Monday, February 20, 2012

The Chairs and the Tiger

As always reading goes on apace, but the two items that struck me most in the last few days were so different in their viewpoints that they are worth looking at together. One is The Chairs are Where the People Go by Misha Glouberman, ably assisted by Sheila Heti, the other is the best selling Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua.

Tiger Mother was the current book club choice, not one of mine, but I read it diligently, and was amazed that anyone emerged from her parenting approach. Aside from my dismay at her making sure the reader knew of her own ancestry and her own achievements, perhaps this is a cultural difference, where self praise is considered a bit of a disgrace, I stayed the course through her philosophy that it's not enough to do your best. You have to do better than anyone else's best! She claims that true enjoyment only comes from being the best. But she does later admit she has not much idea how to enjoy life, really.

What's sad is that she drove her gifted musician daughters to the point where, with achievements all in place, one of them has pretty much given up the idea of a life in music, despite enormous talent, far beyond, I suspect, what her mother could understand. Her notion is that hard work is absolutely everything. She really has little idea of the notion of creating, which requires breathing space and thoughtful attempts without judging every step. But I'll look forward to hearing what other group members have to say about this. And I wonder if she is simply stating what a lot of parents secretly think but don't write books about. Not this parent, but I'm guessing there are other driver parents out there very much like her.

In terms of music,the notion of just working harder and harder may make for great technical skills, but, alas, that's only a part of making music. Understanding it as a language, and realizing that what's printed on the page is only a suggestion as to what the piece is about, that is more instinctive than learned, and doesn't get better the more you hammer on it.

Then, total contrast, comes Misha Glouberman's book, The Chairs are Where the People Go, How to live, work and play in the city, which was dictated to his colleague Sheila Heti, who pretty much presented it as is, since he's such a fluent thinker and speaker he needs almost no editing. And he is seriously worth reading. His ideas about a range of topics are riveting.

I didn't agree with them all, but I loved how honestly he approaches things like living in the city (he lives in Toronto) and how urban improvement seems always to favor the young, affluent, bicycle riders, since they are the ones with the leisure to push for their ideas and the education to speak up for them, without realizing that if they drive out all the little messy businesses and general life of the city, they will impoverish, not improve it.

And he talks about teaching seemingly totally pointless things like how to play charades, and as you read you realize that he's giving you an enormous extended metaphor for living a spontaneous and great life, simply playing the hand you're dealt. He does believe in doing a good job at all times, and expects his class participants or audience to do likewise, but not at the cost of feeling a failure if one other person does better than you.

And how he'd already graduated from Harvard before he realized that the Ivy degree is not about learning and the love of it quite as much as it's about setting up your social network for the rest of your life. At least, as long as you stick around the east coast of the US.

He also gives a wonderful insight when he discovers, in the course of a local government negotiation, that there can be something better than winning. You have to read this for yourselves, don't want to spoil it.

I'd like to see him and Chua on a panel discussion, and see what they might learn from one another. Yes, I'd like that a lot.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading this review it is very entertaining and gives a good idea what the book 'feel's like. Thanks for sharing.


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