Tag Archives: bullying

“The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini

KiteRunner

This was one of those books that has been on my list for a long time, and I finally got around to reading it. I remember something Salman Rushdie said when I heard him speak at UNCA: He said if you want to learn about Afghanistan, you read The Kite Runner and not the news. I definitely feel like I learned a lot about Afghan culture from this book.

So the problem I now face is what to write about without providing spoilers for those who have not yet read the book. It’s tough, because so much of the story’s beauty is in how everything plays out. I guess I will focus on some things that resonated with me on a personal level, as well as some interesting symbolism.

One of the more painful memories from my childhood was when a friend of mine, Mason, was getting bullied by a group of older kids. These kids had often bullied me, so I was just grateful that I was being spared. Thinking I might avoid future bullying, I laughed as my friend was attacked. Of course, this did not spare me from future abuse, and I was also wracked with guilt over the pain I saw in my friend’s eyes. Our friendship ended that day and I have long regretted my failure to stand by Mason. So when I read how Amir passively watched and did nothing while his friend Hassan was attacked, I had a reaction which was nothing short of visceral.

I opened my mouth, almost said something. Almost. The rest of my life might have turned out differently if I had. But I didn’t. I just watched. Paralyzed.

(p. 73)

Recently, I have been saddened by the images of Syrian refugees and the stories of their struggles. It is almost unfathomable for a white, privileged American to grasp how it must feel to pack what little you can into a suitcase and flee from your home. The closest experience I have had to that was having to evacuate my home when a hurricane was approaching, packing what I could into my car, and thoroughly expecting the rest of my belongings to be gone within 24 hours. As such, I was stirred by the section of the book where Amir and his father had to flee Afghanistan.

My eyes returned to our suitcases. They made me sad for Baba. After everything he’d built, planned, fought for, fretted over, dreamed of, this was the summation of his life: one disappointing son and two suitcases.

(p. 124)

The one symbol I would like to look at is the pomegranate, which appears throughout the book. “In Ancient Greek mythology, the pomegranate was known as the ‘fruit of the dead’, and believed to have sprung from the blood of Adonis.” In addition, pomegranates “were known in Ancient Israel as the fruits which the scouts brought to Moses to demonstrate the fertility of the ‘promised land’.” Finally, “some Jewish scholars believe the pomegranate was the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.” (Source: Wikipedia)

In the book, there is a scene where Amir returns to a place from his childhood where a pomegranate tree once grew. The tree is now dead and fruitless, symbolizing the transition of Afghanistan from a rich fertile place to one of death and desolation. In addition, the dead tree also represents the loss of his friendship with Hassan, and the sin and guilt which Amir must bear.

Hassan had said in his letter that the pomegranate tree hadn’t borne fruit in years. Looking at the wilted, leafless tree, I doubted it ever would again. I stood under it, remembered all the times we’d climbed it, straddled its branches, our legs swinging, dappled sunlight flickering through the leaves and casting on our faces a mosaic of light and shadow. The tangy taste of pomegranate crept into my mouth.

(p. 264)

It’s taken me a long time, but I have finally been able to forgive myself for the mistakes I made as a kid. Kids make mistakes; it’s part of growing up. Like Amir in the book, I beat myself up for a long time over mistakes I made, but as I matured as a person, I learned to forgive myself and to become a better person as a result.

What you did was wrong, Amir jan, but do not forget that you were a boy when it happened. A troubled little boy. You were too hard on yourself then, and you still are—I saw it in your eyes in Peshawar. But I hope you will heed this: A man who has no conscience, no goodness, does not suffer. I hope your suffering comes to an end with this journey to Afghanistan.

(p. 301)

It’s impossible to read this book and not be affected by the experience. This book demonstrates the importance of literature. Stories matter. They force us to examine ourselves and help to advance humanity as a whole.

Thanks for stopping my, and keep reading great stuff.

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Alice Cooper: Issue #4

AliceCooperComic_04

This may be my favorite issue so far in this series. Alice travels into the realm of nightmares along with Bart the bully in search of Robbie. As with most bullies, Bart is cocky and arrogant, pretending not to have any fear; but as Alice points out, everyone has fears, and it is when you are asleep that your deep, dark fears surface from your subconscious.

You don’t know the first thing about fear. Not the deep, burrowing kind that give rise to nightmares, anyway. You make somebody afraid enough, you build up a balance in that account. You make them start to contemplate things… It happens unconsciously, at first. They start to fantasize alone, when you’re finished making them afraid. That’s when you realize…that the true power in what someone’s afraid of…is how they use it. You’re a tough kid, Bart. But everybody sleeps. Everybody dreams. And everybody is afraid of something. Which means we all have our own, private… nightmares.

The issue continues by exploring the psychology of fear and how fear manifests in nightmares, all done in conjunction with darkly rich and macabre illustrations. It also touches on bullying and how the victims of bullying can turn to the dark side.

Reading this had a cathartic effect. I was bullied as a kid and I could relate to those feelings of fear, which turn to resentment and anger. I’m also no stranger to nightmares and have had some intense ones over the years. But there is something exhilarating about nightmares. When you awaken, sweating and shaking, you also feel stronger for having stared your deepest fears in the face.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep on reading!

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Alice Cooper: Issue #2

AliceCooperComic_02

Since I was a kid, Alice Cooper has been the soundtrack to my October nights, filling the air with the dark sounds of the macabre and the gothic. Tomorrow night, I will see him once again in concert, and to say I’m excited is quite the understatement. So to get myself in the proper state of mind, I decided to read the latest installment in the Alice Cooper graphic series.

The truth be told, I’m such a huge Alice fan that even if this series sucked I would still read it and like it, and while this new comic is not on par with Neil Gaiman’s Alice Cooper comic series, it is still good.

In this issue, Alice, the Nightmare Lord, strikes a deal with the bullied kid Robbie. Robbie, who had inadvertently bound the dark lord, promises to release Alice if he assists in getting back at the bully who torments him. While all this is transpiring, Lucius Black’s brother, Andronicus, is scheming to recapture the Nightmare Lord. Near the end of the issue, the threads of the tale begin to entwine together and we are left with a nice cliffhanger.

My favorite part of this issue is when Alice manifests to the bully. The surprised teen asks who Alice is, and Alice responds with the following.

Once upon a time, I could live rent free in that mind of yours, stealing your potential… rotting your brain with my special, signature raison d’etat… I stuck a stick of dynamite up rock n’ roll’s ass and pushed the art of the stage show out of the juke joints and the back rooms with morbid theatricality… along with macabre panache! I made the nightmares happen, and I thought it’d last forever.

Tomorrow night, I will once again experience the morbid theatricality and macabre panache which is an Alice Cooper concert. Thanks for stopping by, and may your Halloween be filled with thrills and chills!

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Wytches: Issue 1

Wytches_01

I have been waiting for a while for this. I had read about it and it sounded intriguing. Then my wife pointed out an article in USA Today talking about the scariest comics for October and this was the top of the list. The next day, issue 1 hit the shelves and I purchased a copy. Often, when you have expectations for something, you end up disappointed. That was certainly not the case with this graphic tale. It was all I had hoped for, and more.

First off, this is very graphic and disturbing, both visually and psychologically. While it is only the first installment, I can see that it is starting down some dark paths. The opening sequence is set in 1919, where a woman is trapped within a hollow tree, peering out from a hole. The surrounding woods are dark and mysterious, and bring forth memories of being in the northern woods as a kid. The woman is terrified and calling for help. Her young son finds her and she tells him she has been pledged and he needs to help her. Instead, he smashes her face with a large stone, just before some ancient clawed hands grasp her and pull her deeper into the tree. This all occurs in the first four pages.

I starting considering the symbolism associated with the tree. Obviously, there is a reference to the mythology concerning deities existing within trees and the archetype of the tree as a symbol of rebirth and regeneration. But it also reminded me of something I read in The Way of the Shaman by Michael Harner. A hole in a tree serves as a portal to other realms. Using visualization, the shaman is able to project himself through the hole and into the other realm. Whenever I go hiking in the woods and come across a hollow tree with a hole in it, I cannot help seeing this as an opening into a hidden dimension.

The main story takes place in the current day and focuses on a teenage girl, Sailor Rook, who has recently moved to New Hampshire with her family. The parents are very concerned about her, particularly her dad. It is revealed that she was being brutally bullied where they previously lived and that the girl who was her tormentor was pulled into the hollow tree and killed. As a result, there were rumors that Sailor may have killed the bully. Sailor feels guilty because she had “wished” that her tormentor would be gone.

All this hit close to home for me. As a kid, I was bullied and I know the pain that one feels when they are the target of senseless hate and abuse. As a parent, I can also relate to the anguish and concern that the father feels. Protecting his daughter is the most important thing in his life. I know that I would also do anything to protect my kids.

The issue ends on a real cliffhanger. I am not going to give details, because I hate spoilers. I will say that if you are like me, by the time you get to the end of the issue, you will be hooked.

There is a postscript that was very interesting. The writer, Scott Snyder, tells about how he was inspired to write the book and provides some details regarding the mythology. I found it really interesting and I could totally relate to his experiences exploring the woods with his friend as a kid. When I was growing up, I spent most of my time in the woods. I was particularly drawn to darker areas of the woods, like swamps and such.

Snyder tells how he went back to the woods as an adult and experienced a scare tied to his childhood which was the inspiration for writing the story. He thought he saw a “witch” which turned out to be a tree. His recounting of the experience is worth including here.

Later that night, I found myself haunted by the image of the witch, peeking out from behind the tree. I knew what had really frightened me wasn’t the “witch” in the trees – sure, the sight scared me – but what had really gotten me spooked was the idea that this witch had ALWAYS been there. That all the years in between were nothing to it. Because it knew… it knew one day I’d come back and it would be waiting. And why had it waited? What did it want?

For hours that night, I kept on with these questions. I knew that there was a story there for me. Something more than scary, something personal, something terrifying in that special way that gets at the deeper fears, the fears below.

Personally, I cannot wait for the next issue. I’m tempted to read this one again. If you’ve read this, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. Feel free to post a comment. Cheers, and have an eerily inspired October.

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Alice Cooper: Issue #1

AliceCooperComic_01

I have been waiting for the release of this since I first heard about it months ago. I’ve been an Alice Cooper fan since the 70’s and I am excited to see him cast in dark graphic fantasy. Of course, this is not the first Alice Cooper comic, most notably Neil Gaiman wrote a three-issue Cooper comic a while back (see my earlier posts on them).

In this first issue, Alice, the Lord of Nightmare, has been trapped in a contract by Lucius Black. He is freed when young Robbie purchases a vinyl copy of an old Alice Cooper album and plays it backwards. Alice materializes in the boy’s room, ready to assist him.

Robbie is kind of an outcast kid. He is bullied by the other kids in his neighborhood and does not seem to have much confidence in himself. I’m intrigued as to the possibilities here. I would like to see Alice force Robbie to face his nightmares and confront the fear within that is paralyzing him. But, this is still an inchoate tale, so I will just sit back and enjoy the show.

For those of you who are reading the comic also: “Welcome to my Nightmare.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ln1NPQLzIi0

 

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“The Power of One” by Bryce Courtenay

PowerOfOne

This is an extremely powerful book. I found it both uplifting and disturbing. The book was written in 1989 and is the story of a boy named Peekay who grows up in South Africa during WWII. He witnesses the seeds of apartheid take root and turn into racial hatred. In spite of this, he manages to develop both intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually by drawing from what he calls the power of one, which is essentially self-reliance and believing in yourself. It’s a fairly long novel, but it never gets dull and it held my interest from cover to cover.

There is a lot that I can say about this book, but for brevity’s sake I’ll just focus on a few key points. I want to start on a personal note—this book hit very close to home for me. As a young boy, Peekay finds himself the target of brutal bullying. He tries various ways to placate his tormenters but at best he gets only a temporary reprieve. He carries these experiences with him and those experiences directly impact the decisions he makes. As someone who was bullied as a child, I am painfully aware of how this feels. For years I carried my pain and resentment, playing out imaginary scenarios where I confronted my tormenters and finally got even. Thankfully, I eventually realized how toxic this attitude is and learned how to let go of my resentment. But reading this certainly brought back the feelings for me. Anyone who has ever suffered the anguish of being bullied knows how this feels and will always remember it.

A significant portion of the story takes place in a prison setting. There is a great passage where Peekay describes his impression upon first seeing a prison. It is almost like the structure itself is an archetype for bondage, suffering, and the loss of freedom.

My eyes followed a long line of purple that led beyond the houses clustered on the edge of the town to a square of dark buildings surrounded by a high wall perhaps a mile into the valley. The walls facing me stood some three stories high and were studded with at least 150 tiny dark windows all of the same size. The buildings too were built in a square around a center quadrangle of hard brown earth. On each corner of the outside wall was a neat little tower capped with a pyramid of corrugated iron that glinted in the early morning sun. I had never seen a prison, nor had I even imagined one, but there is a racial memory in man that instinctively knows these things. The architecture of misery has an unmistakable look and feel about it.

(p134)

This book is rich with mystical metaphors and symbolism. One of these that I found inspiring is the cactus as a symbol for the manifestation of God. It’s a somewhat long passage but worth including in this post.

The Almighty conceived the cactus plant. If God would choose a plant to represent him, I think he would choose of all plants the cactus. The cactus has all the blessings he tried, but mostly failed, to give to man. Let me tell you how. It has humility, but it is not submissive. It grows where no other plant will grow. It does not complain when the sun bakes its back or the wind tears it from the cliff or drowns it in the dry sand of the desert or when it is thirsty. When the rains come it stores water for the hard times to come. In good times and bad it will still flower. It protects itself from danger, but it harms no other plant. It adapts perfectly to almost any environment. It has patience and enjoys solitude. In Mexico there is a cactus that flowers only once every hundred years and at night. This is saintliness of an extraordinary kind, would you not agree? The cactus has properties that heal the wounds of men and from it come potions that can make man touch the face of God or stare into the mouth of hell. It is the plant of patience and solitude, love and madness, ugliness and beauty, toughness and gentleness. Of all plants, surely God made the cactus in his own image?

(pp. 154 – 155)

Probably the single most powerful symbol in this book is the cave, which is called the crystal cave because of the mineral deposits within. It conjures images of the crystal cave from the Merlin mythology. The cave represents the inner self, a sanctuary within, a secret place of hidden beauty. It is also a place of transition, the passage between life and death. There is also an emphasis on the importance of keeping the cave secret, since your inner self and the source of mystical power must be protected. There is a great passage where Peekay uses visualization, in the same way that a shaman would, to enter the crystal cave.

I took a deep breath and launched myself from the rock; the cool air mixed with spray rushed past my face. I hit the pool at the bottom of the first waterfall. The sound of the splash drowned in the roar of the water. I surfaced to be swept over the second of the falls and then again over the third, landing in the deep pool of swirling green water. I fought my way to the surface and struck out toward the first of the black stones. Pulling myself up onto it, I hurriedly jumped from one stone to another, finally leaping for the pebbly beach beyond. I felt my toes and the ball of my foot touch the smooth round river pebbles, and as I landed I found myself inside the crystal cave of Africa.

(p. 471)

As I said, this is an incredible book and one that is worth reading. In addition, while I was in a bookstore recently, I saw that The Power of One was on the “banned books” shelf, and I have always felt that any book that is worth banning is worth reading.

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