Unearthing The Teachings of Don Juan: An unexpected discovery!

It seems that most often in life it is not the most expensive or sought after things which fulfill us, but the smallest and unexpected. The worn and unassuming paperback, The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda, hidden at the bottom of a Book-Cycle donations box was certainly unexpected. My eyes were immediately drawn by its beautiful cover; an illustration by Wilson McLean. Two faces are interlinked, joined by a rainbow, one representing the internal body, its brain a flower laced with the spectrum of the rainbow, the other simply a seemingly ordinary man.

I had never heard of Carlos Castaneda before (despite The Teachings being first published in 1968) and opened the book at random. It was not like anything I had ever read before; a heady, frank account of an entirely unfamiliar philosophy. As I was flipping through it, another volunteer spotted what I was reading, exclaiming, ‘That book changed my life -’ although she then hurriedly admitted, ‘but perhaps you might not learn anything from it’. Challenge accepted.

This book would be easy to simply disregard as meaningless fantasy. In fact, there is debate as to whether the content of Castaneda’s work is fact (having been originally published as non-fiction) or fiction. Admittedly, the debate seems to be leaning towards the side of fiction. However, to argue either way about the validity of the book’s content seems to me to miss the true value of the text. As does hiding it away within the restricting category of ‘New Age’, in which some may be tempted to confine it. Regardless, be it fact or fabrication, Castaneda’s writing will pull you in: either he has one fantastically crazy imagination, or he has recorded a refreshingly unique way of perceiving and interacting with the world.

For me there is only the traveling on the paths that have a heart, on any path that may have a heart. There I travel, and the only worthwhile challenge for me is to traverse its full length. And there I travel–looking, looking, breathlessly.

The text follows Castaneda’s journey to become a Man of Knowledge. What begins as a simple desire to study peyote (a hallucinogenic drug) turns into encountering the god of peyote, Mescalito, and learning how to use jimson weed and humito mushrooms to discover a new way of ‘seeing’. However, The Teachings is not all hallucinogen-fueled experiences and philosophical revelations. Castaneda offers a lively, vivid portrayal of his relationship with Don Juan, an inevitably likable and endlessly interesting man, as well as Castaneda’s spiritual teacher. The text follows Castaneda’s supposed experiences during his explorations into shamanism, with many nuggets of insight along the way that have a striking relevance to our own everyday life.

Before you embark on any path ask the question: Does this path have a heart? If the answer is no, you will know it, and then you must choose another path. The trouble is nobody asks the question; and when a man finally realises that he has taken a path without a heart, the path is ready to kill him. At that point very few men can stop to deliberate, and leave the path. A path without a heart is never enjoyable. You have to work hard even to take it. On the other hand, a path with heart is easy; it does not make you work at liking it.

(However, it’s worth noting that there are a few dozen or so detailed descriptions of ritual preparations to pick through, which may not be to everyone’s tastes.)

Needless to say, I ended up leaving Book-Cycle with both The Teachings and its sequel in hand. Now, having read them both, I will be keeping an eye out for more of the series. If you are looking for something a bit different to read, this is a psychedlic and intriguing escape from the mundane. More than that, if you approach it with an open mind, Castaneda’s writing allows you to explore a new way of perceiving the world around you.  At the very least, you will be left wanting to read more about the mysterious Don Juan and his philosophy.

My Graduate-Blues Antidote: Volunteering at Book-Cycle!

One of the best decisions I have made since leaving university has been volunteering at Book-Cycle.  There is always the potential for feeling a little purposeless and downtrodden when on the search for employment and living back with your parents, but volunteering has honestly been the best antidote. Not only because it gives me something to do with myself (surprisingly, having oodles of free time is not as fun as it sounds), but also because of the new people and experiences it has already brought into my life.

This illustration by Renate Belina caught my eye!

This illustration by Renate Belina caught my eye!

For starters, Book-Cycle is an absolutely fab charity! I can’t sing its praises enough; it enriches local communities, educates children in developing countries, plants trees across England, (to name just a few Book-Cycle ventures), all whilst providing people with access to a fantastic array of second-hand books in local stores. I have to exercise a ridiculous amount of restraint not to come home with armfuls of books; there is always something interesting to discover – from UFO theories to bestselling fiction. (The more I think about it; perhaps these interesting finds could be incorporated into Miscellaneous Me… Watch this space!)

There’s something about Book-Cycle that attracts not just an amazing variety of books, but people too. At Exeter’s High Street store one day, in between swapping uncanny experiences with a knowledgeable, chilled out dude and a business-man, I met a woman who speaks nine languages, a charming old man interested in military history and the most adorable little girl, her newly-purchased picture book clasped tightly in hand.

Book-cycle is all about environmental sustainability and the power of words for universal educational empowerment, and I can’t think of a more vibrant, worthwhile organisation to give my time to. I highly recommend checking out their website – it is a gargantuan fount of knowledge! There are tons of ways to get involved; you don’t have to be close by. So, have a read, spread the word, and remember:

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.” — Lemony Snicket

Sedition by Katharine Grant: A Sumptuous Read

sedition katharine grantKatharine Grant’s debut in adult fiction, Sedition, is a tantalising, transgressive tale of sex, music, love and London. Grant makes an explosive entrance into the genre: this novel is not to be overlooked. The blurb is positively delicious, and immediately had me hooked:

‘London 1794… seduction and sensation, insurrection and initiation, deceit and delicacy, subversion and sedition.’

Grant notes that her five times great uncle was the last person in the UK to be hung drawn and quartered; the macabre legacy of her family seems to have infected her work. The stench of the French revolution reeks from across the channel, and Grant’s London is corrupt and dangerous.

If this novel were a film, it would be distinctly Tim Burton-esque. With a mixture of dark hilarity, the text conjures a shady, odd, and outrageously bawdy vision of the city, populated by a cast of distinctively quirky characters. These range from Annie, the unfortunately disfigured, musically talented daughter of an instrument-maker, to the fiercely independent and beautiful Alathea, who uses people as she pleases. The notable female presence is no surprise in a novel published by Virago (publishers of books for and about women); the independence and strength of the female heroines drives the novel in wildly unexpected directions.

The tale begins with a rather perplexed city speculator’s purchase of a pianoforte from Annie’s father, an unpleasant man with a disinclination to sell any of his creations. The pianoforte is required by the speculator and his associates in order to prepare their five daughters for a concert; an event designed to sell them off in marriage to any titled male who might desire them. Following the dubious advice of Annie’s father, they proceed to hire a piano teacher (a young French fellow, no less). However, this plan is not as straightforward as it might seem… Nothing is certain in the subversive streets of London: jealousy, greed, seduction and deception are rife.

Sedition follows the trials and tribulations of the girls, as they embark on an educational journey that is not strictly musical. The humorous observations of Monsieur Belladroit, as he assesses his five pupils, are particularly enjoyable. It would appear Alathea is the only one of the five who is truly desirable, what with Everina’s ill-fitting false teeth, Marianne’s disappointing hair, Harriet’s round nose and Georgiana’s skeletal frame.

Although the content of Sedition can be incredibly dark, the narration is consistently amusing, written with a tongue-in-cheek tone that never fails to entertain, in deliciously unexpected ways. The language employed by Grant throughout the text is rich and varied, without weighing down the story, making reading Sedition a heady, sensual experience. However, this novel is not just a tale of hilarity and licentious relations, it is also a story about music and meaningful relationships.

Although I felt there were certain slow points in the novel, it was never enough for me to put the book down for long. The narrative clatters to a close at a full-blown gallop. All in all, Sedition’s wonderfully eclectic collection of characters, and Grant’s weaving together of the excitement and passion of music and sex with the tedium of respectful middle-class society makes for an outrageously dazzling cocktail.

I look forward to Grant’s future work in adult fiction, and highly recommend this read! Sedition has earned itself a solid 4 out of 5, from me.

The Liebster Award and sayōnara university!

It felt like it would never happen, but at long last I am happy to say I have emerged from the deep dark abyss known as ‘dissertation’, in (mostly) one piece! My final year at university is all but officially over, and, most frighteningly of all, the only thing left for me to do is wait for confirmation of my results. Its been a hectic few weeks; if I wasn’t manically writing I’ve been endeavoring to savour every last second of student life, ticking off the university ‘bucket list’.

Struck by a sudden fear we hadn’t experienced university life to the full, me and my housemates constructed a list of everything we wanted to do before we leave; from stargazing in the park (a slightly dubious plan, we realised, upon approaching the desolate darkness of Southampton Common), to pulling a final student prank on each other (which, worryingly, hasn’t yet materialised). Saying goodbye to the carefree bubble of student life and the house we have lived in for over two years will be hard, let alone each other. Its a nerve-wracking, but incredibly exciting time, to reiterate what I’m sure countless others in my position have said. Let the existential crisis begin.

On a brighter note, thank you to Jules for nominating me for the Liebster Award (such a long, long time ago) – apologies that this post has been so delayed. The nomination was a sweet surprise, and gave me some much needed encouragement to continue taking my (wobbly) first steps with blogging.

The lovely Jules’ blog, is a fun, thought-provoking read. Although its title, ‘General Gibberish’, may at first glance seem self-deprecating, its cleverly constructed playful tone gives away the thoughtful, well-written nature of her blog, which covers all manner of themes from opinion pieces to storytelling. General Gibberish is an all-inclusive, welcoming read; it is bound to have something that is your cup of tea.

If you’re still a little unsure what exactly I have been going on about, The Liebster Award is an award passed from one blogger to a selection of nominees, with the aim of bringing new people in the blogging community together, and hopefully to help promote some fab new blogs. If you are one of my nominees (all of whom I am extremely excited about!), here are the rules you will need to follow to take part in the Liebster Award:

  1. First, include a link back to the post or blog of whoever nominated you and thank them (all in the name of good manners).
  2. Include 11 facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions that the blogger who nominated you posted.
  4. Post 11 more questions for your nominees to answer.
  5. Nominate 11 bloggers that have less than 200 followers.

A few fun facts about me:

1.) This fact is actually a little grim. I believe you should never eat something unless you could kill it yourself… However, I have never yet been put to the test, so although I’m not really a big meat eater myself, I’m not sure how much of a morally correct omnivore I am!

2.) The silence drives me mad. I have to have some music on, talk to myself, switch on the television – anything to make some sound!

3.) I’m still a little bit scared of the dark. (Although, I will happily live on my own in the house.)

4.) I always try and see the best in people. It’s not always the most streetwise of approaches to life, but its something I think everyone should do more often.

5.) I live by my granny’s motto: kindness is the most important virtue. If everyone in the world was kind, it would be a much better place, as she always says. A touch of naive optimism never did anyone any harm…

6.) When I was little, I had two pet giant African land snails. No hamsters for me.

7.)  Even at the ripe old age of twenty (nearly twenty-one), I have still never driven a car on the road. That really needs to change this summer.

8.) I have never, not even once in my life, executed a successful cartwheel.

9.) I donate to WWF, although I am considering canceling this, having heard rumours about the ‘dark side of the panda’.

10.) I neither love, nor hate marmite; I am simply indifferent.

11.) My hair used to be short and spiky. Now it is so long I frequently feel like a siamese twin; it gets involved with everything: cooking, studying, exercising…

My answers to Jules’ Questions:

1.) If there was one thing a person could count on when it comes to you, what would it be?

I wanted to answer with something very deep and ego-stoking, but to be completely honest, the one thing you can probably count on with me is that if you say or do anything slightly awkward, or even mention blushing, my entire upper-half will go bright red. I’m told its pretty entertaining.

2.)  Let’s say there was a gadget you would like to see invented, what would it be?

I would love it if someone invented a device which lets you teleport items through a telephone. That would be handy for when mum has cooked a delicious dinner two counties away.

3.) What colour most represents your character?

Aquamarine. (Of course, this is a biased interpretation of my personality, someone else might pick something far less appealing).

4.) If you could be a fly on the wall for a day, watching and listening, which wall would it be?

I suppose being a fly on the wall of the Titanic in its final moments would be an interesting, if extremely harrowing experience.

5.) Your favourite ice cream flavour is…

Honeycombe.

6.) If there were three things that you could change about the world, what would it be?

All humans would share a mutual respect for each other, and for the environment. Corporations would not rule society. Clean water and resources would be fairly distributed across the globe.

7.) Finish this sentence. The smell of coffee is…

Invigorating!

8.) Imagine that you were an architect, which famous building would you have designed?

Does a yurt count?

9.) What’s the one word or phrase that you use a lot?

Man. I say ‘man’ an awful lot now. Who knows where I picked it up, as I never used to say it.

10.) What is your earliest childhood memory?

I have a hazy recollection of being carried out into a garden, and lots of people I didn’t know rushed out as a plane flew over us. I later found out we had gone to watch Concord taking off from someone’s garden near the airport, when I was very little.

11.) If you were someone else sitting in a cafe and the actual you walked in, what about you would catch the eye of this someone else?

Knowing me, probably the fact that I had been pulling a push door, or dropped something.

My 11 Nominees for the Liebster Award (in no particular order):

1. http://sunpaperblossoms.wordpress.com

2. http://therabbitrabble.wordpress.com 

3. http://sallianneblog.wordpress.com 

4. http://funnyrunnyren.wordpress.com 

5. http://thelosthighwayhotel.com 

6. http://danielcharchuk.wordpress.com 

7. http://alcovepoetry.com 

8. http://kayeliza.wordpress.com 

9. http://laurapalmer98.wordpress.com

10. http://senseandresponsibility.com

11. http://norighttoremainsilent.wordpress.com

The 11 Questions for my Nominees:

1.) Tea or Coffee?

2.) If you could travel across time and space, would you go to the past, the future, or just somewhere else? Where and/or when would you go to?

3.) This question is rather cliché, but I have always liked it… If you were an animal, what animal would you be?

4.) What is your idea of a perfect evening?

5.) The ultimate social dilemma: A girl/woman your age is walking directly in front of you with her skirt tucked into her underwear. You react by…

6.) If you had a super power, what would it be?

7.) Most listened to song on iTunes? (Or whichever platform you play your music on).

8.) If you could have one conversation with someone from the past who would it be?

9.) Do you have a nickname?

10.) Where is the last place you traveled to?

11.) Pick a quote, from anyone or anything, that you like or is meaningful to you.

Wow, that’s my three sets of eleven done, if you’re still around then your commitment is impressive, kudos, and thank you! I am back on the blogging bandwagon now that my penultimate weeks of university are drawing to a close – here’s to hoping this will help me to stay sane.

Good luck nominees, have fun finding some brilliant new blogs; I really enjoyed discovering all of yours. Lastly, a big thank you again to Jules for nominating me, and for sticking it out while I wrote this post.