Monday, December 30, 2013

James Joyce's Ulysses: Chapter 6, Hades

It's been a long time since I've written a Ulysses post. It's intense to read such a demanding book and then write about it! I'm hoping to get back on track now with Chapter 6, Hades.

In Chapter 6 of James Joyce's Ulysses, Leopold Bloom attends a funeral for a man called Paddy Dignam, which correlates to Odysseus' journey to the Greek underworld, Hades. Bloom sets off on his modern journey in a carriage with three other men, Martin Cunningham, Simon Dedalus, and Mr. Power. Savvy Joyce readers will immediately recognize Martin Cunningham and Mr. Power as characters from his short story Grace, in Dubliners. In fact, many characters from Grace appear in Hades, including Mr. Kernan, who the men meet in the graveyard. If his short story Grace is a critique of the Irish church, then Hades is a final rebuke--instead of finding true grace, all the characters from the original story end up in hell.

As the men travel to the graveyard, they pass Stephen Dedalus, Simon's son (the same Stephen from Chapters 1-3 and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). Bloom notes that Simon is a "Noisy selfwilled man" who's "full of his son." Yet, if Simon Dedalus is overbearing, Bloom also notes that he's right to be proud of his son, and to want "something to hand on." Simon's pride in his son reflects Achilles, who seems despondent in the underworld until Odysseus tells his of his glorious son, Neoptolemus. Bloom remembers his own infant son, who died at birth, and wishes he could have seen him grow up. Yet, he also remembers his daughter, Milly, who closely resembles his beloved wife Molly, and recognizes that life goes on in her.

To Bloom's chagrin, the next person they see from the carriage is Blazes Boylan, "the worst man in Dublin," who intends to seduce Bloom's wife Molly that afternoon. Boylan's arrogance and seductions make him like Orion, a Greek hunter who seduced women and bragged about his hunting prowess, and like Antinous, one of the suitors who tried to seduce Penelope. Perhaps to change the subject, Mr. Power asks Bloom about Molly's upcoming concert tour. After their discussion, Bloom wonders about Mr. Powers' rumored mistress, which is "not pleasant for the wife." Mr. Powers is like Agamemnon before his fall--his name literally indicates power, and he's cheating on his wife. He may not have yet paid the price for his sins, but his connection to the Greek king casts a pall of death on a man who otherwise seems well off.

The men see one last person before they arrive at the graveyard--an old Jew (Reuben), who Mr. Powers and Simon Dedalus curse and laugh at. Yet Martin Cunningham meets Bloom's eyes and remembers that Bloom is of Jewish descent, although he has since converted to Christianity. Instead of confronting the racist men, Bloom "eagerly" tells a funny story about the Jew they've passed. His enthusiasm reflects his desire to blend in with his companions, despite their racism towards his own people.

Taken together, the three men that the carriage passes on the way to the cemetery have a deep symbolism. They seem to represent three stages in a man's life: Stephen Dedalus is youth, Blazes Boylan is adulthood, and Reuben is old age. Their order is significant as well--as the carriage gets closer to the cemetery, the passersby get older, representing the approach of death as men age. Reuben has a special significance to Bloom: he reflects Bloom's Jewish ancestry and his alienation as a result of the narrow-minded racism of the typical Irishmen of the time. Yet, the old Jewish man has a deeper meaning: he reminds Bloom of his father.

Immediately after passing Reuben, they come to the cemetery where they see a funeral procession for a child ahead of them. After expressing pity for the poor little one, Mr. Power comments that suicide is "the worst of all" and "the greatest disgrace to have in a family." Martin Cunningham, a more compassionate man, tries to quiet him by suggesting the suicides might suffer from "temporary insanity," but Simon Dedalus breaks to say that "a man who does it is a coward." Bloom doesn't say a word, but reflects that Martin Cunningham is an intelligent and sympathetic man, and there's "no mercy on that [suicide] here." Later, Cunningham tells Mr. Power that Bloom's father committed suicide by poisoning himself. The discussion of suicide, especially after they passed an old Jewish man, invokes the image of Bloom's poor father, just as the child's funeral reminds him of his dead son Rudy.

Once at the funeral, the men discuss how Paddy Dignam's death has hurt his family, since he's left behind a wife and five children. Dignam's wasteful and dishonorable death from alcohol associates him with Elpenor, one of Odysseus' sailors from the Odyssey who falls off a roof after drinking too much. After the funeral, they discuss the service with Mr. Kernan, another character from "Grace." Once a drunk rather like the unfortunate Dignam, Kernan now seems caught up in religiosity, claiming that an impressive service touches his heart. Though Bloom agrees out loud, he thinks to himself that a heart is only a pump and once it's broken, you die. Yet, he perceives Kernan's "secret eyes, secretsearching," which associates Kernan with the Greek sage Tiresias, who discovered many secrets about life despite his blindness. Despite his past as a (blind?) drunk, or perhaps because of it, Kernan seems to understand more about that heart of matters than Bloom.

As he talks to Kernan, Bloom hears the men ahead of him talking about him--one man, John Henry Menton (whom Bloom apparently admires as honorable and generous) expresses jealousy and resentment when he hears that Bloom is married to Molly, a woman he once greatly admired. As they leave the cemetery, Bloom tries to get Menton's attention by pointing out his hat is crushed, but Menton refuses to speak to him, leaving him chapfallen. Menton reflects the Greek warrior Ajax, who refuses to speak to Odysseus in the underworld due to jealousy.

Many of the characters in Chapter 6 of Ulysses represent characters from Greek mythology. Although I've covered many of them above, there are a few more to add. Martin Cunningham is Sisyphus--his alcoholic wife is "leading him the life of the damned" and he constantly keeps his "shoulder to the wheel" trying to keep her sober. The graveyard caretaker is Hades and his wife is Proserpina, since she must live in the graveyard with her husband. Bloom, of course, is Ulysses, and his unfortunate father is Laertes. Stephen Dedalus is Telemachus.

Blogs for James Joyce's Ulysses: 

Chapter Two, Nestor

Blog Posts for James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

Chapter One

Blog Posts for James Joyce's Dubliners:

"The Sisters" and "An Encounter"

"After the Race" and "Two Gallants"

"A Little Cloud" and "Counterparts"

"Clay" and "A Painful Case"

"Ivy Day in the Committee Room"

"A Mother"


"The Dead"

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Poems: Winter Solstice, Pure Gold, and Santa's Lap

six months old today

born on the summer solstice

child of light

even in winter

she warms my soul

time with her

is pure gold

and each kiss
a pearl
i am rich
beyond measure
in the things that count

on Santa's lap

pulling his great white beard

memory to treasure

Other Poetry Posts:

Monday, December 16, 2013

Looking Forward to the Holidays

This is a bit late for the blog hop, but I'm writing about the things I look forward to this time of year. My husband and I love the holiday season and look forward to celebrating Christmas with our family.

1. My Baby's First Christmas!

So I can't say I always look forward to this, since this is the first year we've had our little girl, but I'm beyond excited that my baby Anwen is celebrating Christmas for the first time this year. She's a sweet, joyful baby who loves getting love and attention from everyone in our family, from her grandparents to her aunties and uncles. We already have adorable pictures of her with Santa, and I can't wait to take pictures of her with all her family. 

2. Cookies! Cakes! Chocolate! Pies!

So I have a serious sweet tooth, and I love love love baking (and eating) cookies and other holidays sweets. My mother has a few special cookie recipes that we've made in our family since I was a small child--jam thumbprints, orange and lemon cookie slices, peppermint candy cane cookies, and others. We made jam thumbprints over Thanksgiving, so I think we'll make orange and lemon cookie slices when we visit over Christmas. I'm also planning to make a buche de noel this year, which will hopefully be amazing. 

3. Prime Rib and Yorkshire Pudding

While most people in America have turkey for Christmas, my family always makes traditional English roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. My grandfather was English, and he preferred roast beef to turkey, thus the family tradition began. And it's marvelous. I might love turkey at Thanksgiving and other celebrations, but roasted prime rib for Christmas served with savory Yorkshire pudding makes Christmas stand out.

4. Music!

As I've mentioned before, I love Christmas music! From great classics like Handel's Messiah to modern music by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, I'm fascinated by holiday music. 

5. Movies and Christmas Specials!

Maybe sometimes Christmas movies are a bit sappy, but I think it's nice to sit back and enjoy the warm, fuzzy feelings that emanate from holiday movies and TV shows. So much of the news is dark and depressing, so it's a relief to me to enjoy some light feel-goodness this time of year. Besides, if it all gets a little too sugary, shows like Futurama and Invader Zim have excellent dark-funny Christmas episodes. 

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Warrior Muse: Insecure Writer's Support Group

The Warrior Muse: Insecure Writer's Support Group & Links: It's that time again, folks! The first Wednesday of the month means Insecure Writer's gather together to discuss their insecuriti...

Pascale Method for Violin--A Review

While I consider myself a Suzuki violin teacher, I do think it's valuable for all teachers to explore different methods and approaches to teaching. After all, no two students are the same, so the teaching methods that work well for one student might not work for another. I think this is consistent with Suzuki's philosophy of musical education for all children, including those who prefer to learn in a different way.

With that in mind, I decided to keep an open mind when the head of the music school I teach at recommended trying the Pascale Method book for our beginning violin students. I'm very glad I did. For one thing, I think that the method actually blends very well with Suzuki Method--in fact, it's an excellent "pre-twinkle" book, similar to the Step by Step books by Kerstin Wartberg. The twelve lessons in the Pascale Method lead up to students playing Twinkle Variation A, so they segue nicely into the first Suzuki Book.

The best part of the Pascale Method is really the extras-- the DVD (which is included in the book), and the sticker pack, which is sold separately. All of the students loved using the stickers (it never ceases to amaze me how much stickers can motivate kids). The stickers kept students engaged and helped them enjoy their lessons. I used the stickers in place of M&Ms in focus exercises, as prizes for doing enough repetitions, and as markers for finger placement on the violin and the bow.

The DVD was incredibly useful as well. One of my biggest problems is getting young children to practice at home. Often, parents don't have the time to help them much, or they don't feel they understand the violin well enough to help their children. As any music teacher can tell you, practice is essential to learning an instrument, and young children need their parents to help them. Thankfully, the DVD had clear instructions and good demonstrations, so it helped inspire the children to practice. It also gave the parents more confidence that they could help their children, since the DVD reminded them of what the children learned in their lessons.

As for the content and order of the lessons themselves, it was overall pretty good. I thought that the steps to holding the violin were a bit long, but they were also fool proof. The "elevator on the violin: exercise was so effective at developing a straight bow that I started using it on many of my more advanced students as well (To be fair, I don't think this exercise is unique to the Pascale Method, as I've seen similar exercises before, but this one is particularly clear and the DVD demonstration very useful). Likewise, the "four string airplane" and other open string exercises were valuable. However, I did not care for their method for shaping the bow hand--it seemed needlessly complicated and was not introduced fast enough. I ended up skipping most of their videos and suggestions for bow hand and teaching it the way I prefer.

I also found the note-reading sections of the books frustrating to use. They introduced concepts so fast that many of the younger students couldn't keep up, and they didn't reinforce concepts enough throughout the book. For example, in the early lessons, the books have activities for learning the musical staff and finding the open string notes. But for a young child to understand the musical staff and find notes reliably, they need to practice over and over again. Personally, I think it would be better for them to leave out the note-reading and focus on violin techniques, or at least go slower. However, I did like that the books taught rhythms using Kodaly syllables. That was very helpful, since many children had already learned ta or ti-ti from their elementary music classes. It gave students a way to connect what they learned at school with their violin, and I find Kodaly syllables helpful for students who struggle with rhythm.

Overall, I'd recommend the Pascale Method for Violin as a pre-twinkle book. The DVD and the stickers encourage children to practice at home, and the lessons have some good content.

Related articles on Suzuki Method and Violin/Viola teaching or performing:

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Dream Destination: Vienna, Austria

Read more about the Blog Hop at Lexa and Julie's blogs.

Vienna is a city every musician should visit at least once. It was home to many of the greatest composers who ever lived, including Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and Brahms. I'd love to visit Vienna to walk on the same streets that these brilliant musicians walked. For me, traveling to Vienna would be like going on a musical pilgrimage. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Classical Music for Christmas

I love the Christmas season, everything from the decorations to the delicious food. It's a wonderful time to celebrate love and family. As a musician, I enjoy Christmas music, and I've played in performances of great classics like the Nutcracker to modern shows with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Since I love classical music as well as Christmas, here are three classical pieces that celebrate the holiday season!

1. Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker

Many ballet companies perform the Nutcracker as a Christmas tradition. Not only is the dancing beautiful, but the music is lovely. Don't listen to just the traditional dances--the entire ballet is full of evocative music. I love listening to the first half of the ballet in particular; you can hear contrasting sections of music that reflect little boys and girls playing while their parents enjoy a stately dance, an exciting battle between the mice and the toy soldiers, and the glorious "snowflake" song. The Nutcracker captures the mystery and magic of Christmas without feeling too saccharine. It's traditional, yet it's not nearly as over-played as songs like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," which keeps it fresh.

2. Handel's Messiah

The Messiah is a gorgeous baroque oratorio (a piece for soloists, choir, and orchestra). It has three parts, the first of which is traditionally performed at Christmastime, since its text focuses on the biblical prophesies that predicted the birth of Jesus to the annunciation to the shepherds. The second and third parts are traditionally performed at Easter, since they depict the Passion and the Resurrection. I love this piece for its power; the choir and orchestra capture the majesty of Christmas. If the Nutcracker depicts the magical, dreamlike side of the holiday, the Messiah depicts its religious mystery and awe.

3. J.S. Bach's Christmas Oratorio (Weihnachts-Oratorium)

This season, I decided to look for new Christmas music, since I've listened to traditional holiday music quite a bit and wanted a change. I discovered Bach's Christmas Oratorio, which is a glorious piece of music. Originally performed over six days, it tells the story of Christmas from the birth of Jesus to the adoration of the Magi. The music is sublime and refreshing, yet still traditional baroque. For musicians used to hearing Bach's works for solo instruments, like the cello suites or the violin sonatas, it's striking to hear such a large scale work from the great master composer. The music is profound, but with a unexpected depth of passion that makes this fascinating to hear. 

I'm always looking to discover more Christmas classics, so feel free to leave a comment if you have any suggestions for me to listen to.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Famous Greeks on Audible

Since I enjoyed Famous Romans so much, I decided to see if Audible had anymore courses by the same Professor, Rufus Fears. It turns out that Prof. Fears did several different courses, including Famous Greeks as well as titles like Life Lessons from the Great Myths. I decided to listen to Famous Greeks next.

While I love Greek myths and literature, especially Homer's Iliad and the Odyssey, I was not very familiar with ancient Greek history (I knew way more about Rome from studying Latin and reading historical fiction like I, Claudius). However, this audio book gives a very thorough grounding in the history of ancient Greece, beginning with mythological heroes like Theseus, and going all the way to Alexander the Great and Cleopatra (yes, Cleopatra was actually Greek). Throughout the series, Fears emphasizes how much Greek traditions and beliefs about freedom and equality inspired the American Constitution and our Founding Fathers. Athens, for example, is the world's first known democracy and had a balanced constitution developed by the poet and reformer Solon. Sparta's great lawgiver, Lycurgus, started a highly militaristic and communal culture that prized austerity and equality. Lycurgus developed a balanced constitution with elements of democracy, and he ensured equality among its citizens by guaranteeing them a plot of land at birth (which was farmed by slaves, but that's a story for another day). Spartan women had considerable freedom as well--they were educated much like boys were, with an emphasis on physical fitness and the arts.

In addition to their political innovations, the Greeks had such incredible literature and philosophy that Greece is called the cradle of Western Civilization. Fears covers philosophers such as Pythagoras and Plato, and he gives a fascinating account of the life and death of Socrates, as it might have seemed to a typical Athenian citizen. Few people know that Socrates' most prized student, Alcibiades, was ambitious to the point of being amoral--he was the brilliant youth whom Socrates was accused of corrupting, with some good reason. Fears also examines Athenian drama, in particular how the plays of Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus reflected the political environment of Athens.

In short, I found Famous Greeks completely engaging. I feel like I gained a much more profound insight into ancient Greek culture and history than I had before. Since ancient Greece is the birthplace of democracy, its history feels incredibly relevant to our political situations today (especially Solon the Athenian's careful treading of a middle way, and the Greek belief in avoiding extremes). If you are interested in listening to history on audible, I'd definitely recommend Famous Greeks.

Other Audible Reviews:

The Plantagenets

Famous Romans

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Five of My Favorite TV Shows

My Top Five Favorite TV Shows (currently watching)

1. Lost Girl

I discovered this Canadian TV show on Netflix and I'm so glad I did. It's an amazing urban fantasy, with a vibe like Buffy the Vampire Slayer on ecstasy. The main character, Bo, discovers that she's fae, a type of magical being that feeds off human energy or emotions. In her case, she's a succubus who feeds of sexual energy (it makes for some awesome sex scenes). Fae society is strictly divided between the light fae and the dark, with a set of complicated rules governing how the two sides interact with each other. With her best friend Kenzi, her mysterious mentor Trick, and her assortment of lovers, Bo sets about helping fae on both sides of the aisle. 

2. The League

I've never card at all about football, and I don't know anything fantasy football, but I do know that this show is hilarious. The characters are members of a fantasy football league who will stop at nothing to win the championship, whether its sabotaging each other in bizarre ways or trading away "naming rights" for their baby. What more is there to say about a series that depicts a raging Krampus attacking Santa Claus in the mall, or a baby named Chalupa Batman?

3. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

This show can be really funny, although they might be a little too raunchy for some people's taste. It's about five people living in Philadelphia who run Paddy's Pub, a seedy bar. The newest season is one of their bests, with episodes such as "Flowers for Charlie," a hilarious homage to Flowers for Algernon that depicts the dumbest character on the show, Charlie, taking part in an experiment to make him more intelligent. I won't spoil the reveal, but it is priceless! Another great episode, "Mac Day" has Sean Williams Scott (Stiffler from the American Pie movies) in a brilliant guest starring role. 

4. The Blue Planet 

I love nature shows. They have soothing voices (usually the oh-so-British David Attenborough) which I find calming after a stressful day. But most of all, they capture the grandeur and beauty of life on Earth. From awe-inspiring footage of dolphins or enormous blue whales, to the struggles of the humble hermit crab, the Blue Planet is gorgeous and engaging. Bonus points for being educational enough that I don't feel bad watching it with my baby :)

5. Firefly

I've watched Firefly at least three or four times (probably more), but I'm re-watching it again with my husband. It's a fantastic science fiction show by Joss Wedon, set in a solar system people colonized after we used up Earth's resources. It follows a band of outlaws living on the fringes of the system, trying to survive any way they can. Captain Mal is part Robin Hood and part Jesse James, and the show really captures the frontier aspects of space travel. It still bothers me that the show was cancelled after just one season, but at least we have it on DVD and Netflix.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

My Baby's First Camping Trip

My husband and I love camping, so when we had our baby, we wanted to teach her to love the outdoors as much as we do. We recently took our daughter Anwen on her first camping trip (at four moths old) and everyone had a fantastic time!

Anwen and our friend Laura

It turns out you can take babies camping as young as six weeks old (although I'd be VERY cautious with a baby that young). Anwen loved being outdoors and we had gorgeous weather. We were camping with a large group of friends, which meant that there were plenty of people holding her and playing with her all day long. (Note: I think this might be the key to successfully camping with a baby. Lots of hands and lots of eyes looking out for her--it really does take a village).

One of our friends lent us a large six-person tent--the Cabela's Alaskan Guide. We had enough room in the tent to bring Anwen's pack-n-play for her to sleep in. It got down to around 40 degrees at night, so we dressed her very warmly, layering her regular sleeper underneath her fuzzy bunting. I snuggled her in my sleeping bag to warm her up when I thought she might be getting cold. On the whole, I thought she handled the cold very well.

We brought her baby bjorn to put her in when we went for walks around the campsite. We were camping in Davy Crockett National Forest in East Texas, and it was beautiful. Since we were celebrating my husband David's birthday, everyone made a special meal--leg of lamb and tri-tip steak, baked potatoes, green beans, and a dutch-oven cobbler for dessert. The food was delicious!

Overlook in Davy Crockett National Forest

One of the pleasant things about camping is having a great bonfire. It gives you warmth, keeps away bugs, and cooks food. Sitting around a campfire with a group of friends is one of the best parts of camping (especially if you love s'mores, like me). Anwen found the fire fascinating; she kept staring at it. Luckily, she's not crawling or walking, so I didn't have to worry about her getting too close to it. 

Sitting around the fire