character entirely. I still believe all the things I said about him in my original post; he’s “one, big ball of dogma” and “does exactly what society tells him to do.” However, he consciously makes the decision to ignore Anna’s affair with and affection for Vronsky. He tries to have conversations with Anna about it, but does not want to address either the situation or his emotions directly. He will not look at Anna’s face or read into her words anymore because he does not want to see what he knows is there. He reduces himself to witnessing only the surface of any situation. It is exactly this that I loathe about him. I believe that relationships require honest communication — I mean, can anyone disagree? I myself have become quite adept at this skill. So for the life of me, I cannot understand how someone could not be clear about their emotions in a relationship. Given, I also don’t understand marrying for wealth or status, so I can’t fully comprehend the complexities of his situation. But Tolstoy portrays Karenin to truly respect and admire his wife — perhaps not love, but it’s something. In this situation, if he was jealous, then why not speak up? I just don’t understand why one wouldn’t do that even when the marriage wasn’t for love. I understand that he hates himself for feeling jealousy, but it’s your wife! If you can’t share your deepest, foulest inclinations with your partner, then who can you? Especially since during this time period, it was the wife’s job to keep her mouth shut about such matters. I hate him for his inability to think for himself, express emotion, and think rationally. He is a machine.

Lastly, my opinion on Kitty has changed somewhat. Before, I thought Kitty was a “casing.” She had no depth. While she still has little depth, her character has grown. Her time at the spa was a delight to read. She is still emotionally impulsive and can’t quite think for herself, but I believe she’s on the cusp of changing that. In Part 1, she attached herself to her parents and Vronsky, held onto their words for dear life because she had no original thoughts of her own. At the spa, she breaks away, but then attaches again to Varenka and the Princess. Her attachment to them is so strong, in fact, that she begins to walk, talk, even blink like they do. She imitates not just their opinions, but their whole ways of being. She starts reading French nightly and working with sick patients in an attempt to be a kind, calm, thoughtful, and religious individual. Ultimately, though, she feels that she has only been playing a role; this is not who she is. This leads me to believe that perhaps, after her experience at the spa, she will forge her own identity. The only thing that leads me to believe otherwise was her reaction to her father’s arrival at the spa. His opinions tainted all her own opinions of the people she had come to love. So, she might also reattach herself to her parents. It’s anybody’s guess at this moment.

My Maine Space: “From the Block” | May 20, 2014

Let’s wander through the mind’s eye back to 1999. I was only four years old then, and the world was as fantastical and magical as any child could ever dream. Each place and each action had a story behind it. From getting ice cream to collecting to sea glass to walking over broken, wooden bridges in the forest, my whole childhood was enchanted. All of history and tradition coupled with folk legends and fairytales made it so.

There was one place, however, that no amount of storytelling could ever make a worthwhile journey of. That place was plainly and simply the walk down my street. I was a bold child, frequently barreling alone through the pitch-black tunnels and dungeons of Fort Williams that have now been blocked off. I would climb literally to the tops of trees and would even roam stealthily like a cat through the dead of night in a game of man-hunt. But my street, my very own neighborhood, gave me the sort of heeby-jeebies that one cannot overcome.

I hardly ever saw another living human anywhere in my neighborhood. In fact, I used to believe the house across the street was haunted. I never would see anyone come or go from the home, no cars in the driveway, no lights turned on at night, and the grass was never cut in the summertime. Yet, gardens always bloomed and freshly planted vegetables grew from pots on the back porch each spring. And sometimes, in the dead of night, I would’ve testified to seeing the movement of ghosts in those darkened windows. I would wait and watch for many hours to see if any sign of life would emerge, but it never did. So, obviously, it must have been the home of ghosts. Maybe someone had died there? Or, better yet, maybe some had been killed there? The scenarios were endless.

The haunted house

The haunted house

That’s only the step outside my door, however. Many more homes further down possessed their own horrific quality for my childhood self. The first stretch down the road was not too bad. It’s where my dad and I still to this day play frisbee. The old woman in the little, red house next door always bought girl scout cookies from me. The people across from her and next to the haunted house had a large family. The next two houses beyond that were also family homes. It was past that point that I would start to walk a little faster, eyes flicking left and right, cautiously listening for any strange sound.

The house with the witch, as I always called it, was next on the walk. She was quite old, but still lived on her own, which always shocked me. Her frail figure was far stronger than you could’ve guessed. Though short in stature, her silhouette always seemed to loom tall and heavy over the rest of the world. Whenever you walked past, her two giant German Shepherds always ran menacingly to the chain-link edge of the fenced-in backyard. They would howl, bark, jump, and dig in their effort to be unleashed upon you. Their lunacy was what truly infuriated the old witch. She would come running down her driveway, shaking her fist in the stereotypical way of old grouches, and yelling in a raspy voice that I now know comes from years of chain-smoking. She would curse at you, blame you for “riling up the puppies” or “teasing the dogs with your freedom,” and then watch with laughter as your little feet ran in the other direction. I still believe that she really was vile, and I cannot say whether or not she is still alive.

The witch's lair

The witch’s lair

Just one door past her house was the truly terrifying moment of the journey — The Stop Sign. A tall tree with many branches shot up from the ground parallel to The Stop Sign. This stop sign was the marker of the unknown. I didn’t know anyone, nor had I ever seen anyone, in the six homes past The Stop Sign, but five of them had monstrous dogs that would jump on the windows, bearing their large fangs at you. Not to mention, all of these homes had shingles and siding falling off. One of them even had black trash bags plastered over all the windows, taking on a life of its own with an air of dark, demeaning vehemence.

The tree

The tree

The Stop Sign

The Stop Sign

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Finally, I would arrive at the end of my street. A small patch of grass filled with dandelions or snow, depending on the season, was the safe haven at the end of the treacherous journey. A crab apple tree bore its fruit happily for me, so that, after a jump through the trees, I could feed the horses on the side.

The horse farm through the trees

The horse farm through the trees

Bees that buzz, kids will blow dandelion fuzz...

Bees that buzz, kids will blow dandelion fuzz…

Then, of course, we’d have to repeat the walk back to my home. Usually, this journey was done at a sprint. But finally, we would come back to the safety of the frisbee stretch, and I would feel at home once more.

Home again, home again

Home again, home again

Wandering around the neighborhood is now a familiar task. From walking with the dog, my niece, or my thoughts, the all too wonted streets around my home have become a near graveyard of stimulus. I could not tell you what the house three doors down looks like anymore. I could not tell you its shape, size, or color. I could not even tell you who lived there, although I’m not sure I ever could have. All I have left are the impressions of childhood that still linger in my mind’s associations with each step down the hill.

Now I know that those impressions are silly, irrational, and ridiculous, but I find myself walking with a quick step, perked ears, and a speeding heart rate whenever I walk down my street today. Those places, like all the magical places of my childhood, will forever be the homes of ghosts, witches, and frightening creatures. I often keep my eyes directed away from the buildings — either on the sky or the ground — because of these lasting impressions. It seems I could have missed a lot by doing so. Then again, it also seems that I’ve created magic in the only place I thought there was none. So, perhaps I didn’t miss much of anything at all.

 

All pictures were taken on May 20, 2014 (not in 1999).

 

See here for the writing challenge prompt.

My Ancestral Journey: Part 1

I am now the keeper of my family’s ancestral records. 3/4 of my grandparents have traced their ancestry back to at least the 1600s and as far back as the 1100s. I now hold all of the documents, charts, and graphs that demonstrate this information. I find myself questioning just exactly how to proceed with this information. I know that I want to maintain what has been discovered and learn more about the past, but also to document as much of the lives of my living relatives as I can for future generations. It’s the latter part that I can get creative with and for which I question how to proceed. However, just to begin my journey pouring over the mass of information that I’m now responsible for, I’ve decided to follow each family tree down it’s numerous paths. Whilst doing this, I will use the Internet to discover as much basic information about these people’s lives as possible.

Today, I start with my father’s mother’s family. My preliminary questions are:

1.) When is the earliest documentation of a my family in the United States?

William Brewster and Mary Love immigrated with their son, Love Brewster, from Nottinghamshire, England sometime between 1601-1627. Now, given the time period, it was easy to guess that they came to America on the Mayflower. This was not a surprising discovery, given that I’m an Anglo-Saxon Protestant American from New England. Most people with that heritage had ancestors on the Mayflower. So, they very specifically arrived in America on December 21, 1620.

The passengers on the Mayflower have been well-documented over the years. So, all I had to do was Google these individuals, and Vwa-lah scores of information were available to me about their lives. Although not all of the information always matches up with my family’s records, the wealth of knowledge is inspiring.

Brief biographies of each: William Brewster, Mary Love, Love Brewster.

2.) When is the earliest documentation of my family in Maine?

James Emery was born in 1658 in Kittery, Maine. This is the first specific date of an ancestor in Maine. However, it is apparent that my ancestors had to have come to Maine before that point as his parents had to have moved there before the birth. James Emery Sr. was born in about 1630 in England. My best guess would be that the family immigrated to the States, specifically Maine, as many Englishmen did during this time period, and then gave birth to their son.

After some Internet surfing, I found some questionable information about James Emery Sr. at this site. My family does not have record of his wife at all, so the Elizabeth Nock character postulated on the site is a good lead. We also have no information about his parents, but, if this information is accurate, James Emery Sr. arrived in the States in 1635, which would suggest that his parents came over with him due to his young age. So, perhaps his parents were truly my first ancestors in Maine.

Ultimately, my family has very little information about this line in our family history. Lots of things are left blank from names to birth dates to birth places, so the question of when my family arrived in Maine leaves much to be desired. I will have to do some more rigorous research on this topic.

3.) Who are the individuals that immigrated?

This is typically a very easy to question to answer, although not always. The more interesting question is who are these people?

  1. William Brewster, Mary Love, and Love Brewster from England in 1620. This was discussed earlier, but they came to America on the Mayflower. William was removed as Secretary of State by Queen Elizabeth, and then became an instrumental part of forming the Separatist Church in England. He first fled in England in 1608 and went Holland, where he worked on a printing press to illegally convey religious books back to England. When the English government caught on, the Dutch authorities pursued him. He and his family went into hiding for several years before boarding the Mayflower.
  2. James Emery from England in approx. 1635 with his father, also James Emery. While there is no known reason for his leaving, I suspect that it was due to religious persecution. According to this site, he married at least two times, and settled in Kittery, Maine. He was a selectman for eight terms, a Representative to the General Court 1693-1695, a grand juror, and a Constable in 1670. However, my family records indicate that he only married once to Elizabeth Newcomb. The site I found claims he married twice, both times to a woman named Elizabeth. While this is possible, I believe the site is confusing James Emery Sr. with James Emery Jr. The senior Emery married a woman named Elizabeth, with unknown last name. The junior Emery married a woman named Elizabeth Newcomb according to my records, but she is listed as the senior Emery’s second wife on the site I found. With conflicting information the truth is always uncertain, however I feel that my family’s records in this case hold up to snuff.
  3. John Woodcock from Weymouth, England sometime between 1615-1649. My records indicate that John was born in Weymouth in 1615 and that he married sometime before 1649 in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. Again, I would suspect that John was fleeing England for religious reasons because of the time period. This website has consistent information with my family records including date of birth, date of death, date of marriage, and the woman he first married. The second marriage listed on the website was unknown to my family. The website also claims he was living as a single man in Springfield, Mass. in 1636, so he must have arrived before that time.
  4. Dorothy Simmons from Duxbury, Plymouth, England to Nobleboro, Maine. The only records my family has of Dorothy is that she was born in Duxbury in 1752 and died in Nobleboro on Sept. 23, 1814. I could find no further information online about her life.
  5. Robert Spear sometime between his birth in September 1714 in Londonderry, Ireland and his death on March 13, 1776 in Woburn, Massachusetts. That was all the information my family had collected about Robert, but I found a wealth of information about his family here. The Spear family holed up inside the walls of Londonderry to avoid religious persecution, refusing to adopt Catholic beliefs. It claims that he moved with a group of Scotch Presbyterians to the St. Georges River in Maine after coming to Massachusetts with his parents. The wife listed on this site is consistent with my own records, as is his eldest son John, who is also on my family tree. His son, John’s, wife and son, Robert, are again consistent with my records.
  6. Jacob Heinrich Winchenbach came to Maine sometime between his birth on July 23, 1743 in Nenderoth, Hessen-Nassau, Prussia and his death on September 10, 1825 in Waldoboro, Maine. This character is particularly interesting to me for several reasons. The first of which is that I have been obsessed with my German heritage since I was a small child; I love all things German because of it. The second reason being that Jacob lived through and witnessed the reign of Frederick the Great in Prussia; Frederick the Great is one of my favorite historical figures. So, Jacob caught my attention quickly. According to this website, Jacob married Polly Nash in 1798. This not quite consistent with my records, as Jacob’s son, Henry, was born in 1762. However, the site does agree with my records the Henry Winchenbach then went onto marry Mary Woltz, although the date is again inconsistent. The only additional information I could find was that Jacob was the Waldoboro Town Clerk in 1800, which I discovered here. That new information only narrows the window of time in which Jacob could have immigrated to Maine. It is unknown why Jacob immigrated, and I cannot speculate why because Frederick the Great’s Prussia was a fabulous place and time to have lived in.
  7. Simeon Heiler between his birth on June 20, 1739 in Hohenwettersbach, Baden, Germany and his death on April 28, 1812 in Cushing, Maine. This family is the only known family line on my grandmother’s family tree that had an incestuous streak. Simeon Heiler’s father, Hans Conrad Heyler, was born on February 11, 1682 in Switzerland. I can only surmise that Simeon’s parents fled Switzerland because of the peasant revolts or the formation of the Helvetic Republic. Then, in Germany, Simeon was born. Simeon’s older sister (by 3 years), Maria Prisca Heiler, is also important to this story. She was born in unknown whereabouts, but died in Cushing, Maine as well. Simeon had two children, Jacob Hyler and Priscilla Hyler. Priscilla was born in Germany around 1776. Jacob was born in Cushing, Maine around 1782. So, the family must have come to America during that time period. Priscilla has a son, Mason Robinson, with her husband, Moses Robinson, in August 1808 in Cushing. Moses Robinson, however, was the son of Maria Prisca Heiler, otherwise known as Priscilla’s Aunt. So, Priscilla and Moses were cousins. Jacob also had a child, a daughter called Rachel V. Hyler. Rachel then went on to marry Mason, and they had a daughter named Amanda Robinson. However, Rachel and Mason were simulataneously cousins and cousins, once removed. Here ends the incestous streak of the Heiler family. If it’s a bit confusing, I suggest drawing a little map to help clear things up. This is all based upon my family’s records, no further research has been done into this family.
  8. Last but not least, is Mary Fitzgerald who was born in 1703 in Ireland. I know that she came to Maine sometime before her son’s birth in 1735 because her husband, Moses Robinson (the grandfather of the Moses in the Heiler story) was born “1703 in Warren, Maine by the old Presbyterian meeting house” according to my records. So, she must have met her husband somewhere in Maine. The fact that Moses was born in Warren, Maine hints that the Spear family earlier discussed and the Robinson family are probably related some generations before Moses’ birth. I also speculate that this family may have had a brief incident of incest as well because Moses’ grandfather was a Daniel Fitzgerald, and his mother was a Catherine Mary Fitzgerald. Mary’s father was also Daniel Fitzgerald, and she shares an almost identical name to her mother-in-law. Given that Moses and Mary were born on the same year in different countries, this easily could just be a bizarre coincidence, but further research will hopefully bear the truth.

Why does it all matter? I guess it doesn’t really have much bearing on one’s life, but it is quite fascinating to learn little stories about your forefathers. Some people put far too much stock in what their ancestors accomplished, which can lead to an inadequately inflated ego. However, I do think the sense of place and belonging that comes with knowing her family’s heritage is comforting. It’s the same sort of comfort one finds in an old folklore because you don’t know how much of it is true, and you don’t care. It’s just a story that entertains, that romanticizes, and that gives meaning to a place or person. So, discovering your ancestry can give you some personal folklore about days gone by. The only warning I have is not to get so entrenched in your past that you equate an ancestor’s deeds with your own. You did not do the heroic thing; you did not do the shameful or evil thing. You are you, they are dead.

My Maine Space | May 8, 2014

Forsythia bushes are blooming everywhere you look, alighting the coast of Maine in an energizing yellow glow. The reason Forsythias are my favorite flower is obvious; they fill you up with the urge to be outdoors, breathing deeply and laying in the grass. They’re the first flower to bloom in Maine that inspires this feeling after the long winter hibernation. Plus, they’re as pretty as anything in nature can be.

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Anna Karenina, Part 1 | Impressions

This edition is praised as the first translation that “‘allows us, as perhaps never before, to grasp the palpability of Tolstoy’s “characters, acts, situations.”‘”

Yesterday I finished reading Part 1 of Tolstoy’s greatest novel, Anna Karenina. Literary scholars around the globe have concluded that this is not only Tolstoy’s greatest novel, but the greatest novel ever written. That’s obviously up for debate, but it is undeniable that Anna Karenina is one of literature’s crowning jewels. So, it seemed an obvious place to start for my bucket list goal of reading 120 more classic novels before I turn thirty. (Plus, I’m an absolute Russian literature nerd, so that probably influenced my decision as well.)

My impressions thus far are positive. Tolstoy devoted the first 120 pages almost entirely to laying the groundwork for the rest of the story. We got to know each central character’s habits, likes, flaws, and neuroses: Kitty, Anna, Dolly, Vronksy, Oblonsky, Levin, and Alexei Alexandrovich being the characters of primary interest. So, not very much has happened yet in the way of plot, but it remained a page-turner nonetheless, which is high praise for Tolstoy’s literary prowess; it is a difficult task to keep any reader engaged throughout prolonged sections of scene-setting.

Although Tolstoy’s writing is clearly superior, the story reminds me of a series I read when I was thirteen: Luxe by Anna Godbersen and its sequels are written similarly. So, if you were a childhood fan of that series as I was, then Anna Karenina is definitely a book you’d enjoy.

Now I will delve into my first impressions of each principal character, so that I can track just how drastically my opinion of each shifts throughout the course of the book.

Ekaterina Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya (Kitty) – How can you not love Kitty? She’s the disney princess character of the book. She’s beautiful, full of life, and looking for love. There’s no reason to dislike Kitty. You love her like you love a little sister. That being said, there’s actually no reason to like Kitty either. Her character hitherto has no depth. This is not surprising as female characters even today often have only mere hints of a rich internal life. At present, Kitty appears to be purely a doll — the casings of what men expect women to be. However, I do believe that Tolstoy’s presentation of Kitty is quite accurate for the time and place. Kitty represents childhood and innocence. Her disinterest in intellectual matters are apparent, but she feels emotion intensely. She’s in love with confidence one minute and in despair with jealousy the next. Her emotions, while intense, are fleeting and live moment to moment as a child’s does. Girls during this period in Russia were blocked from higher education and were taught that their sole purpose in life was to be married to a man of high social status and raise their children. So although Tolstoy’s representation of her internal life is trifling, Kitty’s role clearly demonstrates a woman’s public face.

Anna Arkadyevna Karenina – Anna is the exact opposite of Kitty. She’s sure of herself, remains in command of her emotions, and is very rarely impulsive. She represents progressive thinking because she abhors the idea of societal obligation. She will follow her heart. Although following one’s heart and remaining in command of herself may seem contradictory, they aren’t inherently so. If you know what it is you want, you can stay quite in control of your life if you choose to go after it; following your heart does not mean succumbing to every fluctuating emotion, but knowing exactly what it is that your heart truly desires. I foresee Anna being a master of this difference. A difference Kitty, in contrast, has yet to learn. Also unlike Kitty, Anna’s character is given the same depth of mind and spirit as the male characters in the story. Whether or not this depth is deep enough remains to be seen, but I am eager to see her character realized. I have faith that she will be written with the depth owed to her as she is the title character after all.

Darya Alexandrovna Oblonskaya (Dolly) – Dolly is the least touched upon character in Part 1. However, even so, she is given more depth than Kitty. Although she still is presented as a woman obsessed with the obligation of marriage and her public perception, she is shown to have complex emotions and internal struggles when she discovers Stiva’s affairs. She also quite admires Anna, which establishes promise for her character because she longs for the same happiness, confidence, and class that Anna has. I will have to wait and see what Tolstoy does with her character to have any true opinions of her.

Alexei Kirillovich Vronksy – Tolstoy must not have had a high opinion of youth because both of his young characters — Vronsky and Kitty — are not portrayed in a flattering light. In fact, they’re both portrayed as vain, unaware, and emotionally impulsive. Vronsky has no intention of marrying Kitty and doesn’t even know that he’s supposed to have them. Moreover, he’s so smitten by Anna in just one night that he follows her home to St. Petersburg. His emotions are not steady, and he demonstrates little control over his impulses. He shies away from intellectual conversation, as illustrated when Levin tries to argue that “table-turning and spirits” (52) is “‘not a natural phenomenon'” (53). He simply wants to please everyone, to be the mediator. I don’t have much of an opinion on Vronsky yet, but it is evident that he is oblivious to societal pressures and expectations which could be a good or bad thing in the long run.

Konstantin Dmitrich Levin – Levin is a man after my own heart. I understand why the average person would be slightly off-put by Levin, his lifestyle, and his convictions, but I am not one of those people. In fact, he reminds me greatly of my own long-time boyfriend. He’s socially awkward in the sense that he chooses not to subscribe to society; he opposes all things obligatory, traditional, and bureaucratic. He does this not for the sake of being contrary, but because he’s considered, weighed, and analyzed the system and the reasons behind doing these things and has come to conclusion that tradition for the sake of tradition is meaningless. And for philosophical, spiritual, moral souls like Levin, a meaningless life is far more burdensome than an isolated life. I love Levin and love reading every scene in which he can be found. I doubt any future plot twist could change my perception of him.

Stepan Arkadyich Oblonsky (Stiva) – Oh, Stiva. What can we say about you? You’re hopeless. This hopelessness is not your fault at all; you’re simply a product of your environment. Tolstoy uses Stiva as the symbol of the St. Petersburg lifestyle, how it corrupts. Stiva, like his sister Anna, chases his own happiness. However, unlike Anna, he’s not in control of his emotions. He doesn’t understand the difference between spiritual fulfillment and momentary satisfaction. He seems to feel guilty about his affair with the household governess, which illuminates his deep love for Dolly and acknowledgement that his deepest desire is to make his marriage work. Yet, he still has affair after affair. So, it remains to be seen whether or not Stiva will get his act together or whether he will remain a slave to his impulses. Knowing Tolstoy’s opinion of city-dwellers and politicians, though, I somehow doubt that Stiva’s behavior will change.

Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin – Unlike the other primary characters, Karenin seems to have no emotion whatsoever. All emotion given to him is presented as a side-note by Tolstoy, which only emphasizes Karenin’s few displays affection. Any emotion he feels is locked tightly inside beneath a cold exterior of well-to-do and cultured. However, that’s just the irony of his character; he plays cultured with his firm opinions on all matters intellectual from poetry to history to religion, but he doesn’t have any actual understanding of the subjects. He’s just one, big ball of dogma, spitting out analyses and opinions he’s read somewhere. He feels nothing and, therefore, can think nothing for himself. He does exactly what it is society tells him to do — get married, have children, work for the government, work constantly. He schedules himself to the exact second. He is the epitome of brainwashed. How his character will develop and react to all the emotions around him will indeed be quite interesting.

 

 

A Baptism for the Ages

Yesterday my niece, Abby Jean, and my nephew, John Robert, were each baptized. Baptisms are very special occasions; they celebrate childhood, rebirth, and joy. In my opinion, those things are worth celebrating regardless of what religion to which you subscribe.

This was very special day for me as I was named the godmother of Abby. It was a very special day for Abby and John because they were welcomed into the Kingdom of Christ. Lastly, it was a very special day for both families involved because it was a true union of our families. Our family lives near Abby, John, and their parents, Mike and Elisha, but Mike’s family drove 9 hours north for the event. While it wasn’t the first time that we’d all met, it felt like the first time we were all family. Mike’s family is a giant, loud, Italian family from Long Island and Jersey. Our family stands in stark contrast as we are a long line of reserved, stoic Mainers. However, somehow we’ve learned to blend without thought. Given, an adjustment period was necessary, but now all that cultural tension is in the past. It was a day that celebrated the people in our lives that we all love, and, by doing so, it was a day that bonded two seemingly different families together.

However, the obvious highlight of the day was Mother and Daughter singing special music at church only moments after the baptism:

“Sweet Jesus” Cover – Abby and Elisha – May 4, 2014

It was a beautiful day with beautiful people and great food.

Auntie (now Godmother) and Abby before the service.

Auntie (now Godmother) and Abby before the service.

The Ladies of the family.

The Ladies of the family.

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Siblings and their respective niece/nephew or daughter/son.

Auntie and Abby driving to the post-church party!

Auntie and Abby driving to the post-church party!

Great-grandmother and great-grandson.

Great-grandmother and great-grandson.

Great-aunt and great-nephew.

Great-aunt and great-nephew.

Uncle and nephew.

Uncle and nephew.