Cracks – 4 – Pain

Cold.

Was that the word? The body, this body-that-was-hers-but-that-was-not, this trembling body, remembered the word.

“C-c-cold,” Sirja said through chattering teeth. “Cold” did not exist in her world.

Pain.

One of her white fangs plunged into the soft flesh of her lip, and blood began to flow down her bare chest, the warmth of the black fluid spreading across icy skin.

Pain. Pain was familiar. Her world was pain. Her pain, the pain of others, the pain of the world itself.

Delicious pain.

A whistle cut through the dark night. Sirja turned to its source. Far off, at the other end of the strange stretch of smooth stone, a lone figure, a man, watched this-body-that-was-hers-but-not with predatory eyes. The stranger stood at the edge of the cone of light projected by one of those little fires trapped in glass and metal cages, as if hesitating to expose himself.

So easy.

Sirja expanded her chest with icy air, shook her profile in a serpentine manner, nodded at that man with this body-that-was-hers-but-not-really. And then, she crossed the portal into that place that she had heard passers-by calling a “restroom.”

There was more light here. Sirja looked at her reflection in the cristal wall. The body that mixed her shapes with those of the … other creature … It was beautiful, curvy, the perfect bait. How well had this place treated her, yes.

But all the blood, the blood of her previous prey, the blood that covered most of this body … No, it could not be, it would not do, it would scare away the one whose footsteps echoed ever closer.

Sirja pricked one of her nails-which-were-hers-but-were-not, a sharp, pointed nail driving into her right breast just below the clavicle.

Pain.

Black blood began to flow, and more and more, as she wiggled her finger, as she opened the wound further, pierced a hole in the half-lent body.

Pain. Pain. PAIN!

And the light from the restroom lamps was sucked like a liquid by a straw, sucked into the black hole that was her self-inflicted wound.

The man stepped into a pitch-black public restroom.

The predator smiled a fanged smile.

Philosophy is Like Bathing

A Middle Eastern king travelling with his retinue encounters Abdal, a dervish, on the road, and agrees to pay in advance for his advice, for a demonstration of the sufi’s wisdom.

The Dervish said to him: “My advice is this: Never begin anything until you have reflected what will be the end of it.”

At this, the nobles and everyone else present laughed, saying that Abdal had been wise to ask for his money in advance. But the king said, “You have no reason to laugh at the good advice this Abdal gave me. Nobody is unaware of the fact that we should think well before doing anything. But we are daily guilty of not remembering, and the consequences are evil. I very much value this Dervish’s advice. ”

— “The King, the Sufi and the Surgeon”, in “Caravan of Dreams” by Idries Shaw

True, the dervish’s advice is commonplace. And yet, how many of us are guilty of starting something without having pondered how far this action will take us? How many of us start a career, a relationship, a course, an adventure, without a definite goal – and as a consequence, never know how close or far away lies success?

We all know that we must have a goal in life, that the journey is what matters but there is value in having a destination in mind. But how easily do we forget this basic truth!

That’s why practicing philosophy is like bathing: you have to do it every day, lest you lose the benefits.

Painting: “Arabs on Horseback” by Massimo Taparelli, Marquis d’ Azeglio. 

How to Read a Book

I read a lot, but sometimes the benefit slips through my fingers – often due to mere laziness. It’s difficult to retain ideas if you don’t apply the knowledge immediately. That’s especially true in the case of audiobooks, something that I’ve been experimenting with as a way to make the most out of long walks.

Yes, oral communication feels more natural. But a month after listening to a book, one I that recall holding some valuable passages, I find it hard to remember anything more concrete than the general theme and main conclusions.

The only way I know to reliably  take advantage of a book is by taking notes, and ideally by summarising the main points of the book in our own words. This is much easier to do on paper books, and relatively easy on eBooks. In the case of audiobooks, there are no proper markup systems, and recording or annotation is often not convenient. 

Note that all this is true even for those who mainly read for leisure, even fiction. The best fiction books have parts that are good to have on hand to revisit, but more than that, they articulate valuable knowledge that’s worth pondering.

So:

In the case of an audiobook:

  • Be aware of important passages. When an attention grabber comes up, pause and write a note on a separate app  (presuming you’re using a tablet or a mobile phone).
  • Try to summarise the book in 1000 words or so, no more than a week after you’ve finished listening.
  • Even better: after finishing each chapter, summarise it in 200-250 words.

In the case of a digital book:

  • It is simple to emphasize important passages. Sometimes even too simple, which results in highlighting whole pages. This is not productive. If one page – and the next – seems super important, bookmark it.
  • Consider leaving a small note with each highlight, with a word or an acronym that characterizes what the passage pertains to. For example “Leadership”, “BQ” (beautiful quote).
  • Of course, larger notes are always good, but it is not always productive to take a break from reading to ponder and write extensively about a passage. The great advantage of this format over the audiobook is that you can return later to do that sort of thing.
  • Using Amazon’s Kindle, you can access and copy all your underlines and annotations at Kindle Cloud Reader; using Apple iBooks, there is an option to send all the highlights and annotations by email; I send an email to myself, and then I copy it to my notes application.
  • The value of crafting your own abstract remains, but there is not as much urgency as in the case of audiobooks – we can always follow our notes and highlights later, and leaf through the pages preceding and following to remember the context.

In the case of a paper book:

  • Almost everything described above is still valid. To make it easier to find my highlights, I usually leave a sign (X for a highlight, O for a particularly important concept) or an acronym (again “BC”, etc) in the corner of the page. So later, I just flick through the corners.
  • I also use an empty page at the beginning or end to create my own “index”; I write the numbers of the pages that I highlighted, with a descriptive word at the front.
  • The practice of marginalia – writing on the margins – is an art in itself. Space constraints force us to be concise with notes. It is always good to revisit these brief remarks later and try to expand them to a few paragraphs, on a separate page. But do not neglect the exercise of doing them in the page itself.
  • Again, summarise the book. We can only say that we master an idea once we can explain it in our own words.

Bonus: A fantastic way to expand knowledge about any subject is by cross-referencing information from multiple authors. I use two acronyms to note this: VS. “Author” when there is disharmony, and CF. “Author” when there is agreement. (versus and confer )

Writer. Podcaster. Marketer. Dental Surgeon. Gamer.