The Back of The Turtle by Thomas King

I still had 100 pages to read when I drove north to the Forest Lawn Branch of the Calgary Public Library to participate in a reading circle with Aboriginal Pride with 12CSI.  These meetings are aptly titled, Chapters and Chat Meetings and the book up for discussion on my birthday was The Back of The Turtle by Thomas King.

I poured myself a hot cup of coffee and filled my plate with fresh vegetables, fruit and dip and made myself comfortable in a circle of, this month, ten people.  I was pleased to meet up with friend, Roberta, a writer I recently connected with at a Jazz event.

Michelle Robinson The Back of The Turtle

Photo Credit: Michelle Robinson (group leader and inspiration)

The meetings are always full of discussion and they ground themselves in truth and honesty.  Every person’s voice is heard respectfully and I find this process very powerful and helpful in my quest to understand and respect diversity in every aspect of life in contemporary society.  Some of the discussions that took place, this week, included science and the silencing of scientists, reconciliation and healing and the ‘Stereotypes in Toeshoes’, and a follow-up discussion about Joseph Boyden; his writing, self-identification and the CPL session of a couple of weeks ago.  A very interesting exchange of ideas.

Yesterday, I finished the book, The Back of the Turtle, and thought I’d write a brief comment.  In the end, I’ve decided that this is a beautiful novel…an easy read…nothing too complex and yet, lovely, for its setting and its contemporary challenges to the reader.  The book moves easily back and forth between Dorian’s struggles as they unfold in the role of CEO for a BIG corporation and Gabriel’s struggles as they unfold for a ‘guilt-filled’ scientist in a formerly-idyllic and Eden-like setting named Samaritan Bay.  Even the turtles have gone.

Thomas King writes a novel that offers the reader inroads to a mythological place through a combination of Christian and indigenous narratives.  He warms the heart with such rich characters as Soldier and Sonny.  He describes an intricate and symbolic beacon of hope, eventually constructed on the beach.  It is a story of optimism, in the face of utter destruction.

I loved the very heart-breaking description of the mother turtle, the empty aquarium, the empty houses…

I liked the story of The Woman Who Fell from the Sky.  Donna Rosenberg has recorded anthologies of myths from all over the world.  Very little is published about her biographically.  I wanted to link up to a version of this myth so that my readers might enjoy.

I liked the book.

For next month, we are reading The Inconvenient Indian by the same author.

The Back of the Turtle

Yesterday’s Birds: April 28, 2017

Calgary weather has been less than cooperative, this past week, for anyone trying to grab a photograph of birds.  Rain and snow and biting wind. What happens with grey skies and water and birds?  Everything becomes soft-edged.  New birds making their appearances:  Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Night Heron, Eared Grebe, several more pairs of Red-necked Grebes, many Red-Winged Blackbirds, Wigeons, many more Redheads, Lesser Scaups and Coots.  The pond is alive with activity.  The Common Mergansers feel the most regal and demanding of attention.

It amazes me that in a single pond ecosystem, over six years, I’ve learned and experienced so much!

Yesterday, after teaching grade twos for the day, Max and I enjoyed short breaks in the clouds and hope for a blue sky today.  At one point, a very cold wind and system blew in, but left just as quickly.  I was finally able to get close to a focused image of the Grebe.

But first, the reading of some Eric Carle.  We read the lovely book, A Very Tiny Seed…but, I spoke to the students about my memories of A Very Hungry Caterpillar.  (same story, really) A book about how one transforms, changes, grows…

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The birds…

I chose to photograph the female goose who has settled into a particularly public place because she was so different, from the back,  from the male and looks as though she’s ready to burst!  I continue to make efforts to get closer to the Buffleheads, Goldeneyes and Common Mergansers, but they are all camera shy.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Thanks to my friend, Pat, who has this amazing way of organizing for such wonderful experiences, I attended Theatre Calgary’s A Thousand Splendid Suns a few weeks back.  It was an event for ‘seniors’ (Pat, Mary, Janet and me) in the afternoon and we enjoyed coffee, finger foods and cake, as well as a short presentation/question period with Pomme Koch who played Tariq.  Pomme gave an interesting background on the play, as well as a little about his own prior accomplishments in theater, film and such.  He had an easy manner and was very gracious, answering questions. I noticed and was annoyed by some chatters throughout this portion of the program.  During our post-event discussions (we always have them) we considered what is it in audience members that causes them to dismiss their own responsibility to contribute to making it a wonderful experience for everyone.  Who speaks when there is a performer requiring our attentions?  Chit Chat can wait, folks!

The magic of the stage performance was captivating; the sets, the characters, but especially the script; and I knew that I wanted to read the book over the coming days.  I had fallen in love with Mariam and admired the strength of Laila.  I wanted to know these women more and so once home, I picked up the copy of A Thousand Splendid Suns off my book shelf, another second hand book sale find.

Adapted by Ursula Rani Sarma
Based on the novel by Khaled Hosseini
Original music written and performed by David Coulter
Directed by Carey Perloff

I had read The Kite Runner some years ago and so I was prepared for the painful renderings of a history of Kabul and surrounding regions.  I knew, especially, having seen the play, that this would be a sad and painful story.

The bonded friendship between Mariam and Laila was the most essential element for me; a woman, reader and artist.  I was challenged through several moments of violence and violation of these women in the book.  These caused me tremendous pause and rage and sadness.  I loved that out of such hardship, this friendship grew.  While one might only focus on the darkness of their shared years, this is a story of resurrection for not only these two women, but also for the people of Kabul.  It is a story of hope, the final chapters, heart warming and sentimental.

Things I thought about…

The position of women in the context of family, culture and and the world.

The treatment of women in domestic situations.

Secrets we keep.

Who we protect.

Patriarchal entitlement.

Friendship

Nurturing

Basic Human Rights and Dignity

Jalil’s mistake.

A right to education.

Self-sacrifice

The complexities of the politics of this region.

What position does/should the world take in atrocities that occur in different regions of the world at any given time?  What is right?  What is just?

What about the children?

Forgiveness

A Thousand Splendid Suns

“One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”
Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns

 

The Night Stages by Jane Urquhart

I am a huge fan of this lady and had opportunity to hear her speak to her writing at a Wordfest event.  Jane Urquhart especially influenced me with The Stone Carvers, The Underpainter and Away.  However, with this novel, The Night Stages, she just didn’t make the mark.

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Strengths continue to be Urquhart’s writing of ‘place’ and her amazing capture of lyricism and poetic language.  I continue to be in awe of her capacity to paint images with words and this simply won’t change.

The book is, in fact, elegant in its language, description and characters, but somehow all of those elements did not pull, together, a larger arc.  I found that there were three separate stories being told and I read with anticipation that Urquhart, in her style, would pull these threads together in a surprising and satisfying way.  She didn’t.

The three narratives all spoke to me about connection, relationship, struggle and did share common desperate heart ache, but that’s as far as the links went.  Tam’s exploration of the mural, once grounded for three day’s in Gander, was intriguing to me because of my interest in painting walls and in my love of the visual arts, but Kenneth Lockhead’s partially fictionalized mural, Flight and its Allegories, does not ground the story…or meld successfully with Kieran’s story.

Kieren’s narrative, for me, was endearing.  I would enjoy it if this section was pulled out from the context of The Night Stages, in order to stand on its own.  The race, in particular, was powerfully written.

In reading The Night Stages, the reader is forced to jump around from one of these narratives to another…to be strung along, so to speak.  Unfortunately, from my reading of this past year, this is happening more and more with contemporary literature and I’m starting to wonder if writing is becoming less linear and more fragmented, in general.  Is this the ‘post-modern’ experience of literature?  I HOPE NOT!

I’m including links to a few different reviews here…if you pick this one up to read, don’t anticipate that it follows the Urquhart form that you might be over the moon about.

The Night Stages

 

Wenjack by Joseph Boyden

It continues to be my goal to read the books of as many indigenous authors as possible this year…and to read content that will increase my knowledge, leading to better understanding of issues related to our Canadian indigenous peoples.  I have a desire in my heart to be a part of the mechanism that contributes to change, following a formal Truth and Reconciliation process.  The formal process is a mere stepping stone…the work, by all Canadians, is yet to be done.

I am grateful to have connected with author, Sable Sweetgrass, through an on line book club that Sable established and then on to a group book circle at the Forest Lawn Public Library once a month, with the gathering, Chapters and Chat, sponsored by the Aboriginal Pride and 12 Community Safety Initiative and led by Michelle Robinson.  Books offer inroads to powerful ways of viewing the world and understanding, whether non fiction, fiction, theater or poetry.  We owe it to ourselves to become educated.

This month’s read, Wenjack by Joseph Boyden, was selected as much for the weight of issues surrounding its author as for any other reason.  We decided we really wanted to have an honest discussion about appropriation of content.

The aesthetic of the book is beautiful…lovely paper, interesting and welcoming format, gorgeous illustrations and attractive associations with the natural world.  Based on the historical events of a young boy, Chanie who, in fact, was forced into a residential school system and as a result, died,  the discussion about the issues surrounding the writing of the book became a many layered, and at times painful, conversation.

I was unaware of Joseph Boyden’s reputation as an author, given that this was the first time I have picked up one of his books. Highly successful and recognized as an award winning author, Boyden’s connections with indigenous culture and appropriation of indigenous narratives has been called into question in various ways over many years.  His response has been anything but straight forward and the topic has been explored all over the internet.  An example of one such article can be found in the National Post.

I love books and I love the act of reading and it is for me to be discerning around my selection. As a visual artist, I have had to consider ethical boundaries as I explore certain topics in my paintings and it is important that appropriation is considered as I set up these boundaries.  While I am not fond of censorship, I do think, as artists, there is something refreshing about being true to our own stories.  I found our shared discussion circle to be invaluable as it contributed to expanded knowledge, in a very thoughtful way.

wenjack

 

Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear

I was down at Shelf Life books, listening to a wonderful double book launch by  German Rodrigues and J. Pablo Ortiz.  It was a very unique evening of spanish language literature, celebrating the launch of German Rodriguez’s The Time Between His Eyes (El tiempo entre sus ojos) and J. Pablo Ortiz’s Open Sea (De mar abierto). It was an excellent event and I was happy to reconnect with Pablo and to hang with his partner and my longtime friend, Brian. After the reading, I set about looking for the book, Birds Art Life because I had heard an interview about it and knew that it would affirm my experience of the pond, the discovery of birds and the resulting experience of art-making.

It was a bit of a search, but before I left, a copy of the book fell into my hands.

Very linear in my approach to books, I finished the McCullers title, before snapping up this beautiful object of my obsession.

I rushed through my earlier two reviews, books I’ve read in the past month, so that I could get to this recommendation, Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear.  In this book, I found something kindred to everything I have become in retirement and in the past six years of loving a single ecosystem, a pond environment within the boundaries of the City of Calgary.

I kept putting the book down, and lifting off of the sofa or my bed or the bench out in the back yard, in order to pace and whoot and say, out loud, “YES!”  Since reading The Diviners so many years ago, I have not had such physical reactions to what I am reading.

Here is an extract from the book that speaks of my philosophy and experience, very clearly.

I discovered, through the book, that my ‘SPARK’ bird, was a sparrow, more precise, Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow, some eight years ago.  Hardly romantic or colourful, strange that my true attraction to birds was discovered looking out from my kitchen window, across at the open vent of my neighbour’s kitchen…several nesting seasons…widowing…lost youngsters…and determination through all sorts of weather conditions.  I began to watch. I took out the camera, for the first time, to take photographs of sparrows.

Kath's Canon Male Sparrow Emptying Nest July 7 2015 006

From that kitchen place, my exploring began at a pond environment that I call Frank’s Flats, named after a homeless man who most evenings, watched me gather up litter into a bag a day for several years.  He drank six beer in the time it took me to fill a bag with plastics, straws, newspaper flyers and other human garbage.  He chatted with me, thanked me and visited at the end of most evenings, as I put my collection into the bin, near his viewing spot.

I think that the first time I really noticed the birds, I was drawn to the red winged black birds because of their determined mating calls.

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My experience of the pond has, since discovering birds, coyotes and little field mice, become magical.  The lessons I have learned about compassion, care, art and writing, have been many and profound.  I am so grateful for the number of stories and discoveries that come my way because I am always looking for the little miracles.

Kath's Canon, September 22, 2015 early aft Frank's Flats Heron 038

Facebook 7 Black Capped Night Heron

Kath's Canon September 2, 2015 Osprey, Franks, Stinky Max 062Kath's Canon August 29, 2015 Osprey, Hawk, Kingfisher 141

If you are looking for a way to deepen your experience of life and living, pick up this book.  It is a treasure and my new favourite!  It contains countless references to other writers, thinkers and artists…book titles…and the author’s connections with her own story.  I hope that my readers will discover urban nature and hold on to the power of that experience.

Today at the pond…

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The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

When one thinks of good literature…beautiful writing…one can include the title, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by writer, Carson McCullers.  At the young age of twenty-three, McCullers took on this project.  I reflect back on myself at the age of twenty-three; young mother of one, struggling in a turbulent marriage and I can hardly imagine sitting down to write a powerfully inspiring novel.  Carson McCullers did.

To be honest, I would never have picked up the novel, given the title.  It sounds to be a bit of a cliche and looking back on my life and the significant events that mark transition, loss and accomplishment, I managed to steer clear of this one, up until now.  It sat on my book shelf, having been picked up along the way, as a second hand cast off.  Upon reading it a couple of weeks ago, the title now makes perfect sense and represents the content as much as any other could.

As one pours over the many reviews given to this book, it is difficult to articulate those qualities that make it so successful, just because there are so many.  I decided to write about just a couple and to simply recommend the novel to those who haven’t read it yet or those who read it a very long time ago.

Categorized as Southern Gothic, it is a novel that captures that particular flavour that one might find in To Kill a Mockingbird or A Street Car Named Desire.

 

McCullers’ use of language is elegant and it is consistently supportive of character development from beginning to end.  The reader comes to know, in the most intimate way, the characters who live ordinary/extraordinary lives in this small mill town in the south.  As if under a microscope, we observe their motivations, thoughts and ‘hearts’ from their introduction to the very end.

From the book, Without a Map: A Memoir by Meredith Hall, this…

the-heart

Oprah Winfrey offers a thorough book study section on her website for any of my readers who are considering taking on this one with a book club.  I highly recommend.  Included is a visual map and character links in order to explore, deeply, the motivations of each of the ‘lonely hearted’.  You can find the schematic and links here.

the-town-of-lonely-hunters

Every one of these characters holds lessons for the reader and given Meredith Hall’s brave confession at the end of the quote shared earlier in this post, I will confess that I, too, am a lonely hunter.  Now, don’t be worried about me.  I think that there is much that is ‘unspoken’ in each of us.  Yes, I have faith.  Yes, I have a beautiful life, as do the written characters of this novel.  However, there is loneliness, even in the most social and ‘connected’ beings.  I think that McCullers’ characters are very brave and for a whole number of reasons.  At completion of the novel, one is left with the revelation of one’s own courage to face the day-to-day issues of living.

I find John Singer to be central to the themes explored in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.  We meet him, along with Spiros Antonapoulos, very early in the novel.  The fact that he is mute, and that others rely on him for his good counsel, is essential to the theme development.  I think that the fact that his advice is really only fleeting and that he is left to seemingly absorb the personal narratives of others, is very significant and sometimes painful.

Since reading this, with respect and care, I highly recommend the novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers.  You will find yourself or someone you love, written inside the pages.

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Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

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Yesterday was another cold day in Calgary, but I did manage to do the circle at the pond, came home and nested for a bit and then decided to curl up on the red sofa in the afternoon sunlight, covered with the green quilted blanket, tiny sip of sherry in hand and set out to finish the book, Mongrels.  I was determined. This book has been a challenge over the Christmas holiday, not because it was long or complex, but in fact, the subject matter was entirely foreign to me.

Anything I’ve read about Stephen Graham Jones, his prolific writing habits and his prominent reputation as a writer of “literary horror”, seems to be positive and for several reasons.  However, I’m not one for reading about mythological creatures or for delving into the world of fantasy.  I must confess that I have read several of Anne Rice’s novels, starring vampires, beginning with The Interview with the Vampire and I’ve followed the vampire, Lestat, to the point where I could imagine the smell and taste of blood.  Yes!  It’s true. Disgusting!  Anne Rice’s vampire narratives are that believable! The vampire is a more popular ‘creepy’ character in contemporary writing; much less common is the appearance of the four legged man-wolf, the werewolf.

I found some aspects of the book, as it moved along, redeeming.  There was just something about the structure, though, that hounded me.  This is what went on…I became intrigued by the story of Libby, Darren and the youthful narrator (a young dude hoping that he begins, at some point, to transform into a werewolf, as his Aunt and Uncle do).  Problem is that this narrative was intruded upon by alternating chapters that spoke from a different point of view, in a very uncanny way.  At regular intervals I was forced to sort out a shift as the young dude became ‘the vampire’ (at Halloween), Darren, the vampire’s Uncle and Libby, the vampire’s Aunt; ‘the reporter’, Darren, the reporter’s Uncle and Libby, the reporter’s Aunt; ‘the criminal’, Darren, the criminal’s Uncle and finally Libby, the criminal’s Aunt….and so it went in alternating chapters for the entire novel.  What was that about?

I’ve read so many reviews on this book and there isn’t one that addresses this shift in point of view.  For me, it adds a complexity that doesn’t seem necessary.  The reviews are generally positive and share accolades for the unique approach to telling a werewolf story, the freshness of the ‘coming-of-age’ angle and the situational originality.  I agree with these positive aspects, but I really did struggle with the structure.  In this particular review…they refer to it as an ‘episodic’ structure.  Not a fan of graphic novels and such, perhaps this is where the problem is for my reading preferences.

While the episodic structure sometimes causes the novel to feel as aimless as its characters, it’s still an often moving portrait of a family struggling to survive in a world that “wants us to be monsters.” (May)

Generally…readers see it the way of this particular review.

“A compelling and fascinating journey, Mongrels alternates between past and present to create an unforgettable portrait of a boy trying to understand his family and his place in a complex and unforgiving world. A smart and innovative story— funny, bloody, raw, and real—told in a rhythmic voice full of heart, Mongrels is a deeply moving, sometimes grisly, novel that illuminates the challenges and tender joys of a life beyond the ordinary in a bold and imaginative new way.”

I think that if it touches me in any way, it is to feel empathy for ‘the outsider’.  I did grow to listen to the narrator’s young voice with a big heart.  I haven’t given up on a book before.  In the case of this one, it was an ‘almost’ situation…but, LOOK!  It is done.

And, yes, mongrels survive! :0)

Now, I’m into a book that has a very traditional flow and seeming linear story line, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers.  Stay tuned as I explore the story, opening with the description of John Singer, who rents a room in the Kelly house after his fellow deaf companion, Spiros Antonapoulos.

 

 

 

The Principles of Uncertainty

by Maira Kalman

Two days ago, before or after Emelia’s funeral prayers, I wanted to write a post titled something like, “The Loss of Children”. About that choice of title, I thought, “Who are you to write a post titled, ‘The Loss of Children’, when you have been so blessed and your children are safe and healthy?” So much has happened, in my head, during this Christmas/New Years holiday, that I postponed the post and now I’m writing this.

I woke at 5:35.  I’ve had a lot going on in my head.  (I guess I already said that.)

I dusted off the final two shelves of books.  It’s been a two-shelves-a-day project ever since the dust settled and the window casings were clear-coated.  If you are connected to my Instagram account, you’ve seen that I’ve snapped a few shots of books, but I stopped that because it was actually distracting me from getting the job done.

A side note: I was able to, with the guidance of the book,  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo,  choose twenty books to box up and deliver to a WIN shop.  Apart from the books in the cardboard box, I can say that the titles that remain, give me joy.

To celebrate the completion of the task and to stall Max’s walk at the pond (Facebook status: [Big fat flakes falling, beginning at around 6 this morning. It is easy to see them, lit up by street lamps. Morning light is still some time away.]), I sat under the green quilted blanket, cozy, on the red couch and read the most beautiful book, The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman.  The smell of home made turkey soup was heavy on the air…yesterday’s cooking continued because the carrots still had a tad too much crunch.

I loved this book so much that, for a short while, until my next book, it is my favourite.  Yes!  I finished it a short while ago.  It is that type of book.  For its sparseness, it is absolutely overflowing and packed with content of the heart.  It is an entire history and archive of those bits of life that are inspiring and magical, in part, anyway.  I also like that Maira dedicates the book to her mother.

Maira Kalman  is a woman of my own heart, very much captivated by the magical moments of life.  A fabulous illustrator and person.  I highly recommend this book.  I’ll be moving on to her other books.

I attended a gathering last evening at a friend’s house.  She’s just recently completed a kitchen renovation.  Ten women sharing a meal on a wintry night…just beautiful.  It is our habit to talk about everything, really.  And, at some point, we always share our current reading, authors, genres and such and last evening was no exception.  I was a bit embarrassed to share that I was still struggling my way through a werewolf story, titled Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones.  I think I’ve decided that werewolf stories are not for me.  Anyway, back to The Principles of Uncertainty, the book gives me a fresh perspective on the human condition. The themes are very personal and yet universal.  Everything is uncertain…even the books that we pick up and our experience of them.  I felt warm and happy looking around that room last evening, with the realization that, for the past twenty-five years, these women have shared their reading with me.  Ours is a delicious friendship.

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I will be writing about the loss of children at a later time, not because I know that experience, but because I can’t imagine that experience.  And why? What will that do or help or prove? Absolutely nothing…just that I can.

The Women Who Raised Me by Victoria Rowell

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Last evening, I had the chance to hang out and chill with my sister-friends.  Thanks, Darlene.  The only disappointment was that Wendy wasn’t with us.  It was the intention to hop right into the hot tub, but, as per usual, the snacks came out and the conversation began.  It doesn’t matter how often we see one another, there is lots to say.

Being with friends is a very healing experience.  There is much that is revealed by getting ideas out of heads and hearts and hearing the perspectives of women you completely trust because of the years that you have shared.

I thought that since this got me thinking about my long-time friends, I would share a book that I read early in October.  It’s a good one.  I’m big on reading Memoirs.  Not everyone is keen on that genre.  If, however, you wish to read a book that has a heart warming component, this is one you might want to consider.

Victoria Rowell shares with the reader, sometimes-complicated, but always-treasured relationships with women who ‘raised her’.  I think that we all have teachers and friends and extended family who have supported us and certainly we know the beautiful thing that is a relationship with a mother or a sister or an aunt…but, for reasons out of her control, Victoria’s mother could not be in the picture that was her life, not to a deeply nurturing extent.  This book is about the women who stepped up.

I am blessed to belong to several circles of friends.  While I am not a part of a traditional family of my own (with a life partner), I have been deeply blessed by the friendship of women in my life (sure, and a few guys, too…you know who you are).  While I would have liked it to work out that I had a life partner who would be a help mate and spiritual companion, I have learned that life offers us a richness in ‘other’ forms of relationship if we are receptive to those invitations.

Of this book, I particularly enjoyed the opening chapters where Victoria lays down the tracks of her life by introducing us to the history of her family.  I think that we are all rooted in stories and her stories were fascinating. Matters of fostering and adoption live at the core of this memoir. While I typically go for more complex writing, this one flowed nicely and made me feel happy for the women in my life.

You might enjoy, The Women Who Raised Me by Victoria Rowell.  3 1/2 out of 5 as Goodreads ratings go.

“Do not look around thee to discover other men’s ruling principles, but look straight to this, to what nature leads thee, both the universal nature through the things which happen to thee, and thy own nature through the acts which must be done by thee. But every being ought to do that which is according to its constitution; and all other things have been constituted for the sake of rational beings, just as among irrational things the inferior for the sake of the superior, but the rational for the sake of one another.”

Marcus Aurelius