Saturday, December 31, 2011

And that was 2011

Hello! Hello! I hope everyone is well and having a good end of the year holidays season!

I had a rather unexpected change of residence again a month ago. Was going to move out of state to snowier pasture, but was blown away by a whirling wind of weirdly freaky circumstances and now I'm hanging in limbo for another month. May still move to another state later in January, or may stay put as a Southern Californian beach bum. Don't know how it'll go. We'll see!

For a boring smorg, 2011 was rather eventful: I made some new friends and got closer to a few who are effortlessly even nicer and more caring when the times are rough than when the going is good. Even if you don't know who you are (darn these good Samaritans! They do good deeds so naturally that they don't recognize their own goodness much of the time!), you are a jolly good fellow, fellas. Thanks very much!
Being boring can be a virtue in dog-trainers...
 Inspired by the amazing Youtube clips by Kikopup (Emily Larlham) I also acquired another side job/hobby of dog-training. There are dog-trainers and then there are dog-trainers! It is amazing what you can teach just about any dog to do with positive-reinforcement technique only... with no punishment at all! Once you get the concept, it is quite easy... Of course, the hard part has to do with training the dog owners to stay with the program and not give in to intimidation/punishment-based 'short cuts'. As tempting as they are short cuts have ways of coming back to bite you in the long run! Anyhow, I got to meet quite a lot of cute and cool dogs in the past year for this. It may make the neighborhood cats more wary of me (you look sort of like a human but you smell like 4 or 5 different dogs. What the flea is wrong with you???), but on the whole it really is a lovable experience!

I slacked off this year a bit on the opera/concert-going front, though. I don't know if I'll be around to catch the San Diego Opera's 2012 season yet, but it sure looks a very tempting one! For the first season since the 2008 market crash the SDO now has enough cash flow to put on four operas instead of just three. What's more, they even managed to poach Renee Fleming, who will turn up here in America's Finest City for a concert in March.

Renee Fleming is coming to San Diego on March 24th, 2012!
After years of dodging religious evangelists at street corners and bus-stops, I broke my tradition and hung out with a few Mormon missionaries for quite a few months. A few are staying friends even though there isn't much hope of them ever converting me to that strangely socialistic and polytheistic religion. It is possible to love people even while being utterly repulsed by their dogma, I found. I hope our encounters benefited them as much as they benefited me.

Ever since I broke away from religions I've loathed to look back on the days that I spent in one. The missionaries reminded me of my younger evangelical Christian self, and it has been endlessly fascinating to re-examine things from such a different perspective. The more I learned about Mormonism the more inclined I am to worry about my new friends... but these gals are intelligent, I think, perhaps more so than I was. If I could escape my net, then I'm sure they can, too... and their journey is one they have to make themselves.

Having been such a slow reader of late, I am surprised to find that I managed to read more books than I thought I would in 2011. Robert Conot's River of Blood: Years of Darkness about the 1965 Watts Riot in Los Angeles started of the year on an alternatively chilling and instructive note.

I'm a genre-spree reader. I get into a certain sort of books and read a bunch of them one after another. Having labored through Bill Clinton's pudgy biography, My Life, I went a bit flaky and picked up Andrew Morton's Diana: Her True Story from a pile at a thrift shop's books section... along with one biography of her former spouse, Charles: Prince of Wales, by Anthony Holden. While Morton's homage to Princess Diana seems to have been written by someone a bit overly sympathetic to his subject, Holden's treatment of the young Prince Charles (before he married anyone) is quite fair and incisive. Pele's autobiography, Pele: My Life and The Beautiful Game, was a revelation. I already knew of his technical grace on the football field, but what he overcame to get to where he was and to still maintain his integrity was very inspiring.

Reading Gordon Ramsay's Roasting in Hell's Kitchen somehow didn't make me admire the man more. I love his UK version of Kitchen Nightmares, but the US version put a bad taste in my mouth (why does Fox have to turn every show into another version of hyper-sensationalized Judge Judy?). His sure is an interesting life, though he is such a type-A personality even in writing that I needed a break from the dude by the end of the book.

Even though I'm not a fan of operatic coloratura sopranos (though I'd make exceptions for Edita Gruberova and Natalie Desay), I was not above picking up Beverly Sills' Bubbles while browsing a local bookstore one summer evening. For all the bubbly persona she displayed in her public image, the gal was one tough cookie... and a heck of a singer, too!

I also got into a spree of real life adventures reading with Bear Grylls' Facing Up, Sir Edmund Hillary's 'Nothing Venture, Nothing Win', Stephen Venables' Everest: Alone At The Summit, Freddie Wilkinson's One Mountain - Thousand Summits, and Peter Jenkins' Across China. Except for the last one, these recount high-altitude climbing. Grylls was the youngest Briton to summit Everest in 1998 at age 23. He is better known to us Americans as the weirdo who does dare-devil stuff doing extreme survival things on a tv program where he seems to enjoy taking his clothes off for a skinny dip and eating raw fish fresh from the stream. Somehow his book persona seems quite more normal and sane by comparison. 

Venables' account of his amazing first oxygen-free ascent of Everest via the Kangshung Face is gripping and gives a great glimpse into what sort of mentality drives people to risk so much to achieve something that doesn't really seem to benefit anyone. Freddie Wilkinson's telling of the 2008 K2 disaster not surprisingly made me revisit the similar story of the infamous Everest tragedy of 1996. It amazed me that the only two climbers (Chhiring Dorje and Pemba Gyalje) on K2 in 2008 who had enough stamina to mount a rescue attempt after having summitted the peak themselves were, like Anatole Boukreev and Lopsang Jambu on Everest in 1996, superfit professionals who were climbing without the aid of supplementary oxygen. It's food for thought, at least, that in the end technological short cuts are no match for knowledge and rigorous preparation.

Sir Edmund Hillary's memoir is now one of my favorite books for his no nonsense and amazingly understated and unassuming narration of his remarkable life. The man was so bent on not crowing about his own abilities that I almost felt the urge to slap my mental image of him in the head... Of course he mentions his ascent of Everest, but that is only an icing on an already remarkable cake, I think. I hadn't known anything of his leading an expedition to the the South Pole, and the various other things that he went about doing that most people would only dream about. It takes a very secure man to not let all that get to his head.
I don't climb high mountains, though that doesn't stop me from reading about them.
Peter Jenkins didn't climb any mountain in his book, though he walked across quite a magnificent expanse of foreign landscape. I was familiar with him from his first book, A Walk Across America, a very interesting tale that got a bit less interesting for me when the dude turned religious toward the end of it.

I got 3/4 way through Rebecca West's venerated tome, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, about her travel through the Balkans in the 30's, but didn't finish it. It is an amazingly insightful book... though sometimes the author annoys me to no end with her philosophy.

The more interesting books I read this year, though, were Bronislaw Malinowski's Argonauts of the Western Pacific, Akio Morita's Made in Japan, Azar Narfisi' Reading Lolita in Tehran, Stephen Jay Gould's Ever Since Darwin, and Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible. Malinowski's account of the Trobriands of the Kiriwina Island (near Papua New Guinea) almost made me wish that I had majored in anthropology in college instead of biochemistry. If Indiana Jones could write a book about his exploits... I don't know, I think I'd still go for Prof Malinowski's vividly objective prose.

Akio Morita was a co-founder of Sony Corporation, and his self-made story is one capitalist Americans would love to claim for our own but can't. I suppose most of you readers will have read Narfisi's book and already wonder how to write like that in one's second language. Being a slow slug I'm still trying to catch up on the background reading required to completely understand her lessons!

Having to take lots of biology classes in college saved me from having to catch up on much background readings for Stephen Jay Gould's Ever Since Darwin, though I still found that I feel a bit smarter each time I re-read the book. The man made critical thinking seem so sexy...

Oddly enough, I found Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible reading through one of my favorite Mormon missionaries' favorite books list. It is a remarkable book. I should have liked to come across it while I was still a teenage Jesus-freak. I don't regret having gone down that road once, but I do regret the amount of time I spent on it... that and the lost opportunities. The book probably reads quite differently for those going through a religious phrase than it does for me. All the same it still flabbergasts me a little how anyone can read and like this thing and still volunteer to go on a religious mission afterward. confused smiley #17417

Anyhow! Tonight the calendar flips to a new page. I guess I will be staying up late, though mostly to try to get more work done than to watch the ball drop in Time Square. I don't think the cats around here even know what a 'new year' is, so I don't really celebrate days like this as much as normal people do (on the other hand, I love it when the wind changes to bring in a new season... or when the earth does strange things like trying to swallow the moon like it did earlier this month!). I'll be too busy to post much here for a week or two, so here is thanking everyone for putting up with my rambling posts. Wishing you all a very happy holiday season and 2012!


Anonymous said...

Wow. What an eventful year! Here's hoping the next one is eventful in the way you would wish. And your posts are NOT rambling !

Drew80 said...

Smorg, I hope your 2012 is off to a swell start. May you enjoy health, happiness and prosperity—and good opera performances, too—throughout the year.

We intend to catch Minnesota Opera’s “Werther” early in February, and perhaps we will attend the company’s “Madama Butterfly” in April. Otherwise, there will be no opera for us for a while (we are halfway thinking of going to New York to catch “Billy Budd” and “The Makropoulos Affair” at the Metropolitan Opera in early May, but I doubt that will happen).

yvette said...

You are a bookworm according to your passionate reading list and me, not a slow slug...Wish you lots and lots of positive reinforcements all around you! (as much and more than you give to your beloved dogs!) because you deserve all that! Thanks for your posts all year round!

Geisslein said...

Wish you all the best for 2012 ;-)

bereweber said...

dear Mister Smorg, that was a quite a review of your 2011, i already knew some facts as i am your reader, but i found some other ones really interesting... i wish you for 2012 some more friendly sniffing, plenty of Opera music, and so many pets! hope to see you soon around town...


Smorg said...

Arrgggh! Sorry I'm so late replying, maties! Time may fly when you're having fun, but it positively approaches the speed of light when your work isn't done! :oP (well, that's my current excuse anyhow).

Hiya Eyes: Thanks a bunch! :oD Now you'll get some blame for my longwindedness now for your encouragement. ;o) But at least rambling isn't as off-putting as rumbling, I hope. Happy 2012 to you, too!

Hiya Drew: Same to you, bro! :o) I'll try to catch one of Salome performances here in San Diego later in the month. Gotta get that out of my system (it was the opera that turned me off from opera for years when I first saw the thing. What deliciously depraved music! :o) Hope you & Josh will draw a good Werther! It's so important to have a good title role in that opera, I think, otherwise I always feel like shooting the tenor halfway through his death scene just to help move the show along a bit.

Madama Butterfly ought to be a good catch, though.... and so does 'Billy Budd'! That's about the only Britten opera I actually like. :oD

Bonjour Yvette: Happy wishes to you also! Thanks so much for putting up with me another year. It's life-enriching corresponding with you! :oD

Hallo Geisslein: Thanks so much for stopping by! Happy New Year to you, too. Thanks a bunch for all the good mood you induce every time I drop in on your blog. :oD

Hola bella Bere: Thanks a bunch! :oD Hey, we're almost neighbors again, I think. Seems I'll be sticking around town after all (won't know for sure until next week, though). Wishing you a very lovely 2012, too!

THanks a bunch again everyone for stopping by! Happy 2012! Sorry I'm really slothful this month so far. Internet connection is being erratic (no connection at all this morning, so I'm out at a cafe nearby using their free WiFi). :oP I should get more reading done out of it, ay?

Georg said...

Bonjour Smorgy,

Thanks for this condensed overfly 2011 and especially for your list of readings. "Reading Lolita in Tehran" sounds interesting to me though I don't know really why.

As I assume you are a very efficient dog trainer, getting results by persuasion and insight imaginatgion, you could always switch to people training for a more accomplished life under difficult circumstances.

Let me tell you that I am sure you'll make 2012 for you another success story. Success meaning here not like Mr Zuckerberg or Maddoff but more like Bertold Brecht "a head that cannot feed his belly is a stupid head".

Good Jump into 2012!


Id it is said...

Happy New Year to you and thank you for sharing with us all the interesting things you did over his past year.
Reading Lolita in Tehran is among my favorites ; the Poisonwood Bible is an intriguing title... perhaps a heads up on it in one of your future posts?

Charlotte said...

Hi! I got here from Thadieu's blog. Your mention of the Sills autobiography in this post reminded me that I've been meaning to read it for ages. I agree - she was one tough (and very clever and interesting) lady as well as having some fantastic singing technique.

Smorg said...

Sorry I'm so slow responding, everyone!

Hallo Georgy: Reading Lolita in Tehran is a great book indeed! I really recommend it. The pace is a bit slow, but it is endlessly fascinating to read Narfisi's point of view and imaginative prose. I remember a bit of state censorship and suppression of its citizens when I lived in Thailand in my childhood years, but it wasn't as bad as in Iran (at least the Buddhists there weren't that insecure about letting people choose to read stuff that aren't religion-friendly).

I'm afraid training people would be much harder than training dogs... People aren't always keen on pleasing you! ;o) Thanks very much for your confidence in me, though. I'm slugging along okay, I think.

I think I know the idea of success you mean. A lot of people here think I'm supposed to be more ambitious (as American value seem to be now... gotta have more stuff!), but the one thing I learned from my time in Thailand that I really like is the valuation of contentment. Life feels much less full of anxiety when one doesn't require more than one needs from it. :o) Here's wishing you a very happy 2012, too!

Hiya Id: Thanks very much for dropping by! I think I got interested in Narfisi's book from one of your post, actually... A great find. Thanks a bunch! :oD

The curious thing is I got curious about The Poisonwood Bible because it is on one of my Mormon friends' favorite books list on her Facebook page. The sister intrigues me since she actually thinks things out and is receptive to looking at things from non-Mormon perspectives, so I decided to read that book to see better what makes her tick.

It is really a remarkable book both for what it says and for how the story is told. Will try to write a proper review of it soon. :oD

Hiya Charlotte: Thanks very much for stopping by! Bubble is a much better autobiography than I expected it to be. I think she wrote one or two more (this one only covers her upbringing and early career, I think). :oD I almost became a coloratura lover watching her youtube clips afterward!

Georg said...


Just to tell you that I purchased "Lolita in Tehran". Now I am hoping I'll be able to appreciate it as much as you did.