Reading(s) for the Day: Bei Dao, Goya, and The Women’s Review of Books

Because self is so easily inspired by everything these days: by Bei Dao, who she got to see in the flesh this afternoon, at the Chinese Cultural Center in San Francisco (and self will forever be grateful to Sabina Chen for sending her the e-mail that told her he was coming); by the book she’s currently reading (Goya, by Robert Hughes); by an issue of The Women’s Review of Books that she just happened to pick up (July/August 2006), and because hubby has not yet started the movie he so thoughtfully rented for self from Blockbuster: Keeping Mum, a movie self has never heard of, but which stars, if you can believe this: Rowan Atkinson (aka “Mr. Bean”), Patrick Swayze, Kristin Scott-Thomas (of The English Patient) and Maggie Smith (Grand Dame of English Thespians), self simply wants to share with loyal blog readers how moved she was by Bei Dao’s humanity.

Self bought a book of his essays, Midnight’s Gate (She would have bought his autobiography, Autobiography of Failure, but it hasn’t been translated — yet), and all hail to the publisher, New Directions, for starting a series called Rainmaker Translations, which, self reads on the book’s inside cover, is a series “meant to encourage a lively reading experience of contemporary world literature drawn from diverse languages and cultures,” and of course self had to have it signed by the Great One himself, and when he was bending over her book self said, apropos of nothing in particular, “I’m from the Philippines,” and that made him look up (for some reason), and then self added, “But I studied in the Stanford Creative Writing Program” (and, I know, I know, WHEN will self ever stop bringing that up, for that was 20 years ago, for God’s sake, but every time she does the reaction is always something like what happened next) and he stopped, actually stopped writing, and looked self straight in the eye, and repeated, “You’re from Stanford?” And self said, “Yes, and I actually have a degree in Chinese Studies.” And the man said, still with that penetrating look, “You speak Chinese?” At which point self said, “Yes, I had to take 45 units, that is, the equivalent of three years. But — ah– don’t ask me to speak Mandarin, because — ah– it would be too embarrassing and — ah — Mr. Bei Dao, did anyone ever tell you how young you look for your age???” And a huge, I mean HUGE smile broke out on Mr. Bei Dao’s face, and in the meantime self was stumbling away thinking, Self! You’re too much! Simply too much! Next thing you know, Mr. Bei Dao will think you’re a stalker or something!!!

Anyhoo, self went home. And cracked open Midnight’s Gate first thing. And pored over Bei Dao’s calligraphic signature, and the date: July 29, 2007 (looks like his hand might have slipped over the first “0”). And the first line of his book is:

I moved to New York because of a conflagration.

OK. That’s enough for now, self needs time to get her mind in gear, this is one book she’ll definitely be bringing on the plane flying to Virginia.

Self resumes reading the Goya. Here she reads:

For thirty-nine years, from 1789 till his death in France in 1828, he was steadily employed as a court painter.

Thirty-nine years! Imagine keeping at anything for thirty-nine years! And self was just wondering if she could possibly sustain the energy for this blog for more than one or two years! Now self tells herself: Don’t be such a ninny! If Goya could work at court for 39 years, you too, self, can sustain this blog for thirty-nine years! (Of course, Goya was probably being paid for his efforts, whereas self is doing this blog for the benefit of humanity and — once again, I digress.)

Then, buoyed by the magnificent knowledge that it would indeed be possible to keep at this blog for another 39 years, self decided to read The Women’s Review of Books. And her eye immediately fell upon a review of a book called The Woman in the Shaman’s Body: Reclaiming the Feminine in Religion and Medicine. And self thought: Now that sounds like a mighty interesting book!

Imagine her astonishment on learning that the reviewer had the absolutely appropriate name of Serenity Young. And, even more astonishing is the first paragraph of the review, which self generously provides for edification of loyal blog readers, below:

Barbara Tedlock has written an important, readable book that combines the argumentative intellectual reasoning of the scholar with the intuitive emotional reasoning of the shaman. Tedlock is uniquely positioned to undertake this task. She has outstanding credentials as an anthropologist, and in the course of her fieldwork she was initiated as a shaman among the K’iche’ Maya of Guatemala. She is the granddaughter of an Ojibwe healing shaman, and she writes about the summers she spent with her grandmother and what she learned from her.

Stay tuned, dear blog reader, stay tuned.

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