Friday 30 March 2012

2 films and 2 books

2 films
- "We Need to Talk About Kevin": the film focuses on the feelings of the mother of Kevin, an adolescent who stays in prison after committing a massacre at his high school. It basically tells the story in flashbacks, from when she's pregnant and gives birth to Kevin, and then shows how she brings him up, deals with his personality and temperament, and how she copes with the anger and hostility of other people after the massacre. Pretty good. Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller are both talented and convincing in their roles as the mother and Kevin. It's quite a painful and thought-provoking film, with some haunting scenes, and after watching it last Friday I still think a little about it, but my feeling now, after about 1 week, is different from how I felt that day. As you've probably known, I'm fed up with films and books about serial killers whose brutal and inhumane acts are simply explained, or decoded, by traumatic events in their childhood: a, serial killing isn't common in Vietnam, but there are many almost equally inhumane crimes carried out by people who are perfectly normal, have no history of mental disorder or disease and have totally ordinary, unremarkable or even joyous childhood, but they commit indescribably horrible crimes anyway, and the rate of terrible crimes rises and rises even more, which is shown very clearly in newspapers. b, I'm under the impression that, somehow trying to point at something in the past is, in certain cases, like a way of shifting the blame to someone else, and sympathising with the murderers. Of course I know certain things are tough, and it's hard to say when I haven't really experienced rape or molestation or neglect or whatever, but to put it straight, I don't believe in victimisation and I think that people are always able to make choices, to some extent. It might be hard, there are lots of things going on around you, affecting you, but to some extent you still have some freedom to make choices.
Anyway, come back to the film, I don't really like the creation of the character Kevin. It sounds simple. Why does he become a murderer? Because he has always been like that, evil, since birth? Isn't that boring? He has always had an instinctual aversion to his mother, which has no apparent reason, but is a reason for his acts. It develops over time. I of course like the message of the film that the parents should have talked about it and come to a solution before it's too late, because his inhumanity develops over time, because it's so often in real life that people just postpone important things and directly or indirectly cause something that should have been stopped, or changed, for a long time. But it's predictable. And after the massacre, my mom doesn't know how the mother can stay alive after losing the whole family, but I think it's not that hard to comprehend, since, though we can see Tilda Swinton deep in pain, we can also feel her pain, she has always been unhappy for a very long time, that she doesn't really undergo a shock, and as I've written, it's sort of predictable, so she continues to stay alive, and her facial expression stays the same most of the time. Concerning the reaction only, I would recommend a film that is better at tackling this, depicting this: "Beautiful Boy". No one ever understands why it happens, and the parents just blame themselves and blame each other.

- "The Hunger Games": I understand that the majority of young people are crazy about the 3 books and thus, the film. I think it's so-so. Nothing really special. What I remember: Stanley Tucci, Josh Hutcherson's smile, Amandla Stenberg's cute face and Jennifer Lawrence's 2 dresses. Some scenes are pretty funny. And the film isn't good enough to make me interested in reading the books or watching the sequels in the future. Not my type, but it's sure better than "Twilight".

2 books
- "The Great Gatsby" (F. Scott Fitzgerald): The writing was quite dry and thus boring at the beginning, but once I adjusted to Fitzgerald's writing style, it got better. And it's a good book. Good at the themes. Good at the creation of characters and the depiction and portrayal of them, the characterisation. Good at intriguing and engrossing readers, me at least. Good at building up tension. And most of all, good at showing the American society in "the roaring 1920s", with money, with materialism, and a bunch of hypocrites. Both the East Eggers and West Eggers, both the aristocrats and the nouveau riche, live pointless, phoney lives, do insignificant, shallow and meaningless things, exist without a meaning, without a purpose, without an aim, get obsessed with and pursue superficial values... Fitzgerald might be very pessimistic, or maybe just realistic, thoughtful and sensitive, since I can't like any of the characters here. I simply can't. Myrtle is greedy and pathetic. Jordan is cynical and dishonest, and something gives me the impression that she doesn't have much to do and just passes through life without living. Tom is shallow, proud, arrogant, self-centred, close-minded, selfish, crooked, pompous, abusive... Daisy is foolish, annoyingly superficial, shallow, hypocritical, boring, selfish, irresponsible, unstable... and most importantly, mean, without awareness of it. And that's why Daisy and Tom are a perfect match. They match, because they both are despicable, and they perfectly understand each other. And even though together they don't feel happy, they never part. Even Gatsby, I don't like. He might be considered great in the sense that he's determined, and wise at earning money, and he achieves his dreams, becomes who he wanted to be. He might be considered great for his love for Daisy. He can also be called great since he's the only person in this book who lives with a purpose, who knows what he wants and what to do to achieve it, to make it come true, instead of existing and doing trivial things. But I don't like him. On 1 hand, in order to gain success, he must be ruthless and do bad things. On the other hand, he's childishly pompous and boastful, like the typical nouveau riche, and I feel immensely disgusted when he shows Daisy around in his house and shows her his wealth, all the expensive things he owns, and feels happy seeing admiration in her eyes. And to me, he's just plain stupid, to be honest. He worships Daisy and thinks she's an innocent angel, but she isn't. That leads to his downfall. He deserves it. And, I don't really like Nick either, though, compared to the others, he's the least despicable. I don't know. He just doesn't stand up for anything. Never.

- "Sula" (Toni Morrison): Everything written by Toni Morrison is beautiful and interesting. This is 1 of my favourite quotes: "When I was a little girl the heads of my paper dolls came off, and it was a long time before I discovered that my own head would not fall off if I bent my neck. I used to walk around holding it very stiff because I thought a strong wind or a heavy push would snap my neck. Nel was the one who told me the truth. But she was wrong. I did not hold my head stiff enough when I met him and so I lost it just like the dolls."
It isn't easy to write about "Sula". Well, the quote above might give you the wrong impression that this is a love story, but that's not the case. There can be lots of themes here: good vs bad, right vs wrong, friendship, women, conformity vs nonconformity, the self, morality, relationships, love, sex, life, death, choices, social norms, betrayal, compassion, forgiveness, loyalty, pride, suffering, impermanence, hypocrisy, loneliness, madness, suicide, self-destruction, etc. I, if possible, might write a complete blog post about it, but what I'm thinking now is that, after all, in spite of superficial differences, Sula and Nel are, in a way, just the same. They both can be selfish. They both can be mean and sometimes, evil. They both can treat others harshly. They both can be thrilled watching something terrible happen, without intervening, and the feeling is almost like schadenfreude. The difference is, Nel never knows it till the last minute and believes herself to be morally better by simply following social norms and doing what everyone else does, whereas Sula has the sensitivity and wisdom to see the dark side of herself, she's independent, courageous and responsible enough to acknowledge the evil within herself, stay true to herself, choose her own path, follow the direction of her own and live as who she is, without regret. "Sula" and "The Great Gatsby" are completely different, yet they have 1 thing in common: a bunch of hypocrites. Hypocritical in different ways, but hypocritical both nevertheless. 
A thought-provoking and mesmerising, absorbing book. I recommend it. 

Tuesday 13 March 2012

Why the world needs introverts (Susan Cain)

"Our lives are shaped as profoundly by personality as by gender or race. And the single most important aspect of personality – the "north and south of temperament", as the scientist JD Higley puts it – is where we fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum. Our place on this continuum influences our choice of friends and mates, and how we make conversation, resolve differences, and show love. It affects the careers we choose and whether or not we succeed at them. It governs how likely we are to exercise (a habit found in extroverts), commit adultery (extroverts), function well without sleep (introverts), learn from our mistakes (introverts), place big bets in the stock market (extroverts), delay gratification (introverts), be a good leader (depends on the type of leadership called for), and ask "what if" (introverts).

It's reflected in our brain pathways, neurotransmitters, and remote corners of our nervous systems. Today introversion and extroversion are two of the most exhaustively researched subjects in personality psychology, arousing the curiosity of hundreds of scientists.

These researchers have made exciting discoveries aided by the latest technology, but they're part of a long and storied tradition. Poets and philosophers have been thinking about introverts and extroverts since the dawn of recorded time. Both personality types appear in the Bible and in the writings of Greek and Roman physicians, and some evolutionary psychologists say that the history of these types reaches back even farther than that: the animal kingdom also boasts "introverts" and "extroverts", from fruit flies to pumpkinseed fish to rhesus monkeys. As with other complementary pairings – masculinity and femininity, East and West, liberal and conservative – humanity would be unrecognizable, and vastly diminished, without both personality styles.

Take the partnership of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr: a formidable orator refusing to give up his seat on a segregated bus wouldn't have had the same effect as a modest woman who would clearly prefer to keep silent but for the exigencies of the situation. And Parks didn't have the stuff to thrill a crowd if had tried to stand up and announce that she had a dream. But with King's help, she didn't have to.

Yet today we make room for a remarkably narrow range of personality styles. We're told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. Closet introverts pass undetected on playgrounds and in corporate corridors. Some fool even themselves, until some life event – redundancy, an empty nest, an inheritance that frees them to spend time as they like – jolts them into taking stock of their true natures.

We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal – the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He or she favours quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong; works well in teams and socialises in groups. We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual – the kind who is comfortable "putting himself out there". Sure, we allow technologically gifted loners who launch companies in garages to have any personality they please, but they are the exceptions, not the rule, and our tolerance extends mainly to those who get fabulously wealthy or hold the promise of doing so.

Introversion – along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness – is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man's world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we've turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.

The Extrovert Ideal has been documented in many studies. Talkative people, for example, are rated as smarter, better-looking, more interesting and more desirable as friends. Velocity of speech counts as well as volume: we rank fast talkers as more competent and likable than slow ones. The same dynamics apply in groups, where research shows that the voluble are considered smarter than the reticent – even though there's zero correlation between the gift of the gab and good ideas. Even the word introvert is stigmatised – one informal study, by psychologist Laurie Helgoe, found that introverts described their own physical appearance in vivid language ("green-blue eyes", "exotic", "high cheekbones"), but when asked to describe generic introverts they drew a bland and distasteful picture ("ungainly", "neutral colours", "skin problems").

But we make a grave mistake to embrace the Extrovert Ideal so unthinkingly. Some of our greatest ideas, art, and inventions – from the theory of evolution to Van Gogh's sunflowers to the personal computer – came from quiet and cerebral people who knew how to tune in to their inner worlds and the treasures to be found there. Without introverts, the world would be devoid of Newton's theory of gravity, Einstein's theory of relativity, WB Yeats's The Second Coming, Chopin's nocturnes, Proust's In Search of Lost Time, Peter Pan, Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Cat in the Hat, Charlie Brown, the films of Steven Spielberg, Google (co-founded by introvert Larry Page) and Harry Potter.

As the science journalist Winifred Gallagher writes: "The glory of the disposition that stops to consider stimuli rather than rushing to engage with them is its long association with intellectual and artistic achievement. Neither E=mc2 nor Paradise Lost was dashed off by a party animal." Even in less obviously introverted occupations, like finance, politics and activism, some of the greatest leaps forward were made by introverts. Al Gore, Warren Buffett, Eleanor Roosevelt and Gandhi achieved what they did not in spite of but because of their introversion.

Yet many of the most important institutions of contemporary life are designed for those who enjoy group projects and high levels of stimulation. As children, our classroom desks are increasingly arranged in pods, the better to foster group learning, and research suggests that the vast majority of teachers believe that the ideal student is an extrovert. As adults, many of us work for organisations that insist we work in teams, in offices without walls, for supervisors who value "people skills" above all. To advance our careers, we're expected to promote ourselves unabashedly. The scientists whose research gets funded often have confident, perhaps overconfident, personalities. The artists whose work adorns the walls of contemporary museums strike impressive poses at gallery openings. The authors whose books get published – once a reclusive breed – are now vetted by publicists to make sure they're talk-show ready.

If you're an introvert, you also know that the bias against quiet can cause deep psychic pain. As a child you might have overheard your parents apologise for your shyness. Or at school you might have been prodded to come "out of your shell" – that noxious expression that fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and that some humans are just the same. "All the comments from childhood still ring in my ears, that I was lazy, stupid, slow, boring," writes a member of an email list called Introvert Retreat. "By the time I was old enough to figure out that I was simply introverted, it was a part of my being, the assumption that there is something inherently wrong with me. I wish I could find that little vestige of doubt and remove it."

Now that you're an adult, you might still feel a pang of guilt when you decline a dinner invitation in favour of a good book. Or maybe you like to eat alone in restaurants and could do without the pitying looks from fellow diners. Or you're told that you're "in your head too much," a phrase that's often deployed against the quiet and cerebral.

Of course, there's another word for such people: thinkers.

You can be a shy extrovert too

There are now almost as many definitions of introvert and extrovert as there are personality psychologists. Still, they tend to agree on several important points: for example, that introverts and extroverts differ in the level of outside stimulation that they need to function well. Introverts feel "just right" with less stimulation, as when they sip wine with a close friend, solve a crossword puzzle, or read a book. Extroverts enjoy the extra bang that comes from activities like meeting new people, skiing slippery slopes, and cranking up the stereo.

Many psychologists would also agree that introverts and extroverts work differently. Extroverts tend to tackle assignments quickly. They make fast (sometimes rash) decisions, and are comfortable multitasking and risk- taking. They enjoy "the thrill of the chase" for rewards like money and status. Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately. They like to focus on one task at a time and can have mighty powers of concentration. They're relatively immune to the lures of wealth and fame.

A few things introverts are not: the word introvert is not a synonym for hermit or misanthrope. Introverts can be these things, but most are perfectly friendly. One of the most humane phrases in the English language – "Only connect!" – was written by the distinctly introverted EM Forster in Howards End, a novel exploring the question of how to achieve "human love at its height".

Nor are introverts necessarily shy. Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not. One reason that people confuse the two concepts is that they sometimes overlap (though psychologists debate to what degree).

You can be a shy extrovert, like Barbra Streisand, who has a larger-than-life personality and paralysing stage fright; or a non-shy introvert, like Bill Gates, who by all accounts keeps to himself but is unfazed by the opinions of others. You can also, of course, be both shy and an introvert: TS Eliot was a famously private soul who wrote in The Waste Land that he could "show you fear in a handful of dust". Many shy people turn inward, partly as a refuge from the socialising that causes them such anxiety. And many introverts are shy, partly as a result of receiving the message that there's something wrong with their preference for reflection, and partly because their physiologies compel them to withdraw from high-stimulation environments.

But for all their differences, shyness and introversion have in common something profound. The mental state of a shy extrovert sitting quietly in a business meeting may be very different from that of a calm introvert – the shy person is afraid to speak up, while the introvert is simply overstimulated – but to the outside world, the two appear to be the same. This can give both types insight into how our reverence for alpha status blinds us to things that are good and smart and wise. For very different reasons, shy and introverted people might choose to spend their days in behind-the-scenes pursuits like inventing, or researching, or holding the hands of the gravely ill – or in leadership positions they execute with quiet competence. These are not alpha roles, but the people who play them are role models all the same."

Susan Cain

The article above is written by Susan Cain, on "The Guardian". 
The reason I publish here is that, as an introvert myself, I like it, and yes, what she writes happens. People ask "Why are you sitting alone?" patronisingly. Introverts are called nerds. People (usually popular people) make "no social life" jokes. People advise others to be more friendly and active and talkative, to hang out, to meet people, to talk to people, to have fun with others. And so on. This is the world of extroverts. Introversion is associated with something negative and boring, sometimes, seems to be regarded almost as a disability, a handicap. The fact that I don't go out with people or don't actively start a conversation with people doesn't necessarily mean I'm misanthropic. Well I am, once in a while, but most of the time I'm not. No matter how people view introversion, I'm proud of being an introvert. It's just how I am. I have my interests and hobbies that don't involve people, I think, I work and learn well alone, and that's just it. I don't intend to say that all introverts are deep and all extroverts are shallow, but it's ridiculous how people think everyone's supposed to be the same, and have prejudice against those who don't like crowds, meetings, parties, who aren't outgoing and good at small talk, who prefer being alone to hanging out with someone... The world needs both. 

Sunday 11 March 2012

Kids react to K-pop

Well, of course usually I don't have the habit of posting merely 1 video in 1 blog entry, but today is an exception. 
American kids react to K-pop. 
Like their independent thinking. 

And gosh, I love that kid William! 

Chưa chắc

"Xưa có ông già mất con ngựa, người ta chia buồn thì ông nói: chưa chắc là không phải phúc đâu! Được ít tháng con ngựa tự trở về, người ta chia vui thì ông nói: chưa chắc là không phải họa đâu! Chẳng bao lâu con trai ông ngã ngựa gãy chân, ông lại bảo: chưa chắc là không phải phúc đâu! Về sau nước ông có giặc, trai tráng trong làng đều phải ra trận, bị giết hết cả. Con trai ông vì què chân, không phải đi lính nên được an toàn." 
1 đoạn trong "Chuyện lão tượng Phật Di Lặc và nàng Nậm Mây" của Phạm Thị Hoài. 

Wednesday 7 March 2012

Rémi Gaillard's pranks

It's surprisingly ridiculous, and even silly, how my mood constantly goes up and down within 1 day. I'm in the weeks of mock exams, and today I left school and went to the town looking as though going to a funeral. 2 things at school, no, actually 3, made me immensely sad, combined with a pile of other horrible, unbearable things in life (about which I don't bother to write, because no one understands, or cares, anyway), and I was so sorrowful and self-destructive that I almost did a stupid thing.
And some hours later, in my armchair I laughed loudly, insanely, unstoppably, uncontrollably, like a mad person, like someone had injected into me some kind of virus which stimulated, or, in simpler words, switched on, the laughing machine inside me. I laughed so much and so loudly that my mom told me to stop so as not to disturb our neighbours.

This is why:

Enough for the day. Will post more if I'm in mood.
Now is the best troll ever: