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Picking Up Where We Left Off: VPL Trip 2017

*This is a bonus post! After reflecting on how much of an impact the library trip made on me last year, I felt compelled to include the sequel in my eminent anthology. Enjoy!*

The main thing I took away from the trip, other than seven books, was a greater sense of community with the TALONS learners, particularly the grade tens.

-Library post, 2016

Photos to the event can be found here (don’t worry, there are still many blurry selfies to enjoy)

When we as humans experience amazing and life-changing events one year, we feel the expectation to improve on them the next if given the opportunity. I felt this similar weight, small but constantly present, as I prepared three Wednesdays ago to visit the Vancouver Public Library and Macleod’s Bookstore with the entire TALONS program!!! (minus Ms. Mulder). I had some specific goals in mind:

  1. Get several books about my Eminent Person. These wonders of ink and paper were the basis of all my research last year, and I wanted to make sure I had at least a few biographies of Dmitri Shostakovich. Also, because a quick search on the library’s website revealed that there were more than a dozen books about him, I would have to make several decisions about which books I would use. This process would act as a filtration system.
  2.  Bond with the grade 9’s. I stated in my library post from last year that I felt a great deal closer to the grade 10’s after the event. I wanted to socialize with the 9’s as much as possible, and hopefully learn more about them and their wants and fears about this study and the year overall.
  3. Gain experience leading a truly large group. In the full year-and-a-bit that I’ve been in TALONS, the entire cohort of 50-something learners has never traveled as a group outside of Gleneagle walls. Now, we would be traversing around downtown Vancouver, and the quiet confines of the library. No matter how much I mentally prepared myself for this aspect of the trip, I had no idea as to how difficult it would actually be!

The Event

We met early at 7:45 at Lincoln Skytrain Station, before taking transit to downtown Vancouver. After splitting up into two different groups, I headed into the Central Branch at the Vancouver Public Library, and scurried to the top floor to grab as many books as I could humanly carry. Too quickly, however, time was up, and I dragged the volumes back down to the food court, where I had a delicious and eclectic meal of Hawaiian pizza with a chicken teriyaki bento box. Next, we visited Macleod’s Bookstore, and I was yet again astonished by the literally endless amount of novels. After finding just one book about Shostakovich (and one that will be featured in a future post – but not for the reasons you think), I started to peruse the shelves at random, helping friends find books or just looking out of curiosity. I absolutely plan to visit that store again in the near future, as I could literally spend hours upon hours getting lost in the sea of books. Since much time remained, we returned to the VPL to do a little more research, and returned back home at around 3. I was absolutely exhausted, and took a well-deserved nap as soon as I got home.

Reflection

  1. Did I meet my goals?
    1. Absolutely. I checked a total of seven books about Shostakovich, and dug into a few of them immediately.
    2. This objective is a little more difficult to assess. My first mistake was to expect the exact same experience as I had in grade 9. This was obviously impossible, since my role in this trip was to be more of a mentor and a leader. Since there is absolutely no way I could have entered the 9’s heads and understand their experiences and feelings, I shouldn’t have banked so much on their enjoyment of the trip to define mine. That being said, I really did enjoy getting to know some of them, and was able to converse with around half of the class.
    3. I was not ready whatsoever for the perils of leading such a big group without the guidance of Ms. Mulder (nothing on you, Mr. S or Mr. Morris!). We left a 9 at the first Skytrain stop, countoff was an adventure in itself, and we got several slightly annoyed glances from other passengers on the Skytrain. However, the bonding experience between the entire classes would have been impossible if the event didn’t occur. This connects to my…

Theme

  1. When an educational experience is presented in a manner that brings learners together with a common goal (research), it is able to connect them in several ways.

My theme is very similar to that of last years, when I stated that “any work that got done was a bonus”. I think that we all enjoyed each other’s company very much, and are more cohesive as a group now.

That’s a wrap on the final library trip I’ll ever attend! More to come soon….

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Begin Again: Eminent Intro Post 2017

So, Eminent Person, goodbye.

Until next year.

-Eminent Closing Post, 11/20/16

Until next year. Those words have been ricocheting around in my head the entire year, as the second go-around of this massive project approaches. I’ve been feeling immense pressure, to be honest. Pressure to go farther with this project, delve inside my eminent person, and somehow create an end result that is more rewarding for me than the project I completed last year (to put my expectations in context, my Glenn Gould experience has taken me to his grave, old apartment, and statue in Toronto, as well as meeting and becoming friends with his primary biographer). After much thought, deliberation, and consultation with several TALONS and TALONS alumni, my decision has been made.

Around two years ago, I read a YA Non-fiction book (if such a genre exists) about the Siege of Leningrad by Nazis from 1941-1944 entitled Symphony for the City of the Dead. Enchanted by its engaging and fast-paced prose, I became consumed by the tale of survival of thousands in a besieged, starvation-filled place. In between all that, I became fascinated with the story of a certain Dmitri Shostakovich, a Russian composer who lived in Leningrad for a part of the occupation and wrote a symphony, the Seventh Symphony, that became world famous shortly afterwards.

 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/ab/Dmitri_Shostakovich_credit_Deutsche_Fotothek_adjusted.jpg/1200px-Dmitri_Shostakovich_credit_Deutsche_Fotothek_adjusted.jpg

 

That, however, is just one story of Shostakovich. In light of what I’ve learned in English about rejecting the single-story narrative, my Eminent Person’s biography must contain at least a few more important moments that are key to understanding his life.

Born in Saint Petersburg in 1906, Shostakovich displayed significant musical talent at a young age, and began to take piano lessons with his mother. He entered a conservatory at just thirteen, fostering his pianistic and compositional talents, and was named a rising Russian composer.

Everything changed on January 26, 1936. Shostakovich’s dark and lurid opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District was performing so well that Joseph Stalin, the Secretary of the Soviet Union himself (and murderer of millions of innocent citizens), decided to attend a performance. It couldn’t have gone worse. According to witnesses, Stalin shook every time the rightfully nervous orchestra played too loudly, and didn’t even stay for the entire show. The next morning, the official state newspaper had this to say about the opera: “Singing is replaced by shrieking. The music quacks, hoots, growls and gasps…”

Shostakovich subsequently fell into a deep depression. To compound his issues, 1936 is widely known as the start of Stalin’s Great Terror, where millions were sent to their deaths in labour camps, and several intelligentsia were executed. Multiple of Shostakovich’s friends and family were imprisoned, and Shostakovich feared that he would be next. He constantly lived in fear of imprisonment for the rest of his life, even after being restored back in the government’s favour, before being denounced yet another time in 1948 for writing ‘anti-formalist’ and having his compositions banned. After his death in 1975, his legacy erupted when a book named Testimony, purporting to be his memoirs, was published. He was revealed to be a revisionist, whose actions (joining the Communist party, writing commissioned works for the party celebrating its dominance, etc.) were made under a constant fear of imprisonment. Those who support this book believe that Shostakovich left musical codes in his works that evaded Soviet censors. A huge debate among historians was then launched concerning whether the book was legitimate or not (this will be discussed in a future post), a book about this subject has even been published, and endless online articles have been written.

So why Shostakovich?

First of all, I embarked on finding an eminent person that would give me a challenge. As can be seen in the table below, I do not share too many characteristics with Shostakovich, outside of our common passion for classical music.

Lucas Dmitri
Male Male
Taiwanese heritage Russian/Siberian heritage
Had two sisters only Had two sisters only
Pianist Pianist
Does not compose Composes
Classical music passion Classical music passion
(Hopefully will not) live under extreme pressure from external sources of power Lived under extreme pressure from external sources of power

Some barriers that could possibly get in the way of me fulfilling my goals include the fact that Shostakovich and I are of significantly different races. However, I believe that race is not an important factor in considering his story, and had very little importance on his actions/actions of those around him. More importantly is being able to understand who he was past the façade that has built in recent decades. Finally, among all this, I seek guidance from this man about how to attain a position of eminence that he did, being able to be a well-respected professional musician.

I want to immerse myself within his life, but more importantly, be able to apply his thoughts and ideas to other places in my life. He was known to be an incredibly private man, and little of his own personal thoughts remain (outside of Testimony). This presents to me an incredible opportunity to basically become a historian for a month, and make my own interpretations of how I want to portray him. I can unwrap the layers surrounding his personality, built up by time and legend, and try to find some version of this man that makes sense to me. For these reasons, I am especially excited to emulate Shostakovich in my speech. Some questions I have already brainstormed that I hope to answer through this study include:

  1. Who did Shostakovich really support? Was he an absolute Communist or underground dissident (to paraphrase the catchphrase of one of his biographies)?
  2. How should we interpret his music?
  3. If his music was in fact anti-Stalin, why did the government not notice these connotations, and arrest Shostakovich?
  4. How was Shostakovich able to move so many Russians with his music?

And, to extrapolate beyond this, I created another list of queries that are more universal:

  1. How should we interpret music, and how much of it can be seen as a personal statement by the composer/How much of the composer’s personality does it reveal?
  2. What role can music play in influencing others/society?
  3. When is it best to conform to others, and follow their wishes, or rebel in some form?
  4. How can one rebel against others whose views are not supported by the individual?

I do not expect to completely answer these questions, especially those of the second list, but hope to at least be able to gain some grasp of what they mean in my life.

As you can see, I’ve taken a pretty big risk by choosing Shostakovich. It could turn out that he was in full favour of Stalin, and truly supported the Communist Party and its purges. Or, just as disappointing, he was what the pro-Testimony supporters think all along: a complete dissident, dodging executions while implanting musical landmines in his compositions. I’m not sure if the results will be any close to those, though. Humans, especially musicians and composers with as many layers as Shostakovich, are nowhere as simple as that. I’ll find answers to a few questions, but real, exciting discoveries are certain to be few and far between. The joy I’ll really bask in will be exploring paths I accidentally stumble upon along the way, and making connections with myself that I never would have dreamed of.

Here’s to Eminent, to more adventures, and to more late nights filled with revelations.

Here we go again.

 

http://https://i.pinimg.com/736x/50/ef/02/50ef02ccb2e2df010041f61ddfa90f2e–dmitri-shostakovich-composers.jpg

 

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Blog Response #3: Harrison 2081

In your opinion, what is the most effective medium for telling the “Harrison Bergeron” narrative: film or text? Explain your answer using specific details that relate to each version, as well as thoughtful reasoning.

Despite creating a more exciting and compelling version of Kurt Vonnegut’s written work Harrison Bergeron, the short film 2081 fails to capture the author’s cold and inhuman world that is essential to understanding this work. Vonnegut’s intent is to portray a civilization that is totally equal, making it impossible for fake bombs and satellite dishes to be secretly planted under a concert hall without being noticed like Harrison was able to in 2081. The film seems to forget how much of a fundamental part handicaps are in this society. Harrison is supposed to be looking like a “walking junkyard”, with 300-pound handicaps, not to mention “a red rubber ball for a nose”, shaved eyebrows, and black tooth caps (3/4). Yet in the film, he retains all of his regular facial features, and his handicaps don’t seem too much heavier than that of his father’s. Similarly, the ballerinas are only wearing small, elegant face masks, and don’t seem to be burdened by their weights. Finally, the film curiously juxtaposes who is watching Harrison’s demise on television: George is shown staring in the TV, seemingly making a connection with his son and holding a brief, but lasting moment of understanding. However sweet and sentimental it makes the scene, Vonnegut purposely sat Hazel in the viewing chair for this scene. He wanted her to watch the scene unfold without being hindered by handicaps, and still have absolutely no recollection of what just occurred. The reader can then infer that this scene might not be such a one-off, that scenes of rebellion occur more frequently, and it is through the constant work of the Handicapper General that no one can remember it.

Ignorance is bliss, Vonnegut suggests. Even though you can see exactly what is going on in front of your eyes, by being unable to register it, or perhaps choosing not to care, the problem does not really exist. However, 2081 twists this meaning, and is unable to realistically convert his vision to the screen. If the film is intending to show a world that is only a little cruel to those with special skills, only slightly harsh with handicaps, and a place where even the invincible Handicapper General makes mistakes, then it succeeds. However, this society is the opposite of what Vonnegut intended to show, and must be considered as a failure in this aspect.

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Blog Response #2 – Passive Racism

What is the thesis of David Suzuki’s “Racism”? This letter could be a letter to you. What did you learn or ‘take away’ from his experiences? Do you appreciate his message? Why?

As the Dalai Lama once said, “The greatest challenge facing our century is that we are raising a generation of passive bystanders.” David Suzuki conveys a similar message in “Racism”: when we quietly embrace single stories without any second thoughts of the person involved and their background, we are no better than those who are openly bigots and racists. When Suzuki and his family lived in a Japanese internment camp during World War Two, he was effectively banished from the community because he couldn’t speak Japanese like other kids in the camp. He “felt like an outcast in the village and preferred to stay away from the kids” (25). Other children automatically assumed that Suzuki was a traitor simply because he couldn’t speak their language, and were inherently perpetuating a single story narrative about him and those similar to him. These bystanders were probably influenced by their parents’ anger towards the English-speaking government, and failed to act and show support for Suzuki. I found that the ‘take away’ found in this story was very similar to that of Budge Wilson’s “The Metaphor”, as both incite the reader to take action against bigotry and support those in need. Although the vast number of different stories and anecdotes that Suzuki told in his writing occasionally drifted away from his thesis and lacked a connection between them, they had enough meaning to sustain my interest. Being of Asian heritage, I found it enlightening to learn about past acts of racism towards Asian-Canadians, since we live in a much more accepting and integrated society today. As a result, I was more empowered by Suzuki’s call to action.

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Blog Response #1 – “The Metaphor” and Inaction

What might you ‘take away’ from our discussions of Stuart Mclean’s “Emil” or “Safe Places,” Chamimanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story,” or Budge Wilson’s “The Metaphor” this week? How might you apply this ‘take away’ to your life or passions, learning you have done in other classes, or significant events or ideas taking place in the world as a whole? 

One important piece of advice I took away from Budge Wilson’s thoughtful and powerfully written story “The Metaphor” is to always stand up for someone or something I care about, regardless of the risk of being ostracized by peers. Charlotte, the protagonist, clearly loves Miss Hancock, her “overenthusiastic” English teacher (215) and her class. However, when Miss Hancock is shunned by her grade ten English class for her eccentric teaching style, Charlotte chooses to fit in with the crowd and decides not to reconnect with Miss Hancock. The disgruntled teacher commits suicide a few months later, and Charlotte blames her “own blatant betrayal” for Miss Hancock’s death (231). The plot was too dramatic for my liking, but also made the intended message of the story clearer and easier to understand. The author also clearly emphasizes the role that Charlotte had in this tragic turn of events. I am not sure that any choices I make right now are drastic enough to decide someone’s life, but there are various places in my life where I can apply Wilson’s meaning. In social situations where a person is being outed for being of a different race, gender, or sexuality, I can say something to help them. It can leave a huge positive impact on them to know that they’re not alone. These kinds of inclusive actions are outlined in the BC Social Responsibility Curriculum, such as “demonstrat[ing] respectful and inclusive behaviour” and “advocat[ing] for others”. Also, even though multiple of my passions (classical music and Shakespeare) are not conventional and may be seen as boring, I should be an advocate of those subjects because I care deeply about them. If I make efforts to defend these passions, then perhaps new doors will be opened for me create more rewarding and inclusive friendships, just like what might have happened to Charlotte if she chose to support Miss Hancock.

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Emil Theme Response

Few would befriend a homeless stranger who stands outside a record store and steals plants. But as seen in Stuart McLean’s “Emil”, Morley, the shop owner’s wife, discovers that making genuine efforts to connect with those who seem different than her is central to developing deeper and more rewarding friendships. After trying to give him money and food, and often being turned down, the first time that Morley can truly understand Emil is when she finds him robbing her garden. Instead of getting angry, she asks him if he owns a garden. At that instant, “he was clear and she could see him – the real person” (116). Whatever Morley saw in Emil, this epiphany could not have materialized if she chose to confront him like her husband Dave wanted her to. Over the next few days, when Morley sees how important Emil’s plants are to him (he moved them around the city twelve times!), she decides to help him, giving him “stuff for the aphids” (117). And at the end of the story, Morley decides to buy a few more plants for Emil, knowing that they’ll bloom and “surprise” him in the spring, and be worth more to him than any sandwich or 5-dollar bill he’ll ever receive (121). It seems unlikely that the wife of a straightforward record-shop owner would ever strike up a friendship with a homeless man who steals from her garden. But through empathy and understanding, these bonds are not only possible, but incredibly fruitful as well.

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